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HOUGHTON

Deserted Medieval Village near Brampton

The remains of part of the deserted medieval settlement of Houghton was excavated as part of the A14 work.

This settlement was an outlier to the main settlement at Brampton, with no church or manor house. It is therefore defined as a ‘hamlet’ rather than a ‘village’. It developed on the western edge of the territory of Brampton, c. 250m to the north-west of Brampton Wood and 200m to the east of the Great North Road. It would likely have been located here potentially partly because of its proximity to the Great North Road (with the blacksmiths being used by people travelling up and down the road), and the proximity to Brampton Wood for timber and other supplies.

Many thanks to Emma West from MOLA and additional material from their website.

Houghton: About

Thanks to surviving historical documents we know that the village we have uncovered was called Houghton, meaning ‘estate or farm on a heel-shaped spur of land’ in Old English. But who lived there, and what made them leave?

Houghton started out in the 6th to 9th centuries AD as an unenclosed Anglo-Saxon settlement of 40 houses and huts. By the time it was abandoned in the 13th century the small settlement had become a neatly laid out village, with houses lined up along trackways and set within more obvious plots.

Finds and features offer clues about what life in Houghton was like – it was unusually rich with industrial activity. Concentrated traces of metalworking remains have been found around one building, thought to be a blacksmith’s shop. On the other side of the central track are what appear to be tanks called ‘retting pits’ – perhaps for treading or beating flax to make clothing fibres or some other water-based process.

But what made the people of Houghton leave this bustling village? The most common reason for this to happen in Britain is plague. As outbreaks claimed the lives of thousands, village populations rapidly declined and survivors moved on, resettled and created new communities.

However, things were different at Houghton.

On his accession to the throne in 1154, King Henry II claimed the whole county of Huntingdonshire as his exclusive hunting ground under Norman law. As the ‘royal forest’ expanded, the villagers lost access to the local woodlands which would have provided their food and fuel and were forced to move out.

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The archaeological remains within Settlement 5 comprised two phases of trackways (the latter across the entire settlement), two boundary ditches separating the Settlement from the central field, a series of plot boundaries off the trackway, buildings set within these plots, and evidence of semi-industrial activity (including metalworking and spinning). The surrounding fields would have been used for arable agriculture

Medieval metal belt buckles from Houghton

Pin beater from the Deserted Medieval Village of Houghton

Houghton: Activities
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