These earthworks were first recognised as of archaeological interest in 1974 by Gil Burleigh, the then recently appointed Keeper of Field Archaeology for North Hertfordshire Museums, when he interpreted them as representing a deserted or shrunken area of the Medieval village. A holloway, an earlier extension of the village main street, runs northwards, on the north-east side of the parish church, in the direction of the former moated manor house at Nortonbury, and forms a cross-roads with the line of an extinct east-west street in about the middle of the field. At the cross-roads and on either side of the streets, other earthworks represent building platforms where houses and barns once stood before being abandoned and decayed. Desertion of this area may have occurred in the post-medieval period.

Norton, Letchworth G C - Plan of Medieval shrunken village earthworks 1986 Drawn by Dave Lewis copyright North Herts Museums

Norton, Letchworth G C - Plan of Medieval shrunken village earthworks 1986 Drawn by Dave Lewis © North Herts Museums

When Gil took up his post in North Herts he was a specialist in the study of deserted medieval villages and related sites, having completed undergraduate and post-graduate research at Cardiff and London universities on such sites in Sussex. Some of his research results were published as papers in the county journal, the Sussex Archaeological Collections. Within the first few weeks of being in N Herts, Gil had identified village and manorial earthworks in many parishes of the district, including Ashwell, Clothall, Graveley, Pirton, Rushden, Therfield, Wallington, Weston, Willian and the Wymondleys, as well as in Norton.

Soon after his discovery, Gil published a note on the Norton earthworks in the annual report of the Deserted Medieval Village Research Group (DMVRG), a national organisation. A subsequent note was published in 1985 in the annual report of the same organisation, by then re-named the Medieval Village Research Group (MVRG).

On the 1st July 1976, Gil photographed the Church Field earthworks from the air in low evening sunlight during one of two aerial sorties he undertook to survey archaeological sites throughout the district during the drought of that year. The setting sun showed up the holloway and other earthworks quite well but on the east of the field shadows from an avenue of elm trees which then grew along the holloway obscured some features. The elms had to be felled a few years later because of Dutch elm disease.

In December 1985, Gil directed a full earthwork survey in Church Field by his team, the Field Archaeology Section of N Herts Museums. The fieldwork was supervised by David Hillelson. The resultant plan with a further note was published by Gil in the 1986 annual report of the Medieval Settlement Research Group, an organisation formed by the merger of the MVRG with the Moated Sites Research Group.

View of Norton  taken in July 1976 showing Church Field (copyright G. R. Burleigh)

View of Norton taken in July 1976 showing Church Field (© G R Burleigh)

View of Norton taken in July 1976 showing Church Field (copyright G R Burleigh)

View of Norton taken in July 1976 showing Church Field (© G R Burleigh)

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