hadstock Hadstock

Background To A Village Dig



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Recorder's Report 2007 Battle of Assandun 1016

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Why Hadstock ?

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There is a strong case for believing that St. Botolph's Church, Hadstock, may be on the site of the monastery of Ikanho founded by St. Botolph in 654, later followed by the Minster built by King Cnut to commemorate those Saxons and Danes, from both sides, killed at the Battle of Assandun in 1016. Otherwise, there is no reason for the presence of a large Saxon, Royal Church in Hadstock.

In the late 19th century, a fragment of skin found underneath the ironwork on the church door, was assumed to be the skin of a Dane. It is on display in Saffron Walden Museum. However a century later BBC Television, filming 'Blood of the Vikings' here , arranged for a DNA test which proved the skin to be cowhide. The resultant publicity raised questions about the age of the door, and dendrochronology scientifically dated it to around 1035.

dig 02

This raised further questions about the origins of the church, and a meeting of archaeological historians in the church in 2004 encouraged the Hadstock Society to seek grant funding for an archaeological investigation, to try and cast light on what was happening in Hadstock before the door was made.

For years there has been speculation about the bumps and hollows in the uncultivated Banton meadow to the east of the Churchyard. It had been suggested as a possible medieval village site. Essex County Council Field Archaeology Unit had previously carried out a Contour Survey which suggested further examination would be worthwhile.

A canvass of the villagers showed a large majority in favour of an archaeological excavation and plenty of volunteers willing to take part. The Hadstock Society applied to the Local Heritage Initiative for a grant and was awarded £20,765 from the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2005.

We commissioned the archaeology project managment from the Braintree based ECC Field Archaeology Unit (FAU); and the geophysical survey work from GSB Prospection of Bradford, who have a track record with Time Team.

dig 03


GSB employed two techniques to reveal underground 'anomalies': resistivity, using an electronic charge, and magnetometry which measures sub-surface alignments of the magnetic field using a gradiometer. With computer enhancement, these produce maps showing areas of potential archaeological interest.

This work took less time than anticipated, and so the gradiometer survey was extended into the arable part of the field, where Roman potsherds, tiles and bricks had previosly been turned up by ploughing.

dig 04


The FAU helped us get organised, and arrived on site on 3 October 2005 with a mobile shed, a JCB digger and Project Officer Trevor Ennis, who on the basis of the 'geophys' maps, decided where to position 7 exploratory trenches. He then supervised the excavation, and the collecting and treatment of 'finds', for the next two weeks.

Community Involvement

Nearly all the manual excavation was done by volunteers on their hands and knees with trowels. As many as 80 people out of a total population of 264 adults came and had a go, plus friends from Linton, Saffron Walden, Clavering and Ashdon. Some enjoyed themselves so much, they came back for another dose! It really was hard work too! On the Saturday and Sunday, some 30 children dug with great enthusiasm and most managed to find a bit of pot or bone.

Other volunteers dealt with processing the finds - washing, labelling and bagging up the artefacts. Others made tea and coffee for the diggers, often providing home-made cakes etc. Many parishioners, unable to dig, made a point of taking a walk through the field to see what was happening. The participants found that they met and got to know people they had not spoken to before, and several newcomers said they really felt part of the community as a result of taking part in the Dig. The Hadstock Society felt that this was a very important part of the whole exercise.

Volunteers in trench 7

dig 05


About 1500 finds weighing 30 kilos were washed, dried and numbered by our volunteers, and taken to Braintree for analysis by the FAU specialists. Trevor then produced an Archaeological Investigation Report (FAU 1427) which among other things concluded that Banton meadow appeared to be a worked- out quarry site that dated back to medieval times; also that the arable field had been part of a Roman field system.

Analysis of the number of finds by time period was: 731 Roman; 95 Medieval; 93 Post Medieval; 45 Post Medieval/Modern; 159 Modern; 451 undated (bone, shell, iron, clay, stone).

The FAU produced a descriptive panel about the dig; we have placed one beside the Banton footpath, and the other in the church. Trevor also published an article 'In search of St Botolph' in the Spring 2007 Essex Journal.

dig 06

3 large boxes of finds will be preserved for the historical record by the Saffron Walden Museum.

