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Woodborough’s Heritage

Woodborough, an ancient Sherwood Forest Village recorded in Domesday



Ancient woodlands surrounding Woodborough



Archaeological excavation of land adjacent to Fox Wood 2005:

Introduction, this edited report was prepared for Nottinghamshire County Council by Pre-Construct Archaeology of Lincoln. The full report is extensive with many illustrations of maps, diagrams, plans and photographs and it is felt that the wealth of additional information is too much for the scope of this website. However we would be willing to provide a copy of the full report from an original DVD at £1 plus appropriate postage and packaging costs. In the first place please email a request to enquiries@woodborough-heritage.org.uk and a quote will be given. No responsibly can be taken by the creators of this website for the accuracy of the report, it is provided in good faith.

It seems the area was first settled several thousand years ago and continued until at least Roman times and probably for some time after. The settlement was agricultural rather than a hill-top fort as the excavation produced evidence (including a gold coin) of farming and in particular, the keeping of animals. Fox Wood is one of a chain of such settlements that were constructed on the 100 meter contour. Comb Farm being the next one along, no trace of a water supply has ever been discovered, this would render the site unusable in a siege situation this being another pointer to it not being used as a fort.


Summary: A programme of archaeological field walking and trial excavation was undertaken on a site adjacent to a Scheduled ancient Monument (presumed Iron Age hill fort) at Fox Wood, Nottinghamshire.

Field walking and metal detecting on the site identified a range of artefactual materials dating from the Early Neolithic to the modern periods. These included struck or modified flints indicative of activity from the Early Neolithic – Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age; pottery from the earlier Iron Age to the modern periods; ceramic building material from the Romano British and modern periods; and an Iron Age gold stater.

Seven trenches were excavated targeting cropmark features. These revealed evidence of landscape management and enclosure from the Late Iron Age to 2nd century AD. Trenches 4, 5 and 7 exposed three phases of Iron Age enclosure ditches, with Trench 5 showing that the enclosure was realigned. In Trenches 1, 2, 3 and 6 was evidence of 2nd AD landscape management. This comprised a square/rectilinear enclosure and associated boundary ditches.

The site is etched in red and shows the excavation area adjacent to, and to the right of, Fox Wood

Introduction: Pre-Construct Archaeology (Lincoln) was commissioned by Nottinghamshire County Council (NCC) Environment Division to undertake a programme of trial archaeological excavation and field walking on land off Bonner Hill, Calverton, Nottinghamshire. This was part of a programme to re-assess and improve the overall management of Iron Age hilltop sites in Nottinghamshire. We thank NCC for permission to publish their report (now edited).

The fieldwork and reporting methodologies described in this report were based on the guidelines of Archaeology and Planning: Planning Policy Guidance Note 16 (Department of the Environment 1990), Management of Archaeological Projects (English Heritage 1991) and Standards and Guidance for Archaeological Field Evaluation (IFA, 1994 as revised).

Site Location and Description: The site is within an area of open arable farm land between the villages of Calverton to the north and Woodborough to the south. Immediately east of the site is a Scheduled Ancient Monument (possibly an Iron Age hill fort) that is located within an area known as Fox Wood. It is situated on the 100m contour, slightly west of Bonner Hill. The underlying geology consists of Gunthorpe Formation (Gun) Mudstone over Radcliffe Formation (Rdc) Mudstone, and the central and national grid reference is NGR SK 616 484.

Project Background: The project was made possible through the work of the Heritage Lottery funded Sherwood Initiative. As part of this programme archaeologists from Nottinghamshire County Council were re-assessing sites within the Sherwood area, which had not the benefit of recent research. One of the planned research themes was to look specifically was to look at Iron Age hill tops of the area. The new landowners of Fox Wood were known to be interested in, and sympathetic to, the archaeological and ecology of the site, and were looking to improve all aspects of its overall management.

Limited evaluation of the cropmark features was undertaken as a community field work project; a collaboration between Pre-Construct Archaeology (Lincoln) and Nottinghamshire County Council.

Archaeological and Historical Background: The site lies within a rich archaeological landscape that has yield artefactual evidence from the early Neolithic period onwards. Flint implements attest to both Neolithic and Bronze Age land use, although the small number of finds to date suggests that the area was visited sporadically and did not sustain protracted periods of occupation.

