THE NEOLITHIC AGE (fn. 77)
The first Neolithic settlers reached Britain about the 4th millennium B.C., (fn. 78) but for
the thousand or so years which elapsed before the appearance of bronze there is little
evidence to supply an absolute, let alone a relative, chronology for the different cultural
features of the Neolithic in Middlesex. A distinction can sometimes be made in the
British Neolithic between settlers and native (Mesolithic) peoples who learned the new
ways of life, presumably from the migrants. (fn. 79) It is not possible, however, to divide
finds in Middlesex definitely into the two divisions, for items peculiar to one group of
people can appear legitimately in the equipment of another.
Only two Neolithic sites of importance have been discovered in Middlesex. (fn. 80) One
comprises two small hollows or pits at Heathrow, about one mile from the Colne and
over five from the Thames. These contained pieces of at least nineteen pots showing
considerable variety of decoration such as might be found on 'Peterborough' or 'Mortlake' ware. (fn. 81) The other site is a causewayed camp at Yeoveney, near Staines, excavated
in 1961, which yielded a large quantity of pottery similar to that from Windmill Hill
(Wilts.). (fn. 82)
The presence of pottery of the Windmill Hill type suggests that its makers were the
first farmers to reach the county, settling initially on the better-drained river gravels, from
which they may have extended their occupations. Settled farmers possibly existed contemporaneously with comparatively nomadic groups. Even at this time there was considerable movement, at least of individuals, for axes or axe stone from as far away as
the Lake District, Cornwall, and even Ireland have been found in the London and
Middlesex area. (fn. 83) Some of the imported axes were manufactured from specially graded
close-grained stone, and these were probably used for felling trees, although the more
adze-like ones were possibly used for working timber, and even, as on the Continent,
in building dwellings.
There is, however, little direct evidence of agriculture or cattle-keeping in Middlesex
during the period. Nevertheless, the discovery of pottery similar to that of the Windmill
Hill farmers suggests that grain was grown in Neolithic Middlesex, and an elegant flint
sickle from the Thames at Chelsea is evidence of harvesting. (fn. 84) Hunting and food-gathering, however, almost certainly continued. Flint arrowheads have been found at a few
places in Middlesex as well as in the Thames, although they are relatively few when
compared with the hundreds from the right bank of the river at Ham, opposite Twickenham and Teddington. (fn. 85)
No evidence of salt-winning in Neolithic Middlesex has been found, nor is there any
trace of the earthen long barrows found in other parts of south-east England. Conclusions about daily life can be based only on such isolated finds as a piece of worked deer
antler from the Thames at Hammersmith. This 'antler comb', an implement often
found with pottery of the Windmill Hill type, (fn. 86) has one end cut in a fringe with parallel
teeth some two inches long, and may have been used for removing hair from deer skins (fn. 87)
The Neolithic pottery of Middlesex falls into three main groups, named after sites
outside the county where similar wares have been found: Windmill Hill, Peterborough
(Northants), and grooved-ware. (fn. 88)
Windmill Hill pottery (fn. 89) is good quality, hard ware, made in baggy or shouldered,
usually round-based, shapes (possibly derived from leather containers), plain or sparingly decorated round the upper part with incised lines and impressed dots (fn. 90) and very
occasionally with impressions of short lengths of twisted cord. (fn. 91)
In southern England the Windmill Hill people settled mostly on the chalk uplands, (fn. 92)
but the discovery at Yeoveney of one of their causewayed camps shows that there was
some penetration into Middlesex. The considerable quantity of Windmill Hill pottery
from Yeoveney has not yet been fully studied. It includes some pieces resembling rare
types found at Windmill Hill which seem close to continental forms, and others similar
to varieties found in East Anglia and at Abingdon (Berks.) causewayed camp, which are
considered to represent a late stage in the British evolution of the pottery. (fn. 93) The
only other Windmill Hill pottery so far recognized in Middlesex is one complete pot
and a few stray sherds from the Thames at Kew Bridge, Syon Reach, and Mortlake.
