Greenham: a common inheritance
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Ten thousand years of history
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  Themes Homepage > Stone Age to the Romans
Ten thousand years of history
Stone Age to the Romans

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Whilst most people associate the name Greenham with the Cold War and protests about nuclear weapons, the area has a history which stretches back thousands of years to the Stone Age.
We can imagine a Stone-Age landscape much more heavily wooded than today, with small groups of hunter-gatherers settled on the river gravels around the commons. With the ice age still extending its chilly grip, these early inhabitants would have eked a basic living from the plants and animals they found around them. The earliest find from the area is a Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age) axe, made about fifty thousand years ago. It would have been used for skinning animals for food and for clothing or for cutting down trees for fuel and making rudimentary dwellings – there were no handy caves in the Kennet valley to shelter in. Stone-age axe from Greenham
Stone-age axe from Greenham
About fourteen thousand years ago, the ice began to recede and the climate of southern England slowly warmed. During this period, peoples from the east brought new ideas and techniques to the area. There is evidence of a growing population in the area during the Mesolithic period (10,000 to 4000 years BC), with a large number of flint tools having been found in the West Berkshire area, particularly on the river gravels.
Finds from Greenham Dairy Farm (north of the Common on the banks of the Kennet) are on display in the West Berkshire Museum: they include flint tools known as 'microliths', which were much smaller and more specialised than the heavy axes of the old Stone Age and show evidence of a high degree of technical skill in their production.
By four thousand years BC, the warming climate enabled farming techniques which had been developed in the Middle East to be introduced to west Berkshire. Two polished Neolithic (New Stone Age) axes, as well as other evidence of occupation, were found at Crookham Manor in 1870, confirming that most of the early settlements in the area were still limited to the lower ground along the river Kennet.
Stone-age axe from Crookham Neolithic axe from Crookham
Stone-age axe from Crookham Neolithic axe from Crookham
However, the continually warming climate meant that it became possible to colonise higher ground and there is considerable evidence of Bronze Age people having made their home on the Commons from about 2000 years BC. They brought with them the knowledge of making bronze tools as well as distinctive pottery.
Remains of  Bronze Age pottery from Crookham
Remains of Bronze Age pottery from Crookham
Some probable Bronze Age earthworks survived on Greenham Common until the construction of the airfield in 1941. There were five circular depressions about 18 metres wide, each surrounded by a bank and external ditch. It is possible that these were barrows, extensively used for burials in the Bronze Age and of which there are many varying types. There is also evidence of late Bronze Age activity north of the Common at Chamberhouse Farm and a burial urn dating from about 1700 BC was found in a quarry near Crookham House.
We may assume that people continued to live on and around the Commons as the Bronze Age gave way to the Iron Age (700BC to 42BC). Settlers from Gaul – the Atrebates – occupied the area at the time of the Roman invasion, and there have been several finds from the Romano-British period (43BC to 409AD): pottery from a gravel pit at Pyle Hill; on the bank of the Kennet near Bowdown House and near Chamberhouse Farm, where the finds suggested an active settlement. 3rd century AD pottery fragments from Greenham
3rd century AD pottery fragments from Greenham
Quernstone from Crookham
Quernstone from Crookham
A quernstone, for grinding corn, was found at George's Farm at the west end of Crookham Common. George's Farm was rich in archaeological finds; kiln waste suggests it may have been a roman pottery production site.
With an important Roman civitas or regional capital only a few kilometres away at Silchester, we may imagine that the Roman influence was felt in our area more strongly than in many places, and yet the archaeological record is scant. One earthwork – destroyed in the 1940s when the airfield was laid out - is believed to date from the Romano-British period, but it may be earlier. Although its name – Bury's Bank – lives on in a modern road name, it was an enigmatic structure, whose origins will never be fully understood.
The Bank ran in a north/south direction across the Northwest part of Greenham Common, between the heads of two of the gullies which penetrate it. Excavations in the early 1940s suggested that the earthwork dated from the 5th century and may have been constructed in the post-Roman period as a defence against attack from the west. Other less well-defined ditches were identified further east on Crookham Common.
Romano-British flask from Crookham
Romano-British flask from Crookham
The discovery of 4th century Romano-British pottery in the base of the ditch only served to further cloud the dating of this feature, and it could be that Bury's Bank was part of an Iron Age boundary work.
Other evidence of the Roman occupation (3rd. century coins) was found in 1846 during the construction of the Great Western Railway at Fielders Farm in the extreme northwest of the parish.
There is little in the archaeological record to paint a picture of what happened in the area during the next few hundred years after the Romans. At some point, Christianity came to the region and the Anglo-Saxon settlers gave Greenham and Crookham the names they bear today. The kingdom of the West Saxons – Wessex – was established. Slowly, imperceptibly, Greenham moved into the Middle Ages.
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