Within Fox wood itself are the extant earthwork remains of a defended enclosure (Scheduled Ancient Monument). A ‘hut circle’ excavated in 1946 within the enclosure suggests a possible Iron Age origin placing the site within a significant Iron Age landscape. This landscape includes similar defended enclosures (Old Ox Camp, Oxton, Burton Lodge, Dorket Head, Coombes Farm, Farnsfield and Crow Wood, Styrrup) across the upland of Nottinghamshire. However, Roman pottery has been recovered from Fox Wood (Bishop 2001) suggesting a later date or perhaps continued use of the monument.

Roman military activity was extensive north and west of the River Trent.  Forts, fortresses and marching camps are known from Broxtowe, Farnsfield, Osmanthorpe, Gleadthorpe, Scaftworth, Littleborough and Calverton. The crop marks at Calverton show a military installation that probably falls into a pre-Flavian context (Bishop 2001) dated by morphology to similar types in the area (Taylor 2006). The evidence for settlement foci is also extensive and varies in typology from enclosed farmsteads (Holme Pierrepont), ‘ladder’ or ‘washing-line’ settlements (noticeable on the north side of the Trent) to complex ‘villages’ such as Ferry Farm, Collingham.

The Early Saxon period in Nottinghamshire is typically characterized by cemeteries. There is a general lack of settlement and material culture throughout the county prior to the Late Saxon period. Even then, the archaeological record is reliant upon place-names. This is exemplified at Calverton where the name of the village is a derivative of ‘Calvretone’ ‘The Saxon Enclosure where the calves were kept’ (Domesday Survey 1086).

Methodology


Field Walking: Two permanent ground markers were established to act as fixed reference points for all future works and to allow accurate overlays and juxtaposition of data. These were situated at NGR SK61500 48480 and SK61440 48445.

An approximate grid of 750m x 500m was established in relation to the permanent markers and central to the principal crop marks using digital surveying equipment.

The grid was walked by a number of volunteers over a two-week period and any finds recovered were recorded by professional archaeologists using digital surveying equipment.

Trial Excavation: To target the principal crop mark evidence (Fig. 3), insert Fig. 3 seven evaluation trenches were opened. Trench 1 measured 14.5m x 1.50m, Trench 2 17m x 1.50m, Trench 3 22m x 1.50m, Trench 4 18m x 1.50m, Trench 5 58m x 1.50m, Trench 6 10m x 1.50m and Trench 7 20m x 3m.

The trenches were initially opened using a mechanical excavator with a 1.50m wide toothless ditching blade. Plough soil deposits were removed in spits not exceeding 0.20m, until the first archaeological or natural horizon was exposed. Where archaeological deposits were encountered, all further excavation was carried out by hand.

Archaeological features were sample excavated to establish depths and profiles and where possible, date and function. Features were recorded in plan and in section at appropriate scales (1:50, 1:20 and 1:10) with associated context information. A photographic record was maintained throughout the project, and selected prints have been appended to this report.

The fieldwork was supervised by Chris Clay assisted by a team of three experienced archaeologists and archaeologists from Nottinghamshire County Council. Members of the local community provided volunteer assistance, and the excavation took place over a period of two weeks.



Results


Field Walking: Although intrusive evaluation was scheduled at Fox Wood, it was decided that a programme of field walking over the crop marks would maximize the potential for classifying and dating the site. The results will be described by phase; determined largely on the basis of ceramic and lithic dating evidence.
 
Summary: The evidence obtained could be placed into six broad chronological phases, Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Romano-British, medieval and modern. Although no settlement pattern was recognised for the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods, a scatter of flint artefacts were indicative of sporadic activity.

Although the Iron Age and early Romano-British finds imply that, during this period of its history, the site was possible of relatively high status with possible continuity of occupation up to the 2nd century (3rd century pottery was recovered during the evaluation).

The absence of evidence for the later Roman period suggests that there may have been a cessation in domestic activity on the site until the later medieval period.

Early Neolithic: A single lithic artefact dating to this period may be a rod-like flake/bladelet. This probable sharpening flake was possibly detached from a large scraper edge. Such scrapers are generally attributable to the earlier Neolithic (c. 4500 – 3000 BC).