Peterborough ware (fn. 94) is the other major group of Neolithic pottery found in Middlesex.
Its makers seem usually to have lived in low-lying areas like the Thames valley, where
one of the largest concentrations of the pottery in Britain occurs. (fn. 95) In Middlesex the
largest finds have come from the Heathrow site and, in lesser quantities, from the
Thames at Mortlake and Hammersmith, while at least one sherd was recovered from
Yeoveney. (fn. 96)
Within the Peterborough group a sequence of types, all represented in Middlesex,
has been worked out. (fn. 97) The first is Ebbsfleet ware, named from pottery found in the
Ebbsfleet valley in north-east Kent. (fn. 98) The fabric of Ebbsfleet pottery tends to be
inferior to that of Windmill Hill ware, but the vessels are normally quite well made, in
rather globular shapes with simple rims, distinct necks, rounded or occasionally sharp
shoulders, and a moderate amount of decoration round the upper part of the pot, sometimes extending inside the rim. Decorative motifs include incised patterns, finger-nail
and, more rarely, vertical cord impressions, and pits in the neck usually made with the
finger-tips. (fn. 99) Ebbsfleet pottery developed into Mortlake ware, typified by a bowl (now
in the British Museum) and other pottery from the Thames at Mortlake. Mortlake
pottery is generally cruder and clumsier than Ebbsfleet ware and made of thicker,
softer fabric. (fn. 1) The vessels usually have heavy projecting rims, deeply hollowed necks,
sharp shoulders, and round bases, although flat bases are not unknown. (fn. 2) Close-set
impressed decoration, often arranged herring-bone fashion, covers most of the exterior
and sometimes the upper part of the interior. Some of the devices, like pits in the neck,
resemble those on Ebbsfleet pottery, but cord impressions are much more common and
new techniques, such as rustication (pinching the clay between two finger-nails),
appear. (fn. 3) The pottery from Heathrow is Mortlake ware and illustrates many of the techniques used. (fn. 4) The final stage in the Peterborough sequence is the Fengate style, (fn. 5) in
which the bases and contours tend to become flattened and the rims to overhang the
walls of the pot in a way that suggests the overhanging-rim urns of the Bronze Age. (fn. 6)
The bowl from the Thames near Hammersmith Bridge is a good example of Fengate
The relationship of Peterborough to Windmill Hill pottery is not clear, except
that the Mortlake phase seems later than the earliest Windmill Hill. (fn. 7) The evidence of
Heathrow, supported by the modest accumulation of Peterborough pottery from the
Thames at Hammersmith and Mortlake and the habitation site across the Thames at
Thorpe (Surr.), (fn. 8) shows that Peterborough people lived in the Middlesex area. Indeed,
the close sequence of Peterborough pottery types from the Middlesex stretch of the
Thames, which includes forms apparently transitional between Ebbsfleet and Mortlake, (fn. 9) suggests that some of the development may have taken place in the district. (fn. 10)
The third group of Neolithic pottery from Middlesex, Rinyo-Clacton or grooved
ware, is characterized by flat-based pots with grooved, incised, dotted, and applied
decoration. It is represented in the county only by a few sherds from the Thames,
which are of some importance because they come from the middle of an area in which
grooved-ware was previously unknown. The affiliations of grooved-ware and its makers
are uncertain, but chronologically it seems to belong to the latter part of the Neolithic
era, contemporary with later Peterborough ware and beakers, and possibly overlapping
the beginning of the Bronze Age. (fn. 11)
|Yeoveney (TQ. 024726): causewayed camp. Large quantity of Windmill Hill pottery; some Peterborough ware. (fn. 12)
|YIEWSLEY & WEST DRAYTON
|Harmondsworth, Heathrow, 'Caesar's Camp' (TQ. 084766): settlement site consisting of two pits. Mortlake pottery; some worked flints (fn. 13)
|Yiewsley: two sherds, apparently one Ebbsfleet and one Mortlake in box labelled. 'pottery found at Yiewsley with the flints'.
