Overview of the history of the Yorkshire Wolds

Palaeolithic Wolds

c.500,000 BC – 10,000 BC 

Over thousands of years the characteristic rolling landscape of the Yorkshire Wolds that we see today was created by water erosion flowing from the thawing of permafrost during warmer periods within episodes of glacial activity (Gobbett and Myerscough 2018). Meltwaters produced during the Quaternary period (the most recent 2.6 million years of Earth’s history) shaped and moulded the Wolds landscape by flowing along existing valleys, widening them and leaving behind valley bottoms characterised by chalk gravel. Uplift of the northern and western Wolds has created a raised ‘High Wolds’ area intersected by steep, V-shape dry valleys. On the eastern dipslope, the valleys (known colloquially as ‘slacks’) are more open and broad. 

The most recent ice age of the Quaternary period, the Devensian, laid down the superficial geological deposits of the Wolds. Towards the end of this period, c.18,000 years ago, an ice sheet advanced over Holderness and the lower part of the Wolds dip slope from the east, depositing glacial sediments such as patches of clay-with-flints (Matthews 1977), over the hard, ‘northern chalk’ bedrock which gives the landscape its distinctive topography (Lewin 1969, Kent 1980). The height of the Wolds meant they were largely unglaciated during the Devensian, but the cold, dry conditions which occurred beyond the advancing ice caused silts known as loess to be blown across the Wolds, forming a layer 20-50cm thick over the chalk. On the steeper slopes of the Wolds, the silt-rich loess soils are generally no more than 20cm thick, and are known as rendzinas, the term given to thin soils over chalk (Catt, Weir and Madgett 1974). On the gentler slopes of the Wolds, the soils are between 30-50cm thick, and these are termed brown earths (ibid). The loess soils would have been thicker across the Wolds during the Palaeolithic period and would have been covered by deciduous woodland, probably ash and oak (Bush 1986, Gobbett and Myerscough 2018) but these have become shallower due to soil erosion associated with cultivation over the recent millennia. Because of early farming soils in the bottom of the dry valleys have often increased in thickness as a result of this erosion from the top (known as colluvium).This erosion over the Wolds tops, and on the steeper slopes, means that in-situ Palaeolithic deposits are likely to have been lost in these locations but through their active erosion and re-deposition any such finds might have become re-deposited in valley bottoms, preserved at a depth far below the reach of the modern plough. These thick colluvial deposits have not been widely studied and these could reveal evidence for early human activity. We do know that flint from the Yorkshire Wolds was a favoured source for both Final Palaeolithic Federmesser groups visiting the Vale of Pickering, and for Deepcar groups in Northern England from discoveries of flint assemblages off-Wolds. A rare discovery of a pale grey, Palaeolithic flint hand axe from St Auston’s Dale, Hotham can be seen in the Hull and East Riding Museum (Halkon 2018). Most recently, a possible new hand-axe from gravel deposits outcropping at Dane’s Dyke may indicate further potential for the discovery of Palaeolithic remains through coastal erosion of such deposits (Griffiths and Myerscough 2021). The period therefore needs contextualising within the better preserved faunal remains from, for example, North and South Cliffe which include elephant, rhinoceros and lion indicative of warmer periods, and mammoth remains dating to the later Ice Ages, as well as buried cliff and raised beach features at Sewerby (Halkon 2018).

Mesolithic Wolds    

(c.10,000-4000 BC)

The Mesolithic period in the UK spanned around 6,000 years, from approximately 10,000 BC to 4,000 BC. This period saw a dramatic change in the environment of Britain. At the beginning of the Mesolithic, following the end of the last Ice Age, Britain was connected to mainland Europe by ‘Doggerland’, or the North Sea basin, an area of gently sloping hills, marshland, heavily wooded valleys, and swampy lagoons. Archaeological evidence from this area has shown that Mesolithic people lived in ‘Doggerland’, migrating with the seasons, fishing, hunting, and gathering seasonally available food, such as hazelnuts and berries. The melting of the large ice sheets which had covered much of North Europe, combined with climate change between 7,000 BC – 5,000 BC (a combination of warmer temperatures and increasing rainfall) resulted in sea levels rising by 30m. The low-lying lands in ‘Doggerland’ were gradually inundated by the sea, and Britain was cut off from mainland Europe. The rise in sea levels meant that Mesolithic people living in the ‘Doggerland’ area saw their seasonal hunting grounds slowly flooded, forcing them onto the higher ground in what is now England and the Netherlands. 

Changes were also occurring to the landscape of the Yorkshire Wolds throughout this period (Halkon 2018). During the later Ice Age, the cold, dry conditions blew fine silts (loess) onto the Yorkshire Wolds which created a rich fertile soil approximately 30-50cm thick over the chalk. The combination of fertile soils, warmer temperatures and increased rainfall saw woodland develop across the Yorkshire Wolds (Gobbett and Mysercough 2018). However, the palaeoecological development of vegetation may have been variable according to localised soil, topography and hydrology, with some grassland persisting in places such as Willow Garth, perhaps partly through Mesolithic woodland management which maintained more open, grazing spaces within carr woodland (see Bush 1993).. 

Conditions during the end of the Ice Age had sculpted the Wolds landscape that we are familiar with today. The dry valleys cutting through the chalk landscape, known as ‘dales’ or ‘slacks’, were created by glacial melt waters flowing over the frozen ground, forming routes generally running east-west across the Wolds. Early antiquarians and amateur geologists were able to hypothesise on these processes by using sections revealed in chalk quarries and railway cuttings as well as their own landscape survey (e.g. Cole 1879, Mortimer 1885). What we now know as the the Great Wold Valley contained the source of the Gypsey Race, at Wharram le Street, which flowed eastwards across the northern Wolds towards the sea. To the south was the Great Slack, which cut east-west across the Wolds, opening out into the head of the Hull Valley. In the south of the Wolds, glacial melt waters created further dry valleys running east-west, with the Goodmanham valley dividing the Wolds in two. Springs and small streams were present on the northern and western escarpments of the Wolds, where the chalk met the clay of the lowlands, an essential resource for the Mesolithic people moving between the uplands and lowlands of what is now North and East Yorkshire. The Gypsey Race was the only flowing stream across the Wolds, but dolines and meres were present on higher ground (Hayfield and Wagner 1995). These sources of water collected in pockets within the chalk, naturally lined with clay. Large quantities of late Mesolithic flint have been found at Vessey Ponds, between Thixendale and Birdsall, and by the source of the Gypsey Race at Wharram le Street, indicating how vital the limited supply of water across the Yorkshire Wolds was for hunter-gatherers moving seasonally across the landscape (Hayfield, Pouncett and Wagner 1995).

Mesolithic people lived mobile lives, moving to different parts of the landscape to take advantage of the seasonal availability of natural resources. The highly mobile nature of this lifestyle, moving between temporary seasonal camps, means that these people often left no more than subtle surface traces of their activities, with evidence on the Wolds mainly consisting of isolated flint scatters. The best known site in the surrounding wetlands and vales, where wildlife and resources were more abundant, is that of Star Carr, on the edge of Lake Flixton in the Vale of Pickering (see Milner, Conneller and Taylor 2018 volumes 1 & 2). However, archaeological excavations on the Wolds at Kilham revealed five pits (Pits A-E) underlying a Neolithic long barrow, which provide an insight into the diet and lifestyle of Mesolithic people on the Wolds (Manby 1976). Pit B contained late Mesolithic flints, charred hazelnuts, fragments of two horn cores and a phalange bone from a large ox. Three possible hearths were also identified by areas of burnt soil on the ground surface buried beneath the Neolithic long barrow suggesting that the need of heat, and a source of fire for cooking,were required by the people staying at this site. 

Elsewhere on the Wolds a tranchet axe was found at Carnaby Top, close to the ancient carr of Willow Garth in the Great Wold Valley. The carr was an area of wooded fen during the Mesolithic period, representing the stage between a swamp and forest. Pollen samples taken from Willow Garth carr show that there was a sudden and dramatic decline in pine pollen c. 6850 BC, indicating that the woodland in this area was being cleared, possibly to create areas of open grassland more suitable for seasonal camps and hunting (Bush 1993). Mesolithic flints have also been found at Paddock Hill, Thwing and Octon, revealing various aspects of the Mesolithic person’s tool set such as  axes, arrowheads, microliths, cores and flakes. These objects also give us insights into the skills of these people and knowledge was passed down from one generation to the next. Wolds flint is opaque white or grey, and was probably collected from head deposits on the edge of the Wolds escarpment or solution hollows and dolines on the chalk plateau itself, where clay deposits might have created small upland meres, attractive as watering holes for game (Hayfield and Wagner 1995, Hayfield, Pouncett and Wagner 1995). Wolds flint was the favoured material for making axes at the Mesolithic site of Star Carr, to the north of the Wolds in the Vale of Pickering (Milner et al. 2018) but it has also been found further afield on Mesolithic sites in the west of Yorkshire, mainly in the Pennines.  

Neolithic Wolds

(c.4000-2000 BC)

From approximately 4000 BC, the transition from the highly mobile Mesolithic hunter-gatherer societies to a more settled way of life can be seen in the British archaeological record. The Neolithic period is characterised by the gradual adoption of farming, with the domestication of cattle, sheep and plant stocks, such as  pulses, barley and wheat. These appear to have been introduced from Europe, possibly by the small-scale movement of people from the Continent. The adoption of farming led to communities settling down within their habitats, with the clearance of forests to provide permanent open space for crops and animal herds, although there was still a reliance on wild food and resources to supplement the annual cycle of farming. 

Flint technologies changed during the Neolithic as people adapted their toolsets to meet the needs of their new lifestyles. During this period leaf-shaped flint arrowheads and polished stone axes are introduced and pottery was used for the first time, providing receptacles and containers more durable than the lightweight materials used by Mesolithic societies.. Complex social and religious practices also evolved during the Neolithic, with large earthwork monuments constructed across the landscape for ceremonial and funerary purposes.  

The Neolithic in the Yorkshire Wolds saw an explosion of human activity that is detectable throughout the archaeological record and provides a uniquely rich part of the heritage of the Yorkshire Wolds today, seen in the marvellous antiquarian collections of Greenwell (1877) and Mortimer (1905) which can be viewed in the Hull & East Riding Museum, the Yorkshire Museum and the British Museum. The loess soils that were blown across the Wolds at the end of the last ice age continued to be exploited by the new farmers for the fertile, well-drained soils it provided for agriculture. The main concentration of Neolithic activity is recorded along the northern scarp of the Wolds, around the Great Wold Valley which held the only water course in the High Wolds, the Gypsey Race, essential for domesticated animals such as cattle. 

The most common easily traceable sites from this period are the funerary and ceremonial monuments that can be found across the Wolds, of which the earliest are the long barrows of the early 4th millennium BC (Manby 1976). Long barrows were constructed as funerary monuments for the dead; the Willerby Wold long barrow contained numerous cremation burials, while the Kilham long barrow contained eight inhumation burials. The Yorkshire Wolds monuments often have complex stages of paving and embayments known as platform burials, where a variety of rites were carried out over time before being sealed over, as at Callis Wold (Coombs 1976): they did not seem to be designed to be re-entered after the mound was raised. 

Round barrows are another type of Neolithic funerary monument, in which an individual was buried with prestigious grave goods. The Duggleby Howe Great Barrow is amongst the largest Neolithic monuments in Britain and its complex chronology has been well investigated recently by Gibson et al (2009). It is situated at the western end of the Great Wold Valley, close to the source of the Gypsey Race, in a central position overlooked by flanking hill slopes. The mound is surrounded by a large irregular and incomplete ditch circuit. This barrow had second and third phases of use, with grave goods from these phases including a flint adze, an antler mace-head, flint knife, flint arrowheads, bone pins and a series of boars’ tusk objects (Mortimer 1905). 

Towards the eastern end of the Great Wold Valley lies the Rudston and Burton Fleming ceremonial landscape complex of long enclosures, long barrows, cursuses, a henge, hengiform monuments, Great Barrows and a monolith. The principle focus of the complex is on the southern angle of the Great Wold Valley where the Gypsey Race rises through the gravels at Rudston. As with the activity close to the source of the Gypsey Race at Duggleby, the concentration of monuments at Rudston and Burton Fleming indicate the importance placed upon the only water source in the High Wolds, which may have held spiritual connotations. The four large cursuses – closed, elongated rectilinear structures defined by a bank and external ditch – converge on the bend at Rudston around the spur in the landscape upon which the Rudston monolith stands, the largest single standing stone in Britain, at 8m tall. This is a landscape deserving of further research attention. The only upstanding henge monument on the Wolds is at Maiden’s Grave

Despite the large amount of ceremonial and funereal monuments across the Wolds, the evidence for settlements and farming is not so abundant. The evidence suggests an open landscape, possibly with more permanent settlements on the wold-edge. Excavations have revealed evidence of timber houses at Driffield and Sewerby. An oval post-built structure with hearth was found a Beacon Hill, Flamborough which probably dates to the Late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age. 

