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Our heritage team is not only concerned with the care of our heritage assets, but also seek to understand the inter-relationship of our waterways estate with the wider historic environment. We were therefore interested to receive an update on the archaeological work of a local group, in west Northamptonshire, CLASP (Community Landscape & Archaeology Survey).
Whilst canals might date back more than two hundred years, have you ever thought about what lies beneath them, or nearby, in this historic man-made landscape?
Often, canals follow the path of much earlier thoroughfares such as the Roman Watling Street (the modern A5) which, like the Grand Union Canal, takes advantage of the Watford Gap – a natural cleft in Northamptonshire’s landscape. These ancient routes weave their way through a landscape peppered with archaeological sites dating from pre-history until today. Even more modern routes like the West Coast Main Line railway and M1 Motorway follow the same course.
A group of (mainly retired) volunteers as members of the community based archaeological charity CLASP (Community Landscape Archaeology Survey Project), under the direction of their own qualified archaeologist, have been surveying, excavating and documenting sites within a few hundred metres of the Grand Union in this part of the Midlands. CLASP emanated from the Whitehall Farm Romano-British villa excavation at Nether Heyford in 2003. This excavation attracted interest from the nearby Grand Union canal from which it was clearly visible. Apart from revealing a 1st/ 2nd C Proto-Villa, and also a 3rd/ 4th villa the excavation has produced enigmas of an unusually large bath-house for its size and a unique collection of hare bones. Whitehall has also revealed evidence of pre-Roman Iron Age settlement and significant post-Roman activity that has been dated from the mid 5th C through to the 7th C. Part of this activity has been revealed by the discovery of an early cemetery covering this period that appears to be in two distinct phases, the earliest being Christian whereas the later phase was pagan. The burials from this later phase, all male, have been furnished with grave goods consisting of shields, spears, swords etc.
A few miles to the north, close to Norton Junction, where the Leicester Line and Grand Union meet, CLASP has been investigating a medieval hamlet called Thrupp that has revealed stone building foundations and artefacts including Romano-British coins, a brooch and trace remains of two metal working hearths. Thrupp, owned by the Prior of Daventry, was abandoned following the introduction of sheep farming in the late-fifteenth century. There is also strong evidence of an earlier Romano-British farmstead and also metal working predating the medieval settlement. Roman coins and a Roman brooch came to light among the medieval stonework during this summer’s excavation.
Just to the south of Thrupp, immediately to the west of Whilton Locks, lies the remains of the Romano-British town or way station of Bannaventa. Further to the west stands the imposing outline of Borough Hill, Daventry that can be seen from many miles of local canal. This hill is surmounted by the second largest hill-fort in the country, originating from the Bronze and Iron Ages. In more recent times this hill was the site of the first radio service in the country, followed by the now defunct BBC World Service transmitting station. CLASP is currently undertaking work on both these sites
To see more about CLASP, or even join us, please visit our website:- www.claspweb.org.uk
Jane Rintoul, Clasp Volunteer
The work carried out by the heritage team is extremely varied, covering all sorts of structures and a wide variety of projects. Not one week is the same and we keep learning all the time, meeting some fascinating people and visiting stunning places along the way. We are hoping that through our blogs we can share some of our passion for the amazing industrial heritage of the inland waterways.