Anglo-Saxons & Vikings


The end of Roman Britain is generally marked by the year 410 AD when the legions departed back to Italy, though Romano-British culture would continue in some areas for many decades, particularly in the south-west. As Roman-British society became separated from Rome administration and justice fell to municipal authorities, local warlords gradually emerged all over Britain, still utilising Romano-British ideals and conventions. Across Europe, mass migration was underway, as Germanic tribes were themselves pushed westward as the tribes of the Goths, Lombards, and Franks headed into what is now France, Spain and Italy, other tribes including the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes took the opportunities offered by the collapse of central government in Britain.

Writing in about 540, Gildas mentions that sometime in the 5th century, a council of leaders in Britain agreed that some land in the east of southern Britain would be given to the Saxons on the basis of a treaty, a foedus, by which the Saxons would defend the Britons against attacks from the Picts and Scoti in exchange for food supplies. The most contemporaneous textual evidence is the Chronica Gallica of 452, which records for the year 441:

"The British provinces, which to this time had suffered various defeats and misfortunes, are reduced to Saxon rule."

There continues to be debate amongst historians about when the Saxons first started to settle in Britain, but it is generally accepted that by 500 there were settled communities, in Kent and along the river valleys of the Thames, Ouse, Nene and Welland valleys. Saxon remains found within Great Addington, and now held by the British Museum, indicate that Saxons had reached this area by then.

Unlike the gradual change that had occurred over nearly 400 years of Roman rule, this was a period of rapid and enormous change; including the near-wholesale replacement of the Britons who had lived in the area for a thousand years by the new peoples from the continent.

In the Nene valley, the period from 410 to 1066 sees the establishment of the landscape of towns and villages, together with their churches, which we still see today. Iron-Age and Romano-British sites are gradually abandoned - although at Crow Hill there is evidence of continued usage through into the medieval period - and new settlements founded. At the same time the transition that had begun in the late Roman period from land ownership being based around family and clan, to one based around a peasantry tied to estates becomes firmly established, such that by 1066 everyone has a "lord" and the majority are no longer free.

The Anglo-Saxons

As connection was lost with Rome and the legions withdrew from Britain, invaders and colonisers from Europe took advantage. East Anglia may have been the first area of Britain to have been settled by migrating Anglo-Saxon peoples. The early Anglo-Saxon invaders - originally perhaps mercenaries employed to fight for the disparate warring petty chieftans of Briton would seem to have seen the opportunity and switched from mercenary warriors to invading colonisers. In many places they may - through force of arms - have simply assumed control of the Roman-British estates and towns, and in many ways adopted the existing Romano systems. An extract from the Anglo Saxon Chronicles tells us that in 449:

“...Hengest and Horsa, invited by Wurtgern*, king of the Britons to his assistance, landed in Britain in a place that is called Ipwinesfleet (Ipswich); first of all to support the Britons, but they afterwards fought against them. The king directed them to fight against the Picts; and they did so; and obtained the victory wheresoever they came. They then sent to the Angles, and desired them to send more assistance. They described the worthlessness of the Britons, and the richness of the land. They then sent them greater support. Then came the men from three powers of Germany; the Old Saxons, the Angles, and the Jutes. From the Jutes are descended the men of Kent, the Wightwarians that is, the tribe that now dwelleth in the Isle of Wight, and that kindred in Wessex that men yet call the kindred of the Jutes. From the Old Saxons came the people of Essex and Sussex and Wessex. From Anglia, which has ever since remained waste between the Jutes and the Saxons, came the East Angles, the Middle Angles, the Mercians, and all of those north of the Humber.”


The Nene Valley, as with the Ouse and Thames to the south and the Trent and Humber to the North, was an ideal route for the invaders to move inland from the coast deep into the country. The gravel terrace on the valley floors were easy to plough (wheeled ploughs had not yet been invented), and drinking water could be obtained from shallow wells or tributary streams.

