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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The parish is roughly triangular and occupies some 1270 hectares between the S.W.-flowing Pitsford Brook and a S.–flowing stream which meet in the S.W. corner of the parish. The village of Brixworth stands at the highest point, on a broad almost level plateau between 120 m. and 130 m. above OD. Northampton Sand covers most of the centre of the parish, but in the E. of the village it is overlaid by Boulder Clay; on the lower slopes, down-cutting of the main streams and their tributaries has exposed wide areas of Upper Lias Clay. The parish is notable for the wealth of sites and finds of all periods. Their discovery is due, at least in part, to extensive ironstone-mining in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but even more to intensive modern fieldwork and excavation carried out in an attempt to understand the background of the unique Saxon church at Brixworth. The history and architectural development of the church is beyond the scope of this volume but the discoveries described below help to provide a context (Fig. 31). There is evidence of extensive Roman settlement (13–21) in the parish, probably on or near the hill on which the church now stands, and this appears to have been superseded by a rather dispersed pattern of early Saxon occupation sites (24–32), with which two known cemeteries (22, 23), and perhaps others, may have been associated. Excavations in and around the churchyard (33, 34) suggest that a monastic establishment was in existence by about 700 A.D. This supports the documentary evidence which may imply that the original monastic church was founded in 666–9 A.D. by St. Wilfred. The same excavations also seems to show that in the late Saxon period at least part of the monastic precinct was converted to secular use.
Prehistoric and Roman
In addition to the flint-working sites (1–11) listed below, numerous flint tools have been discovered in the parish including many arrowheads and a flint axe said to have come from near Hill Farm (SP 747690). Small quantities of flints have been noted at SP 738704, 743706 and 748685 (inf. D. N. Hall). At least four polished stone axes are known to have come from the parish, two of Group VI, one of Group XX and one of Greywacke (T. J. George, Arch. Survey of Northants. (1904), 11; NM Records). Prehistoric pottery from Brixworth includes three beakers, all discovered before 1918, probably during ironstonemining. One is handled (D. L. Clarke, Beaker Pottery of Great Britain and Ireland (1970), 490, SH3 (B); Northants. N. and Q., 5 (1892), 80; OS Record Cards; NM), one is biconical with an everted rim and three zones of horizontal lines (Clarke, op. cit., W/MR; NM) and the third is a tall beaker (Clarke, op. cit., S2 (E); NM). There are also three or four Bronze Age urns from the parish, including two Primary Series Collared Urns (PPS, 27 (1961), 296, Nos. 109 and 110; Abercromby, Bronze Age Pottery, II (1912), Figs. 67 and 95; NM). A late Bronze Age leaf-shaped sword is also known (VCH Northants., I (1902), 143; J. Northants. Mus. and Art Gall., 6 (1969), 4; Beds. Arch. J., 10 (1975), 17; Arch. J., 125 (1968), 1–45; Burgess, Class IIc; NM). An iron bar which had been described as an Iron Age currency bar is now thought to be an agricultural implement of unknown date (OS Record Cards; T. J. George, Arch. Survey of Northants. (1904), 11; PPS, 33 (1967), 334).
A number of barrows or ring ditches have been recorded at various times. On a map of Bannaventa and its environs (Archaeologia, 35 (1853), 395, Pl. XVI) three 'tumuli' are marked in Brixworth village (two at SP 748706, and the other at SP 749712). The areas involved are now built over, but the sites are unlikely to have been barrows. More recently an air photograph (CUAP, ABD92) has revealed the cropmarks of three joined ring ditches with others some 45 m. to the E. (SP 771706). These are known to be the remains of a Second World War anti-aircraft battery (see also Brockhall and Harlestone).
A hoard of about 30 Roman silver coins was found somewhere in the parish in about 1885 (T. J. George, Arch. Survey of Northants (1904), 11); other coins, of Pius, Carausius and others, also found in the 19th century, may have come from the site of the villa (16) (VCH Northants., I (1902), 194). Another hoard, of 24 coins from Vespasian to Crispina, was found in 1892 (Num. Chron., 5 (1945), 164). Roman pottery is also said to have been found in the parish around 1900, during ironstone-quarrying (T. J. George, ibid.). A Roman well mentioned by T. J. George (ibid.) cannot be located.
In Brixworth church there is a piece of decorated stone cornice, probably 3rd-century in date and presumably from a monumental structure. It was apparently found in 1958 during excavations in the church. Whether it was originally part of a building on the site or was brought from elsewhere is not known (Northants. Archaeol., 13 (1978), 82).