|Mortlake, perhaps S. side of river: (fn. 14) plain Windmill Hill sherd with slightly out-turned rim.
|Four Ebbsfleet sherds.
||L.M. A.10215, A.10573, A.13671, (fn. 15) C.953 (fn. 16)
|Three Peterborough sherds, apparently transitional between Ebbsfleet and Mort-lake styles
||L.M. A.13693, (fn. 17)
|Mortlake bowl (alleged to have been found on same site and beneath same calcareous seam as beakers B.M. 1909.5.18.13-14); six sherds.
||B.M. unreg., 1909.6.25.1 (fn. 18) L.M. A.10213, (fn. 19) A.13666, (fn. 20) A.13668, A.13670
|Fengate sherd. (fn. 21) Dr. Isobel Smith has recognized two other sherds from same vessel.
|Sherd, probably grooved-ware, with flat rim. Exterior of wall decorated with horizontal herring-bone pattern of grooves and top of interior with four horizontal
|THAMES (BRENTFORD & CHISWICK)
|'Nr. Kew Bridge, off Strand Island, from ballast' (c. TQ. 194776): Windmill Hill bowl; hard black ware with some grit; suspicion of out-turned rim; plain.
|Strand-on-the-Green: grooved-ware or beaker sherd. Flat base and wall with rough grooved decoration of horizontal lines and herring-bone pattern.
|Hammersmith, perhaps S. side of river: (fn. 22) three Ebbsfleet sherds.
||L.M. C.940, C.941, (fn. 23) C.944
|Peterborough sherd; simple rim; no neck; decorated with two rows of finger-nail impressions on outside and one on inside rim.
|Two grooved-ware or beaker sherds. One with slight horizontal grooves and finger-nail impressions. Other with small circular depressions and grooves.
||L.M. C.946, (fn. 24) C.948
|'Nr. Hammersmith Bridge' (c. TQ. 229781): Fengate bowl (half); flat base and incipient overhanging rim; decorated with twisted-cord impressions, pits made with round implement, and irregular semicircles of finger-nail impressions set end to end. (fn. 25) Partial analogies from Peterborough and Ford (Northumb.). (Also said to have come from Thames at Wandsworth). (fn. 26)
|THAMES (HESTON & ISLEWORTH)
|Syon Reach: Windmill Hill sherd; small irregular out-turned rim; plain.
|THAMES (nr. WEYBRIDGE)
|Mortlake sherd. (fn. 27)
|Windmill Hill sherd. Decorated on rim with oblique incised lines and below rim with roughly horizontal lines of hyphen-like impressions possibly made with string of small seeds or toothed implement. (fn. 28) Ebbsfleet sherd.
Some hundreds of axes (fn. 29) which can be called Neolithic have been found technically
in Middlesex, although usually off its banks in the Thames. Most of them, whether
chipped or polished, are of flint. A smaller proportion is of ground or polished stone,
which was sometimes imported from other parts of Britain. Few of these axes are
broken, although some seem to have been reconditioned by chipping. The quantity of
axes is large, but it should be remembered that they represent the losses of durable
objects over a period of nearly two thousand years. The evidence on which a chronology for the various types of stone axes could be constructed does not exist; nor is the
relationship of the Neolithic axe to the Mesolithic 'pick' clear.
Axe finds are concentrated at several points. (fn. 30) Most of the land axes have been found
south of a line from Yiewsley to Finsbury. They are, therefore, from the surface of the
Pleistocene gravels, the brickearths, and the more recent alluvial areas of Middlesex.
There is hardly any on the London Clay. Two landward concentrations are notable:
one in the Lea valley between Hackney and Walthamstow, and another, consisting of
some twenty-five axes, covering the City of London and parts of Holborn. The London
area lies on the Taplow gravels, which elsewhere in Middlesex have not produced so
many axe finds.