Pits containing both earlier and later Neolithic pottery (Grooved Ware) have been found across the Wolds, and lines of pits containing Grooved Ware have been found at Hayton. Work at Melton Bottom in the southern Wolds has also uncovered Neolithic pits, some with Grimston Ware and others with Grooved Ware pottery. Ploughmarks in the soil sealed beneath long barrows at Kilham and Willerby Wold, indicating that the land in these areas was being cultivated before the construction of these monuments. 

The presence of animal bones and food remains in Neolithic features can provide an indication of the types of animals and plants that were being tamed and exploited by farming communities on the Wolds at this time. Excavations Atin Driffield have discovered, bones of aurochs, and  short horned cattle  were present, along with pigs. Evidence for oxen has been found at Garton Slack, where Oox teeth were found in present in various pits, at Garton Slack, and at Goodmanham, where ox teeth were recovered from a  also recorded from a pit under at Goodmanham Barrow 111, along with , which also contained pig and sheep/goat remains. Ox, pig and deer remains were recovered from the pit under Acklam Barrow 211, revealing a mixture of both farmed and hunted animals. A large collection of animal bones, associated with Durrington Walls style Grooved Ware, excavated at the from North Carnaby Temple site with Durrington Walls style Grooved Ware has provides a large source of knowledge about of later Neolithic domesticated animals. The assemblage included evidence for  Three different sizes of oxen were present, along with pig and sheep/goat. The faunal evidence suggests the development of cattle and sheep husbandry on the Wolds by the end of the Neolithic. Apart from forest ox, the products of hunting appear to have been almost exclusively limited to red deer, as evidenced by the recovery of red deer bones. However, further evidence for the rewards of hunting comes from Duggleby, where boars’ tusks and beaver teeth were found with Burial C. This tells us that although Neolithic communities in the Wolds had adopted farming, hunting and foraging did not just supplement their diet but provided skins, furs, teeth and tusks for dress and adornment.

Along the route of the Caythorpe gas pipeline, to the west of Bridlington and leading in a westerly direction towards Rudston, two Neolithic pits produced a large amounts of charred cereal grain, most likely to be emmer wheat, a few grains of barley and traces of bread wheat. These pits also produced a small group of apple/pear pips and crab apple fruits. Hazelnut shells were also recovered from various Neolithic pits during this work. Carbonised hazelnut shells have also been found from Acklam Barrow 30, pits at Garton Slack and beneath Fimber Barrow C82 suggesting that this wild resource played an integral, seasonal, role in supplementing the farm produce diet of the Wolds inhabitants at this time. The combination of cereal grains and gathered/foraged fruits and nuts gives us a tantalising insight into the potentially varied and seasonal diet of the people living in the Yorkshire Wolds during the Neolithic period.

Bronze Age Wolds

(c.2000-800 BC)

Towards the end of the 3rd millennium BC archaeological evidence suggests that new groups of people came to settle in Britain from Europe, living alongside earlier populations. They brought with them the first metal objects (initially in copper and then later in bronze) in Britain, which included metal weapons and jewellery, as well as a characteristic style of pottery known as Beaker. During the early Bronze Age, people were buried with these objects in individual graves, which were then covered with round barrows. 

On the Yorkshire Wolds it is these early Bronze Age round barrows which dominate the landscape, either isolated or grouped together in barrow cemeteries, often focused on skylines. These were the barrows that attracted the attention of the antiquarians Greenwell (1877) and Mortimer (1905). The early Bronze Age round barrows were smaller than the long barrows of the Neolithic, and they contained crouched burials as well as cremations, accompanied by pottery vessels, barbed and tanged arrowheads made from flint, stone wrist-guards and jewellery, particularly made from Whitby jet (Woodward and Hunter 2015). There was no ‘typical’ barrow construction, but a wide diversity of structures was used: flint or stone kerbs and walls; inner mounds or cairns; turf building; single and double ditch systems. Some barrows contained a single grave, while others contained a cluster of individual graves, in which the barrow was frequently re-used. In some areas groups of round barrows developed around earlier Neolithic monuments, like the Willerby Wold and Garton Slack long barrows. At Garton Slack, the Neolithic long barrow was re-modelled into a round barrow in the early 2nd millennium BC. Similarly, at the Neolithic complex at Rudston, a Bronze Age round barrow was built on the southern terminal of Cursus ‘A’

In the middle Bronze Age there was a shift away from the round barrow building tradition, although some barrows had a small number of Biconical Urn-accompanied cremations placed in them, which marked the final usage of round barrows around 1500 BC. After this, middle Bronze Age burial practices abandoned round barrow construction, and replaced it with flat cemeteries containing cremation burials rather than inhumation. Grave goods were no longer placed in the grave. We do not know as much about these later burial practices as we do about the earlier round barrow burials, but they seem to be represented mainly by cremated bone and charcoal deposits surrounded by small encircling ditches, as seen at Garton Slack and Wetwang Slack.

As with the Neolithic in the Wolds, the evidence for settlements in the early-mid Bronze Age is scarce. For these periods there are only ephemeral traces of activity, visible either as surface scatters of flint or animal bone. However, parallels have been drawn with the chalk landscape in the south-west of England, around Cranborne Chase, in which it has been suggested that the chalk land was perceived and treated as a special landscape away from more permanent settlement, which may have been situated around the edges, closer to water sources. If this can be applied to the Wolds, then the indications are that in the Neolithic and early Bronze Age this area was a mobile and open landscape, with more permanent settlements on the wold-edge. For the early Bronze Age, the archaeological evidence suggests that this was a landscape for the dead, but further work is needed in this area. 

It is not until the later Bronze Age that there is more evidence for settlement activity on the top of the Wolds. Paddock Hill at Thwing, overlooked the Great Wold Valley (Manby 1988), and had a succession of structures, including a henge-like monument, ring fort, and central circular building. Associated with these structures was pottery, bone, stone, shale and bronze assemblages. At Grimthorpe, a possible hillfort dominated the wold interface with the Vale of York (Stead 1968). Staple Howe (Brewster 1963), Knapton and Devil’s Hill (Stephens 1986), Heslerton are both earlier 1st millennium BC hilltop enclosures which were sited halfway down the Wolds northern escarpment and overlooked the Wold-foot zone. The appearance of these enclosed settlements may indicate a reorganisation of the Wolds during this period, perhaps to bring stock being brought together as is suggested in new sites at Kipling House Farm (Halkon and Lyall 2020). 

A further indication of a re-organisation of land in the later Bronze Age can be seen in the Wold Entrenchments, a series of large linear earthworks of banks and ditches, known locally as ‘dykes’ which were constructed across the region (Fenton Thomas 2005). These earthworks sometimes began as, or developed from, pit alignments and included single bank and ditch, double and triple bank and ditch alignments (Giles 2007b), and multiple, parallel series of banks and ditches, which can still be seen at Huggate (Fioccoprile 2015). 

Following the adoption of farming in the Neolithic, controlling the limited water supply on the Wolds may have been increasingly necessary, as people became more reliant on livestock and crops as the main source of their food (Halkon 2012). Towards the end of the Bronze Age there was also a period of climatic deterioration, which may have put further pressure on water sources, especially as the dolines and meres appear to be drying up at this stage (Hayfield and Wagner 1995). The large-scale Wold Entrenchments have been interpreted as a division of the Wolds to control access to the water supply, but it has also been suggested that the earthworks respected ponds and springs as important cultural locations that were shared, rather than their use solely as a water source in the new farming landscape. Where springs were present, the earthworks did not enclose areas of land, instead they were constructed down the slopes of the northern Wolds toward the springs. At Burdale a spring-fed pond had earthworks joining it from all directions, and at Fimber a series of linear earthworks and smaller ditches converged towards two ponds that were originally in the centre of the village (Giles 2007b). These examples appear to indicate that the Wold Entrenchments may have been constructed as boundaries which divided up areas of land on the wold-edge slopes, giving each community equal and shared access to the springs (Giles 2012).

Iron Age Wolds

(c.800 BC- 43 AD)

In contrast to the Bronze Age, there is an apparent explosion in the visibility of people living and farming across the Yorkshire Wolds during the Iron Age. Aerial photographs and surveys reveal numerous possible Iron Age farming settlements spread across the region, seen as cropmarks of ditches, trackways and enclosures (Stoertz 1997). This increase in recorded Iron Age sites may be a result of a combination of factors, including the period of climatic deterioration in the later Bronze Age and the necessity for water supplies as people became more reliant on livestock and crops as the main source of their food. Increasing competition for land and population pressure may have resulted in communities moving on to the higher ground of the Yorkshire Wolds, although they continued to use the surrounding wetlands at least seasonally for pasture, game, and craft materials, including bog ore (Giles 2012, Halkon 2012). The majority of these cropmarks have yet to be investigated archaeologically, so they cannot be conclusively dated to the Iron Age; however, their form is suggestive of an Iron Age date.

Archaeological excavations across the Yorkshire Wolds have revealed evidence of how the landscape would have looked during this period. Open grassland is indicated in some areas by mollusc shells found in Early to Middle Iron Age pits at Burton Agnes East Field and West Field/Tuft Hill and at Hanging Cliff, Langtoft. Similar evidence was also found at Garton Station and Kirkburn, suggesting a dry, short-turf grassland. This Early Iron Age period seems to be characterised by open settlement of small-scale roundhouse clusters, and other sites with concentrations of small subterranean pits (Rigby 2004). The construction of the large system of linear Wold Entrenchments across the Yorkshire Wolds during the later Bronze Age and early Iron Age may also suggest a largely cleared landscape in which these earthworks would have been visible. These earthworks included single bank and ditch, double and triple bank and ditch alignments, and multiple, parallel series of banks and ditches, which can still be seen at Huggate (Giles 2007b, Halkon 2012). Although construction began on the Wold Entrenchments during the late Bronze Age and continued into the early Iron Age, some were being modified throughout the first millennium BC. Middle to Late Iron Age pottery was found underneath a linear earthwork bank at Walkington Wold, and at Wetwang Slack the linear earthworks which bounded the settlement and cemetery were dug and re-dug in the late Iron Age (Dent 2010). 

The changes to the landscape of the Yorkshire Wolds that begun with the adoption of farming in the Neolithic period continued throughout the Iron Age, as land was cleared for the grazing of livestock and the cultivation of crops. At Willow Garth, near Rudston, evidence for the clearance of woodland was present, and at Melton, extensive colluvial deposits under Iron Age postholes and roundhouse ring gullies suggest either woodland clearance or more intensive cultivation had changed the use of the land to the north, increasing hillwash downslope towards the settlement (Fenton Thomas 2011). Samples from postholes and ring gullies of four roundhouses at Melton contained cereal and weed seeds, hazelnut fragments, and grass and turf debris, suggesting a range of crops were being cultivated by this farming community. At Brantingham, the presence of fertile, well-drained soils and livestock bones suggest that arable farming and stock rearing were being carried out at this settlement, whereas at a settlement at North Cave the sandy soils were less suited to arable farming but cattle for dairying seem to have supported a settlement rich in iron working debris (Dent 1989, Atkinson 1992). 

Sources of water on the Yorkshire Wolds would have continued to be an important topic in the Iron Age communities’ lives as they relied more on cultivated crops and livestock. Towards the end of the Bronze Age there was a period of climatic deterioration, which may have put pressure on water sources. During the Early Iron Age meres and springs became more important as many of the smaller, natural ponds formed in sink-holes or dolines began to dry up. These sources of water would have been vital for stock and people in earlier prehistory, and the drying up of the dolines put further pressure on the larger meres at Fimber, Sledmere, Fridaythorpe, Burdale and Wetwang (Hayfield and Wagner 1995). The large-scale Wold Entrenchments have been interpreted as a division of the Wolds to control the water supply, but it has also been suggested that the earthworks respected ponds and springs as important cultural locations rather than their use solely as a water source in the new farming landscape (Giles 2007b).

