Colton Archaeological Survey
A Survey of Medieval Colton
Commissioned by Colton History Society 2009
Prepared by Dr. John Hunt FSA,FRHistS
In 2009 Colton History Society commissioned Dr. John Hunt then of Birmingham University to prepare a Medieval Study of the village. The purpose of the study was twofold. Firstly to collect and collate as much information that is available about Colton in this period. Secondly by using his expertise to analyse this evidence in order to identify potential sites of Archaeological sensitivity around the Parish. This information could then be used to inform any planning in the Parish and help protect the heritage of Colton for future generations.
We had been helped in the task of organising the survey by Archaeologist Stephen Dean who is employed by Staffordshire County Council. His department is promoting the concept of a Rural Settlement Survey for the whole of Staffordshire and welcomed the involvement of Colton History Society. He guided us as to how to set about such a Survey and then put us in touch with John Hunt. We had to raise £2000 for the survey and this came from a variety of sources. Colton Parish Lands Trust and Colton Parish Council each gave us a generous grant. Staffordshire County Council matched these grants and the Society made up the shortfall from funds we had raised. The Society thanks all participants for their generosity.
John Hunt reported back to the Society in September 2009 with a thorough and rigorous report which more than fulfilled our expectations.
He collected together evidence from many sources some of which we already knew about but many more were unknown to us and he brought them all together in a coherent fashion. Using his knowledge of the period he analysed the evidence and gave us a concept of what life might have been like in Colton from the Saxon period through to the 15th. Century.
He begins his report by suggesting meanings for the name of Colton. “tun” he points out is common in Anglo Saxon England where it came to mean farmstead, estate or vill. The Col element of the name is less certain. It could be a person’s name; somewhere where charcoal was produced or an estate where colts were reared. This we shall never know for certain.
The first period in Colton’s long history he threw light on was the Saxon period. Colton has three entries in the Domesday Book naming four Saxon Lords (Thegns) who held land in Colton before the Conquest. John had information on all of these Lords stating that there is evidence that they were men of substance all holding land in other places besides Colton. Being held by such men meant that Colton was not insignificant in Saxon times. In the case of the land held by Almund in Colton there is also the mention of a Priest and this may suggest that his holding in Colton had some particular importance for him. There may even have been the presence of a Church prior to the writing of the Domesday document most likely built by Almund. All of these Thegns lost their holdings in Colton after the conquest. John concludes this period by saying that that there is nothing in documentary records permitting a closer consideration of the nature of Anglo Saxon Colton.
After the Conquest two of the Colton Manors passed into the Lordship of Earl Roger de Montgomery as tenant in chief and the third to Robert, Baron of Stafford. These in turn were held from Earl Roger and Lord Robert by sub tenants. John went into considerable detail as to how the ownership and tenancy of the Manors changes over the next 400 years and what affect the various families have upon their Manors.
One of the key questions that the survey explores is where each of the three post Conquest Medieval Manor houses may have been situated. The site of Little Hay Manor is known because it still exists today but the sites of the other two are not known. Using the evidence available, John has speculated that the Manor house attached to the Church Manor sub tenanted initially by the Mavysons and later in the period by the Griffins and De Colton’s, may well have been close to the centre of the village. The other Manor sub tenanted by the DeWasteney’s and later owned by the Gresleys’ could also have been in this vicinity. What eventually becomes the main residence of the De Wasteney’s, i.e. a house some distance away from the main area of settlement that became known as Colton Hall, he suggests was initially a hunting lodge that was later upgraded to become the main residence. He supports his argument for a manor house on the Bellamour Lodge site with the fact that evidence of a possible very early chapel was found there in the 19th. Century. He is suggesting that this was a chapel incorporated into a manor house complex in the manner shown in excavations of other manor house complexes relating to this period.
In the light of John’s suggestions it is these two sites in particular that the History Society is hoping to investigate further. We are hoping with the permission of the site owners to do some exploration of these sites. This will take the form of field walking, metal detecting and if we can raise the money a geophysical surface survey conducted by one of the local university archaeological departments.
Another subject he suggests is worthy of physical investigation are the sites of the mills that we have documentary evidence for. There was a water mill recorded in Domesday in one of the Colton entries and subsequently there was at least one other water mill and possibly two windmills. He suggests that investigation of the water courses around Colton may cast more light on exactly where they were.
