Currently completed counties – Cambridgeshire


This week’s post looks at the list for Cambridgeshire. A total of 15 deserted settlements appear on the 1968 Gazetteer. In 1954 Beresford had published a list of 13 settlements, however one of these, Silverley, was dismissed by the time of the 1968 Gazetteer.

Deserted settlements in Cambridgeshire listed in the 1968 Gazetteer
Deserted settlements in Cambridgeshire listed in the 1968 Gazetteer

In 2009 Susan Oosthuizen published an updated list of settlements in Cambridgeshire (excluding the Isle of Ely) (Oosthuizen 2009). This made a clear distinction between deserted and shifted settlements. This added a further 43 deserted and 24 shifted sites to the list. Here Oosthuizen considered issues of distribution of settlement and causes for desertion. She noted that the boundary between the Central Province of settlement characteristics and the Eastern Province, suggested by Roberts and Wrathmell (2000), runs through the region. In the Central Province (mainly west of the River Cam), settlement is mainly characterised by nucleated settlements, with evidence of polyfocal settlements in some areas (Oosthuizen 2009: 14). On the eastern side of this boundary and the River Cam is a landscape characterised by more dispersed settlement. Anyone interested in the Cambridgeshire landscape is pointed to the work of Oosthuizen, not only on deserted settlement but also a wide variety of landscape features. It is clear once the Beresford’s Lost Villages website project comes to review settlements identified since 1968 that there will be many additions to the Cambridgeshire list.

Classification of deserted settlements in Cambridgeshire
Classification of deserted settlements in Cambridgeshire

Much of the early work has originated from the Continuing Education section of Cambridge University. One well studied settlement is that of Clopton. Here an early study of the site gave a full account of the surviving historical evidence and the enclosure of the common lands in the early sixteenth century (Palmer 1933). Excavations in the 1960s revealed a range of evidence including the church, churchyard with nearly 100 burials excavated, as well as building structures (Alexander 1968). Other excavations in Cambridgeshire include those at Childerley which revealed evidence of house platforms and pottery as well as showing that although damage had occurred during ploughing some remains were still intact (RCHME 1968).

Great Childerley in 2008. Copyright Google Earth
Great Childerley in 2008. Copyright Google Earth

A number of surveys of deserted sites have been undertaken during extra mural courses since the 1970s. These included work at Castle Camps (Taylor 1973) and Croxton (Brown and Taylor 1993). These two surveys give contrasting examples of desertion.


Alexander, J.A. 1968. ‘Clopton: the Life-Cycle of a Cambridgeshire Village’, in L.M. Munby (ed.) East Anglian Studies: 48-70. Cambridge: Heffer and Sons.

Beresford, M.W. 1954. The Lost Villages of England. London: Lutterworth Press.

Brown, A.E and C.C. Taylor 1993. ‘Cambridgeshire Earthwork Surveys VI’, Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society 82: 101-111.

Palmer, W.M. 1933. ‘A History of Clopton, Cambridgeshire’, Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society 33: 3-65.

Oosthuizen, S. 2009. ‘The Deserted Medieval Settlements of Cambridgeshire: A Gazetteer’. Medieval Settlement Research 24: 14-19.

RCHME. 1968. An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of Cambridgeshire: Volume I. West Cambridgeshire. London: RCHME: 44-47.

Roberts, B.K. and S. Wrathmell 2000. An Atlas of Rural Settlement in England. London: English Heritage.

Taylor, C. 1973. ‘Cambridgeshire Earthwork Surveys’, Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society 64: 35-43.