Whittlebury: Shovel Test Pits
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During July and August 2001, eighteen shovel test pits were sunk in and around Whittlebury. The difficulties of investigating living villages are clear: archaeologists want access to the very places where people still live. In order to minimize disruption, but to maximize the archaeological evidence for the origins and development of the village, 1 x 1m trenches were dug throughout the village where permission was granted. These were on verges and in peoples' back gardens. The results of the shovel test pits are reported here. The decision has been taken, however, not to locate the STPs precisely in order to protect the properties of the owners who so kindly granted permission for the work to take place from any unwanted attention.
WH STP 1
This STP was
located close to the current back gardens of properties fronting onto
the main street. The ground
had clearly been disturbed here and stood proud of the general level of
the orchard. Excavation
revealed that this area had been used as a dump during the C18 and C19.
Whilst a couple of medieval sherds were found within the
assemblage, these appear to have been residual.
That there were so few suggests that occupation was intensive.
deposits in this STP had clearly been disturbed as witnessed by the mix
of artefacts at similar levels. Excavation revealed the presence of a brick wall, said to be
the former boundary between the orchard and the neighbouring property.
Any medieval deposits would have been affected both by the
construction and demolition of this wall.
Medieval pottery was found in small amounts.
Again the presence of this material does not suggest intense
occupation, but possible proximity to it.
No evidence was revealed to help date the establishment of the
wall line marking the eastern extent of the orchard, although this
appears to follow that line defined on the 1610 Whittlewood Map.
deposits in STP 3 and 4 are very similar.
It is difficult to understand their formation.
The lower deposits appear to be very similar to the natural
glacial gravels, but the inclusion of artefacts suggests that these have
been disturbed. One
possible explanation might be that the natural was disturbed by various
ploughing events. The
quantity of pottery might, however, suggest occupation in the near
vicinity. Certainly, it is
clear that the assemblage suggests activity in this area over several
centuries and implies that this was indeed the early historic core of
formation of these deposits appears to be the same as STP 3.
There is a noticeable increase in medieval material in the lower
deposits, especially Spit 5. It
is likely that the stony layers have not been disturbed by modern
quantitative analysis of the pottery suggests close proximity to
occupation and is further evidence for the early establishment of the
sequence of exposed strata suggests the same formation processes as
those identified in STP 3 and 4. Natural,
however, was not encountered here and the possibilities of earlier
deposits remains high. There
is a clear mix of artefacts of different periods which might result from
the laying of the electric cable. No
features were encountered, however, to suggest that this precise
location had been occupied before the present cottages were constructed.
Nevertheless, the quantity of medieval pottery again suggest
proximity to an occupation site.
artefacts were found within this STP.
The discovery of a cobbled surface at -500mm provides the context
for these deposits. This
surface appears to have been laid on natural, possibly levelled before
construction. This process
may have removed any medieval deposits.
The post-medieval artefacts above this surface provide the
terminus ante quem for this surface.
This surface may form part of a yard constructed at the back of
the current houses fronting Church Way.
Thus, despite its proximity to Whittlebury’s burh, this STP
proved sterile in terms of the central research questions posed by the
of spits show signs of modern disturbance.
In living memory, the area had been used as a wood yard.
The presence of medieval pottery might have resulted from
manuring. The STP was set
back from the road, possibly outside the plots shown on the 1610
Whittlewood Map, and thus possibly part of the medieval field system.
The lack of stratigraphic build-up is paralleled in other STP in
the southern part of the village. These
constrast starkly with those in the northern part of the village.
Together with the absence of early material, this is indicative
of the later development of the village south along the A413.
shallow deposits encountered here are reminiscent of STP 7 and again
suggest that the area had not been intensively occupied.
In fact no medieval artefacts were recovered, thus suggesting a
blank plot that was never occupied.
the attempt to move this STP towards the road frontage, this did not
greatly affect the assemblage that was recovered.
Once again this was dominated by post-medieval material.
It is possible that STPs 7, 8 and 9 all lie outside the area of
the medieval village, and were only later colonised as the population of
the village expanded. This
suggests that the 1610 Whittlewood Map does not accurately depict the
true extent of the medieval village, but records the village state with
additional post-medieval elements.
presence of a C19 field drain has clearly disturbed earlier deposits.