Although we knew that the De Wasteney’s asked for and received a Market Charter for Colton in 1240, we had no idea where the market may have been situated. We also know that the De Wasteney’s also established burgage plots at around the same time. This was a very typical activity of the landed classes of this period. In creating a “borough” they were securing another source of income from their tenures. John has found evidence to suggest that there were at least 30 burgage plots established where craftsmen would ply their trade from established premises. From map evidence he has concluded that these burgage plots were probably in the area around the modern day centre of the village in the area now known as Williscroft Place. It is therefore quite likely that the market was probably held in the area opposite known as the Pinfold and Martlin Lane. Unfortunately as this area is now occupied by houses and the road, it would be difficult to get any archaeological evidence to support the theory. What the evidence does support is the notion that in the period between the mid 13th century and possibly up to the early 15th century, Colton was a sizeable “borough”. Neither is there a lot of evidence to say that Colton was much affected by the Black Death in the mid 14th Century. It therefore continued to thrive until it was eclipsed by its close neighbour, the town of Rugeley that had the advantage of being closer to major routes of communication.
Again by using the documentary evidence John makes some suggestions as to the sorts of trades and occupations that were being carried out in the “borough” of Colton. He examined the name evidence of people that we know lived in Colton in this period. For instance William the Smith (1292); William son of Ralph the Miller (1326); William called ‘the shepherd of Newland’ (1341); John Taylor (1402); Simon Parker (probably a park keeper- see below) 1402
As to the landscape of Medieval Colton, John suggests that Colton was made up of a scattered settlement set in a heavily wooded landscape. There had been some assarting into this woodland such as the area known as Newlands but otherwise the woodland came very close to the centre of the settlement. There are still lots of remnants of this woodland visible within field names and place names such as “Old Wood”. He suggests that the scattered settlement started in Saxon times and this scattering of residences remained well into the medieval period. A centre of sorts began to emerge with the creation of the medieval burgage plots and market area and this gave rise to the linear plan of the core of the village as it is today.
What was of great interest to him is that there is still physical evidence of an area in Colton that was imparked by the De Wasteney’s in the 13th century. This too was a fashion amongst Lords of Manors in this period emulating the activities of royalty and the aristocracy. Areas of land were enclosed for the purposes of keeping game and were only available to the Lord of the Manor to do with what he wished. Colton appears to have had two such parks and the “pale” or boundary of one of these is still visible.
In conclusion he recommended that the following archaeologically sensitive sites be monitored –
The area around and including the church, particularly bearing in mind Colton’s Anglo Saxon origins.
The sites and potential sites of the Manor houses
The area around Boughey Hall Farm and Lount Farm both of which belonged to St. Thomas’s Priory of Stafford before the dissolution.
Within the core settlement, Williscroft Place, possible location of the medieval borough and possible market place nearby in the vicinity of the area known as The Pinfold.
All isolated farmsteads and hamlets and particularly Lee Farm and the Newlands. Any of these settlements may have medieval origins.
The boundaries of the two parks.
Potential mill sites.
Much of the present village centre is classed as of medium archaeological potential although much of it now is covered with 19th and 20th century buildings.
The Society is now hoping to investigate some of the sites that the report has identified.
We are intending to follow water courses that run through the parish to see if we can find remains of any of the mills. Field names could help us to pinpoint likely sites.
We are also hoping that we will be able to carry out geophysical surveys to try and ascertain whether the manor houses were in the places John has suggested. However in order to do this the Society will have to raise more money.
It is also our intention to involve the community of Colton once more in various activities to see what we can find. Field walking is planned and also making people aware that when they are digging in their gardens to be alert to anything that might be “old” such as bits of pottery, coins etc.
The History Society welcomed this report and believed that it had achieved the aims that had been expressed to Dr. John Hunt when he was commissioned. Copies of the report will now be given to:-
Staffordshire County Council with the hope that they will consult it and therefore be aware of the archaeologically sensitive sites when any new development is proposed in Colton.
The Parish Council for the above reason and also in grateful appreciation of the funding they provided to make the report possible.
The Lands Trust for their generous support with funding
Stafford Record Office for use by future researchers of the History of Colton.
Lichfield District Council
Lady Nancy Bagot of Blithfield Hall, Honorary President of Colton History Society, in recognition of the support that she has given to the Society.
We also placed a copy of the report in a Time Capsule that was buried in Colton on the 12th November 2009 and that we hope will be opened in 100 years time.
We would like to thank Dr. John Hunt for providing the report and giving us not only a wealth of information but also an insight into what our village may have been like so long ago.
If you wish to purchase a copy of this report it is available via the website at a cost of £20.