CORS Project 2013-2014(Currently Occupied Rural Settlement)

The full 200 page report on this project can be found on:

We attended the Medieval Settlement Research Group's Conference in April 2016 at the University of Lincoln, organised by Professor Carenza Lewis, and presented the following: 

Great Bowden is a village of 480 houses with a population of approximately 1000.  It lies in the south of Leicestershire on the Northamptonshire border and on the west bank of the River Welland. It is about one and a 
half miles north of the town of Market Harborough and is separated from it by the north slope of a long flat topped hill, Bowden Ridge.  This piece of separation land was once part of Great Bowden and importantly today preserves the village’s distinction. Iron Age and Roman settlements have been found on the ridge and more recently in the village itself as part of our CORS project.(Currently Occupied Rural Settlement) 

Bowden was the original settlement (before Market Harborough) and extended across the River Welland. Little Bowden on the far side of the river was lost to Northamptonshire when the Welland became a boundary, first for the Danish armies in Leicester and Northampton and then the edge of the Danelaw itself in 920 AD following King Edward the Elder’s conquest of Northampton.  The river became the shire boundary after 942 AD and remains so to this day. 

The Domesday Book records two manors at Great Bowden, one a royal manor belonging to the King and the head place of a Royal Soke which extended through a number of parishes south-east of Leicester, and the second manor to Countess Judith of Lens.  Royal patronage continued until about the middle of the 14th century.  There are excellent ridge and furrow earthworks remaining throughout the parish including on the separation area between Great Bowden and Market Harborough.  The Heritage Group has translated a medieval document archived in the British Library giving the names of many of the furlongs in the medieval open fields of which there were four. We published this information in a book - Furlong & Furrow. 

 The village church is dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul and the present building dates mostly from the 14th century.The advowson was given to Christchurch, Oxford in the 16th century on the orders of Henry VIII.  Just south of the village and now within Market Harborough is a small ruined chapel rebuilt about 1690.  This is all that remains of a much larger church, St Mary in Arden.  We are undertaking research on this church with a view to publishing.  We suspect that this is a very ancient church because it served the community on both sides of the Welland, dating to before the division of the shires in the 10th century. It has a large circular churchyard and was the burial ground for local parishioners until the end of the 19th century.   
Michael Wood, while researching his TV programme on nearby Kibworth  found documentary evidence that St Mary’s was a minster church with annual processions to collect crism oil at Pentecost. There are local Wills where people have left money to Our Lady in the Fields as the church was known but not as much as they left to the mother church here in Lincoln.

From the medieval period onwards the village lost its importance with the rise of its neighbour, Market Harborough and in effect it became part of the town by the end of the 19th century.  Some people still consider Great Bowden as a wealthy northern suburb of Market Harborough but the parish regained its independent status in 1995 and this status is still considered important throughout the village population. 

 The shape of the village has remained polyfocal with several village greens. This was probably more distinctive in the past when the greens were more extensive.  The parish church is to the east of the village and in modern times the village is divided through the middle by the main line railway. If you have travelled between St Pancras and Leicester you will have been through the village, very briefly.

The Heritage Group in Great Bowden was founded in 2000 with the principal aim of encouraging local people to get involved and to protect their local heritage.  In 2004 we had an Anglo-Saxon Year as part of our lottery funded Bowden Before the Conquest project.  We had lessons in Old English, a series of talks by Dr Graham Jones, a weekend of re-enactments and taught the children to fight, made and fired pottery, studied and planted herbs and worts of the Anglo-Saxon period, produced leaflets, had the last feast of Anglo Saxon England, and generally had a good time. But we didn’t find any new evidence for the Anglo Saxon origins of our village and came to the conclusion the only way was to dig. 

In 2005 we enthusiastically started on a programme of field walking and small scale excavations in and around the village. We always kept records and our finds were verified by the archaeologists at Leicestershire County Council and logged with the Historic Environment Record. By the end of the dig season in 2012 members were feeling that the multi pit digs in paddocks which we were doing was “getting a bit too much”.  We needed something more manageable.

A group member signed us up for a stand at the Society for Historical Archaeology Conference at Leicester University in 2013.   It was just what we wanted because Professor Lewis was talking on Black Death evidence from test pits during the Conference and we found what we were looking for.  With an Heritage Lottery Fund grant we started on the CORS project in July 2013.
Our project was carried out in a different way to many of the other test pit projects.  Because of our experience of small scale and test pits excavations, the group managed and carried out the on-site excavation work without direct supervision from Access Cambridge Archaeology. We took this responsibility seriously and followed all the procedures very carefully making sure we excavated down to the natural or the water table in all pits. I have been asked to say that every lump of 
hard Bowden clay was assiduously broken up and examined as it was often impossible to sieve. We sometimes had 10 people in the team with house owners and children joining in when they wanted to.

