Wednesday 4 February 2015

Ketsby DMV: a Roman–Early Modern settlement & pilgrimage site on the Lincolnshire Wolds

Aside from cropmarks, very little now remains of Ketsby, a Deserted Medieval Village (or, more correctly, a Shrunken Medieval Village) that is located in a valley between two ancient trackways in the Lincolnshire Wolds. Nonetheless, the archaeological and historical material relating to Ketsby suggests that this was a place of some local significance, and one which saw notable activity in every period from the first century through until the sixteenth. The following post offers a very brief discussion of the site and the finds that have been made there.

A Late Neolithic–Early Bronze Age flint knife, found in South Ormsby-cum-Ketsby parish (image: PAS)

The earliest evidence for human activity at the Ketsby DMV consists of a Late Neolithic–Early Bronze Age flint knife, dated to sometime around 3000–2000 BC, and a cropmark of a probable Bronze Age round barrow (with a diameter of around 15m). These are, however, the sole representatives of the prehistoric period currently known from the site, with all other finds from here probably dating from the first century AD and after, starting with a Late Iron Age 'dangler' or 'hanger' and a late first-century Roman coin of Vespasian.

With regard to the Roman period, although there are not a vast number of finds recorded on the various databases, there are enough to indicate that there was probably a settlement here from the first century AD through until at least the very late fourth or fifth century. Not only do we have the two first-century finds mentioned above, but the East Midlands Anglo-Saxon Pottery Project (EMASPP) recorded various pieces of Romano-British pottery from the DMV, and there are a number of other items of metalwork too, including a lead-alloy Roman foot in a sandal (possibly a votive piece or part of a fairly substantial statuette), a second-century plate brooch, a late fourth- or early fifth-century Romano-British 'dolphin and bird' buckle, and a clipped silver siliqua of Arcadius, minted 395–402. The last two items are particularly interesting, suggesting that British activity continued at the site into the fifth century.

A clipped silver siliqua of Arcadius, minted in Milan, 395–402 (image: PAS)

Turning to the post-Roman period, the EMASPP recorded a small amount of possible 'early Anglo-Saxon' pottery from the site, and a fifth- to ninth-century loom weight has also been found here, helping to confirm the continued presence of settlement activity at the DMV site in this era. In addition to these, two pieces of culturally 'early Anglo-Saxon' metalwork have been recovered from this site, a fragment of a late fifth- to sixth-century girdle hanger and another of a sixth- to seventh-century small-long brooch. Given both the presence of this probably sixth-century material and the very late fourth- to fifth-century Roman material mentioned above, we would seem to have good reason to suspect that the site was continuously occupied throughout this period, with the former Romano-British inhabitants of Ketsby perhaps having adopted the new immigrant material culture at some point in or around the sixth century. Certainly, such a scenario would find a good context within the general pattern of Anglian-British interaction and acculturation that recent studies have suggested for the post-Roman Lincoln region.(1)

Moving on to look at the Middle Saxon period (the seventh–ninth centuries), there is a notable increase in the amount of material produced by the site. In addition to various pieces of Middle Saxon pottery recorded from Ketsby DMV by the EMASPP, including some eighth- to ninth-century Maxey-type ware, metal-detecting has recovered no fewer than 12 items from the site. These include four eighth- to ninth-century polyhedral dress pins; an eighth- to ninth-century globular headed dress pin; a seventh- to ninth-century dress hook; two or three Middle Saxon strap-ends; a Mid-Late Saxon dress pin, and a possibly seventh-century purse mount/strike-a-light. Perhaps most interesting of all, however, are a silver-gilt mount of the eighth century and an 'Irish' pressblech die of the seventh century. The first of these has its parallels in the St Ninian's Isle treasure and in an eighth-century silver-gilt mount found in Leicestershire. and is a lovely piece. The second of these is a metalwork die for making silver or bronze foil mounts, and is again a very significant find.

