Godwin’s Meadow

The 2006 Excavations

by Christina Cliff

Introduction …

I am not sure how long ago I noticed the earthworks in Godwin’s Meadow near to my home, but on speaking with the farmer Mr. Ben Barton I found that he too was fascinated by them and that he had been in contact with the Wiltshire County Archaeologist. At that time the only evidence found was of two buildings marked on the 1773 Andrew’s and Dury’s Map of Wiltshire. The buildings visible on the map were aligned alongside the road and did not appear to encroach on the main area of visible earthworks.

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When the time came to decide what to study for my dissertation, there was no doubt; the nature of the earthworks mooted in 1999 was merely theoretical; albeit based on historical research, and their true nature was still unresolved.

With the permission of my university tutors, together with that of the farmer Mr. Barton and the landowner Mr. Simon Grafftey-Smith, I set up a full programme of desk based research, geophysics, a further earthwork survey and the excavation.

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However before I begin to explain about the Godwin’s Meadow site, I will give you some relevant archaeological and historical background information on Rodbourne.

The Sites and Monuments Register for Wiltshire does not contain any references to prehistoric finds in Rodbourne; however I have been field walking and recording find spots in Rodbourne for a number of years, and this has resulted in a number of flint blades and cores and two rubbing stones being found in the plough soil. They date from the Upper Paleolithic through the Mesolithic and Neolithic and into the Bronze Age. Most of these have been found on the high ground which surrounds Rodbourne Bottom, apart from one Bronze Age thumbnail scraper which was found in the discarded spoil from the southern boundary ditch of Godwin’s Meadow.

image0003 © Christina Cliff

The SMR lists finds of a coarse Romano-British pottery and of a clay spindle whorl having been found in the Rodbourne brick yard, and I have found further sherds in the plough soil of Long Ground. I also found several sherds of Romano-British pottery in Godwin’s Meadow together with evidence of imported wares originating in Gaul. This evidence all points to there being a Romano-British occupation site in close proximity to Rodbourne Bottom.

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The Saxon period is at present only represented by a single sherd of a grass tempered ware, but the Medieval period is well represented, with 12th century pottery found at Cole Park and a buried Late Medieval settlement at Angrove Farm. The Church of the Holy Rood, Rodbourne has Norman features and 13th century alterations; while the nearby cross has a base and steps dating to the 14th Century.

So what is known of the history of Rodbourne?

The first time that Rodbourne is mentioned is in a charter that relates to a gift in AD 701; it states that “ten hides near the spring called Rodbourne” were given with other lands to Malmesbury Abbey by King Ine of Wessex (Preest, 2002, 242).

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It is my belief that when William the Conqueror sent his men out to make the record for tax and rightful ownership purposes, in order to produce the Great Domesday Survey of 1086, that Rodbourne was included within the entry for Brokenborough; certainly Corston was stated as being a part of Brokenborough at that time. I believe that this is the conclusion that John Bowen came to in his book the Story of Malmesbury. Brokenborough was at that time a vast area of land totaling 50 hides, with land supporting 60 plough teams. 50 hides probably equal more than 9 square miles. 1 hide is an area deemed able to support a man and his family; it would have been ploughed by a team of 8 oxen. 1 hide is thought to be about 120 acres (Philimore 1979, 8).

We know that in the 14th century Rodbourne was thriving, as in 1377 there were 69 poll tax payers, which is said to be above average for the Malmesbury Hundred (Freeman et al. 1999,108).

Rodbourne was owned by the Abbey at Malmesbury until the Dissolution, when as most of you will know the crown granted the estate and Manor of Rodbourne to William Stumpe (Crowley, 1991, 166).