(1) Flint-working site (unlocated), said to be somewhere E. of the main A508 road, S. of the village, probably on Northampton Sand. A large number of flint tools, waste flakes and cores is recorded (NM Records).
a(2) Flint-working site (SP 746719). Worked flints, including leaf-shaped and barbed-and-tanged arrowheads, scrapers and blades as well as cores, were found during excavation on the Roman villa (16) (J. Northants. Mus. and Art Gall., 8 (1970), 5). More flints have since been noted, in the area to the N., extending E. to the Saxon site (22) (inf. D. N. Hall).
a(3) Flint-working site (SP 742712), W. of the village on Northampton Sand at 107 m. above OD. Worked flints of Bronze Age type are recorded, including ten flint arrowheads of various forms, 99 scrapers, 600 waste flakes and nearly 60 cores (inf. D. N. Hall; for Saxon finds from this area, see (25) below).
a(4) Prehistoric settlement (?) (SP 741708), W. of the village, on Northampton Sand at 105 m. above OD. Worked flints of Neolithic and Bronze Age type, late Bronze Age pottery and part of a saddle quern have been found. The flints included 5 arrowheads, 61 scrapers, 188 waste flakes and over 40 cores (inf. D. N. Hall; for Saxon finds from this site, see (26) below).
a(5) Flint-working site (SP 738707), W. of the village, on Upper Lias Clay at 90 m. above OD. Worked flints said to be of Mesolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age type have been found. They included nearly 60 scrapers, 316 waste flakes and 43 cores (inf. D. N. Hall; for Saxon finds from this site, see (27) below).
ac(6) Flint-working site (SP 735701), in the W. of the parish, on Northampton Sand at 91 m. above OD. A quantity of worked flints, described as being of early Neolithic type, have been found (inf. D. N. Hall; for Saxon finds from this site, see (28) below).
c(7) Flint-working site (SP 741699), S.W. of the village, on Northampton Sand at 120 m. above OD. Worked flints, said to be of Neolithic type, have been found. Bronze Age flints are recorded near by (SP 739698). These two groups included over 50 arrowheads, over 1100 scrapers, over 7500 waste flakes and nearly 1400 cores. Two saddle querns were also discovered (inf. D. N. Hall).
cd(8) Flint-working site (SP 750699), S. of the village, on Northampton Sand at 125 m. above OD. Worked flints described as being of Mesolithic and Bronze Age type have been discovered. These included two arrowheads, 31 scrapers, nearly 100 waste flakes and 29 cores (inf. D. N. Hall; for Saxon finds from this site, see (30) below).
c(9) Flint-working site (SP 748690), in the S.E. of the parish, E. of Hill Farm, on Northampton Sand at 110 m. above OD. A number of worked flints, apparently of late Neolithic or early Bronze Age type, have been found here in two places. Cropmarks of unspecified form are also recorded. The flaked flint axe noted above may have come from this site (inf. D. N. Hall).
c(10) Ring ditch and flint-working site (SP 736694), in the W. of the parish, on Upper Lias Clay at 80 m. above OD. Cropmarks of a ring ditch are said to have been seen, and on the ground a number of worked flints, described as of Bronze Age type, have been found. The flints included 66 scrapers, nearly 80 cores and over 300 waste flakes (inf. D. N. Hall).
b(11) Prehistoric settlement (SP 778704), in the E. of the parish, on Upper Lias Clay at 90 m. above OD. Worked flints, described as Neolithic and Bronze Age in type, and sherds of late Bronze Age pottery have been found. The flints included 34 arrowheads of various forms, over 250 scrapers, some 2000 waste flakes and 400 cores (inf. D. N. Hall; for Saxon finds from the site, see (31) below).
b(12) Iron Age settlement (?) (SP 779702), in the extreme E. of the parish, on Northampton Sand at 100 m. above OD. Some badly abraded sherds, probably of early Iron Age date, have been found (BNFAS, 3 (1969), 1).
a(13) Iron Age and Roman settlement (SP 743701; Fig. 31), immediately S.W. of the village, on Northampton Sand at 125 m. above OD. A trial trench revealed sherds of late Iron Age and Roman pottery, but the soil has been restored after quarrying (Northants. Archaeol., 8 (1973), 5–6). In addition large quantities of worked flints have been noted in the surrounding area (inf. D. N. Hall; for Saxon finds from the same site, see (32) below).