A Middle Saxon dress-hook of the seventh to ninth centuries from the Ketsby site (image: PAS)

The eighth-century silver-gilt mount and seventh-century 'Irish' pressblech die from Ketsby DMV (images: UKDFD & UKDFD)

Needless to say, the above evidence for a significant degree of pre-Viking activity at Ketsby DMV is interesting given the Scandinavian -bȳ place-name attached to the DMV (Ketsby is Chetelesbi in Domesday Book, which derives from Scandinavian Ketil + , 'Ketil's village'). Such names have often been thought to mainly represent new Viking settlements of the late ninth century founded on previously unused sites, but this is clearly not the case here, just as it is not at the Maltby DMV near to Louth, which has similarly seen Romano-British, early Anglo-Saxon and Middle Saxon finds recovered from the DMV, along with later Scandinavian-era and medieval material. A more plausible scenario is perhaps that this Ketil took over a pre-existing Anglo-Saxon settlement on the site of the Ketsby DMV in the later ninth or tenth century and that the modern place-name records this change in lordship.

Although we can only speculate as to the pre-Viking situation at Ketsby, it is worth noting that only a third of a mile to the north of the site is Walmsgate DMV. Unlike at Ketsby, no Anglo-Saxon or Anglo-Scandinavian artefacts have yet been recorded from Walmsgate DMV on any of the available databases, although a small coin hoard of the 870s was recovered from somewhere in the parish in the 1980s. What Walmsgate does have, however, is an Old English name that derives from OE Waldmǣr or Walhmǣr + gāra, probably meaning 'Waldmǣr's or Walhmǣr's triangle of land' according to Cameron and Ekwall. In this context it is worth noting that both Walmsgate and Ketsby are not only extremely close to one another, but are also located in a valley on opposite sides of a stream and between two probably prehistoric trackways (now the A16 and the Bluestone Heath Road) that come together to meet at a point to the south-east of Walmsgate and Ketsby, enclosing a large triangle of land between them. It might be wondered whether this area was originally the 'gore' or triangle of land that belonged to the Anglo-Saxon Waldmǣr/Walhmǣr, with the settlement now known as Ketsby therefore being, in the pre-Viking period, a part of this estate—perhaps an important part—before it was split off to form a separate unit that, at some point, came under the lordship of Ketil?

The location of Ketsby and Walmsgate; for a zoomable version of this image, click here.

A Viking Jellinge-style die found at Ketsby DMV (image: UKDFD)

Whatever the case may be on the above, the Anglo-Scandinavian period (late ninth–eleventh centuries) appears to have seen an even greater degree of activity at Ketsby. Once again, pottery of this era—'Late Saxon' and 'Saxo-Norman'—is recorded from the site by the EMASPP, now supplemented by 27 metal-detected finds recorded on the PAS and the UKDFD, and a very significant cluster of 'Viking coins' noted at this location by Kevin Leahy in 2007. The metalwork found includes multiple hooked tags, strap-ends, lead-alloy disc brooches, stirrup mounts, and pieces of Urnes-style metalwork from this period, along with a fragment of a Viking trefoil brooch. Furthermore, there is once again probable evidence for metal-working from the site, with finds of a Viking Jellinge-style die of the late ninth to mid-tenth century and a probable lead-alloy pattern used to produce copper-alloy strap-ends from clay moulds, both of which are most interesting given the general rarity of evidence for the production of Scandinavian-style metalwork in eastern Britain.

With Domesday Book and the medieval period, Ketsby emerges into the historical record. In Domesday, Ketsby appears as a medium-sized settlement under the lordship of Godric in 1066 and under Hugh in 1086, with one mill, six villains, one bordar and eleven sokemen recorded in 1086, whilst Walmsgate appears only as sokeland of Ketsby in the Domesday Book, with no villains or similar listed there, which is interesting in light of the suggestions made above. Moving forward in time, the Pastscape record follows Beresford's Lost Villages of England (1954) in recording that a fair and market was held at Ketsby in the medieval period, although the market was certainly a new innovation of the early sixteenth century, being instituted in 1524. With regard to the archaeology, the UKDFD indicates that the coin evidence from the site clusters 'around the Conquest period' and the PAS notes a coin of William I found on the site, along with some later medieval issues and an eleventh- or early twelfth-century Italian coin. Non-coinage medieval finds recorded in the various databases include pottery, a lovely silver-gilt brooch of the thirteenth century decorated with lions, a papal bulla of Gregory IX (1227–41), and 30 or so other items including bells, brooches, buckles and strap-ends.

