Thirty-seven test pits were excavated at Long Melford in 2011 during a community excavation project undertaken as part of the BBC TV documentary ‘The Great British Story’ (broadcast date summer 2012), a follow up to ‘Story of England’ broadcast in 2010 during which ACA supervised test pit excavations in Kibworth Harcourt.
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The vast majority of the pottery recovered from Long Melford in 2011 was of Roman-British date, providing clear evidence for a major settlement of urban status. Romano-British pottery was found throughout the present settlement, but was particularly concentrated in the area south of Melford Hall. No pottery of identifiably 2nd – 4th century date was found north of Bull Lane. In the south of the present village, LME/11/36 revealed the metalled surface of a road dated by pottery to 1st-3rd century AD.
This large Romano-British settlement does not seem to have survived the end of the Roman period: not a single sherd dating to c. 400-850 AD was recovered from any of the pits excavated in Long Melford in 2011. This picture seems to change in the later Anglo-Saxon period as three pits (LME/11/01, LME/11/05 and LME/11/03) produced sherds of Thetford Ware. However, in only one case did this amount to more than one small, single sherd. It is nonetheless interesting to note that these three pits are all located in the same part of the landscape, just south of the midpoint of the present settlement, and it seems likely that they do represent some slightly more intensive activity in this area in the late Anglo-Saxon period, most likely to be settlement. No material of this date was recovered from any of the pits in the northern part of the village around the church and green.
The volume of pottery recovered increases significantly in the post-Conquest period, although it is by no means consistently high: pits LME/11/36, LME/11/37 and LME/11/39 produce volumes indicative of settlement in the southernmost part of the present village, with little evidence for intensive activity until LME/11/01, LME/11/05 and LME/11/08 clustered together c. 500m to the north produce copious quantities of 12th – 14th century ceramics. North of this, two distinct foci are apparent, one south of the church (LME/11/19) and the other nearly 0.5km north of the church along the northern extent of the High Street (LME/11/23 and LME/11/24). Although the number of excavated pits is still small, given the vast extent of the village footprint, it is nonetheless worth noting that the evidence to date does not point incontestably to the presence of a large nucleated village in this area at this time, rather, perhaps to a succession of smaller settlements strung out along the river valley road.
The most notable pattern observable in the data from Long Melford, however, is that of the 15th and 16th centuries: the volume of pottery of this recovered is extremely high, from all parts of the present village. All bar eight of the excavated pits produced material of this date, many more than in the 12th - 14th century, and in nearly all of the pits, considerable quantities of pottery was recovered. This is in stark contrast to nearly all other University of Cambridge CORS in the eastern region where test pitting has been carried out, where the pattern is more commonly of a considerable drop in the volume of pottery recovered. In the later medieval period, Long Melford really does seem to have been as long as it is today. It is well known that Long Melford was somewhere which derived considerable wealth from the cloth-making industry in the later medieval period, but to see this prosperity reflected so very strongly in the excavated data, which reveals a vibrantly thriving and expanding settlement, is striking - especially as this trajectory appears to be so very different to most other rural communities in the eastern region of England. Certainly, no similar late medieval surge is evident in Long Melford’s nearest neighbour in the University of Cambridge test pitting project, the nearby small town of Clare.