When excavations for the Orbit Homes development in Southam started in 2013, strange foundations were discovered under the former Victor Hodges Home site. Orbit brought in a team of archaeologists led by Tom Vaughan, (project manager for Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology) to dig and record what was found. The stonework they uncovered was three sides of a substantial limestone building with walls about one metre thick. The remains are thought to be the foundations of a huge medieval tithe barn.
Andrew Mann, an archaeologist working on the site said: “Tithe barns played a significant part in medieval life and the Southam barn would have been an important and prominent building in the town. It is not known when or why the barn went out of use and was demolished, but the earliest maps from the late 18th century show no buildings on this part of the site. We also found charred grain from the post-Medieval period, which fits in with it being a tithe barn.”
Southam manor was endowed to Coventry Priory in 1043. It is therefore likely that a large proportion of the tithes collected here would have been transported to Coventry for the use of the Priory itself. The Priory retained control of the manor through the medieval period until the Reformation in 1535. Until around that period, the original Manor House stood where the recreation ground is today, so the church, manor and tithe barn would have stood side by side along Park Lane.
Roman-British pottery shards
Further excavations also discovered a wide deep ditch running almost parallel, some 15m north of the tithe barn. It contained Roman-British pottery shards, which indicate that there was a settlement here between 700 and 1,000 years earlier than the construction of the tithe barn. This was overlain by another limestone wall and along the same alignment as the ditch, which suggests the site was probably a legal boundary.
When members of Southam Heritage Collection were given a tour of the site and stood looking towards Leamington, we realised how high we were and what a long distance view it would have afforded in earlier times. Southam has been settled since the Roman period, after all; we are not very far from the Fosse Way and the Chesterton Roman outpost on it near Chesterton Windmill. Southam would have been an excellent site for a Roman farm and there is increasing evidence of Roman occupation here.
In 2015 the new town centre in Southam should be completed and all being well, the Southam Heritage Collection will be moving into its new home in Tithe Lodge next to the new library. Next Summer we are hoping to stage an exhibition telling the story of the Tithe Barn, the taxes, and the old town centre. If you are interested in archaeology and would like to find out what the town of Southam was built on, then do come along.
This piece was originally published in the Southam Heritage Collection’s newsletter.