Besthorpe’s name is derived from the Scandinavian word ‘thorpe’ meaning outlying farmstead or hamlet and probably the name of a key character called something like ‘Bosi’. It indicates that there was sufficient settlement here in the period of the Danelaw in the 10th century to give the place a name. Parishes and their boundaries were to be well established by the time of the Domesday Book in 1086.
Rather than concentrate solely on finds from the parish of Besthorpe it is more reasonable to establish the patterns of human activity and environmental development along the Trent Valley north of Newark where the river and its sand and gravel terraces have offered changing opportunities to people for at least 15,000 years. By studying the evidence along the Valley we can deduce the way people would have used our immediate area even if the physical evidence for their presence is fairly thin.
Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age) hunter-gatherers are known to have occupied caves at Creswell Crags on the Notts/Derbys border near Worksop for thousands of years down to 10,000 BC. By this time they used a distinctive range of flint and stone tools examples of which have been found at Farndon – possibly a temporary summer hunting camp. Although no similar finds have been made downstream towards Besthorpe it is reasonable to imagine that they may well have undertaken hunting expeditions in our direction tapping into the faunal resources of the Valley.
During the Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) the Trent Valley became a multi-channelled river system with extensive wetlands and developed a heavily forested landscape. A detailed pollen sequence taken from a peat-filled former river channel at Girton has revealed changes in the floral environment between 7000 BC and 1000 BC. Fieldwalking at Collingham prior to quarrying produced a high density of flintwork from c 5000 BC along the edge of what was then a gravel island and this would be associated with the activities of hunter-gatherers living off the natural food resources of the Valley.
The Neolithic (New Stone Age) is linked with the introduction of farming as the major source of food and a degree of more settled existence. Traces of settlement are notoriously difficult to find and indeed no evidence has been found in our area. However at Langford Lowfields in Collingham archaeologists excavated what they described as a ‘log jam’ in a former channel of the Trent where flooding in c 2000BC had swept away material from a site upstream only for it to be held up by fallen trees. Animal bones revealed evidence for cattle, pig, wild boar, red and roe deer, horse, dog and sheep and human remains including skulls lodged in the debris were interpreted as coming from a funerary or ritual site disturbed by the floods. The population was increasing with a complex network of social relationships uniting widely dispersed mobile or sedentary groups some of whom must have passed by or even temporarily set up home in Besthorpe even if we don’t have firm evidence of their presence.
The Bronze Age produced evidence at Girton of a burnt mound. This oval pile of burnt stones some 10-12 metres in diameter and 0.4 metres high can be linked to heating water and probably cooking. Other archaeological evidence is in the form of a ‘pit alignment’ examined in Besthorpe Quarry in the 1990s; this consisted of a line of deep pits dug presumably to support large posts and usually interpreted as being significant of boundaries or divisions in the landscape. As the alignment was away from any contemporary settlement and its domestic rubbish no finds were made to assist dating.
By the later stages of the Iron Age (1st century BC) and into the Roman Period (after 43 AD) a sizeable community had established itself at Ferry Lane Farm between Collingham and Besthorpe. Excavations by Manchester and Salford Universities took place for several summers until 2012. Though there is no suggestion of any significant material wealth, the site revealed a well-ordered system of rectilinear fields, closely spaced enclosures and trackways supporting theories of a relative increase in population densities. Similar sites have been recorded by aerial photography.
Along the east side of the Valley were a range of farmstead settlements but not ‘villas’. Fieldwalking next to A11333 just south of Besthorpe revealed a dense scatter of pottery indicating one of the sites on an elevated gravel terrace safe from flooding. These sites would have had links with the Roman road system (Fosse Way) and traded to a degree with the ‘small town’ at Crococalana (Brough) and the larger urban centre of Lindum (Lincoln).
At Meering there are suggestions of possible pottery kilns and a hoard of 1,347 Roman coins was found in 1964 by workers in the gravel pits at Besthorpe. Study of the coins which had been crammed into a pot showed that the dateable sequence ended abruptly in 354AD. A first century AD pot was discovered in a house foundation trench at Trent Lane.
In later Roman times climatic deterioration lead to flooding and some sites like Ferry Lane Farm were buried under alluvium while others were covered by sand-blown deposits – we still have episodes of sand-blow which can cause significant build-up at field edges and on the A1133.
In post-Roman times the area continued to be settled with the best excavated evidence coming from a site just 500 metres north of Girton. Here a settlement with wattle and daub buildings situated across the crest of a sand dune was occupied between about 650 and 815AD and archaeologists found evidence of textile processing with the discovery of loomweights and spindle whorls. The Scandinavian period is also marked in Girton churchyard by a monumental grave cover dated to c 1000AD.
The Parish system established prior to 1086AD tends to create linear parishes perpendicular to the river allowing each to have its share of meadow, arable, pasture, woodland and water. The Fleet is considered to be one medieval course of the river.
In 1976 excavations in a garden off Trent Lane discovered a small house with low stone walls and a red clay floor outside of which had been a midden (rubbish heap). Pottery found included green glazed fragments of jugs made in Lincoln and capable of being dated to c1250AD. Archaeologists were able to restore an almost complete cooking pot which had been broken at this period and thrown away on the midden. The soot from the open fire on which it was used was still visible on its side.
Church records state that our current Victorian church was built in 1844 to replace a Chapel of Ease which was built about 1535AD and fell into disuse after 1760. The stone foundations of the east end of this stone chapel were located during the redevelopment of the church for the Besthorpe Project in 2013.