At what point in time the settlements that were to become Great and Little Addington were founded is unknown, but in a charter granted in 829 we know that the village exists. The charter (itself probably a later medieval reproduction) is a grant by King Wulfnoth, of Mercia, of land at Addington to Croyland Abbey (the Abbey is now gone but fragments remain as the parish church of Crowland), which had been founded in 716.
There is also reasonable evidence to indicate that Anglo-Saxon settlements may overlay earlier Romano-British and Iron Age sites. A location that was a good site for a settlement in the Iron Age would have presumably continued to be so in the Anglo-Saxon period. The main difference seems to be that Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman settlements tend to be nearer to the river, whereas Anglo-Saxon settlements seem to be on the slopes of the valley. This may be due to rising river levels as many of the earlier sites often flood during the winter, or in some cases are actually now below the river level.
We know there were Iron Age and Roman settlements around the where the current village is so it is reasonable to assume that there may also be within the village area - but perhaps lost or buried under the building developments over the intervening years.
Eadda's Place on the Hill
The available historical references to Great Addington are fragmentary with the village name going through many changes, though mainly due to change in spelling, over the centuries. What the earliest name was for the settlement is unknown. This is not unusual in England as we have no written material from the Iron Age and only limited information from the Roman period. Of the thousands of identified Roman towns, villages, and villas in England we only have the original Roman name for a very few.
For much of England, and in particular for this area, the names of many places are Anglo-Saxon in origin. Places with "ington" ending names are derived from the Saxon word “hring” meaning a defensive settlement, and “tun” which also derives from the Saxon word for a fenced area or enclosure on a hill. Evidence from the archaeological works at the abandoned village of Mill Cotton just across the river Nene from the Addingtons, shows that the first Saxon buildings were given some defensive features, being flanked on two sides by a large ditch. The Nene valley was one of the earliest placed in England to be colonised by the Saxons, and it is therefore probable that these earlier settlers felt the need for defensive fortifications in this new land. Perhaps something similar was at Great Addington - thus providing the "hring" element to the place name as opposed to a simple "tun".
The "Add" pre-fix is derived from "Eadda", a Saxon name, so we have a literal translation which would translate into modern English as, "Eadda's place on the hill", and in Saxon would be, "Eadda's hringtun". Work by the English Place Name Society has established that the majority of places with an ending of "ingtun" are to be found within the Nene valley and its tributaries within Northamptonshire. The only such places names outside the Nene valley are in the Ouse and Welland valleys - also colonised very early on. So this gives some indication that the use of "ingtun" may have been linked to farm or settlement on a hill in a river valley, which perhaps initially were given defensive layouts by the early Saxon colonisers - perhaps to protect for the disenfranchised Britons or other Saxon opportunists.
Over the centuries the name has gone through a number of changes;
and of course there is the issue of the other Addington, Little Addington, which has also gone through quite a few name changes - Edintona, Addington Pura, Addington Minorie, and even Addington Waterville. It has the same name origin and undoubtedly shared a connection with Eadda's family.
During the Iron Age, Roman and Saxon periods land was often divided and subdivided amongst family members, either through inheritance or the needs of a growing family. As land usage grew, new areas were cleared and named. Perhaps it was Eadda's other farm, or perhaps Eadda's son or daughter. Interestingly enough in the earliest land charters from the 9th Century and also later in the Domesday Survey it is referred to as "the other Addington".
If we consider the two streams that almost encircle the village and meet at a point where we know there was a later mill, and possibly the site of the earliest "manor" house, then it is easy to see why this location was chosen with its fertile lands, water meadows, and easy access to the Nene. Unlike West Cotton across the river, Great Addington was far enough away not to be flooded. The West Cotton site shows a number of floods which probably contributed to its eventual abandonment. It is not unreasonable to suppose that the original Great Addington settlement was on the land between the modern Ringstead Road and the mill stream that flows under the road to Little Addington. There are two old farms on this section of land - Manor Farm (on the corner of Ringstead Road and Lower Street) and Home Farm on the side of the Mill stream. Both of the existing buildings are relatively modern, but may well be on the site of earlier buildings. There are references to the field in this area being referred to as "the moat field" before any of the 20th century development took place. The Home Farm site is probably the most likely to be the original Saxon settlement site.
The word "home" is an Anglo-Saxon derived words such as ham and hem meaning "dwelling place". A "Home Farm" is also taken to mean the farm that belongs to the manor or estate, as opposed to other farms which may be tenanted or dependent upon the manor, and are confusingly often called Manor Farm. Typically a "Home Farm" is the farm nearest the original hall or manor building.