The Thames concentrations are of some interest. Staines, near the causewayed camp,
seems to be more prolific, in contrast to the lesser scatters of Sunbury and Hampton.
The densest find areas are in the Teddington-Twickenham and Isleworth-Brentford
stretches. Downstream the finds are thinner, except at Hammersmith and Mortlake.
Below Chelsea Bridge axes are not plentiful except where the river passes the older
parts of London and the City. Down-river from the Tower finds are few.
Only in the area around Yiewsley, West Drayton, and Dawley is there any rough
correlation on land between axes, pottery, and leaf-shaped arrowheads. A discoidal knife
was found at Yiewsley, and at Harefield, an outlier on glacial gravels, three axes have
been found. The best correlation between river finds of axes and pottery appears
in the stretches of the Thames at Mortlake and Hammersmith. (fn. 31) There is a possible
correlation with the relatively plentiful finds of leaf-shaped arrowheads between
Twickenham and Ham and, to a lesser degree, off the Fulham bank.
In addition to the axes, and the numerous indeterminate or unstudied flint types,
there are from Middlesex a small number of flint objects of distinctive forms. Those
with a claim to be Neolithic are included here; but, since all are stray finds, they can
be dated only by reference to similar objects found outside the county. They come,
generally speaking, from areas such as Yiewsley and the Thames to the west of London
which have produced pottery and axes, and so confirm the overall distribution pattern.
They fall into four groups.
The first form is the petit-tranchet derivative arrowhead, (fn. 32) which has a straight chisel
edge instead of a point. These arrowheads are derived from a type predominant in
later Mesolithic times in Britain, Scandinavia, and other areas. (fn. 33) Outside Middlesex
they have been found at various Neolithic sites, (fn. 34) particularly with grooved-ware
pottery, (fn. 35) but they were evidently still in use in the earlier part of the Bronze Age. (fn. 36)
The second form is the leaf-shaped arrowhead. (fn. 37) This was one of the innovations
of the Windmill Hill people and one of their most distinctive pieces of equipment, (fn. 38) but
such arrowheads have been found in various parts of England and Wales with Peterborough (fn. 39) and grooved-ware pottery. (fn. 40) They may still have been used in the Bronze
Age, (fn. 41) and have even been reported in an Iron-Age context. (fn. 42) The known Middlesex
examples are all of the true leaf-shaped form, not the lozenge-shaped variant.
The third form is the discoidal knife, (fn. 43) a roughly disc-shaped or triangular implement
with polished edges, found chiefly in eastern Britain, and perhaps used in the preparation of hides. (fn. 44) This is not a common type, but the Thames valley in and near Middlesex has produced a comparatively large concentration. (fn. 45) Discoidal knives seem to have
been exclusively British tools, possibly of Mesolithic antecedents. (fn. 46) They have seldom
been found with associations, and are usually assumed to be Neolithic, (fn. 47) although
there is some evidence that they were used in Beaker times. (fn. 48)
The fourth form is the sickle. (fn. 49) The two so far recognized in Middlesex are of the
long, curved, single-piece variety presumably designed for hafting at right angles to
a straight handle, (fn. 50) and probably used for cutting corn and reeds. (fn. 51) The type has
analogies in Holland, (fn. 52) and its distribution in Britain, where it is not very common,
is confined to eastern districts, one group occurring along the Thames valley and
estuary. (fn. 53) Available dating evidence suggests that the sickles were used in Neolithic
times although not introduced by the Windmill Hill farmers. (fn. 54) How long they continued in use is uncertain: metal sickles are not a feature of the earliest part of the
British Bronze Age. (fn. 55)
A skull, trepanned and partly healed, was found in the Thames at Hammersmith.
Trepanning was particularly common in the Beaker period but pollen samples from the
skull analysed by Professor G. W. Dimbleby suggest that it belongs to the Neolithic