Dolphenby medieval settlement and part of its associated open field system


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1016756

Date first listed: 17-Jun-1999


Ordnance survey map of Dolphenby medieval settlement and part of its associated open field system
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This copy shows the entry on 13-Dec-2018 at 14:04:14.


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

County: Cumbria

District: Eden (District Authority)

Parish: Langwathby

National Grid Reference: NY 57345 31510


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 past 1500 years or more. This monument lies in the Cumbria-Solway sub-Province of the Northern and Western Province, an area characterised by dispersed hamlets and farmsteads, but with some larger nucleated settlements in well-defined agriculturally favoured areas, established after the Norman Conquest. Traces of seasonal settlements, or shielings, dominate the high, wet and windy uplands, where surrounding communities grazed their livestock during the summer months. The Eden Valley local region is a rich agricultural lowland ringed by mountain pastures. It is densely settled with small market towns, villages, hamlets and isolated farmsteads. Medieval castles and monasteries, a multitude of earthwork sites and the distinctive mix of Celtic, Scottish, English, Scandinavian and Norman place-names all testify to the ancient and long sustained occupation of this important region.

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 included one or more manorial centres which may also survive as visible remains as well as below ground deposits. In the Northern and Western Province of England medieval villages occurred infrequently amid areas of otherwise dispersed settlement and good examples are therefore proportionally infrequent. Thus their archaeological remains are one of the most important sources for understanding rural life in the five or more centuries following the Norman Conquest. Medieval villages were supported by a communal system of agriculture based on large, unenclosed open arable fields. These large fields were subdivided into strips (known as lands) which were allocated to individual tenants. The cultivation of these strips with heavy ploughs pulled by oxen-teams produced long, wide ridges, and where it survives the resultant `ridge and furrow' is the most obvious physical indication of the open field system. Individual strips or lands were laid out in groups known as furlongs defined by terminal headlands at the plough turning points and lateral grass banks. Furlongs were in turn grouped into large open fields. Well-preserved ridge and furrow, especially in its original context adjacent to village earthworks, is both an important source of information about medieval agrarian life and a distinctive contribution to the character of the historic landscape. It is usually now covered by the hedges or walls of subsequent field enclosure. Despite being partly destroyed by later ploughing, a substantial proportion of the earthworks of Dolphenby medieval village and its associated open field system survive well. It is a good example of this class of monument in the Eden Valley local region and will add greatly to our understanding of the wider settlement and economy during the medieval period.


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


The monument includes the earthworks and buried remains of Dolphenby medieval village, together with part of its associated medieval open field system. It is located on gently sloping ground above the flood plain south of the River Eden approximately midway between Dolphenby Farm and St Cuthbert's Church at Edenhall. Although the date of the first settlement at Dolphenby is unknown, the village is first mentioned in documentary sources in 1202. However, the proximity of numerous other villages in and adjacent to the Eden valley which incorporate the element `by' may imply that Dolphenby was part of an earlier stratum of Scandinavian settlement in this area. The date of abandonment of Dolphenby is also unknown. The plan of the medieval village at Dolphenby is of a type familiar to this part of Cumbria and it contains morphological features found in many northern villages. Essentially a line of at least five houses, most having visible remains of small enclosures or garden areas (crofts) at their rear, flank the north side of a village green, while the remains of two houses separated by a small sunken rectangular enclosure interpreted as a stock pen flank the eastern side of the green. A narrow hollow way or street, also flanked by building platforms behind which are small crofts, approaches the village green from the south east. The concentration of a medieval population within a village, with precious animals normally wintered in byres or stock pens, meant that for much of the year the animals were either taken for the summer months to remote upland shielings, or regularly walked out of the village to graze upon adjacent common pasture. The track the cattle took was known as the driftway or outgang and often began at the village green and opened outwards as a great enclosed funnel. Here at Dolphenby this outgang is clearly visible funnelling out from the village green towards higher ground further west. As medieval villages expanded there was a tendency to place newer buildings either on arable land adjacent to the outgang or actually within the outgang itself, and at Dolphenby examples of this expansion can be clearly seen with building platforms with enclosures to their rear flanking the north side of the outgang, while a building platform and remains of a building lie on the south side of the outgang with faint traces of two rectangular enclosures lying nearby within the outgang. A further example of this medieval expansion survives in the form of a rectangular enclosure lying at a point where the village green begins to broaden out into the outgang. On all sides of the village except the west are the earthworks of parts of the associated medieval communal open field system where the crops were grown. These earthworks consist of the well-preserved remains of broad ridge and furrow produced by oxen-drawn ploughing teams, and survive best to the east and north east of the village, where they are clearly visible aligned north west-south east. Narrower and slightly less well-pronounced remains of ridge and furrow lie both north and south of the outgang. All modern walls, fenceposts, gateposts and a cattle watering trough 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: 32819

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Roberts, B, Dolphenby, (1988)
Roberts, B K, 'Trans Cumb and West Antiq and Arch Soc. New Ser.' in Five Westmorland Settlements: A Comparative Study, , Vol. 93, (1993), 142
SMR No. 974, Cumbria County Council, Dolphenby, (1984)
SMR No. 974, Cumbria SMR, Dolphenby, (1984)

End of official listing