About the Trust
Ever since the 1920s, the Norfolk Archaeological Trust has cared for ancient sites, buildings and landscapes in Norfolk. A registered charity, it is still the only county Trust in England dedicated to the conservation of archaeological sites through purchase and good management.
The pace of the Trust’s work has quickened since 1984, when it acquired a significant part of the Roman town of Venta Icenorum, at Caistor St Edmund. The Trust has now bought many other important and fascinating Norfolk properties to conserve them for posterity. These include two of the county’s ‘iconic’ sites – the great Roman fort at Burgh Castle and the medieval abbey of St Benet’s.
Archaeology is for people
All of the properties in the care of the Trust are open to the public, free of charge. At each of them, we have invested in improving access and providing information for everyone.
Conservation and repair
Some of the monuments acquired by the Trust had been damaged by erosion and ploughing. We aim to make sites safe for future generations, with the help of active conservation programmes and sensitive repair.
We are always seeking new opportunities to find out more about the sites in our care. At some of them, surveys and excavations have revealed exciting new information.
Many of the monuments in our care are also important wildlife habitats. Our aim is total landscape conservation, for the benefit of archaeology and wildlife and for public enjoyment. We work closely with the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Natural England and other conservation bodies to this end.
History of the Trust
At its foundation in 1923, the Trust had a wide range of stated interests and objectives. The founders included prominent local figures of archaeology and history such as E.M. Beloe, Leonard Bolingbroke, W.G. Clarke, H.L Bradfer-Lawrence, Basil Cozens-Hardy and Duleep Singh. They intended it to promote field surveys, to organise excavations and research, and to record and preserve archaeological sites and finds. At that time British archaeology was in its infancy as a profession. There was plenty to be done!
The ruins of the monastic precinct at Binham Priory were acquired by the Trust in 1933. This picture shows excavations there during the 1930s.
Significantly, the Trust was empowered to acquire or lease sites and buildings and acquire artefacts which it could repair and preserve for public benefit. The acquisition and management of historic properties, then and now, has formed a key element of its mission. In the early years of its existence, the Trust bought some famous historic buildings, including Bishop Bonner’s Cottage in Dereham, the Greenland Fishery House in King’s Lynn, the Great Hall in Oak Street, Norwich and part of the precinct of Binham Priory. This last property, acquired in 1933, is still in its ownership.
Times changed, however. By the 1980s it was clear that many other specialist bodies – including the Norfolk Historic Buildings Trust and the King’s Lynn Preservation Trust – were also active in this field and were doing excellent work. Furthermore, historic buildings are now protected through the planning system in a manner the Trust’s founders would hardly have been able to imagine in the 1920s. However, the possible benefits of preserving fragile sites and unique historic landscapes by purchase were clear, and the last years of the 20th century saw an important change in direction for the Trust.
The Roman town of Venta Icenorum, at Caistor St Edmund to the south of Norwich, is one of the Trust's flagship sites (Mike Page)
The acquisition of 120 acres of the area of Venta Icenorum, the Roman town at Caistor St Edmund, was to prove a milestone. Some of the land here was bequeathed to it in 1984, and more was purchased in 1992. A site interpretation scheme was quickly put in hand, and the property was formally opened by the chairman of the then Countryside Commission in 2003.
Other purchases soon followed. The mysterious undated earthwork enclosure at Tasburgh was bought in 1994 and 90 acres of land at Burgh Castle, including the spectacular Roman fort, in 1995. By now, the new focus of the Trust’s work was well established, and rural site acquisitions were complemented by the sale of some of the historic buildings that had long been in its care. An Interpret Britain award for the site interpretation scheme at Caistor St Edmund acknowledged the quality of the Trust’s growing expertise.
A strategic review of the Trust’s aims and objectives was carried out in 2001–2. One priority was to ensure that its work did not unnecessarily overlap with that of the many other agencies caring for historic sites and buildings. The review’s outcome confirmed the value and importance of the policy of ‘preservation by purchase’, and established criteria for acquiring further important and vulnerable properties.
During 2002–4 the Trust bought another iconic Norfolk monument – the Abbey of St Benet at Holm, in the heart of the Broads – as well as the Iron Age fort at South Creake in North Norfolk. The property at Binham Priory was also extended by the purchase of the great west gatehouse of the monastery. Most recently the Trust has acquired two further sensitive sites in North Norfolk: the gatehouse and precinct of Burnham Norton Friary and a prehistoric barrow at Fiddler’s Hill, between Binham and Warham.
The Trust also presses ahead with ambitious schemes for promoting public access to its properties. A major interpretation scheme at Binham Priory, opened in 2009, was created in partnership with English Heritage and Binham PCC with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Provision of a new car park, all-weather path and interpretation panels at Burgh Castle has been made possible by generous funding from Natural England. The Trust is currently taking forward a major access enhancement and interpretation project at St Benet’s Abbey, substantially funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Archaeology is for people – join the Trust now and become a part of our work.