Eighteen 1m2 archaeological ‘test pits’were excavated in the Cambridgeshire parish of West Wickham in summer 2013. The excavations were part of the Heritage Lottery Fund’s ‘All Our Stories’ project and were supported by Cambridge Community Heritage, funded by the AHRC. The aim of the West Wickham Big Dig was to enable members of the public to experience places familiar to them in new ways by excavating in private gardens and other open spaces within West Wickham, searching for archaeological evidence left by people who lived in this parish in the past. Over two days, more than 70 people took part in the excavations in West Wickham which produced thousands of finds and provided new evidence for the development of settlement in the area from the prehistoric period onwards.
The results showed that the landscape around West Wickham appears to have been extensively but lightly used by humans in the prehistoric period, with activity perhaps focussing more in other areas such as that around the Bronze Age ring-ditch near Yen Hall. No evidence of Roman date at all was found in the test pits within the present village, with the earliest post-prehistoric finds dating to the Anglo-Norman period, which were found near the parish church of St. Mary, suggesting that the present settlement at West Wickham was founded in this period. In the high medieval period (11th – 14th century), this settlement appears to have taken the form of a small nucleated row village extending east from the church of St Mary, with Streetly End apparently coming into existence at this date. Other activity might indicate little more than single homesteads but as few test pits were excavated in Burton End, the findings might underestimate the activity in this area.
This process of high medieval settlement expansion was abruptly arrested in the later medieval period, which saw the settlement pattern particularly severely scaled back, with many outlying sites producing no pottery of later medieval date (mid 14th - mid 16th century) at all. The nucleated settlement around the church seems however to have fared somewhat better. Recovery in the wider dispersed settlement landscape was not established until after the end of the medieval period: all but three of the pits produced pottery of 16th-18th century date, showing that when this robust recovery did take place, the dispersed character of the settlement pattern established in the high medieval period was maintained and extended and it remains largely so today.