One of the largest settlements was at Garton Slack and Wetwang Slack (Dent 1984 and 2010). Eighty round structures were found along the valley floor, which included roundhouses where people lived, as well as structures which may have been used as shelters for livestock. The structures ranged in date from the Early to Late Iron Age, indicating that the settlement was in use throughout this period, with the earlier phases of the settlement having no permanent boundaries or divisions. Archaeologists have called these types of settlement ‘open settlements’ and they can also be seen at Tuft Hill Farm, Burton Agnes and North Cave. There were no recognisable field systems within these open settlements, but crops may have been grown in the spaces between clusters of roundhouses. Carbonised plant remains were found at Garton Slack which indicate the cultivation of six-row hulled barley, as well as wheat and wild oats (Brewster 1980). Numerous fragments of saddle and rotary quernstones were also found, providing a tantalising glimpse into the daily lives of the community who were processing their cereal crops for flour. The remains of pear, apple, and wild cherry/sloe were present in carbonised deposits but their wood also survives as mineralised stains from the Iron Age shields in the Great Wold Valley (Stead 1991), suggesting that wild resources still played an integral, seasonal role in supplementing the community’s diet of cultivated crops and livestock and provided important, colourful craft materials. 

The excavations at the settlement at Garton Slack and Wetwang Slack provide further evidence of the farming practices and diet of the Iron Age community living there. Animal bones show that cattle were raised and slaughtered at Garton Slack and were probably used for dairy produce, traction, hides, bone, horn and sinew, rather than for meat (Dent 2010). Sheep, goat and pig were also farmed and appear to be the main source of meat, with little evidence for bird or fish bones. Hunting appears to have taken place in the lower-lying wooded grounds off the Yorkshire Wolds, in particular boar, red and roe deer. There may also have been connections with the coast for resources, as a limpet shell from the middle Iron Age was found at Wetwang.  

Open settlements may have been the norm from the Bronze Age until the later Iron Age period, when we start to see small ditched enclosures in the archaeological record (Giles 2007a). At Garton Slack the settlement and valley had been divided into bounded enclosures by fence-lines, ditches and earthworks by the later Iron Age (Brewster 1980, Dent 2010), while at North Cave the earlier open settlement was overlaid by a series of curvilinear enclosures during this period (Dent 1989). These changes from open to enclosed settlements suggests that there may have a significant change in the pattern of land division in this period, which can also be seen in the extensive settlement complexes that begun to appear in the late 2nd-1st centuries BC, some of which extended for kilometres (Giles 2007a, Halkon 2012). These complexes consist of strings of enclosures for stock, alongside a central droveway for herding cattle. Archaeologists have called these complexes ‘ladder settlements’. At Thwing, the complex chronology of these features has been mapped through geophysical survey (Ferraby et al. 2017). Both of the settlements at Burton Fleming and Wetwang Slack were associated with habitation, as roundhouses were found within the enclosures, suggesting that people were living within small farming communities (Dent 2010). A linear zone of settlements along the south-western and southern edges of the Yorkshire Wolds were established in the later Iron Age at North Cave, Brantingham, Elloughton, Welton Wold and Welton Water Treatment Works. The settlements at North Cave and Brantingham were based along trackways that ran along the foot of the Yorkshire Wolds. This changing pattern of land division can be seen across the Yorkshire Wolds during the later Iron Age, and archaeologists have suggested several theories for why this may be the case. Was it tied to population pressure and increasing competition for land; changes in concepts of community, tenure and inheritance as settlements became more permanent rather than seasonal; or a shift from transhumant sheep farming to a more mixed agriculture which saw a spread of settlement from the Wold-edges up on to the chalk? 

As well as plenty of information about the lives of the Iron Age communities settled across the Yorkshire Wolds, we also have plenty of exciting information about the way in which they commemorated their dead. During the late Bronze Age/ early Iron Age people in the Yorkshire Wolds cremated deceased individuals and placed their ashes within earlier Bronze Age barrows, rarely accompanied by a simple jar or bowl, establishing a sense of belonging and connection with the landscape and their ancestors. The remains of cremated individuals who were placed in pottery urns by their community and buried within Bronze Age barrows have been excavated at Riggs barrow 33, Painesthorpe barrow 111, and Garrowby Wold C99 (see Giles 2007b). There are also a number of crouched inhumation burials which may have been interred during the early Iron Age. At Towthorpe 43 an individual was buried with a plain pottery vessel, while early Iron Age pottery has been found in the outer ditches of the round barrow at Walkington Wold and associated with an antler tine pick, ox bone and charcoal at Weaverthorpe barrow XLVII. 

Towards the middle Iron Age, c.400 BC, inhumation burials became the standard burial rite, marking a departure from the earlier practice of cremation. At this time square barrow cemeteries started appearing across the Yorkshire Wolds, with the largest cemeteries found in the base of valleys at the edge of the Wolds dipslope (such as the Wetwang-Garton Slack complex, Brewster 1980, Dent 2010), or clustered along the Great Wold Valley (Stead 1991). Square barrows were constructed as earth or chalk mounds, surrounded by a ditch. A deceased individual was placed in a pit and the mound constructed over it. Some elaborate burials from the Yorkshire Wolds have been excavated at Arras Farm, near Market Weighton (Stead 1979), Garton and Wetwang Slack (Dent 2010), Pocklington and Kirkburn (Stead 1991). 

The cemetery at Arras Farm was excavated in the early 19th century and it became the type site for the tradition of the square barrow burials, initially known as Arras Culture (Stead 1979). This square barrow cemetery would have been visually spectacular, with over 100 square barrows visible when the cemetery was in use during the Iron Age (see papers in Halkon 2019). The cemetery was located near to several earlier Bronze Age round barrows, so had already had an important focus for funeral activity. The local Iron Age community had buried their dead individually in square barrows, with most people laid on their side in a crouched position, buried with personal possessions such as bronze and jet rings, bronze armlets and penannular brooches. When one of the barrows was opened an amazing burial was revealed; the excavators named it the ‘King’s barrow’. An old man had been buried with a two wheeled chariot, of which only the iron elements survived. Between each wheel of the chariot were the skeletons of a horse with harness fittings. The skulls of two pigs had also been placed in the grave, which may have been the remnants of ceremonial feasting by the mourners, or food to accompany the deceased on their journey in the afterlife. A further barrow was excavated revealing another chariot burial with a bronze shield boss, known as the ‘Charioteer’s barrow’ as the grave was not as richly furnished as the first chariot burial. Under another barrow was the ‘Queen’s barrow’, where an adult female had been buried with gold and amber rings, almost 100 blue and white glass beads, bronze armlets, bronze pin and tweezers, a bronze brooch and a pendant inlaid with white coral. In the ‘Lady’s barrow’, a woman had been buried with a dismantled two wheeled chariot and a mirror had been placed underneath her head (see Giles, Green and Peixoto 2019 for a wider discussion of women’s lives and burials). 

Additional chariot burials have been excavated at Garton Slack (Brewster 1971) and Wetwang Slack (Dent 1985), Garton Station and Kirkburn (Stead 1991), and more recently at Pocklington (Stephens 2021). This type of burial rite has similarities with burials in northern France and Belgium, and their distribution in the modern day area of the East Riding of Yorkshire may represent a tribal entity which later became the Parisi tribe (Anthoons 2020).

Most of the square barrow cemeteries across the Yorkshire Wolds have no evidence of a clear association with a settlement, except at Garton Slack and Wetwang Slack, where the open settlement seems to be contemporary with the cemetery (Dent 2010). The cemetery has been able to provide us with detailed information on the burial rites of the community that lived and died here, including possible evidence for funerary feasting for both the living and deceased. Pottery vessels were placed within the graves, some of which contained the left humerus of a sheep. Pigs were also placed within the grave in some burials. The joints frequently showed signs of disarticulation, suggesting that the carcasses were jointed and divided up, with a small portion of a funerary feast enjoyed by the community set aside for the deceased (Giles 2012). 

Items and food placed within the grave appear to distinguish between different members of Iron Age society across the Yorkshire Wolds. Archaeologist Ian Stead described four main variations in burial practice: ‘Rite A’, ‘Rite B’, ‘Rite C’, and ‘Rite D’. ‘Rite A’ were often burials of single inhumations of adults within a coffin, on the surface or in grave pits (1991). The bodies had been placed in a crouching or contracted position, with many laid on their left-hand side, orientated north-south, facing east. Common grave goods included simple earthenware jars, which often included a joint of mutton or goat. Items of jewellery were also included and there are rare examples of weapons and tools being buried. These burials may have begun in the 4th-3rd centuries BC and continued until the last phases of cemetery use. 

‘Rite B’ burials were characterised by flexed/extended burials, orientated east-west, laid on their back or sides. Many lacked a surrounding enclosure ditch, seeming to be buried in the spaces between earlier square barrow mounds. Grave goods were characteristic of the later phases of the square barrow burial rite, around 1st century BC – early 1st century AD. A higher proportion of these burials contained tools or weapons when compared with Rite A graves. Spindle whorls are only found in Rite B burials, and joints of pork were common whereas mutton was rare. 

‘Rite C’ include burials with more complex grave goods, such as chariots, weaponry, pins, brooches and mirrors, and is similar in posture and orientation to Rite A, but often without a coffin. Pork appears to be the main item of food buried with the deceased.

‘Rite D’ was used to categorise secondary burials which had been placed into the top fill of an existing grave pit, barrow mound or surrounding enclosure ditch. This rite appears to have been used mainly for infants and juveniles, usually unaccompanied by grave goods. 

Rite A dominates most cemeteries in the Yorkshire Wolds, but Rite B is also found at Rudston, Burton Fleming, and in isolated burials at Wetwang and Garton Slack. Mutton or lamb appeared to play a more important part of the diet of the poorer members of society, as the least lavishly furnished burials (Rite A) contained sheep bones. The presence of pork joints in graves with richer grave goods (seen in Rite C and chariot burials) may indicate that that meat was favoured by the more ‘elite’ members of society (Parker Pearson 1999) or else that a larger, feasting animal was provided for these special funerals for charismatic figures (Giles 2012). 

The burials from the Wolds provide archaeologists with the largest population known from a region, providing unprecedented insights into diet (Jay and Richards 2006), health and medicine, traumatic injury, violence and disease (see summary in Giles 2012). Their potential to yield further insights through finger-grained aDNA, isotope and radiocarbon dating makes them a key part of the COMMIOS project, led by Ian Armit. However, this rite begins to dwindle in the first century BC – the latest burials in these cemeteries being distinguished by the lack of a barrow or the presence of small round barrows, as the phenomenon of ladder enclosure emerges: suggesting changes in both ways of living and treatment of the dead (Giles 2007a). 

There are only a few traces of trading and exchange with near neighbours, or with Rome in the Late Iron Age. Cordoned-ware, Dragonby type vessels at Brantingham (Dent 1989) and a small number of other sites, as well as the South Cave sword and spear hoard, associated with olive-oil amphora (Evans 2009), and the trading goods and craft production at Redcliff (Crowther, Willis and Creighton 1989) suggest some Humber-orientated mobility and dynamism but this does not seem to penetrate deeper into the Wolds until later in the first century AD. 

Roman Wolds

(c.70 AD – 410 AD)

There is little sign of contact with Rome prior to 70 AD, when this area of Yorkshire was brought under Roman control, following the conquest of Britain in 43 AD (Halkon 2013). Small amounts of imported wheel-thrown and cordoned ware pottery and continentally influenced vessels from settlements such as Brantingham (Halkon 2013) complement the major site on the north coast of the Humber at Redcliff (which might have started as a trading site or entrepot, Crowther, Willis and Creighton 1989). The South Cave sword and spear hoard shows how craftspeople were blending Iron Age designs with some of the forms, customs and materials of Roman warfare: it will shed important light on this transitional period when fully published (Evans 2009). However, the landscape signature of the military and civilian transformations wrought by Rome are most clearly seen in the spread of forts and roads. On the southern edge of the Yorkshire Wolds at Brough, an early bridgehead was established which included a fort and port (Ramm 1978). The location of Brough on the River Humber provided access to the sea as well as to Ermine Street, which lead to Lincoln and London. An extension from Brough to York was built in the AD 70s, connecting York to London. Brough was probably the civitas capital of the Parisi (the name given to the local tribe by the Romans, Halkon 2013) and it is likely this replaced Redcliff as the area’s civic and trade centre in the early second century AD (Crowther, Willis and Creighton 1989). No other forts were located on the Yorkshire Wolds, although forts were present at Malton and Hayton (Corder and Kirk 1928, Halkon, Millett and Taylor 1999). Roads were established across the region, initially military infrastructure built to help the movement of the army through and within the area. These, and later roads, provided transport links between the forts at York, Bridlington, Brough-on-Humber, Malton and Stamford Bridge, and associated settlements which grew up outside the forts (e.g. Wenham and Haywood 1997) along the routes between them.

