Smethdon Hundred: Brancaster

Pages 298-302

An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 10. Originally published by W Miller, London, 1809.

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Called Brannodunum by the Romans, who had a famous station and castle here, and taking its name from the British word Bran, or Bron, signifying a Front or Head, (fn. 1) joining to the great German ocean on the north side, and on the south on an extensive field or heath; the castle and encampment took up about 8 acres of ground, now a ploughed close, westward of the church and town; the ditch is visible in many parts, and was also walled in, many stones yet appearing on the north side; and standing on a rising ground, at the head of the sea marsh, has an extensive view and prospect.

Many parts of its walls were carried away, and used on the foundation of the great malt-house (some years past) in the town, and are said to have been 9 feet thick.

It is an oblong square, longer east and west, than north and south, on which last side of the road to the town, and to Barnham runs.

It is said to have been erected by the Romans, for the defence of this coast against the invasions of the Saxons, and the care and charge of it was committed to a very eminent commander, who was styled the Count, or Earl of the Saxon coast, who had under him a captain of the Dalmatian horse, here quartered to guard and defend it. Sir Henry Spelman makes a quere how it came, and at what time, to be first called the Saxon-Coast, (as it is termed in the Notitia Imperii,) by the Romans, since they (as far as he had seen) were never in their time and reign here, invaded, or disturbed by the Saxons, the Romans leaving Britain (as he places it) in 446, in the time of Valentinian III. when the Britains desiring assistance from them against the Scots and Picts, and finding none, they applied to the Saxons, who with difficulty were persuaded to assist them in 449.

It may not be improper to observe here, that the Saxon Chronicle (fn. 2) places the departure of the Romans out of Britain in 435, and the Britains sending to them for succour against the Picts, in 443, and on their omission, they applied in the said year to the Angli or Saxons.

To answer the abovementioned quere or difficulty, the aforesaid learned gentleman observes, that the Notitia Imperij was not composed till about the end of the reign of Valentinian III. which was in 455, and that from the year 449, when the Saxons came over, to the year 455, many of their forces frequently arriving, it on that account obtained the name of the Saxon Coast or Shore, over which, in the time of the Britains, the Romans had an officer called the Count of the Maritime Tract, about the year 370, according to Marcelinus.

The great antiquary Selden justly observes, (fn. 3) that this Roman Count or Earl of the Saxon shore, was an admiral, and placed against the maritime incursions of the Saxons, or those of the west part of Ger many, that were known most commonly by that name, the Saxons; and had for his ensign 9 maritime towns, placed (as the heralds term it) barways or barry.

One of which was this, Brannodunum, in the form of a castle, with lofty walls, &c. and near to these the sea is represented, showing it to be a maritime charge, or government; and in a dexter canton of the said ensign, was a book clasped, and thereon these capital letters, F. L. INTALL. COMORD. PR. which Pancirollus in his notes on the Notitia interprets thus,

Fœlix liber injunctus notarijs Laterculi continens mandata principis or primicerij, who was the master or president of the clerks of the crown; and by this book a parchment rolled up.

This Comes had several prefects or commanders under him, both of the horse and foot; the number of horse is said to be 200, and 2200 foot; the Dalmatian troop is chiefly mentioned to be stationed here, but no doubt a proportionable body of foot was also here in garrison.

It is said about a century past, many fragments of various sorts of earthen ware were found here; and Sir Henry Spelman observes that in his time, coins were often found, and some had been brought to him, with two little brass pots, &c.; but of late years, nothing curious has been met with, as far as I can find.

I have seen a silver coin about the size of a sixpence; on one side a Janus Bifrons, reverse, obscure, seemingly a trophy, &c.

One of copper, the size of a shilling, with the head of Claudius, and TI. CLAVDIVS. CAES. AVG. - - - - - reverse obscure. A gladiator naked, in his left hand a shield, and the right uplifted.

Wulfgiva, wife of Alwin, Duke of the East Angles, gave this town to the abbey of Ramsey, founded by the said nobleman in 969. (fn. 4) King Edgar confirmed the said gift, with many privileges, as did Edward the Confessor, together with the soc and sac, &c. by his grant dated at Windsor, on Wednesday in Easter-week, to which Edgitha his Queen, the Earls Godwin and Harold, Esgar Stalre, and Hugoline his chamberlain, were witnesses.

