Cottam medieval settlement and cultivation terraces


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1017068

Date first listed: 23-Sep-1964

Date of most recent amendment: 14-Dec-1999


Ordnance survey map of Cottam medieval settlement and cultivation terraces
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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: Cottam

National Grid Reference: SE 99202 64754


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. Cultivation terraces are a distinctive landscape feature of the Yorkshire Wolds. Many are thought to have been established before the collapse in the rural population in the 14th century, and to have been the result of the poorly developed market economy forcing villages to be self sufficient in grain and thus requiring the cultivation of steep hillsides. The medieval earthworks at Cottam are well preserved and retain good evidence of the switch in land use from arable cultivation, supporting a relatively large population, to sheep rearing which resulted in the eventual abandonment of the village. The earthworks also indicate good survival of buried remains including rubbish pits, building foundations and floor levels, which together with the documentary evidence, will provide valuable insights 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 settlement of Cottam along with a set of contemporary cultivation terraces. It is located to the west and north of Cottam House and the modern farm. Cottam is associated with St John of Beverley, who was Bishop of York from AD 705 and is reputed to have cured two of the inhabitants of the settlement. Cottam was recorded as Cottun in the Domesday Book of 1087, which notes that it had arable land for five plough teams and was held as a single manor, valued at 40 shillings, by St Peter's Church in York from the Archbishop of York. It was taxed at 34 shillings for the 1334 Lay Subsidy, which was about average for the area, but given 53% relief in 1354 following the hardships which were partly caused by the Black Death. In 1377 50 people over the age of 14 were listed for the poll tax in Cottam, compared with 100 in neighbouring Langtoft. The settlement was last taxed separately in the mid-15th century and was thereafter usually grouped with Langtoft. Cottam was surveyed in 1569 when no mention of open fields was made, only the existence of closes, which implies that the settlement had been largely depopulated by this time. In 1706 there was still a small settlement of nine cottages surviving, but in 1719 the owners, the Dean and Chapter of York Minster, gave permission for the demolition of all but four cottages `as soon as conveniently may be'. Shortly afterwards a rabbit warren was established and by 1743 just one family was said to live in Cottam. The ruined brick built church dedicated to the Holy Trinity dates to c.1890 and was built to serve the expanding population of the outlying farms of the parish. It replaced an earlier church which, because it originally contained the Norman font now in Langtoft Church, is thought to have been in existence by the 12th century at the latest. The medieval village of Cottam was simple in plan, based on a junction between the former road from Langtoft to Driffield, and a lane to Cottam Grange and thence onwards towards the Gypsy Race valley to the north. Enclosures defined by boundary banks lie either side of these trackways. Most are tofts, enclosures with building platforms for a house and associated outbuildings along with yards or garden areas; and a few are crofts, enclosures not used for habitation, but forming gardens or paddocks. The tofts in the southern part of the monument are quite regular in plan, extending back from the former road as regular strips. Those in the north, around the 19th century church, are much more irregular in plan and are thought to represent a different phase in the development of the settlement. This area is thought to have been the original focus of the village, centred on the pond and where the road forks either side of the church, which is probably built on the same site as its medieval predecessor. To the north, between the two trackways, there are a series of small irregular embanked enclosures which mainly appear to be crofts, although there are at least two house platforms fronting onto the eastern track heading towards Langtoft. To the north of these enclosures, in the northern corner of the modern field, there are the earthwork remains of ridge and furrow cultivation, orientated WSW to ENE. On the western side of the track heading towards Cottam Grange, north of the pond, there is a row of four regularity sized tofts. Each has a frontage just over 20m wide and extend 35m back westwards. They all retain evidence for internal divisions marked by low banks, along with small level areas representing building platforms. To the east of the track to Langtoft, north of the church, there is another small area of tofts. These are much more irregular and the building platforms, probably for a row of three or four small cottages, front onto a raised bank 50m long which runs alongside the trackway. To the south of this group, extending as far as a substantial WSW to ENE bank and ditch which runs through the northern part of the woodland north of the modern farm, there is a set of larger irregular enclosures which are interpreted as former paddocks. Across the trackway from these, south of the pond, there is a set of cultivation terraces which extend westwards, cut into the steep north facing slope. The eastern ends of these terraces are overlain by further banks dividing the area up into more small paddocks. These enclosures either side of the trackway are considered to be relatively late features and to have been constructed for the management of sheep in the late medieval to early post-medieval period. They are thought to overlie earlier remains of the core of the medieval settlement. Immediately to the south, facing Cottam House on the opposite side of the trackway, is an enclosure 100m north-south extending 140m back westwards from the track, which at this point is a deeply cut hollow way. This is interpreted as the core of a relatively high status medieval farm, possibly a manorial centre. In the north east corner there are a pair of substantial building platforms each 15m across which are thought to be for domestic buildings. In the south eastern third there is a wide sunken area which is identified as a former fold yard for livestock. The earthworks of two large rectangular buildings front onto this area and are interpreted as former barns. The one to the west appears to have been just under 10m wide and 25m long, that to the north about 8m by 15m. The remaining area of the large enclosure is subdivided into three paddocks or garden enclosures by low banks. To the south of the fold yard, fronting onto the western side of the hollow way there are seven much lower status tofts. Each is a strip about 20m wide extending up to 100m westwards, divided from the next by a break of slope or embankment. Each has internal subdivisions of low banks along with building platforms for one to three small buildings which would have been typically about 5m by 10m. These would probably have been timber cruck framed buildings, perhaps built on a foundation of chalk blocks. One of the tofts also has a spread of brick rubble. These are the remains of a small 19th century brick built smithy. Facing these tofts on the east side of the hollow way there are some of the buildings of the modern farm which lie outside the area of the monument. To their south there is a toft of a different layout. This is about 50m square with the earthworks of a house and outbuildings arranged around a central sunken area representing a fold yard. Elsewhere on the Wolds, similar earthworks have been identified as courtyard farmsteads which developed in the 15th and 16th centuries from simpler earlier forms. Immediately to the south, the road or trackway to Driffield was truncated by the construction of a World War II airfield. Map evidence suggests that the southernmost four tofts of the village were also levelled at this time. A number of features are excluded from the scheduling; these are the brick built church, all modern fences, stiles and gates, water troughs and telegraph poles, although 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.

Legacy System number: 32638

Legacy System: RSM


Record sheets, Sites & Monuments Record, 738, (1998)

End of official listing