The following article was written 100 years ago by Henry Preston (1852-1940), Manager of the Grantham Waterworks Company, geologist, educator, historian, and amateur archaeologist.
Preston was someone who believed in the discovery and dissemination of knowledge. After starting his engineering career at the Waterworks, he also taught adult night classes in six subjects (starting when he was just 22 years old!), founded the Grantham Scientific Society in 1890 (aged 38), and, using the collection of material the Society had accumulated, established the Grantham Museum in 1926.
Most of his archaeological study was at the Roman centre of Saltesford. I’ve mentioned elsewhere that the lane that runs across the farm used to be known as The Salter’s Way, with Saltby to our east, and that this was part of the route taken by the early inhabitants transporting salt from Donnington (Lincolnshire) in towards Loughborough. Well, Saltesford is situated in the valley at the southern edge of Grantham, down where the southern bypass is currently being built, and would have been a significant step along this ancient pathway.
In the late 19th century, the Grantham Waterworks Company needed to create a pumping station to bring water from Little Ponton, up the valley to the steadily growing town. The landowner didn’t want the noise of the station to be heard from his property, so it was situated at the parish boundary, which also happened to be the historic location of the Roman town. As a result, Preston, who graduated as an engineer to company secretary of the GWC, before becoming its Manager in 1880, had ample time and opportunity to investigate Saltesford further. [If you’re interested in reading more about his archeological findings, you can try here, and here.]
He was undoubtedly familiar with the wider locality, and one oddity on the map struck enough of a cord for him to write the following in 1919, present it to The Society, have it published in the local paper, and then include it within the founding documents of Grantham Museum. Namely, “the Lost City of Wyville”. The draft and subsequent newspaper article now reside at Grantham Public Library, and I’ve taken the liberty of re-publishing it here, one hundred years later.
The Evolution of Wyville, the City
By Henry Preston
Mystery invariably surrounds the beginning of an Evolutionary process; and the task of tracing out the early history of Wyville, and its designation “the City“, is no exception to the rule.
The Six-inch Ordnance Maps tell us that at Wyville is “the City“. Whence came its appellation? Was Wyville ever a large Town? Did it ever have a Corporation? Was it ever the Seat of a Bishop? These are questions we may find difficult to answer; and yet there are items of interesting history which may be gathered from a search into the “past” of this secluded retreat, this pleasantly situated village the head of a valley.
To-day Wyville consists of a few cottages and farms, with a Church of quite modern build. Its chief feature is a series of Springs which issue from the face of the Limestone, and form the source of a stream which pleasantly occupies a small valley tributary to the Cringle Brook in Stoke Park. A second series of springs rise about a quarter of a mile north of the main springs, but these have not yet cut their bed to the bottom of the limestone, and therefore are not so strong as the main Springs. They have, however, cut a semicircular course making the Wyville valley double headed. The less important “head” is bordered by a magnificent row of elm trees on its west bank.
No ancient buildings of a definite character have been found either of Early British, Roman, Saxon, or Mediaeval Age; hence our quest must be limited chiefly to its physical conditions, which are undoubtedly the cause of the present position of Wyville, and to its name.
Long Ages ago, in the geological past, no Wyville stream existed, nor any sheltered nook in which such a “City” could be built.
Geologically the Rock Formations of the district are simple. The uppermost bed is the Lincolnshire Limestone which occurs in thickness up to 90, or 100 feet. Below this is an Ironstone bed called the Northampton Sands, which may be anything up to 17 or 18 feet. These two beds are porous and allow the rain water to pass freely through them. Below the Ironstone is the Upper Lias, a dense, impervious, blue clay; and it is on this bed that the streams generally run, the wearing away action of the water having cut through the Limestone and ironstone, and into the clay beneath. Also, it should be noted that the whole of the beds incline slightly towards the East, or South east, and any water soaking through the upper beds will have a tendency to flow in this direction.
Running through Stoke Park, nearly three miles East of Wyville, is a more ancient stream known as the Cringle Brook. This stream has cut its valley in a northerly direction, through the limestone and into the clay.
Now as soon as the Cringle had cut down to the clay, Springs began to flow from the west, because the rain which fell on the limestone plateau West of the Cringle valley, all gathered on top of the clay ready to burst out as springs as soon as opportunity occurred.
By and by, owing probably to some extra fissure in the limestone, a more copious stream concentrated at some one point on the west bank of the Cringle brook, and issued as a definite and more copious spring. This would be near the Waterfall in the middle of the two fish-ponds, in Stoke Park, and this fissure soon defined itself into a small tributary valley funning westwards from the Cringle.
In the course of time the little stream thus formed, cut its way back and back into the Limestone plateau, as such springs always do, and formed the present valley, a westerly tributary to the parent valley in Stoke Park.
This process of valley lengthening by the wasting away of its head, is still going on, but the progress is so slow that in the course of many years no great increase in length can be noted. The geological work of forming the Wyville valley, would take many thousands, probably, millions of years; but Geologists have the privilege of drawing upon an unlimited number of years for the working out of their problems, hence we will not quarrel with the time required in the evolution of our first dim vision of the nook in which the “City” is placed, but accept the fact that the spring-head and sheltered retreat did not always exist just as we find them to day.
Having now prepared our Resort, we may proceed to people the place, and to find out what we can of their history.
In pre-historic times our fore-fathers made their homes in spots convenient for water supply, and the beautiful springs at the head of this valley marks it out as a very likely spot for them to select; indeed it is the only such spot for a considerable number of square miles in the immediate neighbourhood.
The place is sheltered from the roughest winds; it is in the midst of land suitable for the rearing of cattle, or for hunting game; and, with its abundant water supply, was doubtless used by the earliest dwellers in this part of our Land.
