Riseholme DMV

As part of the Medieval Settlement Research Group weekend we went to look at the remains of Riseholme deserted village to the north of Lincoln as the last part of the conference. Risholme Hall and the surrounding grounds are owned by the University of Lincoln and have been converted into University buildings and training facilities. The Hall itself dates from the 19th century (rebuild of an earlier structure) and the area around the hall has been landscaped including the creation of a lake to the south of the hall. Further to the south, across the lake are the remains of the deserted village.

Riseholme DMV from Riseholme Hall
Riseholme DMV from Riseholme Hall looking south across the lake

The remains of the village have been investigated on a number of occasions. Survey and excavation at the site were conducted in 1954 and 1955 (Thompson 1960), and a fuller and more detailed survey was undertaken by the RCHME in 1990s (Everson et al 1991). On the ground the earthworks are still visible and some of the pattern of the settlement can be easily discerned. A hollow way crosses the site from the southwest in a north-easterly direction. On either side of this are a number of crofts and tofts. Those to the south of the hollow way are more regular in appearance but this may be due to the northern ones being affected by upcast from the creation of the lake. This would suggest some form of planning in the layout of the settlement.

Looking east along the hollow way at Riseholme DMV

The site of Riseholme village is recorded as being ruined in 1602 and the church (located near the hall) had also suffered by this point. This was the end of a slow decline as there were fewer than 10 households recorded in 1428. The excavation at the site concentrated on one of the possible house sites along the hollow way (called House 4) and the site of a well. The house excavation located evidence of a structure – in some places indicated by the presence of walling, in others the presence of robber trenches. The evidence suggested that there were two rooms in the building, one had a stone floor and the other a mortar floor. Pottery recovered from under the floor and walls suggested a thirteenth century date for construction, and a coin of Edward I along with the absence of later pottery have suggested a fourteenth century abandonment.

View of the area of the excavated house at Riseholme DMV

The excavation of the well was halted when the water level was reached but no pottery later than fourteenth century was recovered. In the report on the excavations only 13 sherds of pottery are listed and it is unclear how much pottery was recovered in total from the excavations and this would be well worth revisiting to establish if such a clear distinction can be made with no later pottery discovered.

The site at Riseholme is complex. The neat earthworks of the village visible today may not be the only settlement at the site. These are some distance from the church, next to the hall. This is assumed to be the location of the medieval church. Earthworks do show hollow ways linking the village area to the church and a possible grange site to the east. There are suggestions therefore that there was another part of the medieval settlement located close to the church and hall site – possibly the medieval manorial centre of the estate.

This is a site which in many ways is a ‘typical’ DMV – neat hollow way with house plots either side – but dig a little deeper and the story becomes more complex. It would be an ideal site to reinvestigate to review the site as a whole, in its landscape, and to try to establish the true settlement development of the area.


Everson, P., C. Taylor and C. Dunn 1991. Change and Continuity: Rural Settlement in North-West Lincolnshire. London: HMSO.

Thompson, F.H. 1960. The deserted medieval village of Riseholme, near Lincoln. Medieval Archaeology 4: 95-108.


MSRG Spring Conference in Lincoln

Over the weekend I attended the Medieval Settlement Research Group Spring Conference in Lincoln. This event was organised by Carenza Lewis – now Professor for the Public Understanding of Research at the University. It took as its focus a review of work done in Currently Occupied Rural Settlements (CORS) in Eastern England. Most of this work originated in Carezna’s work with Access Cambridge, but was then taken, and expand by the many different communities that had been involved. So both the Saturday and Sunday were a mix of local people presenting their own projects, results and challenges as well as the ‘professional’ workers on the subject. The professional here is in quote marks – not to be derogatory to this group of people but to emphases the high quality and professional presentations made by all the community groups. Nearly all sticking to time, all well supported by very good visual aids and all clear and audible to a large lecture theatre. They are all to be congratulated on their work and show what a blurred line exists between amateur and professional.


I am not going to summarise all the work these groups have done here as that would be a real disservice to the many insights they gave at the conference but here are the groups that presented and the links to their websites were many of their materials can be freely accessed.


Sharnbrook Local History Group http://slhg.org.uk/


West Wickham & District Local History Group – https://www.facebook.com/pages/West-Wickham-Big-Village-Dig/208527505966436


Pirton Local History Group – http://www.pirtonhistory.org.uk/


Great Bowden Heritage and Archaeology – http://www.greatbowdenheritage.btck.co.uk/

Lutterworth Fieldworkers – http://leicsfieldworkers.co.uk/currentwork/local-groups/lutterworth-fieldwork-group/


Binham Local History Group – http://www.binhampriory.org/BLHG.html


Bingham Heritage Trails Association  http://www.binghamheritage.org.uk/


Nayland with Wissington Conservation Society – http://www.naylandconservation.org.uk/index.html

North Yorkshire

Swaledale and Arkengarthdale Archaeology group – http://www.swaag.org/

All of these groups had undertaken the technique of 1x1m test pits throughout the villages trying to locate finds (mostly pottery) to plot the development of their settlements. Although each settlement paints a slightly different picture, one overarching theme seems to be a decline in activity in most (but not all) settlements in the 15th- 16th centuries (well a reduction in the pottery that was recovered). This could be explained by issues of the post-black death period and I for one are looking forward to Carenza’s paper on this that will be appearing soon in Antiquity. She presented the issues surrounding this idea and the nature of the evidence on the Saturday afternoon.

This test pit methodology has been rolled out a numerous villages across the country and the tight control on the method and the consistent approach to having one pottery specialist look at the pottery does help comparing one settlement with the next. What would be really interesting is to see if this methodology produced similar results in deserted settlements – digging in the back plots of medieval houses long since gone – does the pottery assemblages here also see a decline? Of course many of the deserted settlements are not necessarily deserted until later on – and any sampling strategy of sites to be chosen would have to look at the variety of dates and possible reasons for desertion, and so some deserted sites may mirror some of the CORS sites and show a revival in the 17th century. But perhaps a DURS project (Deserted Unoccupied Rural Settlement Project) may be an interesting addition to the CORS project…..

Also tackled over the weekend were issues of the development of settlements and field systems. Looking at ‘persistent’ places and the added value of Portable Antiquities Scheme data was Adam Daubney, the role building survey can play in helping understand complex landscape development was presented by Jeremy Lake of Historic England, looking at evidence for Middle Saxon development and settlement on the edges of existing settlements were Duncan Wright and Richard Mortimer, place-names and settlement development was tackled by Richard Jones and Susan Oosthuizen looked at the origin of open field systems and suggesting a twelfth century date for the classic three-field system.

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Excellent opening slide of Richard Jones’ talk


All in all a very interesting weekend with plenty to ponder. An although the focus was clearly on surviving settlements, all the papers presented also brought forward new questions to answer on deserted settlement as well. You cannot study one with the other. The final part of the weekend though directly tackled this issue – with a visit to the deserted village of Riseholme, just outside Lincoln and this will be reflected on in the next post……