Yet in the early Roman period, the conquest appeared to have little immediate impact on the general character and pattern of settlement on the Yorkshire Wolds, although numbers of isolated farmsteads, small villages and ladder settlements continued to increase. The cropmarks of ditches, trackways and linear or ladder enclosures seen in aerial photographs and survey that were discussed in the Iron Age overview, continued to develop during the first – fourth centuries AD. Local pottery was made in more diverse forms including some decoration (Didsbury 1990), although there was a particular fondness for Huntcliffe, Crambeck and Norton wares produced just off-Wolds by the later Roman era (Hayfield 1987). The economy was predominantly rural. 

The impact of Rome’s rule on Yorkshire became more apparent from the second century AD. Some settlements were abandoned by the end of the century, when fields became larger and corn-driers began to appear, evidence of large-scale grain production occurring across the Yorkshire Wolds to feed the large urban populations at York, Malton, Brough and beyond. There appears to be evidence for change in the pattern of land division, settlement location and subsistence  during the later second or early third century AD, with the silting up of some enclosure ditches and other farmsteads appear to have nucleated around a large, square enclosure (Giles 2007a, Stoertz 1997). Small enclosures were replaced with larger ones, open land was sub-divided, larger numbers of corn-driers and deep wells appear at sites such as Garton Slack (Brewster 1980) and Welton (Mackey 1999). Archaeological work at Melton, on a ladder settlement and farmstead, revealed evidence of continuity of settlement from the late Iron Age into to the second century AD (Fenton Thomas 2011). 

In accessible parts of the Yorkshire Wolds, the impact of the Roman conquest in terms of Roman material culture, such as pottery, metalwork and coinage, was noticeable by the early second century AD, especially on sites located near roads. By the third and fourth centuries AD imported pottery and coinage had made its way into even the remote areas of the Yorkshire Wolds, suggesting a closer economic and social integration of the region than before. 

Agricultural changes during the second century AD may have led to the generation of wealth and the establishment of villa sites (e.g. Langton, Corder and Kirk 1932 or Rudston, Stead 1980) or proto-villas with aspects of aspiration but also local cultural idiosyncrasies in form, design and use (e.g. Thwing, Ferraby, Johnson and Millett 1997). Many appear to have evolved from later Iron Age settlements. The East Riding of Yorkshire has the most northerly concentration of villas in Roman Britain, the majority close to, or on, the western Wolds escarpment, taking advantage of the fertile soils, water supplies and proximity to the newly established road network to York, Malton and Brough. Those living in villas were in the minority: villae were the rural seats of the tribal elite and the notable concentration of villa sites seen around Brough suggest that the tribal elite were based in the country, possibly controlling agricultural production, rather than in the civitas capital. Welton Wold villa in the southern Yorkshire Wolds was established in the early second century AD, possibly as a result of capital generated by the local landowner from quarrying (Mackey 1999, 2003). The villa was situated on the site of an Iron Age settlement and was surrounded by other buildings and enclosures. Reorganisation and expansion occurred in the late third century AD before a decline in activity after the mid-fourth century AD. 

At Wharram Percy, fieldwalking, geophysical survey and excavation have revealed a complex landscape of ladder enclosures and farmsteads, which tell a similar story (Hayfield 1987). These investigations have revealed a continuity of land division from the Iron Age to the Roman period, with evidence for re-organisation in the third century AD, when late Roman enclosures replaced the Iron Age ladder settlement (Wrathmell 1987). Wharram Percy also provides evidence for the way in which the rural economy changed between the Late Iron Age/Early Roman and Late Roman periods. During the Late Iron Age/Early Roman period, the faunal remains indicate that 60% of the animals farmed here were sheep, 15% cow, 25% pig. They would have been used for traction, meat, milk and wool. By the late Roman period, there was still a high proportion of sheep, but with more specialised production of beef and mutton. Crops were also being processed on a larger scale, evidenced by a late Roman corn-drying kiln. 

More elaborate rural sites are defined by a large regular enclosure surrounded by a single or double ditch with internal subdivisions. These are sometimes referred to as villa-type enclosures by archaeologists, because fieldwalking and excavation has shown that some contained buildings with tiled roofs and mosaics (Rhatz, Hayfield and Bateman 1987). Examples at Wharram Grange and Settrington have regular systems of internal pens and may be indicative of stock-rearing. Animal bones found at Wharram Grange included cow, sheep/goat, horse and pig, all of which would have been used for eating and producing leather, as well as being put to use to plough the fields. The bones of wild hare were also found in later Roman deposits, possibly indicating the hunting of wild animals as an additional food supply. The inhabitants of the villa enjoyed items that would have potentially been considered exotic for the communities living and working in the smaller farmsteads. Samian pottery and colour-coated ware imported from Gaul and amphorae from Spain demonstrate the network of trade connections that would have brought goods from mainland Europe to the Yorkshire Wolds.

One example of the wealth that the occupants of villas enjoyed can be seen at Rudston, where a courtyard villa, consisting of three ranges, was constructed across the third and fourth centuries, replacing earlier Roman timber buildings and a gateway (Stead 1980). The eastern range contained domestic quarters and a bathhouse, the other two ranges contained farm buildings and workshops. What had been a smaller farmstead in the Iron Age and earlier Roman periods had been transformed into a large prosperous villa that was successful enough for the owners to install hypocaust flooring and numerous mosaics, five of which were lifted and removed to the Hull Museums Collections. One of the mosaics discovered, the ‘Charioteer Mosaic’, paved a large room and depicts a figure standing on a four-horse chariot. The figure holds symbols of victory – a palm-frond and a wreath. In the corners of the mosaic are circular panels containing female representations of the four seasons, while the rectangular side panels contain birds and fruit. The number of fine mosaics and wall-plaster in the buildings at Rudston make it one of the best equipped villas known in the north of England with fascinating links to North African imagery and symbolism which suggest either elite commissions or cultural and art knowledge of these distant Roman landscape (Cousins in Ferraby et al 2017). 

In contrast to the evidence we have for the settlements in which people were living during the Roman period, there is little evidence for the way in which they were burying their dead. Small numbers of burials have been excavated across the Yorkshire Wolds, but they remain under-represented in the archaeological record. Infant and animal burials were found clustered together in small enclosed areas at both Wetwang and Garton Slack (see Giles 2007a). At Wharram Percy an infant buried during the later Roman period had been interred within an enclosure that had replaced the late Iron Age/early Roman ladder settlement (Wrathmell 1987). The infant had been placed in an area of occupation represented by several pebble-floored, rectangular structures with associated chalk surfaces. The infant may have also been buried with a much earlier brooch dated to the 3rd-1st centuries BC, which could represent a deliberately placed heirloom. 

A possible Roman cremation cemetery was found during clay extraction at Garton on the Wolds brickyard in the late nineteenth century (see Brewster 1980). Several cremations in plain pottery urns were revealed, accompanied by burnt wood. Some had been buried in pits, others were covered by stones.

During the mid-fourth century AD, stone signal stations were constructed along the Yorkshire coast, at a time when the north of England was being invaded from across the North Sea. The first recorded coastal raid was in 367 AD. Late fourth century pottery and six large boulders found at Beacon Hill, Flamborough could mark the site of a Roman signal station on Flamborough Head (Halkon 2013). Signal stations were built by the Roman army for military observation and used smoke or fire for the signal. The boulders at Beacon Hill have since been destroyed by quarrying, but they may have been similar to those found at the signal station at Filey. 

The transition from the Roman to post-Roman period in the Yorkshire Wolds is not clear. The construction of the signal stations was the beginning of the end of Roman rule in Britain, which formally ended in 410 AD when emperor Honorius withdrew the military defence of the province. At Wharram Percy there is the possibility of occupation continuing in the early fifth century, but other settlements, enclosures and field systems appear to have been abandoned at some point during this period. New groups of Germanic peoples, the Angles, came to settle along the Humber estuary in the first half of the fifth century, burying their dead at Sancton (Myres and Southern 1973). The cemetery contained the earliest datable Anglian artefacts from Yorkshire, and appears to reflect a significant settlement of people around the Humber by 450 AD. No evidence of their settlement has been discovered yet, and we do not know how they initially interacted with the Romano-British population in the area. 

Anglian Wolds

(5th – 8th centuries AD)

Following the withdrawal of the Roman Empire from Britain in c.410 AD groups of Germanic peoples from northern Europe came to settle in England in the fifth and sixth centuries AD. There were three main areas of Germanic peoples, the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, with the Anglian peoples settling along the eastern coast of England, particularly in East Anglia, the Midlands and the land north of the Humber. The character of this migration, and the nature of interactions with the late Roman populations on the Wolds, are much debated and still require further research.  In Yorkshire, the initial focus for these settlers was along the Humber estuary between the coast and the Humber, and close to the Roman road running from Brough to York. 

The earliest evidence we have for these new settlers is around 450 AD at Sancton, to the south-east of Market Weighton (Myres and Southern 1973). They chose to bury their dead there, close to the Iron Age cemetery at Arras, where the mounds of the square barrows would still have been visible. This may represent a deliberate attempt to create an association with the past inhabitants of the region, choosing to assert ownership of the area in which they had settled. The Anglian cemetery was large, consisting of over 200 cremations. Cremation was the preferred burial rite, with the remains of the deceased placed within pottery urns, some of which had flat stones placed over them. The urns were either plain cooking pots/food vessels, or ornamental cremation urns. Among the cremated bones were bronze miniature knives, shears and tweezers, bone combs, spindle whorls, glass beads and counters, which had been placed in the urns by the relatives of the deceased. The urns and associated grave goods resemble examples from northern Germany and southern Denmark, areas which were closely associated with the Angles. No evidence of the contemporary settlement where this community lived has been discovered yet but elsewhere on the Wolds, both new settlements and shifting settlement on Roman-era farmsteads suggest a mix of continued inhabitation, new occupation and gradual mixing of both communities over the Anglian period (e.g. Cottam, Richards 1997). 

By the late fifth century AD inhumation burials gradually replaced cremation as the preferred burial rite, and smaller cemeteries with individual burials accompanied by characteristic Anglian-style brooches as well as glass and amber beads have been found across the Yorkshire Wolds. How the local communities were burying their dead and the items they placed in the grave with them can tell us about the identity of their community and areas they traded with. Dress accessories and other grave goods suggest that the Anglian societies of the Yorkshire Wolds expressed an identity shared with people in other parts of eastern England, such as Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire and East Anglia. Known as the ‘Anglian’ style of material culture, it was formed as a result of migration and adoption of styles through contact and trade. The imported artefacts in grave goods show an eastward and south-eastward outlook focused on Schleswig Holstein, southern Scandinavia, the Baltic and Mediterranean. Grave goods can also inform us about the relationship between the native population and the Anglian settlers in the Yorkshire Wolds. At an inhumation cemetery at Londesborough, some female inhumations had been buried with diagnostic sixth century ‘British’ dress accessories amongst a larger collection of characteristic Anglian artefacts. These ‘British’ grave goods were all a specific type of brooch form, called Type G penannular brooches by archaeologists. These specific brooches were worn as badges of elite status in the post-Roman/early medieval period in west and north Britain, but there is no evidence for this occurring on the Yorkshire Wolds in the fifth century. When these ‘British’ brooches are found, they have been recovered from sixth century graves, which may suggest that the native population of the Yorkshire Wolds was actively involved in the adoption of Anglian styles of expression (Hansen 2017). 

Prior to their conversion to Christianity in the 8th century AD, some of the communities living around the Yorkshire Wolds started burying their dead away from the earlier burial grounds of the fifth and sixth centuries AD, and closer to earlier funerary monuments, such as the prehistoric barrows (e.g. Garton Station, Stead 1991). These would have provided prominent focal points in the landscape even after thousands of years. In other cases, cemeteries in the area between Driffield and Sledmere were aligned predominantly on existing linear earthworks or boundary ditches (Mortimer 1905, Grantham and Grantham 1965). These burials into the earlier prehistoric monuments may have similar associations as the location of the early Anglian cemetery at Sancton did, representing a deliberate association with the past inhabitants of the region and an assertion of ownership on the area. From the seventh century a smaller number of rich graves started to be buried within cemeteries or barrows, which may represent the emergence of social hierarchies, either of powerful clans or leader figures, providing the basis for an emerging Anglian aristocracy (Hansen 2017). 

Bede’s History of the English Church and People describes King Edwin of Northumbria’s conversion to Christianity in 627 AD. After a speech by the missionary Paulinus the pagan priest Coifi rode on horseback to Goodmanham where he reputedly destroyed the idols at his temple. The adoption of Christianity across Northumbria would have been a gradual process, one which took centuries to be fully adopted. Following the adoption of Christianity in the 7th – 8th centuries AD burial practice changed, with only a few people being buried with possessions, usually items of jewellery. People started burying their dead with less grave goods and in the seventh century the first appearance of swords within male graves was seen. By the early eighth century most burials did not include grave goods.       