William the Conqueror, and William his son, confirmed all the said privileges, as appears by his charter.

Also Henry I. who was actually at this town, in or about 1115; and the grant of the fair of St. Ives, in Huntingdonshire, to the abbot of Ramsey, is here dated.

At the grand survey we find it to be the lordship of the about of St. Bennet of Ramsey, when there were 3 carucates in demean, and 7 amongst the tenants or men, 25 villains, 16 borderers, and 5 servi, with 2 acres of meadow, and a mill, 5 borderers, with 6 acres and 60 of land, which always belonged to the demean, 2 runci, 6 cows, and 24 swine, with 600 sheep.

The whole then valued at 10l. per ann. and was one leuca long, and half a one broad, and paid 28d. gelt. (fn. 5)

In the 35th of Henry III. the abbot had a charter of free warren in his demean lands; and in the 52d of the said King, felons goods here allowed him; in the 3d of Edward I. wreck at sea here, in Ringsted Magna and Holm, assise of bread and beer, a gallows, weif, &c. by the grant of King Edgar; and it was found that his predecessors and he had, and used to have, in the same villages, certain courts belonging to the port, called Halne-Courts, or Haven-Courts, held at the pleasure of the abbot, wherein matters in relation to their haven were determined; and in the 7th of Edward II. the abbot claimed a whale, cast on shore, as a wreck.

In the 43d of Edward III. he was impleaded by a process out of the Exchequer, by what right he held 60 acres of marsh here, without the King's license; he answered, as lord of the manor, and that there was a marsh sometimes bigger and less, by the flowing of the seas, and that he did not appropriate it to himself.

The temporalities of this abbey were valued in 1428 at 46l. 13s. per ann. and at the general dissolution it was granted to Sir Richard Southwell, May 5, in the 37th of Henry VIII. when it appears that he had court baron, court lete, the advowson of the church, free warren, wreck at sea, a court of admiralty, escheats, reliefs, waifs and strays, felons goods, and outlaws, a free port to the sea, &c. privileges belonging to this lordship.

From the Southwells it came to Sir Charles Cornwallis, who presented to this church in 1603.

In the 20th of James I. May 20, Sir William Fitch, knight, &c. conveyed it to Sir Ralph Hare, of Stow Bardolf, Knt. with lands in Titchwell, Docking, &c. and Sir John Hare died seized of it in 1637, and was patron, and of a pension of 13s. 4d. out of the rectory formerly belonging to the sacrist of Ramsey-Abbey.

From the Hares it came to the Berkleys.

Norborne Berkley is the present lord and patron; he was member of parliament for Gloucestershire, lord lieutenant, and custos rotulorum of Gloucestershire, and the city of Bristol, keeper of the forest of Dean, &c. and created Lord Botetourt.

There was an ancient family of dignity who assumed their name from this place. John de Erancastre, was vice chancellor of England, as appears from a patent of King Richard I. of lands granted to William Briwere, at Chimay in France, dated March 12, in the 10th of that King; probably the said John, who was archdeacon of Worcester, who signed July 15, ao. 4th of King John, his grant to the abbey of St. Augustine, Canterbury.

Herbert de Brancaster held lands here of the abbot by knight's service, with one messuage, and 90 acres; and Agnes his widow was living in the 34th of Henry III. Ralph de Brancaster, son of Herbert, was living in the 52d of the said King, and was impleaded for not being a knight; also Thomas de Brancaster held lands in the said reign; and one of the same name, in the 2d of King John, had a grant of that King, of a prebend in the free chapel of Waling ford.

Adam, (son of Sir John de Brancastre) and Emme his wife, had a grant of lands and tenements here, to them and their heirs, in name of a dower, from Agnes, relict of Herbert de Brancastre aforesaid, for providing bread and corn and barley, for the house of Adam at Brancastre; and the said Adam was impleaded in the 3d of Edward I. for not being a knight, as he ought to have been, by law, as appears by the inquisitions.