I have tried to trace the history of the name Godwin and its relationship to the farm and meadow. However despite there being quite a good relationship between Earl Godwin and his son, and the monks of Malmesbury Abbey I was unable to find any link between them and Rodbourne. What is most likely is that a tenant called Godwin was in possession of the field and that when the farm was built in the early 19th century it took the same name. There are indeed many Godwin’s buried within the church and burial ground at Holy Rood, Rodbourne. The earliest documentation on which I found the name Godwin relating to the meadow, was on the 1842 tithe map of Rodbourne which names Godwin’s Meadow as “Godwin’s Ground”.

Now I will try to give you a flavour of the rich nature of the agriculture and of the resources available that made Rodbourne a valuable Monastic Estate.

Rodbourne possessed many of the requirements of a monastic estate, and would have been managed in such a way as to provide a surplus for the support of the religious community. A passage from the Registrum Malmesburinese, The Register of Malmesbury Abbey, gives a particularly good account of duties expected of officers of the Abbey and therefore of the agricultural activities one may expect to find in and around Medieval Malmesbury:

“The collection of rents and other dues: the cultivation of the demesne lands, to which the tenants contributed work: the proper manuring of the farms, and the sale of underwood, must be superintended. The stud of horses, the stock of oxen, cows, sheep and pigs, geese, fowls, ducks, pigeons, and bees require supervision. The dairies at the various farms must be visited to see if they send up their proper tale of butter and cheese, and the dates in spring and autumn for beginning and leaving off the making of cheese must be settled, that the quality may not suffer from the inferiority of the winter’s feed.” (Brewer et al. 1880, 35).

Woodland and other sources of wood will have been one of the vital resources during the medieval period; wood was used as timber for buildings and as coppiced wood from the managed re-growth of trees from the underwood. The coppiced wood will have been used extensively for the production of charcoal and for making wattle panels, which will have been used as partitions within buildings, for fish weirs and for fencing (Berryman, 1989, 115). In Rodbourne coppiced wood will have been used to heat ovens and homes, and in latter centuries for firing brick and lime kilns. A brick industry has been recorded as being on Rodbourne Heath (ST 928 892) from at least 1752 (). The Rodbourne brick ovens of the mid 20th century produced 25,000 – 40,000 bricks at each firing (Oliver, 1951, 93). Angrove Wood (ST 948 844), Bincombe Wood (ST 924 824) and the smaller Rowden Wood (922 814) extant today, are first mentioned in a post conquest survey (Grundy, 88-89). It is likely that these woodlands were Rodbourne’s main source of wood throughout the Medieval period, other wood being sourced from heath land, individual pollarded trees, and ancient hedgerows. This map illustrates the relationship of the woodland and other resources to the Godwin’s Meadow site.

Wood may also have been sourced from managed willow trees; there are indications that this was the case in Rodbourne as the fields named Withyslad and Withyvines on the 1842 Tithe Map of Rodbourne indicate a history associated with the willow tree industry.


There is a sizeable limestone quarry face in Rodbourne and the geography of the immediate area suggests that over an unknown period of time many thousands of tons of stone could have been quarried from the area. There are also two large shallow features, one on either side of the Rodbourne stream which may well be former quarries. This suggests that there may at times have been a sizeable stone quarrying industry based on the Rodbourne estate, adding to its rich resources.

The Rodbourne estate also had a wealth of riparian resources as it has two streams, the Gauzebrook and the Rodbourne; both of which are tributaries of the River Avon which bordered the estate to the east. This will have ensured that there was a rich source of fish, crustaceans, fresh water shellfish and waterfowl. The streams today still support a healthy fish stock. Streams would also have served as a source of water especially for the Godwin’s Meadow settlement.

Water sources, Wells and Springs.

It is probable that there was a well situated close to or on the Godwin’s Meadow site during all periods of settlement. Gabriel’s Well, situated in Gibb’s Meadow, is to the east and may have been a Holy Well: its name suggests that it was perhaps contemporary with St. Aldhelm’s Well, St. Michael’s Well and Daniel’s Well.

