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Medieval hamlet of Littlecote

A Scheduled Monument in Stewkley, Buckinghamshire

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Coordinates

Latitude: 51.9096 / 51°54'34"N

Longitude: -0.793 / 0°47'34"W

OS Eastings: 483122.181777

OS Northings: 224135.842846

OS Grid: SP831241

Mapcode National: GBR D1S.BB4

Mapcode Global: VHDTS.68LG

Entry Name: Medieval hamlet of Littlecote

Scheduled Date: 28 November 1957

Last Amended: 10 June 1998

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1018008

English Heritage Legacy ID: 29416

County: Buckinghamshire

Civil Parish: Stewkley

Traditional County: Buckinghamshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Buckinghamshire

Church of England Parish: Stewkley

Church of England Diocese: Oxford

Details

The monument includes the buried and visible remains of the medieval hamlet of
Lidcote, or Littlecote, located some 2.5km to the south west of the village of
Stewkley, on a west-facing spur to the south of the Dunton Road.
The settlement earthworks occupy approximately 13ha to the south and west of
Littlecote Farm, bisected by a minor road which runs south from the farm
towards the village of Cublington. The central feature of the settlement is
the main street, a broad hollow way which diverges from the line of the
metalled road some 100m to the south of the farm and descends the south
western slope of the spur. The area above and to the east of the hollow way is
subdivided into a pattern of irregular enclosures by numerous shallow
ditches, banks and worn trackways which extend up to 200m away from the street
frontage. These are thought to represent crofts (yards and paddocks associated
with medieval buildings) in which the houses and other buildings remain
visible as clusters of raised platforms arranged in three main groups along
the length of the street.
The area of habitation does not appear to have extended to the west of the
main street. On this side the remains of the medieval field system rise from
the base of the spur and continue across the adjacent ridge. A document from
1248 indicates that a three field system was operating at Littlecote by this
time; a system which allowed one field to be left fallow each year for grazing
and the consequent fertilization of the soil. These broad, or open, fields,
were divided into furlongs which were cultivated in narrow strips, or lands,
to ensure drainage and allow an equal division of the available soil
conditions among the various tenants and serfs. A small part of the field
system, containing the characteristic pattern of ridges and furrows which
resulted from this system of ploughing, can still be seen in the pasture to
the west of the main hollow way, approached by a narrow hollow way which may
have provided the principal route into the fields from the settlement. At some
point during the lifetime of the medieval settlement a row of four ditched
enclosures was laid out over part of the northern furlong, immediately to the
west of the present farm buildings. These enclosures extend some 150m to the
west of the road, all sharing the western boundary, and vary between 25m and
50m in width. Slight traces of the earlier cultivation pattern remain visible
within the enclosures, which are thought to have been used for controlling
stock and therefore point to a significant change in the economy of the
settlement. They do not, however, relate to the final enclosure of the fields
for sheep pasture in the early 16th century, as a headland (a ridge created by
turning the plough) alongside their western boundary demonstrates that a
foreshortened field continued under cultivation. The headland, and a sample of
the adjacent ridge and furrow is included in the scheduling.
A slight, rectangular earthwork on the eastern side of the main street, in the
angle between the modern minor road and the southern walls of Littlecote Farm,
is believed to mark the location of the Chapel of St Giles. As an outlying
hamlet of Stewkley, Littlecote did not possess a separate parish church. The
chapel, founded by Hugh de Dunster around 1266, was intended as a chantry for
the manor, and it was authorised and maintained by the Abbey of Biddlesden in
return for certain grants of land at Thornborough near Buckingham. The
chaplain was appointed by Hugh and his wife Alice, provided with a dwelling
and outbuildings adjoining the chapel and allocated a portion of arable land
within the hamlet's fields for his support. Although the chapel was
established to provide masses for the souls of the lord of the manor and his
kin, in documents dating from 1339 and 1363 it appears as the `Chapel of the
Vill of Littlecote' or simply as `the Chapel of Lidcot', which suggests that
it may also have served some of the spiritual needs of the hamlet's
inhabitants. However, there are no records of conflict between the chaplains
and the rectors of Stewkley, and it can be assumed that the chapel did not
encroach on the church's responsibility for baptisms, marriages or burials.
The suppression of chantries under Edward VI resulted in the confiscation of
the chapel lands in 1553. The new owners, appointed by the Crown, either
demolished the chapel or allowed it to decay. Fragments of standing masonry
were last recorded in the middle of the 18th century.
The Domesday survey of 1086 included a separate entry for the hamlet of
`Litecota', which qualified as a `vill' or hamlet within the parish of
Stewkley. The hamlet had been held, prior to the Norman Conquest, by Wigo de
Wallingford, a Thane of Edward the Confessor and by two tenants of a certain
Britric. This tripartite division continued after the Conquest when the manor
itself passed to Walter Giffard, and other portions came into the possession
of Miles Crispin and William Fitz Ansculf. The manor subsequently passed
through the hands of Robert de Loering, Hugh de Dunster and branches of the le
Veel and de Missenden families before it was acquired by Elizabeth, wife of
the Sergeant of Law at Whaddon, Thomas Pigott, in 1481.
Fifteen free tenants were recorded on the rent roll for 1323 - an indication
of a sizeable population when the unnamed dependants and serfs are taken into
account. In 1494 Thomas Pigott enclosed 40 acres of the manor lands for sheep
pasture, resulting in the displacement of 24 of the hamlet's inhabitants who
had formerly tilled the fields. His successor, William Sheppard, enclosed a
further 100 acres in 1507, evicting another 8 tenants and causing the
abandonment of the village. Sheppard's actions earned him the attention of
Royal Inquistion set up to investigate the causes of rural depopulation in
1517, and resulted in his appearance before the Chancery who ordered him to
rebuild two houses. This was done, but Sheppard's sons decided to demolish
them following his death in 1545. In all, some 84 persons lost their homes and
occupations as a result of the change to a pastoral economy.
The manor continued to prosper after the depopulation of the hamlet, remaining
in the hands of the Sheppard family until the late 19th century. The medieval
manor house is thought to have stood in the area of the present farm
buildings, where its successor, a substantial 17th century mansion, stood
until 1804. The mansion was demolished to make way for a `good farm house' and
only the coach house and some adjoining walls survive incorporated into the
present farm house (a Grade II Listed Building). The extent to which evidence
for the earlier manor buildings may have survived the subsequent development
of the farm buildings is not known, and this area is therefore not included in
the scheduling.
An estate map dated 1814 provides the earliest documentary evidence for two
fishponds located in a small copse to the south east of the farm buildings.
These are aligned down the slope of the spur to the east of the settlement
earthworks, each measuring approximately 60m in length and 25m in width, and
partly water-filled. The southern ends of both ponds are retained by dams with
brickwork dating from the late 18th century. Although doubtless maintained
during the lifetime of the 17th century mansion, it is considered probable
that the ponds originated within the lifetime of the medieval manor. Ponds of
this type formed a characteristic feature of such high status residences, and
slight depressions in the pasture to the south of the copse suggest that the
flight of ponds may once have been more extensive.

