Historical Bulletin - February 2001.

The Calverton Records Project (CRP) has decided to revive the 'Historical Bulletin' as a means of updating members and informing a wider audience of current activities. It provides an opportunity to hear more of the research into the history of the village which is turning out to be suprisingly rich.

Currently there is a tremendous amount of interest in studying Deserted Medieval Villages. These desertions resulted not from the horrific effects of the Black Death as is usually supposed, but from the changing economics of farming - and in particular the increasing demand for wool. This meant that many landowners found it far more profitable to turn their land over to pasture for grazing sheep than to continue with the traditional labour-intensive arable farming typified by the three-field system.

In many cases this lead to the peasants being thrown off the land and their villages being totally deserted. In other cases, some level of traditional agriculture continued and the village simply shrank in size. In both cases, little evidence is left of the deserted buildings after abandonment and collapse.

Any useful materials were often robbed out, the wooden structures and organic materials rotted away and whatever remained became overgrown and forgotten. Subsequently the overgrowth might be cleared and the land ploughed and returned to useful production. In this case all that would be left of the deserted buildings would be odd bits of rubble and pieces of pottery, broken up by the ploughshare and then dragged across the surface of the field in the direction of the ploughing (known as plough-scatter), After a number of seasons the pieces of pottery (sherds) would be broken into still smaller pieces and their surfaces and edges abraded by the action of the plough and the harrow as they were scattered ever further from their original position. Finally, with virtually no indication left of an historical site, modern deep ploughing would often obliterate any remaining foundations. Sadly this is the fate of an increasing number of our medieval village sites.

Aerial view of site in Lower Weald looking south.

But in Calverton's case it is different. The village shrank rather than being abandoned and the crofts (individual enclosures surrounded by a ditch and bank) and their house plots (platforms) were simply left to grass over. We were aware of several sites from their remaining earthworks. There are a number of examples in all three Wealds and last summer a dig was organised a dig in Crossway Piece, Lower Weald, which had been previously identified from aerial photos.

Collection of pottery finds from pond area. Dates not confirmed but thought to be later than ceramic finds from rest of site - c. 16/17th Century.

The field was surveyed and an initial investigation begun in the area of the dried-up pond (under the hawthorn tree near to the back of Rectory Farmhouse).

Some promisingly straight stone foundations turned out to be disappointingly natural, but a few sherds of pottery (c. 17thC.) were found and a rather splendid George III penny, but not much else.

George lll penny found in pond area by metal detector just under turf layer.

General view of trench 2 looking north.  Most of the early pottery finds came from this trench.

It was therefore decided to open up two trenches along the boundary between Croft 1 and Croft 2 (opposite Old Pound Barn). The turf and topsoil were removed by machine ready for the diggers to start. The top trench (cutting across the southern boundary ditch of the enclosure) yielded very little other than some iron nails and pieces of horseshoe.

So work began on the trench nearest to the road. Our lady diggers normally put in about a couple of hours on a Sunday morning before having to rush home to cook lunch for the family. They were feeling pretty despondent having spent most of their allotted time clearing the first layer of topsoil, then, with about 10 minutes to go, they came across the first pottery finds. These were more than we ever dared hope for, some had patchy mottled green glaze others were coarse, obviously hand-made and looked very old. But how old?

The finds were cleaned and then looked up on the Web to try and find a match. Unfortunately there was not much useful information but the mottled green glaze on some pieces did look as if it might be medieval.

Upright rim of hand-made pot in shelley fabric with grog inclusions. Appears to be Iron age.
Upper body sherd of green glazed jug with wavy line decoration. 14th Century or possibly earlier.

It was decided to enlist the help of local archaeologists who were very enthusiastic about the undisturbed nature site and the quality and variety of the finds. The bulk of the sherds appeared to be medieval with some Roman and Romano-British examples and a few from even earlier times.

Part of jug rim and upper part of striated (grooved) handle. Potterspury ware c.14/15th Century. Reconstructed rim and upper shoulder of large vessel. Undated as yet.

A cross section of the finds was submitted for specialist identification and we were staggered to hear that our rather hastily put-together selection managed to cover an extensive period from mid Iron Age (say c.300 BC), through to the 14th and 15th Centuries.

Reconstructed  rim and upper shoulder of large Potterspury ware vessel c.15th Century. Computer reconstruction of Potterspury ware vessel shown left. Rim diameter 225mm/9", Body dia 400mm/16" average thickness is only 3mm/ 1/8th"
Rim of bowl in a shelly fabric. Probably 13th century. Rim of dish in Blackware. Could be Black Burnished ware - if so would be 2nd Century AD. Rim and neck of grey ware jar. Fabric contains much quartz (glitters) Probably 2nd Century AD.
Canine and insor possibly from large dog or boar. Copper alloy medieval ring brooch (shown with modern pin). Mid parts of striated handle - possible 13/14th Century Potterspury ware.

Most people interested in local history are proud to say that their village or town is mentioned in the Domesday book of 1086 and indeed the Parish of Calverton does have its own entry under the lands of Hugh de Bolbec. However, on the basis of present evidence, we can say that Village of Calverton has been inhabited for more than a millennia before that!

David Muston
February 2001

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Last updated
21st February 2001.