Evidence from cemeteries can also provide information about the development of the Anglian kingdom of Northumbria through the sixth and seventh centuries AD. In northern England the powerful kingdom of Northumbria emerged, formed from smaller kingdoms. The Yorkshire Wolds were within the area of the smaller kingdom of Deira. By 660 AD, Northumbria was the most powerful Anglo-Saxon kingdom, with strong cultural connections with Ireland and Rome. By the reign of Aldfrith of Northumbria (685-705) one of the earliest English coinages with an inscribed ruler’s name was struck. The Aldfrith sceatta series reflected direct royal initiative on the adoption of coinage and the distribution of these coins was prevalent from Whitby to the Humber estuary, with some examples known down the east and south coasts of England. This distribution reflects the continuity of the east coast communication routes with the area between Denmark and northern France, which had supplied many of the imported luxury commodities used in burial practices from the fifth to early eighth centuries. The recovery of an early eighth century sceatta from a burial at Garton-on-the-Wolds may reflect the use of coinage inland, away from the major trading zone of the Humber. Aldfrith reportedly died in the Driffield area, the location of a possible royal estate, in 705 AD (Harrison 2003). 

The evidence for Anglian settlement on the Yorkshire Wolds is sparse and appears to have been located mainly along the edges of the Wolds and along the Great Wold Valley, rather than on the central dry Wolds. Very few Anglian settlements have been excavated, but those that have indicate that settlement sites, farm and field layouts in use during the 1st – 4th centuries AD appear to have been completely abandoned at some point between the 4th – 12th centuries AD. In the East Riding of Yorkshire, no Anglian settlement evidence has been found immediately adjacent to a known Roman villa, whilst settlements adjacent to former ‘ladder’ settlements and farmsteads are increasingly being found (Richards 1997, Richards 2000). The excavations at Elmswell, near Garton-on-the-Wolds, uncovered early Anglian pottery close to the late Roman ‘ladder’ settlement, indicating that occupation continued in this area during the 5th century AD. At Wharram Percy one of the Late Roman enclosures appears to have been abandoned in the late 4th – early 5th century AD, but another enclosure may have been used into the fifth century AD (Wrathmell 1992, Richards 2000). Archaeological evidence suggests that the settlement was abandoned until the mid-7th century AD, when small buildings with sunken floors (known as ‘grubenhaus’) were constructed on the site. Although their exact function is unknown, it is likely that at least some of these structures represent storehouse/cold store facilities complementing timber halls. It is not until the 9th or 10th century AD that there is clear evidence for a permanent village at Wharram Percy, located near the church of St Martin’s.

In the 8th century AD, the landscape around Burdale was re-organised when two settlement enclosures were laid out on the sheltered valley floor, approximately 200m apart (Richards and Roskams 2013). Within the enclosures was evidence of agricultural and light industrial activity, five sunken-floored buildings, and traces of a bow-sided hall. Within the eastern enclosures were two sunken-floored buildings, and a series of pits with clay hearths, which appear to have had an industrial purpose. Charcoal in other pits nearby also suggests this was an area of production activity. In the western enclosures three sunken-floored structures were constructed from timber, one with a pebble metalled floor inside. Also within the western area were fourteen postholes, which formed a bow-sided building measuring c.8m by 4m. Four other postholes nearby implied another smaller structure. The enclosure areas were in use until the end of the settlement in the later 9th century AD. The earliest datable find from the site is an early Anglo-Saxon silver sceatta coin from 700-715 AD. 

The increased social hierarchy seen within burials from the seventh century AD can also be seen in new settlement forms in this period. A Bronze Age earthwork at Thwing was reused as part of a settlement which was housed within a series of enclosures, including one within a small cemetery and a possible chapel. Coin evidence and radiocarbon dating of the people buried there suggest the settlement was occupied between the mid-seventh to mid-ninth centuries AD. Rectangular buildings, with earth-fast foundations were excavated at the site. The settlement at Thwing has been interpreted by archaeologists as representing the development of secular estate centres, in which the emerging Anglian aristocracy may have lived. 

From the archaeological evidence it appears that the post-Roman period may have witnessed a contraction of settlement away from the drier, inner heartlands of the Yorkshire Wolds. Place-name evidence can also be a useful tool for exploring this theme of contraction during the fifth to seventh centuries AD. Many villages in the Yorkshire Wolds ending in -ham, -ingham and -ton, still bear the name given to them during the Anglian period. These Old English names generally cluster around the wold-edges and the well-watered valleys, whilst the central Yorkshire Wolds generally contain villages with later, Scandinavian names. This ties in with the majority of the archaeological evidence, with the lack of contemporary settlements around the early cemeteries and the abandonment of Roman settlements on the Yorkshire Wolds between the fourth and twelfth centuries AD. The continuity of settlement at Wharram Percy, situated on the well-watered wold-edge, may not be the same story of settlement in the drier parts of the central Yorkshire Wolds. The two distinct areas appear to have had completely different settlement histories during the post-Roman period. It is likely that populations concentrated on the wold-edges, in areas with access to water, good pasture and deeper soils for crops. This ‘contraction’ in settlement may not necessarily relate to abandonment but a change in the predominant land-use and a shift from permanent to temporary settlement. The higher ground of the Yorkshire Wolds may have been used as a landscape of extensive (possibly seasonal) pasture for livestock, rather than one of settlement. 

Anglo-Scandinavian Wolds

(8th – 11th centuries AD)

Towards the end of the eighth century people from the Scandinavia region of Northern Europe began to raid Britain, in particular the eastern coast of England which could be reached easily by their ships. Over the next fifty years the Viking attacks were quick raids on undefended targets such as monasteries, but in 865 AD they remained in East Anglia over-winter and their ‘Great Army’ captured the city of York in 866 AD. By 880 AD, all of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms except Wessex had been conquered by the Vikings. The southern portion of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria, known as Deira, lay within modern Yorkshire. An entry in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in 876 AD states that “Halfdan shared out the land of the Northumbrians, and they proceeded to plough and to support themselves”. The Viking conquest of Northumbria saw the break-up of many of the large estates that may have existed previously in the control of the church, crown, or aristocracy. 

Place name evidence suggests that a large number of Norse speakers settled in Yorkshire in the ninth and tenth centuries. There are numerous examples of Old Norse personal names and words being the first element of Old English -tun place names, seeming to indicate a Scandinavian takeover of English settlements. Foston on the Wolds (Fótr), Ganton (Galmr), Grimston (Grímr), and Nafferton (Náttfari) are all examples of an Old Norse first element with the older Old English –tun element. Settlements with the ending -by and -thorp have also derived from the Old Norse language spoken by the Scandinavian settlers. Further influence of the new settlers can be seen in the large barrows on the Yorkshire Wolds which were given ‘Howe’ names from the Old Norse haugr, meaning burial mound, particularly when the barrows defined boundaries of land holdings and parishes. This can be seen in the naming of the prehistoric round barrows of Duggleby Howe and Willy Howe. The Slack element of place names such as Garton Slack and Wetwang Slack is derived from the Old Norse word slakki, meaning hollow or valley (see Mawer and Stenton 1937). 

Despite the historical and place name evidence for the influence that the Scandinavian settlers had on the Yorkshire Wolds, we have relatively little archaeological evidence for Viking life on the Yorkshire Wolds between the eighth and eleventh centuries and any possible disruption that their arrival may have had. Stone sculptures can provide us with evidence of Viking influence in the region. At Nunburnholme a cross-shaft had been carved by an Anglian sculptor, with one of the panels depicting a priest saying Mass. A later, second, sculptor carved over this scene with one from the Sigurd cycle of Norse mythology (Halkon 2018). Not all of these Vikings were pagan: at the church of St. Andrew’s at Weaverthorpe, a dedication on the sundial states that the church was founded in the reign of Ragnald II, one of the Viking kings of York in 950 AD (Pickles 2018). 

At Wharram Percy it is not until the 9th or 10th century AD that there is clear evidence for a permanent village at Wharram Percy, located near the church of St Martin’s (Wrathmell 1979). The settlement was laid out as a nucleated, planned village, with two facing rows of tofts and crofts. Analysis of the human remains from the churchyard at Wharram Percy suggests that burials here began in the mid-10th century, at the same time as the wooden church was built (Wrathmell 1987).  A high-quality belt-set decorated in Scandinavian Borre style may have arrived in the village through trade or it may point to the presence of a Scandinavian person living in the village during this time. The ‘Wharram’ element of the villages name may also have been influenced by Scandinavian connections. It may derive from the Old Scandinavian hvarfum meaning ‘bend, nook, corner’, which is referencing the distinctive valley in which Wharram Percy is located. 

At the villages of Cottam and Cowlam, the later eighth and ninth centuries saw three settlements established close to one another, two at Cottam (A and B) and one at Cowlam (Richards 2000). The place name Cottam derives from Old English, while Cowlam is from Old Norse. All three of the settlements were abandoned in the late ninth century, but the settlement at Cottam B was relocated to a new gated farmstead site, 100m north-east of the original settlement. The new settlement featured a wide but shallow ditch, with an internal bank by the entrance way. Excavations at Cottam B revealed finds with a strong Scandinavian style: a Jellinge-style brooch, a Borre-style buckle, Torksey pottery, and two diagnostic ‘Norse bells’. The finds may suggest that the new occupants of Cottam B may have been Scandinavian settlers. Cowlam was re-established as a planned settlement in the tenth century. 

The archaeological evidence from Wharram Percy, Cottam and Cowlam indicates that some land on the higher ground of the Yorkshire Wolds was being exploited again from the eighth century, especially for sheep grazing. The Scandinavian conquest saw the establishment of new patterns of lordship on the Yorkshire Wolds during the tenth century, with settlements often separated from their estate centres to become nucleated villages under new lords. These nucleated villages may have cultivated land that had been abandoned since the Romano-British period. Much of modern Yorkshire – the shire itself, its division into ridings, and many of its village names – can be traced back to this period. The move from a dispersed settlement pattern to a nucleated one over this period began to create the familiar landscape of the medieval village. Combined with the place name evidence for Scandinavian settlements, it is clear that the ninth to eleventh centuries saw an increased density of population and a massive expansion in cultivation across the Yorkshire Wolds. 

Medieval Wolds

(c.11th-15th Centuries)

The Norman Conquest in 1066 did not result in immediate control of England, with rebellions occurring across the country, but in particularly in the north. The biggest rebellion was led by Edgar the Atheling, who had a blood-claim to the throne, and he was joined by Danish and Scottish armies. During the winter of 1069-1070 William the Conqueror began the Harrying of the North, a brutal campaign in the north-east of England to suppress the rebellion. He ordered the destruction of villages and the deaths of the local population. Livestock and crops were burnt and the land was salted to prevent people growing crops in the future. The Anglo-Norman chronicler Oderic Vitalis wrote an account of the campaign:

“He cut down many in his vengeance; destroyed the lairs of others; harried the land, and burnt homes to ashes. Nowhere else had William shown such cruelty….In his anger he commanded that all crops and herds, chattels and food of every kind should be brought together and burned to ashes with consuming fire, so that the whole region north of the Humber might be stripped of all means of sustenance. In consequence so serious a scarcity was felt in England, and so terrible a famine fell upon the humble and defenceless populace, that more than 100,000 Christian folk of both sexes, young and old, perished of hunger.”

William achieved his aim of subduing and controlling the north, and placed loyal nobles in charge to look after his newly conquered lands.

The impact of this period can be seen in the entries in the Domesday Book, commissioned in December 1085 by William to survey and value the land and resources of his new kingdom. The survey details the value of land pre-Conquest and in 1086 and indicates that land values fell by two-thirds in Yorkshire during this period. William’s campaigns to crush rebellions, in particular the Harrying of the North, had a profound impact on the landscape of England, with approximately 10% of all estates in the Domesday Book recorded as waste. Holdings described as waste paid no tax through their tax assessment. The survey recorded large numbers of such manors, most having no recorded value or human or animal resources. Most of these estates were in the north of England, where they may have been destroyed in fighting after the Conquest or in the destruction of land during the Harrying of the North. Many villages in the Yorkshire Wolds suffered badly, recorded as either waste or of little value in tax. If these manors were untaxed because they were uninhabited and uncultivated, then the destruction caused by the 1069-1070 campaign appears to have been on a large scale. 

The first documentary record of the Yorkshire Wolds as a distinct region was in the thirteenth century, although the names ‘Wolds’ is thought to derive from the Old English wald meaning ‘woodland’. This meaning of the word pre-dates the Norman Conquest in 1066, as after the eleventh century the wald element is taken to refer to ‘high open ground’. The earlier derivative of wald potentially indicates an earlier use of the term for this region (Mawer and Stenton 1937). 