As I have already said when Rodbourne was gifted to Aldhelm by King Ine it is described in the charter as “ten hides near the spring called Rodbourne” (Preest, 2002, 242), this highlights the importance of the water source at that time. Mick Aston (2000, 24) highlights the choice of a wet site for monastic settlements as the engineers of the medieval period made use of water flowing through the site for various industrial and domestic purposes. The large number of drainage channels and ditches recorded on the resistivity survey of Godwin’s Meadow suggests that water flowing through the site towards the Rodbourne stream was subject to a high degree of control.

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The geology of Godwin’s Meadow consists of alluvial silts lying on Kellaways clay, below which is a Middle Jurassic Limestone geology.

The Godwin’s Meadow earthworks are clearly defined, and of various profiles and heights, they were described by Mr. Roy Canham the County Archaeologist as a complex series of holloway’s and platforms, when he first visited the site in 1999. The farmer says that some years ago he filled in an area he knew as the “fishpond” and had at some period put in a field drainage system.

The earthworks cover much of the 1.63 hectares that are subject to the study and seem to be bounded by a filled in or silted up ditch to the west of the site; beyond this is the extensive ridge and furrow evidence of medieval ploughing.

Magnetometry and resistivity surveys were carried out with the help of the Bath and Camerton Archaeological Society over a five day period during July of 2006. These surveys covered almost the entire 1.63 hectare area of earthworks that abut the area of ridge and furrow in Godwin’s Meadow. A Twin Probe Resistance Meter was used to produce the resistance survey and has produced much data of interest. The dark areas represent stone tumble and the remains of stone walls, while the lighter areas tend to be ditches. Firstly, to the southeast of the site is an area of high resistivity measuring approximately 30m x 40m representing a complex series of walls, surfaces and other features that may be stone tumble. This has areas of low resistivity as a surrounding feature; it is possible that this is a moat. A roadway or track runs from the present road to a possible gatehouse outside the walls of the building. A wall runs towards an earthwork platform which is defined at its outer edge by up to seven circular features of differing diameter. Secondly it is apparent that there are many ditches and channels associated with the site. A well defined ditch has a NNW/SSE orientation and probably connected with the stream. The other ditches are on several differing alignments.

Now to describe what was found at excavation.

Trench 1 was placed over the outer northern edge of the largest platform where the resistance survey suggested there may be a stone feature. What we found was a clean clay floor and some post holes, a shallow gully and a circular feature which had walls of a limestone construction. These walls were 1 m in width. There were also the remains of a hearth. The shallow u shaped gully contained fragments of baked clay, slaked limestone, clay tile, animal bone and teeth, there was also iron slag, nails and sherds of Saxo-Norman pottery (10th – 12th century) including the foot of a tripod cauldron.

So how do we interpret this information from Trench 1? The finds and structures in Trench 1 seem to represent an area used for an agricultural or semi-industrial purpose during the Saxo-Norman Period – the 10th – 14th century. The circular feature may be the base of a dryer, either for grain, hops or other products such as meat or fish. However this stone built feature could also be the base of a large bread oven; the fragments of vitrified clay which are a feature of the trench may represent the former clay dome of such a structure, or they may be the remnants of the slabs of clay which are typically found in cooking areas of the medieval period.

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The “clean, sharp” edge to the platform appears to be due to the presence of the circular structure and perhaps as many as five more, all apparent on the resistivity survey.

Trench 2 was placed over the earthworks in an area which showed walls and other features on the resistivity survey.

One of the important features within trench 2 was a ditch which included many different fills – the deepest of which contained five pottery sherds of Romano-British wares and one of an imported ware. Because these were sharp in profile it probably means that they are in the area of original deposition and were not kicking around in the plough soil. Roman wares were used to fashion gaming pieces and pendants. It is possible that those marked with an X are gaming pieces; the carved stone with an X crossed with a vertical line may denote the Roman denarii. These sherds all date from between the 1st and 2nd century AD.