For each excavation we had a supervisor who was responsible for liaison with the house owners and for the formation of the team, general supervision, report writing and initial processing of finds. We also had a recorder who was responsible for completion of the excavation record, the finds on site and photography.  In fact the recorder was the person who gave the go ahead for the excavation of the next context when all recording was complete. Then there were the dig and sieving teams. 

Our grant was for 12 months and with 30 pits to dig we soon found we needed extra help.  With Leicestershire’s excellent history of community archaeology, Leicestershire Fieldworkers soon heard our plea and experienced people joined us from all over the county and beyond.  I was amazed that people were prepared to drive 40 minutes to Bowden, work all day at digging or sieving and then drive back home very tired and very dirty.  And they came back time and again. We must have been doing something right and possibly it is the social aspect of our digs.  There was a great deal of chat, banter, ideas, suggestions and sharing of experiences during tea breaks.  The group now feels pretty confident that we can dig, search and record as well as anyone and restore the ground and turf well enough to make the site invisible after a few days. 
Thirty test pits were dug between July 2013 and July 2014 covering most areas of the village and in a variety of different properties and paddocks within the building line. 

Access Cambridge Archaeology carried out the final identification of pottery, flint, stone and bone and wrote our project report which is published on the internet and is possibly the longest published document about the village on record. The report also contains our reports on the individual test pits and I have picked out one or two for a mention today.  

Test pit 3 in Knights End produced a large number of medieval stone roof tiles - possibly from a worked out quarry as we have not been able to identify them. There were no finds from the mid 14th century until the modern 
development in the mid 20th century suggesting the site was abandoned - maybe at the Black Death.  

Pit 9, just off the village centre produced 18 sherds of Stamford Ware while back in 2010 test pits only a few yards away produced none.  Over a freezing November weekend we dug pits 13 and 14 at the western end of the village and found Roman, Late Anglo Saxon and early medieval pottery in a largely undisturbed state. 

In 2014 we dug a pit close to a mud barn, next to Rectory House and discovered a wall foundation in association with medieval pottery.  Could this be the site of the old tithe barn the location of which is lost but described as being nearby?  Below the wall foundations were 24 sherds of Stamford ware and 12 of St Neots. Just across the road and close to an old well (and former pond) we found a large amount of slag, coke and coal and dark stained soil.  There was a smithy marked nearby on the 1891 OS map 

We understand that Rectory House has records going back to 1254 and so we put two test pits, 21 and 22 in adjacent grassed areas hoping to find evidence of the medieval manor site.  We actually found undisturbed Roman finds in both pits - the first real evidence of Roman occupation in the valley rather than on the top of Bowden Ridge. 

Our wettest dig was pit 24 in a garden behind the Red Lion pub in Main Street.  We were rewarded again with 17 sherds of Stamford ware.  And finally we dug pit 29 in the centre of Pond Green and invited the public to come and watch. There were a surprising amount of finds in an area that was obviously not treated with the same respect as it is today. Included in the assemblage from context 2 is a very worn human tooth, possibly removed by a travelling dentist.  Lets hope the patient found solace in the pub next door.  It’s hard to imagine that so much is recovered from 10 cms of soil.

Overall, we were pleased with our finds and felt we had definitely put the foundation of the village back to the Saxo-Norman period with so much Stamford and St Neots ware found in sites throughout the village. However, the real significance of this was not clear until the final slide of Carenza’s end of project visit and talk.  The graph showed the percentage of pits with pottery from various time periods and included average results for the Eastern region, and the result from nearby Kibworth; in addition to Great Bowden.  Great Bowden has the line which rises very rapidly in the late Anglo-Saxon period yielding pottery from this period in many more pits than the average. Kibworth seems to follow the average.  

Great Bowden appeared to be on a slow decline in importance from the late Anglo Saxon onwards although there was not a sudden sharp dip between the High and Late medieval periods shown elsewhere.  Could this be due to a less than normal affect of the Black Death?   We are also not sure why post medieval finds were found in so many of our pits compared to Kibworth for example.  Why?   We really don’t know and would welcome comments from other people.

We have discussed several theories:

 Did the rise in importance of the early church of St Mary in Arden influence the population in the immediate area?

 Did the Royal Manor and the Soke centred on Bowden create an administrative centre?

 In his Foreword to our book, Furlong and Furrow, Michael Wood suggests that there are “villages with Danish names near to Bowden with many Scandinavian words in local field names, here on the southern border of the Danelaw, English furlong names are the majority. The preponderance of English field names might suggest that this important minster site, an old English village already existing in the 9th century, and probably long before, was not taken over by the Vikings.”

