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Archaeological Dig Stanstead Abbotts
Digging for our Village roots. Archives/Website update report from Stanstead Abbotts Local History Society.
Our Village History Book, a result of our now departed Ron Dale’s intense research, has been a success. With the information he was able to gather at the time, now ten years ago, he created a great insight into the beginnings of our village. His Book and items on our website make us realise we are in an interesting ancient village. As a Yorkshireman in Herts, he would be ‘reet proud’ and more than happy to see that others are working on increasing our knowledge, and with more sources now available – even correcting his findings.
Our archives, thanks to villagers’ donations, have many items of interest. Recently we have received some fantastic action photos of the ‘Great Maltings Fire’, many from the inside! If anyone is researching this or wishes to write it up, they are welcome to go over them. There’s plenty more. Rob Gifford will be compiling some Village photos for the Ware Museum using our collection celebrating The Queen this year. Photos of village street parties from the archives going back to the 1950’s will be on show. Also, and perfectly on time, a donation of a 1977 Village Jubilee Programme was recently received from Tonia Morton of Leamington Spa. She is the great-niece of Doris Richardson from Chapelfields who has sadly passed away. Describing our history in 24 pages written by a long-time respected Fred Eva – it’s another gem for our collection thanks to Tonia.
An appeal! We also have photographs of what we believe to be the village part-time Births, Deaths and Marriages Registry office before it was demolished at the rear of a house in Cappell Lane. If anyone has any memories and information of this rather crumbling now-disappeared posh shed would they please let us know.
In the last couple of years there have been some exciting discoveries of how our Village came into being. We are finding solid evidence of a major settlement in our fields that goes back 5 to 6,000 years, it’s an amazing indication of our beginnings (read on). We can even name those living here hundreds of years ago. See the latest on our website.
It is still a jigsaw though; many gaps in our timeline are still to be filled, but from a small number of villagers big things have come to light, both from computers and common spadework.
Roydon Road resident and SALHS member Alison Etherington was inquisitive about who lived there before her. She got her trowel out and followed instructions on how to create her own archaeological dig. She came up with some fantastic evidence in her own back garden of Roydon Road’s previous occupants. From early settlers to present day, someone had been in her back garden at various times over the last 7,000 years. Her report will be the SALHS website.
Ye Trouble brewing.
Next, seeing another item on our website, instead of using her trowel she unearthed her computer and started to follow the lives of people living here 700 years ago. Millers, Lords, Knights, traders, brewers, candle-stick makers etc – Alison looked into their lives; one person having to travel to Carlisle only to find he wasn’t needed. Another, a Landlady of one of our pubs, was fined for selling too expensive ale – in the 1320’s!
Finding records like this creates stories of life in the village. On-line court rolls, tax returns and other documents are being dug up in the records without a trowel in sight.
Stone-Age party time.
Not far from Alison is Trotters Gap where Rob Bennett lives. Rob’s in charge of the Village Plan Heritage Team and has been busy. His careful studies of maps are revealing the results of villager’s work from 6,000 years and also 1100 years ago. They are hiding out in the open and you can still see them today…
There are also some details on our website of a 5,500-year-old Henge on the edge of the village discovered by the Heritage Team. Henges are recognised by historians as a meeting point for our ancestors. They may have gathered to celebrate important times of the year or marriages, maybe to exchange produce or perhaps a ‘Rock Festival’! The fact that it’s near our annual ‘Stone Valley Fest’ is an amazing coincidence after all these years. We have village photos of street parties in our archives, nothing that old though…
Moving nearer our time;
The Norman Domesday Book of 1086 proves that people lived and worked here long before the Normans invaded. Because of our village’s mention in their account book, we know there were craftsmen and merchants here even before the Anglo-Saxon King Harold got it in the eye – but where exactly?
The Plot thickens.
Rob Bennett’s new studies have discovered the areas where they lived in AD 900. Allotted by a local lord or King, portions of land were given over to local merchants and craftsmen, and he has highlighted them – all to go on the website. There are fields named either after them or farmers. (Some fields have been mentioned by Ron in our book and on the website). The names give a good idea of what they produced in these areas around the village. Rob’s also working on a theory that we had a warning system against Viking attacks in the 900s (see also Stuart Moyes recent excellent item on their threat in the valley).
The first naming of our village?
Going back a little further Rob has discovered, from a document of around AD700, (now available online) of a gift of land to build a Nunnery just south of the village in Nazeing. While not of interest to our village history he noticed an added mention by the giver – a certain Anglo-Saxon King Sweafred of Essex – of where the Nunnery was next to. He fell off his seat when he read what is possibly the very first naming of our village!
At the end of a lot of Latin text he read; cuius terre terminibus est Stanhemstede in australi parte ‘near my estate of STANHEMSTEDE (on the south side)’.
A dynamic discovery from 1300 years ago that doesn’t change the world but does make life interesting don’t you think?
His piece on this and in our Archives will be on our SALHS website at some point.
The fields you stand on and look over, the sites of the shops you go into – all have a history. If you want to help research and add a little more to the story of Stanstead Abbotts (or Stanhemstede!) you are welcome to look in our archives or add to them. Thanks to donations, we have books touching on life here up to 200 years ago, photos of times gone by and reports of interesting happenings. If you want to help add more information or donations to our Website and Archives, contact Brian on the SALHS site or me at SALHS archives email@example.com
If you want to join a Village History Research Group let me know too. Subject to funding we could get one together.
R (Dick) Dixon Archivist SALHS
PS we meet on the 2nd Friday each month. ‘C16-17th life’ is in June and ‘The Saxons in the Lea Valley’ will be the title of our July speaker. £2 at the door. Parish hall, Roydon Rd. website here http://www.salhs.org.uk/index.html