An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of Northamptonshire, Volume 5, Archaeology and Churches in Northampton. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1985.
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3 BILLING, LITTLE
(OS 1:10000 aSP 76 SE, bSP 86 SW)
Little Billing parish lies to the E. of Northampton and prior to 20th-century boundary changes covered an area of 357 hectares bounded on the N. by Moulton, on the W. by Weston Favell, on the S. by Little Houghton and on the E. by Great Billing. Its E. boundary is formed by Billing Brook and its S. boundary by the R. Nene. The subsoil is chiefly of Northampton Sands or Upper Lias Clay with some alluvium along the sides of the Billing Brook and alluvium and river gravel along the Nene valley flood plain. The parish runs from a height of 99 m. above OD at its N.W. corner down a gradual slope to the S.E. until it meets the R. Nene at 52 m. above OD.
Prehistoric and Roman
A polished flint axe of neolithic type has been recovered from gravel pits at Little Billing (J Northamptonshire Nat Hist Soc Fld Club 27 (1934), 173; NM; NDC P129) while a bronze flanged axe has been found at Billing (copy in NM, original in Oakham Museum; NDC P128; see Great Billing p. 213). Worked flints have been discovered at four locations (c. SP 792630; BNFAS 5 (1971), 1; NDC P8. SP 79956185; BNFAS 5 (1971), 1; NDC P9. c. SP 793644; BNFAS 5 (1971), 1; NDC P13. SP 80346187; a scraper; NM; NDC P182). Roman pottery has been recovered from c. SP 800618 (BNFAS 5 (1971), 6; NDC R7).
b(1) Early Post-Glacial Remains (c. SP 803616), S. of Little Billing village. A femur and vertebrae of an auroch (?) and rib bones of a smaller animal or an immature auroch were discovered at 3 m. below the modern ground level lying on a dark stained ground surface below layers of blue-grey silty clay (NDC P192).
b(2) Ring Ditches (?) (SP 81006175), E. of Little Billing village, on river gravel, at 55 m. above OD. Two possible ring ditches appear on aerial photographs taken in 1964 (BNFAS 6 (1971), 3; NDC A4).
a(3) Enclosure (c. SP 793629), S. of Billing Arbours, on Northampton Sands at 35 m. above OD, is said to appear on an aerial photograph not seen by NDC or RCHM, taken in 1970 (BNFAS 5 (1971), 42; NDC A30).
a(4) Cropmarks (?) (c. SP 795644), N. of Billing Arbours, on Upper Lias Clay/Northampton Sands, at 83 m. above OD. 'Vague ditches' are reported on an aerial photograph taken in 1970 (BNFAS 5 (1971), 42; NDC A50).
b(5) Roman Settlement (?) (c. SP 811617), E. of Little Billing village, on river gravel, at 55 m. above OD. Roman pottery, including Samian ware, and shallow ditches were discovered during pipe-laying in 1972, close to cropmark site Little Billing (2) (NDC R106).
Medieval and Later
Medieval pottery has been recovered from four locations (SP 80346187; NM; NDC M439. c. SP 794645; BNFAS 5 (1971), 29; NDC M4. SP 79506395; BNFAS 5 (1971), 29; NDC M5. c. SP 801618; also tile, 'on top of slight mound'; NM; NDC M390. Human bones and skulls are reported to have been found near the church ( Northampton Chronicle and Echo 11 Feb. 1932)).
b(6) Parish Church of All Saints (SP 804617; fiche Fig. 23; Plate 24).
There is no surviving evidence of an early church except for the font (Plate 35). The chancel and N. chapel appear to date from the 14th century as the arch in the W. wall of the N. chapel and the similar W. arch between the chancel and the N. chapel are of that date. The single-light window in the S. wall of the chancel is also 14th-century. The whole of the W. part of the church was rebuilt c. 1500 as a wide hall under a single roof with a bell turret on the W. gable. The W. window is central under a symmetrical gable and the windows and doorways in the side walls match each other. The arrangement of the arches in the E. wall suggests that before 1500 the W. part of the church consisted of a nave and N. aisle. The arcade probably ran just S. of the thick E. wall of the aisle, which survives around the arch into the N. chapel. In the post-medieval period a timber arcade was inserted, possibly because the roof span proved too wide. In 1849 the N. chapel was heavily restored and in 1852–4 the rest of the building was much rebuilt by E.F. Law. The timber arcade and bell turret were removed and a N. tower added. The nave gables were heightened and a steep-pitched roof framed. (VCH Northamptonshire IV, 75–6)
Owing to the multiplicity of land units in the Billings recorded in Domesday Book the early history of the church at Little Billing is confused. The existence of the font at Little Billing (Plate 35) makes plain why Bridges placed the holding of Gunfrid de Choques, which includes a reference to a priest, as being at Little Billing (DB f. 227d).