In 833, another Croyland Abbey charter (again a possible medieval forgery or reproduction) records the fact that the new King Wiglaf of Mercia gives to the Abbey two "hides" of land (about 60-80 acres), a fishery, and the right to appoint the priest to the church - known as an Advowson. It also records that there is a similar gift of land, a “virgatam terrae” (a “yardland” which would be about 20 acres) in “the other Addington”, which is taken to be a reference to Little Addington. The phrase used in both this charter and in the later Domesday Survey of 1086 is the same Latin phrase, "in alia Addington". So, it would seem that as far back as 833AD there were two Addingtons. This land grant was re-confirmed in a later charter by Behrtulf, King of Mercia in 851.
Between the 6th and 10th centuries the population of many villages increased sufficiently for new communities to be set up on nearby uncleared land. This outward expansion of the kinship groups seem to be revealed by the descriptive classification of villages, such as Upper and Lower Benefield, Middle and Lower Tysoe, and Great and Little Addington.
It is clear that by the 9th century the settlement of Addington is now of a sufficient size and value to be mentioned in land grants to the Abbey. There is a church (perhaps wooden), a fishery and sufficient land for a number of families, who worship at the church.
At this point in time, Great Addington, the Nene Valley and what was to become Northamptonshire, was part of the Kingdom of Mercia. Land charters recording the ownership of property and rights were introduced by the English firstly in the Kingdom of Wessex in the 670s and then in Mercia once it was absorbed into the new Kingdom of England.
Croyland Abbey was a monastery in Lincolnshire, sixteen miles from Stamford and thirteen from Peterborough. It was founded in memory of St. Guthlac early in the eighth century by Ethelbald, King of Mercia. Due to the higher sea levels at this time Croyland was an island, today the village of Crowland is 20 miles inland.
An extract from the 851 charter shows the significant land holding that this increasingly powerful abbey held:
“confirmation of marshes at Crowland, Spalding and elsewhere, and of land at Langtoft, Deeping, Thetford, Baston, Rippingale, Whaplode, Holbeach, Pinchbeck, Spalding, Sutterton, Algarkirk, Drayton, Lincs.; Glapthorn, Peakirk (Northamptonshire); Kirkby (Lincolnshire); Standon (Hertfordshire); Addington(Northamptonshire); Bucknall, Hallington, and at Germuthorp (Lincolnshire)”.
The land was re-confirmed in charters by Burgred of Mercia in 868 and by King Eadred of England in 948AD; for by this time Mercia was united with Wessex, and England as a state had come into existence. This last charter refers to the land given by the King to the Abbey as three hides (90-120 acres), with the advowson of the church. The gap between the charters of 868AD and 948AD is probably linked to the fact that Croyland Abbey was destroyed and the community slaughtered by Danes (Vikings) in 880AD. The Abbey was re-established by King Eadred in 948AD and at the point of its re-founding, it would have been important that the claimed land ownership of the Abbey was re-confirmed by the King.
In the 948AD charter the land holding had expanded even further and included amongst other places Wellingborough and Badby in Northamptonshire, and further land holdings in Leicestershire and Hertfordshire.
“Crowland, Spalding, Pinchbeck, Whaplode, Algarkirk, Dowdike, Drayton, Burtoft, Sutterton, Bucknall, Hallington, Gerimthorp, Langtoft, Baston, Deeping, Thetford, Rippingale, Laithorp, Kirkby (Lincolnshire); Wellingborough, Addington, Elmington, Glapthorn, Worthorpe, Peakirk and Badby (Northamptonshire); Morborne and Thurning (Huntingdonshire); Beeby, Sutton, Stapleton (Leicestershire); Cottenham, Oakington and Dry Drayton (Cambridgeshire); and at Standon (Hertfordshire)”.
It is suggested by some historians that a number of these charters may be reproductions or even possibly forgeries created at a later point in time – possibly after the Norman conquest – to show that the land claimed by the Abbey was granted by past Kings and therefore could not be underdone. It is likely that the original charters prior to 948 were destroyed by the Danes in 880 or in a later fire in 1091. Even the later charters of 948 and 966 may have been produced at some point between 1086 and 1119. However the Domesday Survey of 1086 clearly records the fact that some of the land in the Addingtons was owned by Croyland Abbey, so some aspect of the land charters must be correct.