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King's Meaburn medieval settlement, part of its associated medieval open field system and Bessygarth Well

A Scheduled Monument in King's Meaburn, Cumbria

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Latitude: 54.5846 / 54°35'4"N

Longitude: -2.5902 / 2°35'24"W

OS Eastings: 361953.250165

OS Northings: 521209.477247

OS Grid: NY619212

Mapcode National: GBR BHCF.09

Mapcode Global: WH92Y.51T5

Entry Name: King's Meaburn medieval settlement, part of its associated medieval open field system and Bessygarth Well

Scheduled Date: 10 October 2000

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1018935

English Heritage Legacy ID: 32846

County: Cumbria

Civil Parish: King's Meaburn

Traditional County: Westmorland

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cumbria

Church of England Parish: Morland St Lawrence

Church of England Diocese: Carlisle


The monument includes the earthworks and buried remains of King's Meaburn
medieval settlement, together with part of its associated medieval open field
system and Bessygarth Well. It is in six separate areas of protection.
Although the date of the first settlement at King's Meaburn is unknown it is
unlikely to have pre-dated the late 11th century Norman conquest of the
region. Documentary sources indicate that Meaburn was in possession of the
Morville family during the latter half of the 12th century. Roger de Morville
had a son and daughter, Hugh and Maud. Maud married William de Veteripont,
the lord of Appleby, and brought to her husband part of the manor of Meaburn,
hereafter known as Maulds Meaburn. The other half was confiscated by the king
to punish Sir Hugh for his part in the murder of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of
Canterbury, in 1170. This became known as King's Meaburn. The settlement
remains in occupation today and the areas of protection include those parts
which were abandoned as it contracted to its present size, but which are still
identifiable. The plan of the medieval settlement of King's Meaburn is of a
type familiar to this part of Cumbria in which two parallel lines of tofts or
houses with crofts or garden areas to the rear face onto a village green or
street. Behind the crofts were narrow back lanes and beyond the back lanes lay
the communal open fields where the crops were grown. Where not covered by
post-medieval buildings the well-preserved earthwork remains of the medieval
settlement consists of abandoned tofts (house plots), and associated earthwork
enclosures (or crofts) which pre-date the existing post-medieval field system.
On the west side of the main street, between Meadow Bank and a caravan park,
there is a well-marked but serrated and eroded earthwork parallel to the
present street edge but set back about 20m. This feature is considered to
represent what was originally the edge of the village green and fragmentary
portions survive on both sides of the main street throughout the modern
village. Although post-medieval houses and gardens have encroached onto the
green it is evident that King's Meaburn once possessed a narrow village green
approximately 50m in width. On relatively level ground adjacent to the green,
west of the main street, are well-preserved compartments of tofts and crofts,
behind which is a back lane. Beyond the back lane remains of the communal
medieval open field system survive where the crops were grown, here consisting
of well-preserved broad ridge and furrow which runs down a slope towards
Jackdaw's Scar. This pattern of tofts, crofts, back lane and ridge and furrow
survives well elsewhere on the western side of the main street, notably in the
field behind the village hall, and again in two adjacent fields south of
Welltree Brow opposite Prospect House and its timber yard.
On the east side of the main street, in the field north of Prospect Cottage,
are the earthwork remains of two crofts behind which are fragments of ridge
and furrow, while between the crofts and the main street there are the remains
of Bessygarth Well. In the field to the rear and north of Midtown Farm, a
substantial break of slope indicates the former edge of the village green. To
the east of this are the substantial earthworks of a former medieval croft.
This arrangement is repeated in the field to the rear and north of West View
where the edge of the green is again marked by a break of slope to the east of
which are the earthworks of a building platform and a croft.
All modern walls, fenceposts, gateposts, telegraph poles, septic tanks and
football goalposts 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.

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.
This monument lies in the Cumbria-Solway sub-Province of the Northern and
Western Province, an area characterised by dispersed hamlets and farmsteads,
but with some larger nucleated settlements in well-defined agriculturally
favoured areas, established after the Norman Conquest. Traces of seasonal
settlements, or shielings, dominate the high, wet and windy uplands, where
surrounding communities grazed their livestock during the summer months.
The Eden Valley local region is a rich agricultural lowland ringed by mountain
pastures. It is densely settled with small market towns, villages, hamlets and
isolated farmsteads. Medieval castles and monasteries, a multitude of
earthwork sites and the distinctive mix of Celtic, Scottish, English,
Scandinavian and Norman place-names all testify to the ancient and long
sustained occupation of this important region.

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 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 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 also survive as visible
remains as well as below ground deposits. In the Northern and Western Province
of England medieval villages occurred infrequently amid areas of otherwise
dispersed settlement and good examples are therefore proportionally
infrequent. Thus their archaeological remains are one of the most important
sources for understanding rural life in the five centuries or more 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 lands) which were allocated to individual tenants. The
cultivation of these strips with heavy ploughs pulled by oxen-teams produced
long, wide ridges, and where it survives the resultant `ridge and furrow' is
the most obvious physical indication of the open field system. Individual
strips or lands were laid out in groups known as furlongs defined by terminal
headlands at the plough turning points and lateral grass banks. 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 historic landscape. It is usually now covered by hedges or
walls of subsequent field enclosure.
Wells offered an alternative water supply to that provided by streams or
rivers. At their simplest, they may be unelaborated natural springs emerging
from the ground. Structural additions may include lined well shafts, or steps
to provide access to the water source, or conduit heads on springs, often with
a tank to gather the water at the surface.
Despite being partly overlain by post-medieval buildings, a substantial
proportion of the earthworks of King's Meaburn medieval settlement, its
associated open field system and Bessygarth Well survive well. It is a good
example of this class of monument in the Eden Valley local region and will add
greatly to our understanding of the wider settlement and economy during the
medieval period.

Source: Historic England


Report In Cumbria SMR, Clare, T, The Archaeology of Eden Villages, (1991)

Source: Historic England

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