New Buckenham - a moated town
New Buckenham was probably laid out as a defended town sometime in the middle of the 12th century.  It was surrounded by a square moat that was at least five metres wide and three metres deep.  In 1493 this was referred to as the ‘borough ditch’ and in 1598 as the ‘greate ditch’.  By 1600 the moat was no longer being maintained and was becoming clogged with rubbish.  In 1632 Charles Gosling, the owner of the Rookery, was given leave to build his barn across it. Today only the north-east corner survives to anything like its original width.  The eastern section soon peters out but garden boundaries mark the inner edge of the ditch.  South of the road the ditch is traceable only through documentary and archaeological evidence.  The moat continued just to the west of Tanning Lane where a small excavation [1] in 1993 uncovered its western edge.  By the garden of the Rookery it can be seen as a faint hollow which was still open water on 1886.  The long pond forms the south-east corner of the moat. The canalised stream that skirts the southern edge of the town was formally thought to form part of the defences.  However a map of 1693 shows that the stream originally formed a more winding course and another of 1896 labels the present course as a ‘canal’ implying that the straightening was recent.  The southern line of the moat was not discovered until 1993 when work on the foundations of Flint Lodge [2] revealed a three metre deep ditch.  Within the fill were parts of a wooden structure that was probably one of the three sluices recorded in 1578. Further archaeological work by the Norfolk Archaeological Unit on the site of Woodbury Cottage [3]  revealed a ditch up to nine metres wide with an internal bank.  This confirmed the alignment of the moat, which appears to have run just north of Marsh Lane, linking up with a short section of ditch [4] that has only recently been backfilled.
From this point the moat ran north but its line is not visible until it reaches the parish boundary stone [5] which probably marks its original inner edge.  The ditch then continues northwards and is visible as a broad hollow running along the back fences of the properties forming Chapel Street and Chapel Hill.  In 1683 this length was known as the ‘park ditch’ because it divided the deer park which surrounded the castle from the town.  The north-west corner of the moat links into the castle defences and then turns east as a well preserved wet ditch that skirts St Martin’s Gardens and continues along the parish boundary back to the north-east corner. There must have been bridges where roads crossed the moat and these were probably secured by gates at night.  A document of 1597 suggests that there was some stonework, perhaps a stone gate,  on the eastern (Norwich) side of the town.  There were also private bridges over the moat.  Two of the householders backing onto the ditch are recorded as having their own bridges in 1567 and 1674 and the late Victorian iron and brick bridge is a reminder of these. The ditch’s purpose was probably not just defensive.  It would have also been a symbolic boundary of the town.  The gates may have served as toll collection points and they would have kept out roughs by night and stray livestock by day. Documentary sources in the Norwich Record Office: NNAS Collection, Frere MSS: PD254/172; MC22; accn Steele & Co. 23/9/86; MC343/68. This account was originally published by the New Buckenham Society. © Paul Rutledge and Tom Rutledge 2002
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