The modern town of Baldock (Hertfordshire, UK) is a quiet market town nestling in the hills of North Hertfordshire. Once an important road junction familiar to travellers on the Great North Road, it is now bypassed by the A1 motorway and the A505, which carry traffic north and south, and east and west respectively. It owes its existence to the commercial enterprise of the Knights Templar who, in the 1140s, were granted land here to build a new town.
What the pious knights did not know was that the road junction had been important a thousand years and more earlier, when an earlier settlement had existed under and beyond the eastern side of their town. Only rediscovered in 1925, it is now one of the most thoroughly researched Romano-British ‘small towns’ and its Iron Age precursor one of the earliest towns in Britain. Excavations by W Percival Westell, the first curator of Letchworth Museum, his assistant Erik Shimon Applebaum and by Ian Stead revealed a great deal about the origins and growth of the town. North Hertfordshire Archaeological Society assisted John Moss-Eccardt’s excavations at Brewery Field in 1968, but the major project that ran from 1978 to 1989 would not have been possible without the Society’s commitment and dedication. Working mostly in advance of development work on the periphery of the ancient settlement – especially at Clothall Common – revealed an unparalleled number and variety of burial grounds, making the site one of international significance.
The work, directed by Gil Burleigh, uncovered a Late Iron Age aristocratic burial, a unique Late Iron Age processional way and mortuary house, and numerous Romano-British cemeteries, of which at least one continued in use until after AD 500, an so far unique phenomenon in eastern England. Altogether, some 1900 burials have been recorded from the town, of which almost two-thirds were excavated after 1978.