The Foxearth and District Local History Society

The Hysterical Hystorian

For occasional articles, snippets and announcements by the Resident Historians.These articles are presented in date order, but if you explore the back-catalogue, you may find much of interest. Historical information doesn't really go out of date! Any member of the F&DLHS may add an entry or make a comment to an existing entry once they have got their userID and password from the Webmaster.

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Friday, December 25, 2020

The Lost Archaeology of the Stour Valley between Cavendish and Clare

When the railways were built in East Anglia, a lot of archeology was found. Unless there was an antiquarian nearby, any artefacts were broken open to see if they held any gold coins, and then the rest was quickly shovelled into spoil trucks  and dumped. We were, therefore lucky that, when the extension of the railway to Haverhill was being constructed, the indefatigable rector of Clare cruised around to try to spot any interesting roman remains.  He wrote ...

As one deeply interested in archaeological pursuits, I have attentively watched the progress of the railway works in this vicinity. In the immediate neighbourhood of the Castle, contrary to expectation, nothing worthy of notice has yet been found.
But very recently, at the distance of about a mile from the town of Clare, while the workmen were engaged in excavating a new channel for the road, just at the point where the line leaves the glebe land of Clare, in the Cavendish direction, they came upon a quantity of Roman sepulchral urns. There were seven or eight of them found within the space of a few yards, about a foot and a half below the surface of the ground. Though quite whole when found, they were all unfortunately broken in the attempt to disengage them from the superincumbent soil. They were of the commonest material, very plain, and all full of fragments of bones. One only, much smaller than the others, was of rather an ornamental description. The spot where they were found is far from any building. There are indeed, the remains of a Roman encampment at Clare, and Roman remains have been found at Cavendish ; including a Sepulchral urn, now in the Sudbury Museum ; but no previous discovery has called our attention to this particular place.
Not far from the spot is a place of broken ground, popularly known as the "Dane Pits," but which, I now suspect, has more to do with. " the ancient Roman than the Dane."
Anxiously looking for yet further " finds," though, well aware how very difficult it is, owing to the ignorance, or the selfishness of ordinary finders, to have such discoveries brought to the knowledge of any one competent to gather any useful information, or record any future notice respecting them.
—J. C. G., Clare

 The man of the cloth had generously attributed the breaking of the pots to 'the attempt to disengage them from the superincumbent soil'. Hmm. possibly, though it is more likely that the 'Navvies' had  done it to extract any coins, and were about to dispose of the rest when the clergyman strode forward to examine what they were up to.  Like the Cavendish Sepulchral urn, given to the Sudbury Museum and now entirely lost, these urns were stored for a while and then quietly disposed of.

There is a lot of curious archaeology in the valley. There is the strange patch of soil on the Essex side that had once been a wooded area that yielded human bones, and was described vaguely by Victorian antiquarians as a Danes fort. A group of fields in the valley are called 'Moor Field', not because it was moorland, but from the old English word for a 'meeting place'. This would be a summer assembly place, and it has a strange straight grass road leading to it from the Essex side. For countless years, there had been osier beds in the valley between Cavendish and Clare and there are signs of barns on the edge of the meadows on raised platforms, used for the processing of osiers.

In my own ramblings about the valley, I've sometimes walked the Dane's Fort.  There are some definite ramparts nearby, though these seem to be more of a defense against deer than military artefacts, and the Dane's Fort yielded some very curious black stones, quite unlike the local geology.  The obvious explanation for this was the remains of a pond that had to be heated up. Stones were heated in a fire and then thrown into the pond to warm the water. Yes, it was probably a dying pit for wool.  East Anglia has a lot of these, dating from antiquity through to the renaissance.