Looking at the above map, several features deserve comment, not least the extensive wetlands that are depicted on the east coast of Lincolnshire and south of the Wolds. That there was a significant late/post-Roman marine transgression in Lincolnshire, which is usually dated to the fourth–sixth centuries AD, is now well-established—indeed, Romano-British sites on Lincolnshire Marshes appear to have been buried under several metres of marine alluvium at this time, with a Romano-British site at Scupholme, to the east of Louth, found beneath more than three metres of alluvium deposited by the sea and Romano-British salterns at Ingoldmells smothered by two to three metres of silt. The modern Outmarsh surface (the light blue area between Grimsby and Skegness) is believed to have its origins in these late/post-Roman deposits and the whole area was probably still largely wetland—primarily saltmarsh, although with peat to the south of the Wolds, see figure below—throughout much of the pre-Viking period, a situation depicted on the above map.
Also worthy of note are the 'islands' visible within both the coastal wetlands of the Outmarsh and the sea. These 'islands' have several different explanations. Those located in the sea were offshore coastal barrier islands that protected the coast of Lincolnshire until their probable destruction by the sea in the thirteenth century. Those depicted as lying at the edge of the coastal wetlands are raised sand ridges and ancient storm beaches that appear to have been above the maximum height of the late/post-Roman marine transgression. For example, a detailed study of the northern part of the Outmarsh suggests that there were two persistent sand bodies here from prehistory onwards: the southern sand body (in the North Somercotes–Saltfleet area) largely rose above the maximum height of the sea during the post-Roman period, whilst the northern instance was mostly buried by alluvium deposited during the late/post-Roman marine transgression, with the possible exception of some areas of it that lay to the east of Marshchapel. Also shown is a probable sand ridge in the Skegness area, following David Robinson, not least because there now seems to be reasonable evidence for a Roman site of some significance at Skegness or just offshore from it that was probably the origin of Old Skegness, a 'towne waullid having also a castelle' that was destroyed by the sea around 500 years ago.
Finally, those islands that are shown as lying within the Outmarsh were true islands of dry land within the Anglo-Saxon coastal wetlands, being exposed glacial deposits that stood above the surrounding saltmarshes. Several of these islands have evidence indicative of Anglo-Saxon period activity, including an early Anglo-Saxon to Middle Saxon settlement and Middle Saxon to Late Saxon cemetery excavated in the 1990s at Cumberworth. However, perhaps the most interesting example is an unexcavated site located a little further north in the Outmarsh, at Stain Hill in Withern with Stain parish, the site of the Deserted Medieval Village of Stain.
|The location of Stain Hill in the Anglo-Saxon Outmarsh (drawn by C. R. Green, as above).|
|A detailed image of Stain Hill, showing the island of glacial till surrounded by marine alluvium (from the previous image) set against the 1905 OS map of Stain Hill. Also depicted are cropmarks that seem to be visible on the Google Maps aerial photograph of the area (in red) and an indication of the approximate area that the 53 Late Roman coins were found (purple, reflecting the general 6 figure grid-reference recorded for these on the HER). Some of the cropmarks clearly reflect pre-modern field boundaries, visible on the 1905 map but since removed; others do not, however. A proportion of the latter relate to the medieval moated site in the bottom left of the image, whilst those in the area where the Roman coins were found might bear comparison with Roman-era settlement cropmarks from elsewhere in eastern Lincolnshire, see D. Jones, 'Romano-British Settlements on the Lincolnshire Wolds', in R. H. Bewley (ed.), Lincolnshire's Archaeology from the Air (Lincoln, 1998), pp. 69–80 (my thanks to Adam Daubney for discussing these cropmarks with me).|
Moving into the post-Roman period, Stain Hill appears equally interesting. In 1988, the metal detectorist who found the Roman coins also reported a significant quantity of Anglo-Saxon material to the Lincolnshire Historic Environment Record that had been found at Stain Hill, including 17 'Saxon' pin heads and 2 strap-ends. Although no additional reports were received by the Lincolnshire HER, further finds were reported by the same detectorist to Scunthorpe Museum,(1) so that the final record of pre-Viking finds made from the site—which must represent a minimum assemblage, as the site was apparently once regularly detected by multiple people—include 2 early Anglo-Saxon artefacts, 22 Middle Saxon pins, 6 Middle Saxon strap-ends, and 7 Middle Saxon coins (consisting of 3 sceattas, 3 Mercian pennies and an early ninth-century coin of Wulfred, Archbishop of Canterbury; the sceat recorded by Mark Blackburn as having been found 'near Mablethorpe' may well have come from this site too). There were also apparently finds of a Anglo-Scandinavian Ringerike-style stirrup mount and a Late Saxon penny.
Once again, this is a very notable concentration of material, and one that encompasses the early Anglo-Saxon, Middle Saxon and Late Saxon/Anglo-Scandinavian periods. And, as before, a consideration of the HER and PAS data suggests that the Stain Hill finds are conspicuous within their local landscape context, being both the largest concentration of pre-Viking metal-detected material known from within the Outmarsh and indicative of activity that continued here over a number of centuries. Quite what this activity was is open to debate, however. It could be that there was an occasional trading or market site here, although as there appears to have been a very significant site of this type or similar only a handful of miles away on the edge of Middle Marsh, this may not be the most plausible solution. Alternatively, and perhaps more credibly, these items might indicate the presence of some sort of significant settlement or potential local estate centre which exploited the surrounding saltmarsh and coastal resources of the pre-Viking Outmarsh.
In this context, it is worth noting that just over 3 miles to the south-west of Stain Hill is the modern parish of Sutton on Sea, Sudtone in 1086. This is an Old English place-name that means 'the south farm or village' and it is of a type that is usually believed to imply that the farm or settlement in question was a subordinate part of a complex pre-Viking estate and that it was located to the south of a more important settlement (the estate centre). Needless to say, given the character of the likely pre-Viking landscape in this area; the location of Stain Hill in relation to Sutton on Sea; the nature of the other place-names that lie to the north of Sutton (all ‑thorp names, indicating that they were, in the Anglo-Scandinavian era, secondary settlements and outlying farmsteads); and, of course, the available archaeological evidence, Stain Hill must represent a good candidate for the estate centre/settlement that Sutton was named in relation to and was a subordinate part of the estate of.
|An early ninth-century penny of Wulfred, Archbishop of Camterbury, similar to that found at Stain Hill (the example pictured here was found in Suffolk; image courtesy of the Portable Antiquities Scheme)|
Needless to say, if the material found at the Deserted Medieval Village of Stain may thus reflect Stain having been originally some sort of pre-Viking local estate centre, located on an Outmarsh island surrounded by valuable wetland resources, then it has to be wondered whether or not this settlement and its potential local centrality might represent some sort of continuity with the Late Roman past? After all, the Roman finds we have from Stain do suggest that there was a locally important Late Roman settlement here and, as was noted above, it is possible that the name 'Stain' was given in reference to still-obvious Romano-British buildings/materials at this site. Whilst such questions are difficult to answer definitively, the evidence we have certainly appears suggestive in this regard. Indeed, not only has the site produced finds from the Late Roman, early Anglo-Saxon, Middle Saxon and Late Saxon/Anglo-Scandinavian periods, and looks to have been locally significant in both the Late Roman and the pre-Viking eras, but it is also worth noting that such a degree of continuity would be more than plausible within the wider context of post-Roman activity and continuity in Lincolnshire.
1 My thanks are due here to Dr Kevin Leahy, formerly of Scunthorpe Museum and now of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, and Mike Hemblade, of the North Lincolnshire Historic Environment Record, for providing me with details of these finds.
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