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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35 HOUGHTON, LITTLE
The parish is roughly rectangular and covers some 910 hectares, immediately S.E. of Northampton and S. of the R. Nene which forms its N. boundary. As a result of modern boundary changes it now includes much land formerly in Great Houghton. The S. two-thirds of the parish is entirely on Boulder Clay, between 91 m. and 107 m. above OD. In the N. the land falls steeply into the valley of the R. Nene, along whose sides narrow bands of limestones, silts and clays are exposed. Close to the river, at about 52 m. above OD, there are large areas of gravel. The parish contains a notable number of Iron Age and Roman settlements (2–27), including some Roman pottery kilns. The most important medieval site is the motte known as Clifford Hill (28), which is among the largest of its kind in the British Isles. Unfortunately nothing is known of its history.
Prehistoric and Roman
Five Acheulean hand-axes were found in a gravel pit (SP 796604) in 1974 (NM Northants. Archaeol., 10 (1975), 151). A small fragment of a polished stone axe of Group VI, Great Langdale type (PPS, 28 (1962), 263, No. 1074) was discovered in the parish between 1956–8, and another large flint axe in 1970 (at SP 79736011; NM). A polished flint axe was found in the N. of the parish during gravel-working in the 19th century (BNFAS, 5 (1971), 3), and another, in 1872, in a railway-cutting (perhaps SP 890581; Birmingham Geol. Mus.). An Iron Age coin of Cunobelinus is recorded from Little Houghton (lost; OS Record Cards), and a Roman coin of Severus Alexander was found at SP 813593 (NM Records). Iron Age and Roman pottery, in small quantities, has been found widely over the parish outside the areas of the monuments listed below (e.g. BNFAS, 2 (1967), 10; 6 (1971), 12, Great Houghton (6)).
b(1) Palaeolithic Site (around SP 803603), in a gravel pit in the N. of the parish. Several bones of horse, elephant, musk ox, woolly rhinoceros, bison and reindeer, all said to have been of Upper Pleistocene date, have been discovered (BNFAS, 5 (1971), 3).
d(2) Bronze Age or Iron Age Site (SP 806573), in the S. of the parish, on Boulder Clay at 95 m. above OD. In 1962 fragments of Bronze Age or Iron Age pottery were found in the area of a ploughedout pit. Worked flints have been discovered in the same area (BNFAS, 6 (1971), 15, Little Houghton (15)).
b(3) Iron Age Settlement (?) (SP 810607), close to the R. Nene, in the N. of the parish, on Boulder Clay at 52 m. above OD. A ditch and pits, associated with probable Iron Age pottery, were noted here after deep ploughing in 1964 (BNFAS, 6 (1971), 14, Little Houghton (1)).
b(4) Iron Age Settlement (SP 803604), S.W. of Clifford Hill, on gravel at 52 m. above OD. Excavations during gravel-working in 1972 revealed a rectangular enclosure, 60 m. by 54 m. and several intersecting ditches, forming subsidiary enclosures, were found within it. The pottery indicated a late Iron Age occupation (Northants, Archaeol., (1973), 4).
d(5) Iron Age and Roman Settlement (SP 803564), in the extreme S. of the parish, on Boulder Clay at 95 m. above OD. Large quantities of Iron Age and Roman pottery have been found, as well as roof tiles, part of a rotary quern, a bronze brooch and bracelet, Roman coins and a barbed-and-tanged arrowhead. Firebars, perhaps indicating the site of a kiln, are also recorded (BNFAS, 2 (1967), 10; 6 (1971), 12, Great Houghton (9); OS Record Cards; NM Records).
d(6) Iron Age and Roman Settlement (SP 812582), E. of Little Houghton Lodge, on Boulder Clay at 110 m. above OD. Numerous finds from this site include Iron Age and Roman pottery, tesserae, roof tiles, a spindle whorl, two 3rd-century coins, a bronze brooch, bronze rings, pieces of lead and an iron chisel. Worked flints, a leaf-shaped arrowhead and scrapers are also recorded. Air photographs (in NMR) show a cropmark of a single linear ditch, orientated N.–S., and visible for a distance of some 70 m. to the S. of the site (at SP 811580). This has been described elsewhere as a ditched trackway (BNFAS, 2 (1967), 14; 3 (1969), 5; 6 (1971), 15, Little Houghton (13); OS Record Cards; NM).
b(7) Roman Settlement and (?) Kiln (SP 804603), S.W. of Clifford Hill, on gravel at 52 m. above OD. Ditches containing Roman pottery were revealed by gravel-working. Pieces of baked clay and a stone structure possibly a kiln, were reported (BNFAS, 6 (1971), 14, Little Houghton (2)).