 Or did we just find more pottery than other groups.  We were of course using experienced amateur excavators in all the pits and the higher than average results for the post medieval period also may suggest we were very thorough.

We have done a further 6 test pits in 2015 but we are now reaching the limit of possible gardens and willing owners and we may have to change our foc
us and even the area of interest particularly as age and infirmity is catching up with several of our members. We have dug approximately 80 test pits in the village since 2005.

Eleven years ago we filmed an Anglo-Saxon warrior riding her horse at speed up and along the ridge before cutting to filming a member of our group retrieving a find through metal detecting.  This find proved to be a fragment of high quality gilded metal possibly from a horse harness and dating from about 600 AD.  We thought it was lost in the ride but Carenza wonders if it came from a grave.  And to paraphrase the haunting opening song from Mackenzie Crook’s excellent TV series, Detectorists, “it’s waiting for us”.   

In Spring 2016 we started  on our new project, Bowden Ridge Research and details of this can be found under the relevant page on this website. 

Earlier news and events on this project appear below:

August 2015  Pits, Prints and Wells
If you were around on Sunday 19th July you will have seen us celebrating 25 years of the Festival of Archaeology by digging a test pit on Church Green, and putting on a display in the Village Hall.The many visitors included Eli and Joe from New Zealand who stayed all afternoon and returned to help us back fill. It never ceases to amaze us that others share our fascination for holes in the ground. At any of our digs you will see one or two people labouring in the pit and many more standing around peering intently into it!   

Despite choosing the pit site carefully, it produced very little by way of dateable finds, unlike last year's Festival dig on Stocks Green, near The Shoulder of Mutton. Perhaps folk do not drop as much on leaving church as they do on leaving the pub? One small pig made of lead, a few tiny sherds of Victorian pottery, and a couple of coins found by metal
detection, was the sum total of our "treasure".  In practice, finding little tells us as just as much as finding lots, its just less interesting for visitors. 

About half a metre down we did find a cut in the natural clay, leading to much speculation as what it could be.   A trial well, some thought; a base for a pump, said others - an old print shows such a pump, seemingly some distance from the current well, but not far from the pit site.  The more fanciful amongst us speculated as to whether it could be a grave cut, lining up east/west as it did. After all, skeletons have been found in the most unlikely places!  But the cut was empty and with the churchyard nearby seems unlikely.  Sadly, the need toget cleared up meant we could not explore it fully. One thing is for sure it went straight down.

The Village Hall display  - The Greens of Great Bowden - attracted much interest, with visitors poring over illustrations of the many open spaces in the village, then and now.  Tea and cake was much appreciated too, especially at the end of the day when our weary diggers made sure that our tea ladies had little to carry home!

Taking a break, some of our number took a closer look at the well on the edge of Church Green. For some time this small depression seems to have been sinking. We took off the turf and carefully dug down. And Yes, the capping had cracked with soil sliding down into the well. As this is dangerous we re-covered, ring fenced it and informed Harborough District Council. There are many wells in and around the village including at least one on Stocks Green. Look carefullyand you can see its outline inthe turf, especially in dry weather. 

We always enjoy our Festival events. Its good to share with others, whatwe do and how we do it.  Our test pitting programme continues and we are still hoping to explore parts of the village as yet unexplored. Notably the upper end of Main Street. Any offers?

April 2015 Digging Season Starts
After our most successful Rummages Sale yet on 7th March, with grateful thanks to all contributors, we have started our Digging Season by continuing test pits in and around the  village

First dig was in a paddock near to the railway line. A few much abraded medieval pottery sherds andthe odd clay pipe stem. Then we hit a layer of clay mixed with sand.. very unusual hereabouts. Research continues, but for now assume this was a sandy base to an agricultural building or was connected to the railway line construction 19th century.

We still need test pits sites in areas of the village which we have yet to explore, notably Station Road and upper Main Street. Contact us if you are happy for us to come and dig in your garden or paddock.or would like to join in digs. We are adhering to the same procedures and protocols as last year's project, and the findings will be added to the same data.   

Heritage Lottery Funded Dig for Bowden's Hidden Past

8th Jan 2015 - TV Archaeologist presents findings to volunteers  Latest Pix on Facebook

Well, we always thought Great Bowden exceptional and now it is confirmed! Dr Carenza Lewis of Access Cambridge Archaeology and of TV's Time Team fame, presented findings to participants of the Heritage Lottery Funded
Dig for Bowden's Hidden Past, at the final event on Thursday 6th January in the Village Hall. 

