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Long, long ago
People have been living on the Barrowby ridge since the last Ice Age retreated about 10,000 years ago. The name of the settlement to the west, Sedgebrook, suggests that until modern field drainage this was a much more watery environment. Indeed the level terrain to the south of the A52 towards Stenwith could easily be the outcome of a post-glacial lake. A wooded hill slope overlooking a large expanse of open water would be an almost ideal combination of environments for Mesolithic hunter-gatherers.
Numerous worked flints from the Mesolithic through the Neolithic to the Iron Age have been found in the fields around Barrowby and Casthorpe. Some of these are now in The Collection Museum, Lincoln. The Lincolnshire Heritage Environment Record or HER (heritage-explorer.lincolnshire.gov.uk) gives full details. However not too much should be read into the locations. Flints can only be found on ploughed soil or where careful excavation precedes building work. All too often archaeological 'distribution maps' prove to show where people have looked rather than indicating anything significant about where people did – or didn't – settle. Overall we can simply say that for many millennia lots of people thought the Barrowby ridge was a good place to live, at least for part of the year.
Around 1970 systematic walking of ploughed fields (by a team of boys from Kings School, led by John Smith and John Manterfield) recovered a surprising number of prehistoric flints and pot sherds. Details of these are also in the HER; see also Smith and Manterfield 1973).
Recent and ongoing research has identified a major prehistoric 'complex' bordering on the boundary of Barrowby, though mostly on the Grantham side of Harlaxton parish. Few details have been made public yet, but this much is in the public domain: Monument MLI33382; Monument MLI87755 and Monument MLI34886. My guess is that this major prehistoric site was important because it straddled the watershed between the Witham and the Trent as many other major prehistoric sites – such as henges – are also on watersheds. Probably because this enabled 'trade' between different 'tribes' who occupied the different river valleys. Though quite what 'trade' and 'tribe' might have amounted to several millennia ago may have been different to modern notions.
The RomansThe boys from King School also revealed evidence for Roman settlement, most likely a timber-and-thatch farmstead. Evidence from elsewhere in the Midlands suggests there may well have been many such settlements scattered about a mile apart, or just under. The proximity of the Great North Road would have required Romano-British farmers to produce foodstuffs for travellers. Cheese (perhaps from sheep's milk rather than cows) would have been in demand, and bread (maybe from barley rather than wheat) would have been needed too.
Because of the geology it's no surprise that the Roman settlement near Barrowby was associated with iron-working slag. While slag is difficult to date, the location of the slag was a few tens of yards to the east of the domestic site. This is entirely typical (I helped discover just such an arrangement at a Roman settlement in a parish to the west of the Fosse Way back in the late 1980s) as, if the forge catches fire – always a possibility – you don't want your home to ignite too. As prevailing winds are from the south-west then placing the forge to the east minimises the risk of sparks landing on a thatched roof.
Although the landowner does not wish any information to be made public, there is clear evidence of a Roman villa in the parish. This would be an 'estate centre' and, in probability, the estate (though not the villa) would have continued into the Anglo-Saxon period. This is consistent with Barrowby's somewhat anomalous importance in the Domesday Book of 1086.
A more detailed summary of the relevant entries in the Lincolnshire Heritage Environment Record will be prepared in due course.
If anyone reading this is able to use GIS software (such as QGIS) and APIs to prepare digital maps from the Lincolnshire HER record then please email me: – email@example.com
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Copyright Bob Trubshaw 2021–2022
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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