Birkby medieval settlement and associated field system, moated site and fishponds


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Birkby medieval settlement and associated field system, moated site and fishponds
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

North Yorkshire
Hambleton (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
NZ 33229 02209, NZ 33379 02061

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. The Northern Vale of York local region has been identified on two criteria. First, it contains low numbers of nucleations when compared with the rest of the sub-Province: village depopulation may partly account for this. Secondly, there are greater densities of dispersed settlement than is normal for the sub-Province, a phenomenon which cannot yet be fully explained.

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 survive also as visible remains as well as below ground deposits. In the central province of England, villages were the most distinctive aspect of rural 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 subdivided into strips(known as landes) 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 or landes were laid out in groups known as furlongs defined by terminal headlands at the plough turning-points and lateral grass balks. 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. In addition to the open fields, villages often supported other agricultural activities such as fishponds. These were artificial pools of slow moving water in which fish were bred and stored in order to provide a constant supply of fresh fish for consumption and trade. Around 6,000 moated sites are known in England. They consist of wide ditches, often or seasonally water filled, partly or completely enclosing one or more islands of dry ground on which stood domestic or religious buildings. In some cases the islands were used for horticulture. The majority of moated sites served as prestigious aristocratic and seigneurial residences with the provision of a moat intended as a status symbol rather than a practical military defence. The peak period during which moated sites were built was between about 1250 and 1350 and by far the greatest concentration lies in the central and eastern parts of England. However, moated sites were built throughout the medieval period, are widely scattered throughout England and exhibit a high level of diversity in their forms and sizes. They form a significant class of medieval monuments and are important for understanding the distribution of wealth and status in the countryside. Many examples provide conditions favourable to the survival of organic remains. The medieval village of Birkby and its associated agricultural features survive well and significant evidence of the domestic and economic development of the settlement will be preserved.


The monument includes earthwork and buried remains of the medieval village of Birkby and parts of its associated field system, a moated site and related set of fishponds, all located to the east of the River Wiske. Remains of the village buildings lie on the brow of a hill either side of the modern road, with remains of the field system lying to the east and on land sloping down to the south and to the west. The moat and fishponds lie in the north west corner of the monument on level ground adjacent to the river. The monument is in two areas, one including the majority of the field north of Hill Top Farm and the whole of the field west of the road and the western part of the field west of Low Birkby Farm. The other area includes the whole of the field to the south of Hill Top Farm. The modern settlement of Birkby includes the church and Birkby Manor to the north of the monument and a small nucleus of farms and cottages to the south. The medieval village is mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086 as an outlier to the manor of Northallerton. Birkby is mentioned in documents in 1285 and again in the Lay Subsidy in 1301 when a total of ten named householders were recorded. The village went into decline in the 14th century, probably from a combination of the Black Death and associated economic collapse and as a result of Scottish raids. The medieval village took the form of two opposing rows of buildings extending north to south fronting onto and separated by a wide village street, which is now occupied by the road known as Birkby Lane. At the northern end of the medieval street stood the church and manor house and surrounding the village was the open field system. The current church of St Peter and the adjacent Birkby Manor date to the late 18th century and the area is not included in the scheduling. The eastern row of the medieval village survives as earthwork banks lying to the north of Hill Top Farm. They form at least five rectangular enclosures extending east to west. These enclosures, known as crofts, were yards containing houses, the remains of which can be identified as low platforms at the western end fronting onto the street. To the rear (east) of these enclosures are earthwork banks extending to the east, some defining larger enclosures and others dividing up blocks of ridge and furrow which were part of the medieval field system. On the land sloping down to the south of Hill Top Farm are two broad agricultural terraces cut into the slope. Lying to the west and south west throughout the rest of the field are further enclosures and blocks of ridge and furrow with associated boundary banks preserved as prominent earthworks. The western row of buildings of the medieval village are located opposite Hill Top Farm. It includes at least six rectangular building platforms measuring up to 6m north to south by 3m east to west located on the top edge of the slope. A substantial hollow way runs east to west to the south of the northern two building platforms and extends as far as the base of the slope to the west. To the rear (west) of the middle two house platforms are large crofts extending down the slope and to the rear of the other building platforms are remains of broad ridge and furrow. In the north western corner of the northern croft are earthwork remains of a rectangular building interpreted as a field barn or a stock shelter. At the western end of the northern block of the area of ridge and furrow is a circular platform 6m in diameter interpreted as the remains of an agricultural feature such as a hut or stack stand used for drying corn. The crofts and ridge and furrow extend to the bottom of the slope where a prominent bank extending north to south separates the agricultural land from the flat area adjacent to the river and also served to prevent flooding. The moated site includes a substantial rectangular ditch 5m wide and 0.9m deep which surrounds a raised central platform. The external dimensions of the moat are approximately 30m north to south by 14m east to west. There is a low counterscarp bank surrounding the ditch. The central platform has a raised bank around the perimeter. There is a breach in the outer bank around the moat at the north east corner and also in the south east corner which are the locations for a form of sluice used to manage the flow of water. The south eastern sluice connects to a smaller, shallower rectangular pond immediately to the south of the moat and also to a 10m wide shallow depression extending to the south for 40m which has shallow channels or leats at the southern end leading to the river. The small pond and the shallow depression are the remains of the fishponds. It is considered that the ditch from the moated site was also part of the fishpond complex. Between the moat and the ridge and furrow on the slope to the east, there are the remains of a trackway extending north to south following the break of slope as far as the west end of the hollow way. Further south on the level area west of Low Birkby Farm and adjacent to the river are further shallow earthworks which are thought to be further remains of water management associated with the fishponds and a wider drainage system. All telegraph poles, fences, tree guards and the surface of the road 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.

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Books and journals
Grifiths, M, Medieval Villages of the Tees Lowlands, (1976)
Beresford, M, 'Yorkshire Archaeological Journal' in The Lost Villages of Yorkshire Part IV, , Vol. VOL 38, (1954), 295


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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