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Melkinthorpe medieval settlement, part of its associated open field system and the site of Melkinthorpe Hall

A Scheduled Monument in Lowther, Cumbria

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Latitude: 54.6204 / 54°37'13"N

Longitude: -2.6904 / 2°41'25"W

OS Eastings: 355516.681345

OS Northings: 525251.09337

OS Grid: NY555252

Mapcode National: GBR 9HN0.BH

Mapcode Global: WH81K.N427

Entry Name: Melkinthorpe medieval settlement, part of its associated open field system and the site of Melkinthorpe Hall

Scheduled Date: 17 June 1999

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1016758

English Heritage Legacy ID: 32822

County: Cumbria

Civil Parish: Lowther

Traditional County: Westmorland

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cumbria

Church of England Parish: Askham with Lowther

Church of England Diocese: Carlisle


The monument includes earthworks and buried remains of Melkinthorpe medieval
village, together with two separate areas of its associated medieval open
field system and the earthworks and buried remains of Melkinthorpe Hall and
its associated buildings. It is in four separate areas of protection.
Although the date of the earliest settlement at Melkinthorpe is unknown, the
village is first mentioned in documentary sources in 1150 and is considered to
have originated as a 12th century planned nucleated settlement. The village
remains in occupation today and the scheduling includes those parts which were
abandoned as the settlement contracted to its present size, but are still
identifiable as having formed part of the medieval village. The plan of the
medieval village is of a type familiar to this part of Cumbria in which two
parallel lines of tofts or houses face onto a rectangular village green or
street, with crofts or garden areas to the rear. Behind the crofts were narrow
back lanes and at Melkinthorpe the north west to south east axis of the main
street is paralleled about 70m to the north east by a back lane, while another
back lane runs on the south west side of the village. Beyond these back lanes
lay the open fields where crops were grown, while to the north of the village
lay the common land where cattle were grazed.
Where not covered by post-medieval buildings the well-preserved earthwork
remains of the medieval village consist of abandoned tofts and associated
crofts. On the south west side of the village street there is a well-marked
but serrated and eroded break of slope, parallel to the present street edge
but set back some 12m to 25m. This slope represents the edge of what was
originally the village green and, although post-medieval houses and gardens
have encroached onto the green in places, it is evident that Melkinthorpe once
possessed a narrow village green between 25m to 40m in width. Overlooking the
south western side of the village green are building platforms and associated
crofts and enclosures with the remains of a back lane to the rear, while other
building platforms lie on the north east side of the main street together with
earthwork remains of a length of back lane.
The concentration of a medieval population within a village, with precious
animals normally wintered in byres or stock pens, meant that for much of the
year the animals were regularly walked out of the village to graze upon
adjacent common pasture. The track the cattle took was known as a driftway or
outgang and at Melkinthorpe the present village street originally functioned
as this outgang.
On the north east and south west sides of the village, beyond the back lanes,
are the earthworks of parts of the associated medieval communal open field
system where the crops were grown. These earthworks consist of the
well-preserved remains of ridge and furrow measuring 4m-8m in width which were
produced by oxen-drawn ploughing teams.
The earthwork remains of Melkinthorpe Hall, the village manor house, lie to
the south west of the village a short distance south of the River Leith. The
original date of construction of the medieval hall is unknown, but documentary
sources indicate that it was still inhabited in the 1860s and an associated
building described as a `fine barn' is thought to have continued in use into
the 20th century.
All modern walls, fences, gateposts, telegraph poles, cattle water troughs, a
platform on which a water trough stands, and the surfaces of all farmtracks
are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features
is included. The reservoir is totally excluded from the scheduling.

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 past 1500 years or more.
This monument lies in the Cumbria-Solway sub-Province of the Northern and
Western Province, an area characterised by dispersed hamlets and farmsteads,
but with some larger nucleated settlements in well-defined agriculturally
favoured areas, established after the Norman Conquest. Traces of seasonal
settlements, or shielings, dominate the high, wet and windy uplands, where
surrounding communities grazed their livestock during the summer months.
The Eden Valley local region is a rich agricultural lowland ringed by mountain
pastures. It is densely settled with small market towns, villages, hamlets and
isolated farmsteads. Medieval castles and monasteries, a multitude of
earthwork sites and the distinctive mix of Celtic, Scottish, English,
Scandinavian and Norman place-names all testify to the ancient and long
sustained occupation of this important region.

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 include the parish church within
their boundaries, and as part of the manorial system most villages include one
or more manorial centres which may also survive as visible remains as well as
below ground deposits. In the Northern and Western Province of England
medieval villages occurred infrequently amid areas of otherwise dispersed
settlement and good examples are therefore proportionally infrequent. Thus
their archaeological remains are one of the most important sources for
understanding rural life in the five or more centuries following the Norman
Medieval villages were supported by a communal system of agriculture based on
large, unenclosed open arable fields. These large fields were sub-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 where it survives the resultant `ridge and furrow' 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 banks. 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 or walls of subsequent field enclosures.
Despite being partly overlain by post-medieval settlement, a substantial
proportion of the medieval village of Melkinthorpe, the remains of its open
field system and the earthworks and buried remains of Melkinthorpe Hall
survive well. It is a good example of this class of monument in the Eden
Valley local region and will add greatly to our understanding of the wider
settlement and economy during the medieval period.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Finch-Dawson, , 'Trans Cumb & West Antiq & Arch Soc. New Ser.' in , , Vol. XXVI, (1926), 15
Roberts, B K, 'Trans Cumb and West Antiq and Arch Soc. New Ser.' in Five Westmorland Settlements: A Comparative Study, (1993), 132-134
Roberts, B K, 'Trans Cumb and West Antiq and Arch Soc. New Ser.' in Five Westmorland Settlements: A Comparative Study, (1993), 131-43
Lancaster University Archaeological Unit, Land At Melkinthorpe Nr Penrith Cumbria, 1997,
SMR No. 2829, Cumbria County Council, Melkinthorpe Hall, (1985)

Source: Historic England

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