The 5th century did not begin with the complete economic collapse that some historians have hypothesised (e.g. Ward-Perkins 2005, 2). Instead, we can see shifting patterns of production and trade in goods beginning, in the case of ironwork, in the 370s, which indicate profound changes in the scale and organisation of manufacturing. That it begins more than a generation before the end of imperial rule is interesting and provides a reminder of the dangers of ascribing all 5th-century changes to it.
Following the collapse of the imperial administration in Britain and the slow cessation of coin use, finally ending in the 430s, the ceramic industry could not continue in the mass production mode that had been the norm for centuries. Nevertheless, the fabrics in use in 5th-century Baldock suggest that the established industries at Much Hadham and Verulamium continued to operate at a much smaller scale. What is notable, though, is the complete absence of Harrold Shelly Ware (Tomber and Dore 1998, 115) from the assemblages with sub-Roman fabrics. Having been an important constituent of local assemblages since the late Iron Age (Ashworth Fabric 4), its complete absence in a sub-Roman derivative form is surprising and suggests that the networks of supply did not operate to the north.
To the north of Baldock, probably early 5th-century Saxon cremation urns have been found at Sandy (Kennett 1970, 21) and it is possible that the presence of hostile settlers prevented any trade from taking place. It is also possible of course, that the industry ceased abruptly at the start of the 5th century, but this is increasingly looking implausible. What can be discounted, though, is Stuart Laycock's (2008, 158) notion that pottery distribution became regionalised through the closing of civitas borders to trade during the 5th century: Harrold was as much a part of the Civitas Catuvellaunorum as Much Hadham and Verulamium.
Whatever the nature of the relations between the people of the Baldock area and those to the north, the 6th century seems to have witnessed the abandonment of styles derived from Roman forms and the adoption of styles and a fabric (Ashworth Fabric 53) derived from those used by the people to the north. It is also from this period that the first Anglo-Saxon metalwork is found around Baldock. That the shift was slow and that the same manufacturing techniques were used for both the sub-Roman and the Saxon ceramic forms suggests that this is indeed a cultural change and not the arrival of a new population.
This cultural exchange can also be seen in Anglo-Saxon cemeteries: Kevin Leahy (2007, 126-7) has drawn attention to a group of four wheel-made pots of Romano-British type from the Cleatham cemetery in Lincolnshire, an area of early Saxon immigration. The only example from a grave that could be assigned to a particular phase was assigned to Phase 2, which he dates to the later 5th century. Dates for Anglo-Saxon material are notoriously a subject of debate, although it has become clear from the work of Sam Lucy (2000, 154) on the material from Mucking and of Catherine Hills at Spong Hill (Hills and Lucy 2013, 320-6) that the earliest such material must date from the first quarter of the 5th century. This being the case, it may be possible to suggest a mid-5th-century date for the Cleatham urns. What is clear is that there were people in the Cleatham area who looked to Romano-British cultural forms as a means of reinforcing identity.
It is evident from the changes in sub-Roman ceramics in the Baldock area during the 5th and 6th centuries that they formed an element in the consumption and construction of identities. At a time of radical shifts in legitimising power by reference to a wider world, the 5th-century focus on the Roman Empire was replaced in the 6th century by a focus on Germanic cultural forms. These changes were a transformation of identities, not the trauma of invasion. As Robin Fleming (forthcoming) has expressed it, the people of sub-Roman Baldock were 'struggling to be Roman in a former Roman province'; by the 6th century, they had evidently given up that struggle.