The Red Herring
Let’s start the story with a ‘Red Herring’.
In 1893 a farmer when ploughing, uncovered a grave on a field north of Mill Lane. The burial was oriented on a North to South axis, so certainly pre-Christian, in addition the body was accompanied by a Sword and Spear and a number of other artifacts. Some early accounts quote the ‘find’ as being Celtic i.e., pre-Roman. It was those early sources that got me interested in Iron-age Aslockton. Now we can be fairly certain that the burial was an ‘inhumation’ and probably dates from the early Anglian/Saxon settlement in the late 5th to 6th Century, so not iron-age at all.
The Celts and the Iron-Age
Nearly one hundred years were to pass after the Farmer’s ‘find’ before any evidence of a pre-Anglo-Saxon settlement from found. In 1991, Severn-Trent Water were laying a new water main between Aslockton and Scarrington along Mill Lane and during the digging of the trench Iron-Age and Romano-British artefacts were found.
The term ‘Iron-age’ is not really a chronological measure as the discovery and use of iron occurred at different times in different parts of the world. In Britain it is generally accepted that the iron-age spread from 700 BCE (some authorities quote 500 BCE) to the Roman invasion and occupation of Britain in 47 CE.
The use of iron came into Britain by the Celts who infiltrated the area between 700 BCE and 100 BCE. It was not an invasion as the Celts were not sufficiently organised for that and didn’t recognise themselves as a single people and it was a gradual migration. The Celts were fragmented and were loosely tied by language, religion to a certain degree and cultural expression. The basic unit of Celtic life was the clan, a sort of extended family. The term ‘family’ is a little misleading because the Celts practised a peculiar form of child-rearing; the parents didn’t raise their own children but passed the responsibility on to Foster Parents. The foster-father often the brother of the birth mother. It is thought that the practice reinforced the extended family or Clan.
At the time of the Claudian Invasion there was in the order of twenty-five different Celtic Tribes throughout England, Scotland and Wales. The tribe we are interested in are the CORITANI (also known as the Corieltauvi). The Coritani occupied what is now Southern-eastern Rushcliffe (Aslockton and Whatton included), parts of South Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire and Leicestershire. The probable capital was Leicester with a second principal settlement in Lincoln. One of the most useful of innovations brought to Britain by the Celts was the iron plough. Earlier ploughs had been awkward affairs, basically a stick with a pointed end harnessed behind two oxen. They were only suitable for ploughing the light upland soils. The introduction of the heavier constituted an agricultural revolution for it made it possible for the first time to cultivate the rich valley and lowland soils. As it required eight oxen to pull the plough, turning was difficult, so the accommodate the large team of oxen, Celtic fields tended to be long and narrow. Interestingly, broadly the same as some 1,000 years later
We tend to think of the Iron-Age period as primitive and in some respects it was. However, the CORITANI were in effect a political alliance of Clans or extended families. Unlike most, if not all other Celtic tribes, the CORITANI were peaceful farmers and linked together to protect their lifestyle. They were not a unified tribe, but rather a collection of like-minded peoples sharing the same outlook and social practices.
The CORITANI also had a currency system as early as 100 BCE, indicating an organized and sophisticated society. Old Sleaford in Lincolnshire was the site of a mint. The coin-moulds found there were in three sizes, denoting three denominations: Gold, Silver and Bronze.
So, we basically have a picture of a people who were agriculturally based, organized into a society for mutual self-protection and sufficiently sophisticated to operate a system of currency whilst still maintaining their local independence.
The Mill Lane Settlement
The site on Mill Lane, whilst ‘poor to average’ in comparison with other parts of the country, is remarkable for Nottinghamshire. The settlement is located on a higher piece of land (an interfluve) between two water courses sharing the same drainage system. The water courses are the RIVER SMITE and the CAR DYKE (although the Car Dyke post-dates the Iron-age, it is thought that another water course following the same track pre-dates the Car Dyke).
There appears to be evidence of a ‘pre-enclosure’ settlement, it may be possible to imply a pre-iron age settlement, but the only artefact evidence found was a single flint blade possibly of Neolithic or Bronze-age origin.
The Iron-age settlement appears to have been made up of a massive sub-oval ditch which enclosed approximately 20 hectares (62 acres). The larger area appears to have been divided into two areas of roughly equal size. Both of the areas in turn had a series of rectangular ditched enclosures at the sides with a central open area. From the evidence it seems that any structures were concentrated around the edge of the main enclosures into smaller rectangular enclosures.
The structures would not have changed much from the Bronze-age. The Celts lived in huts of arched timber with walls of wicker and thatched roofs.
The Settlement straddled what is now Mill Lane, with the majority lying to the North.
The artefacts found indicate a low-status settlement. There was a substantial amount of score-wear pottery which implies occupation as early as the 4th and 5th century BCE. There was also wheel-thrown pottery which dates the settlement to 100 BCE and later. Triangular fired clay loom weights and bone combs provide clear evidence of textile production.
The shear scale of the artefacts found indicates a dense occupation and the evidence points to a self-sufficient, sustainable long-term settlement.
The Whatton Prison Site
In 2003 there was a further development of the Iron-age story. During the development of Whatton Prison, a number of finds were made. This site is unusual in that it is situated on clay rather than sand and gravel. There was a significant amounted of pottery, all monochrome and of the scored variety, there were no wheel-thrown pots. The lack of wheel-thrown pots indicates that unlike the Mill Lane site occupation did not extend beyond the 1st Century BCE. There were indications of ditches which were probably used as animal enclosures. The were bones of larger animals, horses and cattle there was no evidence of smaller animals i.e., sheep, pigs etc. probably due to the presence of clay.
The only sign of industry was small pieces of slag: there was no indication of metals.
There was no indication of structures. The actual settlement was not part of the site and was probably located slightly to the South.
The evidence from both the Mill Lane and Whatton Prison sites indicates that portions of the Parish of Aslockton has been settled from at the 5th Century BCE. Further evidence from the Mill Lane site demonstrates that occupation of the site continued through the Romano-British period into the 5th Century ACE. The Anglian grave discovered in 1893 provides evidence that the area remained settled through the early Anglo-Saxon period (though probably not on the Mill Lane site, but further south). The name Aslockton (Haslachton, Aslacton) derives from the later Danish period (Haslache being a Danish forename) with the Saxon Ton (Tonne) ending.
Original – August 2007
Updated – October 2022
The Transactions of the Thoroton Society – Volume XCVIII, 1993.
Trent and Peak Archaeological Unit – Nottingham University February 2006.
Oxford History of England – Volume Two – The English Settlements – Myers
The Celtic Realms – Myles Dillon and Nora Chadwick
A History of Britain – At the edge of the World? (3000BCE-1603 ACE) – Simon Schama