Sawtry

Sawtry is first mentioned in an Anglo Saxon Charter of 1055-1066 as Saltretha, when land was left to Ramsey Abbey by Thurgunt, wife of Turkil the Dane.

Sawtry Green
Sawtry Green, © Travel About Britain

Sawtry is later mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086) as Saltrede, an Old English term meaning "saltern’s stream". Saltern is a term used to describe an area used for salt making.  The stream (its possible location is near to where the Black Horse Drain intersects Ermine Street) would have been used to bring salt from the fenland waterways. From this point it would have been carried away on pack horses or mules. There is reference to tolls exacted from loads of salt passing through nearby Winwick in the Northamptonshire Assize Roll of 1202. Other variations on the name Sawtry include Salteria (1146-53), Saltreda (1183), Sauteria (1184) and Sautre(ye) (1235).

In ancient times salt was a very important commodity. Its ability to preserve food was a key survival resource for civilization because it reduced the dependence on the seasonal availability of food, enabling long distance travel.  Salt was often difficult to obtain and therefore a highly valued trade item. The trade in salt can be traced from before the Bronze age up until the twentieth century. Salt was of key importance to the Roman Empire, who controlled its world price. The word 'salary' being derived from the Latin word salārium, originally meaning: "a soldier's allowance for the purchase of salt". The Romans would have most certainly taken control of the salt production in the fens and all its trade routes, so it is no surprise to find evidence of Roman occupation and a major Roman road in this area.

The current village of Sawtry lies on the western edge of Ermine Street (B1043), half way between the Roman forts at Godmanchester and Water Newton. The equal distance from each fort is approx 10 miles, indicating that Sawtry would have been an ideal halfway resting point for Roman soldiers marching between. Evidence of a possible Mansio or staging post for travellers has been found in the area along with evidence of pottery kilns. Oysters (a popular Roman snack) were brought up the road from the south coast and eaten here in large quantities. Burials from the later Roman period have also been identified close to the road. Although the village now extends mainly to the West, archaeological remains in the fields to the East of the village indicate that earlier settlements would have been much closer to the road. Because Sawtry lies in a half-moon bay at the very edge of the fens (reaching from Alconbury Hill to Norman Cross) it is most likely that regular flooding of the lower fen areas is the main reason why the village has migrated to higher ground over the years.

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Content by Steve B

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