The 2009 excavation

Norton

The village of Norton has been documented for more than a thousand years (it is first named in a charter dating from 1007) and the archaeology of the village centre suggests that it may even originate in the Roman period. At the north-eastern end of the village, Church Field contains earthworks that were surveyed in 1985 and show the original line of the village main street. This ran on the south side of the church directly across to Nortonbury, which had been established by 1306, when its then owner died. In the middle of the field was a crossroads, where the Stotfold to Baldock road crossed the village street. This would have been close to the very core of the medieval village.

Map of Norton of c 1700

Map of Norton of c 1700

Our site is in the western corner of the crossroads. Part of the trench runs across the deserted road and another part crosses the floor of a long vanished building. The road is shown on this line on a map drawn shortly before 1700 (shown on the right: Nortonbury is the big house toward the centre bottom, with the church immediately above it – the map is not to scale!). It had gone by 1766, when the next map to show the village in detail was drawn.

There are traces of buildings across much of the north-western side of the field, showing that at one time, the village completely surrounded the parish church. These buildings lay within larger property enclosures, the boundaries of which can still be seen.

The archaeological excavation

Last year (2008), Norton Community Archaeology Group began excavation on this site, reaching deposits that appear to date from the fifteenth or sixteenth century without discovering any definite evidence for a building. In retrospect, too much time was spent digging the topsoil, which was very clayey and very hard, and often looked like a laid surface. It had been assumed that the road would be in the bottom of the hollow, but the chalk and flint rubble from which it was made lay only on the southern side of the hollow.

Because the very clayey topsoil often resembled a floor, there were several false starts on defining the presumed building. The topsoil was not completely removed until the end of the third week: its uppermost horizon contained twentieth century finds, while the lower contained nothing more recent than the late eighteenth century. Under the topsoil was a rubbly deposit, containing broken tile and well-dated ceramic forms of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries as well as a rose farthing of a type issued by Charles I c 1635-44. This slightly rubbly deposit sealed a stony deposit, which produced sixteenth-century and earlier finds. This in turn overlay an even stonier deposit, which may have been an exterior surface.

It seems reasonable to conclude that the site has been abandoned since the sixteenth century at the latest. The road seems to have been poorly maintained after being laid, which must have been before 1600. It was laid at a very strange angle, which would have made fully laden vehicles such as hay carts unstable and liable to overturn at the crossroads.

The artefacts recovered were fairly typical for a site of this type, with a few surprises. Much of the pottery date from the high and late medieval periods (c 1150-1450), with some later material. The quantities of residual medieval pottery suggest that this was the period of the most intensive occupation of the site. There were also a few large pieces of Roman pottery and a flue tile, which must have come from a centrally heated room, probably a bath-house. Test pits in the core of the historic village have produced finds of Roman date, and Romano-British features were found in the 1990s at St Nicholas’s School. There were some good metal finds, including a fourteenth- or fifteenth-century iron knife with a decorated bone handle and a fourteenth-century iron buckle.

We have four weeks on site, starting tomorrow (5 August 2009), which gives us twenty days to investigate as much as we can. We will be excavating everything by hand, keeping all the archaeological finds and taking samples from important soil deposits. Some of the work will be painstakingly slow and may not yield many finds; some of it may be much faster with numerous finds. We are digging for information, not treasure, so everything we uncover helps to add to what we know about the history of Norton.

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