A REPORT ON THE NEWPORT HISTORY SOCIETY’S
Over the past four years the Newport History Society have conducted field-walking/ metal-detecting surveys and excavated test pits in and around the parish of High Offley. The Society concentrated its initial survey work in the areas immediately surrounding the village of Woodseaves. Historical maps and written records provided by local historian Patrick Timmis, proved to be vital in the Society’s investigation work, enabling the society to target certain areas for evidence of human occupation.
The area immediately to the north of the village produced a significant amount of Bronze Age material, predominately from the low lying wetland areas. These included a Flat Axe ( one of the earliest forms of Bronze Age axe head ) dating from around 1500BC, a later Palstave axe head, chisel and spear points all dating from around 1100BC, suggesting High Offley had a human presence in the area throughout the Bronze Age period. To date, no pottery from the period has been recovered, although this is not that surprising as Bronze Age pottery is rare and also does not survive well in the soil due to it being fired at low temperatures.
Iron Age artifacts, unlike those from the Bronze Age, were recovered from a number of sites from around the village, suggesting a sizeable community living there during that time period. It has also been noted that the majority of the or Iron Age objects recovered from High Offley are high status, suggesting the local inhabitants were important or wealthy individuals. Two, rare copper alloy harness fittings or hanging mounts were recovered from a site north of Woodseaves. Both date from around 100BC-80AD. Only a handful of such fittings are known and this is the only recorded site, where more than one has been discovered. Another find of note, was a quern stone, recovered from another site to the east of Woodseaves, this has been dated to around 350BC. Unfortunately, no Iron Age pottery has been recovered. However, a large amount of ceramic material is awaiting recording with the Portable Antiquities Scheme and during the recording process it is entirely possible that Iron Age pottery may be identified.
In contrast to the Bronze Age and Iron Age periods, pottery from the Roman occupation has been found in and around Woosdeaves, although in most cases, in small
quantities, along with Roman brooches and coins. The majority of the pottery collected by the Society appears to be the local form of Severn Valley Ware. This has a soft, red fabric and was used as tableware, in the form of bowls, plates, jugs and storage jars throughout the Roman period. One site, to the north of Woodseaves produced a huge amount of pottery, including a significant amount of imported Samian Ware, Mortarium and Amphora. Metalwork from the site has also proved to be of archaeological importance, due to the recovery of a number of Roman military items. Military Patera dishes, similar to those found at the fort at Wroxeter, toggle fasteners and imported brooches have all been found on the site. Roman roof tile and hypocaust have also turned up. Local archaeologist, Peter Reavill (who assists the Society) believes the site was originally a Roman marching fort. These were tented structures, usually surrounded by a defensive ditch and palisade. They were used by the Roman army, whilst moving troops from one part of the country to another, predominately during the early years of the occupation, when uprisings by the local celtic tribes were commonplace. The roof tile and hypocaust are thought to be from a later civilian structure. The metal detecting finds also support this theory, as the metalwork recovered from the site can be separated into two distinct time periods, mid 1st century AD (Roman military) and late 2nd century AD (civilian).
Medieval pottery and metalwork has also been found in the High Offley area, predominately to the west of the current Woodseaves village. This is thought to be the site of the Medieval village, which existed until the current A519 road was constructed in the 18th century, at which point the village was moved to its current location. This may explain why the oldest properties are located to the west of the village, some distance from the main road. One of the most important Medieval finds from the village, is a fragment of a Limoges style reliquary chest (1150-1250AD in date). The majority of these chests were destroyed during the reformation and the discovery of a fragment of one, is highly significant. The chest may have originated from the church at High Offley, this being the most likely candidate as it is the only Medieval church in the immediate area. Other forms of metalwork from the period, including coins, buckles, horse harness decoration etc.. have also been found in the fields immediately surrounding the old village green, supporting the theory that it was the site of the Medieval village.
English Civil War period artifacts, both military and civilian have also been recovered from the same areas, as with the Medieval finds. Pottery from the 17th/18th century, usually the colourful Staffordshire Slip Wares, can be seen in all of the fields surrounding the old
village green. Metalwork from the period, including buckles, coins, horse harness decoration, musket balls and small bore cannon balls have also been found. The large amount of military munitions from the period suggests skirmishing took place, between Royalist and Parliamentarian forces within or close to the village. Unfortunately, no written record of a battle or major skirmish has been found to date.
Artifacts dating from the 18th century to the present day, have also been recovered from all the fields surveyed by the Newport History Society, in and around the High Offley area. The material recovered by the society over the past four years strongly suggests that people have lived and worked the land around High Offley for at least 3000 years. The recovery of Mesolithic flintwork, such as blades, scrapers and debitage from the same areas, also indicate that people have hunted and possibly lived in the parish throughout the Mesolithic era, some 8000 years a go.
All the artifacts recovered over the last 4 years are recorded with Portable Antiquities Scheme and the most important exhibited in the Newport Heritage Centre, located at the rear of the Guildhall Cafe in Newport. The Heritage Centre/Cafe is open six days a week and members of the Society are in attendance on Saturdays between 10am until 2pm to talk to the public regarding the heritage displays and the Societies work.
Julian Meeson. (Field officer)