Although the finds did not provide any evidence to answer our question 'Why Hadstock?', or provide any proof for the presence of St Botolph or King Cnut, they are a useful re-inforcement for the historical record of Hadstock, and they have greatly expanded the information available about Roman activity in the parish.

Discoveries of Special Interest

Banton Meadow

Our most significant find is a Saxon sherd from Trench 4. It is a dark grey, thick-walled ware containing oolites and dating to the mid-Saxon period between the 7th and 9th Centuries, just the time when St. Botolph's monastery was in existence, from 654 to 869. Pottery of this period is rare in Essex and does not survive well. Although there is only one piece, it indicates Saxon activity in the parish at that period.

Saxon potsherd

dig 07

Some 92 potsherds were recovered dating from the 12th to 14th centuries. The most frequent type is Hedingham ware - some fragments of fine ware jugs of the early to mid 13th Century were found together with examples of Hedingham coarse cook ware.

These finds showed that the hollows in the grass field, where trenches 3, 4 and 5 were sited, had probably been quarry pits, used for extracting chalk, and clay for building purposes, and backfilled with domestic 12th & 13th century rubbish, that included our finds.

A flint surface, some 6 metres x 6 metres, ran between trenches 1 and 2 and seemed contemporary with or later than the medieval finds. The flints appeared to have been layed, but their purpose is a mystery.

Close by we found a separate linear feature, which appeared to be a narrow flint-filled track leading towards Hadstock Hall.

Flint surface in Trench 2

dig 08

At the end of the 2 weeks' Dig, Trevor asked the JCB driver to take out more soil from the south-west end of Trench 2, where the geophysics showed an almost circular feature. This revealed a bank over 3 metres wide and 0.4 metres high, of orange silty sand with chalk and flint and a few larger stones. We continued excavating this for another week and Trevor returned to record it for us. We found nothing to date it or show what it had been. It could be the remains of a collapsed wall from which the stones had been pirated.

Hadstock is rather good at recycling stones - witness the large number of carved stones, probably from the old Saxon Chancel, that have come back to the Church from the foundations of old barns and buildings! This circular feature needs further investigation.

Unexplained bank in Trench 2

dig 09

Arable Field

The linear features on the geophys survey seem to have been boundary ditches of Roman field enclosures and trackways, dating mostly to the first and second centuries AD. From two small trenches 731 potsherds were recovered. Many were coarse Braughing pottery, but there were some fine Samian ware pieces, including one rim, base and body with the potter's name, SACERUS, on the base. A small number of unabraded sherds dating from the late second or early third centuries were also found, suggesting a possible nearby Roman occupation site - perhaps a farmstead. Brick fragments and bones of sheep, cattle, horses, dogs and birds were also found plus the ubiquitous oyster shells. There was also a quantity of modern detritus, presumably thrown into the field to help lighten the heavy clay.

Roman Samian ware

dig 10

Some of the Roman ditches were still visible in this field into the 1 960s before modern machinery could deep plough. It seems incredible that these field boundaries could survive for so long. In view of the large number of finds from trenches 6 & 7, we commissioned a further gradiometric survey over a larger part of the field which revealed more ditches and a possible track. There were also indications that there might have been a small farmstead in the North-West corner of Banton.

After the field was ploughed in October 2007, a field walk has added several thousand more fragments of pottery, brick and tiles to our finds. These have yet to be sorted and identified, but unsurprisingly appear to have a large proportion of Roman material.

Trench 7

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There seems to have been a lot more Roman activity in the parish than we had realised. This is not really surprising with the town and garrison at Great Chesterford so near, and the known Roman villa in Sunken Church Field by the river Granta, and other Roman remains in Bartlow and Ashdon. Evidence from the Banton field site suggests a farmstead rather than another villa.

We found no conclusive evidence of St. Botolph's Monastery but the mid- Saxon potsherd plus the earlier evidence found by Warwick Rodwell in 1976 under the Church floor - a Saxon potsherd, a piece of Rhenish lava quern and a stone cresset lamp, in combination indicate a Saxon presence between the 7th and 9th centuries - the time of the monastery at Ikanho (654-869 AD).

dig 12

We found nothing to indicate activity at the time of King Cnut and his son, farming.

