History Beneath Our Boots
While walking in this area, The Rambler has frequently found himself contemplating its history, particularly the changes in the landscape wrought by those who walked the paths and tracks before him.
The following article is an attempt to appreciate how former inhabitants of the Northamponshire Uplands lived from research into archaelogical evidence and written sources.
(A list of sources which have most recently been consulted follows. It is probably not complete as information and knowledge has been gathered over many years. If you believe you should be included, let me know and I will gladly acknowledge you. Equally, If you feel you can add further information or wish to contribute to this site’s History Pages in any way do, please, contact me).
Honey Hill was probably occupied in the Mesolithic period (about 9000-4000 years ago!) by hunter-gatherers whose worked flints have been found on the hill. The present day version of the prehistoric Jurassic Way will take you to Honey Hill.
According to the scoping exercise conducted by Entec for the Winwick Wind farm, archaeological evidence in the Cold Ashby/Elkington/Winwick area suggests that, in common with other areas in the East Midlands, clearance of forests and organised farming began during the Neolithic period (c.4000- 2000 BCE).
Crop marks and a trapezoidal enclosure discovered in these parishes also suggest occupation and community activity during the Bronze Age. Evidence of Bronze Age culture (pottery and axes) suggests that this culture appeared in Britain sometime between 2475–2315 BCE.
There is believed to be a Bronze Age burial site in the fields North of Stanford Road, opposite the playing field pavilion in Cold Ashby.
Permanent settlement was probably rare during these periods as contemporary farming methods might have meant that areas became less fertile over time, forcing the community to move to another site and begin again, possibly every ten to twenty years. There has been much discussion for years as to whether Bronze Age culture and technology were assimilated by the indigenous Britons or whether incoming migrants from Europe and the Near East imposed these. DNA evidence now indicates that the residents of Britain were almost totally replaced by these migrants, often referred to as Beaker People, over several hundred years. These people brought with them new technologies; eventually creating bronze from copper and tin.
The Iron Age would have seen a significant increase in population - particularly during the Roman Occupation when many of Northamptonshire’s more permanent small villages, hamlets and farms would have developed and these would have had their own interconnecting pathways and tracks- some of which may be the footpaths featured on this website. Evidence of a large Iron Age settlement has been found near present day Crick village and Crack’s Hill was almost certainly used by the Roman army as a look-out post being conveniently close to Watling Street.
The Rambler's research suggests that this area of North West Northamptonshire was inhabited by the tribe now known as the Corieltauvi (also sometimes Corealtavi or Coritani). Their territory became a civitas early in the period of Roman Occupation. This effectively meant that they lived in an independent administrative centre subject, nevertheless, to Roman rule and supervision. There is a Roman farm site on the East side of West Haddon Road at Turnage Spinney and like most Iron Age peoples the Corieltauvi are believed to have been principally farmers. We have evidence of only a few defensible sites in their territory (one of which could have been the hill fort discovered at Guilsborough?) which suggests a lack of truly centralised government, the Corieltauvi being a confederacy of small, self-governing tribes. Their centre of administration at Ratae Corieltauvorum (now Leicester) fell to the Romans around 44AD. The tribe may well have accepted Roman rule and protection gratefully as bordering tribes, particularly the powerful Brigantes to the North, could be difficult neighbours! Coins, minted in the 1st Century BCE suggest they then had several powerful chiefs, though it has not so far been possible to name them. We do, however, have names of chiefs or kings from coins of the later Roman period: Volisios, Dumnocoveros, Dumnovellaunus and Cartivelios.
Cold Ashby’s place name suffix ‘-by’ is usually associated with Danish settlements though there is also archaeological evidence, in the form of house platforms at the abandoned settlement South of Cold Ashby church and in the field between Church Lane and the West Haddon Road, for Saxon-style buildings - an archaeological survey, resulting from a planning application for development in this area, has recently (2015) taken place.