Starting in July 2013, Great Bowden Heritage and Archaeology and some 100 volunteers, dug 30 test pits on land volunteered by residents and not usually available for investigation. It is the latest of many similar projects undertaken in conjunction with the CORS project, run by Dr Lewis, including one in Kibworth in 2009 as part of Michael Wood's TV programme Story of England.

Interestingly, Dr Lewis revealed that Bowden's findings showed a marked difference from nearby Kibworth, with an exceptional spurt of growth in the 9th - 11th centuries and much smaller contraction after the Black Death period. Indeed its pattern of development over the centuries differs significantly from the East of England norm. Quite why is a
matter for conjecture. Some think its location on the Welland Valley may have contributed to its sudden expansion, others that as a Royal Manor held by the King it was a more significant place. The group hope to investigate further by digging more test pits in parts of the village not already explored.

Dr. Lewis praised the exceptional attention to detail and determination to see it through.  Those who volunteered sites always made us very welcome, says Rosemary Culkin project leader -  and all volunteers worked very hard. A one metre square test pit means digging and sifting through one ton of soil. It takes time and patience to examine every speck of solid clay, which unlike areas on lighter soil, cannot be sieved for finds.  It is fun though, especially when you come across the unexpected.  After 30 pits we became adept at the physical side but this is only part of the story. Recording, photography and analysis takes at least  as long and we were determined to do it properly. 

Although the aim is to build a broad picture across the village, finds from individual pits revealed pre historic worked flint, significant traces of Roman occupation, exceptional volumes of late Anglo Saxon and Medieval pottery, medieval roof tiles, a 17th century gaming jetton, Victorian brooch and much else besides. 

Full reports of both Bowden and Kibworth projects can be found on:-
or the direct link to our 200 page report:

30th July 2014.
 The last of the 30 test pits on our Heritage Lottery Funded project was completed today in record time, with the aid of volunteers from across the county as well as the local core group. 

There is much still to be done to record, sort and photograph the finds before sending the last batch to Cambridge
and the pottery to Paul Blinkhorn for analysis.

Hopefully all will be complete in readiness for presentation of the report to the village and volunteers in the autumn.

April 2014. - Awards success

GBHA awarded Highly Commended in the Best Events on a Shoestring category for our St Mary in Arden Open Day last July. The awards were given by the Leicestershire and Rutland Heritage Forum at a ceremony at the Snibston Discovery Musueum on 10th April. Our category was the most competitive so we are very happy to get a mention.  The St Mary's Open Day involved the entire group and we all worked very hard so its good to know our efforts were appreciated.

April 2014 -  Dig for Bowden's Hidden Past

The Parish Council have given permission for what we hope will be our last dig of the project, on The Village Green on Sunday 20th July. All day. There will be a small display with tea and cakes in the Parish Church from 2 pm. More details
soon but put it in your diary to come along and see.

March 2014  - New digging season starts at last. Pix on Facebook

Finally the rain stopped and the sun came out. We got in the first two digs of the 2014 season with up to 30 people involved including some new to the project.

Surpisingly after all the rain, the ground was just dry enough to work. One dig in a small paddock in the centre of the village, one on the veryedge. Different sites with very different results.  We are still washing finds, some of which appear early and will need expert opinion to identify. We even found what looks to be the remnants of an
old building. Perhaps a barn.. Hopefully we will be able to geophys this area soon to see what else might lie beneath..... .


 Feb 2014 - Latest on DIG FOR BOWDEN’S HIDDEN PAST 2013 /(supported by The Heritage Lottery Fund)

 No hoard yet!  Not much in the way of coinage at all.  But a lot of pottery - some of which dates back to the 9th century.  From the amount of old pottery uncovered so far it would seem that Great Bowden was quite a busy place in the 10th and 11th centuries.

  We have completed 14 out of 30 planned pits in all areas of the village.  At our last 2 pits in late November we said it would be good to do a couple over a cold, crisp, frosty, dry weekend in January!  We are still waiting for those sort of conditions. We are still waiting for the rain to stop and the ground to dry out! We can’t dig at all at the moment as pits would soon fill with water and we would have created an unplanned water feature... so crossing our fingers we have digs booked for mid March.
All participants past and future are invited to a tea party in the Church Hall, Dingley Road, with photographs, reports and finds from the digs to date. Sunday 2nd March 3.00 pm - 5.30 pm 
There are plans to do a public dig on a Sunday in July (date to be confirmed) with a small exhibition and teas in the church.  This will be our contribution towards the Festival of British Archaeology which happens annually.  Look out for more details nearer the time.  

We always welcome new helpers.  You don’t have to be super fit, and the digs are very much social occasions as well as hard work.  We are enormously grateful to everyone who has offered their garden or paddock allowing this project to take place.