On the weekend of 25th and 26th July 2009 two hundred villagers, volunteer diggers and professional archaeologists worked together to open fifty test pits in the villages of Kibworth Beauchamp, Kibworth Harcourt and Smeeton Westerby in south Leicestershire.The event was organised by Michael Wood and his production team from Maya Vision International as part of their new BBC TV series the “Story of England” and under the direction of Access Cambridge Archaeology (ACA).
Big Dig volunteers outside the Coach and Horses Inn
Andrew Southerden (pub licensee), Michael Wood and Prof. Carenza Lewis in foreground
The volunteers gathered in Kibworth Grammar School Hall on the Saturday morning to receive a briefing from Professor Carenza Lewis, a British archaeologist who became famous as a result of her appearances on the Channel 4 television series “Time Team”. Stockpiles of tools including mattocks, trowels, tarpaulin and sieves were available as well as detailed instructions on how to record finds.
Throughout the weekend archaeologists were available to respond to calls from the pit sites to give advice on articles found. The digs were also filmed by three roving film crews. The exercise was co-ordinated from The Coach and Horses Inn where the restaurant was equipped with aerial maps, wireless broadband and relevant printed histories and documents relating to the area. This enabled the teams of experts to quickly attend any of the test pit sites where their expertise was required. The licensee of the Coach and Horses Inn, Andrew Southerden, dug a test pit in the corner of the pub car park (there is now a plaque on the wall behind the site of the pit).
During the course of the Dig over 2500 finds were recorded and labeled, and are now at Cambridge University for analysis by Carenza Lewis and her team. The finds included:
The pit at The Coach and Horses Inn produced early/middle Saxon pottery (450-650AD) and a stratified fragment of an incised patterned early Anglo-Saxon bone comb from undisturbed deposits. There appears little doubt that it revealed the site of the earliest Anglo-Saxon settlement of Kibworth, with at least 20cm of undisturbed deposits of that date. It appears to have fallen from use before the Viking invasions, and not occupied by people since.
Early-Anglo-Saxon bone comb from the pit at the Coach and Horses Inn
Roman pottery was found in two test pits, one in Kibworth Harcourt, the other in Smeeton Westerby. Neither pit produced more than a few sherds. The pit in Kibworth Harcourt also produced forty sherds of St Neots Ware (c.875-1100AD) and six of Stamford Ware (c.875-1200AD) indicating intensive use of this plot during these periods.
Only one of the pits, more than 1km to the south of this find, produced any pottery of middle Anglo-Saxon date (650-850): a single small sherd of Ipswich Ware (700-850) weighing just 6g, although small this was noted as the first find of Ipswich ware in Leicestershire, and as such is of considerable interest, possibly indicating a site of some status in the vicinity.
Four pits in Smeeton Westerby produced Stamford ware (c.875-1200AD), three of which were sited close together along the west side of the main street. Although these produced smaller amounts of pottery (none yielded more than four sherds), they do seem likely to indicate settlement in this area in the late Anglo-Saxon period.
In Kibworth Beauchamp only about half of the pits excavated produced medieval pottery, whether this indicates less intensive settlement here or it is simply due to sampling bias across a small number of pits where there were far less dug.
In the medieval period, the pattern is very different, with most pits producing significant numbers of sherds dating from 1100-1400AD. These include nine of the twelve pits along Main Street, Kibworth Harcourt, indicating the possibility that there was settlement along this street in the High Medieval period, quite possibly arranged as a regular planned row either side of the street.
Smeeton and Westerby also produced large amounts of pottery dating to 1100-1400AD and activity here appears to have increased significantly in the centuries after the Norman Conquest.
Only two of the five pits excavated in Kibworth Harcourt produced later medieval pottery, also in minimal quantities. Documentary evidence suggests that the population of Kibworth Harcourt dropped by around 40% in 1348-9 (The Black Death) and, after a weak rally in the 1360s and 1370s, dwindled further throughout the first half of the fifteenth century to less than a quarter of the pre-Black Death level, almost to vanishing point. The pottery evidence from the excavated test pits clearly seems to reflect this, it seems that those few families who lived in the former villages in the fifteenth century must have done so in an otherwise almost deserted landscape. In the post-medieval period, however, there is a marked recovery, with nearly all test pits producing material of sixteenth to eighteenth century date.
The pit in Jubilee Green, Main Street, Kibworth Harcourt (the site of the old village market (see Early Modern/ Kibworth Harcourt Village Centre)) was dug by a team of pupils from Kibworth High School and they un-earthed a stone cannonball from the English Civil War (1642 to 1651).
Photograph reproduced by kind permission of Maya Vision International
All the volunteer diggers were very enthusiastic and many were rewarded by their finds, the artifacts below were recovered from a pit in Smeeton Westerby much to the delight of the amateur archaeologist who found them.
Finds from Smeeton Westerby pit