There’s no doubt that Spalding is seeped with history; and reports of ‘secret tunnels’ beneath our streets have been quite a talking a point.
The start of Ayscoughfee Hall’s three-day Festival of Archaeology saw a full turn-out of people to listen to a talk by Louise Jennings, Historic Environment Officer with Lincolnshire County Council.
It proved that we really are fascinated by ‘The Archaeology Beneath Our Feet.’
Louise’s job involves her looking at planning applications and considering if they will affect sites of historical interest. If there is any archaeology that could be destroyed, she will look at how it can be protected or saved.
One of the first sites she got to curate was Spalding’s Wygate Park back in the early 2000s before the extensive development.
She said: “Indications showed that it could contain a Roman settlement. We had a geophysical survey undertaken which measures the magnetic responses on the land to see if they are natural or man-made features.
“We put in 47 trenches just to see what was there and found that there was probably a saltern (an area used for salt-making) dating back to the Iron Age and a 4th Century Roman settlement. A decision was made to do a full excavation which was really quite rare and exciting and we found a 2nd-3rd Century AD northern settlement.
“We found some animal bones - evidence that animals were kept there - and big red clay pots which were used to extract salt. Where these red clay pots are found on land, they are marked as ‘Red Hills’ on some old maps dating back to the early 1900s.
“We also found lots of pottery, and three Roman coins, but it is about how the land has changed and been manipulated over the years.”
According to Louise, people came in the early days to settle in this area because of the salt. “One of the reasons people lived here is because of the landscape and its potential for making salt,” she said.
“Romans were paid in salt and it was used to barter. The Fens were known for its production sites.”
And that’s not all that’s been found beneath the streets of Spalding. Before the Ivy Wall (Wetherspoons Pub) was built, an excavation in New Road found that it lay on the site of two Medieval buildings.
“We think they go back to the 12th-13th Century and there was a huge cellar - or “tunnel,” she quipped.
“We believe the buildings were used for industrial use, such as corn processing, pottery-making and there could have been spinning wheels.
“The stone was significant as it was not local stone from the Fens so had to have been imported to lay the foundations.
“We think it was also flooded at one point. We found a detached kitchen and then evidence that in the 17th-18th Century buttresses had been built. It lost the domestic feel and we found a lot of tankards, mugs and drinking vessels - kind of fitting that they later built a pub on it.”
Below the shopping area in Spalding, on Bridge Street and in Market Place, and in the vicinity of Beales and Hills Department Store, Louise said that it is strongly thought there was a burial ground.
She said: “Under the former Russell Allen shop, underneath the cellars there, they have found Medieval bones and some clay pipes. One of the skeletons showed severe arthritis of the spine.
“We think there was a substantial cemetery located underneath the shopping area, perhaps linked with the Spalding Priory.”