Remains of the partly abandoned medieval village of Blatherwycke.
Reasons for Designation
The medieval village site at Blatherwycke is scheduled for the following principal reasons:
* Survival: for the clearly defined earthworks and parchmarks depicting the form and plan of the settlement and its associated agricultural practices;
* Diversity: for the range and complexity of well preserved features, such as the hollow ways, crofts and tofts with building platforms, and ridge and furrow, which indicate a plan of the settlement and retain significant stratified deposits providing details of the continuity and change in its evolution;
* Potential: for the stratified archaeological deposits which retain considerable potential to increase our understanding of the physical characteristics of the buildings and settlement. Buried artefacts will also have the potential to increase our knowledge and understanding of the social and economic functioning of the settlement within the wider medieval landscape;
* Documentation: for the historical documentation pertaining to the settlement’s evolution, and the invaluable wider archaeological, topographical and historical research which has given Northamptonshire particular prominence in broader discussions of the medieval landscape and prompted key ideas in our understanding of medieval settlement in England;
* Group value: for its association with six nearby listed buildings, particularly with the Grade II* listed Holy Trinity Church which was also used by the parish of St Mary Magdalene from the C16.
The village was a significant component of the rural landscape in most areas of medieval England comprising a small group of houses (known as tofts which may include house platforms surviving as earthworks), gardens (crofts or closes which are typically defined by banks and ditches), yards, streets, paddocks, often with a green, a manor and a church, and with a community devoted primarily to agriculture. The Introduction to Heritage Assets on Medieval Settlements (English Heritage, May 2011) explains that most villages were established in the C9 and C10, but modified following the Norman invasion to have planned layouts comprising tofts and crofts running back from a main road, often linked with a back lane around the rear of the crofts, and typically having a church and manor house in larger compartments at the end of the village. In recognising the great regional diversity of medieval rural settlements in England, Roberts and Wrathmell (2003) divided the country into three broad Provinces on the basis of each area's distinctive mixture of nucleated and dispersed settlements; these were further divided into sub-Provinces. The Northamptonshire settlements lie in the East Midlands sub-Province of the Central Province, an area characterised in the medieval period by large numbers of nucleated settlements. The southern part of the sub-Province has greater variety of settlement, with dispersed farmsteads and hamlets intermixed with the villages. Whilst some of the dispersed settlements are post-medieval, others may represent much older farming landscapes.
Although many villages continue to be occupied to the present day, some 2000 nationally were abandoned in the medieval and post-medieval periods and others have shrunken. In the second half of the C20, research focussed on when and why this occurred. Current orthodoxy sees settlements of all periods as fluid entities, being created and disappearing, expanding and contracting and sometimes shifting often over a long period of time. Abandonment may have occurred as early as the C11 or continued into the C20, although it seems to have peaked during the C14 and C15. In the East Midlands sub-Province, Roberts and Wrathmell identified that the sites of many settlements, most of which were first documented in Domesday Book of 1086, are still occupied by modern villages, but others have been partly or wholly deserted and are marked by earthwork remains. Research into Northamptonshire medieval villages highlights two prevalent causes of settlement change namely the shift from arable farming to sheep pasture in the C15 and C16 (requiring larger tracts of land to be made available for grazing) and the enclosure of open fields from the late C16 through to the mid C19 for emparkment or agricultural improvement. Despite the commonly held view that plague caused the abandonment of many villages, the documentary evidence available confirms only one such case in Northamptonshire, the former settlement of Hale in Apethorpe.
Recent attention on the evidence for medieval agricultural practices, typically found in the hinterland of the settlements, has highlighted the survival of the earthwork remains of ‘ridge and furrow’. The Introduction to Heritage Assets on Field Systems explains that the origins of ridge and furrow cultivation can be traced to the C10 or before. By the C13, the countryside had acquired a widespread corrugated appearance as settlement developed into a pattern of ‘townships’ (basic units of community life and farming activity). The cultivated ridges, individual strips known as ‘lands’, were incorporated into similarly aligned blocks known as ‘furlongs’, separated from each other by raised ridges known as ‘headlands’ which, in turn, were grouped into two, three or sometimes four large unenclosed ‘Great Fields’. These fields occupied much of the available land in each township but around the fringes lay areas of meadow, pasture (normally unploughable land on steep slopes or near water) and woodland. The characteristic pattern of ridge and furrow was created by ploughing clockwise and anti-clockwise to create lines of flanking furrows interspersed with ridges of ploughed soil. The action of the plough, pulled by oxen, takes the form of a reversed ‘S’-shape when seem in plan. The furrows enabled the land to drain and demarcated individual farmer’s plots of land within the Great Fields. The open-field system ensured that furlongs and strips were fairly distributed through different parts of the township and that one of the Great Fields was left fallow each year.