(8–14) East Houghton Complex (centred SP 812600; Fig. 80), covers some 90 hectares in the N. of the parish, between Coney Gree Plantation and Billing Road, on sand and limestone, between 66 m. and 91 m. above OD. Roman pottery occurs over the whole of this area but the following specific discoveries have been made.
b(9) Roman Buildings and Kilns (SP 813602). Surface finds from this field include late Iron Age and Roman pottery, over thirty coins, firebars, kiln waste, roof tiles, glass, nails, iron slag, oyster shells, many quern stones, an iron gouge and a bronze thimble. Worked flints have also been recorded. Two pits containing kiln debris and one quarry pit for sand grit have been excavated (BNFAS, 6 (1971), 14, Little Houghton (5); Ant. J., 49 (1969), 94). One small piece of glass (NM) is decorated in relief with a wheel motif. It has been suggested that it is part of a cult vessel used in the worship of Jupiter (J. Northants. Mus. and Art Gall., 10 (1974), 2–5; BAR, 24 (1976), 180).
b(10) Iron Age and Roman Settlement And Kilns (centred SP 815604). Surface finds include Iron Age and Roman pottery, worked flints and scatters of stone, as well as firebars, a Roman bronze brooch and one coin. Air photographs (CUAP, ZE 31–40, ZJ 61–5 and in NMR) show a complex group of rectangular enclosures and associated ditches (BNFAS, 6 (1971), 14, Little Houghton (4); Northants. Archaeol., 8 (1973), 6).
b(11) Enclosures and Pit Alignment (centred SP 810600). Air photographs (CUAP, AVD 33– 7 and in NMR) show a pit alignment orientated N.E.— S.W. and traceable for 500 m. Near its S.W. end it passes through a group of small enclosures which have a ditched trackway and another pit alignment running N. from them. At its N.E. end the first pit alignment has a small double enclosure attached to it (BNFAS, 6 (1971), 14–15, Little Houghton (6); Northants. Archaeol., 9 (1974), 44).
d(12) Iron Age Settlement (SP 813599). Air photographs (CUAP, BJC 61–3 and in NMR) show a complex series of enclosures and ditches. Surface finds from the area include Iron Age pottery, some of Hunsbury type, associated with numerous pits (BNFAS, 6 (1971), 15, Little Houghton (7)).
d(13) Roman Settlement and Kilns (SP 811598). A large quantity of Roman pottery, firebars, and baked clay material from the domes and lining of kilns has been found in the area, as well as numerous Roman coins and worked flints. Air photographs (not seen by RCHM) are said to show some indeterminate ditches in the area (BNFAS, 2 (1967), 14; 3 (1969), 15; 4 (1970), 10; 6 (1971), 15, Little Houghton (8); Ant. J., 49 (1969), 93). A Roman gold coin of Augustus, found in 1717, is now thought to have come from this site (Northants. Archaeol., 9 (1974), 91).
d(14) Roman Settlement and Kilns (SP 812596). Surface finds include Roman pottery and coins, roof tiles, wall plaster, bronze brooches, bracelets and pins, pieces of lead, spindle whorls, scatters of stone and worked flints. Four pits or gullies, with kiln bars, kiln lining and 1st-century Roman pottery, have been excavated (BNFAS., 6 (1971), 15, Little Houghton (8); 7 (1972), 22; Northants. Archaeol., 8 (1973), 6; 9 (1974), 9; 10 (1975), 155; Ant. J., 49 (1969), 92–3). Roman coins have also been found further to the N.E. (at SP 814597; BNFAS, 4 (1970), 10).
