Medieval Period

Carenza Lewis

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Historical overview

The period 850-1500 was one of great change, which saw the East Midlands transformed from a conglomerate of localised chiefdoms or small kingdoms in the middle Saxon period, to become part of the much larger and more powerful medieval kingdom of England, which at its height, during the period of the Angevin empire, was one of the largest and most powerful forces in Europe.

By 850, Lindsey and the other Middle Anglian kingdoms of the region had come largely under the control of Mercia. This powerful overlord provided the region with no guarantee against Viking raids from Denmark, the first of which was documented at Lindsey, Lincolnshire in 841. By the 870s the East Midlands was almost entirely under Danish control (with the exception of Northamptonshire west of Watling Street). The extent of Danish immigration and settlement remains contentious, but the area was administered and defended by the Danes from five fortified towns or burhs – Leicester, Nottingham, Derby, Lincoln and Stamford – whose territories became the medieval shires. From the second decade of the tenth century, control of the region was wrested from the Danes by the Saxon kingdom of Wessex, although briefly recovered by them in the 940s. Even after its amalgamation with Saxon England the area of former Danish control, termed the Danelaw, retained many legal and social distinctions.

The last centuries of the Anglo-Saxon era were ones of explosive change, upon which the impact of Viking rule remains a major subject of debate. Many of these changes appear to be part of widespread developments engulfing much of England and even Europe. The early administrative system of the church in the East Midlands, which originated with a small number of minster churches, changed by around 1100 into a system of smaller parish units each with its own church, via a process which seems to have been different from that in much of the rest of England. Religious developments were mirrored in secular landholding, where large middle Saxon estates devolved into numerous smaller manorial holdings. Both processes continued after the Wessex ‘re-conquest’ of the Danelaw. The extent to which secular and religious authority promoted each other is unclear, but is likely to have been significant. The period from 850 seems to have been one of considerable population growth and expansion of settlement in the region, a pattern sustained until the fourteenth century.

Any or all of these factors may have impacted on the system of agrarian production and settlement, which in many parts of the region saw profound reorganisation, probably in the ninth or tenth century. A communal system of rotational field cropping was instigated in many manors and new crops were introduced. At the same time, dispersed settlements were widely abandoned as populations relocated to nucleated villages, which were usually co-located with the manor house and church. Whilst the region was becoming a largely champion landscape comprising open fields and nucleated villages, more thinly populated pastoral landscapes of dispersed settlement and mixed economies remained prevalent in the more wooded, moorland and fenland areas of south-east Lincolnshire, north-west Leicestershire, north-west Derbyshire and west Nottinghamshire. Economic growth was considerable, and as production for the market revived from the ninth century, fortified sites such as the burhs and other trading centres, some newly founded, became urban settlements and the foci for production and commerce.

In 1066 the region came, along with the rest of England, under the rule of William, Duke of Normandy, and most of the Saxon lords’ holdings were transferred to William’s followers. The impact of this on the higher echelons of a feudal society is visible in the appearance of castles and a renewed burst of monastic foundations following the introduction of new religious orders from the Continent. The impact may have been less on lower levels of society, but everywhere the period from 1066 to c. 1300 was one of intensification, building on the earlier foundations.

In the post-Conquest period, the region, remote from national borders, was relatively secure, although the Anarchy of Stephen’s reign (1135-54) caused a brief spurt of new castle building. Up to c. 1250, population continued to grow rapidly in both champion and pastoral regions and a high level of wealth and confidence is evident in the landscape. Many nucleated villages were laid out afresh on a regular plan and with vacant space left for future expansion. Elsewhere new settlements were founded. Existing towns such as Leicester, Lincoln and Northampton expanded and built or rebuilt expensive walls. Many new towns were founded, mostly as commercial ventures, for example Market Harborough and Castle Carleton. Increasing numbers of farms and small hamlets continued to be carved out of existing field systems or woodland, which was also extensively assarted to make way for new fields. Continental contact was evidenced in the appearance of houses of new religious orders, including one which was exclusive to the East Midlands.

During the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries a fashion for moated residences among lords, ranging from bishops to humble holders of a single small manor, was widespread. A more intensively exploited, and formally bounded landscape was supplemented by deer parks, which were built by wealthier lords to provide some of the amenities of royal hunting chases. By 1300 much of the region, notably the champion landscapes of most of Northamptonshire, north and west Lincolnshire, east and south Leicestershire, east and south Nottinghamshire and south Derbyshire, were densely populated and exploited. In the pastoral regions, levels of population and exploitation were rising fast on the back of a mixed economy of agriculture, pastoralism and industrial activity such as iron smelting and potting.