The metalled surface of the road to the south of Littlecote Farm is excluded
from the scheduling, together with all fences, gates and troughs located
within the extent of the monument, although the ground beneath these features
is included.

MAP EXTRACT
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 hamlet of Littlecote is represented by an area of
well-defined earthworks in which evidence for the nature of the settlement
will be preserved. The crofts and building platforms will contain buried
evidence for houses, barns and other structures, accompanied by a range of
boundaries, refuse pits, wells and drainage channels, all related to the
development of the settlement which is known to have existed for over 400
years prior to its demise in the early 16th century. Artefacts buried in
association with these features will provide further insights into the
lifestyle of the settlement's inhabitants and assist in dating the changes to
the settlement through time. Environmental evidence may also be preserved,
illustrating the economy of the hamlet and providing further information about
its agricultural regime.
The manor and hamlet of Littlecote is well documented, with records of tenure,
population and farming practice dating back to Domesday. The historical
evidence also charts the decline of the settlement which, in common with a
number of villages and hamlets in the local region, suffered as a direct
result of the growing economic advantages of sheep rearing in the later
medieval period. 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
Littlecote, provide valuable opportunities to study the nature of these
earlier communities and, in areas such as the Aylesbury Vale where abandoned
medieval settlements are comparatively common, opportunities to examine and
compare the reasons for their failure.
Although the manor which formed the focus for the settlement has been overlain
by the development of the farm, two features remain apparent which refer to
its former status. The site of the chantry chapel, demolished as a result of
the Protestant reformation under Edward VI, has been identified and will
retain buried evidence for the nature of the principal building and the
accommodation of the priests appointed by successive lords of the manor. The
fishponds, clearly retained as ornamental features alongside the post-medieval
mansion, are likely to have originated in the medieval period when those who
could afford the cost of their construction and maintenance, created fishponds
to ensure a constant food supply which also enabled compliance with religious
dietary customs.

Source: Historic England

Sources

Books and journals
Beresford, M, Lost Villages of England, (1983), 292
Beresford, M, Lost Villages of England, (1983), 292,319
Page, W , The Victoria History of the County of Buckinghamshire420-426
Page, W , The Victoria History of the County of Buckinghamshire426
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, , Monuments of Buckinghamshire, (1913), 277
Sheahan, J, History and Topography of Buckinghamshire, (1862), 755
'Records of Bucks' in Terrier of Land at Littlecote - 1514, , Vol. 13, (1940), 352-355
Herbert, P, 'CBA Group 9 Newsletter' in Littlecote, Buckinghamshire, , Vol. 10, (1980), 13-15
Kelke, W H, 'Records of Bucks' in The Desecrated Churches of Buckinghamshire, (1856), 289-90
Kelke, W H, 'Records of Bucks' in The Desecrated Churches of Buckinghamshire, (1856), 289-90
Other
Conversation with owner, Hedges, Mrs , (1997)
Herbert, P, Survey of Villages of Dunton, Hoggeston and Littlecote, 1979, Unpublished report SMR:0626
Herbert, P, Survey of Villages of Dunton, Hoggeston and Littlecote, 1979, Unpublished report SMR:0626
Herbert, P, Survey of Villages of Dunton, Hoggeston and Littlecote, 1979, Unpublished report SMR:0626
Ordnance Survey Antiquity Model, RSC, SP 82 SW 1: Lidcote DMV, (1977)
Ordnance Survey Antiquity Model, RSC, SP82SW1: Lidcote DMV, (1977)
RCHME, The Monuments of Buckinghamshire, (1913)
Title: A New Map - within twenty miles around Oxford
Source Date: 1690
Author:
Publisher:
Surveyor:

Title: Buckinghamshire - Divided into Hundreds
Source Date: 1767
Author:
Publisher:
Surveyor:

Title: Map of the Manor of Littlecote in the Manor of Stewkley
Source Date: 1814
Author:
Publisher:
Surveyor:
Copy in Bucks SMR
Title: Map of the Manor of Littlecote with copyhold
Source Date: 1814
Author:
Publisher:
Surveyor:
PRO IR/114 AQ

Source: Historic England

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