(15–20) South Houghton Complex (centred SP 802593), covers some 15 hectares immediately S. of the village on sand, limestone and Boulder Clay, at 76 m. above OD. Roman pottery occurs over the whole of the area, but the following specific discoveries have been made.
d(15) Roman Settlement (SP 804596). Roman pottery and coins, bronze rings and worked flints, including scrapers and barbed-and-tanged arrowheads, were found here in 1963. A medieval arrowhead, a coin of Henry I, a spindle whorl and a pilgrim's badge have also been found (BNFAS, 2 (1967), 26; 6 (1971), 15, Little Houghton (10); 7 (1972), 2).
d(16) Roman Settlement (?) (SP 805593). Two Roman coins, a fragment of tile and a leaf-shaped arrow head were found in 1966 (BNFAS, 6 (1971), 15, Little Houghton (11)). Roman pottery has subsequently been recovered.
d(21) Roman Settlement (SP 809595), immediately W. of Coney Gree Plantation and within Houghton Park, on limestone at 84 m. above OD. Air photographs (not seen by RCHM) are said to show at least one double ditch. Roman pottery and coins, as well as worked flints, including cores and scrapers, are recorded (BNFAS, 6 (1971), 15, Little Houghton (9); OS Record Cards).
d(23) Roman Settlement (SP 811587; Fig. 81), on Boulder Clay at 100 m. above OD. Air photographs (in NMR) show a group of conjoined rectangular enclosures, associated with other features which are not clearly visible. A small quantity of Roman pottery has been found a short distance to the E. (BNFAS, 6 (1971), 15, Little Houghton (12)).
d(24) Iron Age and Roman Settlement And Kilns (SP 801586), on Boulder Clay at 91 m. above OD. Iron Age and Roman pottery and kiln bars were found here in 1960 (Ant. J., 49 (1969), 93; BNFAS, 6 (1971), 12, Great Houghton (5)). There are also records of Roman pottery and kiln debris near by (at SP 802585; OS Record Cards).
d(25) Roman Settlement (SP 815574), on Boulder Clay at 107 m. above OD. Dark patches of soil, indicating pits, burnt limestone, Roman pottery and worked flints are recorded (BNFAS, 6 (1971), 15, Little Houghton (14); NM Records).
d(26) Roman Settlement (SP 819564), on Boulder Clay at 112 m. above OD. Large patches of stone, Roman pottery and coins, roof tiles, iron slag and worked flints are recorded (BNFAS, 3 (1969), 15; 6 (1971), 15, Little Houghton (16); NM Records).
Medieval and Later
b(28) Motte (SP 80606063; Fig. 82; Plate 5), known as Clifford Hill, lies N. of the village, on the edge of the R. Nene, on Boulder Clay and Lias Clay at 54 m. above OD. The motte is of exceptional size, standing some 14 m. high above the surrounding land. Though once circular in plan and regular in form, it is now considerably altered and damaged on its S. side, where the steep side has been reduced to a series of rounded and ill-defined terraces and mounds, as a result of landslips. The summit of the motte is flat and featureless, but its former circular shape has been changed, following the collapse of the S. side. The mound is surrounded by a large ditch up to 5 m. deep, but again on the S. side there are indications that this ditch has been recut, following the slipping of the side of the motte above it, which perhaps partly filled it. On the N. there is a steep drop, which forms a narrow rampart-like feature, 4 m. high above the R. Nene. On the S. is a wide and much spread outer bank which has been interpreted as additional defences. This may have originated as the spoil removed from the blocked S. ditch after the landslip, though its present form is the result of subsequent ploughing. A low bank, formed partly by the old river cliff, extends W. from the motte ditch and is truncated by the later mill pond. This may be part of a bailey but the evidence is inadequate. Part of the site was dug into in 1900 'but nothing was found that is worth recording' (Ann. Rep. Northants. Exploration Soc., (1900), 7; copy in Northampton Central Library).