Phase 2: Late Neolithic – Early Bronze Age: Four retouched flint flakes broadly consistent with the Late Neolithic – Early Bronze Age (Beaker period) were recovered. Similarly to the Neolithic period, it can only be surmised on present evidence that Bronze Age activity was limited to sporadic visits.

Phase 3: Iron Age: One of the two artefacts recovered from the Iron Age was a British Early ‘I’ gold stater c.100 – 20 BC. Although recovered by a metal detectorist, it has been included in this section due to the find spot falling within the survey area. Whilst it cannot be discounted that the coin could be attributed to a stray loss during the late Iron Age equally it could indicated that the site was of high status; reinforced by the close proximity of the find spot to the Scheduled possible Iron Age enclosure. The second artefact was a single shard of decorated pottery.

Phase 4: Romano-British period: The majority of the pottery sherds from this period are dateable to the 2nd – 3rd centuries AD, with the exception of a single sherd of south Gaulish Samian that is generally attributable to the 1st century AD. A single fragment of ceramic tile was also recovered but as this retained no surfaces it was not possible to achieve a positive identification. It could possibly indicate a Romano-British structure in close proximity to the site.

Phase 5: Medieval period: Only a single sherd of pottery, possibly from a jug, can be attributed to the Medieval period (Appendix 4).

Phase 6: Modern: The majority of finds were modern. A variety of pottery fabrics were recovered, notably, black glazed wares, cream ware, late earthenware and Nottingham stonewares, as well as ceramic building material. These had a broad date range of 17th – 20th centuries. The spatial patterning of the find spots and the abraded condition of the material was indicative of manuring. 


Context


The flint artefacts outline early prehistoric activity on the site for over two and a half millennia.  Although only five worked flints were recovered (placing limits on interpretation), it is likely that others remain buried within stratified deposits. All of the finds were produced from flint, including two pieces that had small areas of surviving cortical surface, suggesting that raw materials were derived from secondary deposits; probably water-transported pebbles and cobbles from river terraces or glacial deposits.

The remaining assemblage from the fieldwalking survey largely comprised ceramic materials with a broad chronological date range.

A primary consideration when assessing plough soil scatters is that some ceramic fabrics are more friable than others. This could account for the recovery of only a single sherd of Iron Age pottery from an area situated in a close proximity to a possible hill fort. The recovery of the gold stater suggests that the pottery is indicative of local Iron Age occupation.

In contrast to the Iron Age, there was a reasonably sized assemblage from the Romano-British period. Most of the assemblage was found on the downward slope of the hill, south of a double ditched enclosure. Although this does not provide a definite chronology for the enclosure, it does indicate continuity of occupation.

The Excavation: The deposits recorded with almost all of the cut features comprised of homogenous reddish-brown silty clay with occasional flecks of charcoal and degraded sandstone. There was no indication that fills within features accumulated by any other process than natural hill-wash. The only differences observed to separate multiple fills within features were based upon slight variations in shade or density of inclusions. Therefore, repetitive descriptive text relating to each individual feature will be avoided.

The basal geological profile of the site consisted of mid-reddish brown – light greenish brown clay over inter-bedded sandstone.

Results will be summarized and described by phase (determined by ceramic dating evidence). The stratigraphic sequencing of archaeological features encompassed within each phase will be discussed to outline the structural development of the archaeological landscape within each excavated area.

Phase 1 – Mid-Late Iron Age: During the mid-late Iron Age, a ditched enclosure was established at the east of the site and sampled in Trenches 4 and 5. It appeared to have developed during two separate phases. The first phase involved the cutting of the internal enclosure ditch that probably quite quickly silted up. A second, outer ditch, approximately 26.50 metres east of the original was subsequently cut along the same alignment. After the enclosure had ceased to be significant, a large curvilinear ditch was cut perpendicular to and cutting the internal enclosure ditch. No internal cut features were identified within the enclosure to determine if it was utilized as settlement compound.

