A REPORT ON THE PILE SETTLEMENTS AT CLIFTON
WHAT DISCOVERIES IN THE RIVER TRENT HAVE REVEALED
In 1937 the employees of the Trent Navigation Company, when dredging for gravel near the foot of Clifton Grove, found their work impeded by a large number of wooden piles which had been driven six or eight feet into the gravels. Our attention was called to them by the foreman, Mr. Griffin, who stated that some human remains had been brought to the surface, together with three bronze spears.
On inspecting the site we came to the conclusion that it had been a late Bronze Age Pile settlement, as the type of spears found indicated that period. The wooden piles had numbered several hundreds and were only about four feet apart and sharpened at the lower end. Mr. Adrian Oswald visited the place early in 1938 and verified our conjectures, and we had the good fortune at this time to meet the works manager, Mr. Evans, to whom we expressed the results of our investigations.
Mr. Evans at once took steps to see that all evidence which could throw light upon the nature and date of this place should be collected and kept together, and it would be impossible to praise too highly the intelligent interest and success which has attended his efforts.
A few weeks later two dug-out canoes were brought to light, also several large bronze spearheads, bronze swords, rapiers and knives or daggers, together with a crucible containing metal, and a quern or mortar. Practically all these implements and objects can be associated with, and belong to the middle and late Bronze Age; dateable from 1000 to 500 B.C.
Through the generosity of the Trent Navigation Co. these finds are now in the Nottingham Castle Museum, where, thanks to the interest of the Museum Committee and of Mr. Pitman (the curator) they may be seen and studied in an admirable situation. Much laborious and skilful work had to be performed to preserve the 3,000 years old canoes before they were fit for exhibition. This work was carried out principally by Mr. G. Campion under the guidance of experts from the British Museum.
One canoe is over 27ft. long and 18in. to 20in. wide. The other, slightly smaller, has the end broken off.
This settlement at Clifton appears to have extended a little over 100 yards down stream, and stretched two-thirds across the river, continuing under the haulage path on the Nottingham side. Several piles were found in the river bank. The piles would stand out above flood level, cross beams were placed over the top of these, and a platform thus made, upon which the probable beehive shaped huts were erected.
Here, safe from the attack of bears or wolves, and defended from their enemies, the inhabitants could follow their occupations of fishing, hunting, or cultivating some terraced slope on the steep banks of the Trent Valley.
At the period we assume for this settlement, similar ones were numerous in many parts of Europe, especially around the shores of the Swiss lakes, where large quantities of the same type of utensils and implements have been found. They exist also as common places of abode in the Malay Archipelago at the present time, whose inhabitants are, or were recently, in the same phase of cultural development as our local pile dwellers of the remote past. In parts of Yorkshire and in the Thames valley the remains of pile dwellings have been found.
The Nottingham one, however, is unique for our country on account of the extremely fine quality and type of weapons, together with the canoes and remains of the habitation.
To see specimens of spears to equal some found at Clifton we have to note the great spear found in King's Co., Ireland, where apparently a worker in bronze left a varied assortment of implements. There has been, so far, no pottery discovered.
We need not think of the settlement as being made in the bed of the Trent. This river, if uncontrolled, is always changing its course within the wide bounds of its valley, cutting across its curving bends and leaving its outer loops as swamps or ox-bows. It is probable that our bronze age village was erected in one of these swamps. Dr. Felix Oswald pointed out to me that the. Highfield lake was an old ox-bow of the Trent, which once flowed under the cliffs at Highfield, and that the fine bronze sword found in this lake years ago no doubt belonged to the inhabitants of the Clifton settlement not a mile distant. This sword is now placed with the other finds. THE BRONZE AGE PEOPLES. Neither must we consider the men and women who lived in the Trent Valley in these remote rimes as necessarily unkempt, ignorant savages, but rather as people fond of personal adornment. They hewed or burned out into shape those durable canoes. Whether they moulded the beautiful swords, spears and rapiers is a matter for future evidence to prove, but they evidently knew and understood their beauty of workmanship, and it is an awakening thought to realise that these local weapons are similar to those used by the heroes of Homer's epic poems "On the Windy Plains of Troy."
It is scarcely to be thought that there was but one of these pile settlements in the Trent Valley. So many bronze celts, swords and spears have been found at no great distance from Nottingham that it is quite justifiable to assume other structures will be revealed to add their quota to our knowledge of local human history during the millennium preceding the Roman occupation.—F. Hind, President, Nottingham Nat, Science Field
Club (member of the Thoroton excavating section).