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The medieval village of Burston

A Scheduled Monument in Aston Abbotts, Buckinghamshire

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Latitude: 51.8615 / 51°51'41"N

Longitude: -0.7804 / 0°46'49"W

OS Eastings: 484081.633114

OS Northings: 218807.335848

OS Grid: SP840188

Mapcode National: GBR D2D.7HP

Mapcode Global: VHDTZ.FG9T

Entry Name: The medieval village of Burston

Scheduled Date: 18 May 1967

Last Amended: 8 December 1997

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1017778

English Heritage Legacy ID: 29401

County: Buckinghamshire

Civil Parish: Aston Abbotts

Traditional County: Buckinghamshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Buckinghamshire

Church of England Parish: Aston Abbots

Church of England Diocese: Oxford


The monument includes the buried and visible remains of the medieval village
of Burston, and adjacent evidence for formal gardens related to the early
post-medieval manor which superseded the settlement.

The site of the village of Burston lies within the Vale of Aylesbury, to the
south of the ridge of Windmill Hill and the minor road between the modern
villages of Weedon and Aston Abbotts. The settlement earthworks are contained
within a single pasture field of approximately 9ha which is located on a
gentle slope between Lower Burston Farm and a small tributary of the Thistle
Brook, some 350m to the east. The central feature of the settlement is the
main street, a broad hollow way which traverses the pasture from south to
north west. The area to the west of the hollow way is divided into irregular
enclosures by a number of shallow ditches and banks, and the site of at least
one former building is marked by a pronounced mound near the street frontage.
The earthworks to the east and north east of the hollow way are more complex,
and are mainly related to a second hollow way which branches away from the
first near the centre of the field and continues in a north easterly direction
towards the field boundary. A series of five rectangular tofts (enclosures
containing evidence of former buildings) are arranged along the eastern side
of this route, ranging between 20m and 50m in width and similarly defined by
shallow banks and ditches. The tofts extend eastwards for approximately 70m,
terminating at a broad scarp which descends towards a narrow strip of flood
meadow flanking the brook. Low platforms and other minor undulations at the
western ends of these enclosures indicate the probable locations of buildings,
whereas the eastern portions of the enclosures are relatively level,
suggesting use as paddocks or yards.

Further platforms and smaller enclosures remain visible to either side of the
junction of the two streets and especially to the north west, within a
triangular area defined by a third, less pronounced, hollow way which connects
the other two routes. A mound situated within the junction of the northern
hollow way with the main street may indicate the location of a preaching

A substantial bank extends eastwards from the southern end of the tofts to
form a dam across the line of the brook. This is thought to have regulated the
inundation of the flood meadow adjacent to the settlement.

As an outlying hamlet of Aston Abbotts, Burston did not possess a separate
parish church. Nevertheless, in 1086 the settlement received a separate entry
in the Domesday Book, and ownership and land values dating from the reign of
Edward the Confessor were recorded at this time. In 1086 the settlement
possessed four ploughlands with meadow, and supported 12 principal inhabitants
with their families. By the time of Burston's demise in 1488 the settlement
had evidently expanded, since eight ploughs were made useless and 60 people
were evicted when a freeholder, John Swafield, converted the whole of the
manor and village lands to sheep pasture.

The manor prospered after the rapid depopulation of the village. A branch of
the Lee family came into possession in 1516 and in the early 17th century Sir
Henry Lee built or rebuilt the manor house and acquired a royal license to
empark the grounds. The manor house (now Lower Burston Farm) was rebuilt in
the 18th and 19th centuries, reusing much of the earlier brick, and is not
included in the scheduling. The deer park, which covered some 65ha and
included the area of the former village (in the north west corner) is clearly
shown on a map of the Manor of Burston dating from c.1800. The earthworks of
the pale have since disappeared, although the original outline of the park can
be traced in the current field boundaries surrounding the farm.

