Earls Barton

Pages 39-43

An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of Northamptonshire, Volume 2, Archaeological Sites in Central Northamptonshire. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1979.

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Table of contents


(OS 1:10000 a SP 86 NW, b SP 86 NE, c SP 86 SW, d SP 86 SE)

The parish, covering nearly 950 hectares, lies N. of the R. Nene which forms its S. boundary. From the river, here flowing at 42 m. above OD, the land rises gently across extensive gravel terraces and then more steeply over outcrops of Upper Lias Clay to a flat-topped ridge of sand and limestone at around 100 m. above OD. Beyond, the land falls into the valley of the Wilby Brook, here cut into Upper Lias Clay. A large number of prehistoric and Roman settlements have been recorded by both air photography and fieldwork. However the most significant monument is the Wessex-type Bell Barrow (2), excavated in 1969, which is at present unique in Earls Barton is situated in the centre of the parish and around a S.-facing spur of Northampton Sand. On this spur stands the celebrated Saxon church tower, within the area protected by an earthen cross-dyke (14). This dyke is probably earlier than the tower.

Prehistoric and Roman

An Iron Age coin of Tasciovanus was found in the parish before 1864 (J. Evans, Ancient British Coins, (1864), 79; Brit. Num. J., 16 (1922), 297). A 1st-century silver coin was found in 1959 (SP 86006376; NM Records). Roman pottery and possibly a kiln are said to have been found in the parish before 1900 (NM Records).

d(1) Palaeolithic Site (SP 85456255), found in a small gravel pit in the S. of the parish in 1904. A number of rolled early Acheulean handaxes and some waste flakes are recorded (OS Record Cards; J. Northants. Natur. Hist. Soc. and FC, 12 (1903–4), 279; NM; PM).

d(2) Bell Barrow and Enclosure (SP 87056275), in the S.E. of the parish, on gravel at about 42 m. above OD. The barrow had a diam. of 27 m. with a berm 10 m. wide and a surrounding ditch 50 m. in diam. and 1.7 m. deep. It was completely excavated in 1969 before destruction. No trace of a burial was found, and only an area of burning, perhaps from a funeral pyre, was discovered on the ground surface. Radio Carbon dates for this burnt area were 1219 and 1264 b.c., a calendar date of perhaps 1500 B.C. A bronze ogival Wessex-type dagger with a central midrib (CamertonSnowshill Group) was found within the mound. A rectangular enclosure and a ditch system impinged on the barrow but neither could be dated (Current Arch. 32 (1972), 238–41; BNFAS, 4 (1970), 47).

d(3) Enclosures (SP 852626; Fig. 42), on gravel at 54 m. above OD. Air photographs (CUAP, AFX 5; in NMR) show very indistinct cropmarks of two small enclosures and some indeterminate ditches (BNFAS, 6 (1971), 9, Earls Barton (2c) for a different interpretation).

d(4) Enclosures (SP 854624; Fig. 41), immediately W. of Station Road, on gravel at 50 m. above OD. Air photographs (CUAP, ZE 23) show a roughly rectangular enclosure with a disturbed interior, close to old gravel workings. It is associated with a number of pits and a less well-defined circular enclosure to the S. and another ovoid enclosure to the S.W. Other pits and some short lengths of ditches are also visible. The ditch extending N. from the enclosure may be connected with the former gravel pit.

Fig. 41 Earls Barton (4, 5) Cropmarks

c(5) Enclosure (SP 848641; Fig. 41), immediately W. of Northampton Road, on sand at 97 m. above OD. Air photographs (in NMR) show a small rectangular enclosure with a possible entrance on the S. side. Further ditches extend to the N. and S.E. These may be part of a larger enclosure now destroyed by modern development to the E. (BNFAS, 6 (1971), 8, Earls Barton (1)).

cd(6) Enclosure, Pit Alignment and Ditches (SP 850627; Fig. 42), on gravel at 56 m. above OD. Air photographs (in NMR) show a group of indistinct ditches, a small enclosure and two semicircular features. A pit alignment runs along the N. side of the site and westwards towards (7) (BNFAS, 6 (1971), 9, Earls Barton (2b); Northants. Archaeol., 9 (1974), 44).

