Currently Completed Counties – Essex

This week’s blog reviews the evidence from Essex. This is the last of the counties that currently have completed descriptions of each village on the Beresford’s Lost Villages website to be reviewed . In 1954 a total of six deserted villages were listed by Maurice Beresford, all which appear in the later 1968 Gazetteer and are mainly those identified through the presence of isolated churches (1954: 350). There were 17 settlements recorded in the 1968 Gazetteer and Essex was noted as one of the counties needing further study. Of these 17, nine are unlocated settlements recorded in Domesday but their modern counterpart is not known, and the majority of the remaining identifications continue to be based on the presence of ruined or destroyed churches. A number of the settlements have had a chequered history and been added to, removed and added back to the lists of deserted settlements such as Wickham Bishops (DMVRG 1962, DMVRG 1963).

Since 1968 some work has extended the list of potential deserted settlement sites. In 1977 Warwick and Kirsty Rodwell undertook a survey of churches in Essex, particularly those that were threatened and derelict (Rodwell 1977). Within this survey several of the churches at sites of deserted medieval settlement were reviewed. However it is unclear whether these ever formed centres of a nucleated settlement or if they were instead serving a widely dispersed parish. Since 1977 more sites have been identified but again some of these are simply on the basis of an isolated church.


Deserted villages of Essex listed in 1968 as classified by the website
Deserted villages of Essex listed in 1968 as classified by the website

Investigation into the medieval landscape of Essex has not been extensive (Rippon 2008: 181). There is evidence of much dispersed settlement (Martin 2012: 234-35). Rippon has reviewed the nature of the landscape as part of the ‘Great East Anglia’ and the nature of settlement outside the nucleated village zone which highlights the variation of settlement in the area (Rippon 2008).

Detailed research has been published into the affects of the Black Death on the Essex population and this paints a picture of high mobility, but one that was present before the events of 1349. It also showed that the pattern in Essex of the rural population and society is one that cannot be used across the country as a whole (Poos 1991).


None of the settlements on the 1968 Gazetteer have been excavated, and none of them show evidence of buried remains from aerial photographs or the presence of earthworks, apart from church remains. The National Mapping Programme of aerial photographs undertaken on behalf of English Heritage did not highlight many medieval features, though moated sites were one of the most common (Ingle and Saunders 2003). However in general there has been considerable valuable work undertaken in the county looking at a range of site types from moated sites, to farmsteads, mills and industrial sites (Medlycott 2006). All this work has confirmed the dispersed nature of settlement in the county. It has also shown that a number of sites had been abandoned in the fourteenth century, something alluded to by Poos (1991) (see Medlycott 2006: 5). There has also been a historic settlement assessment of 29 parishes in the county (Medlycott 2011: 61).

The Essex HER (Historic Environments Record) can be accessed online at the Unlocking Essex’s Past website – This covers the areas of the County of Essex and the Unitary Authority of Thurrock. A search here reveals 101 sites that are classed as ‘deserted settlements’. This includes a number of moated sites and possible shrunken settlement remains, but also a large number of untested sites that the HER records as only ‘possible DMV’ and that they probably appeared on the recorded due to the isolated church. Essex is still a county which would benefit from a detailed survey of the deserted settlements.


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

DMVRG 1962. ‘Appendix B: List of Sites Deleted from ‘The Lost Villages of England’ Between 1954 and 1962’, Deserted Medieval Village Research Group Annual Report 10: Appendix B.

DMVRG 1963. ‘Appendix A: Deserted Medieval Villages – New Sites 1963’, Deserted Medieval Village Research Group Annual Report 11: Appendix A.

Ingle, C. and H. Saunders 2003. National Mapping Programme Essex: Management Report. Unpublished Report Essex County Council and English Heritage.

Martin, E. 2010. ‘Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex: Medieval Rural Settlement in ‘Greater East Anglia’’, in N. Christie and P. Stamper (eds) Medieval Rural Settlement in Britain and Ireland AD 800-1600: 225-248. Oxford: Windgather.

Medlycott, M. 2006. ‘Sweet Uneventful Countryside: Excavated Medieval Farms and their landscape in Essex’, in N. Brown and M. Medlycott (eds) Research, Planning and Management: the East of England Archaeological Research Framework Review

Medlycott, M. 2011. Research and Archaeology Revisited: a Revised Framework for the East of England. Norwich: East Anglian Archaeology Occasional Paper No.24.

Poos, L.R. 1991. A Rural Society: After the Black Death: Essex 1350-1525. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rippon, S. 2008. Beyond the Medieval Village: The Diversification of Landscape Character in Southern Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Rodwell, W. 1977. Historic Churches: a Wasting Asset. London: Council for British Archaeology Research Report 19.