The motte, presumably of 11th or 12th-century date, was clearly built to control a ford across the R. Nene, leading from Little Houghton to Little Billing. However nothing is known of its early history beyond the fact that it bore its present name in the 13th century. The name has no significance except as a description of the motte's situation on the cliff near a ford (PN Northants., 149). The lack of any documented history concerning one of the largest mottes in England may be due to its early collapse. It is constructed from Lias Clay which is notoriously unstable when wet and the landslips on its S. side, as well as the attempted restoration of the ditch, may have taken place soon after it was built. The present flat summit is apparently due to the construction of a bowling green there in the 17th century. Before this the motte was alleged to have been higher (VCH Northants., I (1902), 218; IV (1937), 266–7; J. Bridges, Hist. of Northants., I (1971), 373).
b(29) Site Of Manor House (SP 80265961; Fig. 83; Plate 5), immediately W. of the church, on sand at 84 m. above OD. The site consists of a rectangular raised platform with a level top, so that it is almost 3 m. high on the N.W. and only 1 m. high on the S. The S.E. part has been destroyed by the churchyard and the N.W. corner has been damaged. There are slight traces of former buildings on the platform, but these may be modern. Nothing remains of a surrounding ditch on the surface but a trench cut across the N. edge in 1957 revealed a ditch which contained 13th-century pottery and tile.
The site has been described as a motte, but it is more probably the site of a medieval manor house. The area in which it lies was known as South Hall Piece in 1835 (NRO, Estate Map; CBA Group 9, Newsletter, 4 (1974), 27).
d(30) Settlement Remains (SP 801597 and 802595), formerly part of Little Houghton, lie on the E. side of the village, S. of Meadow Lane, and N. of the Bedford Road. Both areas have a series of rectangular closes, bounded by low scarps up to 1.5 m. high, indicating possible former occupation. Of more significance are the slight traces of a possible hollow-way which, though much damaged, suggest that Meadow Lane once ran on S.W. from the present right-angle bend (at SP 80185975) as far as the parish boundary with Great Houghton. If this was the case then the village at some time had a neat rectangular form bounded by Church Street on the E., Bedford Road on the S., Meadow Lane on the N. and the parish boundary on the W., with the church and manor house (29) in the S.E. corner. Both areas were devoid of building in 1835 (NRO, Estate Map; RAF VAP CPE/UK/1926, 4015–6).
b(31) Fishpond (SP 90686010; Fig. 84; Plate 8), lies N.E. of the village in a narrow valley draining N., on clay at 60 m. above OD. It consists of a small pond bounded by well-marked banks up to 1.5 m. high. There are two modern breaks in the bank, near the N.E. corner. The present stream flows immediately to the W. but a dry channel on the E. may be its original course. It is probably a medieval fishpond (CBA Group 9, Newsletter, 4 (1974), 27; RAF VAP CPE/UK/1926, 4106–7;/1994, 1189–90).
(32) Cultivation Remains. The common fields of the parish were enclosed by Act of Parliament of 1827 (NRO, Enclosure Map, 1829) together with those of Brafield-on-the-Green. In the early 18th century Bridges recorded that the common fields of the two parishes were intermixed (J. Bridges, Hist. of Northants., I (1791), 341). In 1618 Daniel Ward received licence to enclose 132 acres in this parish and in Great Houghton, but it is not known in which area this land lay (VCH Northants., IV (1937), 267).
Ridge-and-furrow of these fields remains on the ground, or can be traced from air photographs, over almost the entire parish. It is arranged in end-on and interlocked furlongs with a marked tendency for the ridges to be orientated across the contours on steep slopes. A number of former headlands can still be seen as low ridges up to 300 m. long (e.g. at SP 809569, 810573 and 815577). Both these and the ridge-and-furrow agree with the layout of furlongs shown on the Enclosure Map. A number of old lanes or access-ways through the fields are still traceable, the most notable being a former axial road running N.—S. across the parish (SP 80765890– 81405730). This still survives in parts as a footpath edged by embanked hedgerows. Two other minor accessways are visible in the S.E. of the parish (at SP 811571). In the extreme S. of the parish ridge-and-furrow also covers most of the area known as The Furze in 1829, when it was pasture.
The modern parish now contains land which was formerly in Great Houghton. The cultivation remains there are described under the latter parish (RAF VAP CPE/UK/1926, 2014–8, 4013–8; CPE/UK/1994, 1188–91, 2184–6, 3179–81; CPE/UK/2546, 3120–4; F21 543/RAF/943, 0055–60; F22 543/RAF/943, 0055–60; F21 543/RAF/2049, 0152–4; F22 543/RAF/ 2049, 0151–4).