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Old Thornley medieval settlement, open field system and hollow way, 110m north of Thornley Hall Farm

A Scheduled Monument in Thornley, County Durham

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Latitude: 54.7398 / 54°44'23"N

Longitude: -1.4424 / 1°26'32"W

OS Eastings: 435998.837861

OS Northings: 538451.641481

OS Grid: NZ359384

Mapcode National: GBR LFCM.JQ

Mapcode Global: WHD63.T4B8

Entry Name: Old Thornley medieval settlement, open field system and hollow way, 110m north of Thornley Hall Farm

Scheduled Date: 20 July 2001

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1019914

English Heritage Legacy ID: 34581

County: County Durham

Civil Parish: Thornley

Traditional County: Durham

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): County Durham

Church of England Parish: Haswell and Thornley

Church of England Diocese: Durham


The monument includes the earthwork and buried remains of Old Thornley
medieval village, together with part of its associated medieval open field
system and a length of associated hollow way. Old Thornley lies on the
magnesian limestone plateau of East Durham. The settlement continues in
occupation today and the area of protection includes those parts which were
abandoned as it contracted to its present size, and which are still evident
today. The plan of the medieval settlement of Old Thornley is of a type
familiar to this part of County Durham in which parallel lines of tofts or
houses with crofts or garden areas to the rear face on to a village green.
Beyond the tofts and crofts would lie the open fields where crops were grown.
The tofts and crofts at Old Thornley survive as visible earthworks up to 1m
high. In places the stone footings of buildings within the tofts remain. These
tofts would have been arranged around a central green, now largely destroyed
by a tarmac road leading from the A181 to Thornley Hall, a farm track and
post-medieval encroachment by farm buildings. Immediately to the west of the
settlement area are the remains of ridge and furrow, once part of the open
fields of the settlement. Leading from the present farm track is a substantial
hollow way that skirts the southern edge of the field containing the visible
earthworks before continuing towards Ducket Wood. The hollow way varies
between 4m-8m in width and 2m-4m in depth. The depth of the hollow way
decreases to nothing as it approaches Thornley Hall from the west and merges
with the farm track. It is thought that the great depth of hollow way relates
to its prolonged and intensive use during the medieval period.
The earliest reference to Thornley is in a land grant of 1070-80. In the
mid-12th century a place of strength is recorded at Thornley: this is thought
to be the site of the present Thornley Hall. The history of the manor is well
attested from the mid-12th century onwards. The estate was confiscated by the
Crown in 1569 and was reinstated by 1613. In 1650 it was broken up into four
estates: Milnefield (two parts), The Gore, and the capital messuage at Old
Thornley. It was reunited between 1678 and 1701.

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 East Durham Plateau local region is a limestone upland partly covered by
glacial clays. The upper part of the plateau was almost devoid of settlement
until the creation of the late 19th century mining communities, but ancient
villages occupy the varied soils of the western sub-Provincial boundary, and
can be found along the north-south routes just inland from the coast. Towards
the southern edge and the Tees Valley, there has been significant settlement

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
trackways, platforms on which houses stood and other buildings such as barns,
enclosed crofts and small 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 distinct 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.
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 the resultant ridge and furrow where it survives 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 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 and walls of subsequent field enclosure.
The medieval village of Old Thornley is well-preserved and retains significant
archaeological deposits. The village is a good example of its type which,
taken together with the remains of the open field system, will add greatly to
our knowledge and understanding of medieval settlement in the region.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Turnbull, , Jones, , Archaeology of the Coal Measures, (1979), 165
Roberts, B., Back Lanes and Tofts, Distribution Maps and Time, Medieval Nucle, Medieval Rural Settlement In North-East England, (1990)

Source: Historic England

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