A rational formation of the strata can be proposed.
Spits 1-3 represent modern garden soil.
Below this a layer of stones has formed at the bottom of the
tilled soil. This overlay a
deep deposit of humic soil which is likely to represent a medieval
ridge. Ridge and furrow
survives immediately to the west. This has, of course, been partially
disturbed by the cut for the field drain, explaining the presence of
later material at considerable depths. It is interesting to note that the field drain in orientated
with the ridge and furrow.
This STP has
clearly been affected by landscaping associated with the gardens of
Whittlebury Lodge. The
gravel and cobbles might be interpreted as a path around the mound as
shown on plans for the lodge gardens.
The soakaway must also date from this period. Medieval pottery was found, but is unlikely to be in situ,
however, it does suggest that this area may have been ploughed at this
period. The absence of
strong evidence for settlement is not surprising.
This STP is the most remote of those dug during the season from
what is thought to be the historic core of the settlement.
STP shows the classic signs of plough disturbance at different periods.
The dark humic upper layers must be interpreted as the remnants
of post-medieval ploughing, whilst the stony lower layers are akin to
those deposits found elsewhere in the northern part of the village,
notably STPs 3 and 4. The recovery of such significant finds of medieval pottery
(and possibly Roman pottery) is interesting.
This may result from occupation of the site, but it is more
likely that this area was part of Whittlebury’s infield where manuring
would have been more intense. This
result should be tested by the excavation of further STPs in the general
vicinity. The assemblage
compares well, for instance with that recovered from STP 13 only 20m
formation of this stratigraphy parallels that observed in STP 12.
Again the quantity of medieval pottery is of interest when
compared with the types of assemblage found in the southern part of the
simplicity of the stratigraphic sequence encountered in this STP was to
be expected and is witness to the area being part of the medieval and
post-medieval ploughlands rather than forming part of the village
itself. The feature might
be interpreted as the bottom of a post-medieval ploughmark, although the
evidence is slim.
opportunity to excavate close to the road frontage was exceptional.
Despite the proximity to the current building and manhole cover,
the deposits were remarkably undisturbed.
With the exception of a Victorian pit which cut through the
cobbled surface, the medieval deposits may be considered to be in situ.
A sequence of structural elements could be defined, including a
single posthole, possibly associated with the late medieval cobbled
surface. Sealed below this surface, and cut into the natural glacial
sand were two stakeholes. It
remains unclear, however, whether these features were internal or
external to a medieval habitation.
The quantity of medieval pottery here, far outweighed that from
all other STPs excavated in Whittlebury.
This provides the strongest evidence for buildings set along the
main road, close to the plot fronts.
The absence of early material is once again apparent from the
assemblage, and argues for an expansion of the village south from its
historic core in the north at some point after 1250, a date arrived at
by the ubiquitous presence of Potterspury wares in this part of the
The depth of
disturbed ‘natural’ is again of significance and appears to act as
witness to long periods of activity.
But again it is difficult to ascertain whether this was
occupation or agricultural. Given
the positioning of this property close to the intersection of the major
roads, it might be thought to be occupation, but this cannot be claimed
with any degree of certainty. In
fact, the amounts of pottery and the lack of structural features
undermines this argument, if compared with other STPs in the village. The significance of the T junction as a focal point therefore
these deposits are the same as STPs 3 and 4, with the exception of the
depth of modern disturbance at the higher levels.
The STP was located on the banks of a small westward flowing
stream. Maintenance of this
water course may have caused the disturbance at the higher levels.
Quantities of medieval pottery, however, does suggest proximity
its appearance as a man-made cut, the function of F1 could not be
established. That it
contained late medieval pottery suggests that it is not another grave
cut akin to that found only 2m away to the south.
The highest strata are known to have been raised in the
excavation of the driveway to the south.
In living memory, the presence of a row of Elm trees along the
verge may have disturbed the strata.
There is no evidence for medieval occupation.
Subsequent to the season, further excavations have taken place in
the back garden of this property to provide foundations for an
extension. The owner, who was present at our excavations, undertook a
watching brief and reports the recovery of a number of possible worked
flints and some possible medieval pottery.
No bones were disturbed. It
looks more and more likely, therefore, that the pre-Christian burial is
a lone burial and not part of a large cemetery.