The History of Ilmington - Chapter 2

Early beginnings

Ylmandune, Edelmitone, Illmedone, Ylmyndon are just a few of the many variations of the spelling of Ilmington.  The most likely meaning appears to be 'At the Elm Grown Hill' (1)

Though elms are still abundant, many have been felled and few are likely to survive the ravages of the present attack of elm disease.

The parish today lies between the 350' and 800' contours.  On the 1957 edition of the 1" to the mile Geological Map of Great Britain, Ilmington is shown at the junction of the Middle Lias (Marlstone) and the Lower Lias.  Immediately to the southwest is an outcrop of Upper Lias ringing two small areas of Inferior Oolite.  It is unfortunate that recent surveys have stopped just short of this district.  The marlstone is permeable and fairly easily worked.  The Lower Lias is heavy clay land.  Where the marlstone ends on the lower lias, springs abound, and even today are sometimes difficult to control.  On the 25" to the mile, numerous springs and wells are shown, forming roughly a semi-circle round the southern half of the present village.

 

Evidence of the earliest settlers lies in two long barrows now almost obliterated.  These are Neolithic, and traces of Neolithic settlement in Britain are dated from 2500 B.C.  That does not mean that they reached this district at that date, but it would not be later than 1000-500 B.C.  One of the barrows is in Chilcroft orchard at the north end of the present village, and the other lies to the northeast on Berryfield Farm, as shown on Map 2.  The latter is mentioned as a 'broken barrow' in the Saxon Charter for Tredington of 757 A.D. (2).  Even in the present farmer's life time it was higher than it is now.  This evidence is reinforced by the reported find of a Neolithic hand axe on Windmill Hill.  There is of course no trace of the dwellings of these early settlers.  They are likely to have been near the line of springs, as water was very important, and with their primitive tools they are likely to have cultivated the marlstone rather than the heavier clay.  This points to the settlement being towards the south end of the village, possibly under present houses.

During this time span of at least 3000 years, and perhaps more, it is now known that there have been minor climatic changes.  These may well have determined which land was most easily cultivated in this district where heavy clay adjoins the more easily worked marlstone.  In 'The Changing Climate' by H.H. Lamb, published in 1966 it is stated that the period from 3000 B.C. to 500 B.C. was one of deterioration, but the decline was erratic and there may have been a warmer period from 1200-1000 B.C.  After 900 B.C. the climate was poor and the land was wetter than today.  Improvement followed reaching a maximum towards the end of the 13th century A.D.

No further evidence of settlement has yet been found until the Romano-British period.  Pottery of this period has been found on Windmill Hill with a concentration at Mansill Farm, shown on the map just outside the present village.  The latter concentration led to an exploratory excavation in 1972 when the existence here of a Romano-British farmstead was established.  On Nebsworth is a small rectangular earthwork.  No properly recorded excavation has been made and the earthwork has been described as a Roman observation post, an outdoor meeting place or a mediaeval farmstead.  Near it lies one of the very old tracks running generally in an east-west direction and with connections to the Fosse Way.  Part of this track is so deeply sunk that it forms a 'hollow way'.  In the westerly direction it crosses the road to Campden and may at one time have had connections to Meon Hill with its iron age earthworks.  The pottery from the 1972 excavation has not yet been dated.  Saxon pottery was also found and that settlement may date from 4-500 A.D.

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Map 2 - Based upon the Ordnance Survey Map with the sanction of the Controller of Her Majesty's Stationery Office, Crown Copyright reserved

Further evidence of Romano-British settlement may lie in Ilmington's road names, all of which are streets; Front Street, Middle Street and Back Street.  Field names include Middle and Lower strait furlongs, possibly suggesting the proximity of a Roman road.

The boundary of Ilmington is fixed on the east by the Saxon Charters of Tredington (2) 757 A.D. and of Blackwell 978 A.D.  In these not only the broken barrow are mentioned but also Hoarstone and Meerthorn which occur in the Ilmington field names.  No Saxon Charter has been found for Ilmington but this only means that there were no great changes of ownership, and it could therefore mean that it was already settled.

In the centre of the village lies Berry Orchard, an open space now occupying about six acres and marked by important rectangular depressions called fishponds on the ordnance map and a 'dog leg ditch' to use Professor Hoskins expression.  Some older documents give this as Bury Orchard and this may be derived from old English Burh, meaning earthwork (1) early settlement or a fortified building.  As shown on the map Berry Orchard joins the churchyard, and is divided by a narrow track from two gardens.  On the far side of the churchyard is another very old orchard bounded by the main road on the south side of the village.  Recent work in one of the gardens suggested the earlier continuation of one part of the 'dog leg' ditch through it.  The present Berry Orchard may well at one time have been a much larger moated site.  So far no excavation has been made, nor have any chance finds been recorded.

The Domesday Survey of 1086 states for Ilmington: 'Here were three thegns' meaning that in the time of Edward the Confessor there were three major farmsteads.  One of these was almost certainly Berry Orchard.  The land surveyed which by 1086 would be called the Manor of Ilmington, was worth seven pounds.  After the Conquest it fell to five pounds but by 1086 had recovered and was worth ten pounds.  There was a church served by a priest.  This would almost certainly be on the site of the present church but would most likely have been of wood.

One of the striking features of aerial photographs taken in 1946 was the close agreement of the ridge and furrow shown on it with the strips marked on the only completed portions known of the Enclosure Map of 1781.  Some of these strips must date from pre-Conquest days.  Just when the open fields of Ilmington came into being is not known but they were likely to have been in existence some considerable time before 1066.  The name Southfield of one of the early enclosed farms suggests that Ilmington may originally have had a two-field system.  It is known to have had a four-field system at a later date, and the derivation of four fields from two has been established in other places.

Concerning the ridge and furrow, two interesting points however emerge.  It appears on some land known to have been common grazing ground in 1781, and it is interrupted by small quarries, long since disused in 'the stone field'.  Perhaps it is not too wildly imaginative to suggest that these small quarries were the ones from which the stone bases of the early dwellings were taken, and that this particular area of ridge and furrow is very old indeed.  These discrepancies give point to the suggestion that regions of arable land have been subject to change, both for climatic and later for economic reasons.

Evidence, scanty as it is, points to continuous occupation from 4-500 A.D. and possibly from 1000 B.C.

  1. Place Names of Warwickshire, Vol. XIII of English Place-Names Society.

  2. Saxon Charters of Worcestershire by G.B. Grundy.

 
 

© 2021 by Ilmington 20:20 Vision

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