History without context is nothing but dry facts.
Without the literary context, Shakespeare’s house is merely another middle class merchant’s house. Orchard Side in Olney is just another flat-fronted brick building with lots of windows, if you don’t know that it was once the home of the great 18th century poet, William Cowper, neighboured by the home of John Newton, author of Amazing Grace.
Much of our heritage is from the little people, the workers without whom palaces and great estates could not have been created and managed. They didn’t live in palaces and manors designed to withstand the ages, unless as servants. They farmed small patches of land to feed their families.
Their houses were what they could build from local materials. Yet the majority of our ancestors were little people and they, as much as the moneyed elite, shaped our environment and our culture. If we restrict our view of heritage to the stateliest homes and most massive structures, we are saying that the little people don’t matter, that only the rich deserve our attention.
Northamptonshire sits in the middle of England, linking the urbanised south east with the north of the country. Many Roman roads are routed through the county, and these are pre-dated by tracks and ridgeways dating back to the Iron Age. Alongside the A45 runs the old highway which was once
the main road to London. It’s still a bridleway, though it’s history is little publicised, and its link with Raunds, Meadow Lane, is under threat. And with all these linking routes are the relics of the people who lived beside them and travelled along them.
Northamptonshire is fast losing this rich heritage. Development is inevitable, but not at the expense of those who have grown up and brought up families in the area, those who have moved there because they have chosen that rich environment. People need work, and need places to live, but the
development they need is not the speculative “profitable big boxes”, the vast automated warehouses requiring few workers, which are favoured developers and their tenants. Local people don’t want to lose their history to a tin and concrete industrial estate.
Much of what has been published recently has reflected an archaeological perspective which compares Raunds Henge to Stonehenge and similar monuments, with less attention to the perspective of the little people whose local heritage it is, little people who want their children to have the chance to understand that their history goes back four thousand years and more.
Raunds Henge may not rival their scale but it is just as important in the local context as Stonehenge is in the national context.
There is local concern that East Northants District Council is belittling the find, whose preservation might obstruct the permission they gave to replace prime agricultural land and panoramic views with noise and light pollution and traffic gridlock.
Just for a change, let’s hear from one of the little people, a small farmer whose land is bordered by Meadow Lane and the old road to London, someone who was fascinated by the earlier investigation of Raunds Henge back in the 1980s. We need these memories because, let’s not forget, back in the 1980s, there was no internet to capture the views of little people.
June Longhurst saw both the first and the recent excavations. Even the early excavation showed an
impressive piece of Neolithic history. She remembers: “At the end of March I had the opportunity to see the progress at the archaeological dig uncovering the Henge.
“I was viewing from the high point looking south over the area. I observed a semi circle of symmetrical holes. Each one a rectangle approximately 3 foot by 18 inches and spaced approximately 10 foot apart.
“As I looked to the right the circular shape was even and precise. To the left there was a deliberate deviation to the curve forming an inward bulge.
“An archaeologist explained how these holes were dug out by antler picks, she steps into the hole to point to the straight short sides of the rectangle (I notice how stony this exposed area is) then she indicates to the sloping long sides and the trench at the bottom explaining this was where the stones
would have been placed. She explained that the stones had been removed and there was no sign of them. Then pointing behind the ring of holes explained this is where the ditch would have been with a mound behind. Pointing to the inner circle not yet exposed suggested that the centre would have been a mound.
“We discussed the grandeur of this monument and how magnificent it must have looked and she suggested that it would have stood for a thousand years prior to the ditches being filled which appears to have been done at one time not just weather erosion and probably this is when the stones were removed.
“I am therefore bemused at the statement saying there are only ditches at the site and has never contained standing stones. I also find it incongruous that these holes have already been filled in. Whilst I can understand that weather will deteriorate holes very quickly I do think that the full exposed Henge should have been extensively photographed from the air so that a complete record could be made.”
Raunds people value Raunds Henge. It’s history, but it’s also an opportunity to retain the character of the town, to attract visitors, and to create employment opportunities other than the mindless serving of robots in bleak tin sheds.