Before the Romans

Before the Romans

Bronze Age finds

The oldest finds to come to light in Mulbarton are the potboilers shown above, dated to around 1500BC - no, not a novel but a true story of people who passed through or settled here 3,500 years ago, at the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age.

Before heat-resistant cooking vessels were available, people heated water or other liquids by first heating stones in a hot fire and then putting them in a pot or wooden bowl to heat the contents. The constant heating and cooling of the stones leads to 'crazing' of the surface, which develops a fine network of cracks, and eventually the stones shatter. The Mulbarton finds were donated to Wymondham Heritage Museum, but unfortunately there is no record of exactly where they were found.

A more recent Bronze Age find is the head of a small spear, found by the late Jim Bratton in a field now roamed by horses, east of the Old Hall. Museum experts dated it to the Late Bronze Age, around 900BC.

For Jim it was the find that inspired his metal-detecting hobby. Having bought a second-hand machine, and received permission to use it in fields belonging to Paddock Farm,  he began to investigate the area near the Church and former Manor House. He writes:

'In the first session nothing much appeared, but just so that I could show my wife that I'd really been trying I took home the pointed bit of a former rake and an old door knob. Slumping in my chair after the unaccustomed exercise, I left my wife to wash the finds in the kitchen. "This looks like an arrowhead!" came from the kitchen, much to my surprise and disbelief....The old rake was a Late Bronze Age small spearhead and the door knob was part of a 17th century crotal bell.'
[Crotal bells were fixed to horses' harness or to carts to warn other road users they were coming - the true 'jingle bells'!]

Above: Some of the finds from Field 1A (map on ORIGINS page)
1. Late Bronze Age small spearhead, c.900BC, 8 cm long
2. King Edward I silver penny (1272-1307 AD)
3. Medieval locking buckle
6. Queen Anne silver shilling dated 1711

Jim mapped all his finds and kept meticulous noted. He reported them to the Portable Antiquities Scheme and offered them to the Norfolk Museum Service who identified objects and retained the most significant. His oldest find - the spearhead - suggests Bronze Age people were living - or, at least, hunting - in the Mulbarton area.

Ancient Routes

Our ancestors probably moved around far more than we give them credit for. There were long-distance trackways long before the Roman arrived to build strategic roads. One such route is the Icknield Way which runs from the Ridgeway atop the Berkshire Downs, along the Chiltern escarpment and into East Anglia. At one time it formed part of the boundary between Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire. There is general agreement about its route as far as Thetford, but lots of conflicting ideas about its route through Norfolk. Did it continue to the north coast as the Peddars Way? Or did it track north-east into the territory of the Iceni? Some historians believe its very name can be credited to Boudica's tribe....

The Iceni occupied Norfolk and parts of Suffolk and Cambridgeshire in the Iron Age and their capital was Venta Icenorum - modern-day Caister St Edmunds, just a few miles from Mulbarton. When the Romans conquered Britain from 43AD, the Iceni became their allies under their king, Prasutagus. But they were badly treated after his death, and his wife, Queen Boudica, launched a major revolt from 60 - 61 AD. She certainly rattled the Romans: London and other cities were burnt before the rebellion was finally crushed and the defeated Iceni incorporated into the Roman province.

Did the Icknield Way pass through Mulbarton? Faden's map of 1797 clearly names the road that became the B1113 to Norwich as Icknield Street. In an article in Norfolk Archaeology Vol. XIV (1899) entitled 'On the Course of the Icknield Way through Norfolk', J C Tingey posits that the track from near Mulbarton church towards Swainsthorpe and the Roman road that is now the A140 forms part of the route, though he takes it east to the coast rather than into the Iceni capital. The map accompanying his article is shown below.

Whatever the truth about the route of the Icknield Way, the Iceni were certainly living near Mulbarton and their capital needed food from the surrounding farmed land as well as providing a market for produce. After all, Venta Icenorum means 'Marketplace of the Iceni'. Could Mulbarton have been part of this culture long before it acquired its Saxon name?