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Steeton medieval village, moated site and fishponds

A Scheduled Monument in Steeton, North Yorkshire

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Latitude: 53.89 / 53°53'23"N

Longitude: -1.1897 / 1°11'22"W

OS Eastings: 453351.161114

OS Northings: 444058.534615

OS Grid: SE533440

Mapcode National: GBR NR4G.79

Mapcode Global: WHDB9.PHN7

Entry Name: Steeton medieval village, moated site and fishponds

Scheduled Date: 9 October 1954

Last Amended: 22 December 1997

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1017555

English Heritage Legacy ID: 30123

County: North Yorkshire

Civil Parish: Steeton

Traditional County: Yorkshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): North Yorkshire

Church of England Parish: Bolton Percy All Saints

Church of England Diocese: York


The monument includes the buried and earthwork remains of the medieval village
of Steeton, a medieval moated site and a complex of fishponds which were laid
out after the depopulation of the village. The monument is located adjacent to
the modern Steeton Hall farm.
Steeton was recorded as Stiuetone in the Domesday Book and lay in the
Wapentake of The Ainstey (one of the 11 West Riding medieval administrative
districts established by the Danes before the Norman Conquest). In 1255 the
main Tadcaster to York road was diverted to the line of the old Roman road
which passed through the outfields of the village. This happened after an
inquiry prompted by the petition of Sir Richard de Steeton. The village was
assessed to pay a total of 20 shillings lay subsidy in 1332, which rose to
24 shillings two years later. The lay subsidy was a tax levied on wealthier
residents of the village and was on average 19 shillings per village within
The Ainstey in 1334. Steeton does not appear to have suffered as greatly as
other villages from the Black Death of the mid-14th century, as it was only
granted 33 per cent relief from the lay subsidy in 1352 and no relief at all
two years later. The poll tax of 1377 recorded 45 men and women over the age
of 14, making it one of the larger settlements in the Wapentake. This dropped
to 30 two years later, but this is thought to be mainly the result of tax
avoidance rather than depopulation. In 1344 the Rees family, who owned the
village, were recorded as having at least 16 houses, but this was reduced to
only four messuages (houses with outbuildings) in 1476 when the village was
sold to Sir Guy Fairfax. It is thought that Steeton was depopulated, except
for the Fairfax family, by about 1485. Steeton never had a parish church and
in 1491 Fairfax obtained a licence to build a private chapel. In 1533 The
Great Stank, a large pond sited along the main street of the former village,
was built under licence from the Crown. By 1558, when there was an inventory
made of the property of the late Sir William Fairfax, his hall had a chapel,
nine bedrooms, two studies, a hall and a parlour. The estate was further
described ten years later in a deed of partition when the property was
divided. At the beginning of the 18th century the hall was partly demolished,
leaving the range that is still in use as a farm house. In 1873, the chapel
was also demolished.
The largest earthwork feature within the monument is The Great Stank, the pond
constructed in 1533. This survives as a mainly dry north south orientated
depression, over 250m long and up to 2m deep, with a modern drainage ditch
running along its eastern side. In the centre, but towards the southern end of
the pond, there is a 20m diameter island which was investigated
archaeologically by M Beresford in the early 1950s and was shown to contain
the footings of a stone building covered in soil. The pond was constructed
along the main street of the medieval village, cutting through a number of
house platforms, and buried remains of buildings survive on either side of the
pond. At the north end of The Great Stank there is another fishpond, now
surviving as an infilled feature, which was roughly 40m across. To the north
and west of this there is the large moated site of Steeton Hall. This was
originally an island containing the hall itself, associated buildings, gardens
and other features surrounded by a moat ditch. Most of the eastern circuit of
the moat ditch survives as an earthwork feature, with the north eastern part
forming a section of the modern drainage system that subsequently runs through
The Great Stank. The southern part of the moat ditch can be seen as a shallow
depression in the field to the south of the trackway leading east from the
modern farm buildings. The northern section survives as a deeper depression to
the north of the upstanding part of the hall. The western side of the moat
ditch is no longer traceable, but it would have passed through the area now
covered by the later farm buildings. On the island of the moated site there is
one range of the manor house built for Sir Guy Fairfax in c.1474. This is
excluded from the scheduling as it is in domestic use as a farm house and is
Listed Grade II*. The foundations of the rest of the manor house complex,
including the chapel, will survive as buried features and are included in the
scheduling. A low north-south bank divides the island in two, and runs to
the east of the hall. In the paddock to the north of the Hall, on the north
side of the northern moat ditch, there is a square building platform
approximately 40m across with a ditch on both south and east sides. In the
north east of this paddock there is a second, much smaller platform.
A number of features are excluded from the scheduling; these are all
buildings, huts, feed and water troughs, garden furniture, road and path
surfaces, modern walling and fencing, although the round beneath all these
features is included. The garden wall, listed Grade II containing a 13th
century doorway is included in the scheduling.

