Shrunken medieval village, tower and fishpond at Little Swinburne


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1011412

Date first listed: 28-Mar-1994


Ordnance survey map of Shrunken medieval village, tower and fishpond at Little Swinburne
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Northumberland (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Chollerton

National Grid Reference: NY 95003 77761


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

The village, comprising a small group of houses, gardens, yards, streets, paddocks, often with a green, a manor and a church, and with a community primarily devoted to farming, was a significant component of the rural landscape in most areas of medieval England, much as it is today. Villages provided some services to the local community as well as acting as the focus of ecclesiastical, and often manorial, authority within each medieval parish. Although the sites of many of these villages have been occupied continuously down to the present day, many have declined considerably in size and are now occupied by farmsteads or hamlets. This decline may have taken place gradually throughout the lifetime of the village or more rapidly, particularly during the 14th and 15th centuries when many other villages were wholly deserted. The reasons for diminishing size were varied but often reflected declining economic viability or population fluctuations as a result of widespread epidemics such as the Black Death. As a consequence of their decline, large parts of these villages are frequently undisturbed by later occupation and contain well-preserved archaeological deposits. Over 3000 shrunken medieval villages are recorded nationally. Because they are a common and long-lived monument type in most parts of England, they provide important information on the diversity of medieval settlement patterns and farming economy between the regions and through time.

The shrunken village remains at Little Swinburne, including the tower and fishpond, survive well and represent a good example of a small medieval upland settlement. The tower provided the major focus of the settlement; the fishpond contributed to its food supply. Around these two features are remains of ordinary houses, yards and trackways used by the village inhabitants. Detailed study of these diverse elements would provide a significant insight into the development and history of the former village.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes part of the shrunken village and tower of Little Swinburne, situated in a sheltered position surrounded by high ground in the valley of Dry Burn. The tower has been much robbed of stone but the remains show that it was faced in courses of roughly squared blocks with traces of a protruding chamfered course 3.5m above ground level. It measures 9.2m north- south by 5.2m east-west within walls 1.5m thick which survive up to 3.7m on the north and 6m on the south side. The tower had a vaulted basement, traces of which can be seen in the north-western corner. The walls survive at least one storey above this but earlier accounts describe three storeys above a basement, with an entrance lobby and staircase in the east side of the tower. Little Swinburne Tower was constructed shortly after 1415, and is mentioned in a document of 1541. It was clearly once part of a much larger complex as in the field surrounding the tower there are the remains of a shrunken village visible as a series of earthworks standing 0.2m to 1.2m high. The remains are part of the medieval village of East Swinburne, later referred to as Little Swinburne. The area immediately surrounding the tower is divided by low banks into small plots and small rectangular enclosures and platforms represent the steadings of buildings. An area of medieval rig and furrow ploughing, bounded by prominent banks and additional rectangular platforms, is visible in the centre of the field south of the tower. In the south-eastern corner of the field there is a well preserved fishpond, consisting of a rectangular depression 30m by 18m with banks on either side, measuring 8m to 10m wide and standing from 0.3m to 1.2m high. The village of East Swinburne is first mentioned in documents in 1296, when there may have been as many as 300 inhabitants, before being devastated by Scottish raids in the 14th century. Since that time the village has gradually dwindled to its present size of one farmstead and two cottages. Other earthwork remains of this village survive outside the area of the scheduling. These are not, at present, included in the scheduling as their full extent, nature and date are not fully understood.

The later stone walls and small outbuilding which adjoin the tower at the north-eastern corner are excluded from the scheduling but the ground beneath them is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


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

Legacy System number: 20942

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Hodgson, J C, The Victoria History of the County of Northumberland: Volume IV, (1897), 302-303
No. 5442,
Wrathmell, S, Deserted and Shrunken Medieval Villages in Northumberland, 1975, Unpublished PHD thesis

End of official listing