How it all began

The question mark after the title is deliberate, because no one will ever be able to say with certainty what the origins were of any village as old as Maidwell and the hundreds of others that cover the East Midlands. Everyone knows that they are Saxon villages; after all, they nearly all have Saxon names, and they are nearly all mentioned in Domesday Book. But there is no reason why, having gone back as far as Saxon times, it should stop there. We know that the Romans were well established in this part of the country, and what could be more sensible for the Saxons as they moved in than to hold on sites which had been used before?

In the case of Maidwell we do not need to stay entirely with supposition, as some field archaeology has been done by the Northamptonshire Field Group. ln fact even the Romans were fairly late comers to the parish, because there is evidence to suggest bronze age settlement near the boundary with Cottesbrooke, about l000 yards west of the Cottesbrooke Road (now a bridle path). This some windswept spur of ironstone also contains an early Iron Age site – thought to have had defensive origins – and there is the site of a Roman Villa not far away.

There is more evidence of Iron Age and Roman settlement closer to the modern village, in one of the fields behind what is now Westaway Motors. Here, aerial photography has shown two rectangular enclosures typical of the beginnings of the Christian era.

The fact that these very early sites are not in the same place as the modern village does not necessarily mean that the settled area has been constantly shifting, although that would not be unusual – all it does mean is that these are the sites that we know about. There could of course be others buried beneath the modern dwellings, but excavating archaeologists would hardly be welcome there. lt is however very probable that what we now call Maidwell und think of as a residential village sitting in the middle of its parish has been like that ‘only’ for the last thousand years or so. For well over a thousand years before that, it was probably a scatter of isolated settlements all over the parish, with each little mini-community doing its own farming in its own way. Then, some time after the Saxon colonisation but well before the Norman, so possibly in the seventh or eighth century, the village as a unit began to develop, all the residential buildings started to cone together in · one area, and the land began to be farmed on an organised basis in the open field system which lasted until the end of the seventeenth century. There is nothing to give any clue as to why this change took place; maybe it was just the development of farming techniques, or maybe it had something to do with the arrival of Christianity with its ideas of community and the resultant grouping round some early church building – but that is pure speculation.

To come back to what we do know, in the time of Edward the Confessor Maidwell belonged partly to a Saxon lord called Godric, and mostly to Leofric, one of the most powerful of Saxon nobleman (even if to us he has fallen into relative obscurity compared with his exhibitionist wife, the Lady Godiva). The fact that there were two owners may even indicate that the process of consolidation into one village was not even wholly complete by the late Saxon times, and the Normans continued the split ownership, rewarding one of King William’s chaplains, named Ansger, with the Cedric manor, end giving Leofric’s part to a Breton lord called Mainou, although in his case he sub-let to a tenant called Berner. There was also n very tiny portion granted to the Abbey of St. Edmund’s. This dual ownership of the parish was to continue for nearly 400 years after the Conquest, although the owners themselves changed over the years, finally to the Seyton and Rabaz families. Each family had their own manor house – the Seytons on the site which, many rebuildings later, is now Maidwell Hall School, and the Rabaz to the west of the main road where nothing remains of any dwelling apart from same earthworks which could be the site of the house, and also some excellently preserved fishponds.

Two manors in a village is not unusual, but in Maidwell each manor also had its own church. St. Mary’s, like the manor to which it belonged, survived and is today’s Parish Church. But there was also, for at least 300 years from the early thirteenth century to the mid sixteenth, Maidwell St. Peter’s, only a couple of fields away from St. Mary’s. This duplication of churches so close together within the confines of the village is rare; it may give credence to the ‘two village’ origins of modern Maidwell, but it is perhaps more likely that the ‘second’ church, whichever that may have been, was built by its lord of the manor in an excess of devotion, self-aggrandisement, or simply out of rivalry with the other.

St. Peter’s was destroyed or fell into disrepair around l540, so it may have been a victim of the Reformation. It stood near to the Old Rectory on the Draughton Road, and in the course of building the new Rectory, skeletons were unearthed which could well have been in the graveyard of St. Peter’s.

Although Maidwell was jointly owned, there is no evidence to suggest that it deviated from the late Saxon method of farming, whereby the parish was divided into three large ‘fields’, each field being divided, not by hedgerows, but into cultivated strips of which today’s ridge and furrow is the surviving evidence. The field to the north west of the village was called Dale Field, and to the south was Nether Field; the third has not yet been identified. In medieval times the parish was nearly all under plough at some time or another, although the rotational method of farming would have allowed fallow for grazing, and there were some limited areas of flooding meadow. There was certainly a watermill out in the Dales area, and the earthworks of the millrace, leat and dam still exist. There is e possible windmill mound and dovecote in the field behind Hall Farm overlooking the fishponds and another windmill site is suggested by modern field names as being just south of Scotland Wood.

Some early enclosure of part of the open fields took place in the sixteenth century near to the village, but the main enclosure was in 1686, bringing to an end 1000 years of open field farming and imposing the pattern of much smaller hedge-bound fields which still predominates now, even if to a lesser extent over recent years. These early enclosures – it was to be another 100 years before the enclosure movement really gathered pace in the Shires – are indicative of what has been a salient feature of Maidwell right up to the mid twentieth century; very strong landlords, often resident and very much in charge of the village, with very little, if anything, in the way of freehold ownership or indeed of common land.

So Maidwell, which started as a scatter of small settlements, always stayed a small Village – it has rarely had to support more than 250 to 300 people altogether, and it would have been difficult for anyone to move in from elsewhere who had not got l work in some way dependent on the Manor. Situated as it is on the main road halfway between Market Harborough and Northampton, and this is a very well used road, Maidwell might have grown much more as a trading post. It would seem that the Manor had other ideas.

The owners of the second ‘manor’, which was Angser’s after the Norman Conquest and later belonged to the Rabaz family, are hard to trace in detail until further research has been done.

The Mainou manor is much better documented, and its owners from 1170 to 1712 are shown on the following page.