Welton medieval settlement, open field system and fishponds


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.

Northumberland (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
NZ 06334 67476

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. This monument lies in the Wear-Tweed sub-Province of the Central Province, an area long characterised, except for the western margins, by nucleated settlements both surviving and deserted. Variations within the sub-Province reflect land ownership as well as terrain: on some estates in Northumberland there was much dispersal of farmsteads and consequent village and hamlet depopulation after the Middle Ages, whereas Durham saw greater stability because of ecclesiastical control. An overlay of mining settlements adds complexity to the coalfield areas.

Medieval villages were organised agricultural communities, sited at the centre of a village 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 houses stood and other buildings such as barns, enclosed crofts and small enclosed paddocks. 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. Medieval villages were supported by a communal system of agriculture based on large, unenclosed open arable fields. These large fields were sub-divided into strips (known as lands) which were allocated to local tenants. The cultivation of these strips with heavy ploughs pulled by oxen-teams, produced long, wide ridges and the resultant ridge and furrow where it survives 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 baulks. 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 evidence 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. A fishpond is an artificially created pool of slow moving fresh water constructed for the purpose of cultivating, breeding and storing fish to provide a constant and sustainable supply of food. They may be dug into the ground, embanked above ground level, or formed by placing a dam across a narrow valley. Groups of up to 12 ponds variously arranged in a single line or in a cluster and joined by leats have been recorded. The ponds may be of the same size or of several different sizes with each pond being stocked with different species or ages of fish. The size of the pond was related to function, with large ponds thought to have had a storage capacity whilst smaller, shallower ponds were used for fish cultivation and breeding. Fishponds were maintained by a water management system which included inlet and outlet channels carrying water from a river or stream, a series of sluices set into the bottom of the dam and along the channels and leats, and an overflow leat which controlled fluctuations in water flow and prevented flooding. The tradition of constructing and using fishponds in England began during the medieval period and peaked in the 12th century. They were largely built by the wealthy sectors of society, with monastic institutions and royal residences often having large and complex fishponds. The difficulties of obtaining fresh meat in the winter and the value placed on fish as a food source and for status may have been factors which favoured the development of fishponds and which made them so valuable. The practice of constructing fishponds declined after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century. More fishponds fell out of use during the post-medieval period, although some were re-used as ornamental features in 19th and early 20th century landscape parks or gardens. Documentary sources provide a wealth of information about the way fishponds were stocked and managed. The main species of fish kept were eel, tench, pickerel, bream, perch and roach. Once a year, probably in the spring, ponds were drained and cleared. Fishponds are widely scattered throughout England but the majority are found in central, eastern and southern parts. In practice it appears that most were located close to villages, manors and monasteries or in parks so that a close watch could be kept on them to prevent poaching. Although approximately 2000 examples are recorded nationally, this is thought to be a small proportion of those in existence in medieval times. Despite being relatively common, fishponds are important for their association with other classes of medieval monument and in providing evidence of site economy. The medieval village remains at Welton are well preserved and retain significant archaeological deposits. Taken together with the remains of the open field system and the fishponds, they will contribute to our knowledge and understanding of the development of medieval settlement in the region.


The monument includes remains of the medieval settlement of Welton, part of its associated field system and a series of fishponds of medieval date, situated on the south side of the valley of the former Whittle Burn. Welton Tower 75m to the north east is the subject of a separate scheduling. The historical context of the monument is recorded in several documents; the manor of Welton, which was originally a member of the barony of Prudhoe, was given to Tynemouth Priory by the end of the 12th century. It was subsequently granted to Simon de Welton, in whose family it remained until the end of the 17th century. At this date the manor became part of the Blackett, and later Allendale Estate. By the late 18th century the village and its fields had been enclosed and four individual farms had been created. The medieval plan of the village is a type well known in this part of Northumberland, in which a single row, or two parallel rows of houses face onto a rectangular village green or hollow way, with crofts or garden areas to the rear. This type of village in northern England 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. With the exception of two tofts, Welton has been totally abandoned. The remains survive as a series of prominent earthworks situated between Welton Hall Farm and Welton Farm. The former farm retains remains of the manor house including Welton Tower, a late addition of the 15th century. The earthworks of the main south row of the village are visible as a series of at least 12 rectangular platforms or tofts, orientated east to west and containing the sites of individual timber longhouses. Where the longhouses are visible as earthworks, they are on average 15m long and between 0.2m to 1m high, and divided unequally into two rooms. To the rear of each toft there are the well defined remains of an elongated enclosure or croft, each bounded from its neighbour by a hollow way, drainage gully or a low bank, the latter standing on average 0.5m high. The crofts at the eastern end of the row are 80m long and at the western end they are 60m long. At the eastern end of the row there are less well defined remains of up to six further crofts. The row is bounded on the south side by a narrow lane, visible as a slight hollow way and then by a continuous perimeter bank of earth and stone which served to separate the village from the surrounding, formerly more extensive open field system. The perimeter bank continues around the eastern end of the village. The main street of Welton fronts onto a prominent hollow way on average 20m to 23m wide bounded by banks. An irregular pattern of four rectangular tofts, which are thought to be the remains of an unplanned north row, separated from, but parallel to the south row are thought to be a relatively late addition to the village. Part of the formerly more extensive open field system which surrounded the village survives to the south of the village perimeter bank. Here there are three medieval furlongs or fields bounded by intact headlands measuring up to 4m wide and standing up to 1m high. Each furlong contains ridge and furrow. At the south eastern corner of the monument there are a series of sub- rectangular hollows of varying sizes, interpreted as the remains of a group of fishponds. The fishponds are served by a leat entering the system from the west through the remains of a denuded stone feature thought to have been a sluice. A number of features are excluded from the scheduling: these are all fence lines, hedges and stone walls which cross the monument, telephone poles and power lines, gate posts, the pump at the north eastern corner of the monument, Slate House and the post-war cottage and all sheds and greenhouses; however, the ground beneath all 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
Tolan-Smith, M, Landscape Archaeology in Tynedale, (1997), 53-67
Tolan-Smith, C, Landscape Archaeology in Tynedale: Chapter 5, (1997), 53-67
CUCAP, Welton DMV, (1974)
Dr C Tolan-Smith,
NZ06NE 22,


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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