Swaythorpe medieval settlement


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1017067

Date first listed: 29-Oct-1954

Date of most recent amendment: 14-Dec-1999


Ordnance survey map of Swaythorpe 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: Kilham

National Grid Reference: TA 03752 69008


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. The earthworks of medieval Swaythorpe and associated ridge and furrow are very well preserved and include a wide range of identifiable features that rarely survive together. The monument retains good evidence of the complex changes that beset this small Wolds settlement. The earthworks indicate good survival of buried remains, including rubbish pits, building foundations and floor levels. Together with the documentary evidence, the archaeological remains will provide a valuable insight into medieval rural life.


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


The monument includes buried and earthwork remains of the medieval village of Swaythorpe and the surrounding ridge and furrow which forms the surviving part of its open field system. It is located on the north side of the modern Swaythorpe farm complex. The area of Swaythorpe is believed to have a long history of settlement. Crop marks visible from aerial photographs to the north west of the monument are thought to be related to prehistoric settlement remains. In 1998 archaeological work outside the area of the monument to the south of the modern farm buildings, uncovered evidence of 3rd to 4th AD century Romano- British occupation. The first documentary evidence of the village is the Domesday Book of 1087 which recorded that Swaythorpe was held by Forni in 1066 when it included arable land sufficient for nine plough teams. Domesday goes on to record that after the Norman Conquest it was held by Odo Arblaster, who is thought to have been William the Conqueror's most important military technician. By 1115-1118 Arblaster's lands in Lincolnshire are known to have passed to Amfrey de Chauncy and this transfer probably included Swaythorpe, because in 1356 overlordship of the settlement passed from Thomas Chauncy to William of Melton who added it to his manor of Kilham. In 1170 a small grant of land in the settlement was made to St Peter's Hospital in York, with a further small grant being made by 1210. By the end of the 13th century, Swaythorpe is thought to have been a small and impoverished settlement. It was combined with Octon 1km to the north west for tax purposes in the Lay Subsidy of 1297 and the surviving tax records show that there were only four people with assets in excess of 9 shillings in the two settlements at that time. The Lay Subsidy of 1334 paints a similar picture, but Swaythorpe did, however, support its own chapel, mentioned in 1348 as being dedicated to St Leonard. The Poll Tax of 1377 which listed all people over the age of 14, no matter how poor, only listed 48 people for Swaythorpe and Octon combined, compared to an average of 75 per settlement in the surrounding area. Although it is not known when the settlement became depopulated, it is thought that it was in terminal decline by this time. There is no reference to the chapel after 1388 and two waste tenements were detailed in 1421. On his death in 1481, Sir Walter Griffith held a small area of land in Swaythorpe as part of the Burton Agnes Estate. His descendants acquired more land in the township over the following 140 years and in 1621 the area was described as `a sheep pasture called Swaythorpe'. In the early 1960s a local archaeological society excavated a 3m by 15m trench within the village earthworks and uncovered two sections of chalk block walling bonded with gravel and marl. Staxton Ware pottery dated to 1250-1350 and a number of iron objects were also uncovered associated with the walls and adjacent floor surfaces. The medieval village is believed to have been centred on a circular pond known as Hemp Dyke which lies at a `T' junction between two streets, now seen as hollow ways, in the southern part of the monument. The main street appears to lie north-south, heading towards Octon to the north and Tog Dale and thence to Kilham to the south, with the second street running westwards. Plots divided by boundary banks front onto both of these hollow ways. These are known as tofts and include the earthworks of building platforms for houses, outbuildings and other structures. Immediately to the east of the pond, dominating the centre of the village, there is a large enclosure just over 50m square containing four substantial building platforms, with earthworks standing up to 1m high, which is interpreted as the site of a manor house. The smaller plots immediately to the north and south are considered to be annexes to this enclosure as they lack evidence of building platforms. They were possibly used for gardening or to contain livestock. The next enclosure to the north has only a 20m wide frontage onto the main street. Its western half has three small building platforms arranged around a central courtyard area. To the rear of these, in the eastern part of the toft and linked to the main street by a narrow trackway, there is a circular mound 15m in diameter which is thought to have been the site of a windmill. To the north there are two further tofts, both about 30m wide with single house platforms adjacent to the main street. The earthworks of these house platforms are typical examples of medieval peasant long houses. These were single storey two roomed buildings with human habitation at one end and livestock housed at the other end. Facing these two tofts across the street to the west there is a higher status toft, 40m wide and extending 80m westwards. It includes three building platforms in the eastern part of the toft with the substantial earthwork remains of a structure 8m across in the north western corner. This toft is thought to have been laid out a bit later than most of the village because it is not part of a row of tofts and appears to overlie a section of ridge and furrow. To the north of the tofts on the eastern side of the street, beyond the modern fence line, there is another circular pond known as Chapel Well. Between this and the line of the main street, there is a raised area 20m east-west and 5m north-south standing about 0.2m above the surrounding ground surface. This has been identified as the remains of St Lawrence's Chapel and, along with the area of its surrounding yard, is included in the scheduling. Further tofts lie either side of the hollow way that runs west from Hemp Dyke. On its north side there are seven tofts, each about 20m wide and extending 80m northwards, typically with a single building platform for a long house on the street frontage. The earthworks of the easternmost four of these tofts are very subtle and it is considered that these were abandoned early, either to form a village green or possibly an annex to the large toft immediately to the north. On the south side of the western street there are five more tofts, the far, southern ends of which have been disturbed by later land use and which lie outside of the scheduling. The easternmost three tofts are 15m to 20m wide and appear similar in nature to those to the north. The western pair of tofts have 40m wide frontages and retain the earthworks of a number of buildings. The eastern of these two plots is similar to the small courtyard farmsteads thought to have developed in the later 15th century, and it may thus have been one of the last to have been abandoned. There is some evidence from aerial photographs that these two tofts, together with the western three tofts to the north of the hollow way, overlie ridge and furrow and were thus a later addition to the village layout. It is thought that the medieval village extended a short distance beyond the southern boundary of the monument, probably with a handful of tofts fronting onto the main street. These remains have been subsequently overlain by the buildings forming the modern farm or reduced in height by changes in land use. The aerial photographs also show that Swaythorpe was originally surrounded by ridge and furrow, two areas of which, to the east and west of the village earthworks, survive as upstanding earthworks. These areas are included in the scheduling. The ridge and furrow to the east is orientated east-west and is cut by the modern lane to the farm. It is also overlain by the earthworks of a small 20m square enclosure which lies alongside the lane and which may have been a later stock pen. On the west side of the village there are parts of three furlongs, or sets, of ridge and furrow. One set orientated east-west, extended 180m to the west of the main street to the north of the tofts fronting onto the western street. This was partly overlain by the large toft on the western side of the main street. The second furlong extended south from the first and appears to have been cut by the western street and, as noted above, may have been overlain by later tofts. The western three strips to the north of the street are intensively pock marked by small quarrying hollows and spoil heaps. This is thought to be the result of medieval quarrying for chalk blocks to provide foundation material for buildings in the village. The third furlong is also orientated north-south and lies immediately to the west. The ridge and furrow here is narrower than the rest, being typically 10m between ridges rather than 13m-15m. Parts are also pockmarked by quarrying, some of which may have been to supply the post-medieval limekilns just beyond the western edge of the monument. All fence posts 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: 32637

Legacy System: RSM


Record forms, Sites and Monuments Record, 4013, (1998)

End of official listing