King's Meaburn medieval settlement, part of its associated medieval open field system and Bessygarth Well


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1018935

Date first listed: 10-Oct-2000


Ordnance survey map of King's Meaburn medieval settlement, part of its associated medieval open field system and Bessygarth Well
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Cumbria

District: Eden (District Authority)

Parish: King's Meaburn

National Grid Reference: NY 61891 21320, NY 61993 21415, NY 61998 21127, NY 62066 20958, NY 62083 21175, NY 62140 21101


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. This monument lies in the Cumbria-Solway sub-Province of the Northern and Western Province, an area characterised by dispersed hamlets and farmsteads, but with some larger nucleated settlements in well-defined agriculturally favoured areas, established after the Norman Conquest. Traces of seasonal settlements, or shielings, dominate the high, wet and windy uplands, where surrounding communities grazed their livestock during the summer months. The Eden Valley local region is a rich agricultural lowland ringed by mountain pastures. It is densely settled with small market towns, villages, hamlets and isolated farmsteads. Medieval castles and monasteries, a multitude of earthwork sites and the distinctive mix of Celtic, Scottish, English, Scandinavian and Norman place-names all testify to the ancient and long sustained occupation of this important region.

Medieval villages were organised agricultural communities, 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 small enclosed 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 Northern and Western Province of England medieval villages occurred infrequently amid areas of otherwise dispersed settlement and good examples are therefore proportionally infrequent. Thus their archaeological remains are one of the most important sources for understanding rural life in the five centuries or more 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 subdivided 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 where it survives the resultant `ridge and furrow' is the most obvious physical indication of the open field system. Individual strips or lands were laid out in groups known as furlongs defined by terminal headlands at the plough turning points and lateral grass banks. 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 historic landscape. It is usually now covered by hedges or walls of subsequent field enclosure. Wells offered an alternative water supply to that provided by streams or rivers. At their simplest, they may be unelaborated natural springs emerging from the ground. Structural additions may include lined well shafts, or steps to provide access to the water source, or conduit heads on springs, often with a tank to gather the water at the surface. Despite being partly overlain by post-medieval buildings, a substantial proportion of the earthworks of King's Meaburn medieval settlement, its associated open field system and Bessygarth Well survive well. It is a good example of this class of monument in the Eden Valley local region and will add greatly to our understanding of the wider settlement and economy during the medieval period.


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


The monument includes the earthworks and buried remains of King's Meaburn medieval settlement, together with part of its associated medieval open field system and Bessygarth Well. It is in six separate areas of protection. Although the date of the first settlement at King's Meaburn is unknown it is unlikely to have pre-dated the late 11th century Norman conquest of the region. Documentary sources indicate that Meaburn was in possession of the Morville family during the latter half of the 12th century. Roger de Morville had a son and daughter, Hugh and Maud. Maud married William de Veteripont, the lord of Appleby, and brought to her husband part of the manor of Meaburn, hereafter known as Maulds Meaburn. The other half was confiscated by the king to punish Sir Hugh for his part in the murder of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1170. This became known as King's Meaburn. The settlement remains in occupation today and the areas of protection include those parts which were abandoned as it contracted to its present size, but which are still identifiable. The plan of the medieval settlement of King's Meaburn is of a type familiar to this part of Cumbria in which two parallel lines of tofts or houses with crofts or garden areas to the rear face onto a village green or street. Behind the crofts were narrow back lanes and beyond the back lanes lay the communal open fields where the crops were grown. Where not covered by post-medieval buildings the well-preserved earthwork remains of the medieval settlement consists of abandoned tofts (house plots), and associated earthwork enclosures (or crofts) which pre-date the existing post-medieval field system. On the west side of the main street, between Meadow Bank and a caravan park, there is a well-marked but serrated and eroded earthwork parallel to the present street edge but set back about 20m. This feature is considered to represent what was originally the edge of the village green and fragmentary portions survive on both sides of the main street throughout the modern village. Although post-medieval houses and gardens have encroached onto the green it is evident that King's Meaburn once possessed a narrow village green approximately 50m in width. On relatively level ground adjacent to the green, west of the main street, are well-preserved compartments of tofts and crofts, behind which is a back lane. Beyond the back lane remains of the communal medieval open field system survive where the crops were grown, here consisting of well-preserved broad ridge and furrow which runs down a slope towards Jackdaw's Scar. This pattern of tofts, crofts, back lane and ridge and furrow survives well elsewhere on the western side of the main street, notably in the field behind the village hall, and again in two adjacent fields south of Welltree Brow opposite Prospect House and its timber yard. On the east side of the main street, in the field north of Prospect Cottage, are the earthwork remains of two crofts behind which are fragments of ridge and furrow, while between the crofts and the main street there are the remains of Bessygarth Well. In the field to the rear and north of Midtown Farm, a substantial break of slope indicates the former edge of the village green. To the east of this are the substantial earthworks of a former medieval croft. This arrangement is repeated in the field to the rear and north of West View where the edge of the green is again marked by a break of slope to the east of which are the earthworks of a building platform and a croft. All modern walls, fenceposts, gateposts, telegraph poles, septic tanks and football goalposts 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: 32846

Legacy System: RSM


Report In Cumbria SMR, Clare, T, The Archaeology of Eden Villages, (1991)

End of official listing