​The Britons who had lived in this area for at least 1,200 years were often driven out - moving westward, and even across the channel to settle in what is now known as Brittany - and replaced by the new colonisers. Those Britons who stayed may have simply swopped one "lord" for another, but many may have been taken into slavery; historical records recount Britons being sold in slave markets across continental Europe, and the Anglo-Saxon word for a “Briton” is used interchangeably for “slave”. The culture and language of the Britons fragmented, as much of their historic territories was rapidly taken over by the Anglo-Saxons.

The Nene Valley to the east of Great Addington seems to have been settled by the Saxon tribe, Undalas (or Undulas) from which the town of Oundle derives its name. How extensive the land of the Undalas was is unknown, and we have no way of knowing whether Great Addington was part of their tribal area, but we do know that Oundle was the the administrative area for "eight hundreds" during the Anglo-Saxon period and after covering an area from Finedon to Peterborough. It would not be unreasonable to surmise therefore that Great Addington was indeed part of the tribal lands of the Undalas.

More towns and villages along the Nene valley were undoubtedly established during the Saxon period, although in most instances no evidence other than fragmentary written sources survives. Archaeological evidence is limited to sites such as Raunds where large-scale excavations have taken place.

Approximated sea-levels and extent of the marshland in the 5th century.

Sea Levels

Sea levels were higher during this period in time and consequently low lying areas of Britain were partially or entirely flooded.

There is some conjecture that as well the pressure on the Saxons from eastern invaders, rising water levels on the Germanic coasts also contributed to migration.

The map shown here is a modern map with a raised sea level of approximately 4 meters showing how large areas of Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire were either permanently flooded or at least marsh land.

The river Nene would have been tidal further inland than it currently is and river levels may have correspondingly been higher. Marked on the map is the location of Great Addington and also the three large Abbeys that were founded in the middle Saxon period and that had significant control and influence over this area. Peterborough was originally founded as a monastery in 655. Both Croyland and Ely were founded on islands. Croyland in about 750 and Ely in 672.

There was also a monastery founded in about 690 in Oundle but that was destroyed in later Viking raids and its precise location is still unknown.

Great Addington Saxon Cinerary Urn: 5th Century: Pottery spout-handled jar of blackened light brown ware; rounded body, neck with rib; incised zigzags; contains burnt bones. Found at Great Addington. Acquired by the British Museum in 1883.

Great Addington Saxon Cinerary Urn 5th Century

There have been a number of archaeological finds in the area around Great Addington that shed some light on how this section of the Nene valley – and England as a whole – changed. One of the best preserved archaeological find from this era is the Anglo-Saxon burial site and remains (SP966752) which was found in 1883 by ironstone diggers on the slopes of the Nene Valley near the road from Great Addington to Ringstead. Burnt human bones were contained in an unusual jug shaped urn, known as cinerary urn, with a funnel handle, ornamented with a rope-pattern and incised zig-zag lines. It is held by the British Museum and believed to date from the early Anglo-Saxon period, probably around 500AD.

The cinerary urn is a rare example and is quite striking in similarity to those found in Saxon cemeteries in North Germany. Other pots, spearheads and shield bosses are also said to have come from the site but these cannot now be located in any museums and may be lost. The site where it was found was in all probability a pagan rather than Christian burial as the early Saxons were pagan. The vessel was the only one of its type found and this would indicate that this site was not a specific cemetery sites as we would understand it, but was perhaps chosen due the view afford from the location over the valley. Indeed, many of the Anglo-Saxon burial sites within the Nene valley are to be found on high points looking over the valley.

This discovery is strong evidence that there were Saxon settlements at a very early point. From this location burial sites extend along the Ise river towards Desborough and westwards along the Nene beyond Northampton. In all this area, cremation burials such as the jug-urn at Great Addington are frequent and indicate that the occupation of the Nene valley belongs to the earliest wave of Anglo-Saxon invasion of the midlands, probably as early as 450 to 500. It is along the Nene and its tributaries that the more ancient place-names of Northamptonshire occur - Fotheringhay, Oundle, Thrapston, Irthlingborough, and Billing are all names with the earliest Saxon origins. The whole of the Nene valley from its source to its emergence at the coastal fens may have undergone as early an Anglo-Saxon settlement as any other part of England.