Domesday mentions a single manor at Blatherwycke but thereafter two manors are recorded. One was held by the Engaines in the C12 which descended to the Staffords in the C14 and thence to the O’Briens in the C18. The other manor was held by the Bretons and was granted in 1423-4 to the Priory of Fineshade. Blatherwycke also had two parishes in the Middle Ages – Holy Trinity and St Mary Magdalene – each centred on a church and village either side of Willow Brook. It is the latter settlement, on the west side of the brook, which is described here. In 1331 the church of St Mary and a mill were confirmed as belonging to Laund Priory in Leicestershire. In 1448 the parish was united with Holy Trinity but the church of St Mary had long since disappeared by 1720, its location indicated only by the name Maudlin Lane. In 1560 Humphrey Stafford obtained a licence to create a park of 300 acres. In 1720 a new Hall was built (which has since been demolished), and during the late C18/early C19 the park was expanded west of the stream to the King’s Cliffe road. The imparking led to the loss of the open field system on the east side of the village.
The plan form of the early settlement is not easy to establish but large areas of the former village are evident from the earthworks and parchmarks visible on aerial photographs and from field survey undertaken by the Royal Commission for Historical Monuments (RCHME 1975). It is possible that the settlement developed either side of the road leading north-west from the stream with the manor and church at the north-west end. A later double row seems to have been laid out over the ridge and furrow that had previously formed part of a furlong within the common fields of the village to either side of the road leading north to King’s Cliffe. By the C18 the western manor and church, and the most of the tenements along the King’s Cliffe road, had been abandoned. The village is now chiefly composed of C19 estate cottages.
Blatherwycke was enclosed c.1800. When the RCHME survey was carried out ridge and furrow was evident over the whole of Blatherwycke Park and west of Park Farm. The fields were arranged in end-on and interlocked furlongs. Now the only visible remains can be seen in the narrow field to the west of the King's Cliffe road.
The site includes the earthwork and buried archaeological remains of the partly abandoned medieval village of Blatherwycke.
The remains of the partly abandoned settlement lie on the east side of the present main street on land sloping south-west to Willow Brook, along both sides of the King’s Cliffe road leading northwards out of the village, and to the south of the road towards Laxton. Here, a well-marked hollow way extends from the modern road and terminates in a depressed area roughly rectangular in shape. The hollow way is crossed at its east end by a modern built up farm track. To the north of the hollow way is a possible apsidal ended building running north-east to south-west, about 35m long by 15m wide. To the east and north-west of this building are low banks running between the Laxton road and the hollow way; just to the west of the east bank, burials were discovered during excavations for electricity pylons. The building has been identified as St Mary’s Church and it occupies the highest point overlooking the village. Also occupying this high ground, earthworks to the south-west of the church, shown as rectangular structures aligned north-west to south-east on the RCHME survey, may represent the site of the manor. On the same alignment, and running south-east from these structures, is a long narrow feature identified as a possible medieval ditch, on the south side of which is a shallow oval-shaped pond. From here, there is a long linear feature running south-west that is indicated on the RCHME survey but is not now apparent on the ground. During fieldwork carried out in this paddock by G. Foard and T. Partida in 2008, a stone capital was found in rubble which is believed to be from either the manor house or church.
On the north-east side of the main road through the village, behind the existing house plots, are banks and ditches which may represent the croft boundaries stretching north-east to the back lane. A hollow way is shown running in a north-west direction on the RCHME survey but the depression is less clear on the ground. Below the existing houses to the south-east is a series of three to four terraced house platforms c.12m to 14m wide. A parch mark further to the north-east which is visible on aerial photographs may represent the close boundaries. Along the east side of the King’s Cliffe road at SP9705995967 is a large rectangular feature showing as a parchmark that has been interpreted as a possible medieval building platform or post-medieval farmstead. Further to the north is an L-shaped feature, thought to be medieval walls, and a building platform, both clearly showing as parchmarks. East of this, a linear parchmark running north-south possibly indicates the croft boundaries.
Aligned along the west side of the King’s Cliffe road is a series of tofts and crofts, apparently overlaying ridge and furrow as far as the field boundary to the west. The crofts are aligned east-west with the tofts located at the eastern end, adjacent to the road. The tofts, visible on the ground as rectangular house platforms, also show very clearly as parchmarks of buildings on aerial photographs, and include one much larger rectangular feature at SP9705396049 which has been interpreted as a courtyard. The degraded ridge and furrow is visible on aerial photographs but is less apparent on the ground where it survives to height of c.0.20m.
EXTENT OF SCHEDULING
The area of protection includes the site of the abandoned medieval village. The areas on the west side of the King’s Cliffe road and on the south side of the road towards Laxton are both defined by the roads and field boundaries. The area to the north-east of the main road is defined by this road on the south and by the King’s Cliffe road on the west but does not take in the houses or gardens fronting the main road. The northern boundary follows the boundary of the farm from which it extends eastwards c.91m before turning at a right angle soutwards. The east boundary follows this line down to the main road, taking in the hollow way.
All modern paths and track surfaces, fences, and signs are excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath all of these is included.
There is considerable potential for undesignated heritage assets to survive within the currently occupied areas of Blatherwycke medieval settlement. These may take the form of standing structures or buried deposits but are considered to be most appropriately managed through the National Planning Policy Framework (March 2012) and are not therefore included in the scheduled area.