Sedgeford Village Survey

 

In two summer seasons of excavation in 2003 and 2004 the Sedgeford Village Survey (SVS) excavated forty-nine test pits in gardens and open areas around the village of Sedgeford, in an exercise in landscape characterisation and an experiment in evaluation methodology. The principal aim of the project was to date the development and spread of the isolated settlements which now make up the modern- day village of Sedgeford, through the use of test-pits to collect datable pottery and artefacts.

 

The parish of Sedgeford is located in North-West Norfolk, approximately two miles south-east of Hunstanton. The village of the same name is located roughly in the centre of the parish. The principal aim of the SVS was to trace the development of the modern day village from its component fragments of settlement, from the late Saxon period onwards.

 

This survey was carried out as part of the Sedgeford Historical and Archaeological Research Project (SHARP). SHARP is a long term, multi-period, volunteer run community excavation, studying the full extent of human occupation and activity in the parish of Sedgeford. 2003 and 2004 were the eighth and ninth seasons of excavation at SHARP.

 

The SVS excavations were carried out by a team of two supervisors – Gabe Moshenska and Zannah Baldry. Between two and seven volunteers worked with us at any one time. Unlike every other part of the project, the SVS cleaned and processed all of our finds ourselves rather than letting the finds team do it – this decision was made on the basis of the large quantities of finds being recovered at some distance from the Boneyard site.

 

Topography and Geology

 

Sedgeford parish is a river valley, with the Heacham River bisecting it from east to west and a number of natural springs feeding into the river along its course. The underlying geology is principally chalk, greensand and sandstone. The village lies on the north bank of the river, on the south facing valley slope. In contrast, the Boneyard excavation on the Middle Saxon graveyard and settlement are on the southern bank on the north facing slope. The shift from south to north is one of the study areas for the survey.

 

Having emerged out of the amalgamation of pre-existing components, the village of Sedgeford is an irregular sideways ‘Y’ shape, following the contours of the river valley. The village is roughly a mile from east to west, and around a quarter mile from north to south.

 

Historical and Archaeological Background

 

While a great deal of work has taken place on failed or deserted settlements such as Wharram Percy, the study of successful settlements such as Sedgeford is at a relatively undeveloped stage. Archaeological interventions in urban or suburban areas are difficult, due to the difficulty in gaining access to open areas to excavate.

 

The background to the SVS excavations is based principally on maps dating from 1603 to the present. The present day village of Sedgeford is shown to have been formed around several principal centres: West Hall near the church, Cole Green around the war memorial, Eastgate along the Docking Road, Littleport further towards Docking, and the area around Sedgeford Hall, south-east along the Fring Road. In addition, the site of Eaton around a mile west of the centre of the village is now deserted.

 

Map evidence from the twentieth century shows that it is only in the last 15-20 years that extensive construction work in and around Sedgeford has begun to amalgamate the disparate settlements (particularly West Hall, Cole Green and Eastgate) into a much more coherent whole.

 

In a more general sense, the archaeological background to the SVS excavations is the entire body of work carried out on Boneyard. The SVS work serves to place the Boneyard in its wider context within the modern parish, and looks beyond the middle-Saxon focus to the late-Saxon and medieval periods in the village.

 

Methodology

 

The village survey excavations were test pits, all one metre square or equivalent. These were principally dug in spits of 10cm with spades and mattocks. All soil from the test pits was sieved to recover as large a sample of artefacts as possible. Recording was done by context, although in almost every case this took the form of topsoil/subsoil/natural. Each test pit was measured in to fixed points in each garden, which was transferred to digital maps for archiving and for recording at the NHER. Most of the finds were bulk-finds, often in enormous quantities. The most significant finds, and the ones on which this research is based, are the datable pot-sherds.

 

The mapping of the datable pot-sherds onto phase maps of the village, tabulated by quantity, is the principal result of the SVS excavation work. These maps have been analysed to trace the development and growth of the village.

 

There are a number of difficulties we have predicted in the analysis of data from a survey of this kind. The keyhole nature of test-pit surveys means that the sample is tiny and its representivity can be called into question. The recovery of pottery itself is ambivalent: small sherds can be representative of settlement, they can equally be a sign of a manuring scatter.

 

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