1955 Deserted Medieval Village Research Group – Report

The following is an extract from a report issued by the Deserted Medieval Village Research Group – the DMVRG included Officers from the Ministry of Works and Members were from the Universities of London, Leeds, Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester, Leicester, Copenhagen, New Zealand and Belfast as well as from British and London Museums.

Excavations at Wolfhampcote, Warwickshire, August 1955

The medieval village of Wolfhampcote is now a grass field showing only a few grassy bumps or enclosures. These mark the area of a house with its accompanying land, the toft or garden and croft or small-holding. There is no indication now visible within the enclosure (an area of 160 feet by 100 feet in the one chosen for excavation) of where the houses had stood. It seemed likely, however, that they would front onto a main street, which was plainly visible.

Trial holes 4 feet square, at regular intervals of 12 feet, were therefore dug to determine the best area. These were begun at the eastern end of the enclosure and fifteen were dug in the first week. These holes revealed a great deal of pottery ranging from the 11th to the 15th centuries, the greatest proportion being 12th and 13th century showing an earlier main occupation of the site than was expected.

More than half the holes revealed no structural features of any kind passing through about two feet of subsoil to natural clay. The other trial holes, those round the edges of the enclosure, revealed the construction of the bank round the edge of the site; one showed traces of a hearth or fire pit and three showed what appeared to be distinct occupation levels and ditches dug into the natural.

An area 24 feet by 48 feet, big enough to contain the average sized peasant house, and incorporating these three holes, was opened up. Due to a smaller number of volunteers than was expected and the hard baked cemented character of the soil, a 12 feet by 24 feet piece of this area was not explored below the humus level. The opened area did not reveal any house structures as had at first been hoped. Two areas of burning and a stone hearth, little used, were found all lying on the filling of earlier ditches. The area mainly consisted of a complicated ditch and bank system.

The earliest ditches, and the most extensive, seem from their pottery to belong to the 12th and 13th centuries. These were perhaps deliberately filled in, as little rubbish was found in them. Subsequently, in the late 13th century, people had occupied the ground above the filled in ditches and had made fires there and they had later heaped up a bank of hard yellow clay over some of this area and had dug another deeper ditch on its edge. Throughout the late 14th and early 15th centuries, this ditch became a regular dustbin. A large amount of broken pots were thrown into it and finally the dead body of a young animal, probably a calf, the complete skeleton of which was found. Finally sometime in the 15th century this ditch must have become so foul that another layer of clay was put on the bank and extended over the top of the ditch sealing it.

This ditch system was probably draining a structure to the east of the excavated areas which is not now in any enclosure. A very large amount of pottery was obtained giving a most valuable development sequence of Midland coarse wares which have not previously been known from this district. In addition a good selection of small everyday articles were found including a stone spindle whorl and a bone shuttle indicating cloth making, several iron objects such as knives and fastenings (including an example of a rare barrel padlock), whetstones and objects of lead and bronze. Some personal objects, such as buckles buttons and pins were discovered and two coins, one a Roman coin of the 4th century and the other a silver sixpence of James I in very good condition, were found.

In the last week of the excavation a narrow trench was dug across the hollow-way, the old main street of the village, in an attempt to examine its construction, as no medieval village road had been examined in this way before. The cutting revealed that the centre of the roadway was made of natural clay heaped onto the actual natural clay surface. In the hot summer this was iron hard but in wet weather there must have been a great need of the two bordering ditches of drainage. There is no sign that the road ever had a metalled surface. The ground beyond the ditches rose steeply to the enclosures on each side, and here, on both sides stones in the form of a rough wall were found. They may only have been strengthenings for the roadside banks, but as stone was so very scarce, they are more likely to have been footings for house walls. Than in the smaller enclosure on the opposite side of the road might repay further investigation.

The excavation, valuable in the study of deserted medieval villages, as the first major attempt to find buildings though to be largely of timber in clay soil was made possible by the grant of funds from the Birmingham and Coventry Museums and by the hard work of some thirty volunteers who laboured in the very great heat of mid-August.

Report written by: Mrs D. G. Hurst, Archaeological Consultant, Inspectorate of Ancient Monuments, Ministry of Works.

Full report available to view – see pages 12-13 for the above extract.

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