c(7) Ring Ditches, Pit Alignments, Iron Age and Roman Settlement (centred SP 845625; Fig. 42), on gravel at 50 m. above OD. Air photographs (in NMR; CUAP, AFX 6–9, ZE 24–8) show a large area of complex cropmarks which include enclosures, pit alignments, ditched trackways and at least eight ring ditches, possibly hut-circles. The remains form no coherent pattern and must represent a number of different periods of occupation. A pipeline trench cut across the area in 1966 revealed a large number of pits and ditches containing late Iron Age and early Roman pottery. To the S. (at SP 846623) a scatter of stone, Roman pottery and tile was noted. Worked flints have been found over the whole area (BNFAS 1 (1966), 2 (1967), 9; 6 (1971), 8–9, Earls Barton (2); Northants. Archaeol., 9 (1974), 44).

b(8) Iron Age Settlement (SP 85956515), in the N.E. of the parish, on sand at 91 m. above OD. a pipeline trench cut in 1973 revealed a number of pits and ditches containing late Iron Age pottery (Northants. Archaeol., 9 (1974), 83).

d(9) Iron Age and Roman Settlement (SP 85326472), in the N.E. of the parish, on sand at 91 m. above OD. A pipeline trench cut in 1973 revealed a number of pits and ditches containing late Iron Age pottery. Further Iron Age and Roman pottery was found in the adjacent area (Northants. Archaeol., 9 (1974), 83).

d(10) Iron Age and Roman Settlement (SP 853634), immediately E. of Station Road, on clay at 76 m. above OD. Iron Age and Roman pottery was found in numerous pits and ditches when the area was built over in 1964 (Beds. Arch. J., 3 (1966), 3).

d(11) Iron Age and Roman Settlement (SP 856635), 300 m. E. of (10), on sand at 76 m. above OD. Iron Age and Roman pottery was found in numerous pits and ditches when the area was built over in 1964 (Beds. Arch. J., 3 (1966), 3).

d(12) Roman Settlement (SP 851624; Fig. 42), on gravel at 50 m. above OD. Drain-cutting in 1970 revealed a number of ditches containing Roman pottery and some tiles (BNFAS, 6 (1971), 9, Earls Barton (3)).

d(13) Roman Settlement (?) (SP 858619), in the S. of the parish, on gravel at 47 m. above OD. Cropmarks are said to have been seen here on air photographs, and some Roman pottery and worked flints have been found (Rescue Publication 2, Northampton—Wellingborough Expressway Survey, (1972)).

Medieval and Later

A St. Neots ware cooking-pot was found at Earls Barton in 1939, apparently in the village (Procs. Cambs. Ant. Soc., 49 (1956), 69).

d(14) Mound and Ditch (SP 85176384; Fig. 43; Plate 4), lie immediately N. of Earls Barton church, on the N. side of the village square on the neck of a small S.-facing spur at 84 m.–90 m. above OD. It is known as Berry Mount.

The mound is ovoid, flat-topped and 2 m. high. It appears to have been cut back a little on its S. side as a result of alteration to the churchyard. It is bounded on the N. side by a wide curving ditch up to 4 m. deep which has been truncated at both ends by later infill. The relationship between the mound and the ditch is unusual, especially on the E. side where the ditch appears to be turning S.E. on an alignment different from the curve of the mound. This may indicate that the two features are not contemporary.

