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Outing to Blewbury and Blewburton Hill, June 2018

On 16th June, sixteen Group members met our local guide Audrey Long at the Red Lion Hostelry in the centre of historic Blewbury.

Bright sunshine and gardens decked out in flowers (ready for the Gardens Open Day the following Sunday) greeted us, as well as a local, very knowledgeable metal detectorist. He gave us a brief account of numerous recent finds, which has led to the discovery of some Roman habitation in the surrounding area. He also mentioned the ‘Big Dig’, a community enterprise of excavating the back gardens looking for earlier settlements under the mostly medieval village. 

A typical timber-framed and thatched cottage, very probably one of the original medieval farmhouses

Despite some infill to accommodate newcomers to the village, especially C19th farm workers, there is still an amazing amount of open green spaces within the village, although it lacks a traditional village green. The early farmers must have erected their farmhouses, barns, and stables on good-sized tofts/crofts with paddocks for grazing, all of which well watered by numerous springs. These now form a network of streams with pedestrian paths throughout the village giving access to many timber-framed medieval and Tudor period dwellings, the medieval church, the early C18th school, almshouses, a mill, and moated manor house. 

The location on the spring line below the Downs must have attracted early farmers away from the dry Blewburton Hill. By the time the Anglo Saxons arrived and gave the village and hill its name (ton meaning farmstead), the Bronze/Iron Age hill fort was only used as a burial ground. Excavations in the village have found some evidence of early settlers, such as the footprint of an Anglo-Saxon ‘Gruben Huette’, also known as a Sunken Featured Building, or in the archaeologists’ vernacular a ‘Grub Hut’. This is a simple timber structure of two posts holding up a ridge beam, which in turn supports rafters, which rest on the ground (very much like a tent). The inside floor of this ‘tent’ was lowered by c. 1 foot, to achieve some headroom. Early Anglo Saxon pottery and loom weights are often found within.

Luckily we have secured a talk by Dave Carless for May 2019; not only a keen local Blewbury archaeologist, but also chairman of SOAG (South Oxon Archaeology Group).  He will be able to fill in some of the gaps and tell us much more about what is known about the early history of the site and its near-by hill fort, than was possible to learn during our very enjoyable, but brief visit in June

One of the many narrow village ‘snickets’ with its cob walls, built on a stone plinth and protected by a good overhang of thatch

Ruth Gibson