The origin of town life in England is a difficult question to answer,
but the earliest of some of our historic towns seem to have begun their lives as Roman
This is the case with Lincoln. It was one of the first Roman forts in
the area, known as Lindum (British Caer Lind Colun). Within a very short time civilians
had started to settle in the area around the fort, living in small domestic houses.
Probably from AD 200 it could be said there was a flourishing town in Lincoln. It
continued to flourish until about AD 350-360, and then findings indicate that buildings
were beginning to decay, walls were falling down, roofs were falling in, and some of the
large civic buildings were in ruins. Also the sewers were unlikely to be working by this
Archaeological evidence points to large numbers of people moving out of the Roman
cities by this time. The lack of coins, pottery, and domestic rubbish confirm the
abandonment of large areas of city. Dust and decay would have fallen on this empty area,
with nature striving to reclaim the land. Lincoln in the fifth and sixth centuries would not
have looked like a town at all. All that would be found would be a collection of deserted
The old theory that Roman towns continued to thrive into Anglo-Saxon times is
no longer held to be true. It's the same all over the country. The Roman cities collapsed
and there were no real towns in England for nearly two hundred years. People lived rural
lives and avoided the old cities. When they did build towns in the Saxon Period they were
quite different places.
The historic town of Ipswich can be dated back to the early
600's, and there is a cemetery alongside the original settlement area which was used at
that time. Ipswich, known in Old English as Gipeswic, was an early trading community,
although apart from finding imported pottery it is not known what other activities took
It seems reasonable to assume it was the precursor to the very large trading
towns. Early Ipswich is known also to be contemporary to the famous burial site at Sutton Hoo. It is quite likely that the East
Anglian royal house, who lived only nine miles away from the town, actually founded
Ipswich as their royal town and trading port. A corresponding trading capital can be found
in each of the early kingdoms.
Towns became popular again in the seventh century because of a number of reasons:
firstly, it was very convenient to concentrate craft production, tradesmen in one place
who could feed off one another and increase business.
Secondly, there is the social
aspect, that people do like to come to large places for entertainment. Originally the
Saxons would have lived their lives in the seclusion of their own hamlets and farm
settlements. It may be that in the seventh century they moved on just that little bit and
started to congregate at larger functions which were held in bigger settlements.
originally they met just for craft purposes, but then came to realise that all other sorts
of social benefits came from that meeting.
The discovery of an early kiln at Ipswich
has shown that the town was not just an early trading port but an industrial centre,
producing England's earliest known wheel-thrown pottery, called Ipswich-ware.
It was an
enormous industrial base of the time, stretching for about one hundred metres along the
south side of Carr Street, which supplied the whole of the East Anglian kingdom, and
exported to most of the other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, reaching as far as Bristol and York.
By the seventh century, what we now think of as England had been established. Most of our
present villages go back to that time and the first and earliest of our towns, such as
Ipswich, had been established.
Anglo-Saxon England in AD 625, showing the main trading ports