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Cover of British Archaeology 116

Issue 116

Jan / Feb 2011

Contents

news

All the latest archaeology news from around the country

features

Crosby Garrett Roman Helmet

The fullest report yet on its discovery, appearance and modern fate, plus its restoration

THE BIG DIG: Flixbrough

20 years of study at the Lincolnshire DMV

Fieldwalking in Bingham

The community story of a Nottinghamshire parish

Silbury Hill

What is it and how was it made?

The Varmints Show

In the Varmints' fourth exploration of music and archaeology, we look at Music and Place

on the web

Military sites of all periods and online teaching of GIS

CBA Correspondent

Our Casework team reviews another year of listed building saves

letters

Your views and responses

 

ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts

feature

Bingham: the history of a parish in small pieces

In a recent BBC television series, Michael Wood told "the story of England" through the fields, buildings and archives of a single village. As Peter Allen shows, if you have the time, energy and somewhere to walk, there are more stories out there waiting for you.

We launched our Bingham history of settlement project in November 2004. It lasted five and a half years, during which we fieldwalked all the 868 hectares (over 2000 acres) of arable land in the Nottinghamshire parish. Over 130 people took part, we mounted an exhibition, published a book and learnt a great deal about Bingham's story – and when we started, we did not even know what fieldwalking was.

In 2000 we founded the Bingham Heritage Trails Association (BHTA), a registered educational charity, to raise awareness of the parish's rich heritage. We take a broad view of this, and include natural history, archaeology, oral history, the built environment and geology. Since 2000 we have received national lottery grants for four projects.

Archaeology has featured from the start, when we contracted archaeologists from Trent and Peak Archaeology (TPA) to contribute to a set of leaflets, posters and the website that we produced with our first grant. A TPA archaeologist suggested that we fieldwalked the whole parish, which being almost entirely arable is ideal for such research. There are no archaeologists among our membership, and he had to explain to us what fieldwalking was: we now know it to be the systematic collection of artefacts from the surfaces of cultivated fields. With help from TPA we drew up a proposal for a three-year project, and were successful in winning the maximum Local Heritage Initiative grant (LHI, sponsored by the Heritage Lottery Fund).

Besides fieldwalking we carried out a topographical and geophysical survey of earthworks in Crow Close, Bingham, which in 1907 were the first to be claimed as a deserted medieval village in England. We also included a study of all the old maps and map information on the parish that we could find.

TPA staff trained us in fieldwalking, but once set up, the project was carried out and run entirely by volunteers, though we contracted specialists to identify the finds. We began doing a 20% survey (walking over one fifth of the ground), but changed that to 10% during the first winter when we realised that it would be impossible to finish in reasonable time. We walked 2m-wide transects 20m apart, and bagged up finds every 5m along each transect. We decided at the start to collect everything regardless of its age, and to study the distribution of the finds collected, rather than to concentrate just on searching for "sites" for further investigation. This meant that negative results carried as much weight as positive. All information about each find, including a 12-figure grid reference for each findspot, was put into an Access database; we were able to acquire ArcMap, a subset of ArcGIS9, for our mapping.

Fieldwork took 74 weeks over four winters, with the LHI twice granting us extensions beyond the three years. We eventually finished the project in May 2010. We overspent on our £25,000 budget by just over £1200, but this will be retrieved through book sales.

We were prepared to do a hachure survey of Crow Close, but out of the blue a local firm, 3D Laser Mapping, offered us a free survey using state-of-the-art laser equipment. It took them one afternoon, and they gave us a CD of the raw data with associated software to use in whatever way we wanted. We decided to produce an intensity view of the field, which simulates a vertical air photograph, but is scale-true. The geophysical survey was done by another local firm, GridNine Geophysics, whom we contracted. Trent and Peak aided us in the interpretation.

Nottinghamshire County Archives held a manorial survey from 1586, which had no map with it, an estate survey from 1776 and the tithe map from 1841/42. We were able to copy them all. These, in addition to Ordnance Survey maps from 1883 to the present, formed the basis for this part of the study. Two unsuccessful attempts had already been made to construct a map from the 1586 manorial survey. We were considerably aided by having the archivist behind these attempts translate the Latin for us, but it was ArcMap that made the job possible and enabled us to construct a map of the parish showing the open fields, constituent furlongs and strips and details of the village itself. Information from all the maps was put in a database, and each one was warped to fit the modern national grid. This enabled us to use all the data in a geographical information system (GIS).

We collected over 50,000 finds fieldwalking. The oldest was a flint flake that the late Roger Jacobi identified as lower palaeolithic (at least 250,000 years old). After using up reams of paper plotting trial distribution maps, we chose a range that illustrated the history of settlement of Bingham from the mesolithic to the present, over some 10,000 years. We produced several types of map. In some cases these simply used a dot for every find. Where there was a high density of finds, we summed the finds in each 100m square giving a direct value of finds per hectare for a 10% survey. This was made within the GIS using a 100m square grid laid over the whole parish and tied into the national grid. We used these two types of map for all plots up to general field enclosure in 1680–90. Thereafter we plotted finds by field using the 1776 map, the tithe map or the 1883 OS map, depending on which period we were studying. We never used the modern fields as boundaries, as these date from the hedge clearances of the 1960s.

