Medieval Settlement of West Cotton


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Location Description:
West Cotton is about 2.00kms to the west of centre of Raunds at:

NGR: North-west SP9752072573 South-east SP9769172488


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Location Description:
West Cotton is about 2.00kms to the west of centre of Raunds at:

NGR: North-west SP9752072573 South-east SP9769172488
East Northamptonshire (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:


The earthworks and buried archaeological remains of the medieval village of West Cotton, including a mid-late Anglo-Saxon and medieval settlement abandoned before 1450. The settlement overlies the north end of an extensive prehistoric ceremonial complex.

Reasons for Designation

The medieval village site at West Cotton is scheduled for the following principal reasons:

* Survival: that part of the settlement excavated in advance of road construction clearly demonstrates that structural and other remains will survive in the unexcavated portion of the site, and will present the evolution of the form and plan of the settlement and its individual buildings. The site boundaries to the west, including the complex phases of mill leats, and their relationship with the former Cotton Brook, survive largely unexamined; * Potential: the stratified archaeological deposits will add to a fuller understanding of the settlement's physical, social and economic evolution, and its place within the local rural economy. The material evidence of both occupation and abandonment may inform our understanding of local, regional and national settlement dynamics, and their underlying social, political and economic forces. The complex phases of mill leats are likely to retain waterlogged deposits containing well preserved botanical and faunal evidence of the local environment and agriculture; * Documentation: the archaeological documentation is detailed, and illuminates the process of evolution and abandonment of the settlement. In conjunction with documentary evidence, it provides significant evidence for the evolution of feudal and tenurial relationships.; * Group value: the close relationship between the Cottons is also important within the wider settlement context, including the scheduled site of North Raunds Saxon and medieval settlement and its more extensive excavated site, as well as Thorpe End Iron Age, Saxon and medieval settlement, also scheduled, and as part of the important Raunds Area Project; * Diversity: the site contains a complex range and of features and structures that demonstrate the evolving use of materials, and the adaptive use of buildings over time. The diversity of features representing the processing of agricultural produce in particular illustrates the production, consumption and economic life of the community.


The village, comprising a small group of houses (tofts), gardens (crofts), yards, streets, paddocks, a manor and a church, sometimes a green, occupied by a community devoted primarily to agriculture, was a significant component of the rural landscape in much of lowland medieval England, much as it is today. The Introduction to Heritage Assets on Medieval Settlements (English Heritage, May 2011) explains that most villages were established in the C9 and C10, and exhibit a variety of plan-forms, from the highly irregular at one extreme to planned villages with 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 and hamlets continue to be occupied to the present day, some 2,000 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 desertion and shrinkage 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 partially 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. The village or hamlet of West Cotton is one of three settlements named Cotton sited on the east bank of the River Nene between Ringstead and Raunds: Mill Cotton, to the west of Ringstead, was excavated in advance of gravel extraction in 1974; Mallows Cotton, the largest of the three and about 1.5kms to the south of Mill Cotton, survives as earthworks under pasture, and is scheduled (List entry 101393). West Cotton lies about 0.5kms to the south of Mallows Cotton, but its location was not confirmed until 1972, while the description of the earthwork survey carried out by the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments in England in 1975 suggested that the village never contained 'more than two or three farmsteads or cottages'. Work undertaken on the site between 1983 and 1989 as part of the Raunds Area Project began with an earthwork survey, followed by a geophysical survey across the whole site. Full excavations towards the north-west and centre of the settlement were undertaken between 1985 and 1989, in advance of construction of the Stanwick and Raunds by-pass; West Cotton was scheduled in 1986 as NN199.

Before the excavation of Mill Cotton the existence of the Cottons was known from Inquisitions Post Mortem, manorial accounts, Close Rolls and Estate maps, but these give no indication of population size or prosperity, and the villages are not recorded in Domesday Book or in later medieval taxation records. Their origin appears to be as part of a fragmented Saxon estate centred on Higham Ferrars, divided into two major holdings of which Raunds, Ringstead and the Cottons formed one half. Three post-conquest manors in 'the Cotes' are recorded in the Northamptonshire Survey of the C12, of which West Cotton was one, but excavation evidence suggests that this was already a high status site in the second half of the C10. Early Saxon occupation here had been short-lived, superseded by arable cultivation until the establishment of a planned settlement in about 950AD, possibly part of the social and economic reorganisation that followed the re-conquest of the Danelaw in the first half of the C10. The following 500 years saw the evolution of the settlement from possibly two manorial sites to a hamlet of peasant tenements, and their final abandonment.

The site is interpreted as consisting of three distinct areas in the late Saxon and early medieval period: a north and south holding, the latter, unexcavated, seen as a possible second manorial centre; and an unexcavated area to the east referred to by the excavators as the eastern enclosures. The excavations undertaken in the north-west and central part of the site exposed a late-C10, high status timber built hall complex, with a water mill to the north, with further ancillary structures added later, to the south. In the early-C12 the hall and ancillary structures were rebuilt in stone, the slightly expanded complex now including such manorial appurtenances as a dovecot, consistent with its known status, at this date, as a sub-infeudated manor. In the mid-C12 the last of a succession of three mills was destroyed following catastrophic flooding, which also resulted in the construction of flood defences to protect the settlement.

