Flambards Manor: Archaeology

As described on our introductory page, Flambards Green is now surrounded by houses but the green itself was once the site of a moated manor house and traces of the moat can still be seen. It is described on the Heritage Gateway website as Monument No. 368421, “A probable Late Saxon settlement site, dating from the 10th century onwards. It was also the site of the Medieval to Post Medieval moat of Flambard’s Manor.”

An excavation in 1933/34 by T C Lethbridge (see photo gallery above) is the only known major archaeological activity to have taken place on the site.

Thomas Charles Lethbridge

Thomas Charles Lethbridge (1901-1971) was an archaeologist, parapsychologist and explorer. A controversial and intriguing figure, Lethbridge developed his interest in archaeology whilst still at school. This ultimately led to a fascination with dowsing and the occult and he came to believe that every inanimate object had the ability to store information.

From 1922-1956 he served as honorary Keeper of Anglo-Saxon Antiquities at the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. He wrote 24 books in total; eight of them on the paranormal.

Lethbridge considered himself a protagonist of what he called “the commonsense” attitude to archaeology. This unconventional approach to often left him exposed to criticism from fellow archaeologists. Cambridge history don Charles W Phillips was not the only one to think that Lethbridge was “able to do rather second-rate work and get away with it.” Unfortunately, he did not keep extensive notes of his archaeological excavations, something which is apparent from looking at his notebook which is now held in the University of Cambridge library, so it has been necessary to pull together evidence from his personal papers and published articles. However, despite his methods, Lethbridge’s work has added immeasurably to our understanding of the Flambards site.

Archaeological Dig, 1933-34

It is thought to have been William Mortlock Palmer who encouraged Lethbridge to undertake the dig at Flambards. Palmer believed that the unusual, elongated shape of the moat there indicated the former presence of a hall of Saxon date and thought that the moat was post Norman, founded soon after the Conquest. Lethbridge and C F Tebbutt helped him with the excavation of part of the site, close to the centre of the moat (see copies of some of the drawings from his notebook, below right).

Although the excavation was of too small a scale to confirm Palmer’s theory, the men uncovered occupation layers from the 11th to 13th centuries. Lethbridge stated that the house was not standing during the reign of Henry III (1216-1272) when a layer of clay and mud apparently obtained from the moat had been evenly spread over the surface of the mound. Two latrine pits and several pebble and cobble floors were found, together with Saxon (see below). A number of artefacts were uncovered (see photographs on the right) including Norman pottery, a medieval arrowhead and a bronze buckle. These items are now held by the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge and are detailed on the attached document.

One of the pottery finds proved to be especially significant. In his book entitled “T C Lethbridge: The Man Who Saw the Future”, Terry Welbourn writes that the 1933 dig was Lethbridge’s first encounter with glazed pottery. “Amongst the late Saxon pot-sherds, they had been surprised to discover fragments that were covered in a green glaze. Tom immediately deduced that the pots must have been imported from a distant land; at the time, no comparable pottery had ever been discovered in England or Western Europe. The find was contrary to the accepted belief that this glazed type of pot was first introduced to England by the Normans.”

Test Pitting, 2013

In the summer of 2013, three pits (test pit 7test pit 8 and test pit 19) were dug on Flambards Green as part of Meldreth Local History Group’s Heritage Lottery Funded test pitting project and a fourth, test pit 6, was dug nearby on the site of Flambard’s water mill.

The test pits dug on the Green revealed much evidence of occupation, with test pit 7 in particular, producing exceptionally large quantities of medieval pottery, showing that people were occupying the site at that time. The earliest material suggests that occupation began around the time of the Norman Conquest, and perhaps even a little earlier. The highlight of this pit was a pewter mirror back (pictured right), believed to date from the later thirteenth or fourteenth century.

Although not as productive as test pit 7 all of the pottery from test pit 8 was Saxo-Norman or earlier medieval, again showing that people were using the site during the 11th to 14th centuries.

Test pit 19 produced a single sherd of Roman pottery, and single sherds of St Neots Ware and Stamford Ware dating to the late Anglo Saxon period. The High Medieval assemblage included large quantities of Medieval Shelly Ware, Medieval Sandy Ware, Hedingham Ware and Hertfordshire Greyware dating to the 12th-14th centuries. Three sherds of Late Medieval Ware and two sherds dating to the Victorian period were also found.

The finds from all three pits suggest that the site was in decline by the 15th century, and was then more or less permanently abandoned. This ties in with research undertaken by the Melbourn and District U3A Group.

Test pit 6 was dug close to the site of the former Flambards Mill and it was hoped that this would be a productive pit. Unfortunately, volunteers found themselves digging through a lot of rubble and the finds do not appear to accurately reflect the site’s history.

More detailed information on the finds from all 32 pits that were dug in 2013 can be found elsewhere on this site.

Geophysical Survey, 2014

Following the productivity of the test pits the previous year, the History Group arranged for a geophysical survey of Flambards Green to be completed in June 2014. It was hoped that this might indicate potential areas of interest that may warrant further archaeology. Unfortunately, the results of the survey proved inconclusive and we are therefore not planning any further archaeology on the Green at the present time.

Meldreth Local History Group wishes to record its thanks to Pam Wright, Meg Shortt and other members of Melbourn U3A who participated in a shared learning project as part of our 2013 Archaeological Test Pit project. Their research has added immeasurably to our understanding of the history of Flambards Manor.


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