Why Here?

If we understand the physical geography of Northamptonshire we can see why there was such intensive settlement along the river valleys. Apart from the essential facts that the valleys offered easy access by river and adjacent trackways along cleared farming land and meadows, it is important to understand that much of the higher land between the river valleys of the Nene and Welland was heavy clay soils and extensively forested with very few settlements. Consequently the higher land between the two rivers was for the settler unattractive; difficult to clear and almost impossible to plough. For the invaders and settlers it is easier to look ahead and travel along a clear river valley than it is to understand what is beyond - if anything - a thick dark forest. It is only when this forested area is crossed and we reach the Welland valley that we see again ancient place name appear in such as Cottingham and Rockingham. The Welland was a navigable river from the coast during this and earlier periods and may indeed have seen quite independent Saxon settlements along that valley.

​To the south the land is again clay, until the Ouse valley, and again this land would have been unattractive to early settlers and there are very few traces of Anglo-Saxon settlement between the Nene and the Ouse. At the time of the Anglo-Saxons this area was heavily wooded and later known as the Bruneswald (Brown wood). Later 11th century texts show that the area gave cover to outlaws, so in the 5th and 6th centuries this may have been an extensive forest or at least connected woodlands from Huntingdon as far as modern day Milton Keynes.

Drawing of grave items found at Shooters Hill

Drawings by John Coles who visited the site in 1847.

Shooters Hil Cemetery

Another burial site has also found within the parish on Shooters Hill (SP95717442), though this time the site was an extensive cemetery that must have been in use for many years. It is generally accepted by historians that the site is an Anglo-Saxon burial site, though there is a strong possibility that it was used during the Romano-British period and that it shows continuity into the Anglo-Saxon period.

The discovery of human remains appears to have a been a fairly regular occurrence over the course of at least 60 years. However, the discoveries were in some cases over 200 years ago and the recording of the finds was not good and all discovered items have subsequently been lost. What happened to the human remains is also unknown, though perhaps reinterred in the church yard.

Though the site is generally referred to as Anglo-Saxon in many books and academic papers, the reality is that without objects to examine and date modern historians are just repeating 18th and 19th century views. Reading the contemporary reports of the time it may be that this cemetery site may actually have started usage in an earlier period and be in continuous usage into the Anglo-Saxon period.

Many people think of Shooters Hill as being the name of the house built there by J.R. Wilkinson in the late Victorian period, however the name is much older and is for the whole hill; and probably means what it says, a slope or hill where people practiced archery. There is a reference in 1232 to Scitershul, the name in part derives from the Old-English hielde which means slope. The original name for the house is Shooter's Hill Villa.

The Reverend John Tyler, Rector of All Saints Church Great Addington, recorded the following in the parish register:

"1815. In the month of February, this year, as some labourers, were digging gravel, in a field near this village, called Shooters Hill, they found two human skeletons lying within a few inches of the surface; some time afterwards others were found. They appeared to have been buried in a hasty and careless manner, without any regard to the position of the bodies; & it should seem were young persons from the state of the teeth, which were sound and perfect in all of them. Two skeletons had been previously discovered in 1804, at the time of the inclosure of this field, not far, from the same place as the new road to Little Addington was forming. There was nothing found with any of them , that could lead to a conjecture, as to who they were, or how long they had lain there. A kind of knife or razor blade, very rusty & decayed, was dug up with one of them...It is probable, that many more may hereafter be found near the same spot."

Then twelve years later he writes again:

"1827. More skeletons have since been dug up near the same spot. J.T."

