Before quarrying started at the site in 1985, archaeological excavations were carried out that uncovered thousands of years of heritage at Stanwick Lakes.
Neolithic Long Barrows (c 3,700-3,500BC) and Bronze Age Round Barrows (c 2,500–1,500BC) were discovered at the Irthlingborough end of the site. Pottery, Auroch skulls (large native cattle) and a skeleton were all found during excavations of the barrows.
Closer to the centre of the Stanwick Lakes site archaeologists discovered the remains of around 50 Iron Age roundhouses (c 400BC – 43AD) and this settlement would have continued after the arrival of the Romans. Next to the roundhouse site the archaeologists uncovered the remains of a large Roman villa (c250 – 400AD) which would have replaced a more modest original building. One of the mosaics from the roman villa was returned to Stanwick Lakes in 2013 and can be seen on display in the Visitor Centre.
At the northern end of the site, towards Ringstead, the excavations revealed the remains of a late Saxon water mill and timber hall that was later rebuilt in stone as a small Norman manor house. The original Saxon buildings were from c950AD and the Norman manor house was finally abandoned shortly after 1150AD. Following the abandonment of the manor house the adjoining peasant hamlet of West Cotton continued as a settlement through to the middle of the fifteenth century. Some of the objects found from these excavations can be seen on display at the Visitor Centre.
The future Stanwick Lakes site continued to be a large area of meadowland during the following centuries, surrounded by the open field ridge and furrow farming system and a few early enclosed fields. By the late 1830s the entire landscape had changed to enclosed fields, including the meadowland which was now a series of large fields.
1845 saw another major change with the opening of the Northampton and Peterborough railway, the track connecting the stations at Irthlingborough and Ringstead ran through the middle of what is now Stanwick Lakes. There were five trains each way on weekdays and Saturdays with two on a Sunday; the line was closed in 1964.
Visitors to the site today see a landscape that was largely shaped by the subsequent industrial activities of the late 20th century. Hanson began quarrying for gravel in 1985 at the Northern end of the site and continued extraction until the end of 2004 when the site was purchased by East Northamptonshire Council. The restoration work carried out by Hanson over this period saw the planting of trees and creation of the lakes that now make Stanwick Lakes such an important wildlife habitat within the Nene Valley.