Abberwick medieval village, tower house and open field system


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


Ordnance survey map of Abberwick medieval village, tower house and open field system
© Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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This copy shows the entry on 22-Jul-2019 at 02:24:54.


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

Northumberland (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
NU 12562 13294

Reasons for Designation

Tower houses are a type of defensible house particularly characteristic of the borderlands of England and Scotland. Virtually every parish had at least one of these buildings. At many sites the tower comprised only one element of a larger house, with at least one wing being attached to it. These wings provided further domestic accommodation, frequently including a large hall. If it was incorporated within a larger domestic residence, the tower itself could retain its defensible qualities and could be shut off from the rest of the house in times of trouble. Tower houses were being constructed and used from at least the 13th century to the end of the 16th century. They provided prestigious defended houses permanently occupied by the wealthier or aristocratic members of society. As such they were important centres of medieval life. The need for such secure buildings relates to the unsettled and frequently war-like conditions which prevailed in the Borders throughout much of the medieval period. Around 200 examples of tower houses have been identified of which over half were elements of larger houses. All surviving tower houses retaining significant medieval remains will normally be identified as nationally important.

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 last 1500 years or more. The Tweed local region included the Kyloe Hills, the Till Valley and Milfield Plain, as well as the rolling ridges of the Tweed Valley proper. Its rectangular fields, low densities of dispersed farmsteads, tenant cottages and estate villages all signify agrarian improvement in the 18th and 19th centuries. Earthworks, usually in or near present villages, sometimes indicate the earlier medieval farming communities which have been replaced. Medieval villages were organised agricultural communities, sited at the centre of a parish or township, that shared resources such as arable land, meadow and woodland. Village plans varied enormously, but when they survive as earthworks their most distinguishing features include roads and minor tracks, platforms on which stood houses and other buildings such as barns, enclosed crofts and small enclosed paddocks. They frequently included the parish church within their boundaries, and as part of the manorial system most villages include one or more manorial centres which may also survive as visible remains as well as below ground deposits. In the central province of England, villages were the most distinctive aspect of medieval life, and their archaeological remains are one of the most important sources of understanding about rural life in the five or more centuries following the Norman Conquest. Most nucleated villages were surrounded by a series of unenclosed fields known as an open field system. Open field systems originated before AD 1000 and continued in use throughout the Middle Ages. However, recent work has shown that some open field systems preserve the fossilized remains of earlier Roman and prehistoric systems within their basic framework. From the late 16th century, the open fields began to be enclosed by banks and hedges into the more familiar fields of the present landscape. Formerly more extensive, open field systems generally survive as fragments in association with medieval settlements. They were the product of a communal system of farming in which each tenant held a share oif a manor's arable and pasture land. The holdings of each tenant were scattered across the open fields, the basic unit of tenancy being the lande. Landes were parcelled together into larger groups called furlongs, whose length and the number of landes they contained varied greatly. Furlongs were grouped together into fields and an open field system usually included several such fields. Systems of crop rotation were employed, and these might be based on either the field or the furlong. The sides of the furlongs were marked by baulks of unploughed land which often survive as low banks and are known as furlong boundaries. The ends of the furlongs were marked by headlands which survive as prominant earthen banks. Ploughmen used the headlands as spaces on which to turn the teams of oxen or horses which pulled the plough. Headlands were usually ploughed after work on the rest of the furlong had been completed, though sometimes they were left unploughed and along with the baulks between furlongs, provided access between furlongs. Such unploughed areas were grazed by livestock. The most characteristic feature of open field systems is ridge and furrow, a form of medieval cultivation produced by the action of a heavy plough with a fixed mould board. The medieval village of Abberwick is well preserved and retains significant archaeological deposits. The village is a good example of its type which, taken together with the remains of its open field system and the associated tower house, will add greatly to our knowledge and understanding of medieval settlement in the region.


The monument includes the deserted remains of the medieval village of Abberwick, the foundations of a tower house and a section of the surviving open field system. The earliest documentary reference to the village at Abberwick is contained in a document of 13th-century date where it was recorded as a member of the barony of Wark on Tweed. In common with other Northumberland villages, the population of the village fell between the end of the 13th century and 1336, when there were only six individuals eligible to pay taxes. The fall in population is usually attributed to devastation of villages by the wars with Scotland, a series of failed harvests and the effects of the Black Death. By the 17th century, the population had recovered and 17 households are recorded, but by the early 18th century the village had been depopulated and all but one of the farms were dispersed to other parts of the township. The remains of the village, the tower and its field system are visible as a series of earthworks in the fields to the north, north east and west of the modern farm of Abberwick. The most prominent feature is a raised rectangular mound 12m by 7m standing to a height of 1.5m. Situated upon this mound there are the foundations of a rectangular enclosure divided into two compartments and visible as low earthen banks. This building is thought to be the remains of a tower which was recorded at Abberwick in a document of 1572. Surrounding the site of the tower are the foundations of other rectangular buildings visible as low platforms, mounds and small enclosures. Associated with the foundations of these buildings, and attached to some of them, are a series of larger enclosures, interpreted as crofts or small allotments, which are bounded by banks standing to a maximum of 1m high. A series of five larger crofts situated immediately north of the modern farm of Abberwick contain the well preserved remains of rig and furrow cultivation. Surrounding the village part of the open field system farmed by its inhabitants is visible. Immediately to the north there is a large furlong, or field, with intact headlands; this furlong overlies an earlier feature which is visible on aerial photographs and is interpreted as a former headland. To the west of this furlong there are a series of smaller furlongs with intact headlands and furlong boundaries. All of the furlongs contain extensive remains of rig and furrow cultivation on average 8m wide between furrows and standing to an average height of 0.3m. All fences which cross the monument 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.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


NU11SW 07,


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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