3 BILLING, LITTLE
(OS 1:10000 aSP 76 SE, bSP 86 SW)
Little Billing parish lies to the E. of Northampton and prior to 20th-century boundary changes covered an area of 357 hectares bounded on the
N. by Moulton, on the W. by Weston Favell, on the S. by Little Houghton
and on the E. by Great Billing. Its E. boundary is formed by Billing Brook
and its S. boundary by the R. Nene. The subsoil is chiefly of Northampton
Sands or Upper Lias Clay with some alluvium along the sides of the Billing
Brook and alluvium and river gravel along the Nene valley flood plain.
The parish runs from a height of 99 m. above OD at its N.W. corner down
a gradual slope to the S.E. until it meets the R. Nene at 52 m. above OD.
Prehistoric and Roman
A polished flint axe of neolithic type has been recovered from gravel
pits at Little Billing (J Northamptonshire Nat Hist Soc Fld Club 27 (1934),
173; NM; NDC P129) while a bronze flanged axe has been found at Billing
(copy in NM, original in Oakham Museum; NDC P128; see Great Billing
p. 213). Worked flints have been discovered at four locations
(c. SP 792630; BNFAS 5 (1971), 1; NDC P8. SP 79956185; BNFAS 5
(1971), 1; NDC P9. c. SP 793644; BNFAS 5 (1971), 1; NDC P13.
SP 80346187; a scraper; NM; NDC P182). Roman pottery has been
recovered from c. SP 800618 (BNFAS 5 (1971), 6; NDC R7).
b(1) Early Post-Glacial Remains (c. SP 803616), S. of Little
Billing village. A femur and vertebrae of an auroch (?) and rib bones of a
smaller animal or an immature auroch were discovered at 3 m. below the
modern ground level lying on a dark stained ground surface below layers of
blue-grey silty clay (NDC P192).
b(2) Ring Ditches (?) (SP 81006175), E. of Little Billing village, on
river gravel, at 55 m. above OD. Two possible ring ditches appear on
aerial photographs taken in 1964 (BNFAS 6 (1971), 3; NDC A4).
a(3) Enclosure (c. SP 793629), S. of Billing Arbours, on
Northampton Sands at 35 m. above OD, is said to appear on an aerial
photograph not seen by NDC or RCHM, taken in 1970 (BNFAS 5 (1971),
42; NDC A30).
a(4) Cropmarks (?) (c. SP 795644), N. of Billing Arbours, on Upper
Lias Clay/Northampton Sands, at 83 m. above OD. 'Vague ditches' are
reported on an aerial photograph taken in 1970 (BNFAS 5 (1971), 42; NDC
b(5) Roman Settlement (?) (c. SP 811617), E. of Little Billing
village, on river gravel, at 55 m. above OD. Roman pottery, including
Samian ware, and shallow ditches were discovered during pipe-laying in
1972, close to cropmark site Little Billing (2) (NDC R106).
Medieval and Later
Medieval pottery has been recovered from four locations
(SP 80346187; NM; NDC M439. c. SP 794645; BNFAS 5 (1971), 29; NDC
M4. SP 79506395; BNFAS 5 (1971), 29; NDC M5. c. SP 801618; also tile,
'on top of slight mound'; NM; NDC M390. Human bones and skulls are
reported to have been found near the church (
Northampton Chronicle and
11 Feb. 1932)).
b(6) Parish Church of All Saints (SP 804617; fiche Fig. 23;
There is no surviving evidence of an early church except for the font
(Plate 35). The chancel and N. chapel appear to date from the 14th
century as the arch in the W. wall of the N. chapel and the similar W.
arch between the chancel and the N. chapel are of that date. The single-light window in the S. wall of the chancel is also 14th-century. The whole
of the W. part of the church was rebuilt c. 1500 as a wide hall under a
single roof with a bell turret on the W. gable. The W. window is central
under a symmetrical gable and the windows and doorways in the side walls
match each other. The arrangement of the arches in the E. wall suggests
that before 1500 the W. part of the church consisted of a nave and N.
aisle. The arcade probably ran just S. of the thick E. wall of the aisle,
which survives around the arch into the N. chapel. In the post-medieval
period a timber arcade was inserted, possibly because the roof span proved
too wide. In 1849 the N. chapel was heavily restored and in 1852–4 the
rest of the building was much rebuilt by E.F. Law. The timber arcade and
bell turret were removed and a N. tower added. The nave gables were
heightened and a steep-pitched roof framed. (VCH Northamptonshire IV,
Owing to the multiplicity of land units in the Billings recorded in
Domesday Book the early history of the church at Little Billing is
confused. The existence of the font at Little Billing (Plate 35) makes
plain why Bridges placed the holding of Gunfrid de Choques, which includes
a reference to a priest, as being at Little Billing (DB f. 227d).
