Village History

Ancient History


Ancient History: Prehistory

Since the earliest times man has lived and hunted on the Downs of Wessex, and the area around Shipton is no exception.

These bygone peoples preferred the high chalklands for their hunting camps and farms to the densely wooded valleys which were difficult to farm and even more difficult to defend., The lighter, more easily cleared uplands soon became populated and this is where we must look for evidence of Shipton's beginnings.

The people of the old and middle stone ages did not leave us with any earthworks or visible signs of their passing, as they were primarily hunters and gatherers, living on what they found or caught and building shelters which leave no trace. Occasional finds of flint implements, such as the one found by O.G.S.Crawford (at SU 25524611) in 1924 are all we can expect.

Of the Neolithic farmes who inhabited the area around 4000 BC we have slightly more substantial remains in the form of their burial mounds, known as Long Barrows. There are the remains of a pair of Long Barrows located at the intersection of the Cross Belt and Devil's Ditch (SU 218462) to the NW of the village.

The Bronze Age

As each successive period passes, the remains of the culture within that period become more prolific, and this is the case with evidence of Bronze Age activity in the area surrounding Shipton. Around 2400BC the Bronze Age proper began with the invasion of the so-called Beaker People (named after their distinctive style of drinking vessel), bringing with them their knowledge of metal-working, first in copper and then in bronze. Recorded Bronze Age finds are few in the Shipton area, being limited to a Palstave (a type of bronze axe) found in 1910 at Thruxton Hill and two finds by J.Kirby comprising a fragment of Bronze Age urn (c2000-1000BC) and a damaged flint tool - use uncertain!

By far the most impressive remains of the Bronze Age to be found around the parish are the network of massive ditches which radiate from Quarley Hill. These ditches date to the late Bronze Age (c1000-700BC) and appear to have been built for farming purposes, either as boundaries or for the movement of cattle, enabling the animals to be brought across areas of land without causing damage to crops.

One of the nearest sections of this ditch complex is the section known as Devil's Ditch, which runs NW from Parkhouse and turns N to the Long Barrows at the intersection of the Cross Belt. This ditch runs parallel with the course of a similar ditch which turns on the Bulford Rifle Ranges to intersect with Devil's Ditch just S of the long Barrows.

The ditch is the County boundary between Hampshire Wiltshire. Examination of its profile when the bulldozers, preparing the route of the new A303 trunk road, cut through it, revealed that it was at least 6 feet deep. It is in most places only a shallow indentation now, having silted up during the last 2000 years.

The Iron Age

The advent of the Iron Age, circa 700 Bc, brings an increase in material remains found in the area, with visible reminders of those unsettled times in the shape of the neighbouring hill forts of Sidbury and Quarley, dating from the early part of the Iron Age. Not quite as obvious are the remains of their field systems, mostly surviving only as soil marks on the hillside gelds above the village, notably on Snoddington Down, where the field boundaries show up as blurred rectangles after ploughing.

An Iron Age settlement site was identified and excavated on Snoddington Down in 1924 by Air Commodore Masterman, who recovered pottery, bone, combs and an iron spearhead. As the whereabouts or these finds is not now known, accurate dating is not possible, but the pottery was thought to indicate a date shortly before the Roman Invasion, Pottery evidence for the period 700 - 100 BC is scarce, with the exception of a fragment of early iron Age finger-ornamented rim, dated circa 700 - 600 BC from a site to the East of Shipton Plantation . This site surrounds a now-dry dew pond, said to be prehistoric, which has produced quantities of iron Age pottery, much of which is undated, although that which has been identified has given dates mainly within the 2nd - 1st Century BC.

Roman Britain

The Roman invasion of AD 43 began to transform the culture of the Iron Age tribes, with the Shipton Plantation site discussed earlier becoming a Romano-British settlement, with imported Roman pottery making its appearance along with local British pottery. Two unusual items found on this site were part of a woman's cosmetic palette (for mixing make-up ingredients) and a fragment of a polished stone table-top. The range of pottery fragments recovered from this site broadly cover the period 2nd Century BC to 4th Century AD (C Kirby 1971-76), but whether this implies continuity of occupation can only be proved by excavation. However, it does leave us with the thought that these people may have been the original inhabitants of Shipton Bellinger.

Many coins of obvious Roman origin have been found in the Shipton area, mostly in the surrounding Gelds and a few in the present village. Unfortunately, very few have been formally identified, for if they were, it would give a much clearer indication of the Roman activity in the area. lf you know of the whereabouts of any coins found in the area, please try to persuade their owners to have them identified, we may yet find out more about our ancestors!

Whether or not occupation of the present village site took place during the late Roman period is not known, but a tantalizing clue has been given by the finding in St Peter's Close of a large fragment of the upper part of a Romano-British hand corn mill known as a Rotary Quern. This may be an indication that with the use of the improved Roman plough, farmers were able to work the heavier soil of the lower ground, thus moving their homes to sites beside the River Bourne.

The beginning of the 5th Century saw the advent of the so-called Dark Ages and dark they appear to be as far as our knowledge of the history of Shipton is concerned. The exception was in the form of the remains of several human skeletons, along with a decorated bone cylinder and horses teeth, unearthed by a Mr. Sturgess of Appleshaw in 1890 not far from Althorne to the South of the village and identified as early Anglo Saxon. Perhaps these folk were those who earned the village its earliest known name ''Sceap Tun'' - we shall never know!

(Orig. submission by C. Kirby)

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