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Chelmsford Archaeological Trust Report 4
This report traces the development of settlement in the rural parish of Rivenhall, Essex, from the prehistoric era to the present day, and attempts to relate this to the general settlement history of the surrounding area. The methodology involved in the recording and interpretation of the evidence is explained. The approach has involved the seeking of reasons why the various settlement components took the form they did, how buildings were planned and erected, and how they functioned in their contemporary contexts.
The eariest settlement is represented by a scatter of flints of mesolithic to Bronze Age date. Pottery of the mesolithic to early Bronze Ages is sparce, probably on account of adverse conditions for its survival in the soil. Several ring ditches are the only structures so far recorded. The recovery of founders' hoards in the parish testifies to Late Bronze Age activity, as does pottery, including wasters, from the churchyard. They indicate continuing settlement beside the Cressing Brook, a minor tributary of the river Blackwater which runs centrally through the parish.
A ditch system, seen only in fragments, of the Middle pre-Roman Iron Age, probably belongs to the first recognisable field system in the area. This was overlaid in the Late pre-Roman Iron Age by a regular enclosure system which anticipated the layout of the 'modern' landscape. In that landscape lay native farmsteads, one of which was rich enough for its occupants to possess decorated bronze mirrors.
There is no reason to suppose that the ownership was taken over by a Roman settler from the native proprietors, for at the beginning of the 2nd century a villa of Gallo-Roman type, large and sumptuous by contemporary Romano-British standards, was erected on the site later occupied by Rivenhall church. The villa complex was planned as a long trapezoidal precinct, around the edges of which were ranges of buildings. At the west end stood the main house, a lavishly decorated building of winged corridor type, elevated on an earth-filled podium. Close to it on the north side of the precinct lay a second smaller house which was linked by a long tessellated portico to a bath block. Other buildings, including a watermill, are known or suspected, but are unexcavated. The villa was fully integrated with the road and field pattern of the area, and there is clear evidence of careful geometric planning both of the individual buildings and of the complex as a whole. A barrow cemetery formed an integral part of the layout.
After a fire around the beginning of the 3rd century, the villa was remodelled and various alterations took place down to the end of the Roman period; these include reversing the facade of the second house, so that it faced out of the precinct, instead of into it, and the building of a very large aisled barn, ultimately occupied by people using hand-made Anglo-Saxon pottery and glass of 5th century date. In the 5th or 6th century a post-built hall was erected, but in the middle Saxon period the nucleus of settlement shifted slightly to the north and a burial ground was established in the formerly occupied area. A small structure, presumably a shrine or mausoleum, formed the focus of the cemetery. Burial spread southwards and a new focus was established in the 10th century, in the form of a small wooden church. In the late 10th or early 11th century a new two-cell stone-built church was erected alongside, and the timber building removed. The new church was carefully planned and laid out in units and fractions of 'poles' ('northern rods').
By the Norman conquest the church was firmly established, with a defined graveyard and, apparently, a parish. Analysis of the Domesday Survey for the Rivenhall area shows that the principal structural components of the medieval landscape-manors, mills, and churches-existed at that time in a fully developed form. It is suggested that the principal manor of Rivenhall may be equated with the Roman villa estate, and is still delineated to a large extent by parish boundaries.
The development of the church building, the graveyard, and associated priest's house is traced through the medieval and later periods, using a combination of disciplines; these developments are related to the history of the detached rectory and glebe lands. The hall, intimately associated with the church at all periods, and the eventual successor of the Roman villa, had its site moved several times; in the 16th century the final shift took place when the seat of the manor of Rivenhall was established in the park.
The general settlement history of the area is complex, and is closely related to the pattern established in the Roman period. In Rivenhall there were four Domesday manors and sundry other holdings which spawned a multiplicity of medieval farms and tenements, although there never was a nucleated village. The pattern of agriculture was set in the Iron Age by enclosed field systems, which were not superseded by large 'open' fields or affected by consequential enclosure in the post-medieval period. Many changes did, of course, take place over the millennia and these can often be traced in detail: the encroachment of woodland; assarts made and then given up; the processes of emparkment and disparkment; the effect of alterations to roads; the fragmentation of manors and estates; the mushrooming of tenements and smaller holdings; and the amalgamation and subdivision of existing fields.
While the topography, history, and archaeology of the parish and its component parts are traced in outline, the church and its immediate environs are reported upon in detail, since it is here that archaeological investigations, both above and below ground, have been most intensively undertaken.
Several general conclusions emerge. First, that once the locus of the principal settlement had been established at Rivenhall (certainly by the Iron Age, and possibly several millennia earlier), domestic occupation was maintained down to the present day, with no evidence of discontinuity. As might be expected, there were physical changes in the form of the settlement, and building sites shifted from time to time. Secondly, the exploitation of the landscape was a continuously evolving process, with each era adding its own contribution to the palimpsest. The present landscape is therefore a composite artefact, the earliest components of which may be in excess of three millennia old. Thirdly, and finally, there has probably always been a religious component in the historic settlement form. At first this may simply have been the natural springs, but from the Christian Saxon period there has been a cemetery with associated religious structures. The development of the cemetery and the church offers a microcosmic history of Anglo-Saxon and medieval rural parochial life.
|Rivenhall: investigations of a villa, church and village, 1950-1977 (CBA Research Report 55)||20 Mb|