Trenches 4, 5 and 7: The earliest dated archaeological remains from the excavation were from these trenches


The dominant features appeared to be two curvilinear ditches. The outer ditch 404, Trench 4, and 504, Trench were situated at the eastern edge of the site approximately 26.5 metres from the inner ditch 519. Excavated sections through both enclosure ditches revealed broadly similar concave profiles with no evidence that they had been re-cut. Although a bank may have been present during the life of the enclosure, there was no evidence of bank material in either ditch fill.

Given the distance between these ditches it is assumed that they were of two separate phases. This may be surmised by their location (parallel to the downward slope of the hill) which suggests that they would have silted up fairly quickly and is corroborated by the ditches being 1 metre deep and 2.6 metres wide at the top of the slope and only 0.25 metres deep and 0.60 metres wide at the bottom. The absence of any re-cuts also suggests that they would have gone out of use in a relatively short space of time. It is also notable that in the Trent valley ‘most enclosures of this period are represented in the archaeological record by a single circuit of ditch’ (Knight & Howard 2004). A single sherd of late Iron Age pottery was recovered from the internal ditch 519.

A later phase of abandonment and/or re-alignment was evident in Trench 5 by a wide curvilinear ditch 508.  Fig. 3 shows that ditch 508 extended in an arc north-east – south-east cutting ditch 519 at an angle of 45 degrees, with a gap at the north that was possibly an entrance way. The orientation of the entrance (facing east) parallels with those from enclosures excavated at Gamston, Fisherwick and Whitemoor Haye (Knight & Howard 2004). Three re-cuts 515, 514 and 513 to the ditch suggests a degree of maintenance. Several sherds of pottery from the re-cut 515 fill 512 are analogous with those recovered from the enclosure ditch 519, which suggests that the cutting of all three enclosure ditches occurred in relatively quick succession.

Ceramic materials from ditch 703, 704, fills 705 in Trench 7 is also contemporary with that from the enclosure ditches. The general alignment of ditch 703 (north-east/south-west) suggests internal divisions or zoning within the original enclosure.

Most of the fills in Trench 5 and fills 704 and 705 in Trench 7 contained a mixed assemblage of animal bone, reflecting small scale animal production (raising and using) which was taking place during this phase of site use, with cattle being the predominant species. Oyster shell was recovered from fill 503, indicating that shellfish were possibly transported overland from the River Trent.

Phase 2 Mid-Late 2nd Century: By the mid-late 2nd century, a large double – ditched square/rectilinear enclosure was established on this site, reflecting the transition from the curvilinear enclosures that characterized the Iron Age landscape. No internal cut features dateable to the life of the enclosure were present to clarify whether or not it was built for management of the landscape or settlement. However the inclusion in several of the ditch fills of domestic pottery sherd, animal bone and human bone suggests that there was domestic activity nearby. A re-cut in Trench 6 shows that the enclosure was maintained for a certain period of time before it ceased to be of value. A series of drainage gullies (identified in Trench 3) were then established over the enclosure, however these features were un-dateable and may belong to a later cultural phase altogether.

Trenches 1, 2, 3 and 6: The archaeology attributable to the mid-late 2nd century AD, was present in Trenches 1, 2, 3 and 6. A rectilinear/square double-ditched bank enclosure associated with 2nd century pottery was established over the earlier Iron Age landscape. Ditches 301 and 309 in Trench 3 were situated 4 metres apart and aligned north-west/south-west. Ditches 202 and 204 were 2 metres apart and at right-angles to 301 and 309. Only the outer ditch 601 was located in Trench 6. This had a similar profile and fills to those in ditch 202 although it had been re-cut at the east 604. The fill of the re-cut 606 contained sherds of 2nd century greyware pottery, as did fills 206, 207 and 312.

Evidence that the enclosure was banked was present only in fill 206: frequent inclusions of stone that was probably the slippage from bank material formed from the upcast of ditch 202. 

Although no dating evidence was recovered from Trench 1, it is suggested that ditch 101 was part of the 2nd century landscape, given its special association to the enclosure. 

Trench 3 also illustrates that at some point in time the enclosure went out of use and was subsequently cut by a series of inter-cutting drainage, gullies 303, 305, 307 and 313. Although the stratigraphic sequence for the gullies was clear, there was no dating evidence recovered to place them within a 2nd century context and it is possible that they were part of a later phase of the sites history. All of the gullies were shallow with similarly homogenous reddish-brown clay fills, although, the profiles differed slightly, 303, 307 and 313 were concave and 305 had a flat base.

