Walk: Sunday 13 November 2016 at Landbeach.
Imagine that you had to pay one week’s wages to get your bicycle back in time to go to work on Monday morning. It had been taken away from where you left it outside your house. You are not allowed to appeal against this; the right of the person who took it away cannot be challenged. It is not fair! But this is the sort of thing that, we heard, happened in Landbeach in the mid-16th century. The details that Stephen was able to supply us with on the guided walk around Landbeach brought the history and archaeology to life. In the mid-16th century the Lord of the Manor of Brays, Richard Kirby, decided that he wanted his crofters to leave because he thought that sheep on the land would make him more money. He is recorded as taking animals from his crofters to his own pound and then demanding one week’s wages to have the animal returned, saying that the animal had strayed. He was a menace and his reign of terror went unchecked until the Lord of the other manor, in the village, Matthew Parker, intervened. As well as being Lord of the Manor of Chamberlain’s, he was Master of Corpus Christi in Cambridge and later Archbishop of Canterbury. He took the peasants’ cause as far as the Star Chamber. However he won the title ‘Nosey Parker’ for interfering in this and other land disputes and was too late to stop Richard Kirby evicting up to 14 crofters.
This rich slice of medieval life was explained to 28 enthusiastic attendees at the guided walk that FEAG organised with Senior Project Manager at Oxford Archaeology East, Stephen Macaulay, as the expert guide. The walk took place on a pleasant autumnal day with a hint of sun. First stop was Worts Meadow, now owned by Cambridgeshire County Council’s County Farm Estates, but originally part of the Manor of Brays. In the 13th century, a fashionable moat was dug around the manor house, and whilst the site of the manor house is clothed in trees planted by the Victorians, the moat of water is still there. The meadow in which it sits has clearly visible remains of a shrunken medieval village, with its raised house platforms, hollow way and ridge and furrow. Although the ravages of the Black Death accounted for some of the reduction of the village size, Richard Kirby, also played a part.
Next stop was the other Manor, where Matthew Parker held sway. Here the earthworks and medieval fishpond could be seen. This was viewed by walking along the filled-in canal that had originally carried goods from Beach Lode to the docks at Landbeach (at the site of the five-bar gate on Flood Lane next to the electricity sub-station). Stephen took us along the canal to the Tudor tithe barn, which we entered to marvel at the structure, not least the multiple repairs that were in evidence. Trustees of the Tithe Barn Trust explained how they are planning to apply to HLF for a grant to preserve the Grade II building for long-term community use.
The final leg of our walk was along Waterbeach Road to a classic fenland view over a level arable field. Uninterrupted views across the early crop gave no hint of the complex Iron Age settlement hidden 40cm below the surface. Cropmarks had been viewed from the air concentrated in the centre of this field, which indicated roads, circular and rectilinear buildings. It was assumed that both Iron Age and Roman remains would be found when four trenches were excavated in 2001. However all the evidence was dated to the Iron Age, even the rectilinear cropmarks. This excavation is in the process of being written up and more will be revealed when it is published. The sun was beginning to wane as we made our way back to the carpark, much enlightened and inspired by the wealth of archaeological and historical information that Stephen had managed to pack into just 90 minutes.
Thanks to Stephen for his guiding and to members of the group for their generous donations to the Tithe Barn Trust.
For information on the Tithe Barn Trust, go to: https://tithebarntrust.org.uk/
Jez Reeve 13.11.16