halesworth

A history of Halesworth, Suffolk, UK, through the ages.

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Volume 1



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Iron Age - 700 BC - 43 AD

About 650 BC, local tribes acquired the knowledge of smelting iron, which being a much harder metal than bronze was much more suitable for weapons such as knives and swords. Unfortunately, iron, unlike flint, copper or bronze, rusts in the soil so that little has survived to show us how they used this metal. They were farmers with organised corn growing, in some places this was on a large scale, as at Darmsden, near Needham Market, where deep storage pits were found. Farming settlements with round houses existed within enclosed farmsteads with ditches, show up when excavated. Fields were laid out which were also ditched, and research has indicated that the lands in central East Anglia were substantially cleared in the Iron Age as the need for grassland increased.

Military weapons were made of iron, and an iron sword was discovered at Lakenheath in 1913, while a 7th century BC bronze sword was found at Brandon. There was obviously a wealthy class in the Iron Age who were able to commission gold decorative items, such as the gold torcs which were found at Ipswich in 1968-70. These were gold neck ornaments in the form of twisted bands or solid circular rings. Other have been found in East Anglia, and more than fifty torcs have been found in Norfolk, with a rich hoard found at Snettisham in the 1940s.

The Iron Age people's communities were based on kinship in tribes, with their basic group being the village. Most sites were situated within easy reach of a river or stream, since the watering of stock animals was important. At Halesworth this was possibly a farmstead or small settlement on the sandy ridge which extends southwards from the back of The Angel. Here in 1988, excavations proved the earlier existence of an iron smelting furnace with pieces of waste iron. Also found were sherds of Iron Age pottery.

An advance in the preparation of food came in the Neolithic period with the introduction of the quern to grind grain. The type was the saddle quern in which the upper of two circular stones was rocked forward and back to grind the flour. In the Iron Age the rotary quern came into use where the grain was poured through a hole in the upper stone, which was then rotated in a circular motion over the lower stone to do the grinding in a more efficient manner.

During the Iron Age political boundaries were coming into being, with one boundary running west to east across the county of Suffolk from Newmarket to Aldebugh. This follows the River AIde and the River Debden and separated the Iceni tribe from the Trinovantes tribe, as coin finds on each side of the river have indicated. The southern lands were in the hands of the Trinovantes and the Catuvellauni tribe, jointly ruled by King Cunobelinus , while the northern lands were inhabited by the Iceni. At Cockley Cley near Swaffham, a reconstruction of an Iron Age Iceni enclosed settlement has been created. The whole village is surrounded by a moat with an encircling fence of timber and rushes. Within this enclosure is a long house in which several young families might have lived, and there is a circular house in which the tribal leader lived, with smaller huts around. This then could have been the way in which the people of Iron Age Halesworth lived, residing in peace until the Iceni submitted to the Romans early in the first century AD.


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