The animal bone assemblage is analogous with that of Phase 1 (a small producer site) with the exception of evidence from fill 312 of antler working and the inclusion of neo-natal human bone.

Phase 3. Summary of modern deposits: The modern cut features were exclusive to Trench 7. Gully 701 was cut through the Iron Age ditch 703 at the south of the trench. Contained within its fill 702 was a large amount of brick and tile. Also containing modern ceramic material was pit 709 and post-hole 723. Gullies 713, 715, 717 and 719 were deemed to be modern by the inclusions within their fills (these finds were not retained).

Sealing the modern features was a layer of dark brown silty clay plough-soil.

Discussion and conclusion: The significance of the investigative archaeological lies not only with the additional information relating to the previously documented Scheduled Ancient Monument, but also with fresh evidence from fieldwalking and evaluation – indicating that human activity at the site can be documented from as early as the Neolithic period. Although the small lithic assemblage associated with the latter has limited the information that can be processed, the five pieces of struck flint highlight the use of the landscape for over some five millennia.

Several phases of activity during the Iron Age were identified by stratigraphy. Due to the small size and condition of the pottery assemblage, only a Mid – Late Iron Age date, can be attributed to the associated cut features. This follows a general trend in Nottinghamshire where ‘a Late Iron Age ceramic element appears to be present on many cropmark settlements’ (Bishop 2001). This can be reiterated by the recovery of the gold stater (c 100-20 BC). However, the sherd of early Iron Age pottery (Appendix 3) recovered from the fieldwalking survey suggests that an Iron Age settlement could have originated much earlier; reinforced by Bishops suggestion that finds of more than a few sherds of early Iron Age material are infrequent in Nottinghamshire (ibid).

It is likely that the early Iron Age landscape at Fox Wood was unenclosed (following the regional trend evidenced at sites such at Gamston [Knight 2004]), surviving perhaps in the form of discrete features with little surviving ceramic evidence. This is in contract to the general model in Nottinghamshire during the Mid – Late Iron Age where ‘the landscape which was ultimately used for farming was increasingly being enclosed’ (ibid).

The cutting of the second enclosure ditch and the later change in the alignment of the enclosure was probably in relation to settlements expansion during the later Iron Age and can be correlated with evidence from the Trent Valley, where population growth, and the increased pressure for grazing, led to a demand for a tighter control of the Valley environment (Knight & Howard 2004).

The ceramic record indicates that the Iron Age settlement at Fox Wood continued into the Romano-British period without a noticeable hiatus. It may also be possible to suggest from the sherd of 1st century South Gaulish samian (recovered from the field walking survey) that evidence of Roman acculturation occurred quite early after the Roman invasion. This can be substantiated by the close proximity of a Roman military installation at Calverton. However, the Romano-British period was generally exemplified by the mid – late 2nd century double-ditched enclosure with ceramic evidence to suggest continued occupation on the site until the 3rd century.

The animal bone assemblage shows very little change from the Iron Age to Romano-British agricultural economy. The site remained a small producer (raising and using), with cattle being the predominant species (Appendix 9). The ceramic evidence is too limited to add any further insight into the general economic background of the two periods or to place them within a regional or national perspective.

Although there is no definitive evidence of occupation from the 3rd century AD, the regional evidence supports an alternative view. Bishop (2001) suggests that although the characteristically high visible material culture, particularly pottery, disappears from Nottinghamshire sites at the end of the Roman period, coin evidence indicates that towns, villas and rural settlements did continue.

The continuity of occupation at Fox Wood after the end of the Roman rule is also possible, if the Saxon origins of the village of Calverton are considered.

The modern cut features in Trench 7 show several phases of activity, although, most of the ceramic material from their fills was very similar, making it difficult to determine a chronological sequence. The spatial positioning of the some of the gullies (perpendicular to each other) suggested the possibility of building slots. However, their narrow, shallow, nature suggests that they were probably for a temporary farm building rather than a permanent structure that would have required more substantial foundations.

Further excavation at Fox Wood would be necessary to determine the full extent and date of the archaeology within the enclosures. A geophysical survey may be considered to further target features of potential interest.


Acknowledgements:



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