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Eaton Bray Before 1086

The Bedfordshire Historic Environment Record [HER] contains information on the county’s historic buildings and landscapes and summaries of each entry can now be found online as part of the Heritage Gateway website.

Most of the glimpses of Eaton Bray’s past before 1086 taken from the Historic Environment Record are artefacts found in the landscape rather than landscape features themselves. An area of natural springs adjoins the Icknield Way, itself a prehistoric trackway, at Harling Springs [HER 15144]. It is a likely spot for votive offerings from prehistory through into the early modern period and, according to the HER is “the subject of much metal detecting interest”. No offerings have yet been recorded, however.

One feature in the landscape which is of prehistoric date is a cemetery of cist graves – these are box like structures made with stone slabs in the earth. The cemetery lies near Honeywick Lane [HER 11778] and a number of burials were found at the end of the 19th century. The HER states: “many bodies found in a field called Nine Arches, near the bottom of Honeywick Lane, lying all north and south, feet touching heads; peaty soil with small shells less than two feet six inches below the surface. Bones crumbled when exposed to air; no weapons; no ornaments. In the same field and very few yards away graves were found built of rough clunch, their direction east and west contains fragments of wood (coffins?) apparently but no bones. A man in the village was said to have found a “bangle” of gold there. A cannonball was found. In the next field (called Ford’s Piece) through which a slightly sunken way (now green) continues from the lane to the end of Honeywick Lane are irregularities which suggest extensive buildings; a few stones crop up here and there in the grass. Something of this house was remembered by local resident D. Swanson who has found arrowheads and well-worked Neolithic flints in the neighbourhood”. Thus this site seems to include Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age and more modern occupation.

A scatter of flints was found near Icknield Way north of the Plough Inn [HER 15832]. These could be Neolithic in date or come from the later Bronze Age in which, despite the name, flint tools were still extensively used, being easier to make and having more abundant local raw materials.

A Bronze Age knife was found by a metal detectorist in February 2007 in the parish [HER MBD20737]. The metal knife is incomplete and dates to the middle to late Bronze Age.

A circular cropmark west of Norfolk House Farm [HER 10510] seems to date from the early Iron Age through the Roman-British period. Excavations nearby at Harling Green uncovered:

• A storage building in which a fragment of animal bone was found;
• A greenhouse site which turned up flints from the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods as well as Roman and medieval pottery as well as the footings for the modern greenhouse itself.
• Topsoil from a car park included Iron Age, Roman and medieval pottery and tiles. Two ditches running north-south were identified east of Harling Road containing Roman and Iron Age pottery and other small finds.
• A cable trench yielded more pottery as well as iron artefacts and bones.

Doolittle Lane has revealed scatters of late Iron Age and Romano-British pottery [HER 15842]. This suggests occupation at those times and in 1997 two ditches were revealed as well as a piece of hearth stone. Iron Age and Roman pottery was also found north-east of the village [HER 15831] stretching over the boundary into Totternhoe. These may be associated sites to the Roman villa known to exist near Totternhoe church.

A 1st century bronze bow brooch was discovered in Eaton Bray [HER 15282] as was, in 2004, a twisted copper alloy brooch from the 2nd or 3rd century [HER 18322]. Another brooch from the 2nd or 3rd century was discovered in 2006 [HER MBD 20687].

A number of Roman coins have been unearthed. One was a copper coin of Constantine I (306-337) of the Gloria exercitus (“Glory to the Army) type [HER 11776]; another was a brass coin of Marcus Aurelius (161-180) found on the south side of the churchyard [HER 11777]. Two small copper coins, probably from the 4th century AD was found by metal detectorists in 2004 [HER 18320 and 18344]. Three small very worn coins were found by a metal detectorist the previous year [HER MBD 20477].

Finally, a disc brooch dating between 450 and 550 was found by a metal detectorist in 2006 [HER MBD 20688].