Iron Age/Roman, Anglo-Saxon and medieval settlement in relation to geology and drainage
In the Anglo-Saxon period the pattern of settlement seems to have remained one of scattered farms and hamlets, as it had been in Roman times. But now they were concentrated only on the best soils, and woodland was regenerating in places on the clay land where Roman farms and fields had been abandoned. Some of these Anglo-Saxon farms were also gradually abandoned and, by the 9th century, settlement seems to have focussed where our medieval and modern villages would develop. On these sites, in the century or more before the Norman conquest, our villages began to take on the plan form we would recognise today, with rows of tenements lining village streets, often with a church and manor house as well.
Anglo-Saxon settlement was higly dispersed with farms and hamlets scattered across the landscape. Though many more sites await discovery it is clear that they avoided the boulder clay
This was a remarkable period of planning and growth, with the medieval open field system also apparently being laid out at the same time. When the new Norman lords took over the estates of their Anglo-Saxon predecessors, in 1066, the broad medieval character of the rural landscape of Rockingham Forest was already established. In the succeeding centuries population increased and with it the size of each village, but within the framework established by the Anglo-Saxons. Though the buildings have changed dramatically since that time, the pattern of streets and tenements that were laid out between the 10th and the 14th century still determine the location and layout of our villages today.
Before the conquest settlement had nucleated onto some 70 sites on the best land and often adjacent to streams. It was these that developed to form our medieval villages, most of which remain occupied today. The pattern is deplayed here against a background of relief and drainage.
The villages were sited where they could control a range of agricultural resources and where there was a suitable water supply. Thus the villages were concentrated along the Welland and Nene valleys and within the woodland core along the smaller streams, usually on the freely draining soils and near a spring line. Most importantly, when they were first laid out in the Anglo-Saxon period, they tended to lie near the boundary of different resources – meadow in the river valley, arable on the better soils and woodland on the clay land.
Our village names were almost all fixed in the Anglo-Saxon period and their distribution seems to reflect the way in which settlement developed. It is likely that the earliest villages were on the best soils in the in the valleys of the Nene, Welland and Ise, where there are many ‘tun’ and ‘ing’ place names, like Pilton, Fotheringhay and Nassington. In contrast, in the heart of the Forest the settlement names tend to be different, with more ‘dependent’ or hamlet place name elements like ‘by’, ‘wick’ or others such as ‘ley’, for example Blatherwycke, Oakley or Kirby. This suggests they may have been lesser settlements which grew into true villages somewhat later, perhaps only when large tracts of woodland had been cleared to provide extensive open fields.