In the spring of 1847 further discoveries were made and this time the discovery site was visited by John Cole historian and writer, who lived in Woodford at this. He wrote:

"Whilst men were digging for gravel the spades of the men employed came in contact , day by day, with many perfect skeletons of human beings, which had been apparently interred with great regularity. Nine or ten were thus disclosed; but according to the reports of the workmen, scores have been noticed in various directions about the field at different times, while they have been occupied in their business of digging for gravel. The skeletons were found within a few feet from the level of the natural soil, and there was no appearance that the earth had ever been raised over them. There was nothing around or about the spot to indicate that a tumulus of any description had been constructed to protect these venerable sepulchres. The sand and the gravel had proved admirably dry preservatives of the several subjects, and there was no indication of their ever having been disturbed..."

William Whellan's Gazetteer of Northamptonshire in 1849 reported that:

"It is somewhat remarkable that in some cases the face of the body had been placed down wards, and others laid on their sides, whilst in three instances skeletons were found completely headless; and it is curious to notice that, in lieu of the head of each of these subjects, three or four stones had been heaped up. A rudely constructed urn or vase of unbaked clay...a druidical cup... found at the feet of one of the skeletons, is indicative of the antiquity of this burial place. Spear-heads and daggers, and portions of other ancient warlike instruments, as well as necklaces and other ornaments, were found near some of the skeletons. Here was also found the Druid sandstone, which is silex and pebbles forming a breccia, in the manner of pudding stone. The Druids held it in great estimation, and used it as a building stone. Amulets were formed of the pebbles. In an adjoining field is a little tumulus like elevation, in which skeletons were also found.”

A pot, daggers, spearheads, and necklaces were also stated to have been found - but have since been lost and no contemporary drawings of the finds exist. In 1866 further skeletons were found on the site as well as 'two limestone coffins'. The two coffins are probably the same as the two that are now at the church in Great Addington. One is inside, but one is outside and is becoming increasingly damaged by exposure to weather. As to whether these stone coffins are Roman, Anglo-Saxon, or Medieval is unknown. No attempt at scientific dating has taken place, though the style - with a clear and specific head-niche on the one within the church - indicates a later date, perhaps Medieval. Regardless of date, stone coffins are indicative of high status burials.

​Not all of those found in an Anglo-Saxon burial site were necessarily migrants or the descendants of migrants from continental Europe. Some may have been ethnically descended from the earlier Briton people, but who had adopted Anglo-Saxon culture as it became dominant across southern and eastern Britain. Great Addington could be an example of where Anglo-Saxon graves were found alongside those that were Iron-Age or Romano-British in character.

The mutilation of the body, primarily decapitation, found at the Great Addington site has been found at a number of other Anglo-Saxon burial sites. One unusual example has been found at Loveden Hill in Lincolnshire, where one of the corpses had their head placed on their stomach, and an urn was placed where the head would have been. At Chadlington in Oxfordshire two corpses had their decapitated heads placed between their legs. At Mitcham in Surrey several inhumations contained extra heads, while other graves instead had none or had them placed at the corpses' feet. In some rare cases, at sites in Bideford-on-Avon in Warwickshire and Portway in Hampshire, skulls had been buried on their own by the Anglo-Saxons, without their accompanying bodies.

​During the later Anglo-Saxon period and with the adoption of Christianity it became more common to find Anglo-Saxon burials near the settlements and for there to be less grave goods, though this practice did continue into the 8th Century.

As the site was never systematically dug it is entirely likely that further human remains and artefacts are waiting to be found on Shooters Hill.

Anglo-Saxon Great Addington

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.

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;

  • Adintone

  • Adington

  • Adynton

  • Edintona

  • Addington Magna

  • Addington Maiore

  • Much Addington

  • Nether Addington

  • Great Addington

​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".

Original Location of the Saxon Village

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. On a slight promintory - safe from the annual floods, with fertile slopes, extensive pasture lands, and water meadows, and easy access to the Nene. Unlike West Cotton across the river, Great Addington was high enough not to be flooded as water levels rose. 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 and meets with teh stream that flows around the other ide of the hill (passing under Woodford and Ringstead roads). 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. An Anglo-Saxon trackway has been identified running at a right angle to Lower Street (see map).