The evidence from the excavated half of the site suggests that between 1250-1450 the settlement became more fluid, the manors ultimately replaced with a number of peasant tenements, involving a combination of new building and the conversion of service buildings to domestic use. An intermediate phase is seen as having taken place, with the relocation of the northern manor to the eastern enclosures, beside Cotton Lane, serviced by a new range of agricultural buildings, including a large barn, to the east of the yard. The boundary between the southern and northern holdings remained, and it is suggested that the manor in the southern holding survived. However, in the early-C14 service structures at the northern end of the southern holding fell into disuse, with the north tenement of the northern holding the next to be abandoned, in about 1350. Episodes of flooding, represented by clay deposits in the central yard and the raising of some floors and thresholds, may have been the eventual cause of abandonment, which had taken place before 1450.

Between 2009 and 2012 the Rockingham Forest Trust undertook a project to make available, both online and in published form, detailed mapping of the medieval and early modern landscape of Northamptonshire, and to carry out further research into local historic landscapes with selected communities.


PRINCIPAL ELEMENTS The scheduled monument includes the earthworks and buried archaeological remains of the medieval village of West Cotton, including a mid to late Anglo-Saxon and medieval settlement abandoned before 1450. The settlement included a probable manorial complex (fully excavated) and later peasant tenements, as well as ancillary buildings and the buried and upstanding remains of two other farmsteads or possible manorial sites. The monument also includes a system of water management for the Saxon and early medieval mill and the north end of an extensive prehistoric ceremonial complex, overlain by the medieval settlement.

DESCRIPTION The late Saxon and medieval village of West Cotton was sited on a peninsular of gravel terrace near the confluence of a channel of the Nene and a tributary stream, Cotton Brook, and overlay the north end of a prehistoric ceremonial complex that extended south for 2kms. A Neolithic Long Mound and Long Enclosure were found within the area excavated between 1985 and 1989, as well as a triple-ditched Bronze Age round barrow. Two unexcavated ring ditches lie within the scheduled area.

The planned settlement occupies a roughly square area, bounded to the east and south-east by Cotton Lane, apparently diverted from a straight course to form a right-angle at the south-east corner of the site. Cotton Brook formed the southern extent, its slight meanders defined by a later field boundary, and also seems to have fed the artificial leat system that served the mill and bounded the settlement to west and north. Within these boundaries, an apparently metrically laid-out site was established in the second half of the C10, clearly seen in the regular arrangement of plots within the excavated area to the west of the site. A track from Cotton Lane to the east, clearly defined on geophysical plots, gave access to the settlement, opening into a yard with the Saxon hall and early medieval manorial complexes sited to the north, and around which later service buildings and peasant tenements were added. All timber and stone structures here were fully excavated, demonstrating a high level of preservation of evidence of both stone and timber built structures, revealing floor levels and internal divisions. Later agricultural ranges for storage and processing included stone lined pits, malt houses and malt ovens, bakehouse and kitchen ranges with benches and ovens, all arranged around the central triangular yard.

A large barn at the south-east end of the range to the east of the yard extends into the unexcavated area. This barn, converted into the domestic range of a peasant tenement at the end of the C13, was one of a number of agricultural buildings, present before the mid-C13, that are seen as possibly associated with a new, or relocated, domestic manorial complex to the east, facing onto Cotton Lane. This survives as an earthwork, surveyed and planned; it measures about 25m x 20m and consists of structures to the north and west facing onto a sunken yard, the domestic range probably to the west, and is thought to have been constructed between the late-C12 and mid-C13. It was abandoned towards the end of the lifespan of the settlement in the early to mid-C15. This complex is immediately to the west of Cotton Lane and to the north of the track, which geophysical surveys show entering the settlement at a right-angle before making a dogleg turn to the north-west. The surveys also indicate other structures, possible ancillary buildings, between the track and the complex, overlying two prehistoric ring ditches. To the south of the surveyed complex, in the corner between the access track and Cotton Lane, is another probable farmstead complex, although less clearly defined than that surveyed to the north. To the north-west of this a linear feature, possibly a ditched boundary or narrow track, branches east from the settlement access track to run parallel with the south boundary of the settlement, to the north of which are possible structures and boundaries, within the area defined as the southern holding. The site boundaries, including the banked flood defences, the complex phases of mill leats, and their relationship with the former Cotton Brook, remain largely unexamined.

EXTENT OF SCHEDULING The area of settlement altogether forms an irregular square shape, cut through and divided into two triangles by the Raunds by-pass in the late-C20, a road running slightly east of north, and to the west of centre of the site. To the west the scheduled area is bounded on its east side by the verge of the road; the length of this line, the broad base of the triangle, is about 190m. To the north-west the boundary dips inwards to follow the curve of the mill leat, curving out again to take in the pond identified at the corner; from base to apex is about 97m. To the south-west the boundary is straight, and from apex to base is about 141m. On the east side of the road, the scheduled area is bounded to the west by the road verge for a distance of about 230m, its south point meeting the course of Cotton Brook at its junction with the verge. The meandering course of the brook forms the south boundary, and the field boundary to the east closes the triangle. Where the scheduling boundary is created by fences or other markers, the line falls on the inside. All fence posts, gates or other modern intrusions are excluded from the scheduling, but the ground beneath them is included.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
NN 199
Legacy System:


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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