'An Archaeological History of Ilmington'
by Brian Meredith
In the September of this year (2020) I made the fateful decision to double dig my allotment on the Crow Yard opposite the village hall and turned up a surprising selection of really old artefacts. Although there was the usual selection of broken clay pipes and Willow Pattern Victorian pottery, there were also a fragment of Iron Age quern (a type of early flour grinding stone), Roman pottery, Medieval pottery and iron-making slag from iron-smelting within the village. There are artefacts from over the last 2,000 years on the allotment and that means that people have been living here for a very long time. I think most people realise they are living in a village with some history, but probably not the degree of history I was digging up. How did these things get to be on the allotment and what do they tell us? Also, how would anyone recognise them for what they are?
When I retired, I took a degree in archaeology and since 2010 I have worked as a volunteer at Archaeology Warwickshire so that (until this year) I have spent at least one day a week cleaning, identifying, labelling and filing the finds that archaeologists have excavated in Warwickshire. Many of the things coming up on the allotment were familiar to me and I was waving them at Richard Sharratt on the neighbouring allotment when he suggested I write a history of the village for its website. Hence the following.
Three histories of Ilmington have been published. Frederick Scarlet Potter wrote his before the First World War and its title 'Ilmington: Some Collections Touching the History and Antiquities of the Parish and Some Gossip about its Traditions and Folk-lore; by an Old Native' nicely conveys his approach. In 1974, Sylvia Gardner and E.M.H. Ibbotson wrote the scholarly 'The History of Ilmington' which deals with recorded events from the Middle Ages to date, but unfortunately is now out of print, and Stacy Pifer Ibbotson more recently (1995) published an anthology of villagers’ lives and memories which also contains an updating of Sylvia’s work (A Cotswold Village: Ilmington 4000 BC to the Present, available from Ilmington Village Shop). In the sections that follow, it will be clear that I am deriving a historical story based mainly on things that I and others (mainly Peter Gardner, Sylvia’s husband, who was responsible for archaeological finds at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust) have found or features I have observed locally while trying to relate them to current archaeological knowledge. This archaeological story is never complete and is constantly evolving as new disciplines (methods of dating, genetic studies) and the vast amount of new data from excavations changes the story’s perspective. I shall try to use illustrations rather than words to tell this story and that is why a website rather than another book is so attractive.
The story will, eventually, start at a beginning and work through to an end, but not necessarily in one continuous chain of events. A section at a time will be written and hopefully put on the website as a self-contained piece. Other sections will later be added to precede or follow on eventually to make a sequence. For instance, the first section starts with the Iron Age settlement on Windmill hill and moves into Roman period events in and around the Stour Valley while the next section, which I am currently working on, will be about Bury Orchard and the Early Medieval (Anglo-Saxon period) formation of the village.
The story emerging from the artefacts and geophysical survey of Windmill hill is one that would never be known if we were to rely solely on written history as the documents of time were all for Rome and the Romans, and we would never know any of this part of our local history if it were not for the kind permission of the landowners Rob and Carol Hawkins. Rob is particularly concerned that publishing these results will encourage people to wander about on Windmill hill. So let us feel gratitude for the information that has been revealed and not go wandering on their land but stick to the public paths.