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Shrunken medieval village, tower and fishpond at Little Swinburne

A Scheduled Monument in Chollerton, Northumberland

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Latitude: 55.0942 / 55°5'39"N

Longitude: -2.0799 / 2°4'47"W

OS Eastings: 394996.243124

OS Northings: 577756.601618

OS Grid: NY949777

Mapcode National: GBR F9XJ.HN

Mapcode Global: WHB1T.07V1

Entry Name: Shrunken medieval village, tower and fishpond at Little Swinburne

Scheduled Date: 28 March 1994

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1011412

English Heritage Legacy ID: 20942

County: Northumberland

Civil Parish: Chollerton

Traditional County: Northumberland

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Northumberland

Church of England Parish: Chollerton St Giles

Church of England Diocese: Newcastle


The monument includes part of the shrunken village and tower of Little
Swinburne, situated in a sheltered position surrounded by high ground in the
valley of Dry Burn. The tower has been much robbed of stone but the remains
show that it was faced in courses of roughly squared blocks with traces of a
protruding chamfered course 3.5m above ground level. It measures 9.2m north-
south by 5.2m east-west within walls 1.5m thick which survive up to 3.7m on
the north and 6m on the south side. The tower had a vaulted basement, traces
of which can be seen in the north-western corner. The walls survive at least
one storey above this but earlier accounts describe three storeys above a
basement, with an entrance lobby and staircase in the east side of the tower.
Little Swinburne Tower was constructed shortly after 1415, and is mentioned in
a document of 1541. It was clearly once part of a much larger complex as in
the field surrounding the tower there are the remains of a shrunken village
visible as a series of earthworks standing 0.2m to 1.2m high. The remains are
part of the medieval village of East Swinburne, later referred to as Little
Swinburne. The area immediately surrounding the tower is divided by low banks
into small plots and small rectangular enclosures and platforms represent the
steadings of buildings. An area of medieval rig and furrow ploughing, bounded
by prominent banks and additional rectangular platforms, is visible in the
centre of the field south of the tower. In the south-eastern corner of the
field there is a well preserved fishpond, consisting of a rectangular
depression 30m by 18m with banks on either side, measuring 8m to 10m wide and
standing from 0.3m to 1.2m high. The village of East Swinburne is first
mentioned in documents in 1296, when there may have been as many as 300
inhabitants, before being devastated by Scottish raids in the 14th century.
Since that time the village has gradually dwindled to its present size of one
farmstead and two cottages. Other earthwork remains of this village survive
outside the area of the scheduling. These are not, at present, included in the
scheduling as their full extent, nature and date are not fully understood.

The later stone walls and small outbuilding which adjoin the tower at the
north-eastern corner are excluded from the scheduling but the ground beneath
them is included.

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

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

The village, comprising a small group of houses, gardens, yards, streets,
paddocks, often with a green, a manor and a church, and with a community
primarily devoted to farming, was a significant component of the rural
landscape in most areas of medieval England, much as it is today. Villages
provided some services to the local community as well as acting as the focus
of ecclesiastical, and often manorial, authority within each medieval parish.
Although the sites of many of these villages have been occupied continuously
down to the present day, many have declined considerably in size and are now
occupied by farmsteads or hamlets. This decline may have taken place gradually
throughout the lifetime of the village or more rapidly, particularly during
the 14th and 15th centuries when many other villages were wholly deserted. The
reasons for diminishing size were varied but often reflected declining
economic viability or population fluctuations as a result of widespread
epidemics such as the Black Death. As a consequence of their decline, large
parts of these villages are frequently undisturbed by later occupation and
contain well-preserved archaeological deposits. Over 3000 shrunken medieval
villages are recorded nationally. Because they are a common and long-lived
monument type in most parts of England, they provide important information on
the diversity of medieval settlement patterns and farming economy between the
regions and through time.

The shrunken village remains at Little Swinburne, including the tower and
fishpond, survive well and represent a good example of a small medieval upland
settlement. The tower provided the major focus of the settlement; the fishpond
contributed to its food supply. Around these two features are remains of
ordinary houses, yards and trackways used by the village inhabitants. Detailed
study of these diverse elements would provide a significant insight into the
development and history of the former village.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Hodgson, J C, The Victoria History of the County of Northumberland: Volume IV, (1897), 302-303
No. 5442,
Wrathmell, S, Deserted and Shrunken Medieval Villages in Northumberland, 1975, Unpublished PHD thesis

Source: Historic England

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