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Swainby medieval settlement, Premonstratensian abbey, grange and field system, immediately east of Swainby Grove

A Scheduled Monument in Swainby with Allerthorpe, North Yorkshire

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Latitude: 54.2655 / 54°15'55"N

Longitude: -1.4857 / 1°29'8"W

OS Eastings: 433592.097055

OS Northings: 485658.706807

OS Grid: SE335856

Mapcode National: GBR LM23.4P

Mapcode Global: WHD8F.41RT

Entry Name: Swainby medieval settlement, Premonstratensian abbey, grange and field system, immediately east of Swainby Grove

Scheduled Date: 24 May 1951

Last Amended: 22 December 2003

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1021137

English Heritage Legacy ID: 34730

County: North Yorkshire

Civil Parish: Swainby with Allerthorpe

Traditional County: Yorkshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): North Yorkshire


The monument includes earthwork and buried remains associated with a
Premonstratensian abbey that was founded at Swainby, but then moved to
Coverham 23km to the west.

The Domesday Book notes that in 1086 Swainby formed a single manor that
was part of Count Alan's Honour of Richmond. This was tenanted by Ribald
Lord of Middleham, whose descendant Helewise granted land at Swainby to
the Premonstratensian Order for a new abbey. The grant is thought to have
been made by Helewise when she was widowed in 1188, and it was confirmed
by Henry II who died in 1189. Helewise's son, Ranulph Fitz-Robert, moved
the community of canons from Swainby to Coverham in 1212-14, probably so
that it was closer to his castle at Middleham. It is thought that the land
at Swainby was retained by the abbey. Most of the monument's earthworks
are considered to relate to the subsequent use of the area as a monastic
grange, a managed estate providing food and revenue for Coverham Abbey.
Swainby passed into private ownership sometime after 1536 when the abbey
was dissolved by Henry VIII.

The abbey buildings are believed to have been within the field to the east
of East House, probably partially extending into the field to the south.
Here there is a complex of earthworks with raised platforms and
depressions centred over 100m north of the area marked as the site of the
abbey on the 1:10,000 Ordnance Survey map. Two possible large platforms
lie about 80m south east of East House. One, approximately 10m by 40m,
lies east-west. The second is slightly narrower, but extends over 50m
northwards from the east end of the first. These may be the building
platforms for the church and a cloistural range respectively, the latter
providing accommodation for the canons. Just beyond the hedge line to the
south, just north of the drain marked on the 1:10,000 map, there is
another L-shaped arrangement of earthworks, marked by depressions. The
northern depression is approximately 15 sq m, open to the south, with a
low bank dividing off its eastern third. It is sharply defined and may be
the remains of a cellared building. The southern depression is more
rounded in profile and extends westwards, cutting into the rising
hillside. Where Healam Beck turns sharply eastwards, to the east of the
possible large platforms, there are the earthworks of a dam and another
smaller building platform interpreted as the site of a watermill. Leading
to this from the south there is an extensive water management system
including ponds, embanked leats and possibly the straightened watercourse
of the beck south east of Swainby Grove. This probably developed out of a
supply system constructed for the abbey to provide water for drinking,
washing and sanitation. It is known from contemporary documents elsewhere
that this was typically seen as a very high priority by newly established
monasteries. However it is also appears to have been used for fish farming
and to maintain a water supply to the mill, so it is believed to have been
maintained as a working part of the later grange. The main components of
this system include a broad embanked leat that runs the full length of the
field to the south of the abbey, uphill from and 30m-50m west of the
modern course of the beck. There is evidence that this was split into a
series of compartments, presumable for fish farming. This leat was fed
from a large triangular pond approximately 300m south east of Swainby
Grove which also appears to have fed at least three rectangular fishponds
that are cut into earlier ridge and furrow. The triangular pond is cut
through by the modern course of the beck and lies at the downstream end of
a straightened length of watercourse just over 200m long. This canalised
section of Healam Beck may also be medieval in origin as at its southern
end there is another embanked pond. However the original meandering course
of the beck, which can be seen as a normally dry channel to the south
east, also leads into the triangular pond.

To the north of the abbey earthworks, running uphill westwards from the
beck and overlain by the northernmost outbuilding of East House, there is
a broad trackway. This is formed by a stoney causeway in the valley
bottom, and a hollow way on the hillside. This leads to another area of
earthworks including building platforms, lengths of low boundary banks and
ditches, and hollowed areas interpreted as former yards. These earthworks
mainly lie within the corner of the field to the north of a small tree
plantation and they extend approximately 100m eastwards from the field
boundary. The plantation is not marked on the 1:10,000 map but lies to the
west of the irregular boundary, west of East House. A hollowed trackway
runs southwards from the main area of earthworks along the top of the hill
slope towards Swainby Grove. Between this track and the field boundary to
the west there are further building platforms, some lying within the
plantation. These remains are typical of the earthworks of medieval
settlements and are interpreted as part of the original village of
Swainby. The settlement probably originally extended into the fields to
north and west. However as this extent and the level of survival in these
areas, which have been intensively ploughed, is unknown, the area to the
north and west is not included in the monument. The village of Swainby may
have been deserted following the establishment of the abbey, but it
probably continued as a small settlement for peasant workers employed by
the abbey and later grange.

