Sheep bones and Sutton Bridge history

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It’s so easy to forget as we drive along the smooth tarmac of the A17 at Long Sutton that it was once marshland.

Long Sutton amateur historian Beryl Jackson says five miles of marsh separated Long Sutton from Walpole Cross Keys in the 1600s.

Succeeding enclosures gradually moved Long Sutton from its position on the coast to being a few miles inland.

Much of the fertile reclaimed farmland went into the ownership of Guy’s Hospital estate until 1919, says Beryl.

At that point the Smallholdings Act was passed and the entire estate was acquired by the Ministry of Agriculture and leased as smallholdings to men returning from the war. One of those men was Beryl’s father, and Beryl says she and her seven siblings had to work hard on the land in their school holidays.

Once married, Beryl lived on another smallholding on what had previously been Avenue Farm at Sutton Bridge.

She became fascinated by the history of the land and 40 years ago joined the Society For Lincolnshire History and Archaeology. In the intervening years she has contributed articles to the society as well as a chapter on Guy’s Hospital Estate to Neil Wright’s Sutton Bridge: An Industrial History.

One of her fascinations is a sheep bone floor discovered on the site of an old summerhouse at Avenue Farm.

She says it is now hidden by shrubs, but the eight feet diameter floor, octagonal in shape, is made from the leg bones of sheep, the bones vertically embedded in the ground, with the knuckle end showing on the surface to give a cobbled effect.

According to one online source these types of floor were widespread for a very short period between the late 17th and early 18th century, though not many examples have been uncovered. The floors were seen as decorative, but had the added advantage of being durable as they could withstand wear and tear.

Beryl says: “The wooden structure that covered the knuckle bone floor fell down several years ago. It too was octagonal in shape. The floor has been examined by a butcher who was of the opinion that only the fore legs of the sheep were used, in which case it would have taken a large number of sheep, possibly thousands.”