Even if we want to think of the Pleistocene as the important Ice Age, we still need to dispel some common misconceptions. It lasted from about 2,588,000 to 11,700 years ago and was not a period of constant cold. True enough, it was a time of repeated glaciations, but these were mixed with much warmer periods. We should think more in terms of repeated rapid climate change. For more than 2 million years, the climate flipped between cold and warm, with the shift between them sometimes much less than a century. The change could be short enough for an individual to notice the variation in climate during their lifetimes.
The parish of Lilley lies on the western edge of North Hertfordshire, mostly north of the A505. Its northern boundary follows the early medieval line of the Icknield Way, and it abuts Bedfordshire to the west. Part of the parish once included Mangrove Green, now in Offley. Three areas now in Lilley, one stretching from the eastern edge of Ward’s Wood in the west to Kingshill Plantation in the east, the second from west of Lilleypark Wood to the boundary wall of Putteridge Bury and a third to the east of Dogkennel Farm, were formerly part of Offley. The longer version of this post, linked below, explores how this complex arrangement came into being.
Although the first record of Lilley is in 1086, when Domesday Book was compiled, the community has a much longer history. It is possible that the settlement initially lay in the northern part of the parish and developed from the estate of an undiscovered Roman villa. Its move south to East Street and West Street perhaps happened when the parish church was founded, before the Norman Conquest. Archaeological remains take the story back to earlier periods when there were farmsteads and valleys across the landscape. There may even have been a henge (an oval area enclosed by a chalk bank) on a hillside overlooking Mazebeard Spring.
The parish of Caldecote, five km north of Baldock, is one of the smallest in Hertfordshire, covering only 131.5 hectares (325 acres). It was first recorded in Domesday Book, compiled in 1086, but archaeological excavations have shown that its origins go much farther back. Today, it is an isolated community, away from main roads. In the Middle Ages, it was a single manor, which is described in detail in a survey written on 16 February 1321.
The village lay beside an ancient road linking Stotfold with Ashwell. Both were places of greater importance in the Middle Ages than they are today. Its main street was visible under pasture to the north of the church until a significant excavation in the 1970s and later ploughing.
The village today has only six cottages, a manor house and the redundant village church in the historic village centre, with two more homes on the A1 south of Farrowby Farm. Its population in 2011 was 17 residents. The village is difficult to visit as it lies away from main roads and can be reached only by a single track lane.
Guy Beresford carried out extensive excavations between 1973 and 1977 at Caldecote, focusing on the earthworks north of the church before they were levelled and ploughed. The work was undertaken on behalf of the Department of the Environment and the Deserted Medieval Villages Research Group. It was one of the most extensive excavations ever carried out on a later medieval rural site in Britain. Beresford examined five crofts, the former rectory and most of the moated site.
The excavation at Caldecote is still one of the most important ever carried out on a medieval village site, deserted or otherwise. It has much to tell us about life in the Middle Ages and the origins of English farming communities in North Hertfordshire and more widely.