click here to return home  
 
   

Chimes
Tour
Parish Plan
Far and wide
Footpaths School page Young people's page
Sports & Social History Conservation Church & Chapel
Village Hall Chacombe timeline
Directory Contact us

   


Early history of Berry Close
 
     

With Berry Close in the news within the Parish, with the potential bequest to the Parish, it may be of interest to give some details of the early history of Berry Close.

The name Berry Close is not the name used by all of our older residents – as you will know, quite a lot call it Betty Close. Betty Cameron can recall that the name Betty Close was in use in her childhood in the 1930s, saying that, as a child she thought it was named this way because it was the ‘field close to Betty’ (Betty lived at the top of Silver Street then).

However, there is an early map of Chacombe, now held in the British Library, which was drawn in 1696 for “Georg Holdman, Esq.” It is big (5 feet 6 inches by 3 feet 3 inches), on vellum and is graced with drawings of buildings. The buildings are clearly drawn from life; the surviving buildings resemble the drawings on the map. On this map Berry Close is the name for the field. So, Betty Close must be a corruption of the old name. In our family we have a photograph of the map which was bought by Betty Cameron and it may be nice to display it at a future exhibition.

Permission was granted from the British Library for a tiny portion of the map to be published in the Church guide. Berry Close is shown in this portion, so you can get a flavour of this special map from the guide. It is rare indeed for a village to have a map of this age and of such quality.

The ‘Close’ in the name suggests that the field was, at some point, a Church Close. This could have been in the medieval period or it could have been at a more recent time. Despite this, much of Berry Close’s history is secular.

About ten years ago, I arranged a meeting with the Northampton County Archeologist, who was then Graham Cadman, to get his opinion on some air photographs of Poplars Farm. I went with a former resident of Chacombe who was very interested in archaeology, Joan Bowes, who sadly died a few years ago. In a wide-ranging discussion, we raised the subject of Berry Close. Graham knew the field very well indeed. According to his records, there has never been any reported archaeological dig in the field. But, though it was already a Scheduled Ancient Monument, he felt that it was in urgent need of reassessment. On the spot he made a note to request that English Heritage make an archeological reassessment of it. “Sadly”, he said, “ nothing will be done. A site like this has to be under threat before English Heritage will do anything.”

At that time there were a number of entries for Berry Close on the County Sites and Monuments Record and I have a copy of this record as it was at the time of our visit.
Just into the field from Silver Street North and running in the same direction as Silver Street is a ‘hollow way’. In the records it is recorded as: ‘Road–minor. Hollow way 15m wide by 1.5m deep x 100m long running from Silver Street North into valley bottom.” This is part of the ancient route to Wardington and also the way that villagers, at least at this side of the village, obtained their fresh water from a spring at the bottom of the garden, now belonging to Willow Tree House, right up to the 1940s. The route is now the Jurassic Way footpath. Archeologists came to the conclusion that it was a minor road by interpreting air photographs and walking the field. This road crosses the small stream before you get to the larger stream at the county boundary. Where the road crosses the small stream, its bed is filled with rocks, presumably to enable carts to ford it without sinking into the mud, but there are no rocks at the side of this. This was revealed by Chris White when he dug out the bed of the stream recently – the JCB couldn’t dig this section at all.
The records also report the existence of a medieval fishpond in the space between the small stream and the stream forming the county boundary at the edge of the field. On the ground it is hard to believe that there was a fishpond here once, but you get a better impression from the air.

Our family has bought copies of air photographs of Chacombe made by the the RAF from 1947. In these photographs what jumps out at you is the medieval fish pond in which Chacombe Sewage Works has been built. The fishpond in Berry Close is far less obvious.
The records note that the “Present owner of fishpond advises that small earthwork fragment at east end of ponds was infilled and destroyed by him some years ago.” The east end of the two fishponds takes you out of the sewage works and into land belonging to Poplars Farm. So this record, to my embarrassment, refers to my actions. There was a hollow beyond the sewage works which was not farmed, about 30 yards long. In 1972 when the Poplars Road estate was being built the builders were looking for somewhere to place unwanted soil. At that point I had not seen the air photographs nor did I know anyone who told me about fishponds .... so this fragment got filled in.

Returning to the Berry Close fishpond, the record suggests that the small stream was possibly cut on the south side of the fishpond at a later stage than the creation of the fishpond itself (the term for this type of watercourse is ‘leat’). Since the leat feeds water into ponds around the Priory, which may themselves be medieval fishponds, perhaps the leat is contemporary with the fishponds.
Sadly, to print a copy of any of the photographs requires Crown Copyright permission. If you are interested in them, you can buy your own copies from the National Monuments Record of English Heritage. I have decided that rather than try to obtain this permission I would make a sketch of the bumps and hollows shown up in a couple of them; ones taken in 1960 and 1977.
Apart from the fishponds you can see the rectangular mound outside the Church in Berry Close and various bumps and hollows surrounding it. Not visible to me, there is also a suggestion in the records of a ‘quarry/mine’ some distance down Church Lane just before the gate to the Church.

The bumps and hollows in Berry Close around the mound are without doubt the remains of an abandoned part of the medieval village of Chacombe. We won’t know when it was abandoned until it is excavated. Interestingly the archeological record only mentions the existence of houses and their closes along the hollow way from the end of Silver Street North to the County Ditch. I think the 1977 photograph has some marks which lead to this conclusion, but they are not very clear to me.

What is the mound? Joan Bowes was convinced that it was raised so that the Bagley bell founders could cast their bells in pits dug into the mound. Graham was dismissive of the suggestion that the Bagleys could have made the mound, but not that they might have used it. In his view, the most likely origin of the mound was as a base of a Norman fortified house or manor house, possibly in timber. He did not rule out that it might have originated in the Saxon period, but all three of us knew that remains on the ground linking any site with the Saxon period are extremely rare, so a Saxon origin has to be only the remotest possibility. But, the name of the village may be Saxon (“Cha’s valley”, perhaps). So they may have been here ... Were they in Berry Close? Now that really would be exciting.
Apart from the streets in this bit of abandoned Chacombe, there appears to be a series of strips, on the north side of the last street of the abandoned village, ending at the leat. I have only just noticed these in just one of the air photographs. They suggest that the ground was strip cultivated at some point.

Before the Saxons, there were the Romans. The Romans had a presence in Chacombe, but there is nothing to link them to Berry Close. The Romans preferred the high ground and most fragments of Roman pottery can be found in the soil near Castle Farm, so the probability is that Berry Close came into use in the Norman period. I guess that we won’t get to know more until a serious excavation takes place and some dateable artifacts are revealed.

 

 

     

Chimes
Tour
Parish Plan
Far and wide
Footpaths School page Young people's page
Sports & Social History Conservation Church & Chapel
Village Hall Chacombe timeline
Directory Contact us