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


West Wickham & District Local History Group –


Pirton Local History Group –


Great Bowden Heritage and Archaeology –

Lutterworth Fieldworkers –


Binham Local History Group –


Bingham Heritage Trails Association


Nayland with Wissington Conservation Society –

North Yorkshire

Swaledale and Arkengarthdale Archaeology group –

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……


East Anglian Archaeology

Over the last couple of months a few new resources have become available online. This includes the out of print copies of East Anglian Archaeology – published since 1975 covering work across the wider landscape of East Anglia. Below are a few of the works that cover medieval settlement.

EAA 10, 1980: Fieldwork and Excavation on Village sites in Launditch Hundred, by Peter Wade-Martins

This report looks at the fieldwork undertaken over an area of Norfolk which includes over 40 settlements some of which had been deserted. The report includes the excavations at the deserted site at Grenstein. The village appears to be deserted in the fifteenth century. Twenty-six tofts were present at the site and one of these was excavated in 1965-66.

EAA 14, 1982: Norfolk: Trowse, Horning, Deserted Medieval Villages, Kings Lynn, by B. Cushion, A. Davison, F. Healy, M. Hughes, H. Richmond, E. Rose, P. Wade-Martins et al.

Eight of the best deserted medieval settlements in Norfolk are described. This includes: Pudding Norton, Roudham, Godwick, Waterden, Great Palgrave, Egmere, Bixley, Little Bittering…….

EAA 44, 1988: Six Deserted Villages in Norfolk, by Alan Davison

A further six villages are considered in this volume following on from the oneabove. Rougham and Beachamwell, are sites with surviving earthworks; Letton and Kilverstone, which had earthworks in 1946 when aerial photographs were taken; and Holkham and Houghton, which disappeared under parkland in the 17th and 18th centuries.

EAA 46, 1989: The Deserted Medieval Village of Thuxton, Norfolk, by Lawrence Butler and Peter Wade-Martins

Two house sites and the front of a toft were excavated at this good example of a linear village site. Areas of the surrounding parish were also fieldwalked and the site is compared to that at Grenstein mentioned above.

Medieval Village Research Group Archive visit 2

At the end of March we managed to go back to the Historic England Archive in Swindon to continue work on the Medieval Village Research Group Archive – see this earlier post for an outline of the archive.

This time we completed  the review of the evidence for deserted sites in the counties that have been completed in full on the website to date. Back last year we had managed to review the counties up to Durham and on this trip it included the sites in Durham, Essex, Gloucestershire and East Riding. This includes checking information on the sites listed on the 1968 Gazetteer and seeing if there is anything else to be added, either from within the box files on each county or written on the individual index cards for each village. Some times these show the debate surrounding including a site on the Gazetteer or over the location. They also record information on damage to sites through the period the archive was active from the 1950s-1980s.

This review of the evidence for these counties has brought to light some new information on a number of sites that will be reviewed in due course, added to the website and reported here. As well as the review of the sites listed on the 1968 Gazetteer, this visit also recorded any new sites that did not make it onto this Gazetteer so that in the future the website can be brought up to date.

As well as the counties that have been completed for the website, we also managed to review counties Hampshire-Kent. Currently the full descriptions for all the villages in Hampshire are being written by the project and should appear in the summer. These counties were viewed to see if extra information was available on any of the settlements and to record settlements not on the 1968 Gazetteer.

As well as reviewing the county evidence, one other task is to look at how the lists of deserted settlements have evolved over time. On a country-wide scale there have been two nationally published lists of deserted settlements – that published in 1954 by Maurice Beresford in his Lost Villages of England, and that published in 1971 in Deserted Medieval Villages – known as the 1968 Gazette and this forms the basis of the current version of our website. But buried within the archive are other lists. Some of these were published as separate county lists within the Annual Reports. In 1977 a new map of deserted settlements was published by the Group – but no Gazetteer accompanied this – although different dated lists of settlements do exist. These are often hand edited earlier lists – for example the list for Gloucestershire is that published in 1965, with hand-added additions and deletions.

