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What the Anglo-Saxons did for Barrowby
Despite the Roman army being recalled early in the fifth century and the towns and cities quickly becoming near-derelict, many rural settlements continued. But any number of 'war bands' demanding protection money or simply raiding for livestock would have made life difficult. It took a century or two for life to settle down.
Control of the country steadily evolved from rather compact 'kingdoms' the size of Rutland into a smaller number of regions (such as Mercia, Wessex, East Anglia and Northumberland) until, in the later ninth century, King Alfred ruled over something like the extent of what we think of as England.
Alfred re-introduced the Roman-style 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). By the tenth century farming in many parts of England had been transformed and arable land was far more productive than it had been since the Roman era.
Barrowby was well-situated to take full advantage. The low-lying land near the Old Beck would have produced hay and the steep slopes would have provided woodland pasture. This is quite typical as detailed analysis of the first nucleated villages in England (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 allowed for population growth. And more people meant more fibres were 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 tenth 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 in Barrowby 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
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Articles about BarrowbyBarrowby's location and geology
Seventeenth and eighteenth centuries
Articles and web links for nearby places
rare seventeenth fonts at Muston, Bottesford and Orston from Project Gargoyle Newsletter 2020
Ironstone quarries of Leicestershire
The Grantham Canal
Croxton Kerrial manor house excavations