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Prehistoric field system, medieval rabbit warren and post-medieval mining test pits on Rhumbard Snout

A Scheduled Monument in Levisham, North Yorkshire

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Latitude: 54.3127 / 54°18'45"N

Longitude: -0.7444 / 0°44'39"W

OS Eastings: 481786.082409

OS Northings: 491513.593943

OS Grid: SE817915

Mapcode National: GBR RL7K.NS

Mapcode Global: WHF9J.JVRQ

Entry Name: Prehistoric field system, medieval rabbit warren and post-medieval mining test pits on Rhumbard Snout

Scheduled Date: 7 November 2001

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1020309

English Heritage Legacy ID: 34831

County: North Yorkshire

Civil Parish: Levisham

Traditional County: Yorkshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): North Yorkshire

Church of England Parish: Levisham St John the Baptist

Church of England Diocese: York


The monument includes the remains of a prehistoric field system, a medieval
artificial rabbit warren known as a pillow mound and post-medieval mining test
pits. It is located on the sloping southern tip of the wide, natural terrace
which lies between the West Side Brow of Levisham Moor and Newton Dale to the
Levisham Moor lies on the southern edge of the sandstone, predominantly
heather covered moor characteristic of the North York Moors. The moor occupies
the northern part of a block of land defined by the deep valleys of Newton
Dale to the west, Horcum Slack to the east, Havern Beck to the north and
Levisham Beck to the south. The eastern side of the moor is bisected by
smaller valleys known locally as griffs which divide the moor into a series of
flat-topped peninsulas with steep slopes on all but their north western sides.
The southern part of the block of land has been enclosed and brought into
agricultural use but traces of prehistoric remains in this area are visible on
aerial photographs. Today the moor is little used but archaeological evidence
indicates that this has not always been the case. Both the prehistoric and
medieval periods saw intensive use of the land for agricultural, industrial
and ritual purposes. Remains of these activities survive today.
The monument extends over an area approximately 500m north west to south east
by 400m north east to south west. The field system includes at least seven
tumbled stone walls up to 0.3m in height and up to 60m apart extending roughly
parallel from east to west across the slope. These are linked in places by
north to south aligned walls mostly constructed of stones heaped around
earthfast boulders which form broadly rectangular fields. Within the fields
are clearance cairns. These are mounds of stones measuring up to 3m in
diameter and up to 0.3m in height which are the result of heaping stones into
piles to clear and improve the land for farming. Evidence from other similar
monuments in the north of England shows that such cairns may also have been
used for burials. Also included within the walls and cairns are numerous
upright stones with a maximum height of 0.5m.
The settlement from which this area of land was farmed has yet to be
identified, but it is anticipated to have been nearby. It has been suggested
that the area was farmed from c.1500BC to the 1st century AD.
The pillow mound is located on the western edge of the terrace in the southern
part of the monument at NGR SE81859130. It includes a rectangular, rounded
mound measuring 21m north to south by 4m east to west. It is surrounded on all
except the northern side by a ditch 2m wide and an external bank up to 2m
wide. The date for its construction and use is yet to be confirmed but it is
thought that it might be part of the estate of Malton Priory, which had a
substantial sheep farm on the moor during the 11th to 16th centuries, other
evidence for which survives on the moor 1km to the north east. There is a
group of further pillow mounds, also linked to the priory, located 600m to the
north east which are the subject of separate schedulings.
The remains of mining activity are located in the south eastern area of the
monument. These include shallow test pits and at least one more substantial
shaft surrounded by a circular pile of spoil. These workings are thought to be
test pits for ironstone.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Regular aggregate field systems date from the Bronze Age (2000-700 BC) to the
end of the fifth century AD. They usually cover areas of up to 100ha and
comprise a discrete block of fields orientated in roughly the same direction,
with the field boundaries laid out along two axes set at right angles to one
another. Individual fields generally fall within the 0.1ha-3.2ha range and can
be square, rectangular, long and narrow, triangular or polygonal in shape. The
field boundaries can take various forms (including drystone walls or reaves,
orthostats, earth and rubble banks, pit alignments, ditches, fences and
lynchets) and follow straight or sinuous courses. Component features common to
most systems include entrances and trackways, and the settlements or
farmsteads from which people utilised the fields over the years have been
identified in some cases. These are usually situated close to or within the
field system.
The development of field systems is seen as a response to the competition for
land which began during the later prehistoric period. The majority are thought
to have been used mainly for crop production, evidenced by the common
occurrence of lynchets resulting from frequent ploughing, although rotation
may also have been practised in a mixed farming economy. Regular aggregate
field systems occur widely and have been recorded in south western and south
eastern England, East Anglia, Cheshire, Cumbria, Nottinghamshire, North and
South Yorkshire and Durham. They represent a coherent economic unit often
utilised for long periods of time and can thus provide important information
about developments in agricultural practices in a particular location and
broader patterns of social, cultural and environmental change over several
centuries. Those which survive well and/or which can be positively linked to
associated settlements are considered to merit protection.

A pillow mound is an artificial rabbit warren used 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. Pillow mounds 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 exceeding 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.
Pillow mounds might be associated with living quarters for the warrener who
kept charge of the site, sometimes surrounded by an enclosed garden and
Early warrens were mostly associated with the higher levels of society;
however, they gradually 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 onset of myxomatosis. Warrens are found in all parts of
England, the earliest examples lying in the southern part of the country.
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, however, 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. A sample of
well-preserved sites of later date will also merit protection.
Ironstone mining was widespread in the North York Moors and successful
exploitation was nearly always preceded by trial pits. The examples of trial
pits at Rhumbard Snout will offer evidence of the methods of investigation
used in the post-medieval period.
The field system is extensive and survives well. It will preserve important
evidence of a type of monument relatively rare in the area. The pillow mound
is one of a wider group of similar monuments linked to a monastic estate. It
survives well and preserves important evidence of both economic practices of
the period and of the impact of monastic activity on the medieval landscape.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
An Iron Age Farm on Rhumbards Snout, (1971)
Atkins, C, An Archaeological Survey of the Levisham Estate, (1991)

Source: Historic England

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