Our first real picture of the Wyville neighbourhood being an occupied district may be taken to be when the ancient Earthworks were made which lie just West of Wyville. These are known as King Luds’ Intrenchments. These Intrenchments were built as a safe retreat for the cattle and non-combatants of the Tribe whenever a raid took place, or the fighting men were from home. At other times the Tribe would be settled near a good source of water, and this Coombe in the hills, would be a very natural home form them.
As to the date of the Intrenchments, we gain a dim reference from the statement that “Ludgate Hill derived its name from the old Lud Gate, built by King Lud in the year 66BC, on the spot where the London, Chatham, and Dover Railway now crosses this busy thoroughfare. The gate was removed in 1760” (“Names and their meaning“, by Leopold Wagner.)
Now, although King Lud is stated to be but a mythical king of the early Britons, there seems to have been some definite association of a King Lud with London, as one of the Welsh names for London is “Caer Lud“, or “Lud’s Fortress“. But whether our Intrenchements near Wyville were connected with King Lud or not, they have every appearance of being Early British in type, and are most probably belonging to that age.
The Early Britons were of the Celtic Race, and it was they who gave the first names to many of our Rivers and natural features.
It would be quite a natural thing for the tribe to speak of their home, or dwelling place in the Coombe, as “by the water” or, more simply as “the water”. And in the Celtic language “gwy”, or “wy”, means “water”, hence the spring head Village would, in these early times, be known as the “wy”.
We have the same word used in the names of the rivers “wye”. In Wales, and Derbyshire; “Wey”, in Hampshire, Dorset, and Surrey; Llugwy (clear water), and Mynwy (small water), in Wales. This carries us back for upwards of 2000 years to find the origin of the first syllable in the name “Wyville”. For how long a time previously the place had been occupied, or had been known as the “Wy”, we have no means at present of knowing. But these clear springs of pure water would be the general rendezvous for dwellers in the neighbourhood for many miles around, particularly West and South west, from very early times, and, the name having continued down to our day, we get strong presumptive evidence that the neighbourhood of the coombe has, ever since the time of the Early Britons, been continuously occupied by dwellers whose occupations brought them, more or less, permanently to the “Wy”.
Not far from the springs is the old British Trackway known as the Sewstern Lane, and from the number of Roman settlements found immediately adjoining this Lane, we know that the Romans used the Road although they seem never to have adopted it as one of their great military High Roads.
We also believe that the Romans visited the “Wy”, for seldom were such excellent sources of water supply neglected by this practical people.
Throughout the Roman and Saxon periods, we may suppose that descendants of the Celts continued to occupy the place; or, perhaps, that the original occupants were driven westwards, and the new arrivals continued to use the Celtic Wy as the name for the Spring head and Stream.
When the Normans came to the district, about the 11th or 12th Century, the place was still known as the “Wy”. These newcomers established themselves here and erected dwellings. The Rector informs me that in some very early Deeds, Wyville is spelt “Wi-well”.
Now according to the Rev Isaac Taylor, in “Words and Places“. The suffix “Well” and “Ville” has in each case the same meaning and derivation, being derived from the Scandinavian “Ville” and abode, as in Tancarville, or Haconville, and not from the Romance word “villa”. “In England it is found in the form of “well” or “will”, as at Kettlewell, and Bradwell“.
The little group of Norman buildings became known as “The dwelling by the water”, or, more simply, as “Wi-well”, or “Wyville”.
Colonel Alfred Welby informs me that in Norman days there was a Residence in Wyville which was the “dower house” of Belvoir for the de Albini widows of the lords, and that an interesting record of 1170, gives an inventory of the Lady de Albini’s possessions there. Also, that in the 15th Century: the place was sold, and it became an endowment of the Curtis’ Chantry in Grantham Church.
According to Mr Welby, it is very probable that the Norman dower house was a considerable group of buildings, with a Chapel &c, and that when these became ruins from disuse, local tradition gave them the name of “City“.
Sometime ago a stone coffin was dug up in a field close to the spring head, and this coffin is now placed in the Church yard.
Stone coffins, putting aside the large Sarcophagi of the Romans, were used both by the late Saxons and early Normans, and may date anywhere from the 9th to the 12th Centuries. This one, according to Mr Welby, is possibly an 11th or 12th Century form, and may have belonged to the de Albini family, or their Officials.
Also, it is said that whenever digging takes place in the adjoining fields, considerable numbers of building stones are found, and some foundations.
This again seems to indicate a much larger dwelling place in by-gone times than we find today, and in all probability some interesting remains would be turned up if excavations had to be made.
Such, then, is a glance at what appears to be the physical history of the “City” of our quest.
Much mystery; some probabilities; a few facts; and the present joys of visiting the place and its surroundings.
It is a stupendous thought that the very things which our quest bring more to our notice; the wild-flowers of the hill and vale; the landscape forms; the running brook; the gushing spring; and all the details of the sheltering nook; all are but evolutionary products, and are connected in an unbroken line with all the past History of the Earth, even from the Beginning until now.
It is like writing up the Biography of a friend. Enjoying his presence, we delight in his actions and thoughts, and are glad to call him “friend”. But there too often we rest satisfied.
If, however, our desires should carry us back into past history of his life, how vast is the mystery. A few facts gathered from memoirs, or genealogical tables; some probabilities from historical stories of predecessors; possibly a few fossilized remains here and there in some name, or remnant, of an ancestor and all the rest is hidden in the Great Volume of Historical Mystery.
And this it is with any and every life; with every village; and with every detail of Nature. We cannot read the full history because we cannot grasp the whole history of the Earth, nor of Life on the Earth.
Every detail is a product of the whole; every life is a living manifestation of the whole History of Mankind.