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Old Warden in Prehistory

The Bedfordshire Historic Environment Record [HER] details all prehistoric finds and sites in the county. It is now available on-line as part of the Heritage Gateway website.

The earliest evidence for human occupation in what is now Old Warden comes from finds dating to the Neolithic, or New Stone Age. A handaxe was found during ploughing in the mid 1970s in a field "next to the old moat" [HER 8243]. It was taken to Hitchin Museum and is, presumably, still there. Another neolithic axehead was found east of Hill House [HER 10752]. This one was of polished greenstone and was 24.7 centimetres long with a convex cutting edge and a roughened butt end to allow it to be affixed to a haft. The axehead was 2.5 centimetres wide at the butt and 8.8 centimetres wide in the blade.

Two barbed and tanged flint arrowheads were found near Gipsy Lane, close to the boundary with Biggleswade [HER 16207 and 16208]. These might belong to the neolithic but might also be Bronze Age in date. Flint tools and weapons continued to be used through the Bronze Age as flint was easier to find than the copper and tin needed to make bronze, and was considerably easier to work.

Definitely belonging to the Bronze Age was a hoard from the Ickwell Bury estate. the exact find spot is not known and so might have been in Old Warden or over the parish boundary in Northill. The hoard comprised three axes or palstaves, including an unusual type with a rib around socket, and two possible bronze ingots [HER 431].

Two ring ditches can be identified from cropmarks north-east of Brookland Farm. Ring ditches are, as the name suggests, roughly circular ditches and these are thought to be the remains of ploughed out round barrows, a Bronze Age form of burial. A block of roughly rectangular enclosures lies with the ring ditches and seem to respect them, suggesting they are Iron Age in date [HER 3202]. Two further ring ditches south of Hill House [HER 3576] proved to be the remains of early Bronze Age round barrows on excavation - forty two cremations were recovered, many in urns. Again, they were associated with linear features, which turned out to be part of a Bronze Age field system. 7th century AD burials were also found with grave goods including silver pendants, knives and a spearhead. Two more potential ring ditches have been identified from cropmarks alongside Gipsy Lane [HER 9094].

A number of Iron Age sites exist in the parish. Linear cropmarks south-west of Sweetbriar Farm were excavated in 2001 as a pipeline was being constructed. Roman and Medieval material was recovered along with nine cremation burials dating to the 1st century AD, suggesting a late Iron Age farmstead which continued into the Romano-British period.

An Iron Age mirror was reportedly found in the 1850s [HER 865] during excavations for Old Warden railway tunnel. It was reported that coins, sherds of amphora (a large Roman pottery vessel for storing wine or oil) and a bronze vessel were found at the same time, all suggesting a wealthy Iron Age burial.

About 1845 a number of cremation burials were found north of Quint's Hill [HER 459]. These dated to the late Iron Age and were associated with two lathe-turned shale vessels along with iron hoops from a bucket and an amphora. Other finds duplicate those from Old Warden Tunnel and it is possible that the two became confused.

A number of cropmarks occur in the parish which cannot be dated due to lack of material evidence. These are tentatively ascribed to some period of prehistory and are as follows:

  • an oval feature west of Hangman's Spinney shows partly as a cropmark and partly as differential tree growth [HER 8245]. The ditch lies approximately half in woodland;
  • a curvilinear enclosure, with an entrance to the south-east lying north-west of the village may be prehistoric in date [HER 8260];
  • cropmarks south of Warden Little Wood [HER 8265] show a sub-rectangular enclosure. A scatter of large stones, mostly flints, was noted on the surface during a visit about 1977;
  • a pale rectangular cropmark south of Bedford Road [HER 8266] and showing on a 1976 aerial photograph may be a prehistoric enclosure;
  • angular, linear and circular cropmarks south-west of King's Bridge [HER 14773] may be prehistoric;
  • two rectilinear enclosures, end-to-end lie north of Warden Little Wood [HER 16711] and may be prehistoric or may relate the a medieval or early modern woodland;
  • linear cropmarks near Warden Tunnel show the line of the parish boundary with Northill, but near them lie what may be two sides of a prehistoric enclosure [HER 16712]
  • aerial photographs show a faint suggestion of three small enclosures south of Sweetbriar Farm [HER 16753]; they lie on top of a ridge;
  • a block of small rectilinear enclosures lies south-east of Brookland Farm [HER 16809]; there are also some curvilinear features which abutt the old course of the River Ivel.