The major medieval roads mainly used the previous system of Roman roads. Ermine Street was still used as the Great North Road and ran from Lincoln, through Brough, to Malton. This was the only major medieval road through the Yorkshire Wolds; the rest were located in the Vales of York and Pickering. Villages were established along the line of the Gypsey Race in the Great Wold Valley, with similar settlements located in the smaller valleys at Thixendale, Raisthorpe and Burdale. (However, aerial archaeology does suggest late Iron Age and Roman ladder settlements were strung-out along such streams at an earlier date, Stoertz 1997). Valleys which had springs also contained isolated settlements, such as Wharram Percy where the seven springs along the dale created an attractive location for a village. Although many settlements clustered along the valley bottoms close to water sources, there were also villages established on the high ground of the Yorkshire Wolds, where the sole source of water was an artificial pond or natural mere (such as Fimber, Fridaythorpe or Wetwang). All of the villages that still exist in the modern Yorkshire Wolds have their origins in the medieval period, and (as the other period summaries have revealed) some have significantly earlier traces of inhabitation. 

Conditions in the Yorkshire Wolds were not favourable for intensive farming at this time: the area was almost treeless and there was little shelter for animals or crops, except in the valleys. Springs were limited to the valley sides or the scarp face. On the high ground of the Yorkshire Wolds there was only a few inches of soil above the solid chalk and clay-with-flints, favouring its use for pasture (especially for sheep), with the deeper fertile soils on the lower dip slopes. These conditions resulted in a nucleated settlement pattern, with extensive open fields laid out around each village. This left little room for the permanent pasture of livestock close to the settlement. The large open fields were divided into long narrow strips, with several strips held by each villager to grow vegetables for his family to eat. The remnants of these field systems have been destroyed by 19th-20th century prairie-style farming (Fenton Thomas 2005). 

Stone churches were constructed within villages, but no monasteries were founded on the Yorkshire Wolds, possibly due to the landscape being fully settled and exploited by the 12th century. Despite the lack of monasteries, there was plenty of land on the Yorkshire Wolds owned by the nearby monasteries of Bridlington Priory, Malton Priory and Meaux Abbey, with a large number of granges. Bridlington Priory held land along the northern edge of the Yorkshire Wolds (Burton Fleming, Ganton, Willerby and Hunmanby), while Malton Priory had land and granges at Linton, Mowthorpe and Duggleby. Despite the inhospitable nature of the Yorkshire Wolds, arable cultivation was undertaken on a considerable scale by monastic farmers, and not just for subsistence. The Norwich Taxation of Malton priory in 1254 details that there were 24 bovates of land at Linton, two bovates at Duggleby and 32 bovates at Thoraldby. At Mowthorpe grange, eight bovates of land were held in the village, but the canons were also extending the areas of cultivation by working arable land in the nearby valleys of Bugdale, Keldale and Cawthorp. A similar undertaking was also occurring on lands held by Bridlington Priory. The detailed accounts for Bridlington Priory in the mid-fourteenth century indicate that it held at least 13 carucates of land at Burton Fleming and three carucates at Speeton. At Burton Fleming the priory held 350 acres of land in the fields as well as 160 acres on Staxton Wold. This land was known as ‘ovenum’ which appears to have meant land taken out of the common or elsewhere enclosed and cultivated. The priory was expanding the area of cultivation by starting to work more remote valleys and hillsides which had not been previously cultivated. 

The different monastic orders revolutionised economic and agricultural practices in Yorkshire, with the Cistercian order at the forefront of the change. The Cistercians developed stringent economic practices, with granges managed in isolation, though located within a day’s journey from the abbey. The granges were staffed by lay brothers and worked using hired labour. The Cistercian order spread rapidly throughout the 12th century, and within a decade of arriving in Yorkshire (at Rievaulx in 1132) they developed consolidated grange estates through grant, exchange and lease, enabling them to emerge as successful farmers and traders. The only Cistercian grange on the Yorkshire Wolds was at Wharram le Street, founded by Meaux Abbey in 1172 with a grant of two carucates of land, a spring and a water course to bring water for a mill, which was to be solely for the use of the brothers. By introducing the grange system to the Yorkshire Wolds, the monasteries were beginning a type of farming settlement best equipped for exploiting the inhospitable nature of the region. The dispersed farmstead would continue to be used throughout the medieval and post-medieval periods. 

Arable farming on the Yorkshire Wolds was not undertaken exclusively by the monasteries: lay farmers were also extremely active, producing surplus crops to sell at market. Compared against the output of the clay soils of the lower lying areas, the Yorkshire Wolds was the foremost producer of wheat and barley in the region; they were not the only grain cultivated, with rye, oats, peas, flax and hemp also grown on the Yorkshire Wolds. The Exchequer Accounts of corn bought in Yorkshire for the Kings’ wars between 1298-1360 also details the high productivity of the Yorkshire Wolds. Corn cultivated there was mainly shipped from the ports at Scarborough and Hull, transported overland through the Vale of Pickering to Scarborough, and a combination of land and river to Hull. There were two important collecting centres on the River Hull route, located at Wansford and Beverley. In 1298, 195qts wheat (1qt = 8 bushels), 93qts oats and 93qts peas, and 136qts of wheat from Bridlington, Kilham and Rudston, went from Kilham to Hull via Wansford. 

Arable farming was not the only type of farming on the Yorkshire Wolds. Monastic evidence shows the region was an important area of sheep farming. The Valor Ecclesiasticus records that most of the parishes in the northern part of the Yorkshire Wolds had a wool and lamb tithe, usually between 50-80s, but sometimes it was large, as at Weaverthorpe (120s) and Settrington (183s). Sheep farming was widespread on the Yorkshire Wolds, and it increased in importance in the strip parishes extending over the Wold scarp. Grants of pasture land were given to monasteries, with the Yorkshire Wolds one of three main areas in the north-east that received these grants. In the late 13th century Malton Priory supplied 45 sacks of wool, which would have equated to approximately 9000 sheep, while Bridlington Priory supplied 50 sacks (10,000 sheep). 

Rabbits and their warrens were also a feature of the medieval landscape of the Yorkshire Wolds, introduced to England by the Normans following the Conquest. The evidence for the existence of warrens come from a variety of sources, including: cartographic names (coney, clapper, warren, rabbit, burrow or bury), maps, grants, leases and rentals. Visible remains have also been left in the landscape, such as warren lodges or houses, pillow mounds, rabbit-types or pit-traps, muce-holes and vermin-traps. A rabbit warren was created and managed within the Birdsall estate throughout the medieval and post-medieval periods. 

The surplus crops and livestock grown on the Yorkshire Wolds were taken to market to sell. During the thirteenth century towns received grants to hold a weekly market, which would have sold products from food producers, merchants and craftspeople. Malton Priory sold its corn and wool at Malton market, whereas the Bridlington Priory grange at Burton Fleming sold its corn in the nearby markets of Filey, Seamer and Scarborough. Kilham was also an important corn market. Medieval fairs and markets were important centres of economic activity, used by lay and monastic farmers. The location of markets indicated particular emphasis on the production of one or two commodities specific to the local area. Many markets and fairs in the East Riding of Yorkshire were held at the locations of major churches or at the head manors of the major estates recorded in the Domesday Book. They include Driffield, Market Weighton and Pocklington. Some places with weekly markets or annual fairs remained agricultural villages, while others expanded and became larger market towns, particularly those situated on roads or rivers for transport. Malton Priory and its granges were located on the east-west route along the scarp foot of the Yorkshire Wolds, which led directly into the Vale of York and to York. The River Derwent, navigable below Malton, was an additional route used to transport wool to Hull. 

In the fourteenth century a series of epidemics and the drastic reduction in the population following the Black Death resulted in a shift in agrarian economy across England, as demand for grain fell. The economy of the Yorkshire Wolds was reliant on grain production, and ceased to be viable as labour costs rose and prices fell.  The result of this can be seen in the remains of villages across the region, which were either reduced in size or deserted. These have been called Shrunken/Deserted Medieval Villages by historians but the Wharram Landscape Project’s long-term investigation reveals that this was a long-term process that is not entirely attributable to the impact of this disease (see work by Beresford and Hurst as well as Wrathmell). Longer-term agricultural and social processes also transformed the organisation of production and labour in these landscapes. Earthworks of hollow-ways, toft boundaries, house platforms and trackways are visible reminders of these villages, which once covered the Yorkshire Wolds, and the large amount of deserted settlements suggests that the medieval settlement density of the region was greater than it is today, and population decline probably continued into the fifteenth century, leaving the Yorkshire Wolds less inhabited than it had been during the twelfth to thirteenth centuries. 

Post-Medieval Wolds

(c.16th – 19th Centuries)

In the post-medieval period, the Yorkshire Wolds saw rapid periods of change. The ongoing impact of endemics and epidemic diseases as well as agricultural and social change created a landscape with fewer people than at the height of the medieval period. Villages that had shrunk in size experienced further contraction as residents migrated to towns for waged labour, stimulated by the expansion of craftwork and industry, enhanced trade and the coastal expansion of ports such as Hull and Bridlington. They were also affected by the direct actions of landowners. The 1672 hearth tax returns record that the most sparsely populated area was the High Wolds, with numerous parishes having less than ten households per 1000 acres. This period saw the growth of great estates, who consolidated land-holding, built large houses with formal gardens and picturesque landscapes (including ruins and dining lodges, as at Birdsall) and rationalised their agricultural methods. Hunting gained popularity. The enlargement of the deer park at Londesborough by Lord Burlington in the early 18th century caused the depopulation of Easthorpe village, while the enclosure of open fields at Birdsall and Burnby caused the populations in those villages to halve. The few remaining houses in a village were also removed by landowners to convert the land to more profitable sheep pastures.

Yet overall there was growth in agricultural employment as novel forms of farming and early mechanisation brought new land into cultivation. One-third of rural parishes (particularly in the High Wolds) saw increases of population above 100%, and others doubled or trebled in size, as the agricultural industry intensified following Parliamentary enclosures in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Large swathes of common pastures were converted into labour-demanding cereal cultivation, which required a larger workforce in many areas by the first half of the nineteenth century. In parishes which were still ‘open’, where land and property was owned by several small landowners, incomers were encouraged to settle in the village to increase the workforce. In ‘close’ parishes, land and property was owned by aristocratic families, who resisted the settlement of newcomers in order to avoid paying more rates. Unskilled labourers would then be brought in from the ‘open’ villages on the basis of occasional or seasonal need. 

In the early post-medieval period farming practices continued as they had throughout the medieval period. Large open fields around villages were divided into long narrow strips, with several strips farmed by each villager. Analysis of farm inventories in the Yorkshire Wolds between 1688-1689 AD provides information on thirty-nine farms in the region. The average valuation per farm was £119, the largest valuation for a region in Yorkshire at this time. In contrast, farms in the Holderness region were valued on average at £83, the Plain of York at £72, and the North Yorkshire Moors at £47. The predominance of corn grown on the Yorkshire Wolds, even after the decline in the 14th century AD, can be seen in these records. Every region of Yorkshire had a larger percentage of its valuation in cattle than in any other item; however, on the Yorkshire Wolds 45.5% of a farms valuation was for corn, with cattle being only 19%. The average number of sheep per Yorkshire Wolds farm was 96.3, compared to 37.1, 26.2 and 72.5 in Holderness, the Plain of York and the North Yorkshire Moors. In contrast to the number of sheep, the average number of cattle per Yorkshire Wolds farm was only 13.1. 

Contemporary reports from the late eighteenth century indicate that much of the land on the Yorkshire Wolds was still pasture, predominantly used for sheep walks and rabbit warrens. If it was being cultivated for crops, it would be rested after a few seasons to slowly revert back to pasture. Both would decline as a result of land increasingly being converted to arable from the eighteenth century onwards, as part of the Agricultural Improvement and Enclosure movements. Approximately 70% of the Yorkshire Wolds was enclosed by parliamentary act between 1760-1819 AD. Prior to enclosure, a lot of land was still open pasture used for sheep, or, if it was being cultivated for crops, it would be rested after a few seasons to slowly revert back to pasture. Some landowners on the eastern and western slopes of the Yorkshire Wolds started to enclose land in the 1760s and 1770s. Enclosure was encouraged by the owners of larger estates, especially during the French and Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815 AD) when corn prices were high. The large rectangular fields, broad straight roads with wide grass verges, and Georgian farmhouses surrounded by shelter belts of woodland are a visible legacy of the work of the enclosure commissioners and surveyors. These farmsteads were constructed by landowners for tenant farmers to live in and work the land. 

