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What the Anglo-Saxons did for Barrowby

Despite the Roman army being recalled early in the fifth century, farming almost certainly continued. But there would have been any number of 'war bands' demanding protection money or simply raiding for livestock. It took a century or two for life to settle down.

Farming began to be transformed during the eighth century, thanks in large part to the re-introduction of the heavy plough (with an iron mouldboard) typically pulled by eight oxen. Because these oxen needed to be in 'peak fitness' around February (when natural pasture was poor) then both haymaking and wood pasture were essential (Williamson 2003; McKerracher 2018).

Barrowby was well-situated to have ample amounts of hay from the low-lying land near the Old Beck and, on the steep slopes, woodland pasture. This is quite typical as detailed analysis of the first nucleated villages (replacing earlier scattered farmsteads) reveals that the older of these settlements – from around the ninth century – are situated at the junction of two or more distinct types of geology.

The significant developments with arable farming supported a bigger population. And more people means more fibres are required for clothing. Wool was perhaps always the most important. But flax, hemp and nettles were all grown on an 'industrial' scale to be processed into fibre. Once again Barrowby had the right environments for sheep (on the hill slopes) and fibre-producing plants (which require light, sandy soils).

There was a slight downside. The parts of Barrowby parish near the Old Beck would have been at greater risk of flooding during the Anglo-Saxon era than they are now, simply because the climate was wetter – and warmer – than it is now. However 'wetland' environments produce reeds for thatch and many natural food resources so they were also valuable assets. By the eleventh century the climate was getting dryer and cooler, and these changes increased during the medieval era. In recent centuries artificial drainage has allowed most former wetland to be used for arable.

Overall, by the late eighth century England was becoming very wealthy. Apart from no longer growing plants for clothing (except for a few places continuing to grow and process flax) this combination of arable and pastoral practices persisted without much change for about a thousand years. Some of the wealth was 'invested' in building and decorating churches. Barrowby continued to maximise on its excellent combination of soils and varied environments. Clearly the farming continued to be economically successful until recent times as the quality of the church and the well-built houses in Church Street confirm.

The initial nucleation of Barrowby was probably around the tenth century and seems to have included the churchyard, even though it is now on the periphery of the settlement. The earliest church buildings were most likely not stone-built as it was easier and cheaper to build and rebuild timber churches. The indisputable evidence of Anglo-Saxon Christianity is about half of an Anglo-Saxon tomb cover, now inserted into the south wall of the current building. This was originally thought to be part of a cross shaft. But, rather oddly, it is the left-hand side of a tomb cover. Presumably it was sliced lengthways after the invention of mechanised stone saws. So where is the other half? Quite possibly used in the restoration of the building.




 
Barrowby's Anglo-Saxon tomb cover.
 


 
The bottom part of an Anglo-Saxon tomb cover at Harston, just across the Leicestershire border.
More about Harston's Anglo-Saxon carvings.


If you had any wealth there was always the risk of someone trying to steal it. And the best way to protect your 'life savings' was to bury it. That worked well if you stayed alive to unbury it. Which was not always the case. About 1871–2 a hoard of silver pennies was discovered near Barrowby concealed in the shin bone of an ox; the ends had been stopped with clay. Fourteen coins were identified, but more found. They were from the reigns of Aethelred II and Cnut so must have been deposited after 1016.



   
 

 
Silver pennies depicting (top) Aethelred II and (above) Cnut,
similar to those found in Barrowby.


Further information about Anglo-Saxon Barrowby


If you think I've got something wrong – or can add additional information or photographs – then please email me:– bobtrubs@indigogroup.co.uk.


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what's new?


Articles about Barrowby

Barrowby's location and geology

summary of prehistoric Barrowby

summary of Roman Barrowby

Anglo-Saxons

Medieval

Seventeenth and eighteenth centuries

Nineteenth century

nineteenth and twentieth century population

Twentieth century

there's more could be said...

bibliography

index of surnames in Cryer 1979


Articles and web links for nearby places

rare seventeenth fonts at Muston, Bottesford and Orston from Project Gargoyle Newsletter 2020

Ironstone quarries of Leicestershire
YouTube video

Wyville's wells

Harston's Anglo-Saxon carvings

Bottesford's effigies

Grantham Canal Society

The Grantham Canal
All you need to know – and more – from Wikipedia

Croxton Kerrial manor house excavations
photos and brief details from Leicester Mercury.
By 2021 the remains had been consolidated and there are annual open days.

Bottesford History Group