The Saxo-Norman Period is represented in the lower levels of trench 2 by large amounts of pottery much of which was of a type known as Minety Ware while others are imports from West Kennet, Great Somerford and Langley Burrell. These date between the 11th – 13th centuries.

Three of the features in this trench had the appearance of graves, one was marked by cushion type limestone blocks; another by a large limestone marker, while the third was a stone lined cist. The bone from within them has been verified by experts as mixed animal bone. There were however two human teeth from the fill of one these features. One was from a child of approximately 5 years and another from a younger child of between 12 – 16 months.

One feature had the appearance of a path constructed of limestone flags with a drainage channel along the midline. Sealed beneath one of these flags was the blade of an iron dagger.

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The corroded iron blade found lying under the stone path has been digitally x-rayed. The x-rays show that the tang has been broken, that there is no pattern welding, but that there is evidence of a steel cutting edge. It is suggested by Mr. Hector Cole (local blacksmith and acclaimed expert in archaeological reconstructive iron work) that this is a dagger, however he says it is difficult to date, as such items were used throughout the medieval period.

Decorative ironwork door furniture and an iron hinge, likely to have been attached to an item of furniture were found in trench 2 they date to the Saxo-Norman period.

A bronze pin with a decorative head dates to between the 13th and 14th century.

The 16th – 18th century is also well represented in trench 2. There were many sherds of glazed earthenware pottery, diamond quarry window glass, plaster, many nails and butchered animal bone. Many bowls and stems of clay pipes have also been found in this trench; several bowls are of an early 17th century type. Two lugs from a mid 17th century costrel were found in the topsoil as was a 17th – 18th century horse bit. Other finds included two pieces of lead shot and a flint from a flintlock gun.

The interpretation of trench 2 is inconclusive. The three grave-like features may indicate the removal of interments. This is known to have happened with 11th century graves at Addingham in West Yorkshire. The many walls remain undated and represent a series of buildings that were much altered, probably during the Saxo-Norman period. The worn cobbled area represents the final phase of activity in this area.

Trench 3 had evidence for the bottom course of a limestone stone wall foundation, although some stones had been robbed out; there was also a clean clay floor surface. To the east of this was a worn cobbled surface made from limestone. Most of the finds from this trench were in the topsoil, it contained sherds of brown glazed earthenware pottery from the 18th – 19th century, nails, iron tools, a pair of iron penannular brooches, the iron heel protector from a boot, a lead seal and fragments of butchered animal bone.

I suggest that the walls may at one time have been substantial and could be associated with a large building. It is possible that this building and the cobbled yard are contemporary.

So how do we interpret this information and set it within the wider landscape?

As has been suggested there is likely to be a Romano-British building within the vicinity of Godwin’s Meadow.

There is stronger evidence for settlement on the site from the 10th century which increases and perhaps peaks in the 12th century with much of this evidence based on the pottery fabrics and types found on the site. The geophysics suggests that there is a large building present on the site so it is possible that this represents a grange or manor house. With Malmesbury being a wealthy monastery at this time it may have housed one of the officers of the Abbey.

Strangely, it seems that the site thrived between the 12th and 13th centuries; for this include a period when William of Malmesbury (Stevenson, 2000, 386) records in his Historia Novella that during the year 1132 “a dreadful murrain among domestic animals extended over the whole of England” this killed whole herds of pigs and oxen and continued for several years leaving no village unscathed. It was also at this time when William experienced an earthquake which may have occurred on the Friday 4th August 1133; the wall of the house in which William “was sitting was lifted up by two shocks and settled again with a third” (Stevenson, 2000, 387). We know that William spent much of his life writing within the Malmesbury Abbey precinct so it is quite likely that Rodbourne also felt the effects of the quake he describes.

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A later period represented is that of the 16th -18th centuries, again dated by the evidence of ceramics which include the many clay pipes, and the metal artefacts.

