Evidence of Huntingdon's past revealed during excavations

Huntingdon town centre

Huntingdon town centre near the Ferrars Road junction - Credit: Karl Brockett

Digging up Huntingdon's past is the theme of this week's piece by Karl Brockett, Huntingdonshire Nostalgia Group chairman. 

Karl Brockett is chairman of the Huntingdonshire Community Nostalgia Group.

Karl Brockett is chairman of the Huntingdonshire Community Nostalgia Group. - Credit: KARL BROCKETT

The Danes constructed defensive earthworks in Huntingdon as a stronghold against the Saxon kings with the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle stating that in 921 Edward the Elder, warring against the Danes, entered the "burh" of Huntingdon and afterwards repaired and restored it.

In 2017, an excavation took place on land adjacent to Ferrars Road where evidence from the late Saxon to early post-medieval periods was found but predominantly dating to the medieval period. A series of ditches  was found which may have formed part of the medieval town boundary and features, including the remains of two timber structures, represented the south-west extent of properties fronting Ermine Street.

One of the medieval pits contained an exceptionally well-preserved mineralised assemblage, including remains of fruits and herbs as well as fish bones and is interpreted as a cess or latrine pit.

Evidence was comparable to that recorded the Link Road and the Edison Bell Way excavations. Combined, these sites can help to cast light on the initial colonisation and subsequent development of this area of Huntingdon, known as Balm Hole or Balmshole.

During the Roman period Ermine Street, the major road north from London, ran through Huntingdon on its route towards York. Its conjunction with The River Great Ouse defined the settlement focus and to the south of the site, the line of Ermine Street later became the medieval High Street.

Evidence for a Roman presence include a possible Roman road and ditch running adjacent to Ermine Street, together with two roadside burials. Small-development may have extended northwards from the river crossing and Roman pottery found nearby would seem to support this.

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Excavations in St Marys Street found a variety of Roman pits which made way for the castle, showing that by 1086 the settlement had spread to the area between Alconbury Brook and Ermine Street/High Street.

No Late Saxon evidence has been recorded north of the Market Place, indicating perhaps the extent of the Late Saxon settlement. Pottery found further to the north may show a separate area of settlement, perhaps Balmshole.