The geology of the parish is important in this story. The bedrock is Triassic Mercia Mudstone Group. There is relatively little glacial drift cover, but there was a large lake in the northern half of the parish (created near the end of the last ice age less than 20,000 years ago), which left an extensive cover of clays with peat. The lake gradually silted up during the mesolithic, with about a quarter of it remaining as open water or marsh in the neolithic (around 3000BC). We had only a handful of late upper palaeolithic flints (13,000–10,000BC) and no indication that the parish was inhabited at this time. We found nearly all our mesolithic/earlier neolithic flints around the lake, suggesting that mesolithic hunter-gatherers may have lived there during the summer. Small concentrations of earlier neolithic flints 3km (two miles) from the lake show where the first permanent settlers came to farm about 6,000 years ago. These earlier neolithic sites are situated on a south-facing slope, close to tributaries of the river Smite. This area formed the main axis for settlement throughout the neolithic and bronze age.

We have located four concentrations of iron age pottery (800BC–AD43), one coincident with cropmarks. All four sites also have Roman pottery, and the Roman town of Margidunum, part of which is in our parish, seems to have been built at one of them. Finds show ribbon development extending from the town along the Roman Fosse Way. Margidunum's hinterland seems to have been intensively cultivated. Small clusters of Roman pottery dotted about the landscape appear to show where small farms grew up in the second and early third centuries. By Anglo-Saxon times, these farms had gone, and the new pottery clusters are closely coincident with the sites whose roots went back into the iron age.

We have a good collection of Saxo-Norman pottery. Its distribution and lack of clustering seem to suggest village nucleation and the arrival of open field agriculture in the ninth century. By the 12th century the distribution of high concentration spots of mainly Nottingham Splashed Ware shows the beginning of the re-establishment of small farms around the parish margins. By this time Bingham village in the middle of the parish was well established. In the 13th–14th centuries, when we have large amounts of Nottingham green glazed and coarse sandy wares spread over the fields, we appear to have several small farms around the parish boundary. However, the Black Death saw the beginning of their demise. By 1500 they had all gone, and Bingham village was the only place where anyone lived.

From the 15th century onwards the history of settlement is told mainly through the analysis of maps and estate or manorial surveys, but we were able to elaborate on some aspects with the fieldwalking data. Changes in land use were evident from differences in the distribution of various ceramic types. The distribution of Cistercian Ware shows that the land management plan evident on the conjectural 1586 map did not exist prior to around 1480. The Midland Yellow Ware map shows that a large part of one open field had been converted to pasture late in the 16th century, at a time when we have archival evidence that Bingham manor had changed hands.

Maps of other finds show the evolution of the village dump, which existed from the late 15th century to about 1870. Field disposal of sewerage ("night soil") was legalised and regulated in the mid 19th century, but there is little documentary information on its use in Bingham. By identifying rubbish likely to have been thrown into ash-pit privies – broken china, stoneware, glass, clay pipes and oyster shells – we were able to map a "night soil assemblage". We can show where night soil had been used as a fertilizer, and how some of the villagers changed the way in which they disposed of it after 1870.

One of the surprises came from the survey of the deserted medieval village. We ended up unable to convince ourselves that it was one! Instead we think the earthworks still clearly visible in Crow Close are the remains of the big house, estate buildings, fields and roads belonging to a family of freeholders who were prominent in Bingham from around 1450 to 1754.

There are several outputs to this project. In March 2010 we opened a six-month-long exhibition in our local library, entitled A History of Bingham in 100 Objects. Our book was published in May (see end note). All the project's detailed findings are available on our website. Our finds will go to the Nottingham University Museum. We are preparing a digital database for The Archaeology Data Service, and copies of the detailed findings will be lodged with the county archaeologist and others by the end of the year.

Around 130 people took part in the project over the five years, 100 of them volunteer fieldwalkers. There have been enormous rewards. Not only have we all come away with new knowledge and skills, but there were some benefits that we never anticipated. All our work was done by teams, which became social groups for the largely retired volunteers. We have a quarterly newsletter with a circulation of 600; there is a winter series of free public lectures and schools involvement, and we give ad hoc talks to local societies. There is also considerable communal pride that Bingham did this. For a town whose population has grown from 1,600 to 10,000 in 45 years, becoming a dormitory for Nottingham and losing much of its identity, this is no bad thing.

Peter Allen is chairman of Bingham Heritage Trails Association, which published Bingham, Back in Time, by P Allen, G Ashton & A Henstock (BHTA 2010, ISBN 978-0955435935, £12.50).

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