- 2015-12-21 11:05:00
It is likely that early people were hunting mammoths and bison in Helpston and neighbouring parishes 40, 000 years ago but it was not until the Neolithic period, about 4000 BC, that they started farming and living in permanent settlements. By the start of the Roman occupation in AD43 there was a landscape of buildings, fields and trackways.
There is abundant local evidence of Roman occupation which lasted for 400 years, notably the road which we now call King Street, the villa just south of Helpston village, excavated in 1828. Small fragments of Roman pottery are often found, brought up to the surface of fields by ploughing.
Place name evidence dates Helpston and neighbouring villages to the Anglo- Saxon period and elaborate stone carvings can be seen at many local churches, for example Barnack and Castor.
One of the aims of the Langdyke Trust History and Archaeology Group (HAG) is to trace the evolution of Helpston village from its origins to the present day and that was why we applied for Heritage Lottery funding in 2016. We envisaged a community project, all the research being undertaken by volunteers, and funding for just one year was granted in May 2016. This has been extended until July 31st to allow us time to complete it.
We started by involving the children at John Clare Primary School and they pioneered the concept of the timeline Five Thousand Years and Counting. The whole school walked round the village and identified and dated the old buildings.
The archaeologists have concentrated on digging test pits, 1 metre square holes, and recording pottery remains in 10 cm layers or contexts. They have concentrated on the centre of the village and almost all pits provide evidence of continuous settlement. Following the exciting discovery of Roman pottery behind the Exeter Arms last year they spent four days digging there in May 2017. At a depth of 30cm they found the top of a length of wall, 5 courses down and 60cm across. Could this be part of the Roman farmstead they were looking for?
The House Detectives Project launched in September 2016 has to be our highlight. It captured everyones imagination and has been a huge success. It was a challenge for them to find out the previous occupants and a surprise discovery in nearly every case was that the owners were not the occupiers. There are also some amazing records of the restoration of old cottages.
It was decided in February that we would write a book as part of our legacy because it would be easily accessible for residents and visitors. It is beautifully illustrated with over 30 old photographs, kindly loaned by residents, and a similar number of recent photographs. It is hoped that readers will walk round the village and it is set out street by street for this reason. All the research will go on to the Langdyke website. (Langdyke.org.uk)
On Saturday July 8th starting at 2pm at Helpston Village Hall we are holding our End of Project Celebration and Book Launch to which everyone is invited. There will be opportunities to see what we have achieved so far and what we might do next. We shall have a huge resource on the website, notably census records starting from 1840 , house and family records and the nucleus of a team of local historians and archaeologists, keen to carry forward the Helpston Heritage Project. We are charging £6 for a copy of the book,(to contribute to the cost of reprints!) We shall end the event with tea and cakes, for which there will be no charge. Please come if you can.