In this town is a very remarkable malthouse, 312 feet long, and 31 broad, wherein are steeped weekly, in the season, 420 quarters of barley, useful and beautiful in its structure and contrivance of its offices, and close to a key or stathe for ships, erected at the charge and design of its late owner, Mr. John Thurlow.

The tenths of the town were 8l. 4s.

A free-school here in the gift of Sir Henry L'Estrange, about 24l. per ann.

The Church is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and consists of a nave, a north and south isle, with a chancel; the church, &c. covered with lead, but the chancel is tiled; at the west end stands a large square tower embattled, with four bells and a clock.

In the chancel east window, are the arms of Hare, and on a gravestone with a brass plate,

Orate p. a'i'a Magri. Willi. Collyng or Coling, quonda' rectoris istius ecclie, qui hic nunc in pulvere dormit expectans adventum redemptoris sui, qui obt. 1480.

In the middle isle lie several stones with brass plates.

Hic jacet Jacob. Habbys qu'dá rector istius ecclie qi. obijt. Ao. Dni. M. VC. XIX.

An epitaph in very rude old English verse, In memory of Robert Smithe, who built a free school, and 2 alms-houses, and intended to have endowed the same, but dying suddenly in this town, Elizabeth his sister, gave 92 acres for the support of the same, for ever; he died June 13, ao. 38th of Elizabeth.

Sub spe resurrectionis hic quiescit Gulielmus Tayler, mercator, qui obt. 29 Aprilis, Ao. Dni. 1641.


In memory of Vowel Arford, widow of Thomas Arford of Lynn, merchant, and daughter of Toby Pedder of Hunstanton, Esq. who died September 16, 1705.

Another for

Winifred Smith, of Plymouth, wife of Capt. Thomas Smith, who died September 17, 1704.

The church was anciently valued at 26 marks. The abbot of Ramsey had a portion of tithes out of this rectory, valued at 40s. per ann. the prior of Stoke one valued at 40s. and the sacrist of Ramsey, one of a mark per ann. The present valor is 24l. and pays first fruits and tenths.

In the 9th of King John, John de Brancaster, archdeacon of Worcester, obtained on the request of Richard Rusti, the rector, the King's letters, for a vicar under him, saving to the said Richard an annual pension of 2 bezants, the abbey of Ramsey being then void. Peter-pence was 11d.


Mr. John de Braybrook, occurs rector in 1325.

1349, Richard de Bury, instituted presented by the King, the abbey of Ramsey being void.

1350, John South, by the abbot and convent of Ramsey.

1382, Mr. Peter Godard. Ditto.

1399, Thomas Fykes, by Peter Bakere, clerk, on account of his farm.

1404, Thomas Marton. Ditto.

1408, John Burgate. Ditto.

1420, William Brewster. Ditto.

1429, John Fitz-Edward. Ditto.

1434, Thomas Pulter. Ditto.

1457, William Coling. Ditto.

1485, Mr. John Welles, Decret. Bacc. Ditto.

1520, Mr. Richard Roberts, by their assignee, the Duke of Norfolk.

1521, John Emotts.

1543, Mr. Richard Palmer. Ditto.

1557, Thomas Clayton, by Sir Richard Southwell.

1569, Philip Blunt, by Richard Southwell, Esq.

1592, John Wyborow, by Richard Southwell, and Thomas his son and heir.

John Hassell, D.D. occurs rector 1608, dean of Norwich, &c.

Robert Cremer, died rector 1751.

1751, Henry Shute, by Norborne Berkley, Esq.


  • 1. Glossar. Baxteri, p. 45.—Spelman. Icenia, p. 147, &c.
  • 2. Chron. Saxon.
  • 3. Selden's Titles of Honour, p. 326.
  • 4. Regist. Abbat. de Ramsey. She is said to have given it for the lining of the monks garments with fur.
  • 5. Hun. de Dochinga — Terra S'ci. Benedicti de Rameseia—Brocestra ten. sep. S.B. iii car. in d'nio. ct vii car. hom. xxv vill. xvi bor. v ser. ii ac. p'ti. i mol. v bor. vi ac. et lx ac. t're. que sep. s't in d'nio. ii runc, vi animal. xxiiii por. dc ov. totu val. x lib. totu' ht. i leu in lon. et dim. in lat. et xxviiid. de g.