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January 2006 Meeting Report

The January meeting of the Sawston Village History Society was gratifyingly well attended, but the speaker was Dr Christopher Taylor who has a nation-wide reputation in the field of landscape archaeology and for his study of English villages.

He started his fascinating presentation by showing a picture of Finchingfield in N Essex, which as often been described as the archetypal English Village. While this had a Saxon name and had a green and a church, it did not have that shape since time immemorial. He thus very quickly exploded the misconception that villages which were founded in the Saxon migration era of 5th - 8th century AD had remained the same ever since, apart from the addition of modern plumbing and services.

However, villages which have had excavations carried out, such as at Hinxton on the site of the Genome Campus reveal individual small homesteads or farms widely separated from the nearest neighbour. The present day Hinxton was developed as a planned settlement quite early in the Norman era. It was from these and similar excavations that revealed that villages were only formed much later, often by the coalescing of the individual farms or relocation around a church or manor house in the medieval era.

Often these resulted in the formation of two smaller villages, both with their own church, a good local example being Duxford with the St Peters church now "redundant" Elisley is remarkable for having one of the largest village greens which was actually the boundary between 2 earlier villages. Rather unkindly, but perhaps with tongue in cheek Chris referred to Stapleford as " a mess of a village" with a windy road leading to the church. This was because in the medieval time much of the area was boggy and badly drained with a few settlements scattered along the edges.

Pampisford also started as a few settlements around a boggy area, some remnants can be seen in the moats between College Farm and the A505, and Thriplow still has a boggy area in its geographical centre. Whittlesford, Chris's home for many years was originally centred around the church at the eastern end of the village, but extended westwards along West End where there was a market, traces of which can still be discerned where the road widens at a bend, but a later population decline rendered it non viable.

In contrast, many villages in the NE are quite different and show signs of being deliberately planned, many created during the late 18th - early 19th at the start of the industrial revolution. There is good evidence that many country folk from E Anglia relocated to the northern industrialised towns during this time to get work.

Many thriving medieval villages unaccountably vanished during the 14 - 15th century, and not necessarily due to the Black Death. In others, such as Landbeach many villagers were evicted from their farmsteads and houses by the wealthy land owners to make way for sheep rearing which became very profitable in the middle ages. A similar eviction occurred at Wimpole when the villagers were forced to vacate their houses as a result of the Wimple emparkment. 

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