Over three weekends in July and November 2013, 16 test pits were excavated in Toft. Excavations were undertaken by residents of the village and members of the public participating in a CCH community archaeology project, run by Toft History Society, supervised by ACA and co-funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) through its ‘All Our Stories’ programme and supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).
The results of the excavations show that the excavated areas appear to have been intermittently and lightly used by humans in the prehistoric period. The clustering of worked flint of certain and likely Neolithic date from pits TOF/13/03, TOF/13/04, TOF/13/13 and TOF/13/14 along Brookside possibly indicates settlement along the northern side of the stream. More substantially, more tightly dated pottery of Roman date shows settlement to have been present just beyond the south-eastern limits of the present settlement.
Just one test pit in Toft in 2013 (TOF/13/13) produced pottery dating to the early or middle Anglo-Saxon period (c. 410-850 AD), possibly suggesting that some part of the settlement may have continued on into the early-Anglo-Saxon period, as this is the same area where the Romano-British pottery was most concentrated. Activity in the later Anglo-Saxon period is clearly indicated in this same stream-side location, south-east of the present village, north of the stream along Brookside as it turns into Church Lane. It is s unclear whether the early/middle Anglo-Saxon pottery relates to late continuation of the Romano-British settlement, or the earliest antecedent of the 10th/11th century settlement. It may represent a ‘pre-village-nucleus’ of the sort identified in central England. What is more clearly apparent, is that by the 10th or 11th century, a small settlement, possibly already by then a nucleated village, was present north of the brook and possibly extending up Church Road and Pinford Well Lane.
All bar three of the test pits in Toft produced pottery of high medieval date (early 12th – mid 14th century), showing that the settlement was thriving in this period. Notably, however, TOF/13/3 produced no pottery of this date despite yielding significant quantities of late Anglo-Saxon pottery. This is unusual, and hints at the possibility that the settlement footprint within the landscape did not become firmly fixed until after the Norman Conquest, but instead shifted around until then. That Toft grew in size in the high medieval period is indicated by the appearance of pottery of this date in areas lacking material of earlier date, namely south of the brook and west of the High Street.
By contrast, only one pit produced more than a single sherd of late medieval (late 14th – mid 16th century), suggesting a significant fall in population. The area of settlement east of Brookside and south of the brook appears to have been abandoned at this time, although areas further north seem possibly to have fared a little better (although it should be noted that finds of single sherds of this date are what would normally be expected from a non-settlement use such as manuring of arable).
When the settlement began to recover, possibly rather falteringly, in the post medieval period, its focus appears to have shifted north towards the Comberton Road, with the stream-side settlement remaining permanently deserted.