Abandoned medieval Northamptonshire villages recognised as Ancient Monuments

By James Murray | 20 June 2014
 
the village of Clipston
Clipston: surrounding both the existing and abandoned areas of the village are the undulating lines of medieval ploughing, known as ridge and furrow© English Heritage
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has designated a series of Northamptonshire medieval villages as Scheduled Ancient Monuments.

Being designated in this way will hopefully protect the sites from a number of threats, including future development; local resource extraction; vandalism, and even environmental damage.

Describing the sites as "wonderful examples of the hidden heritage that exists across the UK" Minister for Heritage, Ed Vaizey said the preservation order would "help us understand our past" and "allow us to uncover the secrets of medieval society going back centuries.”  

Protection, of course, cannot be absolutely guaranteed by such measures, as proved by the extraordinary demolition of a section of Offa’s Dyke in August 2013.

But the recognition of the Northamptonshire villages brings them into line with similar places like Wharram Percy in North Yorkshire, which has long been recognised as a site of particular historical significance.

Some of the Northamptonshire villages are among the best preserved of their kind in the country, revealing street-plans and boundaries through surveying and aerial photography.

The county is at the centre of the UK’s richest seam of so-called ‘lost villages’, partly because Northamptonshire had more than half of its agricultural land still operating as traditional open field systems right up until the widespread employment of parliamentary enclosure acts from 1750 onwards.

When the areas around such villages were forcibly enclosed, the houses and workshops were abandoned as arable farming was discontinued and vast areas were turned over solely to pasture.

One of the principle villages involved in this latest designation is Little Oxendon, between Leicester and Northampton, which preserves its ancient ridge and furrow field system just below the surface of the modern pasture.

Extensive archaeological work has already been carried out, establishing that the site had been occupied since pre-Roman times. It was already severely depopulated by 1525 – almost certainly by an early mutually agreed act of enclosure.

Walgrave, near Kettering, meanwhile remains occupied to this day, though the site of the main village seems to have shifted, leaving a wealth of earthworks and other remains close to the 13th century church of St Peter.

Clipston, close to Market Harborough, is also still occupied, but only at the centre, with old streets and nineteen abandoned buildings including the church of All Saints surrounding it.

Lying close to its modern counterpart just outside of Northampton, the old village of Horton was incorporated into the landscaped grounds of the 2nd Earl Halifax’s Horton Park in the 18th century.

Elsewhere, the buried fish pond at Kirby may well contain preserved material that could better inform us about the village’s environmental and economic conditions.  

Archaeologists and historians will see the announcement as hugely important for the lost medieval villages of Northamptonshire, which will hopefully soon benefit from more recognition, funding, and research in the area.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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the village of Little Oxenden
Aerial view of Little Oxenden© English Heritage
the village of Little Oxenden
Little Oxenden: the long groove, or hollow way, running left to right formed the main route through the settlement, and the rectangular closes either side were occupied by houses© English Heritage
the village of Kirby
The village of Kirby© English Heritage
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I'm curious whether there have been extensive site surveys, LIDAR imaging, field GIS data collection, etc. to compare with historical records. This seems like it'd be a fantastic project.
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