The first page of the 1965 list of deserted villages in Gloucestershire – with hand addition – this acted as the list for this county for the 1977 map. Courtesy of Medieval Settlement Research Group


From these lists it should be possible to produce the 1977 Gazetteer – to sit along side the original 1968. In 1977 it was noted that the total of deserted villages had increased to 2813 – we have yet to work out if these lists come to this amount. There is also a final list of deserted settlements per county from when the archive was closed in 1988 – so another Gazetteer should be possible – both of these are a work in progress.

This is just a short report on the work of a few days of work that now needs to be followed by a few weeks of cataloguing and sorting….. Thanks once again to staff at Historic England for supporting access to the archive.


Medieval Settlement Research 30

The 2015 issue of Medieval Settlement Research appeared late in the year and here are two of the highlights which are relevant to deserted settlement studies…..

Three Medieval Village sites in Suffolk by Anthony Mustchin, Julia Cussans and John Summers

This article reviews the evidence from excavations in three Suffolk villages ahead of development. The results highlight that all three villages developed in a similar manner, as a linear development along a pre-existing road. They all then show a cessation of occupation activity in the fourteenth century. These three sites show the value that can be gained from small area excavation in existing villages.

Castle Carlton, Lincolnshire by Duncan Wright, Oliver Creighton, Michael Fradley and Steven Trick

This paper reports of the topographic and geophysical survey of this motte and bailey castle site and its surrounding landscape including the failed town development. The survey showed that the town and castle were not contemporaneous developments and in quiet distinct locations. The 1220s town was formed away from an existing extramural settlement that had formed at the castle site. The paper examines the documentary record for the site and the many confusions which lie within. The survey of the settlement area revealed possible platforms and hollow ways. The survey also found settlement evidence to the west of the castle. On the whole this picture provides a wonderful overview of the attempt to develop this town in the thirteenth century but also shows how our perceived understanding of sites can be changed with closer investigation.


Remember the past volumes of Medieval Settlement Research and The Medieval Settlement Research Group Annual Reports can be found at the Archaeology Data Service:





Medieval Archaeology 2015

The new volume of Medieval Archaeology (the journal of the Society for Medieval Archaeology) has now been published and here is just a quick mention of things medieval settlement related…..

David Griffiths – Medieval Coastal Sand Inundation in Britain and Ireland. Medieval Archaeology 59: 103-121.

An interesting paper that looks at the impact of coastal inundations around the country including a number of examples were settlements are deserted (or drastically shrink) as a result such as Ravenserodd in Yorkshire and Dunwich in Suffolk. These two examples deserted due dramatic storm events but others were deserted from the result of sand being blown into settlements, fields and then being abandoned such as Kenfig in South Wales. It also tackles the methodology surrounding the investigation of such sites.

Ben Jervis, Chris Briggs and Matthew Tompkins – Exploring Text and Objects: Escheators’ Inventories and Material Culture in Medieval English Rural Households. Medieval Archaeology 59: 168-192.

This paper uses a range of metalwork that has been excavated across central England to explore the value and meaning of objects to a non-elite section of the population from the late 13th century to the 16th century. Many of these finds come from deserted villages such as Great Linford in Buckinghamshire, West Cotton in Northamptonshire and Seacourt in Oxfordshire.

Eric Johnson – Moated sites and the production of authority in the Eastern Weald of England. Medieval Archaeology 59: 233-254.

This paper takes a case study of moated sites in the eastern Weald to examine the role they may have played in displays of inequality in the minds of the medieval population. As well as linking through to interpretations of moats for defence or status it also directly draws on the ‘Battle for Bodiam’ which has been raging in castles studies since the 1990s.

Neil Christie and others – Medieval Britain and Ireland in 2014. Medieval Archaeology 59: 290-336.

Howes – Cambridgeshire – A short report on excavations at a small deserted medieval settlement near Cambridge which discovered ditched plots, pits, wells and other features. The area investigated declined in the 15th century and occupation stopped in the 16th century although the area was never fully deserted.

Cambridge University Collection of Aerial Photograps

One of the best and earliest collections of aerial photographs is housed at Cambridge University and includes many taken by JK St Joseph at the behest of the Deserted Medieval Villages Research Group in the 1950s. There is an online catalogue where you can search for photographs by subject or place – see the previous blog on aerial photographs here. In recent weeks the website has gone through an overhaul which is improving access to many resources.