Much of the area of the monument is covered by the ridge and furrow of the
settlement's arable field system. The ridge and furrow to the north and
east of Swainby Grove appears to respect the earthworks of the abbey and
are thus thought to be contemporary or later. The ridge and furrow in the
large field south east of Swainby Grove appears to be earlier than the
abbey. It is certainly earlier than the ponds and the straightening of the
beck, all of which are cut through the ridges. This ridge and furrow is
also broader, typically 10m between furrows rather than the more typical
5m-6m. Like all of the ridge and furrow at Swainby, the ridges follow the
reversed S-shape that is the characteristic result of medieval ploughing
practice. Also later than the broad ridge and furrow is a square embanked
enclosure containing further low earthworks. This lies approximately 200m
ESE of Swainby Grove and may have been for livestock management. Two
further small enclosures lie within the northern-most field of the
monument. The first is just over 800m north west of Swainby Grove. This
measures 14m by 22m and lies just beyond the header bank of the ridge and
furrow to the west. To the east the area was probably used as a water
meadow, being within the floodplain of the Swale. There are no earthwork
signs of medieval ploughing or other activity here and thus this area is
not included in the monument. Also just outside the area of ridge and
furrow, but within the monument on the north side of the field, there is
another small enclosure, which includes a small building platform.

A number of features are excluded from the scheduling: these are East
House and its associated out-buildings as well as all modern fences,
walls, stiles, gates, cattle grids, bridges, water troughs, telegraph
poles, and all road and path surfaces; however the ground beneath all
these features is included. Fence lines defining the boundaries of the
monument lie immediately outside the protected area.

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

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

From the time of St Augustine's mission to re-establish Christianity in AD 597
to the reign of Henry VIII, monasticism formed an important facet of both
religious and secular life in the British Isles. Settlements of religious
communities, including monasteries, were built to house communities of monks,
canons (priests), and sometimes lay-brothers, living a common life of
religious observance under some form of systematic discipline. It is estimated
from documentary evidence that over 700 monasteries were founded in England.
These ranged in size from major communities with several hundred members to
tiny establishments with a handful of brethren. They belonged to a wide
variety of different religious orders, each with its own philosophy. As a
result, they vary considerably in the detail of their appearance and layout,
although all possess the basic elements of church, domestic accommodation for
the community, and work buildings. Monasteries were inextricably woven into
the fabric of medieval society, acting not only as centres of worship,
learning and charity, but also, because of the vast landholdings of some
orders, as centres of immense wealth and political influence. They were
established in all parts of England, some in towns and others in the remotest
of areas. Many monasteries acted as the foci of wide networks including parish
churches, almshouses, hospitals, farming estates and tenant villages. The
Premonstratensian order, or "White Canons", were not monks in the strict sense
but rather communities of priests living together under a rule. The first
Premonstratensian establishments were double houses (for men and women), but
later they founded some 45 houses for men in England. The Premonstratensian
order modelled itself on the Cistercian values of austerity and seclusion and
founded all its monasteries in rural locations.

A monastic grange was a farm owned and run by a monastic community,
independent of the secular manorial system. Their function was to provide
food and raw materials for the parent monastic house, and to provide
surpluses for sale for profit. A monastery might have more than one grange
and the wealthiest houses had many. Frequently a grange was established on
lands immediately adjacent to the monastery, but other granges could be
found wherever the community held lands. On occasion these could be at
some considerable distance. Granges are broadly comparable with
contemporary secular farms although the wealth of the parent house was
frequently reflected in the size of the grange and the architectural
embellishment of the buildings. Additionally, because of their monastic
connection, granges tend to be much better documented than their secular
counterparts. No region was without monastic granges. The original number
of granges is not known but can be estimated at several thousand. Only a
small percentage can be accurately located on the ground today and many of
these have had their archaeological remains destroyed. In view of the
importance of granges to medieval rural and monastic life, all sites
exhibiting good archaeological survival are identified as nationally

Fishponds are artificially created pools of slow moving freshwater
constructed for the purpose of cultivating, breeding and storing fish to
provide a constant and sustainable supply of food. The size of the pond
was related to function, with large ponds used for storage whilst smaller,
shallower ponds were used for fish cultivation and breeding. Fishponds
were maintained by water management systems which included inlet and
outlet channels carrying water from a river or stream, a series of sluices
set into the bottom of dams and along the channels and leats, and an
overflow leat which controlled fluctuations in water flow and prevented
flooding. The tradition of constructing and using fishponds in England
began during the medieval period and peaked in the 12th century. They were
largely built by the wealthy sectors of society with monastic institutions
and royal residences often having large and complex fishponds. The
difficulties of obtaining fresh meat in the winter and the value placed on
fish as a food source may have been factors which favoured the development
of fishponds. The practice of constructing and maintaining fishponds
declined after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century
although in some areas it continued into the 17th century. Documentary
sources provide a wealth of information about the way fishponds were
stocked and managed. The main species of fish kept were eel, tench,
pickerel, bream, perch, and roach. Large quantities of fish could be
supplied at a time. Once a year, probably in the spring, ponds were
drained and cleared.

The plans of medieval rural settlements vary 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 paddocks. Additional buried remains such as
rubbish pits, yard surfaces, and spreads of deposits such as smithing
wastes also frequently survive, but will not necessarily show as
upstanding earthworks. Medieval rural settlements were supported by a
communal system of agriculture based on large, unenclosed open arable
fields. These large fields were divided 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' is the most obvious physical indication of
the open field system. Individual strips were laid out in groups known as
furlongs defined by terminal headlands at the plough turning points and
lateral grass baulks. Furlongs were in turn grouped into large open
fields. Well-preserved ridge and furrow, especially in its original
context adjacent to settlement earthworks, is both an important source of
information about medieval agrarian life and a distinctive contribution to
the character of the historic landscape.

The earthworks at Swainby represent a remarkably well-preserved medieval
landscape which is of national importance as much for its medieval
settlement and field system remains as it is for those related to the
abbey and later grange.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Beresford, M W , 'Yorkshire Archaeological Journal' in Lost Villages of Yorkshire Part IV, , Vol. 39, (1951)

Source: Historic England

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