Stratton, Biggleswade: 1,300 years of village life in eastern Bedfordshire from the 5th century AD

Review by Stephen Mileson.

This report sheds light on the development of an ordinary rural settlement over the long duration. Stratton was a stræt-tun, a ‘settlement on a Roman road’ – in this case, the road between Baldock and Sandy. Originating as a small early Anglo-Saxon hamlet, Stratton underwent substantial 7th- to 8th-century growth and reorganisation. There was a radical shift from rectilinear to curvilinear settlement boundaries in the late 9th century, followed by the establishment of a roadside village in the 12th century. Stratton was apparently depopulated and enclosed in the decades either side of 1700, most likely thanks to the Cotton family, who then created a fine house and park. Bringing the archaeology to publication involved re-examining and summarising a large body of work, which started as long ago as 1990 and generated a massive 26,603 context numbers from 12ha of developer-funded excavation. The interpretation is necessarily incomplete because not all of the settlement could be dug and the level of recording was uneven. Even so, there are rich pickings for those interested in rural settlement, the open-field farming economy, peasant diet, and manufacturing and exchange.

The report includes a valuable ‘discussion’ chapter following the descriptive chronological sections, but the main findings could have been set out more clearly early on. Better integration of documentary evidence would have helped with that. For instance, it might have been stated that only three high-medieval farmsteads were identified out of a total of about 28 (which was the number of taxpayers in 1297, including two lords). Some illustration of Stratton’s wider historical landscape would also have been welcome to show the likely extent of the medieval settlement and to trace the course of local routeways, including that of the road through the village. The phase plans themselves are clear and elegant, but the full picture has to be chased between different scales of mapping in separate figures that lack descriptive labelling. Overall, however, the volume’s many contributors have made a significant contribution to medieval archaeology.

Stratton, Biggleswade: 1,300 years of village life in eastern Bedfordshire from the 5th century AD
Drew Shotliff and David Ingham
Archaeopress, £45 (free eBook)
ISBN 978-1803270746