Foston medieval settlement and moated monastic grange


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Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Foston medieval settlement and moated monastic grange
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

North Yorkshire
Ryedale (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SE 69493 65051, SE 69732 65231, SE 69832 65037

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 dispersals, 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 in the case of Foston was the moated monastic grange at the west end of the village. 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. A monastic grange was a farm owned and run by a monastic community, independent of the secular manorial system of communal agriculture and servile labour. The function of granges was to provide food and raw materials for consumption within the parent monastic house itself, and also to provide surpluses for sale for profit. The first monastic granges appeared in the 12th century but they continued to be constructed and used until the Dissolution. This system of agriculture was pioneered by the Cistercians but was soon imitated by other orders. Granges are broadly comparable with contemporary secular farms, although the wealth of the parent house was frequently reflected in the size of the grange and the layout and architectural embellishment of its buildings. Additionally, because of their monastic connection, granges tend to be much better documented than their secular counterparts. Medieval villages were supported by a communal system of agriculture based on large, unenclosed open arable fields. These large fields were divided 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 the resultant 'ridge and furrow' where it survives, is the most obvious physical indication of the open field system. Individual strips were laid out in groups known as furlongs defined by terminal headlands at the plough turning points and lateral grass baulks. 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 character of the historic landscape. The medieval settlement remains at Foston are of particular note for their association with St Mary's Abbey in York, being those of a village owned and run by one of the foremost monasteries in medieval England. The tofts, many with substantial building platforms, will include buried evidence for the layouts of peasant farmsteads, including houses, outbuildings, rubbish pits and yard surfaces. Along with the buried remains of the moated grange and the earthworks of the village's openfield system, Foston retains important information which aids our understanding of medieval village life. The buried Iron Age settlement remains at Foston are also of significance. Very few such sites have been confirmed on the heavy clay lands of the Vale of York.


The monument includes buried and earthwork remains of the medieval settlement of Foston, which includes a moated monastic grange, along with parts of the village's medieval openfield system. It also includes the buried remains of an Iron Age settlement which was occupied from the fourth century BC to the first century AD. The monument lies around the modern settlement of Foston. The Domesday Book records that Foston was the main settlement of a large manor which also had jurisdiction over land in Terrington, Thornton le Clay, Huntington and Flaxton. Originally held by Morcar, Earl of Northumbria, it had passed to Count Alan the Red by 1087. The manor had arable land for four plough teams and woodland pasture three furlongs by three furlongs. It also had rights over a church and 12 villeins, farmers who held arable land enough for six plough teams. By 1167 Foston had been granted to St Mary's Abbey in York by Count Stephen of Albemarle. The moated site at the west end of the village was constructed in the 12th century as the centre of the monastic grange. The abbey is also thought to have rebuilt the church in Foston about the same time, as All Saints Church still retains early 12th century fabric including an ornate south door. Foston was listed as being part of the Liberty of St Mary for the 1297 Lay Subsidy, a tax levied by Edward I. The settlement and manor passed to the Crown in 1539 at the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and was leased twice, to Sir Ralph Bagnal and Lady Mary Cotton in 1546 and to Richard Stalham in 1577, before being sold to Thomas Bamburgh in 1591. Sir John Hotham, husband of a descendant of Bamburgh's, enclosed the medieval openfields in 1639-40. The medieval village of Foston was a simple twin rowed settlement with properties fronting onto an east west street which is now the modern road. All Saints Church on the north side of the road lay at the eastern end of the medieval settlement, and on the south side at the western end there is the large moated site of a medieval manor house which formed the core of the monastic grange. This is believed to have been replaced after the Dissolution by Foston Hall, 200m to the east of the church which was in turn rebuilt in 1823. The medieval village was surrounded by openfields, parts of which can still be seen retaining the characteristic ridge and furrow left by medieval ploughing. In addition, in the flat valley bottom on the north side of the village there was an area of pasture which was accessed by a droveway around the eastern end of the church. The moated grange site was incorporated into an arable field in 1984-5 following a rescue excavation by the Central Excavation Unit. Depressions marking the lines of infilled moat ditches can still be identified and these, along with other infilled depressions, will retain important archaeological deposits preserved below the plough soil. The principal moated island is set in the eastern end of a larger moated enclosure. This island is nearly square, 70m east west and 60m north south, and was surrounded by a 2m deep ditch up to 9m wide, flanked by low banks. The main hall was sited centrally on this island. It was entirely stone built and measured 6m by 12m with an external stair to an upper floor. It had a garden to the south and timber outbuildings to the north and east. In the second half of the 15th century a badly built 10m by 4m wing was added to the north side of the hall and it is thought that by this time the grange was leased to a tenant farmer. After the Dissolution, the buildings appear to have been systematically demolished and the reusable materials removed. The outer moated enclosure is roughly rectangular, 280m east west and 170m north-south and was subdivided by shallow ditches which also connected the inner and outer moats. In the south eastern corner of the outer enclosure, just south east of the inner moat and adjacent to the modern lane, there is a 60m by 10m water filled pond that was not incorporated into the arable field. To the east of the moated grange, fronting onto the south side of the main road and extending just over 60m southwards, there are the substantial earthworks of at least three tofts, the sites of medieval houses and associated outbuildings. To the rear there is a section of the village's medieval openfield system represented by the northern 60m of a field of ridge and furrow. Fronting on to the north side of the road there is a further row of at least 16 tofts defined by building platforms or by slight boundary banks or ditches. The best preserved are the six opposite the moated site at the west end of the village. The eastern half of the row is overlain by modern housing with the northern 20m of each toft surviving as earthworks beyond the northern boundary of the modern properties. To the north of these eastern tofts, running down the hillside to the drain at the foot of the slope, there are a series of strips of ridge and furrow. Each strip is typically made up of four ridges, separated from the next by a narrower bank which in nearly every case is a continuation of the boundary between neighbouring tofts. These preserve evidence that land use was not uniform. Some strips have more pronounced ridge and furrow than others, with the strip behind one toft having no ridge and furrow at all. In one case a toft has been partly extended over the southern end of the ridge and furrow, whereas the two strips to the west have been lengthened to partly overlie their tofts. To the west of these, a trackway diverges from the main road westwards from opposite the north east corner of the moated site. It runs to the rear of the tofts north of the moated site, forming a back lane and dividing the tofts from further ridge and furrow which runs down the hillside. This ridge and furrow is divided into broader strips and does not correspond directly with adjacent tofts. At the east end of the village, around the northern side of the churchyard, there are further earthworks. These include a droveway for livestock between the road and the valley bottom, the low bank for a small enclosure and a couple of levelled areas terraced into the slope. To the east and north of this area there is further well preserved ridge and furrow. The excavation in 1984-5 of part of the moated grange uncovered the buried remains of part of an Iron Age settlement. This included the remains of nine superimposed circular timber structures, all with eastern entrances, associated with fourth century BC to first century AD pottery. A number of features are excluded from the scheduling; these are all modern fences, walls, styles and gates, water troughs and the platforms that they stand on, and all telegraph poles; 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:
Legacy System:


APs held by SMR, SE 66 NE,
Excavation archive summary, Julian Bennett, Events Report, CAS Project 290, (1985)
Sketch plan held by SMR, Foston Moat, (1984)
Typescript report held by SMR, Malton Archaeological Partnership, Quarry Hill, Foston Desktop Evaluation, (1994)


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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