By Stephen Harrison, BA, MPil Phd, Consultant Archaeologist
Bronze Age
Iron Age
Early Modern

Main Index
MEDIEVAL (AD 1066 - 1540)

By the end of the Anglo-Saxon period, England was under the rule of a unified monarchy. This mixed Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian state came to a sudden end in 1066, when the Normans invaded England, defeated King Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Hastings, and imposed their authority on the country. Traditionally, the Norman Conquest begins the period known to historians as the Middle Ages.

There is a wide range of written sources available for this period. As far as the Wolds is concerned, these documents include : the Domesday survey of 1086, a wealth of monastic records, and manorial records for individual settlements (largely unpublished; held in national and county record offices).

The commonest type of settlement in the medieval countryside was the village. The settlement pattern of medieval England was built upon the roots of the past, but it also grew and evolved with new additions to the landscape.

During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, as population levels expanded, new settlements were founded and existing ones grew in size. However, this situation did not last. In the fourteenth century, factors such as climatic deterioration (and, in consequence, poor harvests) and the Black Death resulted in a major population decline; consequently, many settlements contracted in size or were abandoned altogether. The settlement pattern of today is based more upon this landscape than that of its earlier medieval precursors, which would have presented a much more crowded and animated scene.

The archaeological investigation of medieval settlement developed in the l940s as the use of documentary evidence was supplemented by the study of the physical remains themselves. Past studies of the medieval period had concentrated on the grand ruins of the religious houses and castles, with the general life of the majority of the common people being ignored in favour of that of the privileged few. However, with the publication of Beresford's Lost Villages of England (1954), which effectively demonstrated that large numbers of deserted settlements existed across the country, it became clear that a great resource was there to be tapped.

Deserted villages provided an opportunity to investigate settlements without the hindrance of later accretions, which often cover or destroy much of the medieval evidence. One problem with this approach, however, is that the settlements investigated are those which, for one reason or another, failed, and we are, therefore, not seeing settlements which possessed the necessary functions to survive.

The settlement pattern was not solely composed of villages. These were a single unit iii a varied landscape of hamlets, individual farmsteads, manor houses, market and urban centres, castles, and religious foundations.

Settlement on the Yorkshire Wolds during the medieval period was concentrated on the most suitable agricultural soils. Two settlement zones stand out:

(1) The Great Wold Valley - villages such as Helperthorpe, Weaverthorpe, Butterwick, Foxholes, Burton Flemming and Rudston.

(2) Along the east-facing dip-slope of the Wolds, on what is known as the clay-wold flank - villages such as Carnaby, Haisthorpe, Thornholme, Burton Agnes, and Nafferton, all sited so as to take advantage of both heavier and lighter agricultural soils.

The villages were surrounded by their arable lands, but documentary evidence indicates that considerable areas of the western Wolds, in particular, were dominated by extensive, open, sheep pastures, as, indeed, they continued to be up to the nineteenth century. At the same time, there is evidence from the eastern Wolds of wheat replacing barley on the heavier soils.

The Yorkshire Wolds is rich in medieval sites, and is particularly well-known for its deserted villages, such as those at Wharram Percy and Cottam. Much of the Wolds landscape was also formerly covered by extensive earthworks - ridge and furrow - of the medieval open field system of farming. This can still be traced on aerial photographs, as cropmarks and soil stains, where modern cultivation has resulted in its corrugated effect being levelled.

Pathaeolithic c.250,000 - 8,300 BC
Mesolithic c.8,300 - 4,000 BC
Neolithic c.4,000 - 2,000 BC
Bronze Agec.2,000 - 800 BC
Iron Agec.800 BC - AD 71
Romano-British c.AD 71 - 410
Anglo-Saxon and Vikingc.AD 410 - 1066
Medieval c.AD 1066 - 1540
Early Modernc.1600 -1800
Modern c.1800 to the present day

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