Currently completed counties – Bedfordshire

In the second blog about progress on the website we are starting our review of the counties where we have managed to list all the sites from the 1968 Gazetteer of deserted medieval villages and provided a full description.  For these counties (currently Bedfordshire-Essex and the East Riding of Yorkshire), writing a description of the site and evaluating the evidence has also enabled all sites to be classified as deserted settlements, shrunken, shifted or doubtful (see Currently complete counties – Berkshire for more info on the categories). All counties used are the pre-1974 counties.

Bedfordshire is one of those counties for which full descriptions have been possible. There were 18 deserted sites recorded in the county in the 1968 Gazetteer. Now on the Bedfordshire Historic Environment Record there are over 200 sites classified as deserted settlements. There has been little wholesale investigation of the deserted settlements of Bedfordshire but a number of projects have been invaluable in our understanding, not just of medieval Bedfordshire but also of medieval settlement in general: the research project looking at settlement development in the East Midlands (Lewis et al. 2001); and the excavations at the deserted site of Stratton.

Deserted settlements in Bedfordshire listed in the 1968 Gazetteer
Deserted settlements in Bedfordshire listed in the 1968 Gazetteer

In their study of the East Midlands, Lewis, Mitchell-Fox and Dyer (2001: 57-58) divide Bedfordshire into three zones. In the claylands to the north of Bedford there is a zone of dispersal with forms of settlement including interrupted rows and isolated farmsteads. In the south of the county more variety is present with small clusters, polyfocal settlements, short regular rows, interrupted rows, and numerous isolated farmsteads with occasional areas of nucleations. In the north-west of the county the pattern is dominated by nucleated settlement. This shows the diversity of the settlements of Bedfordshire into which the pattern of desertion fits.

At Stratton extensive excavations have shown the development of settlement from Saxon origins that continued to shift focus eastwards until the seventeenth century (Edgeworth 2007: 108). This pattern of shifting settlements has also been noted for Potton and suggested for Chellington (Edgeworth 2007: 100). This evidence would suggest a more complex settlement development and that a site such as Stratton may suggest a typical deserted medieval village with a regular layout is in fact only one stage in a more fluid process of development (Edgeworth 2007: 108).

Of the 18 settlements in the 1968 Gazetteer, eight have remained classed as deserted medieval villages, with two being classified as deserted medieval hamlets, three as shrunken settlements, one as a shifted settlement and four as doubtful. One of these doubtful sites, Etonbury, would appear to be an manorial centre with no substantial settlement associated with it and does not appear in any of the medieval taxations. The other three settlements, Sudbury, Kinwick and Cudessane are all found in the Domesday Book but have disappeared by later taxations and are not fully located.

Deserted settlements in Bedfordshire and their classification
Deserted settlements in Bedfordshire and their classification

From the settlements listed there are a number of interesting stories including that at Cainhoe where desertion takes place in the mid-fourteenth century and in 1375 it is noted that ten cottages have been empty ‘since the pestilence’ suggesting a settlement struggling to recover after the Black Death (Beresford and St Joseph 1979).

It is hoped in the future that the website will be able to review all the evidence uncovered since 1968 and provide a fuller picture of deserted settlement in Bedfordshire.


Beresford, M.W. and J.K. St Joseph 1979. Medieval England: an Aerial Survey. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 158

Edgeworth, M. 2007. ‘Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Bedfordshire’, in M. Oake, M. Luke, M. Dawson, M. Edgeworth and P. Murphy (eds) Bedfordshire Archaeology: Research and Archaeology: Resources Assessment, Research Agenda and Strategy: 87-118. Bedford: Bedfordshire Archaeology Monograph 9.

Lewis, C., P. Mitchell-Fox and C. Dyer 2001. Village, Hamlet and Field: Changing Medieval Settlements in Central England. Macclesfield: Windgather Press.