Since then, images have started to appear on the Cambridge University Collection of Aerial Photography website – a great addition when studying settlement – At the moment it is hit and miss whether the one you are looking for is available but a number of early ones are starting to appear – at least ones from the 1960s and many showing excellent village earthworks. Currently there is no way to copy images but look at these two links and they will give you examples of what to expect – Clopton in Cambridgeshire and Wharram Percy in Yorkshire.

As well as searching for specific places there is a Village theme which contains a number of excellent examples for browsing – and can be found here. Of the near 12,000 photographs listed in this theme nearly 4,000 have photos online.

Screenshot of the ‘Villages’ theme….


This is obviously still a work in progress but big steps have been made in recent months putting more and more images online – so keep going back to see what additions appear in the future.

Updates January 2016

Happy New Year….. This blog just reviews a few minor adjustments that have been made to the website over the last couple of months. Progress has been slow due to other commitments but time is available over the next couple of months to press on with completing the entries for Hampshire. Many of these edits have come from visiting the Medieval Village Research Group (MVRG) Archive in Swindon.

Edits to Beds:

Faldo – added information from the MVRG archive which records finds of pottery, a spur and loom weights recovered in 1955.

Segenhoe – added regular visits in 1977 and a survey of the church in 1975 recorded in the MVRG archive.

Edits to Buckinghamshire:

A number of references have been added to sites – information came from the MVRG archive and copies can be found in the Buckinghamshire General Folder (86)

Mynard, D.C. 1967. Deserted Medieval Villages in North Buckinghamshire. Wolverton and District Archaeological Society Newsletter 11:19-21.

Bawden, D.C. 1975. An introduction to the Deserted Villages of Buckinghamshire. University of Nottingham Undergraduate Dissertation.

Cottesloe – originally listed as a doubtful site but the MVRG archive holds a number of photographs (CUCAP ANG 67, 68) that show clear field boundaries and some possible house platforms close to the current farm suggesting some settlement at the site. The site type has therefore been altered from Doubtful to DMH.

Okeney – added information from Chibnall, A.C. 1979. Beyond Sherington. Chichester: Phillimore, which records the village in 1262 and seven families at the end of the thirteenth century but kept the site type as a DMH.

Petsoe – changed from Doubtful to DMV. This is based on the information provided in Chibnall, A.C. 1979. Beyond Sherington. Chichester: Phillimore. Here there is convincing evidence of a settlement close to the manorial centre and that the hamlet of Petsoe End is a later migration of the settlement. Also added references to visible stone and roof tile at the site of the church reported in 1967.

Tyringham – added information from Chibnall, A.C. 1979. Beyond Sherington. Chichester: Phillimore which adds more weight to the enclosure of the land with the landowner in 1563 accused of destroying seven houses.

Edits to Cambridgeshire:

Weratworde – We had been unable to locate any information on this site but this was an oversight on our part and this is the settlement of Wratworth that was located somewhere close to Wimpole. The whole record for this site has been updated but there is still a question mark over its location with two separate suggestions – close to Cobbs Wood c. TL346515 or to the south in the parish of Orwell or Whaddon at TL356477. For the time being the website has gone with Cobbs Wood as that seems to have the most evidence to support its claim.

Edits to Derbyshire:

Sinfin – small edition after viewing the aerial photographs this confirmed the difficult nature of this site.

Edits to Devon:

Blackaton – Added 1332 Lay Subsidy references from Erskine, A.M. 1969. The Devonshire Lay Subsidy of 1332. Exeter: Devon and Cornwall Record Society New Series 14.

Bolt Head – added reference to medieval pottery recorded in MVRG but not enough to suggest a settlement there.

Edits to Dorset:

Lewcombe – the description has been altered to add information from the Place-Names of Dorset volume – Mills, A.D. 2010. The Place-Names of Dorset Part Four. Nottingham: English Place-Name Society.

Edits to Lincolnshire:

A part-time student at the University of Hull completed a dissertation looking at the Deserted Medieval settlements of North Lincolnshire in the summer of 2015. Whilst undertaking this research he helpfully spotted that a number of settlements had the wrong references or were missing references to Domesday entries and these have been edited: Haythby, Holme, Holtham, Lobingham and Manby.

 Other edits:

References to English Heritage have been changed to Historic England after the change in organisational structure in 2015.