The church had certainly been granted to St. Andrew's Priory, Northampton, by the time of Bishop Bloet's actum (Smith, D.M., 1980, no. 11) but since it is not listed in Henry I's confirmatory charter of 1107 (Davis et al 1913–69, II no. 833) St. Andrew's must have obtained the church between 1107 and 1123, probably by grant of Walter fitz Winemar (BL Cott Vesp E xvii f. 55r). Since Winemar was a Domesday land owner in the area, a grant by Walter fitz Simon (BL Royal 11 B ix f. 37v) is almost certainly a later confirmation.
The church consists of a Chancel, North Chancel Chapel, Nave, North Tower and South Porch.
The N. wall is pierced by two openings. That to the W. has chamfered jambs and an arch of two moulded orders; that to the E. has chamfered jambs with impost mouldings and an arch of one order, hollow-moulded on the S. face and chamfered on the N. The E. window is of three lights with panel tracery separated from the main lights by a transom. In the S. wall are two windows with cinquefoil-headed lights, on either side of a doorway with a two-centred head. At the W. end of the wall is a small trefoil-headed window. The roof is 19th-century.
North Chancel Chapel
The N. chapel is similar in area and height to the chancel. In the N. wall is a 19th-century arch to the tower and two straight-headed two-light windows with cusped heads and pierced spandrels. The E. window is of three lights with panel tracery. The window tracery in the chapel was renewed in 1849, but the rear-arches appear authentic. The aumbry below the E. window has a cusped ogee head.
There are three two-light windows in the N. wall with quatrefoils in their heads. The N. doorway has casement-moulded jambs and a four-centred head. The archway to the N. chapel has single chamfered jambs but two orders of wave mouldings for the arch, similar to the westerly arch in the N. wall of the chancel. The archway is set in a projecting section of wall. To the S. of the arch is a cusped niche. The chancel arch is of two orders, the outer continuously chamfered, the inner carried on polygonal half-shafts with moulded capitals. The windows and doorway of the S. wall repeat those of the N. wall. The S. doorway appears to have been cut through the plinth, which is confined to the nave, unlike the N. doorway which was allowed for in the plinth. The three-light window is similar to the side windows except that the head of the centre light is filled with sub-lights. The W. gable and roof are 19th-century. There was formerly a timber bell turret at the W. end. At the W. end of the nave is an early medieval font inscribed with the name of its maker, Wigberthus (Plate 35).
The small N. tower was added in 1852–4 by Law.
The porch is late- or post-medieval. The openings in the E. and W. walls are straight-headed. The outer S. doorway is Perpendicular in style but may be 19th-century, like the gable and steep roof.
b(7) Settlement Remains (SP 803618), on river gravel/Upper Lias Clay, at 55 m. above OD. The village of Little Billing was until recent development little more than a hamlet, being described as 'of one or two farm houses and a few cottages only, in addition to the church and rectory house' (VCH Northamptonshire IV, 74). The medieval village, however, seems to have been rather larger. Settlement remains were discovered in 1973 immediately W. of the present village (SP 80356182) when trial trenching revealed pits and walls of 12th to 13th-century date. Medieval pottery has also been recovered from the adjacent site of the manor house (SP 80436183) while a stone wall and glass fragments have been discovered in the garden of the rectory (SP 80376178) (NDC M3A; 3B; 177).
The documentary evidence shows Little Billing to have always been one of the smaller settlements in Spelhoe Hundred in the medieval period, generally being comparable in number of households and tax-payments with Abington and Boughton. It underwent a decline, however, from an already low level of 21 households in the 1674 Hearth Tax assessment to only 11 households at the time of Bridges (c. 1720) while Abington remained stable with 33 households and Boughton actually increased in size from 35 to 42 households.
Interestingly the manor was acquired in 1688 by the Thursby family who were responsible for the clearance and emparking of Abington village (Abington (6)).
(8) Cultivation Remains. The date of the enclosure of Little Billing is unknown but it had already taken place by 1685 (NRO, Glebe Terriers). Ridge-and-furrow of these fields exists on the ground or can be traced on air photographs in only a few parts of the parish, for in most places the modern cultivation of the light soils has removed all traces. Fragments of interlocked furlongs exist in the S.E. of the parish (SP 799622) and other small areas lie in the N. of the parish (SP 795640) (see Hall 1977). (FSL 6565, 1915–7, 1947–9; V58–RAF–1122, 0175–80, 0231–42)