East Matfen medieval village and open field system


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1016351

Date first listed: 19-Jul-1979

Date of most recent amendment: 09-Dec-1997


Ordnance survey map of East Matfen medieval village and open field system
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Northumberland (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Matfen

National Grid Reference: NZ 04624 71186, NZ 04893 71269


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

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 last 1500 years or more. The Northumbrian Plain local region is an extensive, undulating lowland. Its landscape bears many signs of agrarian improvement and reconstruction in the 18th and 19th centuries, including rectangular fields and post-medieval dispersed farmsteads. The earthworks of deserted and shrunken village settlements and the ridge and furrow of former arable townfields indicate the pattern of medieval, `pre-improvement' agrarian and settlement structures.

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 the their boundaries, and as part of the manorial system most villages included 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 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 of the manor's arable and meadow 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 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 mouldboard. The deserted medieval village of East Matfen 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, will add greatly to our knowledge and understanding of medieval settlement in the region.


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


The monument includes the deserted remains of the medieval village of East Matfen and part of its surviving open field system, situated on the right bank of the now canalised River Pont. It is divided into two separate areas by a later trackway. In the 13th century the manor of East Matfen was held by the Fenwick family and a document records that in 1296 14 individuals from the village were eligible to pay taxes. Part of the manor was subsequently granted to the priory at Hexham, and later documents record a fall in the village population. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the manor was regained by the Fenwicks. During the mid- to late 17th century the estate was acquired by John Douglas of Newcastle who depopulated the village and dispersed the farms to other parts of the estate. Maps of a similar date indicate that the northern half of the village became incorporated into a formal park which was established in the area at this time. The plan of the medieval village is a type well known in this part of Northumberland in which two parallel lines of houses face onto a broad rectangular village green, with crofts, or garden areas to the rear. This type of village is thought to be the result of deliberate planning by Norman rulers attempting to exert control over a rebellious region during the 11th and 12th centuries. The two rows of houses are oriented east to west, and each is visible as a series of rectangular enclosures or tofts containing the foundations of timber long houses. The house foundations stand to an average height of 0.3m. The ruined remains of Pead House at the centre of the south row of the village indicate that at least one of the original medieval plots continued in use into the post-medieval period. To the rear of each street, there are the well defined remains of linear crofts, each bounded from its neighbour by a bank on average 0.5m high. Some of the crofts, particularly on the north row of the village, contain the remains of rig and furrow cultivation. The two streets face onto a broad rectangular open space containing the remains of banks and hollows. This was formerly the village green. Subsequent to its desertion, part of the village green was ploughed up, and the remains of rig and furrow are visible at its north eastern end. A well defined hollow way crosses the green and opens out at its eastern end to form a funnelled access or driftway across the surrounding open fields to the pasture beyond. At the eastern end of the village, part of the open fields which once surrounded the village on all sides, survive in the form of a large medieval furlong or field bounded on some of its sides by intact headland. The remains of two smaller furlongs beyond it to the south east. Each furlong contains rig and furrow cultivation which survives well and stands to a maximum height of 1m. All stone walls and fences which cross the monument are excluded from the scheduling as are the line of telegraph poles and the metalled surface of the road, although the ground beneath all of 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: 28556

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Wrathmell, S, 'Post-Medieval Archaeology' in Village Depopulation In The 17th And 18th Centuries, , Vol. 14, (1980), 113-26
Gates, T M, 138/93/63, (1992)
NZ07SW 17,

End of official listing