South Cowton deserted medieval village, immediately south west of Cowton Castle


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of South Cowton deserted medieval village, immediately south west of Cowton Castle
© Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

North Yorkshire
Hambleton (District Authority)
South Cowton
National Grid Reference:
NZ 29360 02270

Reasons for Designation

Medieval rural settlements in England were marked by great regional diversity in form, size and type, and the protection of their archaeological remains needs to take these differences into account. To do this, England has been divided into three broad Provinces on the basis of each area's distinctive mixture of nucleated and dispersed settlements. These can be further divided into sub-Provinces and local regions, possessing characteristics which have gradually evolved during the past 1500 years or more. The Yorkshire Dales local region is broadly an extension of the lowlands into the hill mass of the Pennines, but increasing environmental constraints have ensured that each dale has developed particular and often wholly local characteristics. The villages and hamlets on the valley side terraces of the lower and middle dales appear to be of medieval foundation, while the surrounding farmstead sites vary greatly in date, from early medieval to 19th century.

In addition to the settlement at South Cowton, remains of a fishpond and field systems associated with the village survive. A fishpond was an artificial pool of slow moving water constructed to cultivate, breed and store fish to provide a constant and sustainable supply of food. In addition to the medieval settlement, remains of the associated agricultural system also survives. The most common form of field system was known as ridge and furrow. This took the form of parallel rounded ridges separated by furrows which provided rich, well drained land for growing crops. Over large areas the system tended to adopt a characteristic 's' shape to accommodate the turning circle of a plough team. In small areas where use of a plough team was impractical ridge and furrow would be dug by hand. Fields near to a settlement tended to be operated using the open field strip system. Villagers worked strips of land distributed throughout the fields to ensure that each had an equal amount of the variable land quality available, the whole system being regulated by a complex system of rules enforced by the community as a whole. Although common in some areas of central and southern England, ridge and furrow is rare in the north. The remains of the medieval settlement at South Cowton survive well. Prominent earthworks of the village are preserved and its original form and development can be identified. The fishpond is also well preserved and offers important scope for understanding the nature of its use and the relationship with the wider medieval community. The associated field system survives well and important information about the form and management of the medieval agricultural practices is preserved. Taken together the surviving elements of the medieval village of South Cowton offer important scope for understanding the history, development and ultimate decline of a successful community through the medieval period.


The monument includes the remains of the medieval village of South Cowton. Included in the monument are the earthwork remains of building platforms, associated yards, enclosures, a fishpond and tracks and hollow ways. Also included are areas adjacent to the settlement remains where well preserved remains of the associated medieval ridge and furrow field systems survive as earthworks. The monument is located on a low hill with the main settlement remains occupying the top of the hill and upper part of the west facing slope. The north of the hill is occupied by Cowton Castle, a 15th century tower house which is thought to lie on the site of the medieval manor house. The castle is now a residence, is Listed Grade I and is excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath is included. The medieval village was concentrated on either side of a wide street which curved around the hill from the north and now has a hedge extending along its east side. Beyond the main settlement were enclosures and the open strip fields which in turn gave way to woods, pasture and larger arable fields. To the east of the street at the north of the monument the medieval village remains include a series of broad rectangular platforms with the long axis fronting onto the medieval street. These platforms, known as tofts, would have had a house fronting onto the street with the rear of the platform used for horticulture or stock enclosures. These platforms are up to 15m wide and 30m deep. To the rear of the tofts is a trackway 4m wide and 2m in depth which formed a back lane to the rear of the properties. At the south east end of the street are a series of large enclosures or yards defined by earthen banks with a hollow way extending north west to south east at their rear. To the west of the street there are further tofts occupying terraces cut into the slope. These building platforms follow the curve of the street around the hill and are interspersed with irregular enclosures and yards. At the south end of this series of earthworks is the remains of a fishpond. This is a rectangular hollow 32m east to west by 20m north to south with a gap in the east end. In the medieval period it was filled with water and used for growing and storing fish. A further hollow way lies to the east of the fishpond and extends south west from the main street. Further tofts lie to the south side of this hollow way. Surrounding the village remains are substantial earthwork remains of ridge and furrow, the characteristic form of medieval agriculture. These lie in blocks on the top of the hill beyond the back lanes, behind the tofts and in the south west of the monument where the ridge and furrow is separated from the village remains by a hollow way. Further ridge and furrow and other earthworks lie to the north and north west of the vilage and to the north of the castle. To the west of the farm buildings is a deep hollow way 5m wide and 2m deep with prominent banks 4m wide, which extends north west down the slope from the top of the hill. South Cowton is first recorded as a settlement in the Domesday survey in 1086, although it has been suggested that it dates to the Saxon period. The nearby church is supposedly built on the site of a Saxon church which is claimed to be one of the temporary resting places of the remains of St Cuthbert as they were carried through the north of England after the Danish raids in 875. The size and form of the village suggests that it was a flourishing agricultural settlement in the medieval period, although the village probably went into decline after the Black Death and raids by the Scots in the 14th century. In the early 15th century the manor was held by the powerful Neville family and by the middle of the century was still prosperous enough for the present church to be built and the old manor to be replaced by the impressive Cowton Castle. However, this prosperity was short lived and in common with other settlements in England, the village went into decline and by 1517 was depopulated. It is likely that a combination of poor harvests, the Wars of the Roses and the enclosure of land for sheep-rearing in the 15th and 16th centuries was the cause of the desertion. Cowton Castle, the septic tank, all fences, walls gates and electricity poles are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features 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.

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Books and journals
Grifiths, M, Associates, , The Shifted and Shrunken Villages of the Lower Tees Valley, (1989)
South Cowton Castle,


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.

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