The Home Farm site is probably the most likely site 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.

Location of Anglo-Saxon and early Medieval remains near Great Addington. The large area to the right of the image was the West Cotton Anglo-Saxon/early Medieval settlement. The Shooters Hill Romano-British or Anglo-Saxon cemetery is shown as a circle on Shooters Hill.

Anglo-Saxon / early Medieval trackway running at a right angle to Lower Street. It may have originally linked Great Addington to Ringstead. It is suspected that the original Saxon hall would have been located somewhere in the centre of this image. Home Farm is one of the most likely locations.

​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

The "Heptarchy", seven kingdoms of England between the 5th and 8th centuries.

Northampton & Northamptonshire

Prior to this point in time it is questionable whether there was a significant settlement at Northampton, though there was an 8th century Saxon palace. There was no "shire" as such; shires were a later Anglo-Saxon invention.

In 2021, MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) announced the discovery of the largest Anglo-Saxon cemetery in Northamptonshire at Overstone Leys just to the north of Northampton. There are 154 burials with 3,000 grave items, including jewellery, weapons, and everyday personal possessions. Also found was a previously unknown Anglo-Saxon settlement of 22 buildings, plus a further 20 other building scattered across the area. The site also shows continuity from earlier periods as they found 4 Bronze Age buildings, 3 Bronze Age barrows and 46 prehistoric burials, giving the site an occupation history of 3,000 years.

Prior to the conquest of the area by the Danes in the 9th century, and following the Anglo-Saxon colonisation of England in the 5th and 6th centuries, England had initially comprised seven kingdoms, often referred to as the Heptarchy; comprising Mercia, Northumbria, Wessex, East Anglia, Kent, Essex, and Sussex. In the 8th century, the kingdoms were consolidation into the four kingdoms of Mercia, Northumbria, Wessex and East Anglia; with Mercia later absorbed into Wessex.

​During the late Anglo-Saxon period the area that was to become Northamptonshire was divided into three administrative areas, centred on the major estates of King’s Sutton in the south, Northampton in the centre and Oundle in the north. Oundle was an important town and is probably the site of the monastery where St Wilfrid died in 709AD. The Archbishop of York, Wulfstan, who died in 956AD was also buried there. The site may have been abandoned or destroyed in a Viking raid at the end of the ninth century around the same time as the destruction of Croyland Abbey. To date, no remains of the monastery or the administrative centre have been found.

Following the conquest by the Danes of the area, an army or "here" was based in the area to the east of Watling street. It is probable that the town of Hamtun (the name indicates a central administrative residence) grew from the earlier Anglo-Saxon palace settlement around this time and was probably some form of royal Danish residence or estate to which was rendered the dues payable by the men of the army settled in the area. Hamtun became a Viking frontier town, with an inland port, and its army which is mentioned several times in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles.

It is clear that the identity of Northamptonshire arose at this time from its roots as the district occupied by a Danish army and probably a Danish Earl. The original Northamptonshire would have included Rutland, and with Watling street as its western boundary. The name of North-Hamtunscir and the full name Northampton do not appear until just before the Norman Conquest. The "North" prefix was probably added at quite a late stage to differentiate between the other Hamtun in England, South-Hamtun. The two towns were connected by an important Anglo-Saxon route, today followed roughly by the modern day A43 and A34, past Oxford, Newbury and Winchester.

Vikings or Danes

Following the Anglo-Saxon settlement of England between the 5th and 8th centuries a new group of raiders started to attack and then later settle in the east and north of England between the 8th and 11th centuries. Though mainly Danish, with some later Norwegian and Swedish involvement particularly in the north of England, we tend to refer to them as Vikings, Those that attacked and then settled in this area are commonly accepted to be Danes.