We have no documentary or archaeological evidence that Edward the Confessor (more Norman than English) or the Normans took any interest in Hadstock before 1087. In that year Ranulf Flambard was busy increasing the royal revenues; a charter was granted to the monastery of Ely regarding 'the present Church and the graveyard of the vill, and everything to do with St. Botolph and the Festival'. This would have removed the burden of paying for a parson, and enabled Ely to put in a steward to collect payments from stallholders at the annual St Botolph’s Fair; thus for the first time, producing a cash flow, (which went to the royal coffers in any interregnum between Abbots, and later Bishops). There were several lengthy interregnums!

Trenches 1 & 2

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There is still no evidence of much activity in the village at that time. Henry I granted Ely the right to hold a weekly market for their manors in the area: this would also raise some cash. In about 1144, Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury wrote to Bishop Nigel of Ely, referring to Hadstock as ‘that place dedicated to religion in the days of old by the holy Botolph, there at rest’, but went on to complain that the owners had neglected the old Church and it should be repaired. This may have helped to spur Ely into action.

Our finds showed occupation and activity in the late 12th century and early 13th. This is supported by the records showing that Henry I granted Ely the right to hold a market for its Manors in the area, and King Richard I and King John pardoned the Bishops of Ely for assarts of over 300 acres from the Forest. A wagon-load of timber from Hadstock went to provide fencing and a new mill at Great Shelford.

This increased activity presumably required more houses and farm buildings, hence the quarry pits used for clay and chalk. A manor house may have been built to house a steward to oversee work and to collect the dues from the market and Fair. By the Survey of 1249, Hadstock had grown to 772 acres.

Trevor supervising volunteers

dig 14

Repairs to the Church had certainly started by the 13th century with the North Transept arch. Work continued into the 14th Century with further repairs and the insertion of a new South door and new windows, followed by the building of the Tower in the 15th Century. Present-day problems with the building have been caused because the monks of Ely appeared to have begrudged spending money on Hadstock, and used clunch instead of bringing good stone from Barnack, as the King had done for the original building.

The village never had any wealth or a resident squire. Only the Glebe Farm, and the Lordship [Manor] farm were over 100 acres in medieval times. There seem to have been no gentry before the Tudor period. Owing to the heavy clay soil, farming was hard and produced a poor return. There was no wool wealth for rebuilding the village. Many of the houses date from the more settled time of Elizabeth I, when ordinary people could afford to build in more permanent materials. The population right up until World War 2 was predominantly small farmers (9-30 acres) and farm labourers, along with the necessary trades (shopkeepers, tailors, blacksmith, butcher) to sustain village life. The lack of people and resources resulted in the survival of the Church, almost unaltered.

Trench 2

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Adams, D.C.O. (1867) The Saints and Missionaries of the Anglo-Saxon Era. Mowbray. 

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Trans. & ed. Michael Swanton (1996) J. M. Dent (London). 

Blair, J. (1988) Minsters and Parish Churches. The Local Church in Transition 950-1280. Oxford Univ. Committee for Archaeology, Monograph No.17.pp 1-14.
Bridge,M,C. & Miles, D.H.W. (2004) Oxford Dendro. Lab. Report 2003/30. The Tree-Ring Dating of the North Door, St. Botolph's Church, Hadstock, Essex. 

Campbell, A. (1949) Encomium Emmae Reginae, R. Hist. Soc. Camden 3rd Series. Domesday Survey.

English Heritage (1994). RadioCarbon Dates from samples funded by EH and dated before 1981. Jordan, D., Haddon-Reece, D., & Bayliss A.

Ennion, E. A. R. (1951) Cambridgeshire. (The County Books, Robert Hale, London). Ennis, T. (2007) Account of the Excavations at Hadstock. Essex Journal, spring issue Fernie, E. (1983) J. Br. Archaeol. Assoc. 136. 60-73

Finberg, H.P.R. (1961) Early Charters of the West Midlands (Studies in Early English History. Leicester Univ. Press).

