Medieval hamlet of Littlecote

Overview

Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1018008

Date first listed: 28-Nov-1957

Date of most recent amendment: 10-Jun-1998

Map

Ordnance survey map of Medieval hamlet of Littlecote
© Crown Copyright and database right 2018. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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Location

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Buckinghamshire

District: Aylesbury Vale (District Authority)

Parish: Stewkley

National Grid Reference: SP 83127 24076

Summary

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 hamlet of Littlecote is represented by an area of well-defined earthworks in which evidence for the nature of the settlement will be preserved. The crofts and building platforms will contain buried evidence for houses, barns and other structures, accompanied by a range of boundaries, refuse pits, wells and drainage channels, all related to the development of the settlement which is known to have existed for over 400 years prior to its demise in the early 16th century. Artefacts buried in association with these features will provide further insights into the lifestyle of the settlement's inhabitants and assist in dating the changes to the settlement through time. Environmental evidence may also be preserved, illustrating the economy of the hamlet and providing further information about its agricultural regime. The manor and hamlet of Littlecote is well documented, with records of tenure, population and farming practice dating back to Domesday. The historical evidence also charts the decline of the settlement which, in common with a number of villages and hamlets in the local region, suffered as a direct result of the growing economic advantages of sheep rearing in the later medieval period. 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 Littlecote, provide valuable opportunities to study the nature of these earlier communities and, in areas such as the Aylesbury Vale where abandoned medieval settlements are comparatively common, opportunities to examine and compare the reasons for their failure. Although the manor which formed the focus for the settlement has been overlain by the development of the farm, two features remain apparent which refer to its former status. The site of the chantry chapel, demolished as a result of the Protestant reformation under Edward VI, has been identified and will retain buried evidence for the nature of the principal building and the accommodation of the priests appointed by successive lords of the manor. The fishponds, clearly retained as ornamental features alongside the post-medieval mansion, are likely to have originated in the medieval period when those who could afford the cost of their construction and maintenance, created fishponds to ensure a constant food supply which also enabled compliance with religious dietary customs.

History

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

Details

The monument includes the buried and visible remains of the medieval hamlet of Lidcote, or Littlecote, located some 2.5km to the south west of the village of Stewkley, on a west-facing spur to the south of the Dunton Road. The settlement earthworks occupy approximately 13ha to the south and west of Littlecote Farm, bisected by a minor road which runs south from the farm towards the village of Cublington. The central feature of the settlement is the main street, a broad hollow way which diverges from the line of the metalled road some 100m to the south of the farm and descends the south western slope of the spur. The area above and to the east of the hollow way is subdivided into a pattern of irregular enclosures by numerous shallow ditches, banks and worn trackways which extend up to 200m away from the street frontage. These are thought to represent crofts (yards and paddocks associated with medieval buildings) in which the houses and other buildings remain visible as clusters of raised platforms arranged in three main groups along the length of the street. The area of habitation does not appear to have extended to the west of the main street. On this side the remains of the medieval field system rise from the base of the spur and continue across the adjacent ridge. A document from 1248 indicates that a three field system was operating at Littlecote by this time; a system which allowed one field to be left fallow each year for grazing and the consequent fertilization of the soil. These broad, or open, fields, were divided into furlongs which were cultivated in narrow strips, or lands, to ensure drainage and allow an equal division of the available soil conditions among the various tenants and serfs. A small part of the field system, containing the characteristic pattern of ridges and furrows which resulted from this system of ploughing, can still be seen in the pasture to the west of the main hollow way, approached by a narrow hollow way which may have provided the principal route into the fields from the settlement. At some point during the lifetime of the medieval settlement a row of four ditched enclosures was laid out over part of the northern furlong, immediately to the west of the present farm buildings. These enclosures extend some 150m to the west of the road, all sharing the western boundary, and vary between 25m and 50m in width. Slight traces of the earlier cultivation pattern remain visible within the enclosures, which are thought to have been used for controlling stock and therefore point to a significant change in the economy of the settlement. They do not, however, relate to the final enclosure of the fields for sheep pasture in the early 16th century, as a headland (a ridge created by turning the plough) alongside their western boundary demonstrates that a foreshortened field continued under cultivation. The headland, and a sample of the adjacent ridge and furrow is included in the scheduling. A slight, rectangular earthwork on the eastern side of the main street, in the angle between the modern minor road and the southern walls of Littlecote Farm, is believed to mark the location of the Chapel of St Giles. As an outlying hamlet of Stewkley, Littlecote did not possess a separate parish church. The chapel, founded by Hugh de Dunster around 1266, was intended as a chantry for the manor, and it was authorised and maintained by the Abbey of Biddlesden in return for certain grants of land at Thornborough near Buckingham. The chaplain was appointed by Hugh and his wife Alice, provided with a dwelling and outbuildings adjoining the chapel and allocated a portion of arable land within the hamlet's fields for his support. Although the chapel was established to provide masses for the souls of the lord of the manor and his kin, in documents dating from 1339 and 1363 it appears as the `Chapel of the Vill of Littlecote' or simply as `the Chapel of Lidcot', which suggests that it may also have served some of the spiritual needs of the hamlet's inhabitants. However, there are no records of conflict between the chaplains and the rectors of Stewkley, and it can be assumed that the chapel did not encroach on the church's responsibility for baptisms, marriages or burials. The suppression of chantries under Edward VI resulted in the confiscation of the chapel lands in 1553. The new owners, appointed by the Crown, either demolished the chapel or allowed it to decay. Fragments of standing masonry were last recorded in the middle of the 18th century. The Domesday survey of 1086 included a separate entry for the hamlet of `Litecota', which qualified as a `vill' or hamlet within the parish of Stewkley. The hamlet had been held, prior to the Norman Conquest, by Wigo de Wallingford, a Thane of Edward the Confessor and by two tenants of a certain Britric. This tripartite division continued after the Conquest when the manor itself passed to Walter Giffard, and other portions came into the possession of Miles Crispin and William Fitz Ansculf. The manor subsequently passed through the hands of Robert de Loering, Hugh de Dunster and branches of the le Veel and de Missenden families before it was acquired by Elizabeth, wife of the Sergeant of Law at Whaddon, Thomas Pigott, in 1481. Fifteen free tenants were recorded on the rent roll for 1323 - an indication of a sizeable population when the unnamed dependants and serfs are taken into account. In 1494 Thomas Pigott enclosed 40 acres of the manor lands for sheep pasture, resulting in the displacement of 24 of the hamlet's inhabitants who had formerly tilled the fields. His successor, William Sheppard, enclosed a further 100 acres in 1507, evicting another 8 tenants and causing the abandonment of the village. Sheppard's actions earned him the attention of Royal Inquistion set up to investigate the causes of rural depopulation in 1517, and resulted in his appearance before the Chancery who ordered him to rebuild two houses. This was done, but Sheppard's sons decided to demolish them following his death in 1545. In all, some 84 persons lost their homes and occupations as a result of the change to a pastoral economy. The manor continued to prosper after the depopulation of the hamlet, remaining in the hands of the Sheppard family until the late 19th century. The medieval manor house is thought to have stood in the area of the present farm buildings, where its successor, a substantial 17th century mansion, stood until 1804. The mansion was demolished to make way for a `good farm house' and only the coach house and some adjoining walls survive incorporated into the present farm house (a Grade II Listed Building). The extent to which evidence for the earlier manor buildings may have survived the subsequent development of the farm buildings is not known, and this area is therefore not included in the scheduling. An estate map dated 1814 provides the earliest documentary evidence for two fishponds located in a small copse to the south east of the farm buildings. These are aligned down the slope of the spur to the east of the settlement earthworks, each measuring approximately 60m in length and 25m in width, and partly water-filled. The southern ends of both ponds are retained by dams with brickwork dating from the late 18th century. Although doubtless maintained during the lifetime of the 17th century mansion, it is considered probable that the ponds originated within the lifetime of the medieval manor. Ponds of this type formed a characteristic feature of such high status residences, and slight depressions in the pasture to the south of the copse suggest that the flight of ponds may once have been more extensive.