The first raid was on 8th June 793 with an attack on Lindisfarne in Northumbria. Churches and monasteries like Lindisfarne, often located on the coast or on rivers, were ideal high value targets with little or no defence. The raids in England were sporadic until the 840s, but in the 850s Viking armies began to stay in England during the winter, and in the 860s they began to assemble larger armies with the clear intent of conquest. In 865, an enlarged army arrived, referred to by the Anglo-Saxons as the “Great Heathen Army”, travelled through East Anglia, the East Midlands (including this area), and had taken York within the same year. It was around this time, in 866, that Croyland Abbey was destroyed. A even larger invasion by the Danes occurred in 871AD and within ten years nearly all of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms fell to the invaders, with only Anglo-Saxon Wessex and Northumbria surviving.

​The Nene valley, as before with the Anglo-Saxon, would have provided easy access for the Danes to progress deep into the midlands. Villages - particularly the churches and larger Saxon halls would have been targets for raiders. ​Since the end of the Roman era, the area around Great Addington had seen Saxon invaders and colonisers; the Romano-British has been swept aside, enslaved or assimilated into Anglo-Saxon culture. The Iron Age and Roman settlements had been either abandoned or overlaid with new Saxon settlements. Christianity had been established under the Romans (as one of many religions) and then lost as the pagan Saxons occupied the land, then re-established as the Saxon adopted the religion, only to be swept aside again by the Danes. With the coming of the Danes, the land had again been ravaged by war and destruction.

​In 871 Alfred became King of Wessex and under his leadership the Anglo-Saxons started to push back against the Viking invaders. In 878 a peace treaty was drawn up between the two sides, known as the Peace of Wedmore. In the treaty a border is created that broadly follows the line of Watling Street (A5) from London to Chester. All the land to the east became known as the Danelaw. The central and eastern areas of what was to become Northamptonshire were in the Danelaw.

​Under the Danes an “army” (known as a "here")was based at each major centre, Northampton (Hamtun), Leicester, Nottingham etc. New Dane settlers were beholden to the army and would leave their free land to fight when ever their army needed them. The Nene valley around Great Addington would have undoubtedly be part of the “army of hamtunscir” and new settlers would have been both farmers and soldiers ready to fight when called by the army.

​There is good evidence that the new Danish settlers did not drive the Anglo-Saxon from their farms, but rather created new farms and settlements, often pushing away from the main river and along the tributaries or onto unclaimed uplands. Danish settlements often have names than end in "by", so towns such as Corby were likely to have been new Dane settlements.

Between 910 and 920 Edward and Aethelflaed (the son and daughter of Alfred the Great) advanced across England, conquering Danish Mercia and East Anglia. Edward built a series of fortresses at Buckingham, Bedford, Colchester, Stamford and Castle Camps in Cambridgeshire amongst others. The earlier Romano-British victus at Towcester was extensively rebuilt at this time as a "burgh" - defensive town - and would have been one of the key bases that enabled Edward to advance into the Danelaw. Northamptonshire was re-captured by Edward in 917, when the Danish armies of Northampton and Leicester suffered a major defeat.

​In 940 a Viking (Norse) army from York swept down and devastated the area and captured Northampton, only for the shire to be retaken in 942 by the English, and it is at this point that the army of Northamptonshire swore allegiance to the Anglo-Saxon Kings, the "here which obeyed Northampton as far north as the Welland".

This area, and much of England, had gone through significant administrative and social changes over the 80 years of nearly constant warfare. Effectively England, especially border lands such as Northamptonshire, had been on a war footing for generations. Surviving records indicates that generations after the Danes had arrived their descendants still referred to themselves as the here, the army.

West Cotton & Great Addington

What was happening at Great Addington during this time is unknown, apart from the land charters that have already been mentioned. However, archaeological surveys just across the Nene from the Addingtons at the lost village of West Cotton, give some indication of how Great Addington may have developed and appeared at this time.

​West Cotton, Mallows Cotton, and Mill Cotton, are almost a mirror image group of small settlements, though now long abandoned. Between 1985 and 1989 as part of the Raunds Area Project - an ambitious project to understand the detailed history of a large land area - extensive archaeological investigation was undertaken.