Florence of Worcester. Chronicon ex Chronicis. ed. H. Petrie & J. Sharpe, (1848) Monumenta Historica Britannica Vol. I.

Fox, Sir Cyril. (1923) The Archaeology of the Cambridge Region. Cambridge Univ. Press. Freeman, A. E. (1877) History of the Norman Conquest, 3rd Edn.

Gem, R. in J. Blair, ed. (1988) Minsters and Parish Churches. The Local Church in Tran­sition 950-1280. Oxford Univ. Committee for Archaeology, Monograph No. 17. p.27. Hardy, T., ed. (1890). Memorials of St. Edmunds Abbey.

Hart, C. (1957) The Early Charters of Essex. Leicester Univ. Press.

Occasional Papers No. 10 - the Saxon Period.

Occasional Papers No. 11 - The Norman Period

dig 17

Henry of Huntingdon. Historiae Anglorum. Lib. II & VI, ed. H. Petrie & J. Sharpe, Monumenta Historica Britannica, Vol. I. (1848).

Jervaux Chronicle (in Leland, Collectanea iii, p33-).

Knowles, Dom D. (1961) The Religious Orders in England. Vol. II. The End of the Middle Ages. (Cambridge Univ.Press)

Liber Eliensis, ed. E. O. Blake (1962), R. Hist. Soc. Camden 3rd Series.

Mabillon, J. (1672) Acta Sanctorum Ordinis Sancti Benedicti. III. 1.

Miller, E. (1951) The Abbey and Bishopric of Ely. Cambridge Univ. Press.

Oxford Names Companion (2002) ed. Hanks, P., Hodges, F., Mills, A.D. & Room, A, Oxford Univ. Press.

Pearsall, D. (1997) in The Oxford Illustrated History of Mediaeval England, edited by Nigel Saul. Oxford Univ. Press. p. 257.

Rodwell, W.J. (1976) Antiquaries Journal.LVI, part 1, 55-71.

Rodwell, W. (1992) "Hadstock and Assandun" in The Battle of Maldon: Fiction and Fact. ed. Cooper, Janet, London.

Saltman, A. (1956) Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury. London.

Survey of the Manor of Hadstock for the Bishop of Ely (1249). British Library, Cotton ms. Claudius C. XI, folio 168r to 170v.

Taylor, H.M. & Joan. (1965) Anglo-Saxon Architecture. Cambridge Univ. Press. Webb, G.F. in(1958) Mediaeval England. ed. Austin Lane Pool. 2 vols. Oxford Univ. Press

Whitelock, D. ed. (1955) English Historical Documents, Vol. I, 500-1042. Eyre & Spottiswoode.

William of Malmesbury, De Gestis Regum Anglorum. trans. J. Sharpe, Church Historians of England. Vol. 3. pt. 1. ed. J. Stevenson (1854).

dig 16

dig 18a dig 18b
Resistivity survey of Banton Meadow Gradiometric  survey of both fields

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The Hadstock Society is very grateful for support and advice from:-

Dr. David Andrews (Essex County Council) and the members of the Symposium on Dating the North Door of St. Botolph's Church: Professor Eric Fernie, Dr. Warwick Rodwell, Dr. Martin Bridge, Dr. Jane Geddes and the late Adrian Gibson. Carolyn Wingfield, Curator of Saffron Walden Museum; Mark Atkinson and his staff at the Essex CC Field Archaeology Unit, particularly our archaeologist Trevor Ennis, and his helpers Chris Down, Dave Smith and Phil McMichael; Joyce Compton for work on the finds, Helen Walker for work on post-Roman pottery; William Wall, the Regional Adviser of the Local Heritage Initiative; the LHI, administered by Countryside Agency and funded by Heritage Lottery Fund, for giving us a grant; to Laura Corob, Thurlow Estates and farmer John Barker for permission to dig in their fields; also to John Barker for a lot of work metal-detecting for us; to Harry Villiers for photography and DVD; to Patricia Croxton- Smith and Hamish McIlwrick for this text, and above all, to all the people of Hadstock and friends who came to dig, provide elevenses, help clean, label and pack the finds and who gave so much support.