The Big Village Dig (2013)

In 2013, West Wickham and District Local History Club was awarded a Heritage Lottery Fund “All Our Stories” grant. This provided an opportunity to find out more about the history of the village with the support of Cambridge University staff from Cambridge Community Heritage (CCH) and Access to Archaeology (ACA).

The aim:

  • To involve as many people as possible in excavating archaeological test pits to discover when and where medieval settlement took place.
  • And to inspire and stimulate wider interest in the history of our village by giving people the opportunity to take part in a hands-on archaeological project.

Over the weekend of the dig, 96 people of all ages took part in the excavation of eighteen 1m sq archaeological test pits in gardens across the village in the search for the earliest evidence of its origins. The lovely weather added to the almost party-like atmosphere as friends, neighbours and families (several of three generations) worked together and shared their experiences with plenty of visitors. Participants were guided and supported throughout the weekend by Cambridge University archaeologists, Carenza Lewis, Britt Baillie and Alex Pryor. Additional help came from archaeologist, Mathew Morris, who was recently site director for the excavation of Richard III in Leicester and who was brought up in the village. At the end of the weekend about 120 people came together in the Village Hall for celebratory tea and cake and to hear someone from each test pit report on what they had found.

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The Big Village Dig 2013

Results indicated that the landscape around the village was more extensively, if sparsely, used in the prehistoric period than had previously been known. No evidence of Roman or early Anglo-Saxon date was found and the earliest post-prehistoric finds were Saxo-Norman (9th-mid 11th century), found near the church. This may suggest that the present settlement of West Wickham was established in this area at this time, later extending north-east of the church along High Street. This would appear to pre-date the settlements of Burton End and Streetly End which were however in existence by the end of the 12th century as pottery finds show. This is considerably earlier than found in the written record.

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Test pit locations. Taken from: Lewis, C. et al (2014) Archaeological Test Pit Excavations in West Wickham, Cambridgeshire, 2013.

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Distribution of flint and pottery finds in test pits.

There was a severe reduction in the volume of pottery recovered from the later medieval period indicating that the expansion of the earlier period was halted. This may be as a result of the various plagues and famines of the 14th century, most notably the Black Death of 1348-9. This decline was uneven across the parish with no pottery from Burton End to pottery in all test pits in Streetly End. Finds show that recovery does not appear to have happened until after the end of the medieval period but was robust when it did occur, with the dispersed, hamlet-dominated character of the high medieval period (mid 11th -14th century) continuing well into the 20th century.

The full excavation report is available here (click on the report image):2013-report-cover

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