It is notable that there are two periods that are either poorly represented or not represented at all by dateable artefacts, the former is the latter part of the Romano-British period and including much of the Anglo-Saxon era, that is from the 3rd – 9th centuries AD; and the latter is the period from the 14th – 15th centuries which again appears not to be visible in the archaeological record. It is unfortunate that none of the limestone constructions including walls and paths were dateable; however it is apparent that this is a site of multiple occupation which has been subject to use and alteration over many centuries for almost two millennia.

The numerous drainage channels and ditches apparent on the resistivity survey suggest that management of water was given a high priority during at least two different phases of activity on site if not more. However it may be that the geographic position of the site made it impossible to use at certain periods; the area of earthworks has been subject to serious episodes of flooding during the autumn and winter on a number of occasions during the past three decades, and its close proximity to the stream suggests that this may have been the case in the past – many of the strata revealed on the site are fine clay silts and it is possible that these were in part laid down during periods of flooding.

It is of note that during the year 1348 the harvest was damaged by heavy rain that caused the crops to rot; which may have led to shortages of food and possible flooding. However there is another factor that should be discussed with regard to the possible abandonment of the site in the 14th century and that is the Black Death caused by the bacillus Yersinia pestis which is estimated to have killed 30 – 40% of the population of England between 1348 and 1350. Mick Aston (1989, 114) tells us that although the plague cannot be proven to be the cause of abandonment, in many places settlements cease to exist in the mid 14th century.

Unfortunately the scale of the excavation was not large enough to reveal a floor plan and the walls remain undated. If the features that have a grave-like appearance were indeed graves, this may indicate the presence of a chapel. The large amounts of 12th – 13th century pottery found in trench 2 also point to a domestic purpose for this large building complex. Associated with this building is the industrial area on the periphery of the site.

The Godwin’s Meadow site was probably abandoned in the 14th century and this may have been due to incidences of flooding or possibly due to the virulent Black Death that ravaged England between 1348 and 1350.

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The diamond quarry window glass, the nails and the plaster found within the ash deposit of the ditch date to the 16th – 18th century. It is therefore suggested that this later domestic building is one of the two buildings that appear on the on the 18th century Andrew’s and Dury’s Maps of 1773, despite the fact that they appear on the maps to be aligned at the roadside.

It is hoped to carry out some more excavation on this site in the future as it still has many secrets to yield.


Aston, M. (1989) The Rural Settlements of Medieval England (Oxford: Basil Blackwell Limited).

Berryman, R. (1998) Use of the Woodlands in the Late Anglo-Saxon Period, BAR British Series, 271, (Oxford: British Archaeological Reports).

Bowen, J. (2000) The Story of Malmesbury (Malmesbury: John Bowen). Brewer, J. and Martin, C. (eds.) (1880) Registrum Malmesburinese, Volume 1! (London: Longman & Company and Trubner & Company).

Brewer, J. and Martin, C. (eds.) (1880) Registrum Malmesburinese, Volume II (London: Longman & Company and Trubner & Company).

Crowley, D. (ed.) (1991) A History of Wiltshire, Volume XIV, Malmesbury Hundred (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Freeman, J. and Watkin, A. (eds) (1999) A History of Malmesbury, From the Victoria History of Wiltshire (Trowbridge: Wiltshire County Council).

Geological Map of Malmesbury Sheet 251 One-Inch Series Solid and Drift Edition (Survey 1945-7) Published 1970 Institute of Geological Sciences.

Staff, C. (2007) Godwin’s Farm, Rodbourne, Camertonia, The Annual Journal of the Bath and Camerton Archaeological Society 45: 18-20.

William of Malmesbury (2002) The Deeds of the Bishops of England (Gesta Pontificum Anglorum) translated by D. Preest (Woodbridge: Boydell Press).

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Rodbourne Water Tower © Colin Forward

Rodbourne Water Tower © Colin Forward