Fig. 42 Earls Barton (3, 6) Cropmarks, (7) Iron Age and Roman settlement, (12) Roman settlement, Ecton (17, 18) Roman settlements, (19) Cropmarks

Interpretation of the date and function of the earthworks must take into account the existence of the well-known Saxon tower of the adjacent church. This tower is usually assigned to the second half of the 10th century. It has been suggested that the ditch in its original form either extended a little further S.E., so cutting across the whole neck of the spur and thus forming a cross-dyke, or once encircled the whole spur and is therefore part of a ring work. Either interpretation could mean that it is contemporary with the church tower and is the defence work around a Saxon thegn's dwelling. However it is also possible that the ditch is prehistoric in origin, and part of an Iron Age fort or cross-dyke. The mound has been described as a motte and thus, by inference, is Norman, and later than the tower and presumably the ditch. If the mound is a motte, however, it is sited in a curious position, totally overlooked by the church. It could have functioned only as a defence additional to the ditch, protecting the approach to the spur from the N. (Arch. J., 35 (1878), 119; 110 (1953), 196; 124 (1967), 202–11; VCH Northants., II (1906), 405; H.M. and J. Taylor, Anglo-Saxon Architecture, 1 (1965), 222–6; VAP FSL 6603, 1526).

Fig. 43 Earls Barton (14) Mound and ditch

d(15) Fishponds (SP 854638), immediately N. of Broad Street. There were apparently once a number of fishponds in this area which were later turned into watercress beds. These have now been destroyed (J. Northants. Natur. Hist. Soc. and FC, 19 (1917), 41). The area was called Fishpond Close in 1838 (NRO, Enclosure Map).

d(16) Deserted Hamlet of Thorpe (SP 865630; Figs. 44 and 45), lies 1.5 km. S.E. of the village on the edge of the R. Nene, on gravel at 46 m. above OD. Thorpe is first recorded in Domesday Book when it was held by Robert of the Countess Judith and gelded for three virgates. The recorded population was then only four villeins (VCH Northants., I (1902), 354). It was known in 1261 as Barton Thorp and later as Thorp juxta Barton and Thorp in parochia de Barton Comitis. Apart from the descent of the manor nothing is known of the history or date of desertion of the site. Of the three mills held in Earls Barton in 1086 two probably belonged to the manor of Thorpe for in 1580 two watermills were recorded as being in that hamlet. Certainly by 1772 (Map in NRO) the site was completely deserted except for the existing mill, though the adjacent fields were known as Thorpe Closes (PN Northants., 138; VCH Northants., IV (1937), 118; J. Bridges, Hist. of Northants., II (1791), 139).

Fig. 44 Earls Barton (16) Deserted hamlet of Thorpe (drawing based on plan of 1772)

The remains lie in pasture on either side of a lane leading down to the old mill. The S. part of this lane was probably the main street of the hamlet for the rectangular closes lie on either side of it. There appear to be traces of at least nine closes, four W. of the lane and five to the E. These are bounded by low banks and scarps, nowhere above 0.5 m. high, and are also sub-divided internally. Well-marked depressions at the ends of a number of the closes, edging the lane, are perhaps house-sites. At the N.W. corner of the site is a shallow hollow-way which leads S. into the adjacent ridge-and-furrow. To the N. of the earthworks, in a field now under permanent arable, ploughing has produced a scatter of stone rubble associated with quantities of medieval pottery, mainly of the 12th to 14th centuries. This indicates that the settlement once extended in this direction. Immediately S.W. of the old mill three large depressions are probably part of the waterworks of the mill and thus not directly associated with the hamlet (CUAP, BLD 51–3, BLU 13–17; RAF VAP F22 543/ RAF/2409, 0132–3; FSL 6603, 1528–9).

(17) Cultivation Remains. The common fields of the parish were enclosed by Act of Parliament of 1771 (NRO, Enclosure Map, 1838). Ridge-and-furrow of these fields exists on the ground or can be traced on air photographs only on the lower ground W., S. and S.E. of the village. There it is arranged mainly in end-on furlongs of reversed-S type, usually at right-angles to the contours. Ridge-and-furrow of the deserted hamlet of Thorpe (16) lies immediately around the remains. Only three blocks of ridge-and-furrow exist, all running S. to the R. Nene (RAF VAP CPE/UK/2546, 3128–33, 4038–43; F21 543/RAF/943, 0090–4; F22 543/RAF/ 943, 0044–51, 0090–6; F21 543/RAF/2409, 0128–33, 0157–61; F22 543/RAF/2409, 0129–37; F21 540/ RAF/1312, 0289–90; F22 540/RAF/1312, 0289–90).