Fig. 23 Parish Church of All Saints. Outline plan.
The church had certainly been granted to St. Andrew's Priory,
Northampton, by the time of Bishop Bloet's actum (Smith, D.M., 1980,
no. 11) but since it is not listed in Henry I's confirmatory charter of 1107
(Davis et al 1913–69, II no. 833) St. Andrew's must have obtained the
church between 1107 and 1123, probably by grant of Walter fitz Winemar
(BL Cott Vesp E xvii f. 55r). Since Winemar was a Domesday land owner
in the area, a grant by Walter fitz Simon (BL Royal 11 B ix f. 37v) is
almost certainly a later confirmation.
The church consists of a Chancel, North Chancel Chapel, Nave, North
Tower and South Porch.
The N. wall is pierced by two openings. That to the W. has
chamfered jambs and an arch of two moulded orders; that to the E. has
chamfered jambs with impost mouldings and an arch of one order, hollow-moulded on the S. face and chamfered on the N. The E. window is of
three lights with panel tracery separated from the main lights by a
transom. In the S. wall are two windows with cinquefoil-headed lights, on
either side of a doorway with a two-centred head. At the W. end of the
wall is a small trefoil-headed window. The roof is 19th-century.
North Chancel Chapel
The N. chapel is similar in area and height to the chancel. In the
N. wall is a 19th-century arch to the tower and two straight-headed two-light windows with cusped heads and pierced spandrels. The E. window is
of three lights with panel tracery. The window tracery in the chapel was
renewed in 1849, but the rear-arches appear authentic. The aumbry below
the E. window has a cusped ogee head.
There are three two-light windows in the N. wall with quatrefoils in
their heads. The N. doorway has casement-moulded jambs and a four-centred head. The archway to the N. chapel has single chamfered jambs
but two orders of wave mouldings for the arch, similar to the westerly
arch in the N. wall of the chancel. The archway is set in a projecting
section of wall. To the S. of the arch is a cusped niche. The chancel
arch is of two orders, the outer continuously chamfered, the inner carried
on polygonal half-shafts with moulded capitals. The windows and doorway
of the S. wall repeat those of the N. wall. The S. doorway appears to
have been cut through the plinth, which is confined to the nave, unlike the
N. doorway which was allowed for in the plinth. The three-light window is
similar to the side windows except that the head of the centre light is
filled with sub-lights. The W. gable and roof are 19th-century. There was
formerly a timber bell turret at the W. end. At the W. end of the nave
is an early medieval font inscribed with the name of its maker, Wigberthus
The small N. tower was added in 1852–4 by Law.
The porch is late- or post-medieval. The openings in the E. and W.
walls are straight-headed. The outer S. doorway is Perpendicular in style
but may be 19th-century, like the gable and steep roof.
b(7) Settlement Remains (SP 803618), on river gravel/Upper Lias
Clay, at 55 m. above OD. The village of Little Billing was until recent
development little more than a hamlet, being described as 'of one or two
farm houses and a few cottages only, in addition to the church and rectory
house' (VCH Northamptonshire IV, 74). The medieval village, however,
seems to have been rather larger. Settlement remains were discovered in
1973 immediately W. of the present village (SP 80356182) when trial
trenching revealed pits and walls of 12th to 13th-century date. Medieval
pottery has also been recovered from the adjacent site of the manor house
(SP 80436183) while a stone wall and glass fragments have been discovered
in the garden of the rectory (SP 80376178) (NDC M3A; 3B; 177).
The documentary evidence shows Little Billing to have always been
one of the smaller settlements in Spelhoe Hundred in the medieval period,
generally being comparable in number of households and tax-payments with
Abington and Boughton. It underwent a decline, however, from an already
low level of 21 households in the 1674 Hearth Tax assessment to only
11 households at the time of Bridges (c. 1720) while Abington remained
stable with 33 households and Boughton actually increased in size from 35
to 42 households.
Interestingly the manor was acquired in 1688 by the Thursby family
who were responsible for the clearance and emparking of Abington village
(8) Cultivation Remains. The date of the enclosure of Little
Billing is unknown but it had already taken place by 1685 (NRO, Glebe
Terriers). Ridge-and-furrow of these fields exists on the ground or can be
traced on air photographs in only a few parts of the parish, for in most
places the modern cultivation of the light soils has removed all traces.
Fragments of interlocked furlongs exist in the S.E. of the parish
(SP 799622) and other small areas lie in the N. of the parish (SP 795640)
(see Hall 1977). (FSL 6565, 1915–7, 1947–9; V58–RAF–1122, 0175–80,