Pages 111-113

An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of Northamptonshire, Volume 3, Archaeological Sites in North-West Northamptonshire. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1981.

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Table of contents


(OS 1: 10000 a SP 78 SW, b SP 78 SE, c SP 77 NW, d SP 77 NE)

The L-shaped parish covers about 1145 hectares and lies across the upper reaches of the R. Ise; an E.-flowing tributary stream forms the N. boundary. The higher ground in the S. and W. and on the spur between the two streams is covered by Boulder Clay rising to a maximum height of 180 m. above OD. Upper Lias Clay is revealed along the lower slopes, and the valley bottoms at about 115 m. above OD are floored by wide areas of river gravel and alluvium. The main monument is the deserted village of Kelmarsh (14), but little is known about the history of the extensive earthworks.

Prehistoric and Roman

a(1) Enclosure (SP 732808), N.W. of Lodge Ground Spinney, on Boulder Clay at 130 m. above OD. Air photographs (in NMR) show all but the S.W. side of an apparently rectangular enclosure at least 50 m. across (Northants. Archaeol., 9 (1974), 114).

a(2) Enclosure and Ditch (SP 725813), S. of Kelmarsh Field Farm, on Upper Lias Clay at 137 m. above OD. Air Photographs (in NMR) show, rather indistinctly, what may be the N. part of a sub-rectangular enclosure at least 60 m. across, with a linear ditch extending for at least 200 m. from its N.W. corner (Northants. Archaeol., 9 (1974), 114).

c(3) Enclosures (SP 719793; Fig. 84), lie in the W. of the parish, on Northampton Sand and Upper Lias Clay, at 160 m. above OD. Air photographs (in NMR) show cropmarks of at least two rectangular enclosures, one with a circular feature in its S.E. corner. Other ditches are also visible.

a(4) Roman Settlement (?) (SP 726806), 500 m. S. of (2), on Boulder Clay at 145 m. above OD. A scatter of Roman pottery has been found here (Northants. Archaeol., 11 (1976), 192).

a(5) Roman Settlement (?) (SP 732803), 500 m. S.E. of (4), on river gravel at 122 m. above OD. A scatter of Roman pottery has been found in the area (Northants. Archaeol., 11 (1976), 192).

d(6) Roman Settlement (SP 750796), S. and S.E. of New Covert, in the E. of the parish, on Northampton Sand and Upper Lias Clay between 135 m. and 150 m. above OD. Air photographs (in NMR) show, very indistinctly, a large area of cropmarks covering some 10 hectares. It is not possible to interpret the features clearly, not only because there are discrepancies between the available air photographs but also because there is extensive frost-wedging in the area. The site appears to consist of a number of conjoined rectangular enclosures, possibly with a ditched trackway passing between them. From the S.W. part of the site (SP 748796) Roman pottery has been found (Northants. Archaeol., 11 (1976), 192; for Saxon pottery from this site, see (12) below).

c(7) Roman Settlement (?) (SP 745793), 500 m. S.W. of (6) on Boulder Clay at 152 m. above OD. Roman pottery has been found and air photographs (not seen by RCHM) are said to show cropmarks of a settlement (Northants. Archaeol., 11 (1976), 192; 12 (1977), 230; for Saxon finds from this site, see (13)).

c(8) Roman Settlement (?) (SP 744790), 300 m. S.S.W. of (7) on Upper Lias Clay at 145 m. above OD. A scatter of Roman pottery has been found (Northants. Archaeol., 12 (1977), 212).

c(9) Roman Settlement (SP 723788), S.W. of the village, on Boulder Clay and Upper Lias Clay between 135 m. and 145 m. above OD. Air photographs (in NMR) show, rather indistinctly, a large area of cropmarks covering some 8 hectares. They include overlapping and conjoined rectangular enclosures, with other linear features intersecting them. Roman pottery has been found on the N. edge of the site (SP 720803) and to the W. (SP 722788; Northants. Archaeol., 11 (1976), 192; 12 (1977), 212).

a(10) Roman Settlement (?) (SP 734806), in the N.E. of the parish, on Boulder Clay at 123 m. above OD. Roman sherds have been noted (Northants. Archaeol., 12 (1977), 212).

a(11) Roman Settlement (?) (SP 733815), in the N. of the parish on Upper Lias Clay at 135 m. above OD. A scatter of Roman pottery has been discovered (Northants. Archaeol., 12 (1977), 212).

Medieval and Later

d(12) Saxon Settlement (?) (SP 750796), found on the Roman settlement (6). Early Saxon pottery has been discovered (Northants. Archaeol., 11 (1976), 192).

c(13) Saxon Settlement (?) (SP 745793), found on the Roman settlement (7). Early Saxon pottery has been discovered (Northants. Archaeol., 11 (1976), 192).

c(14) Deserted Village of Kelmarsh (SP 743794; Fig. 85), lies N. and N.W. of the present estate village, around and within the park of Kelmarsh Hall, on Upper Lias Clay, between 120 m. and 145 m. above OD. The remains of the village are both extensive and well preserved, but its history and the date of desertion are not known.

Kelmarsh is first mentioned by name in Domesday Book but no total recorded population is given there. At that time it was divided into two holdings, one of which was part of the royal manor of Rothwell; the other was a small manor held by William Pevrel, with a recorded population of nine (VCH Northants., II (1906), 306, 338). In 1377, 84 people over the age of 14 paid the Poll Tax, indicating a sizable community (PRO, E179/155/28). In 1674, 26 householders paid the Hearth Tax, a figure which does not suggest a major drop in population (PRO, E179/254/14). Bridges (Hist. of Northants., II (1791), 39) records that in about 1720 there were 23 families living in the village, and the population of the parish in 1801 was 131. There is no clear documentary indication of depopulation at Kelmarsh at any period and, though some clearance may have taken place in 1727–32 when the present hall replaced the older manor house of around 1600, it is likely that much of the abandonment had already taken place before then. The modern village lies S.E. of the hall and is made up largely of 19th-century estate houses.

