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Medieval monastic sheep farm (bercaria), 550m north-east of Whittondean Farm

A Scheduled Monument in Whitton and Tosson, Northumberland

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Latitude: 55.2959 / 55°17'45"N

Longitude: -1.9078 / 1°54'27"W

OS Eastings: 405954.661115

OS Northings: 600199.969704

OS Grid: NU059001

Mapcode National: GBR H736.SD

Mapcode Global: WHB0X.N4RY

Entry Name: Medieval monastic sheep farm (bercaria), 550m north-east of Whittondean Farm

Scheduled Date: 18 October 1993

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1011292

English Heritage Legacy ID: 20884

County: Northumberland

Civil Parish: Whitton and Tosson

Traditional County: Northumberland

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Northumberland

Church of England Parish: Upper Coquetdale

Church of England Diocese: Newcastle


The monument includes a bercaria (medieval monastic sheep farm), situated on a
north-west facing slope immediately above the Whitton Burn. It consists of a
series of very well preserved interconnected enclosures scooped into the
hillside. The whole is set within a perimeter bank formed of large stones set
on edge, surviving in places to a height of 1.3m and measuring up to 3m
across. The interior is divided into several enclosures by banks of stone and
earth surviving to 0.5m high and 3m wide. The enclosures vary in size and
shape but are roughly rectangular with bowed sides and on average they measure
30m by 20m across. The most easterly enclosure has been partly overlain by a
later enclosure of different character and construction. There is a clear
entrance on the north side of the farm with traces of a hollow way giving
access to the stream below. Other breaks in the banks on the east, south and
west sides represent other minor entrances. An enclosure located in the
northern corner of the monument, and 10m by 5m across, is the site of a
rectangular building, and a possible building platform can be seen at the
south-western end of the farm. The enclosures were apparently constructed for
the purpose of segregating stock; a document dating from AD1275 refers to the
site as a monastic sheep farm; the nearest monastic complex is Brinkburn
Priory 5km to the south-east.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

A monastic grange was a farm owned and run by a monastic community and
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 Cistercian order but was soon
imitated by other orders. Some granges were worked by resident lay-brothers
(secular workers) of the order but others were staffed by non-resident
labourers. The majority of granges practised a mixed economy but some were
specialist in their function. Five types of grange are known: agrarian farms,
bercaries (sheep farms), vaccaries (cattle ranches), horse studs and
industrial complexes. A monastery might have more than one grange and the
wealthiest houses had many. Frequently a grange was established on lands
immediately adjacent to the monastery, this being known as the home grange.
Other granges, however, could be found wherever the monastic site held lands.
On occasion these could be located at some considerable distance from the
parent monastery. 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 the
buildings. Additionally, because of their monastic connection, granges tend to
be much better documented than their secular counterparts. No region was
without monastic granges. The exact number of sites which originally existed
is not precisely known but can be estimated, on the basis of numbers of
monastic sites, at several thousand. Of these, however, only a small
percentage can be accurately located on the ground today. Of this group of
identifiable sites, continued intensive use of many has destroyed much of the
evidence of archaeological remains. In view of the importance of granges to
medieval rural and monastic life, all sites exhibiting good archaeological
survival are identified as nationally important.

The bercaria at Whittondean is of exceptional importance as it survives in a
very good state of preservation and represents a type of monument which was
never common in the border counties and rarely survives well enough to be
recognized. Documentary and archaeological evidence confirm that it is a
bercaria or monastic sheep farm, probably associated with the Augustinian
priory at Brinkburn. As such it is a rare survival and will add to our
knowledge of the day-to-day working of monastic granges.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Dixon, D D, Upper Coquetdale, (1903), 489
SMR entry, NU 00 SE 3,

Source: Historic England

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