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East Matfen medieval village and open field system

A Scheduled Monument in Matfen, Northumberland

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Latitude: 55.0357 / 55°2'8"N

Longitude: -1.9249 / 1°55'29"W

OS Eastings: 404899.500273

OS Northings: 571239.753646

OS Grid: NZ048712

Mapcode National: GBR HB06.2N

Mapcode Global: WHB22.DPMG

Entry Name: East Matfen medieval village and open field system

Scheduled Date: 19 July 1979

Last Amended: 9 December 1997

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1016351

English Heritage Legacy ID: 28556

County: Northumberland

Civil Parish: Matfen

Traditional County: Northumberland

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Northumberland

Church of England Parish: Stamfordham

Church of England Diocese: Newcastle


The monument includes the deserted remains of the medieval village of East
Matfen and part of its surviving open field system, situated on the right bank
of the now canalised River Pont. It is divided into two separate areas by a
later trackway. In the 13th century the manor of East Matfen was held by the
Fenwick family and a document records that in 1296 14 individuals from the
village were eligible to pay taxes. Part of the manor was subsequently granted
to the priory at Hexham, and later documents record a fall in the village
population. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the manor was regained
by the Fenwicks. During the mid- to late 17th century the estate was acquired
by John Douglas of Newcastle who depopulated the village and dispersed the
farms to other parts of the estate. Maps of a similar date indicate that the
northern half of the village became incorporated into a formal park which was
established in the area at this time.
The plan of the medieval village is a type well known in this part of
Northumberland in which two parallel lines of houses face onto a broad
rectangular village green, with crofts, or garden areas to the rear. This type
of village is thought to be the result of deliberate planning by Norman rulers
attempting to exert control over a rebellious region during the 11th and 12th
The two rows of houses are oriented east to west, and each is visible as a
series of rectangular enclosures or tofts containing the foundations of timber
long houses. The house foundations stand to an average height of 0.3m. The
ruined remains of Pead House at the centre of the south row of the village
indicate that at least one of the original medieval plots continued in use
into the post-medieval period. To the rear of each street, there are the well
defined remains of linear crofts, each bounded from its neighbour by a bank on
average 0.5m high. Some of the crofts, particularly on the north row of the
village, contain the remains of rig and furrow cultivation. The two streets
face onto a broad rectangular open space containing the remains of banks and
hollows. This was formerly the village green. Subsequent to its desertion,
part of the village green was ploughed up, and the remains of rig and furrow
are visible at its north eastern end.
A well defined hollow way crosses the green and opens out at its eastern end
to form a funnelled access or driftway across the surrounding open fields to
the pasture beyond. At the eastern end of the village, part of the open
fields which once surrounded the village on all sides, survive in the form of
a large medieval furlong or field bounded on some of its sides by intact
headland. The remains of two smaller furlongs beyond it to the south east.
Each furlong contains rig and furrow cultivation which survives well and
stands to a maximum height of 1m.
All stone walls and fences which cross the monument are excluded from the
scheduling as are the line of telegraph poles and the metalled surface of the
road, although the ground beneath all of these features is included.

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

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

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.
The Northumbrian Plain local region is an extensive, undulating lowland. Its
landscape bears many signs of agrarian improvement and reconstruction in the
18th and 19th centuries, including rectangular fields and post-medieval
dispersed farmsteads. The earthworks of deserted and shrunken village
settlements and the ridge and furrow of former arable townfields indicate the
pattern of medieval, `pre-improvement' agrarian and settlement structures.

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 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 the
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 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.
Most nucleated villages were surrounded by a series of unenclosed fields known
as an open field system. Open field systems originated before AD 1000 and
continued in use throughout the Middle Ages. However, recent work has shown
that some open field systems preserve the fossilized remains of earlier Roman
and prehistoric systems within their basic framework. From the late 16th
century, the open fields began to be enclosed by banks and hedges into the
more familiar fields of the of the present landscape. Formerly more extensive,
open field systems generally survive as fragments in association with medieval
settlements. They were the product of a communal system of farming in which
each tenant held a share of the manor's arable and meadow land. The holdings
of each tenant were scattered across the open fields, the basic unit of
tenancy being the lande. Landes were parcelled together into larger groups
called furlongs, whose length and number of landes they contained varied
greatly. Furlongs were grouped together into fields and an open field system
usually included several such fields. Systems of crop rotation were employed,
and these might be based on either the field or the furlong. The sides of the
furlongs were marked by baulks of unploughed land which often survive as low
banks and are known as furlong boundaries. The ends of the furlongs were
marked by headlands which survive as prominant earthen banks. Ploughmen used
the headlands as spaces on which to turn the teams of oxen or horses which
pulled the plough. Headlands were usually ploughed after work on the rest of
the furlong had been completed, though sometimes they were left unploughed
and, along with the baulks between furlongs, provided access between furlongs.
Such unploughed areas were grazed by livestock. The most characteristic
feature of open field systems is ridge and furrow, a form of medieval
cultivation produced by the action of a heavy plough with a fixed mouldboard.
The deserted medieval village of East Matfen is well preserved and retains
significant archaeological deposits. The village is a good example of its type
which, taken together with the remains of its open field system, will add
greatly to our knowledge and understanding of medieval settlement in the

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Wrathmell, S, 'Post-Medieval Archaeology' in Village Depopulation In The 17th And 18th Centuries, , Vol. 14, (1980), 113-26
Gates, T M, 138/93/63, (1992)
NZ07SW 17,

Source: Historic England

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