Steeton medieval village, moated site and fishponds


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1017555

Date first listed: 09-Oct-1954

Date of most recent amendment: 22-Dec-1997


Ordnance survey map of Steeton medieval village, moated site and fishponds
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: North Yorkshire

District: Selby (District Authority)

Parish: Steeton

National Grid Reference: SE 53350 44044


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. This monument lies in the Humber-Tees sub-Province of the Central Province which comprises a great fertile lowland, with many local variations caused by slight differences in terrain, but generally dominated by market towns, villages and hamlets. The dispersed farmsteads between these are mainly of post-medieval date, created by movement out of the villages and onto newly consolidated holdings following enclosure. Some, however, are more ancient disposals, the result of manors, granges and other farmsteads being moved out of villages in the Middle Ages; others have become isolated by the process of village depopulation, which has had a substantial impact in the sub-Province. The Vale of York local region is a rich agricultural lowland dominated by a dense pattern of villages and hamlets founded in the Middle Ages, about one in four of which have since been deserted. It contains low and very low densities of dispersed settlements, some of which are isolated medieval moated manor houses. The landscape was formerly dominated by communal townfields which were mainly enclosed in the 18th century.

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. Around 6,000 moated sites are known in England. The majority of moated sites served as prestigious aristocratic or seigniorial residences with the provision of a moat primarily as a status symbol rather than as a means of defence. The peak period of moat building was between about 1250 and 1350 and by far the greatest concentration lies in central and eastern England. However moated sites were built throughout the medieval period and are widely scattered throughout England, demonstrating a wide diversity of forms and sizes. They are a significant class of medieval monument and are important for the understanding of the distribution of wealth and status in the countryside. Many examples provide conditions favourable to the survival of organic remains. The tradition of constructing and using fishponds started in the medieval period and peaked in the 12th century, their use declining after the Dissolution. They were typically built by the wealthier sectors of society with royal residences and monasteries often having large and complex fishponds. Moats are also thought to have been used as fishponds and could also be integrated with the complex. Documentary sources provide a wealth of information about the way that ponds were stocked and managed. Fishponds are found widely scattered across the country, the majority found in central, eastern and southern parts and in areas with heavy clay soils. Fewer are found near the coast or where natural lakes and streams provided a natural source of fish. Most fishponds were located close to villages, manors or monasteries or within parks so that a watch could be kept to prevent poaching. Although approximately 2000 examples are recorded nationally, this is thought to be only a small proportion of those originally in existence. Despite being relatively common, fishponds are important for their association with other classes of medieval monuments, and in providing evidence of site economy. The village of Steeton is well documented, both before and after abandonment, and is a good example of the way that villages in the later Middle Ages were vulnerable to depopulation to make way for high status houses. Archaeological deposits including building foundations, rubbish pits, and evidence of small scale industrial, agricultural and gardening activity will survive throughout the area of the monument, providing information about the layout and economy of the medieval settlement and the later, higher status residence of the Fairfax family which was built on the site of the abandoned village. The ponds and moat ditches, especially the infilled areas, will retain deposits that will provide evidence of the local environment.


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


The monument includes the buried and earthwork remains of the medieval village of Steeton, a medieval moated site and a complex of fishponds which were laid out after the depopulation of the village. The monument is located adjacent to the modern Steeton Hall farm. Steeton was recorded as Stiuetone in the Domesday Book and lay in the Wapentake of The Ainstey (one of the 11 West Riding medieval administrative districts established by the Danes before the Norman Conquest). In 1255 the main Tadcaster to York road was diverted to the line of the old Roman road which passed through the outfields of the village. This happened after an inquiry prompted by the petition of Sir Richard de Steeton. The village was assessed to pay a total of 20 shillings lay subsidy in 1332, which rose to 24 shillings two years later. The lay subsidy was a tax levied on wealthier residents of the village and was on average 19 shillings per village within The Ainstey in 1334. Steeton does not appear to have suffered as greatly as other villages from the Black Death of the mid-14th century, as it was only granted 33 per cent relief from the lay subsidy in 1352 and no relief at all two years later. The poll tax of 1377 recorded 45 men and women over the age of 14, making it one of the larger settlements in the Wapentake. This dropped to 30 two years later, but this is thought to be mainly the result of tax avoidance rather than depopulation. In 1344 the Rees family, who owned the village, were recorded as having at least 16 houses, but this was reduced to only four messuages (houses with outbuildings) in 1476 when the village was sold to Sir Guy Fairfax. It is thought that Steeton was depopulated, except for the Fairfax family, by about 1485. Steeton never had a parish church and in 1491 Fairfax obtained a licence to build a private chapel. In 1533 The Great Stank, a large pond sited along the main street of the former village, was built under licence from the Crown. By 1558, when there was an inventory made of the property of the late Sir William Fairfax, his hall had a chapel, nine bedrooms, two studies, a hall and a parlour. The estate was further described ten years later in a deed of partition when the property was divided. At the beginning of the 18th century the hall was partly demolished, leaving the range that is still in use as a farm house. In 1873, the chapel was also demolished. The largest earthwork feature within the monument is The Great Stank, the pond constructed in 1533. This survives as a mainly dry north south orientated depression, over 250m long and up to 2m deep, with a modern drainage ditch running along its eastern side. In the centre, but towards the southern end of the pond, there is a 20m diameter island which was investigated archaeologically by M Beresford in the early 1950s and was shown to contain the footings of a stone building covered in soil. The pond was constructed along the main street of the medieval village, cutting through a number of house platforms, and buried remains of buildings survive on either side of the pond. At the north end of The Great Stank there is another fishpond, now surviving as an infilled feature, which was roughly 40m across. To the north and west of this there is the large moated site of Steeton Hall. This was originally an island containing the hall itself, associated buildings, gardens and other features surrounded by a moat ditch. Most of the eastern circuit of the moat ditch survives as an earthwork feature, with the north eastern part forming a section of the modern drainage system that subsequently runs through The Great Stank. The southern part of the moat ditch can be seen as a shallow depression in the field to the south of the trackway leading east from the modern farm buildings. The northern section survives as a deeper depression to the north of the upstanding part of the hall. The western side of the moat ditch is no longer traceable, but it would have passed through the area now covered by the later farm buildings. On the island of the moated site there is one range of the manor house built for Sir Guy Fairfax in c.1474. This is excluded from the scheduling as it is in domestic use as a farm house and is Listed Grade II*. The foundations of the rest of the manor house complex, including the chapel, will survive as buried features and are included in the scheduling. A low north-south bank divides the island in two, and runs to the east of the hall. In the paddock to the north of the Hall, on the north side of the northern moat ditch, there is a square building platform approximately 40m across with a ditch on both south and east sides. In the north east of this paddock there is a second, much smaller platform. A number of features are excluded from the scheduling; these are all buildings, huts, feed and water troughs, garden furniture, road and path surfaces, modern walling and fencing, although the round beneath all these features is included. The garden wall, listed Grade II containing a 13th century doorway is included in the scheduling.

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: 30123

Legacy System: RSM


Record Card, Yorkshire Archaeological Society, SE 54 SW 02, (1973)
Record card, Yorkshire Archaeological Society, SE 54 SW 03, (1970)

End of official listing