The metalled surface of the road to the south of Littlecote Farm is excluded from the scheduling, together with all fences, gates and troughs located within the extent of the monument, although the ground beneath these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Legacy

The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 29416

Legacy System: RSM

Sources

Books and journals
Beresford, M, Lost Villages of England, (1983), 292
Beresford, M, Lost Villages of England, (1983), 292,319
Page, W , The Victoria History of the County of Buckinghamshire420-426
Page, W , The Victoria History of the County of Buckinghamshire426
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, , Monuments of Buckinghamshire, (1913), 277
Sheahan, J, History and Topography of Buckinghamshire, (1862), 755
'Records of Bucks' in Terrier of Land at Littlecote - 1514, , Vol. 13, (1940), 352-355
Herbert, P, 'CBA Group 9 Newsletter' in Littlecote, Buckinghamshire, , Vol. 10, (1980), 13-15
Kelke, W H, 'Records of Bucks' in The Desecrated Churches of Buckinghamshire, (1856), 289-90
Kelke, W H, 'Records of Bucks' in The Desecrated Churches of Buckinghamshire, (1856), 289-90
Other
Conversation with owner, Hedges, Mrs , (1997)
Herbert, P, Survey of Villages of Dunton, Hoggeston and Littlecote, 1979, Unpublished report SMR:0626
Herbert, P, Survey of Villages of Dunton, Hoggeston and Littlecote, 1979, Unpublished report SMR:0626
Herbert, P, Survey of Villages of Dunton, Hoggeston and Littlecote, 1979, Unpublished report SMR:0626
Ordnance Survey Antiquity Model, RSC, SP 82 SW 1: Lidcote DMV, (1977)
Ordnance Survey Antiquity Model, RSC, SP82SW1: Lidcote DMV, (1977)
RCHME, The Monuments of Buckinghamshire, (1913)
Title: A New Map - within twenty miles around Oxford Source Date: 1690 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: Buckinghamshire - Divided into Hundreds Source Date: 1767 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: Map of the Manor of Littlecote in the Manor of Stewkley Source Date: 1814 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: Copy in Bucks SMR
Title: Map of the Manor of Littlecote with copyhold Source Date: 1814 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: PRO IR/114 AQ

End of official listing