c.1600 BCE to 1066 CE
(a) c.1600 BCE to 44 CE (Bronze Age to the Invasion by the Romans)
There is evidence in and on the ground that shows human activity in this general area since the Bronze Age. A burial site was excavated in the 1970s by the Middle Nene Archaeological Group at the deserted medieval village site at Perio Mill. This revealed a skeleton and grave goods that dated back to the Beaker Period of the Bronze Age, some 1600 years before the current era (BCE).
In addition, worked flints have been found in the fields surrounding Woodnewton together with slag from ancient iron smelting sites, confirming that people have lived and worked here or hereabouts for thousands of years. In the village itself, however, there is no evidence of any pre-Roman buildings.
Aerial photography in the Parish shows evidence of ancient farming activity in the area of Stone Pit Lodge extending towards Perio Mill. The “British History Online” website identifies this as a large area of crop and soil marks which extends into the adjacent parishes of Fotheringhay and Southwick. The area is defined by the River Nene, a small stream that drains into the river and the (modern) road connecting Woodnewton and Fotheringhay. The complex comprises ring ditches, enclosure ditches, a settlement site and a ditched trackway. The settlement site contains circular ditches and barrows, and probably hut circles. The trackway has two parallel ditches about 15m apart and is traceable for about 800m into Woodnewton parish. If the line of the trackway is extended to the south-east it connects to a site, excavated in the 1950s, on the banks of the River Nene near Perio Mill which revealed a row of timber posts which may be the remains of a wharf or bridge. The trackway may have connected also to another settlement site to the south-west near Southwick, and possibly to the ancient trackway that is said to run along the western side of the Apethorpe Hall complex.
Little is known about the Bronze Age inhabitants but the Iron Age people living in this area prior to the Roman Conquest belonged to the Corieltauvi tribe – probably a federation of small self-governing groups occupied mainly in agriculture. These people had little or no central organisation although the capital of the area was Leicester (Ratae Corieltauvorum). Despite being bordered by the Iceni to the east they seemed to have offered little or no resistance to the Romans, with Leicester falling just after the invasion in 44 CE.
(b) 44CE to 410CE (Roman Britain)
The long history of agricultural activity in the area may have attracted later Roman settlers to the Willow Brook valley. There are no known Roman remains or structures in Woodnewton village (nor indeed any indication that the village existed at that time), but the surrounding area has numerous sites of villas, settlements and farmsteads, together with areas where pottery shards have been found. There is also evidence of Roman iron smelting in the Willow Brook valley.
A Roman villa was found in Cotterstock parish during the 1700s when mosaics, pottery, 4th century coins, bones and building materials were discovered. In the area of Lyveden Farm and Swan’s Nest Farm in Nassington parish, and Fotheringhay Lodge in Fotheringhay parish, evidence of Roman occupation has been found including substantial buildings with internal walls and Nene Valley pottery ware of the 3rd and 4th centuries. Closer to the village, a Roman villa was discovered in 1859 to the south of Apethorpe on the west side of the Willow Brook, just outside the Woodnewton boundary. This villa comprises a group of buildings around a central courtyard and measures some 80m by 80m . Discoveries included mosaics, a hypocaust, painted plaster and two small altars as well as Samian and Nene Valley pottery, glass ware and bones, together with 4th century coins.
Within the Parish of Woodnewton aerial photographs show the outline of a farmstead or farm buildings on Dinner Hill and shards of Roman pottery have been found in the field known as Big Spinney between the village and Nassington . The current excavations at Nassington indicate that the whole of this area, being close to Ermine Street and the fort and settlement at Durobrivae (Water Newton) was important in that period but again there is no direct evidence that a village existed at Woodnewton during the Roman occupation of Britain.
(c) 410CE to 1066CE (Anglo-Saxon)
Following the departure of the Roman legions, the East Midlands area was colonised by settlers from Denmark known as Angles, specifically the Middle Angles. To the east were the East Angles, to the north the Angles that formed Northumbria, with Saxons to the South and Britons to the West. The area of the Middle Angles developed over time into Mercia which in the 7th and 8th centuries, was the largest and most powerful of the early Kingdoms of Britain. The arrival of the Danes in the 8th and 9th Centuries via East Anglia and the major rivers of the Welland and the Nene saw both Stamford and Peterborough attacked and destroyed. Mercia declined in importance and Wessex (the area of the West Saxons) took its place. Woodnewton lay within the area of the Danelaw (the area over which Danish Law prevailed) which saw Scandinavian settlers move into this area.
Nassington was the main centre of Anglo-Saxon activity in the local area. A Saxon cemetery was found there in 1942 containing graves with grave goods and the remains of many bodies. King Cnut established a palace at Nassington on the site that was to become the Prebendal Manor House.
At Woodnewton, there is evidence in St Mary’s Church of late Saxon masonry, but this could have been imported to the site in the 13th century when the basic structure of the building seen today was laid down. There is also anecdotal evidence of a Saxon well in one of the fields surrounding the village, but this has yet to be fully investigated.
The website “British History Online” identifies evidence in the fields east of Oundle Road and south of Pound Lane, of three long narrow enclosures (closes) running N-S which are defined by low banks and which contain the remains of building-platforms. These are located at the northern end of the enclosures but are very damaged and degraded. The Anglo-Saxon period saw rectangular buildings on raised platforms replace the circular huts of earlier periods and these remains, together with others (probably) that have been lost through time, located at a ford of the Willow Brook and at the junction of tracks leading to Nassington, Apethorpe, Southwick/Oundle and Fotheringhay, are the earliest known evidence of occupation of the site that was to develop and eventually be known as Woodnewton.