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Birkby medieval settlement and associated field system, moated site and fishponds

A Scheduled Monument in Birkby, North Yorkshire

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Latitude: 54.4143 / 54°24'51"N

Longitude: -1.4889 / 1°29'19"W

OS Eastings: 433267.348978

OS Northings: 502215.720305

OS Grid: NZ332022

Mapcode National: GBR LK1D.GC

Mapcode Global: WHD7N.398R

Entry Name: Birkby medieval settlement and associated field system, moated site and fishponds

Scheduled Date: 5 September 1958

Last Amended: 2 July 1999

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1016944

English Heritage Legacy ID: 31341

County: North Yorkshire

Civil Parish: Birkby

Traditional County: Yorkshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): North Yorkshire

Church of England Parish: Birkby St Peter

Church of England Diocese: Leeds


The monument includes earthwork and buried remains of the medieval village of
Birkby and parts of its associated field system, a moated site and related set
of fishponds, all located to the east of the River Wiske. Remains of the
village buildings lie on the brow of a hill either side of the modern road,
with remains of the field system lying to the east and on land sloping down to
the south and to the west. The moat and fishponds lie in the north west corner
of the monument on level ground adjacent to the river. The monument is in two
areas, one including the majority of the field north of Hill Top Farm and the
whole of the field west of the road and the western part of the field west of
Low Birkby Farm. The other area includes the whole of the field to the south
of Hill Top Farm. The modern settlement of Birkby includes the church and
Birkby Manor to the north of the monument and a small nucleus of farms and
cottages to the south.
The medieval village is mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086 as an outlier
to the manor of Northallerton. Birkby is mentioned in documents in 1285 and
again in the Lay Subsidy in 1301 when a total of ten named householders were
recorded. The village went into decline in the 14th century, probably from a
combination of the Black Death and associated economic collapse and as a
result of Scottish raids.
The medieval village took the form of two opposing rows of buildings extending
north to south fronting onto and separated by a wide village street, which
is now occupied by the road known as Birkby Lane. At the northern end of the
medieval street stood the church and manor house and surrounding the village
was the open field system. The current church of St Peter and the adjacent
Birkby Manor date to the late 18th century and the area is not included in
the scheduling. The eastern row of the medieval village survives as earthwork
banks lying to the north of Hill Top Farm. They form at least five rectangular
enclosures extending east to west. These enclosures, known as crofts, were
yards containing houses, the remains of which can be identified as low
platforms at the western end fronting onto the street. To the rear (east) of
these enclosures are earthwork banks extending to the east, some defining
larger enclosures and others dividing up blocks of ridge and furrow which were
part of the medieval field system.
On the land sloping down to the south of Hill Top Farm are two broad
agricultural terraces cut into the slope. Lying to the west and south west
throughout the rest of the field are further enclosures and blocks of ridge
and furrow with associated boundary banks preserved as prominent earthworks.
The western row of buildings of the medieval village are located opposite Hill
Top Farm. It includes at least six rectangular building platforms measuring up
to 6m north to south by 3m east to west located on the top edge of the slope.
A substantial hollow way runs east to west to the south of the northern two
building platforms and extends as far as the base of the slope to the west. To
the rear (west) of the middle two house platforms are large crofts extending
down the slope and to the rear of the other building platforms are remains of
broad ridge and furrow. In the north western corner of the northern croft are
earthwork remains of a rectangular building interpreted as a field barn or a
stock shelter. At the western end of the northern block of the area of ridge
and furrow is a circular platform 6m in diameter interpreted as the remains of
an agricultural feature such as a hut or stack stand used for drying corn. The
crofts and ridge and furrow extend to the bottom of the slope where a
prominent bank extending north to south separates the agricultural land from
the flat area adjacent to the river and also served to prevent flooding.
The moated site includes a substantial rectangular ditch 5m wide and 0.9m deep
which surrounds a raised central platform. The external dimensions of the
moat are approximately 30m north to south by 14m east to west. There is a low
counterscarp bank surrounding the ditch. The central platform has a raised
bank around the perimeter. There is a breach in the outer bank around the moat
at the north east corner and also in the south east corner which are the
locations for a form of sluice used to manage the flow of water. The south
eastern sluice connects to a smaller, shallower rectangular pond immediately
to the south of the moat and also to a 10m wide shallow depression extending
to the south for 40m which has shallow channels or leats at the southern end
leading to the river. The small pond and the shallow depression are the
remains of the fishponds. It is considered that the ditch from the moated
site was also part of the fishpond complex.
Between the moat and the ridge and furrow on the slope to the east, there are
the remains of a trackway extending north to south following the break of
slope as far as the west end of the hollow way. Further south on the level
area west of Low Birkby Farm and adjacent to the river are further shallow
earthworks which are thought to be further remains of water management
associated with the fishponds and a wider drainage system.
All telegraph poles, fences, tree guards and the surface of the road are
excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is

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.
The Northern Vale of York local region has been identified on two criteria.
First, it contains low numbers of nucleations when compared with the rest of
the sub-Province: village depopulation may partly account for this. Secondly,
there are greater densities of dispersed settlement than is normal for the
sub-Province, a phenomenon which cannot yet be fully explained.

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
their boundaries, and as part of the manorial system most villages included
one or more manorial centres which may survive also as visible remains as well
as below ground deposits. In the central province of England, villages were
the most distinctive aspect of rural 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 landes) 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 landes 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 or walls of subsequent field enclosure.
In addition to the open fields, villages often supported other agricultural
activities such as fishponds. These were artificial pools of slow moving water
in which fish were bred and stored in order to provide a constant supply of
fresh fish for consumption and trade.
Around 6,000 moated sites are known in England. They consist of wide ditches,
often or seasonally water filled, partly or completely enclosing one or more
islands of dry ground on which stood domestic or religious buildings. In some
cases the islands were used for horticulture. The majority of moated sites
served as prestigious aristocratic and seigneurial residences with the
provision of a moat intended as a status symbol rather than a practical
military defence. The peak period during which moated sites were built was
between about 1250 and 1350 and by far the greatest concentration lies in the
central and eastern parts of England. However, moated sites were built
throughout the medieval period, are widely scattered throughout England and
exhibit a high level of diversity in their forms and sizes. They form a
significant class of medieval monuments and are important for understanding
the distribution of wealth and status in the countryside. Many examples
provide conditions favourable to the survival of organic remains.
The medieval village of Birkby and its associated agricultural features
survive well and significant evidence of the domestic and economic
development of the settlement will be preserved.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Grifiths, M, Medieval Villages of the Tees Lowlands, (1976)
Beresford, M, 'Yorkshire Archaeological Journal' in The Lost Villages of Yorkshire Part IV, , Vol. VOL 38, (1954), 295

Source: Historic England

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