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Kibworth 2009

Kibworth 2009 Pottery Report

Kibworth 2009 Test Pit Location Map

Forty-three test pits were excavated in 2009 in Kibworth by members of the public digging under ACA direction over a single weekend, as part of a television documentary to be presented by Michael Wood exploring the history of England through the experiences of the people of this single place. These were sited in all four of the Kibworth settlements, although rather fewer sites were offered for excavation in Kibworth Beauchamp than in the other settlements, so observations regarding the development of this part of the settlement landscape are necessarily more tentative than for Kibworth Harcourt, Smeeton and Westerby.

Roman pottery was found in just two of these test pits, one (KIB/09/02) at the junction of the A6 and Main Street in Kibworth Harcourt, the other in Smeeton Westerby, just north of the point where the east-west road through the southern part of the village turns north. Neither pit produced more than a few sherds, probably residual in later deposits., although more substantial Roman remains were identified by geophysical survey away from the present village. Pottery of early Anglo-Saxon date (450-650AD) was found in only one test pit (KIB/09/13), but this produced a total of seven sherds along with a fragment of a bone comb from undisturbed deposits, and it is thus likely that this relate to intensive use, probably settlement at this date in the immediate vicinity (although a disturbed burial cannot definitely be ruled out, it is less likely as no human bone was identified). This pit produced no later material, and indeed over the entire area targeted in 2009 only one of the pits, more than 1km to the south of KIB/09/13, produced any pottery of middle Anglo-Saxon date (650-850AD): a single small sherd of Ipswich ware weighing just 6g. Although small, this was noted as the first find of Ipswich ware in Leicestershire, and as such is of considerable interest, possibly indicating a site of some status in the vicinity.

Later Anglo-Saxon pottery was found in greater quantities, but not as widely as might have been expected had there been an extensive nucleated settlement at this time. A single pit (KIB/09/02, the same one which produced small amounts of Roman material) produced forty sherds of St Neots ware and six of Stamford ware, indicating intensive use of this plot in this period. None of the other test pits along Main Street produced any contemporary material. Although negative evidence from test pits must inevitably be cited with caution, this does cast some doubt on Howell's hypothesis that this street was the main axis of a regular, planned nucleated settlement by 1086. In contrast, four pits in Smeeton Westerby produced Stamford ware, three of which were sited close together along the west side of the main street. Although these produced smaller amounts of pottery (none yielded more than four sherds), they do seem likely to indicate settlement in this area in the late Anglo-Saxon period. In the medieval period, the pattern is very different, with most pits producing significant numbers of sherds dating 1100-1400AD. These include nine of the twelve pits along Main Street, Kibworth Harcourt, supporting Howell's suggestion that there was settlement along this street in the High Medieval period, quite possibly arranged as a regular planned row either side of the street as she suggests.

Smeeton and Westerby also produced large amounts of pottery dating to 1100-1400AD and activity here appears to have increased significantly in the centuries after the Norman Conquest. In contrast, only around half the pits excavated in Kibworth Beauchamp produced medieval pottery: however, it is clear whether this indicates less intensive settlement here, or whether it is simply due to sampling bias across a small number of pits in this less thoroughly test pitted part of the settlement However, one pattern that is consistent and remarkably striking across all the Kibworth settlements is the dramatic decline in activity in the later medieval period (post-fourteenth century). Only ten of the forty-three excavated pits produced any material at all of this date, only two of which yielded more than a single sherd and none more than four sherds. Three pits in Smeeton Westerby produced a single small sherd each, while only two of the five pits excavated in Kibworth Harcourt produced later medieval pottery, also in minimal quantities. Documentary evidence suggests that the population of Kibworth Harcourt dropped by around 40% in 1348-9 and, after a weak rally in the 1360s and 1370s, dwindled further throughout the first half of the fifteenth century, to less than a quarter of the pre-Black Death level, almost to vanishing point.

The pottery evidence from the excavated test pits clearly seems to reflect this: it seems that those few families who lived in the former villages in the fifteenth century must have done so in an otherwise almost deserted landscape. In the post-medieval period, however, there is a marked recovery, with nearly all test pits producing material of sixteenth to eighteenth century date.