The remains fall into three main blocks. To the S.W. of the hall, N. of and around the isolated church, is a large area of earthworks consisting mainly of sub-rectangular closes or platforms bounded by low scarps and banks or by shallow ditches. Some appear to be arranged around the church along the existing road to Clipston; the others are on either side of a broad hollow-way to the N. which runs almost parallel to the present road. This hollow-way is cut at right-angles by a broad, deep ditch running N.–S. ('a' on plan). To the W. of this ditch the village earthworks are well preserved but to the E. only slight fragments remain. It appears that the ditch is a late feature bounding the W. edge of an area which has been ploughed and returned to parkland in recent times. It is possible that this was done in the 18th century when the hall was built and the park created.

The second main area of earthworks lies E. of the hall, E. and N. of Hall Farm. These appear to be the rather mutilated remains of former houses and closes lying along the existing Harborough Road with, behind them to the E., a roughly trapezoidal ditched area divided into paddocks. It is possible that these remains are of two separate phases though the exact relationship is not clear. At the N. corner ('b' on plan) is a triangular feature, bounded by banks up to 1.5 m. high broken by several gaps. This may be a mutilated fishpond. It is unlikely to be a 17th-century Civil War fortification as has sometimes been claimed (see (16) below).

The third part of the site lies W. and N. of Wilderness Farm and consists of a number of long closes bounded by ditches and scarps extending E. to the R. Ise. These remains are extremely fragmentary but may be sites of abandoned houses and gardens.

To the N. of the village earthworks, N. of the artificial lake of Kelmarsh Hall, air photographs show traces of ploughed out enclosures (not shown on plan). These may be associated with the former village.

A small excavation was carried out in 1961 on a building platform N. of the church. This produced pottery from the 11th century, including Stamford Ware, with smaller quantities of 13th and 14th-century sherds. Two occupation layers were noted, the lower with post-holes for a timber building, the upper with stake-holes of light sheds dating from the 16th to the 18th centuries (DOE Arch. Excavations 1971 (1972), 33; DMVRG Annual Rep., 18 (1971), 17; RAF VAP 106G/UK/636, 3188–9; CUAP, SB48–51, AEV30–31, AHE85–90, AWV12–14, BQD25–32, 35, VAP76).

c(15) Dam (SP 731792; Fig. 85), lies across the valley of the R. Ise, S. of the Clipston road, on alluvium and Upper Lias Clay at 125 above OD. It consists of a large earthen bank up to 2 m. high, spanning the narrow valley, with a modern break through which the river now flows. It presumably ponded back a considerable lake and may have been the site of a medieval fishpond or watermill.

Fig. 86 Kelmarsh (17) Site of sheep-fold
Fig. 85 Kelmarsh (14) Deserted village, (15) Dam

a(16) Earthworks (SP 728801; Plate 12), lay in the bottom of a valley N.W. of Kelmarsh Hall, on alluvium at 125 m. above OD. They consisted of a small rectangular area with an elongated triangular one immediately to the S., bounded by earthen banks up to 1.5 m. high in which there were a number of gaps. In general appearance they were very similar to the surviving earthworks at the N. end of the deserted village (14) ('b' on plan). The site was completely levelled in 1968, but before destruction an excavation was carried out, on the supposition that the remains represented the late 16th or earlier 17th-century manor house of Kelmarsh which is traditionally said to have stood there. The excavation showed that the banks were made from the underlying clay and in parts were revetted in stone. No finds or dating evidence was recovered and the excavator, while rejecting the idea that the site was that of the manor house, concluded that it was a 17th-century Civil War sconce. This is most unlikely, as the earthworks bore little relationship to Civil War defences. Although the excavator rejected the OS classification of the site as a medieval fishpond, this still seems to be the most likely explanation (Northants. Ant. Soc. Rep., 66 (1969), 7–14; Post-Med. Arch., 3 (1969), 197; CUAP, SB47, AFB89, AWV15; air photographs in NMR).

c(17) Abandoned Sheep-fold (SP 715796; Fig. 86), lies in the extreme W. of the parish on Upper Lias Clay at 160 m. above OD. An area of former ridge-and-furrow appears to have been partly destroyed and overlaid by two sub-rectangular enclosures, bounded by low banks and scarps. At the E. end of the S. enclosure, and also overlying ridge-and-furrow, is a small embanked feature, perhaps the site of a stone building. The remains are probably the site of a sheep-fold and shepherd's hut of unknown date but presumably constructed after the enclosure of the common fields, and are a rare survival of a once common feature.

(18) Cultivation Remains. The date of the enclosure of the common fields of the parish is unknown but it had certainly taken place before the early 18th century when Bridges (Hist. of Northants., II (1791), 39) described it as an 'inclosed lordship'. Ridge-and-furrow of these fields can be traced on the ground or from air photographs over almost the whole of the parish, apart from a wide band of fields immediately N. and W. of the village where it has been destroyed by modern agriculture. In the W. and S. of the parish the furlongs were arranged both end-on and at right-angles to each other over the broken ground but in the N. there are long sweeps of end-on furlongs running N.W.–S.E. across the spurs and, in the N.E., running N. towards the stream. It is particularly well preserved in the area E. and N.W. of the village (RAF VAP CPE/UK/1994, 2452–6, 4455–61; CPE/UK/2109, 3288–93; 106G/UK/636, 4185–89, 3185–92).