Vessey Pasture Farm is typical of the majority of farmsteads constructed across the Yorkshire Wolds in the late 18th-19th centuries following enclosure. It was a small enclosure farm of 200 acres consisting of open Wold land, with the steep-sided dry valley of Vessey Pasture Dale marking the farm’s southern boundary. The earliest map of the farm is from 1809 AD, which shows a building, a small enclosure and a dewpond. (‘Pondy Wellburn’ was a well-known local figure who pioneered the making of artificial dewponds in this landscape, enabling the keeping of cattle in areas without natural bodies of water). By 1816 AD an eastern range had been added to the farm and an enclosed yard for the overwintering of cattle. Agricultural innovations in the early 19th century saw the value of intensive cattle fattening within enclosed foldyards in winter so that the accumulated manure could be spread on the fields in the spring. The ‘manure’ factory model of these High Wolds farms now enabled more marginal land to be brought into cultivation. It created distinct small communities staffed by a Hind and his family, with oversight of a group of ‘horselads’ to run the plough-teams (see Caunce 1991). Large horse sheds or stable-blocks and tack-rooms were needed, and some farms (such as Towthorpe) also supported their own smithy. From the 1836 AD tenancy agreement for Vessey Pasture Farm we know the crops being sown and the method. The agreement describes a new four course rotation: firstly fallowed with twelve bushels of turnips/rape per acre to be eaten with sheep; secondly corn with two stone of grass seeds; thirdly the seeds to be eaten off with sheep; fourthly the seeds to be broken up and sown with corn. The new practice of crop rotation was particularly suited to the chalk bedrock and shallow soils of the Yorkshire Wolds, and when combined with fertilisers and manures ensured that the thin soils were able to produce high yields of crops. 

Tenancy agreements for farmsteads are not the only records available to determine what crops and livestock were being farmed on the Yorkshire Wolds. The 1801 Crop Returns Inquiry by the Home Office assessed the arable acreage of every parish in England and Wales. In England as a whole, wheat was the leading crop; however, in the Wold Scarp district oats was the leading crop, while on the High Wolds oats and barley were. On the lower slopes of the Yorkshire Wolds, where the clay dip slopes provided a more fertile ground, wheat was the main grain cultivated. On the High Wolds barley took up 30% of the recorded acreage, and 20% of both the Wold Scarp and Low Wolds. Marl pits (required to reduce the acidity of the soil) were often located in the middle of fields, and though rapidly infilled, left a distinctive soil and crop-mark signature. The general population of the Yorkshire Wolds were still eating barley bread rather than wheat bread in the late eighteenth century. 

By the middle of the nineteenth century, much of the region was devoted to arable crops. On the higher parts of the Yorkshire Wolds grass was rare, except on the sides of dry valleys and close to farmsteads, where a sheltered paddock was kept under grass for the use of dairy cattle and lambing. Wheat had overtaken oats as the leading grain crop, but the acreage of barley and oats combined exceeded those of wheat. 

Land used as pasture for livestock, mainly sheep, was called “sheep rake” and made use of land that was unsuitable for arable crops, often in areas of steep valley sides or on higher ground. The provision for pasture in the seventeenth century was well recorded in the farming accounts of Henry Best of Elmswell. As well as using wet meadow land, there were enclosure pastures alongside Elmswell and the fallow arable land or temporary leys (possibly on Elmswell Wold to the north). ‘Rake rights’ and customs of use helped avoid conflict over scarce water resources. Springs around the Wold edge were therefore important to survival, especially when the drying up of ancient dolines and meres put pressure on the larger meres at Fimber, Sledmere, Fridaythorpe, Burdale and Wetwang. Disputes still arose over the right to graze livestock and access to water sources. Elmswell lacked sufficient grazing land and rented grazing land higher up on the Wolds from neighbouring farmers at Burdale, Cottam, Raisthorpe, Sledmere, Fridaythorpe and Huggate. Best claimed the right to graze 360 sheep “on a sheep rake in Cottam Field”, stating that “I claim there no propriety in the soil, but a rake for my own, or my tenants’ sheep who farm the demesnes…..by prescription or possession time immemorial”. While Elmswell estate relied on its neighbours’ land for grazing large numbers of sheep, it did have access to natural springs. In the 1700s the large mere at Wetwang often dried up during hot summers and Wetwang farmers were forced to drive their cattle three miles for water at the Elmswell springs. 

Recognising and remembering boundaries between the parishes was an important part of community identity. Parish perambulations were an oral tradition in Yorkshire before 1800 and involved walking around the parish boundaries annually or every few years, with the circuit beaten out using long wands and staffs, so that the limits of the parish were remembered. This was known as ‘beating the bounds’. Perambulations could be either a special event designed to clarify a boundary, or a routine procedure. Routine perambulations took two distinct forms; they could be organised on behalf of the manor, or on behalf of the parish and township. In 1721 a party beating the bounds of the parish of Kilham ‘came nigh the Danes Graves in Driffield field’, an extensive Iron Age square barrow cemetery, located at the junction of the later medieval parishes of Driffield, Kilham and Nafferton. The act of perambulation was based on much older crop-blessing ceremonies and was often a seasonal event in the rural calendar. Ale and food were consumed, and songs were sung, while prayers were directed towards soil and crop fertility. ‘Beating the bounds’ continued into the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when maps started to record parish boundaries. 

By the later eighteenth century, large volumes of grain and livestock grown on the Yorkshire Wolds was coming through the market towns resulting in the development of specialised agricultural markets, which became important centres for trade in these commodities. The increased demand for agricultural produce, especially in expanding towns such as Hull, highlighted the importance of transport across the region. Improvement and turnpiking of roads was occurring slowly throughout this century, focusing on Hull and Beverley in the 1740s. They were connected to Driffield and Market Weighton by the 1760s, when the Malton – Beverley – Hull, and Beverley – York roads were also turnpiked. 

Improvements to transport continued in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as landlords became eager to extend the market for produce from their estates, and town tradesmen recognised the potential boost to the urban economy through imports and exports. Canals were constructed at Driffield, Market Weighton and Pocklington to connect the market towns to navigable rivers. In 1762 William Porter, a cornfactor, landlord of the Blue Bell and one of the chief instigators of the Driffield canal in 1767, wrote, ‘if a canal could be made from here to Hull, Driffield would soon emerge as one of the best market towns in the East Riding’. Between 1750-1850 Great Driffield became the most important corn market in the region and was said to be ‘frequented by more agriculturalists than any other market town in the East Riding’. By the early nineteenth century Driffield Canal had twenty-seven ships trading regularly with the West Riding of Yorkshire via the River Humber, and by the middle of the century over 100,000 quarters of corn were exported annually. Agricultural products such as wheat, rye, beans, peas, rape seed, malt, oats, barley and flour were exported to Wakefield and West Riding market centres, corn was also sent to London. Industrial products such as coal, brick, stone, tile and lime were imported. Dung, soot and pigeon dung were also brought to Driffield by the canal, and used as fertilizer for agricultural use. Driffield Navigation ensured that cheap coal was available in the area, reducing the cost of coal by as much as 50%, since one canal boat could carry as much coal as eighty wagons. The canal also had a large impact on the local grain industry. Between 1819-46 AD the quantity of wheat grown locally is estimated to have doubled and that of barley quadrupled.

Urban centres generally saw an increase in population: Driffield grew by 226% between 1801-1861 (Harrison 2003), due to a balanced economy of agriculture and manufacturing but towns that were dependent on agriculture, such as Pocklington and Market Weighton, suffered population decline. There was also a heavy rural to urban migration in this period, following the mechanization of cereal farming in the middle of the nineteenth century and the ‘Great Agricultural Depression’ in the 1870s, caused mainly by a sharp fall in grain prices following increased cultivation in America. Drilling, winnowing and threshing machines also began to reduce agricultural jobs for unskilled farm labourers, forcing them to migrate. The combined effect of these events saw the East Riding of Yorkshire lose 49% of its wheat and 21% of its barley acreage, with 92,000 acres of crop-land left to waste or sold for development. The wheat and barley lands of the High Wolds saw the highest decrease in population, over 25%, while the western Wolds between Market Weighton and Norton also saw a large decrease. In contrast, ‘close’ parishes which had not swelled in number and still sustained productive estates only saw small decreases in population: at Sledmere there was only a 5% decrease. 

The arrival of the railway in the Yorkshire Wolds had a massive impact on the region. The railway network reflected the traffic generated by Hull, the coastal resorts and the agricultural hinterland, and the inhibiting effects of the landscape of the Yorkshire Wolds. The Hull to Scarborough line opened in 1846, connecting the agricultural region of Driffield with the port at Bridlington. In 1853 the Driffield to Malton line was opened, crossing the sparsely inhabited Yorkshire Wolds. The railway opened up easier travel for people between Malton, Driffield, Bridlington and Scarborough, it was the most common form of transport for most journeys in the late nineteenth century. It also made the distribution of agricultural produce cheaper. Farmers were now able to send their produce further and quicker, with livestock able to be transported to market and the ports of Scarborough and Hull without loss of condition, increasing profits. In 1890 a further line was added linking Driffield to Market Weighton. From there it joined the Selby line, providing access into West Yorkshire and the Midlands. 

One effect of the improvements to travel across the Yorkshire Wolds was the decline of local markets and fairs. The market at Kilham declined due to its proximity to the larger markets at Driffield and Bridlington. Markets and fairs no longer involved the direct purchase of goods. At fairs, livestock were often purchased by intermediaries in advance of fair days and at markets much trade in grain was by sample. Livestock could be moved to more distant markets by train, resulting in a concentration of trade at the larger market towns. Hiring Fairs continued to play a large role in the agricultural calendar though. The Hiring Fairs of Martinmas were held in November and were the annual opportunity for farm and domestic workers to find a new job or renew their current one. The Hiring Fairs were the workers’ chance to spend their wages, which they only received at the end of the years’ work. A poster for Pocklington Fair from 1863 AD details the trading of horses, cattle, sheep and pigs, essential livestock in a farming community.

Agriculture was not the only industry in the Yorkshire Wolds, although the economy was still predominantly agricultural in the nineteenth century. Flamborough Head, where the chalk of the Yorkshire Wolds meets the sea, had a thriving fishing and seabird egg industry. Fish, crabs and lobsters were caught to send to market, the seabird eggs were sent as far as London. The development of different industries across the region was hampered by the lack of fast-flowing streams, minerals and coal, but a good water supply was present on the scarp face of the Yorkshire Wolds, which the towns of Pocklington and Driffield made use of.  Industries concentrated on the processing of local agricultural produce – milling, malting, brewing, ropemaking, textiles and tanning, agricultural machinery, brickmaking and the quarrying of chalk. These latter features pockmark the Wolds landscape and formed essential windows into the geology (and occasionally the archaeology) of the Wolds, studied by antiquarians such as the Mortimer brothers and the Rev. Maule Cole although most were abandoned by the early-mid twentieth century. In the early eighteenth century a cottage cloth and linen weaving industry was present in Driffield, taking place in the individual workers’ homes. The cloth was finished at local fulling mills, located on the streams to the south of the town. Albion Street was known as Dye Garth Lane or Dyehouse Garth Lane, indicating that cloth dying industries may have been located in this area next to the Driffield Beck. Paper mills were also present in Driffield, and by the later eighteenth century a large four-storey textile and carpet was established. By the late nineteenth century, Driffield was a prosperous town, with two banks, three insurance agents, three land surveyors, two doctors, brewers, brick makers, machine makers, rope makers, blacksmiths, carpenters, coopers, and shopkeepers.

Before brick was a common building material, the vernacular building material on the Yorkshire Wolds was locally sourced cobblestone or chalkstone, although some limestone/sandstone buildings were constructed on the western edge of the region. There were sporadic timber-framed buildings of cruck, upper cruck-frame or box-frame construction, but the lack of trees across the Yorkshire Wolds inhibited timber being the material of choice. By the late nineteenth century there were still few brickyards on the Yorkshire Wolds, although the Sledmere estate yard at Garton on the Wolds was in operation for over a century until the early twentieth century. Bricks for the large post-enclosure farmsteads on the Yorkshire Wolds were often transported a long distance; the bricks used to build farms at Middleton were made in Newport, a brick and tile making settlement established on the Market Weighton canal in the late eighteenth century. 

Despite the remoteness and inaccessibility of the Yorkshire Wolds, the inhabitants of the region were often involved in movements that occurred across England. In 1536-7 the largest mass rising against the Tudor state occurred across East Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Durham and the Lake Counties, and was a response to the dissolution of the smaller religious houses and Henry VIII’s attacks on the Catholic Church. The rising in Yorkshire was called the Pilgrimage of Grace, and consisted of ‘commoners’ as well as nobility. People travelled across the Yorkshire Wolds to join the movement at York, and then went on to Pontefract. By this stage the uprising numbered 35,000 people and was a serious threat to Henry VIII, but by May 1537 fifteen of the main leaders were under arrest and later executed for treason. 