In the centuries following the abandonment of Britain by the Roman military, this area was eventually to become part of the powerful Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Mercia - probably inhabited by the descendants of the original Britons, Celtic/Belgic tribes, the former Roman auxiliaries and the invading or migrating Jutes Angles and Saxons (from Jutland and Northern Germany). Thanks mainly to the (not entirely reliable) Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and Bede, we know that Offa (he of the Dyke on the Welsh Border) was the powerful ruler of Mercia, one of the largest of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms in the eighth century and he had established control over the kingdoms of Sussex and Kent, whilst also exerting influence over Surrey, Essex and East Anglia and making alliances of sorts with Wessex and Northumbria by giving his daughters to their rulers in marriage.
After the death of Offa in 796, the kingdom began to lose power and influence and was eventually largely settled by the Danish in the ninth century and ruled by Guthrum, the Danish King of East Anglia, who signed the treaty with Alfred of Wessex which established the Danelaw. Guthrum took the name Athelstan when he converted to Christianity.
The western boundary of the Danelaw in Northamptonshire was Roman Watling Street (now A5) so Cold Ashby and its immediate neighbours would presumably have been in Guthrum's kingdom while settlements to the west of this boundary were in King Alfred's. It's hard to assess how much difference all these political, religious and demographic changes made to the population as a whole but I suspect that our former residents probably carried on with their everyday occupations (again chiefly agricultural) in the same way as they probably did during the Roman period. The true extent of Danish settlement and assimilation in this area is still unknown but what is relatively clear is that the people of North West Northamptonshire, whatever their geneology, must have been adapting to cultural change throughout this early medieval period, sometimes now labelled Anglo- Scandinavian by historians.
Ælfgifu of Northampton, is believed to have been the Mercian first wife (or possibly mistress) of Cnut who reigned as King of England from 1016 – 1035. Her son, Harold I was regent for five years before Hardicanute, Cnut's son by his second wife, returned as King.
The period of Danish dominance was interrupted by Edward the Confessor (1042) and, because Edward had no heir Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex succeeded him as, Harold II, in 1066.
In effect, this English and Danish power-swapping was brought to an end by the Norman Conquest.
By the time of William the Conqueror’s Domesday Survey, Cold Ashby (recorded as the lordship of ‘Essebi’) appears to me to have been a village of 19 households, though Round & About Cold Ashby suggests a ‘recorded population of 18’. These figures are somewhat complicated by the apparent inclusion of the 'lost' settlement of Chilcotes in the assessment for Cold Ashby. Whatever the true figure, Cold Ashby was clearly a functioning agricultural community before and after the Conquest. It is probable that the landscape would have featured large open fields where arable farming was practised in furlong strips on the higher ground, leaving the lower areas as meadow. The resulting ‘ridge and furrow’ can still be observed to the North-East of the modern settlement and is still very prominent around Winwick. This system may well have been used around Cold Ashby for about eight centuries until the enclosures (which appears to have been c. 1625 but may well have begun a couple of centuries earlier) when foreign demand for English wool began to make sheep farming more profitable for landlords than dwindling tenancies in open fields.
It appears that from circa 12th century to the reign of Henry VIII a parallel system to the manorial was practised by the Cistercians of Pipewell Abbey who farmed Cold Ashby Grange. After Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries, lands in Cold Ashby, which Domesday tells us were owned by the monks of Coventry and which later passed to Pipewell Abbey, were granted to various individual landlords, thus giving ‘private ownership’ the power to effect further enclosures, a process which continued through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and which so dramatically changed the character of Cold Ashby’s surrounding landscape and the lives of its people.
Round and About Cold Ashby (Cold Ashby Village Appraisal Group, 1995)
Northants County Council
Blood of the Vikings (Hodder & Staughton,2001)
Rome, The Augustan Age (OUP, 1981)
Everyman’s Classical Atlas (Dent, 1963)
Thanks for your interest.
Much more of Cold Ashby's History is on the main History Page!