c(14) Iron Age and Roman settlement (?) (SP 743687; Fig. 31), S.W. of Hill Farm, on Northampton Sand at 95 m. above OD. Iron Age and Roman sherds have been found here and cropmarks are said to have been seen some 100 m. to the N. (inf. D. N. Hall).
c(15) Prehistoric and Roman settlement (SP 734682; Fig. 31), in the extreme S.W. of the parish, on Northampton Sand at 85 m. above OD. Worked flints of Mesolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age type have been found, as well as Roman pottery. The flints include 100 scrapers, 3 fragments of flint axes, 219 cores and nearly 1000 waste flakes (inf. D. N. Hall; for Saxon finds from this site, see (29) below).
a(16) Roman villa (SP 746719; Fig. 31), lies N.W. of the church, on Northampton Sand at 120 m. above OD. Excavations between 1965 and 1970 revealed the remains of a large building of several periods but, although the pottery from the site has been published in detail, only a brief summary of the structure exists. Five periods of occupation were recovered. The earliest is represented by ditches and a circular hut some 6 m. in diam., all dating from before 70 A.D., which was replaced by a small five-roomed rectangular masonry structure, orientated N.–S. with a timber colonnade on the W. and some painted walls. It was dated to between 70 A.D. and 100 A.D. In the late 2nd or early 3rd century the N. end of the range was reconstructed and a detached outbuilding was erected to the S. The latter remained in use until the end of the 3rd century and at one time was used for the manufacture of bronze implements. In the late 3rd or early 4th century the villa was doubled in size by the addition of another room to the N., a corridor to the E. and a large bath suite to the S. Two infant-burials were found below the floor of one of the rooms in the bath suite. The later history of the site is not clear, as a result of extensive robbing and deep ploughing, but surface finds indicate occupation lasting well into the 4th and perhaps into the 5th century. The villa may have been partly occupied in the early Saxon period (see (24) below; J. Northants. Mus. and Art Gall., 1 (1967), 5–27; 8 (1970), 3–97; JRS, 56 (1966), 207; BNFAS, 2 (1967), 7–8; CBA Group 9, Newsletter, 2 (1972), 9; for prehistoric finds, see p. 27 and (2) above).
a(17) Roman settlement (?) (SP 74727122; Fig. 31), perhaps under Brixworth church. In 1971 a small excavation in the N.W. angle between the tower and the nave led to the discovery of a few stratified Roman sherds, a piece of roof tile and a pit or ditch which was also probably Roman. Medieval pottery and coins were found in the same area (inf. D. N. Hall; Med. Arch., 16 (1972), 158; BNFAS, 7 (1972), 39; Northants. Archaeol., 8 (1973), 18; CBA Group 9, Newsletter, 3 (1973), 20).
a(18) Roman settlement (?) (SP 743703; Fig. 31), S.W. of the village, on Northampton Sand at 125 m. above OD. A quantity of Roman pottery and a single Saxon sherd were found in soil dug from a trench in 1975 (Northants. Archaeol., 11 (1976), 186).
d(19) Roman settlement (?)(SP 753693; Fig. 31), on the edge of Pitsford Reservoir, in the E. of the parish, on Northampton Sand at 92 m. above OD. Roman pottery and a quern have been found (inf. D. N. Hall).
d(21) Roman settlement (SP 774700; Fig. 31), in the E. of the parish, immediately W. of the Lower Brixworth Lodge, on Northampton Sand at 103 m. above OD. Quantities of Roman pottery and a well were discovered during ironstone-mining in 1960 (CBA Group 9, Newsletter, 3 (1973), 32; inf. D. N. Hall).
Medieval and Later
Saxon finds, except for those from the cemeteries and possible settlements listed below (24–32), include three pennies of Edward the Elder and a penny of Aethelred, the latter from the churchyard (T. J. George, Arch. Survey of Northants. (1904), 11). A silver penny of Cuthred and a silver-plated iron pin with an ornamental head once said to have been found in the churchyard came in fact from ironstone quarries in about 1887. A penny of Aethelward and two bronze pins are also recorded from 'near Brixworth' (The Antiquary, 30 (1894), 104; PSA, 29 (1916–17), 59–60). Two rotary querns, said to be Saxon or medieval, are recorded from Silver Street (SP 750712), as well as a 'deposit' of medieval pottery in Church Street (SP 747711), more medieval pottery immediately to the S. and some 13th to 14th-century rubbish pits in Hall Park (SP 748710; local inf.).