​The West Cotton site comprised a planned layout of rectangular plots occupying in total about 6 acres. The settlement was established around 950 – perhaps just after the defeat of the Danes and the re-capture of Northamptonshire by the English. It was set on a slight rise of ground with timber buildings, adjacent to the river, including a timber hall, 13.5m long and 5m wide, with ancillary buildings attached to the end of the hall. In the original arrangement the buildings were given an appearance of defence, by being flanked on two sides by a large ditch, but this was soon filled in and new buildings were added to form a courtyard arrangement. To the north of the hall there was a watermill.

​We know that around this time Great Addington had a settlement, a church - see the example wooden Anglo-Saxon church at Greensted in Essex - and fishery. We also know from the later Domesday Survey that there was more than one mill here. It is quite possible that West Cotton and Great Addington, separated by little more than a meadow and the width of the river, would have appeared very similar.

Also, the communities of the Addingtons and West Cotton shared boundaries along the river Nene, which by implication would have fishing and reed collection (essential for thatching) boundaries. There can be no doubt that the three communities must have had interaction over the centuries.

In the the mid-twelfth century the hall at West Cotton was replaced by what appears to have been a two-storey hall, a malt house and barn, a dovecote and a detached kitchen/bakehouse, all still set around a central courtyard. However, during this same period flooding and the consequent deposition of deep deposits of alluvial silts resulted in the silting of the adjacent river channel and the abandonment of the mill.

West Cotton was the smallest of three deserted hamlets on the margin of the floodplain. All three are likely to have had an origin in the late Saxon period as manorial centres that controlled a watermill.

Evidence from West Cotton and other abandoned sites near Earls Barton, Irchester, and Southwick, appear to show a pattern of similar sized hamlets along the Nene valley; with a manor (estate) house, a small number of tenement plots, and a mill. A working mill was an important source of of hard currency income to the estate.

The reason that Great Addington may have survived whilst other sites were abandoned appear to be related to the fact that it is placed at sufficient distance from the river to avoid flooding (the West Cotton site shows clear evidence of flooding and the mill stream there had become silted up) and yet close enough to be able to exploit the rich farm land of the flood plain for pasture and hay meadow. Great Addington and many other surviving parishes extend away from the river, rather than along the river side, thereby allowing the exploitation of a broad range of agricultural resources. As ploughs improved then the clay uplands could be cleared and ploughed, earlier estates and parishes that ran along the side of the river were unable to compete.


It is worth understanding that the word "manor" came into usage around 1000AD and does not necessarily relate to the village or parish. A manor was a term for an area of land and associated rights for the owner. As such there might be several parishes in a manor, or alternatively several manors within a parish. A manor might spread across more than one parish. It might be a single piece of land, or even several fragmented pieces which were not physically connected. The manor was essentially an administrative unit of a landed estate.

The lord of the manor had customary and legal rights over the manorial land and its resources. The rights included fisheries, commons, mineral rights, parks, woodlands, and mills (both water and wind). The land holding of the manor was split into two parts, the Demesne: The lord’s own land, usually a single area of land with arable, pasture and meadow on which the villages had an obligation to work at certain times; and the manor land let to tenants (peasants) in return for rent and/or labour services. There might also be freemen or sokemen (Danish origin of freemen typically found in Lincolnshire and east Northamptonshire) living in the village who might own their own land. The manor might have a central hall, which might be the main house of the manor (hence the later term manor house), but not always. If there is a such a hall it would be more like a large wooden barn with a smaller living area in one part of it rather than the grand manor houses that we are now more accustomed to expect - these were typically built many years later.

England Before the Norman Conquest & the Morcar Rebellion

Further raids by Danes all along the east coast occurred in 990 and the English King Æthelred decided to pay the Danes "geld", effectively paying them not to carry out further raids.

