Bosworth Links (2017-18)

Today, Market Bosworth is best recognised for giving its name to the Battle of Bosworth, fought nearby in 1485, where the last Yorkist king of England, Richard III, was slain. In recent years, this defining moment in history has framed the town’s narrative, drawing in thousands of visitors and tourists, especially following the discovery of Richard III’s remains by University of Leicester archaeologists beneath a car park in Leicester in 2012. The battle’s long association with the town was reaffirmed in 2015, when the king’s funeral cortège passed through Market Bosworth on its way to Leicester Cathedral for his reburial. Today, a memorial plaque in the Market Place commemorates this event.

Bosworth LinksMarket Bosworth’s own history, however, is far from clear. Historical research, small-scale archaeological excavations, and the discovery of finds of Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman and ‘Viking’ artefacts around the town show that it has rich archaeological potential but leave many unanswered questions particularly regarding the origins and early development of the settlement.

The Bosworth Links project aimed to redress these questions by involving residents of Market Bosworth and its wider community in carrying out archaeological excavations (test-pits) in the spaces they currently inhabit in order to make new discoveries about the history of the places in which they live. It was hoped that this would inspire and stimulate wider interest in the history of the market town and contribute to ongoing academic research into the development of settlement, landscape, and demography in Britain.

Bosworth Links Dig 1Bosworth Links was a two-year community initiative set up in 2016 by the Market Bosworth Society in partnership with University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) and primarily funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), the Parish Communities Initiative Fund (PCIF) and the Dixie Educational Foundation (DEF).

In total, 53 test-pits were excavated in 2017-18 by homeowners, volunteers, and students from local schools. On average, test-pits were dug to a depth of c.0.6m through topsoil and subsoil. Natural substratum was reached in 39 test-pits. For the most part, ground at most sites was extensively reworked in the past, either through agricultural disturbance (i.e. ploughing), building work or gardening. However, 8 test-pits did contain archaeological features, pebbles surfaces, pits and post-holes, and possible stone wall footings. Altogether, 20,573 individual finds (176kg) were recovered. Archaeological material ranged in date from the Neolithic to the present day and could be divided into the following categories for analysis: flint, pottery, clay tobacco pipe, glass, metalwork, coins, building material, industrial residues, bone and shell, and other finds.

Bosworth Links Dig 1

Analysis of the test-pit data has identified an extensive late Neolithic or early Bronze Age landscape beneath the town. Worked flints and calcined bone focused in an area around the market place, in the centre of the plateau of high ground on which the town presently lies, suggesting domestic and funerary activity was taking place nearby. Three other activity sites were identified on spurs of high ground projecting west and north from the town centre, where test-pits also produced pieces of prehistoric, probably Neolithic, pot. This new evidence, coupled with several currently undated ring-ditches and earth mounds around the town increasingly suggest that it is sited over a late Neolithic or early Bronze Age barrow cemetery.

No new Iron Age sites were identified beneath the town, with the only find of this period discovered near known Iron Age and Roman activity east of the market place. Small quantities of Roman pot were found widely distributed across the town, but concentrated near a known villa site north of the town and at a second location west of the town, possibly a new Roman site. Significantly, one test-pit close to the villa also produced Anglo-Saxon pottery, as did three other test-pits on a neighbouring hill and a fourth on the south side of the town. This is the first recorded evidence of Anglo-Saxon activity in the parish and the four test-pits have potentially identified three new activity sites on the plateau edge, all beyond the historic town core.

Evidence suggests that Market Bosworth did not begin to develop in its present location until the 10th century. This early activity appeared to have been a linear settlement concentrated along Park Street to the south of St Peter’s parish church. By the 12th century the town appeared to be well established, the bulk of the activity again focused along the southern side of Park Street and east of the market place. During the 13th century, habitation spread westwards around the south side of the market place and north along Main Street, giving the town the nucleated appearance it still has today. By the 15th century, occupation had become patchier with some small areas of detached habitation continuing across the town but also large areas seemingly devoid of domestic activity. This constituted a 41% drop in activity from the preceding centuries and can perhaps be taken as an indication of population decline following the Black Death in the mid-14th century.

In the 16th century, occupation across Market Bosworth appeared to have re-occupied areas which had seemingly depopulated at the end of the medieval period, particularly around the market place and along Main Street and Park Street, but had not spread much beyond the town’s medieval limits, keeping a compact, nucleated plan. This remained the case until the late 20th century when modern housing estates started to expand the town away from its historic core.

In 2016, the Bosworth Links project set out to reveal the, then, poorly understood development and habitation of Market Bosworth. The main research goals, to learn more about what was going on in the area before the town was established and to try and provide a coherent understanding of how and why the town developed where it did, were achieved with great success and have pushed the town’s story back a further 3,300 years from its first documented reference in the late 11th century to reveal an extensive late Neolithic or early Bronze Age landscape beneath.

This could only have been achieved through the successful partnership between the Market Bosworth Society and University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS), the generous support of the project’s sponsors, and the army of homeowners, students and volunteers who welcomed us into their town and gave their time, schools, gardens, allotments and playing fields to the project. They worked hard to dig fifty-three 1m sq test-pits, carefully excavated 35 cubic metres of soil (approximately 52 tonnes), and documented and kept over 20,000 individual finds (176kg).The lasting legacy of this is not just of new skills and knowledge, and an interest in archaeology, but also of new friendships and lasting relationships, and we thank everyone who took part and supported us.

Below is a results overview, the full report for the project and the individual reports for the 53 test-pits:

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