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

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.
This monument lies in the Humber-Tees sub-Province of the Central Province
which comprises a great fertile lowland, with many local variations caused by
slight differences in terrain, but generally dominated by market towns,
villages and hamlets. The dispersed farmsteads between these are mainly of
post-medieval date, created by movement out of the villages and onto newly
consolidated holdings following enclosure. Some, however, are more ancient
disposals, the result of manors, granges and other farmsteads being moved out
of villages in the Middle Ages; others have become isolated by the process of
village depopulation, which has had a substantial impact in the sub-Province.
The Vale of York local region is a rich agricultural lowland dominated by a
dense pattern of villages and hamlets founded in the Middle Ages, about one in
four of which have since been deserted. It contains low and very low densities
of dispersed settlements, some of which are isolated medieval moated manor
houses. The landscape was formerly dominated by communal townfields which were
mainly enclosed in the 18th century.

Medieval villages were organised agricultural communities, generally sited at
the centre of a parish or township, that shared resources such as arable land,
meadow and woodland. Village plans varied enormously, but where 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 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 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.
Around 6,000 moated sites are known in England. The majority of moated sites
served as prestigious aristocratic or seigniorial residences with the
provision of a moat primarily as a status symbol rather than as a means of
defence. The peak period of moat building was between about 1250 and 1350 and
by far the greatest concentration lies in central and eastern England. However
moated sites were built throughout the medieval period and are widely
scattered throughout England, demonstrating a wide diversity of forms and
sizes. They are a significant class of medieval monument and are important for
the understanding of the distribution of wealth and status in the countryside.
Many examples provide conditions favourable to the survival of organic
The tradition of constructing and using fishponds started in the medieval
period and peaked in the 12th century, their use declining after the
Dissolution. They were typically built by the wealthier sectors of society
with royal residences and monasteries often having large and complex
fishponds. Moats are also thought to have been used as fishponds and could
also be integrated with the complex. Documentary sources provide a wealth of
information about the way that ponds were stocked and managed. Fishponds are
found widely scattered across the country, the majority found in central,
eastern and southern parts and in areas with heavy clay soils. Fewer are found
near the coast or where natural lakes and streams provided a natural source of
fish. Most fishponds were located close to villages, manors or monasteries or
within parks so that a watch could be kept to prevent poaching. Although
approximately 2000 examples are recorded nationally, this is thought to be
only a small proportion of those originally in existence. Despite being
relatively common, fishponds are important for their association with other
classes of medieval monuments, and in providing evidence of site economy.
The village of Steeton is well documented, both before and after abandonment,
and is a good example of the way that villages in the later Middle Ages were
vulnerable to depopulation to make way for high status houses. Archaeological
deposits including building foundations, rubbish pits, and evidence of small
scale industrial, agricultural and gardening activity will survive throughout
the area of the monument, providing information about the layout and economy
of the medieval settlement and the later, higher status residence of the
Fairfax family which was built on the site of the abandoned village. The ponds
and moat ditches, especially the infilled areas, will retain deposits that
will provide evidence of the local environment.

Source: Historic England


Record Card, Yorkshire Archaeological Society, SE 54 SW 02, (1973)
Record card, Yorkshire Archaeological Society, SE 54 SW 03, (1970)

Source: Historic England

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