The combined pressure of paying for a permanent army, which would require food and weapons; the need to build defences around towns such as Northampton and Peterborough; and to pay Danegeld, meant that large sums of money needed to be raised by the King. This required a sophisticated level of administration and tax raising. The mobilisation of the nation started by Alfred the Great in 871 and the continued unrest and warfare during the 10th and 11th centuries meant that by the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066 England had become a land managed by small group of rich elites, with a sophisticated land administration and tax system. The move away from small-scale farming of land owned by connected families, to land owned by Earls with tenant villiens ploughing the strips of "open fields" was a gift to the Norman invaders. When the invaded the found a land which generated wealth beyond the expectations, with an administrative system that knew down to the individual family how much they farmed and how much wealth it would generate per year.

Socially and racially Northamptonshire was a border county, intermediate between Leicestershire and Lincolnshire where Danish place names dominate and a free population, "sokemen", survived in great numbers even after the Norman Conquest, and the southern midlands, where innumerable peasants, once free, were tied to the manorial estate. There is probably no other English county where contrasts are so marked between the "free" and the feudal.

Driven by long period of war and turmoil land ownership had gone from freeholder farming for subsistence to manorial ownership with the population clustered around the manor and/or church. England had become a feudal landscape with the majority of the land owned and controlled by less than 200 extremely wealthy individuals Earls, all who owed allegiance to and were in some way related to the King. Anglo-Saxon land and tax administration systems had become so sophisticated that hides, manors, hundreds, and shires were all documented (and taxed) down to the individual tenant level.

Though the Normans are seen to have introduced feudalism to England, in reality all the systems were in place pror to 1066, ready for the Norman overlords.

In 1065, the year before the Norman Conquest, much of Northamptonshire had been laid to waste in the Morcar Rebellion. This had its origins eleven years earlier in 1055 when Siward, Earl of Northumbria, Northampton and Huntingdon died. His son, Waltheof, was too young to inherit, so the Northumbrian Earldom was given to Tostig Godwinson, brother of the Harold Goodwinson (who was to become King Harold). When Waltheof came of age he was created the Earl of Northampton. In 1065, Morcar son of Ælfgar, Earl of the Mercians, rebelled against Tostig. Gathering an army, he marched south, gathering an army from the old Danelaw lands of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Lincolnshire. He was joined by Edwin, Earl of Mercia, who was at the head of a force of Mercians and Welshmen. Northampton was the target. Harold Goodwinson, the leading noble in the country was sent to negotiate and after listening to their demands he returned south. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records:

But the Northern men did much harm about Northampton (shire), whilst he went on their errand: either that they slew men, and burned houses and corn; or took all the cattle that they could come at; which amounted to many thousands. Many hundred men also they took, and led northward with them; so that not only that shire, but others near it were the worse for many winters.

The most obvious route for the rebel army would have been down the A1 and along the Nene valley to Northampton. Great Addington and other villages of the Nene would have suffered greatly. Many people would have been killed or driven from the land, farms raided and destroyed, crops and livestock taken to feed the rebel army.

The Northamptonshire Geld Roll (c.1070) records that about a third of the county was "waste" i.e. land that was not being worked. Good land was not normally left to waste and would only be so due to lack of people to work the land. Land that was not being worked had a lower value which is probably why many villages in the Domesday Survey of 1086 in this area are shown to have low land values in 1066 - the Domesday entry for Woodford specifically mentions land there being "waste" in 1066.

Tostig, deposed in favour of Morcar, left England for Norway, to gather an army which returned in 1066 to the north of England whilst at the same time the Normans prepared to invaded in the south. Harold Goodwinson fought and defeated the Norwegian army on the 25 September 1066 at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, near York - Tostig died in the battle. Harold then led his army south in a forced march from York towards Hastings on the south coast where the Normans had landed on 28 September. Harold's army had covered the 190 miles from York to London in 11 days (arriving in London on the 6 October). He fatefully ignored advice to wait for reinforcements and led his army south to Hastings to fight the Normans, but was killed in the battle on 14 October 1066.