The field to the south of Lower Burston Farm is termed `Kitchen Mead' on the
map of the manor and it contains numerous earthworks which are thought to
indicate the pattern of a formal garden associated with the 17th century
manor. On the rising slope facing the house, a rectangular enclosure measuring
some 120m by 60m is defined by a broad and shallow ditch. The northern
boundary of the enclosure (at the foot of the slope) is marked by a much
larger ditch which extends further east and west and is flanked over part of
its length by a bank and smaller ditch to the north. Within the enclosure a
number of low banks partly span the longer, east-west axis and there is some
evidence of former terraces. The earthworks are considered to indicate a
symmetrical arrangement of planted areas surrounded by a drainage system and
walkways, designed to be visible from the house and to compliment its setting.
The area around the enclosure contains a number of slight undulations which
may reflect less formal cultivation, and is itself surrounded to the south and
west by a low bank lying just inside the present boundary of the pasture. This
feature, evidently denuded but still some 6m in width, is believed to
represent an internal division within the deer park - a necessary barrier
between the gardens and the deer.

The shallow brick-lined pond near the north eastern corner of the field, all
fences, gates and electricity poles are excluded from the scheduling, although
the ground beneath these items 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 past 1500 years or more.
The South Midlands local region is large, and capable of further subdivision.
Strongly banded from south west to north east, it comprises a broad succession
of clay vales and limestone or marlstone ridges, complicated by local drifts
which create many subtle variations in terrain. The region is in general
dominated by nucleated villages of medieval origin, with isolated farmsteads,
mostly of post-medieval date, set in the spaces between them. Depopulated
village sites are common, and moated sites are present on the claylands.

The site of the medieval village of Burston is clearly defined by an area of
earthworks in which evidence for the nature of the settlement is very well
preserved. The tofts will contain buried evidence for houses and other
structures, accompanied by a range of features such as boundaries, refuse pits
and drainage channels, all related to the life of the settlement. Artefacts
found in association with these features will provide insights into the date
and duration of occupation, the lifestyle of the inhabitants and the economy
of the settlement. Environmental evidence may also be recovered, illustrating
the appearance of the landscape in which the settlement was established and
providing further information about its agricultural regime.

Many modern villages in the local region have medieval origins, although in
most cases later development has obscured much of the archaeological evidence
for earlier settlement. Depopulated examples, such as Burston, provide
valuable opportunities to study the nature of these earlier communities and,
in areas such as the Vale of Aylesbury where the abandoned villages are
comparatively common, opportunities to examine and compare the reasons for
their failure.

The subsequent development of the Manor of Burston reflects this change which,
in common with a number of settlements in the local region, resulted from the
growing economic advantages of sheep rearing over arable production in the
later medieval period. Although the 17th century manor house itself has been
almost completely rebuilt, archaeological evidence for its setting will be
preserved in the area of the formal gardens to the south together with
significant details concerning their original appearance. The deer park
together with the gardens, reflects the affluence and social standing of the
of the later owners. Although the outline of the park is perpetuated by modern
field boundaries, visible evidence is now limited to a small but important
element of the park - the boundary which separated the deer from the area of
formal gardens.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Beresford, MW, St Joseph, JK, Medieval England: An Aerial Survey (1958), (1958), 115-6
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, , Historic Monuments of Buckinghamshire57
Chalkey, B, Three Deserted Medieval Villages in the Vale of Aylesbury, 1985, Unpublished dissertation
Chalkey, B, Three Deserted Medieval Villages in the Vale of Aylesbury, 1985, Unpublished dissertation
Chalkey, B, Three Deserted Medieval Villages in the Vale of Aylesbury, 1985, Unpublished dissertation
Nellist, E, Burston: A Deserted Medieval Village in Buckinghamshire, 1977, Univ. BA thesis (copy in Bucks SMR)
Nellist, E, Burston: A Deserted Medieval Village in Buckinghamshire, 1977, Univ. BA thesis (copy in Bucks SMR)
Nellist, E, Burston: A Deserted Medival Village in Buckinghamshire, 1977, Univ. BA thesis (copy in Bucks SMR)
Title: Estate Map
Source Date: 1800
Copy in Nellist's thesis.
Title: Map of Burston Manor
Source Date: 1800
Copy in Nellist's thesis

Source: Historic England

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