Landscape and its effect on settlement (and vice versa)

As might be expected for villages so close to the edge of the fens, the original development of the settlements of Histon and Impington was inextricably linked with the issue of land drainage. The map below overlays a fine scale relief map generated from LiDAR data onto an early Ordnance Survey map of the area. The highest ground is represented by orange/yellow shading and the lowest ground by green/blue shading. Note the lower-lying area extending south between Histon and Impington.

LIDAR and Ordnance Survey map overlay

Map courtesy of David Oates and reproduced with permission. The red letters B, I and  R show the locations of Bronze Age, Iron Age and Romano- British settlements respectively,  identified by aerial photography and fieldwalking finds made by CAFG in the 1990s.

This central low lying area would have been poorly drained in prehistoric times, and subject to regular flooding. In particular the darker green, and hence particularly low lying area, directly between Histon and Impington would have been the site of persistent marshy and difficult to traverse ground. In contrast the ridge-ways, marked on the map with red long dashed lines would have been the natural routes for humans to traverse. The ridge extending north-west from the site of Histon would have provided an access route into the fen-land to the North. The blue dashed line indicates the drainage basin with the natural outflow towards the River Cam to the North-East. It is now believed that supplementary drainage of this basin via the present Brook which flows outward to the west towards Westwick only occurred sometime after the settlements of Histon and Impington were established in Roman or early Saxon times. The resulting improved drainage of the central basin, allowed habitation in the two villages to gradually spread into the lower lying land, and ultimately coalesce into a continuous settlement.

The analysis of the age and distribution of pottery from test pits dug in the villages during 2016 and 2017 has certainly supported the notion that the area between the two villages was not populated until the late Saxon or early Medieval period. We think the improved drainage of the central area by the creation of a new channel flowing to the west occurred in the early or middle Saxon period. As always, more research is needed to confirm these findings.