The medieval village of Burston


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1017778

Date first listed: 18-May-1967

Date of most recent amendment: 08-Dec-1997


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

County: Buckinghamshire

District: Aylesbury Vale (District Authority)

Parish: Aston Abbotts

County: Buckinghamshire

District: Aylesbury Vale (District Authority)

Parish: Wingrave with Rowsham

National Grid Reference: SP 84061 18854


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 past 1500 years or more. The South Midlands local region is large, and capable of further subdivision. Strongly banded from south west to north east, it comprises a broad succession of clay vales and limestone or marlstone ridges, complicated by local drifts which create many subtle variations in terrain. The region is in general dominated by nucleated villages of medieval origin, with isolated farmsteads, mostly of post-medieval date, set in the spaces between them. Depopulated village sites are common, and moated sites are present on the claylands.

The site of the medieval village of Burston is clearly defined by an area of earthworks in which evidence for the nature of the settlement is very well preserved. The tofts will contain buried evidence for houses and other structures, accompanied by a range of features such as boundaries, refuse pits and drainage channels, all related to the life of the settlement. Artefacts found in association with these features will provide insights into the date and duration of occupation, the lifestyle of the inhabitants and the economy of the settlement. Environmental evidence may also be recovered, illustrating the appearance of the landscape in which the settlement was established and providing further information about its agricultural regime.

Many modern villages in the local region have medieval origins, although in most cases later development has obscured much of the archaeological evidence for earlier settlement. Depopulated examples, such as Burston, provide valuable opportunities to study the nature of these earlier communities and, in areas such as the Vale of Aylesbury where the abandoned villages are comparatively common, opportunities to examine and compare the reasons for their failure.

The subsequent development of the Manor of Burston reflects this change which, in common with a number of settlements in the local region, resulted from the growing economic advantages of sheep rearing over arable production in the later medieval period. Although the 17th century manor house itself has been almost completely rebuilt, archaeological evidence for its setting will be preserved in the area of the formal gardens to the south together with significant details concerning their original appearance. The deer park together with the gardens, reflects the affluence and social standing of the of the later owners. Although the outline of the park is perpetuated by modern field boundaries, visible evidence is now limited to a small but important element of the park - the boundary which separated the deer from the area of formal gardens.


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


The monument includes the buried and visible remains of the medieval village of Burston, and adjacent evidence for formal gardens related to the early post-medieval manor which superseded the settlement.

The site of the village of Burston lies within the Vale of Aylesbury, to the south of the ridge of Windmill Hill and the minor road between the modern villages of Weedon and Aston Abbotts. The settlement earthworks are contained within a single pasture field of approximately 9ha which is located on a gentle slope between Lower Burston Farm and a small tributary of the Thistle Brook, some 350m to the east. The central feature of the settlement is the main street, a broad hollow way which traverses the pasture from south to north west. The area to the west of the hollow way is divided into irregular enclosures by a number of shallow ditches and banks, and the site of at least one former building is marked by a pronounced mound near the street frontage. The earthworks to the east and north east of the hollow way are more complex, and are mainly related to a second hollow way which branches away from the first near the centre of the field and continues in a north easterly direction towards the field boundary. A series of five rectangular tofts (enclosures containing evidence of former buildings) are arranged along the eastern side of this route, ranging between 20m and 50m in width and similarly defined by shallow banks and ditches. The tofts extend eastwards for approximately 70m, terminating at a broad scarp which descends towards a narrow strip of flood meadow flanking the brook. Low platforms and other minor undulations at the western ends of these enclosures indicate the probable locations of buildings, whereas the eastern portions of the enclosures are relatively level, suggesting use as paddocks or yards.

Further platforms and smaller enclosures remain visible to either side of the junction of the two streets and especially to the north west, within a triangular area defined by a third, less pronounced, hollow way which connects the other two routes. A mound situated within the junction of the northern hollow way with the main street may indicate the location of a preaching cross.

A substantial bank extends eastwards from the southern end of the tofts to form a dam across the line of the brook. This is thought to have regulated the inundation of the flood meadow adjacent to the settlement.

As an outlying hamlet of Aston Abbotts, Burston did not possess a separate parish church. Nevertheless, in 1086 the settlement received a separate entry in the Domesday Book, and ownership and land values dating from the reign of Edward the Confessor were recorded at this time. In 1086 the settlement possessed four ploughlands with meadow, and supported 12 principal inhabitants with their families. By the time of Burston's demise in 1488 the settlement had evidently expanded, since eight ploughs were made useless and 60 people were evicted when a freeholder, John Swafield, converted the whole of the manor and village lands to sheep pasture.

The manor prospered after the rapid depopulation of the village. A branch of the Lee family came into possession in 1516 and in the early 17th century Sir Henry Lee built or rebuilt the manor house and acquired a royal license to empark the grounds. The manor house (now Lower Burston Farm) was rebuilt in the 18th and 19th centuries, reusing much of the earlier brick, and is not included in the scheduling. The deer park, which covered some 65ha and included the area of the former village (in the north west corner) is clearly shown on a map of the Manor of Burston dating from c.1800. The earthworks of the pale have since disappeared, although the original outline of the park can be traced in the current field boundaries surrounding the farm.

The field to the south of Lower Burston Farm is termed `Kitchen Mead' on the map of the manor and it contains numerous earthworks which are thought to indicate the pattern of a formal garden associated with the 17th century manor. On the rising slope facing the house, a rectangular enclosure measuring some 120m by 60m is defined by a broad and shallow ditch. The northern boundary of the enclosure (at the foot of the slope) is marked by a much larger ditch which extends further east and west and is flanked over part of its length by a bank and smaller ditch to the north. Within the enclosure a number of low banks partly span the longer, east-west axis and there is some evidence of former terraces. The earthworks are considered to indicate a symmetrical arrangement of planted areas surrounded by a drainage system and walkways, designed to be visible from the house and to compliment its setting. The area around the enclosure contains a number of slight undulations which may reflect less formal cultivation, and is itself surrounded to the south and west by a low bank lying just inside the present boundary of the pasture. This feature, evidently denuded but still some 6m in width, is believed to represent an internal division within the deer park - a necessary barrier between the gardens and the deer.

The shallow brick-lined pond near the north eastern corner of the field, all fences, gates and electricity poles are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these items 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: 29401

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Beresford, MW, St Joseph, JK, Medieval England: An Aerial Survey (1958), (1958), 115-6
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, , Historic Monuments of Buckinghamshire57
Chalkey, B, Three Deserted Medieval Villages in the Vale of Aylesbury, 1985, Unpublished dissertation
Chalkey, B, Three Deserted Medieval Villages in the Vale of Aylesbury, 1985, Unpublished dissertation
Chalkey, B, Three Deserted Medieval Villages in the Vale of Aylesbury, 1985, Unpublished dissertation
Nellist, E, Burston: A Deserted Medieval Village in Buckinghamshire, 1977, Univ. BA thesis (copy in Bucks SMR)
Nellist, E, Burston: A Deserted Medieval Village in Buckinghamshire, 1977, Univ. BA thesis (copy in Bucks SMR)
Nellist, E, Burston: A Deserted Medival Village in Buckinghamshire, 1977, Univ. BA thesis (copy in Bucks SMR)
Title: Estate Map Source Date: 1800 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: Copy in Nellist's thesis.
Title: Map of Burston Manor Source Date: 1800 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: Copy in Nellist's thesis

End of official listing