(22, 23) Saxon cemeteries (Fig. 31). The sites of two cemeteries, described below, are known with certainty and were found during ironstone-mining before 1904. A third has been given various suggested locations in the S.W. of the parish. There is a large collection of Saxon objects in NM which may be either from these cemeteries or from other unlocated ones, all apparently discovered during ironstone-quarrying in the late 19th or early 20th century. They include parts of a large square-headed brooch, three cruciform brooches, eight small-long brooches, three necklaces of amber and glass, a buckle, a horse bit, knives and 26 spearheads, as well as a rough hand-made pot and other fragments of decorated pottery (Meaney, Gazetteer (1964), 187–8; T. J. George, Arch. Survey of Northants. (1904), 11; JBAA, 4 (1849), 142; J. N. L. Myres, Anglo-Saxon Pottery and the Settlement of England (1969), Fig. 25, No. 789; BAR, 7 (1974), 38; Ant. J., 19 (1939), 325–6; BNFAS, 7 (1972), 39; J. Northants. Mus. and Art Gall., 10 (1974), 20–37).
a(22) Saxon cemetery (SP 747720; Fig. 31), 800 m. N. of the church, on Northampton Sand at 120 m. above OD. Inhumation and cremation burials were discovered, accompanied by urns, spearheads, shield bosses, knives etc. Early Saxon pottery has subsequently been found in the area to the S. (inf. D. N. Hall).
a(24) Saxon building and burial (SP 746719; Fig. 31), found during the excavation of the Roman villa (16) between 1965 and 1970. Ten post-holes, arranged in two parallel rows of five 1.2 m. apart across one of the rooms in the villa, were dated to the early Saxon period and were thought to be for a structure erected within the already ruined villa. An inhumation burial, under a rough cairn made from stone from the collapsed Roman building, was also found. No grave goods were noted. Saxon pottery has been discovered in the surrounding area (J. Northants. Mus. and Art Gall., 8 (1970), 5; Med. Arch., 17 (1973), 147).
a(33) Monastic cemetery and medieval settlement (SP 74647121; Fig. 31), in the vicarage garden, immediately E. of Brixworth church, on Northampton Sand at 120 m. above OD. Various excavations in the area have revealed burials. Two skeletons, described as lying in a crouched position, were found in 1939, and in 1949 a small excavation uncovered four or five skeletons in at least two distinct layers. In 1972 further work was undertaken and part of the monastic precinct of the Saxon church, including a section of its boundary and part of the cemetery within, was discovered. The precinct boundary was a large ditch, running N.–S., V-shaped in section, 3.4 m. wide at the top and 2 m. deep. A radiocarbon date of 710 ad ± 80 was obtained from the organic material in the primary silt. The later fill of the ditch contained Saxo-Norman pottery including Stamford and Northampton wares. Inside the boundary 11 inhumations were excavated, all orientated E.–W., with no evidence of coffins or grave goods. Radiocarbon dates 840 ad ± 70 and 780 ad ± 80 were obtained from two of the burials and all must have been earlier than 12th-century features which had cut into them. The latter indicated that in the post-Conquest period the area was in secular use, and this continued until the 15th century when the area was abandoned. The remains included evidence of stone and timber buildings and walls, as well as rubbish pits (Med. Arch., 17 (1973), 147; 19 (1975), 225; Northants. Archaeol., 10 (1975), 164; JBAA, 130 (1977), 52–122).
a(34) Late Saxon burials and medieval building (SP 747712), immediately S. of the church, just beyond the churchyard boundary. An excavation in 1972 revealed three late Saxon burials, orientated E.–W., without grave goods, and four possible contemporary pits containing domestic refuse and sherds of St. Neots ware. Subsequently, perhaps in the 11th or 12th century, a wall was built across the site and this was replaced in the 13th century by a large building 10 m. by 5 m., divided into four rooms. Other buildings were added later; the whole site was levelled in the early 18th century (Northants. Archaeol., 8 (1973), 18).
a(35) Medieval building (SP 74657116), at the former site of Fox's Farm, in Church Street, on Northampton Sand at 120 m. above OD. Excavations in 1972 revealed post-holes and beam-slots associated with fine shelly pottery, probably of 12th to 13th-century date (Northants. Archaeol., 8 (1973), 19–20).
a(36) Malt-drying kiln (SP 747711), found in the churchyard during excavations before 1970. The kiln was aligned N.–S. with the flue on the S. side, and was built from sandstone blocks with a floor of limestone slabs, discoloured by burning. Its date is not known but it may be associated with the 13th-century building to the N. (34) (Med. Arch., 14 (1970), 207).