A thirteenth-century silver-gilt brooch found at Ketsby (image: PAS)

A very nice example of a lead pilgrim badge depicting St Margaret of Antioch stood atop a dragon, found at Hogsthorpe, Lincolnshire; eight pilgrim badges depicting St Margaret have been found at Ketsby, including some with identical imagery to this specimen (image: PAS)

The distribution of pilgrim badges depicting St Margaret of Antioch, based on PAS and UKDFD data (drawn by C. R. Green)

Perhaps the most significant medieval finds from Ketsby are those of a religious character, however. These include a four pilgrim ampullas of the fourteenth to fifteenth centuries, a fifteenth-century St Blaise pilgrim badge, and eight pilgrim badges depicting St Margaret of Antioch, dating from the fifteenth to sixteenth centuries. The latter are particularly interesting, representing the greatest concentration of such pieces known from Late Medieval England by a significant margin. Furthermore, the distribution map of such badges recorded on the PAS and UKDFD shows that almost all of these items come from Lincolnshire and that they appear to be distributed around Ketsby. In light of this, it might well be wondered whether this apparently local manifestation of the generally widespread cult of St Margaret of Antioch might not have had its focus and centre at Ketsby itself? Needless to say, this suggestion gains considerable weight from a consideration of not only the potential evidence for the production of these St Margaret pilgrim badges at Ketsby, but also the fact that the lost church of Ketsby was dedicated to St Margaret and actually contained a medieval image of St Margaret that was still attracting notable offerings in 1529! As such, there would seem to be a very good case for Ketsby having been a local pilgrimage centre for the cult of St Margaret in the late medieval period. Indeed, in this context it is interesting to note one final metal-detected find from the Ketsby DMV, namely a fragment of lead openwork frieze, which the UKDFD record notes may be 'of some significance', given the historical evidence for an important image of St Margaret here.

With regard to the decline of the village and its church, only a little can be said here. As was noted above, Ketsby was actually granted a market in 1524 and the image of St Margaret in the church was still receiving notable offerings in 1529, with the implication that Ketsby was continuing to function as a local pilgrimage centre then (with this continued religious activity perhaps helping to explain why a new market was created here in the 1520s). Although the image of St Margaret clearly still existed in 1534—when the parson of Ketsby (John Cocke) stated in his will that he wished to be buried 'in the chancel before the image of St Margaret'—the Reformation must have had a significant negative effect on the village and its church, and 1597 saw the last institution of a priest at Ketsby church. Indeed, by the eighteenth century the church was ruinous and it now only survives through chance finds such as the frieze mentioned above, a medieval cresset lamp found on the DMV, and a lead cross perhaps originally from one of the graves. Similarly, although a few houses remain at Ketsby, there are only cropmarks to tell of the main village that once existed here, with the village earthworks having been bulldozed and levelled in the mid-1960s, around the same time that the surviving medieval barn at Ketsby House (variously dated to the fourteenth century and c. 1500) was pulled down.

A fragment of medieval lead openwork frieze found on the Ketsby DMV (image: UKDFD)


1    In this context, it is interesting to note the tentative suggestion made below that the name 'Walmsgate' may have originally applied to a relatively large pre-Viking estate that included Ketsby DMV within its bounds. The first part of the name Walmsgate, Walmesgar at Domesday, appears to be the name of a pre-Viking owner of this estate or gāra, 'triangle of land', and one possibility is that he was called Walhmǣr, a name that includes the Old English term for a Briton or Welsh-speaker, although it might well be dangerous to press this point too far!

The above post is based on records held by the local Historic Environment Record, English Heritage's Pastscape, the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), the UK Detector Finds Database (UKDFD), and the East Midlands Anglo-Saxon Pottery Project (EMASPP). Images from the PAS database are used under their blanket CC BY 2.0 license; those from the UKDFD are used under the 'educational, non-commercial' permission granted by point 2.2 of UKDFD's 'Terms and Conditions'; if there any objections to me using the latter pictures in this article, please contact me and I will remove them.

The content of this post and page, including any original illustrations, is Copyright © Caitlin R. Green, 2015, All Rights Reserved, and should not be used without permission.