Towthorpe medieval settlement


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1016932

Date first listed: 11-Nov-1966

Date of most recent amendment: 26-Jan-2000


Ordnance survey map of Towthorpe medieval settlement
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: East Riding of Yorkshire (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Fimber

National Grid Reference: SE 89824 62922


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 Yorkshire Wolds local region is a soft, rolling, chalk landscape with deep valleys. Dispersed farmsteads, usually impressive creations of the late 18th and 19th centuries, are present in small numbers. The earlier pattern of medieval nucleated settlements - villages and hamlets - still dominates the archaeological landscape as either deserted settlement sites or sites still occupied by rural communities.

Medieval villages were organised agricultural communities, generally sited at the centre of a parish or township, that shared resources such as arable land, meadow and woodland. Village plans varied enormously, but where 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 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 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 divided 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 the resultant ridge and furrow, where it survives, is the most obvious physical indication of the open field system. Individual strips 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 information about medieval agrarian life and a distinctive contribution to the character of the historic landscape. Towthorpe is of particular note for the survival of the earthworks of 16th century style courtyard farms, rather than the earlier form of longhouse based farms. Evidence of earlier settlement phases are also likely to survive beneath the later farm earthworks.


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


The monument includes buried and earthwork remains of the medieval settlement of Towthorpe along with the surviving earthworks of part of the settlement's open field system. It does not include the area of the settlement which is now occupied by the modern farm and Towthorpe Manor. The Domesday Book recorded that Towthorpe was held by four land holders before the Norman Conquest. By 1086, about two thirds of Towthorpe had passed into the king's hands, with the remainder forming part of a manor in Howsham held by Count Robert Mortain. It appears to have been a relatively poor settlement in 1334 when it was only taxed at 24 shillings for the Lay Subsidy, compared with the average of 33 shillings for the Wapentake, the local administrative area. However, it appears to have survived the economic hardship of the mid- 14th century, caused by the Black Death and other factors, as it was only granted 12% relief from this tax in 1354, when other nearby settlements were granted around 50%. There is a 1343 document which mentions Towthorpe amongst possessions returned to the Crown on the death of William de Ros of Havelake. In 1377, 72 people over the age of 14 were recorded for the Poll Tax, which again was below the average for the area. The settlement is mentioned in a number of 16th century legal documents relating to the transfer of property in 1524 and 1563, a marriage settlement in 1569 and a will in 1584. In 1650 Towthorpe was described as a hamlet and a map of 1772 shows the village depopulated except for one or two farms at the east end of the village which developed into the modern farm. The earthwork remains of Towthorpe confirm that it was a small settlement with two rows of properties facing each other across a lane. This lane, which still survives as a farm track, runs approximately east-west and on the 1772 map is shown to broaden to include a small pond at the centre of the former village. This area is considered to have been a small village green with the pond acting as the focus for the settlement. Either side of the lane there are a series of earthwork banks standing between 0.2m and over 1m high. These are the remains of small courtyard farmsteads of a type which are thought to have developed in the 16th century. Although there is considerable variety in the size and layout of the farmsteads, each is typically represented by a square or rectangular area 50m-80m across defined by a boundary bank. They normally have central courtyards surviving as broad sunken areas, surrounded by the embanked footings of small rectangular buildings. On the south side of the lane there are the earthworks of at least four farmsteads with a further five or more on the north side, with the possibility that some of these had secondary courtyards. To the south of the southern row of farmsteads there is a continuous bank that divides the settlement from a set of ridge and furrow. These regular undulations are orientated NNE to SSW, with each furrow 12m-13m from the next, and are the result of medieval arable cultivation. Behind the farmsteads on the north side of the lane, the hillside slopes downwards and would not have been so easily ploughed. Running from the village green northwards, between two farmsteads, there is a hollow way or track which leads into what was a large enclosure shown as New Close on the 1772 map. This close, which has been overlain by modern field boundaries, extended down the hill to the bottom of the dale to the north of Towthorpe. To the west of the hollow way, to the rear of the farmsteads which ran along the north side of the lane, there are a number of small enclosures typically up to about 50m across, defined by low banks and breaks of slope. These are considered to have been crofts, small garden or paddock areas. To the east of the hollow way to New Close, the 1772 map shows a series of narrow strip-like enclosures extending northwards which are considered to have been medieval crofts extending behind individual properties fronting onto the village green and lane to their south. Some low banks which are thought to be the boundaries of these enclosures can be seen extending northwards from the farmsteads, but these fade out as the downwards slope of the hillside increases, uphill from a large natural sink hole which lies just outside of the monument. A number of features are excluded from the scheduling; these include all modern fences, walls, styles and gates, and all coups, water and feeding troughs with the platforms that they stand on; although the ground beneath these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 32634

Legacy System: RSM


Record cards, Sites & Monuments Record, 1020, (1998)

End of official listing