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Little Smeaton medieval village and rabbit warrens, immediately south east of Westhorpe Hall

A Scheduled Monument in Little Smeaton, North Yorkshire

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Latitude: 54.424 / 54°25'26"N

Longitude: -1.4664 / 1°27'59"W

OS Eastings: 434716.42261

OS Northings: 503307.616619

OS Grid: NZ347033

Mapcode National: GBR LK68.9W

Mapcode Global: WHD7N.F2X9

Entry Name: Little Smeaton medieval village and rabbit warrens, immediately south east of Westhorpe Hall

Scheduled Date: 9 October 1981

Last Amended: 21 January 1999

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1018690

English Heritage Legacy ID: 31337

County: North Yorkshire

Civil Parish: Little Smeaton

Traditional County: Yorkshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): North Yorkshire

Church of England Parish: Birkby St Peter

Church of England Diocese: Leeds


The monument includes the remains of the medieval village of Little Smeaton
and a large complex of rabbit warrens and lies in the low lying land south of
the River Tees, immediately south east of Westhorpe Hall.
The village of Little Smeaton is recorded in the Domesday survey but by 1428
had fewer than ten households. The village was deserted sometime during the
15th century partly because of the ravages of the Black Death and also
probably due to emparking and the change of land use to warrening. The visible
remains of the village are preserved as substantial earthworks up to 2m high
which occupy the northern two thirds of the field. The remains include a
series of deep hollow ways crossing the monument with enclosures and building
platforms dispersed amongst them. In the north east corner is a large
enclosure with a raised central platform containing the remains of a building.
Some sections of ridge and furrow are located to the east of the enclosure.
In the southern third of the monument is the complex of warrens evident as low
elongated mounds all orientated north to south and known as pillow mounds. To
the west is a square enclosure formed by a bank 4m wide with an external
ditch. Within this enclosure are two elongated round ended mounds 15m in
length and 5m and 8m wide respectively. To the east of this is a second larger
enclosure 100m in length. Part of both the west and east sides of this
enclosure are formed by pillow mounds up to 30m in length. A further pillow
mound lies in the centre of the enclosure. To the east of this enclosure is a
steep ditch beyond which lies a further unenclosed pillow mound. Farther to
the east is a line of discontinuous pillow mounds extending from the south
east corner of the field for 55m. The warren complex thus contains both
enclosed and unenclosed pillow mounds. All the pillow mounds are surrounded by
ditches and the warren complex is separated from the village earthworks to the
north by a wide ditch or hollow way extending east to west across the field.
Further earthworks in this area, including a circular feature in the south of
the central enclosure, are related to the warrening activity and will include
structures such as a warreners hut and store room. The warrens probably date
to after the abandonment of Little Smeaton and further remains of the village
will lie beneath the warren features.
All fences and gates are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground
beneath these features is included.

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 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.
A warren is an area of land set aside for the breeding and management of
rabbits or hares in order to provide a constant supply of fresh meat and
skins. Although the hare is an indigenous species, the tradition of warren
construction and use dates from the 12th century, following the introduction
of rabbits into England from the continent. Warrens usually contain a number
of purpose-built breeding places known as pillow mounds or rabbit buries,
which were intended to centralise the colony and make catching the animals
easier, whether using nets, ferrets or dogs. The mounds vary in design
although rarely exceed 0.7m in height. Earlier monuments such as burial
mounds, boundary features and mottes were sometimes reused as breeding places.
The mounds are usually surrounded by ditches and contain underlying channels
or are situated on sloping ground to facilitate drainage. The interior of the
mound may also contain nesting places constructed of stone slabs or cut into
the underlying subsoil or bedrock.
A typical warren may contain between one and forty pillow mounds or rabbit
buries and occupy an area up to appproximately 600ha. Many warrens were
enclosed by a bank, hedge or wall intended to contain and protect the stock.
Other features associated with the warren include vermin traps (usually a
dead-fall mechanism within a small tunnel), and, more rarely, traps for the
warren stock (known in Yorkshire as `types')which could contain the animals
unharmed and allow for selective culling. Larger warrens might include living
quarters for the warrener who kept charge of the site, sometimes surrounded by
an enclosed garden and outbuildings.
Early warrens were mostly associated with the higher levels of society, but
soon spread in popularity so that by the 16th and 17th centuries they were a
common feature on most manors and estates throughout the country. Warrens
continued in use until fairly recent times, finally declining in the face of
19th and 20th century changes in agricultural practice, and the outbreak of
myxomatosis. Warrens are found in all parts of England, the earliest examples
lying in the south. Approximately 1,000-2,000 examples are known nationally
with concentrations in upland areas, on heathland and in coastal zones. The
profits from a successfully managed warren could be considerable and many
areas in lowland England were set aside for warrens at the expense of
agricultural land. Although relatively common, warrens are important for their
associations with other classes of monument, including various forms of
settlement, deer parks, field systems and fishponds. They may also provide
evidence of the economy of both secular and ecclesiastical estates. All well
preserved medieval examples are considered worthy of protection as will a
sample of well preserved examples from a later date.
The village of Little Smeaton survives well and significant remains of the
domestic and economic development of the settlement will be preserved. The
survival of the warren complex in a lowland agricultural setting is unusual,
and important evidence of the form and function of the pillow mounds will be
preserved. The warrens demonstrate a variety of forms, both enclosed and
unenclosed, and thus preserve a developmental sequence. Taken together the
village and warrens show the change in economic, agricultural and social
conditions which led to the development from an agricultural village to an
emparked landscape with warrening as the main landuse.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Grifiths, M, Medieval Villages of the Tees Lowlands, (1976)
CUC AQP 44, (1967)

Source: Historic England

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