Old Thornley medieval settlement, open field system and hollow way, 110m north of Thornley Hall Farm


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1019914

Date first listed: 20-Jul-2001


Ordnance survey map of Old Thornley medieval settlement, open field system and hollow way, 110m north of Thornley Hall Farm
© Crown Copyright and database right 2018. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
© British Crown and SeaZone Solutions Limited 2018. All rights reserved. Licence number 102006.006.
Use of this data is subject to Terms and Conditions.

The above map is for quick reference purposes only and may not be to scale. For a copy of the full scale map, please see the attached PDF - 1019914 .pdf

The PDF will be generated from our live systems and may take a few minutes to download depending on how busy our servers are. We apologise for this delay.

This copy shows the entry on 20-Oct-2018 at 01:23:50.


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

District: County Durham (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Thornley

National Grid Reference: NZ 36004 38454


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 East Durham Plateau local region is a limestone upland partly covered by glacial clays. The upper part of the plateau was almost devoid of settlement until the creation of the late 19th century mining communities, but ancient villages occupy the varied soils of the western sub-Provincial boundary, and can be found along the north-south routes just inland from the coast. Towards the southern edge and the Tees Valley, there has been significant settlement depopulation.

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 when they survive as earthworks their most distinguishing features include roads and minor trackways, platforms on which houses stood and other buildings such as barns, enclosed crofts and small 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 distinct 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. 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 the resultant ridge and furrow where it survives 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 balks. 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. It is usually now covered by the hedges and walls of subsequent field enclosure. The medieval village of Old Thornley is well-preserved and retains significant archaeological deposits. The village is a good example of its type which, taken together with the remains of the open field system, will add greatly to our knowledge and understanding of medieval settlement in the region.


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


The monument includes the earthwork and buried remains of Old Thornley medieval village, together with part of its associated medieval open field system and a length of associated hollow way. Old Thornley lies on the magnesian limestone plateau of East Durham. The settlement continues in occupation today and the area of protection includes those parts which were abandoned as it contracted to its present size, and which are still evident today. The plan of the medieval settlement of Old Thornley is of a type familiar to this part of County Durham in which parallel lines of tofts or houses with crofts or garden areas to the rear face on to a village green. Beyond the tofts and crofts would lie the open fields where crops were grown. The tofts and crofts at Old Thornley survive as visible earthworks up to 1m high. In places the stone footings of buildings within the tofts remain. These tofts would have been arranged around a central green, now largely destroyed by a tarmac road leading from the A181 to Thornley Hall, a farm track and post-medieval encroachment by farm buildings. Immediately to the west of the settlement area are the remains of ridge and furrow, once part of the open fields of the settlement. Leading from the present farm track is a substantial hollow way that skirts the southern edge of the field containing the visible earthworks before continuing towards Ducket Wood. The hollow way varies between 4m-8m in width and 2m-4m in depth. The depth of the hollow way decreases to nothing as it approaches Thornley Hall from the west and merges with the farm track. It is thought that the great depth of hollow way relates to its prolonged and intensive use during the medieval period. The earliest reference to Thornley is in a land grant of 1070-80. In the mid-12th century a place of strength is recorded at Thornley: this is thought to be the site of the present Thornley Hall. The history of the manor is well attested from the mid-12th century onwards. The estate was confiscated by the Crown in 1569 and was reinstated by 1613. In 1650 it was broken up into four estates: Milnefield (two parts), The Gore, and the capital messuage at Old Thornley. It was reunited between 1678 and 1701.

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: 34581

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Turnbull, , Jones, , Archaeology of the Coal Measures, (1979), 165
Roberts, B., Back Lanes and Tofts, Distribution Maps and Time, Medieval Nucle, Medieval Rural Settlement In North-East England, (1990)

End of official listing