South Cowton deserted medieval village, immediately south west of Cowton Castle
- Heritage Category:
- Scheduled Monument
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Date of most recent amendment:
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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
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
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
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:
- Legacy System:
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.
End of official listing