West Wickham & Balsham Prepare to Discover Their Stories

Dr Susan Oosthuizen delivered a talk in Balsham, Cambridgeshire, on Monday evening to 70 people at the invitiation of the West Wickham & District Local History Club in collaboration with the local primary school, The Meadow School. The groups both successfully applied for grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund’s All Our Stories programme with support from the Cambridge Community Heritage research team, who are continuing to provide expert advice as they undertake their projects. Dr Oosthuizen landscape and field archaeology at the Institute for Continuing Education at Madingley Hall, and has a special interest in Anglo-Saxon and medieval landscapes, and in research skills.

The aim of the Meadow Primary School’s Heritage Lottery Funded project is to investigate the history of Balsham from the Anglo-Saxon period to the 14th century through archaeological test pitting carried out by the Key Stage 2 pupils and archival work. They would like to find out if a Viking massacre occurred in 1010 as suggested by oral tradition and the Henry of Huntingdon Chronicle, and if this led to any variation in the location of the village core. They will also follow up any links between Bishop Hugh de Balsham, founder of Peterhouse—the first Cambridge College—and the village, in the archives of Peterhouse and Ely Cathedral.

Similarly, West Wickham & District Local History Club are also going to carry out test pit excavations in their village. The CCH researcher who first approached the two community groups about the funding opportunity was Dr Britt Baillie, aware of Cambridge University’s connection with the area as Director of Studies for Archaeology & Anthropology at Peterhouse College and with research interests in Viking and Medieval archaeology. She delivered a presentation to local residents last week about the process of excavation and the outcomes of similar projects run by Access Cambridge Archaeology. As a result of this and promotion in the Village Voice, the History Club already have 15 sites lined up for their dig in mid-July. It is hoped that the archaeological test pits will fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge about the origins of the village and its current settlement pattern. The first documentary evidence is from the 10th century. The 11th century Doomsday Book records three manors, the church dates from the 12th century, the oldest extant residential buildings date from the 16th/17th centuries.

The History Club usually organises a programme of talks and visits, exhibitions and displays and has a photographic collection, and this is the first time it has undertaken a project like this. Commenting on the award, Janet Morris, Secretary of West Wickham & District Local History Club, said: “We are absolutely delighted that we have been awarded this grant and are looking forward to starting the project next year. Little is known about the medieval period in the village so this is a wonderful opportunity to discover more about it while giving everyone the chance to find history, literally, in the ground beneath their feet.”

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