a(37) Post-medieval farmhouse (SP 74657113), immediately S. of (35), and also at the site of Fox's Farm. The foundations of the 17th-century farmhouse and outbuildings were recovered, and two wells. Much of the excavated area had been quarried, apparently between the 14th and 17th centuries, and the fill contained pottery from early Saxon times onwards (Northants. Archaeol., 8 (1973), 20).
a(38) Site of chantry chapel (?) (SP 74797115), in the centre of the village, on Northampton San at 120 m. above OD. Foundations, thought to be of a medieval chantry chapel, are said to have been discovered here in 1945. The site is under grass and no remains are visible (OS Record Cards).
a(39) Manor house site (SP 738705), lies S.W. of the village, near the W. boundary of the parish and S. of the Spratton road, on the side of a deep, narrow valley, on Upper Lias Clay at 90 m. above OD. The earthworks are the site of Wolfage Manor which, though not mentioned by name until 1509, was probably the main manor of Brixworth in the medieval period (VCH Northants., IV (1937), 151–2). Nothing is known of the history of the site until 1668, but a map of that date (NRO) shows a building called Wolfage Manor, set in a large rectangular area called a park. The remains include a number of well-marked building platforms and embanked enclosures, set on a spur projecting from the valley side. Below in the valley bottom is a mutilated dam, possibly for a fishpond, as well as other more indeterminate earthworks. The site was completely abandoned by 1846 (NRO, Map of Brixworth).
a(40) Site of watermill (SP 746709), at the junction of Church Street and Newland, on the W. side of the village, in the valley of a small W.-flowing stream, on Upper Lias Clay at 103 m. above OD. In 1970 two parallel walls, apparently the wheel-pit of a watermill, were discovered about 2.5 m. below the modern road surface and large deposits of silt upstream, on the E. side of the road, indicated a former mill pond (BNFAS, 5 (1971), 38). The site of the pond is now built over. This mill and another further downstream (41) may be those recorded under Brixworth in Domesday Book as being held by the King (VCH Northants., I (1902), 306). A watermill is listed as being part of the manor in 1315, and there are other records of a 'Kyngsmulne' and 'Kingsmilne' in the 13th century and early 14th century (VCH Northants., IV (1937), 152). Immediately E. of the site is a large pond, bounded on the E. by a massive dam up to 4 m. high. This is an ornamental feature connected with Brixworth Hall.
a(41) Site of watermill (SP 743709), lies W. of (40), further downstream but in a similar position, at 92 m. above OD. The remains consist of a small rectangular embanked pond, set 2 m. above the stream and linked to it by an approach leat from the W. It may be one of the mills referred to in various medieval documents (see (40) above; BNFAS, 5 (1971), 38).
(42) Cultivation remains. The common fields of the parish were enclosed by an Act of Parliament of 1780. On a map of 1688 (NRO) the names of these fields and the individual furlongs are shown, though not the strips. At that time there were three large fields, Shotnell Field N. and N.E. of the village, Whaddon Field S.W. and W. of the village, and Demwell Field S. and S.E. of the village. There were some old enclosures in the extreme N.W. of the parish. Ridge-and-furrow of these fields survives on the ground or is visible on air photographs over much of the parish though extensive ironstone-quarrying has removed all trace over wide areas in the N. and to a lesser extent elsewhere. The Pitsford Reservoir which now covers a large part of the southern edge of the parish has drowned much ridge-and-furrow though this can be seen on early air photographs. Where it survives the ridge-and-furrow is arranged in interlocked and end-on furlongs, some up to 300 m., a considerable length, arranged to ensure that, where possible, the ridges run across the contours.
In several places (e.g. SP 770702) there are rectangular areas 20 m. by 30 m. where the underlying ridges have been almost obliterated. These have been identified as sites of 'rick-places' marked on the 1688 map and are presumably places where stacks were regularly built within the open fields (CBA Group 9, Newsletter, 3 (1973), 32; RAF VAP CPE/UK/1994, 1377–9, 2371–5, 4375–9).
a(43) Earthworks (about SP 747712 and 748712). Bridges (Hist. of Northants., II (1791), 80), writing in about 1720, recorded that there were 'vestiges of old trenches' N. of Brixworth church and, to the E. of it, some 'butts or hillocks'. No trace of these now remains as the area has been worked for ironstone.