Area 16:Middle Kennet Valley
Middle stretch of the Kennet Valley from the Wiltshire border to Newbury, including the tributary valleys and watersheds of the Froxfield Stream and the Shalbourne.
This area contains important early archaeology including a rare example of an in situ Palaeolithic flint working site at Avington and nationally significant Mesolithic sites. Many medieval sites including Deer Parks and villages survive as earthworks and have a very strong illustrative value as they are such a dominant and visible feature. Freeman’s Marsh represents a surviving example of late medieval land use. There is a nationally significant parkland at Benham Valence, originating as a 14th century deer park which then formed the core of the 18th century landscape park designed by Capability Brown. Industrial archaeology focused on the Kennet and Avon Canal provides important evidence relating to the industrial revolution.
Present Day Historic Landscape Character
The agricultural landscape has been subjected to considerable modification. The majority of historic enclosures have been reorganised into modern fields more suited to mechanised agriculture. Some historic enclosures have escaped reorganisation and examples can be found throughout the area with substantial blocks present between Denford, Hungerford Newtown and Clapton.
Another important effect of agricultural change is the loss of water meadows from the valley floor. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, active management of water meadows for early spring grazing ceased. Much of the area that was water meadows is now in use as pasture fields, but significant areas have also become wooded-over through both colonisation and planting, and some have been converted into arable fields. Woodland and arable uses are leading to the erosion and loss of water meadow features through ploughing and root disturbance.
Conversion of parkland to arable is particularly common and is most visible between Hungerford and Kintbury where large areas of former parks are now fields. Smaller-scale instances of clearance of ancient woodland for farming also exist. Large areas of paddocks have been created around the studs at Templeton and Marsh Benham.
Tree-cover has seen significant change with clearance of ancient woodlands and new woods and plantations created on previously unwooded areas. Although only a few ancient woods were cleared for agriculture, others have been cleared of native tree cover and replanted with other species.
Layers in the Landscape
Prehistoric activity has been documented at several locations. Early activity is attested by finds of Palaeolithic flintwork however, these seem to be from re-deposited material. Probable Mesolithic occupation sites have been located by fieldwalking and form a continuation of the concentration of Mesolithic material from Avington and Hamstead Marshall on the valley floor to the North-West side of the valley. It is unclear whether this reflects the extent of fieldwork or an actual pattern of Mesolithic land-use.
Definite later prehistoric material is scarce and consists of Iron Age pottery found at Eddington. Areas of cropmark field systems thought to be later prehistoric/Romano-British in date have been mapped across the area. Some Romano-British evidence has been found in the area and consists of probable settlements and the course of a Roman road.
Early Medieval settlement is known to have existed. For example ‘Standone’ was recorded in Domesday and was thought to be Standen Manor, but it may be referring to North Standen Farm or both. The origin, extent and precise location of the early Medieval settlement are unclear and no deposits of this date have been found.
Hungerford Park was established in the mid-15th century and earthworks on its periphery are thought to be remnants of the Medieval park pale, but have not been investigated in detail. A deer park was referred to at Benham in 1349; its location is unclear, but it is assumed to have formed the core of the 18th landscape park of Benham Valence. Several deserted Medieval village shave been identified such as Leverton, North Standon and Calcot.
This is a mixed area of both nucleated valley floor settlements, surrounded by open fields with riverside meadow grazing, and of smaller settlements and scattered farms, early enclosures and woodland. Open field systems are documented as having operated on the lower slopes of the northern side of the valley and to the South of the river around Hungerford and Kintbury. Extensive meadows existed on the valley floor and were used as common grazing. It is unclear if the open fields spread into parts of the area of less-nucleated settlement or onto the higher valley slopes. Most of the area was enclosed into fields by the 18th century. Some of this land was probably enclosed on a piecemeal basis as implied by the irregularity of many of the early enclosures.
Historic Settlement Character
The Medieval market town of Hungerford is the largest settlement within the area and it is sited at a crossing point on the Kennet near its confluence with the Dun. The historic settlement pattern was a mix of nucleated settlements on the valley floor and farms and small hamlets scattered across the upper valley sides. Nucleated settlements, such as Kintbury and Avington, were sited just off the floodplain and seem to be spaced at fairly regular intervals along the valley. There was a mix of hamlets and large farms on the upper valley sides. Some hamlets are the centres of manors and seem to be shrunken Medieval settlements, such as Elcot, whilst others may be secondary or subsidiary settlements, such as Hungerford Newtown.
Historic Farmstead Character
Farms were fairly evenly distributed across the upper slopes of the valley and generally lie in areas of irregular early enclosure. Most farms are named after nearby places or topographic features.