Military activity came again to Yorkshire in the seventeenth century during the English Civil War. The strategic importance of Scarborough, Hull and York ensured that the area experienced considerable military activity, even though no battles were fought in the region. Charles I’s attempt to take control of the arsenal at Hull in April 1642, where he was refused entry by Sir John Hotham, was one of the most significant events leading to the outbreak of war. By the end of 1642 the East Riding of Yorkshire was largely controlled by parliamentarians, although this was reversed in the summer of 1643 when the royalists took control. June and July 1643 saw sorties made as far as Market Weighton and Beverley, and early 1644 saw Sir William Constable from Hull set up an encampment on the Yorkshire Wolds to attack royalist positions as far away as Pickering. The royalist troops sent from York to confront Constable set up camp at Cowlam, but were surprised in the night by Constable who took 160 prisoners.  Soon after, Constable captured Bridlington and was involved in skirmishes with royalists at Driffield and Helperthorpe. 

In September 1757 riots against the impending Militia Act spread across Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. The new act lay the responsibility of obtaining men for the militia on all adult males, rather than solely on the propertied classes. Hundreds of men, women and children, armed with guns, swords, pitchforks and scythes, gathered at the houses of the landowners, clergy and law officers, threatening to pull down the buildings unless the Militia Act was halted. People gathered in Pocklington where they spent all night drinking in the town’s alehouses before laying siege to Kilnwick Percy Hall. 

‘The main mob got into the house, which was brimful of men, women and children, and they broke into the larder, filled the kitchen, took roast beef, spitt and all and fell a fighting, took the calves head and a great family pudden’. 

Similar scenes were seen across the Yorkshire Wolds. The Lord Lieutenant, Lord Irwin, with the backing of the High Sheriff and other gentry, issued a notice calling off the proposed militia meeting and the further collection of lists. 

Religion in the Yorkshire Wolds saw considerable change in the post-medieval period. Following the removal of the Catholic king James II by the Protestant William of Orange in 1688, the Toleration Act was passed in 1689, which allowed Protestant nonconformists the freedom to worship publicly. They were also free to build chapels and meeting houses, worship prior to this had taken place in private houses or outbuildings. Independent and Presbyterian meeting houses were built in market towns across the East Riding of Yorkshire from the 1690s, and the Society of Friends, also known as the Quakers, had been active in the region since the 1650s; however, the most significant change during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was the development of Methodism as a result of the evangelical revival. Britain was believed to be in a moral decline, Bishop Berkeley wrote that morality and religion had collapsed “to a degree that was never known in any Christian country”. 

Methodism was founded by John Wesley, a former Anglican clergyman, and rapidly spread across the Yorkshire Wolds after it reached York by 1743 and Hull by 1746. Purpose-built meeting houses were not opened until the 1770s, with the earliest located in market towns and larger villages, such as Driffield, Market Weighton, Garton-on-the-Wolds and Kilham. Support for Methodism was as strong in industrial towns as it was in rural agricultural areas. Wesley encouraged Christians to become active in social reform and was vocal in his support against the slave trade. Wesley supported William Wilberforce, educated in Pocklington, in his antislavery campaign. More than 100 Methodist chapels had been built in the East Riding of Yorkshire by 1819, when Wesleyan Methodism was beginning to be challenged by the arrival of Primitive Methodism. Chapels for the new strand of Methodism spread across the Yorkshire Wolds quickly and by the later nineteenth century there were few settlements without a Methodist chapel. Those that did not were usually estate villages where the landowners actively prevented the Methodists from meeting or building a chapel. By the end of the nineteenth century Wesleyan and Primitive Methodism began talks to unite the two strands into one. This resulted in the formation of the present-day Methodist Church in 1932. 

20th century – Present Wolds

The beginning of the twentieth century saw the agricultural economy of the Yorkshire Wolds recovering from the turbulent previous century. Prices for agricultural produce increased, while costs and wages remained low. The First World War had put in place a state of regulated and subsidised system of agriculture, that increased farm workers’ wages, the profits of farmers and the productivity of the land. This system continued until 1921 when the Agriculture Act was repealed. During the 1920s-30s, capital improvements had stalled, leading to the adoption of farming systems which were characterised by low expenditure rather than high productivity. Approximately 60% of the East Riding of Yorkshire experienced population growth from 1931, with the exceptions of the northern and central Wolds, which remained predominantly agricultural. Competition from overseas producers led to a decline in arable farming and depressed agricultural conditions continued until World War II, when increased land was put under the plough, mostly for wheat and barley crops. Livestock farmers also reduced their holding of livestock, which required imported feed. Although there was a large increase in the number of workers on farms during World War II, the numbers employed in agriculture declined continuously from 1944 onwards, resulting in a decline of rural trades and crafts. 

Access to a good water supply was still a major consideration during the twentieth century, although modern solutions were being found to the lack of water on the Yorkshire Wolds. On the top of the hills there was a good system of man-made dew ponds which supplied most of the water for cattle, horses and sheep. Most farms also had large cisterns built in the ground which collected water from farm buildings. Villages along the Great Wold Valley benefited from the Gypsey Race, and had a fairly good supply of water from wells that were sunk deep into the watershed level, but water could be scarce during long dry summers. The Gypsey Race fluctuated wildly, disappearing during dry spells and suddenly bubbling back above ground during spring or autumn – the local villagers called this the ‘Gypsies coming up’. In a drought the villagers had to use the water cart, which transferred water from the village pump in the valley bottom, to the farms and livestock up on the hillsides. Some remote farms still had their drinking water delivered by the water cart. 

Before machinery became commonplace on all farms, horses were hugely depended on across the Yorkshire Wolds. The Shire breed was one of the most favoured due to its steadiness and weight, but Suffolk Punch and Clydesdale horses were also used. Most farms kept two breed mares, and would usually have two foals born each year, necessary when horses were retired when they reached their teens. Foals were broken and then wintered out, fed on oats or hay. The horse lads went to great lengths to secure the best feed they could for their horses, scrounging or pinching little extras for them when they could, either cattle feed cake, such as linseed, or anything else (Caunce 1991). 

The skill the farm labourers required to work the horses, especially their handling of the four horse Wold wagon, was noticed by Sir Mark Sykes of Sledmere in 1912. They were working on his Home Farm and he recognized that they were ready-trained drivers for transport in the Army for World War I. In conjunction with the War Office he took them on in reserve, paying each man £1 per year. The men were called up quickly and became known as the Waggoners’ Reserve, drafted to France to drive horses and mules loaded with munitions, food and supplies for the front line. Their work was mainly undertaken at night, to escape detection by enemy troops, but not many Waggoners survived to claim a second £1 payment. Their sacrifice was memorialized by Sir Mark Sykes in 1920 with the Waggoners’ Memorial, a stone column with carved scenes depicting the Waggoners on their farms, signing enlistment papers, being mobilized, leaving Sledmere and supplying the front. 

The inscription on the memorial reads:

Lt col Sir Mark Sykes Bart MP designed this monument and set it up as a remembrance of the gallant services rendered in the great war 1914 by the wagoners reserve a corp of 1000 drivers raised by him on the yorkshire wolds farms in the year 1912 

these steanes a noble tale do tell/ of what men did when war befell/ and in that fourteen harvest-tide/ the call for lads went far and wide/ to help to save the world fro’ wrong/ to shield the weak and bind the strong./ when fra tease wolds xii hundred men/ came forth fro’ field and fold and pen/ to stand again’ the law of might/ to labor and to dee for right/ and so to save the world fro’ wrong/ to shield the weak and bind the strong/ these simple lads knew nowt of war/ they only knew that god’s own law/ which satan’s will controls must fall/ unless men then did hear that call/ to gan to save the world fro’ wrong/ to shield the weak and bind the strong./ ere britains hordes were paved or planned/ the lads whae joined this homely band/ to normandy has passed o’er sea/ where some were maimed and some did dee/ and all to save the world fro’ wrong/ to shield the weak and bind the strong/ good lads and dames our ridings pride/ these steanes are set by this roadside/ this tale your childrens bains to tell/ on what ye did when war befell/ to help to save the world fro’ wrong/ to shield the weak and bind the strong.

Another well-known character and part of a way of life on Yorkshire Wolds were the Wold Rangers. They were itinerant workers who roamed the region finding enough work to just keep them going – a few days of threshing, hay making, or harvesting. Many of them had been in the South African War or World War I or had been left unemployed as a result of agricultural depression and increased mechanisation. When the Rangers called at a farm they would often make their way straight to the stable, to talk and trade (Antrim 1981). Some Rangers carried a bag which contained a few small items to sell to the lads on the farms, then they would make their way to the back door of the farm to ask for hot water and permission for a night’s lodgings. The Wold Rangers usually travelled alone during the week and met together at weekends at a local pub. Sunday morning would see one or two in a sheltered patch of wood, cooking a piece of bacon for sandwiches for the week, or a rabbit now and then. They might have a turnip from the field, a few potatoes, onions cooked with it. The last of the Wold Rangers was George Smith, who died in Driffield in March 1987, aged 76. 

The second half of the twentieth century saw demands made for accessibility to the countryside for tourism, amenity and recreational uses. In 1949, the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act recognized the needs of the urban majority for access to the countryside. County councils were given the task of surveying their own areas and mapping rights of public access. As pressure on the land increased, the need for management control became a dominant theme, resulting in the Countryside Act of 1968 which made provision for the imposition of management controls for conservation and recreation in rural areas. By the early 1980s conflict between the agricultural industry and conservation was high, with conservationists concerned with the intensification of farming and its effects. The Common Agricultural Policy was introduced by the European Commission in the later twentieth century, resulting in subsidy regimes and other land-use measures that have helped to direct and shape the pattern of land-use activity that we see today. The dominant farm type of the northern Wolds in 1998 was cereals and general cropping, with between 10-31% of the area employed in agriculture, forestry and fishing in 1991. The agricultural industry saw a 27% loss of jobs between 1985-2000, with average earnings also declining. By the end of the twentieth century the trend of falling farm incomes had become widespread, with an average below £10,000 per annum for small, full-time farms. The prices of sheep and cattle also fell while farm rental levels increased. Farm subsidy support contributed an average of 15% which helped to keep many farmers viable. 

Arable farming now dominates the present-day Yorkshire Wolds, with 73% of the farmed area being used to grow cereals and other arable crops. Large farms over 100 hectares dominate, and comprise 85% of the farmed area. The number of holdings producing oilseed more than doubled between 2000-2009, while there was a decreased of 44% in the numbers of sheep and 18% in cattle. During this time the number of full-time workers in the agricultural industry fell by 36%, continuing the decline of agricultural employment in this region. 

Two of the major challenges facing the agricultural industry on the Yorkshire Wolds are climate change and soil conditions. Climate trends suggest increased rainfall, periods of drought, and more frequent storm events. Low groundwater levels in the Yorkshire Wolds are likely to result in lower river levels outside the region as they are spring-fed. The region is an important catchment area as the underlying chalk aquifer supplies water to the Yorkshire and Humber region. The chemical quality of groundwater is classified as poor throughout the Yorkshire Wolds, but the reduction of diffuse agricultural pollution through nitrates will improve the quality of water and northerly chalk streams. The most vulnerable areas for soil erosion are on the steep valley slopes under arable production, particularly when there are high-intensity downpours when crops are establishing or harvesting. Planting green cover crops or permanent grasslands on field margins and slopes can reduce this erosion. New schemes of agricultural management have been introduced in the later twentieth century to combat these issues. Through the Higher Level Environmental Stewardship Scheme, 722 hectares of chalk grassland and 950 hectares of all grassland are in conservation management. The scheme is for farmers to undertake environmental management in order to protect wildlife, the landscape, natural resources, the historic environment and promote public access. 

Although the Yorkshire Wolds are predominantly agricultural in nature, the region has been a popular tourist destination throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, with holidaymakers flocking to the coast during the summer. The quiet undulating hills of the Yorkshire Wolds also attract walkers, cyclists and artists, while the Flamborough Cliffs nature reserve is home to important seabird colonies which nest on the chalk cliffs. During the summer months the cliffs are host to vast numbers of breeding seabirds, including fulmars, herring gulls, kittiwakes, guillemots, razorbills and puffins. The grassland fields are also important and host nesting skylarks and meadow pipits, while gorse attracts breeding linnet and yellowhammer, and the reed beds host reed warblers, sedge warblers and reed bunting. Wildflowers are profuse within the nature reserve, which attract butterflies.  Pods of harbour porpoises, dolphins and minke whales can occasionally be seen off the coast.