By the late thirteenth century, the foundation of new towns had peaked and many towns suffered as industries such as potting and fulling moved out into the country. There, an over-exploited landscape suffered, as a series of poor harvests in the second decade of the fourteenth century was followed by the Black Death of 1348-9, which killed perhaps around a third of the population. Lordly control was weakened as demand for peasant labour exceeded supply, and the feudal bonds of medieval society were terminally weakened. Many rural settlements, particularly those in less favoured sites, suffered severe depopulation as peasants moved to other villages or to the towns. But despite this influx, many towns also shrank in size, as mortality rates remained high. During the fifteenth century, corn prices fluctuated wildly and many lords turned to sheep farming as a more reliable source of profit requiring fewer workers. Many arable fields were turned over to pasture. These developments had a profound effect on the champion regions, where any further problem could lead to the abandonment of the more unfortunate villages. The impact was more muted in pastoral areas. At the end of the fifteenth century the battle of Bosworth (1485) in Leicestershire ended the reign of Richard III, and ushered in the Tudor period, but the region was still in the grip of a decline that would not be reversed for a century or more. 

The evidence

The evidence for the period 850-1500 in the East Midlands has two distinguishing features. One is the extent to which the archaeological evidence is preserved as visible remains, across and within the landscape.

The second is the range of sources beyond the archaeological, which must all be brought to bear on the period. Both of these place high expectations on the level of resolution that can be derived from the evidence.

The medieval period is the first for which archaeological evidence for entire landscapes survives, in some cases more or less as they were left when the last field was turned over to pasture or the last croft abandoned, as has been graphically demonstrated by air photography. Such survival is an exceptional characteristic of the south of the region, particularly in Northamptonshire and Leicestershire. The potential exists to analyse such landscapes holistically, not as a series of ‘sites’ surviving as isolated islands in a much later sea, and this is an immense privilege rarely granted to researchers into other regions or earlier periods.

The corollary of this is, of course, the immense cost of investigating such vast tracts of evidence. Moreover, there is no scope for complacency, as the resource is diminishing before our eyes, falling victim to modern cultivation, extractive industry and building development. The challenge lies in identifying avenues for investigation which will not result in creating a partial view for ourselves, when we could see the whole picture.

The period 850-1500 is the first for which there is archaeological, historical and architectural evidence available reasonably widely. Documentary and architectural evidence is very much less common before c. 1200, but from then on increase significantly. Indeed it is one of the ironies of the period that although archaeological preservation is so much better than for more remote periods, in some areas it has so far contributed very much less to our understanding than have documents, and its use has often been restricted to merely ‘illustrating’ document-derived history. It is axiomatic, therefore, that evidence from a variety of disciplines including, especially, archaeology, history and historical architecture, should be used together. 


Although a number of towns such as Leicester and Lincoln probably remained in continuous occupation from the Roman period onwards, it is unlikely that post-Roman settlement at these or other foci, such as minsters, could be considered in any way truly urban before the late Anglo-Saxon period. Only from the ninth century did a number of settlements begin to acquire urban characteristics, stimulated by both the development of formal weekly markets, mostly at important manorial and estate centres, and the founding of fortified burhs during the Danelaw and the subsequent re-conquest. 

Pre-Norman towns

The earliest identifiable urban settlements were the fortified burhs founded in the ninth and tenth centuries (Fig. 48). Derby, Leicester, Lincoln, Nottingham, and Stamford (the ‘five boroughs’) as well as Northampton, were all fortified by the Danes, reusing Roman defences where available (as at Leicester where there is no evidence for either Danish or Wessex refortification). This appears primarily to have been a response to the threat of a Wessex ‘re-conquest’ rather than part of a plan of settlement development (Stafford 1985, 114-5). Towcester was fortified in 917 by Edward of Wessex, who captured Derby in 917 and Leicester, Nottingham and Stamford in 918, although the ‘five boroughs’ were briefly retaken by the Danes in the 940s. Lindsey, and perhaps Lincoln, may have remained under Viking control (from York) into the late ninth or early tenth century. Newark in Nottinghamshire was another new burh of the late Saxon period.

A map of the Midlands showing the distribution of sites. There are sites throughout the region, with a very high concentration in the south.

Fig 48: Distribution map of medieval sites mentioned in the text: Secular

Most of the towns which developed from the Anglo-Scandinavian burhs have seen repeated excavation (e.g. Jones et al. 2003; Mahany and Roffe 1983; Mahany et al. 1982; Perring 1981; RCHME 1977; Rogers 1965; Stafford 1985, 46-7; Steane and Vince 1993; Vince and Young 1991), ranging from major research ventures to more limited responses to development. However, little is known of the character of occupation within or the defences around them. Pre-Norman buildings have been found at Nottingham and Northampton (Foard 1995a; Soden 1998-9; Welsh 1996-7; Williams 1977; 1983; 1984; Williams and Farwell 1983; Williams et al. 1985), but early occupation elsewhere has proved more elusive (Hall and Coppack 1972) as, generally, has evidence of distinctively Danish character. Even the nature of the defences remains obscure. In Leicester, the only known Danish items are four carved bone objects, a bronze pendant and a few ring-headed pins (Liddle 1982b, 13). 

Towns in the post-Conquest period

The defining nature of urban settlements is as densely and permanently occupied centres of trade and industry. Documentary evidence shows that Leicester, Northampton and Brackley (Northamptonshire) were among many centres of cloth manufacture and wool and leather working, while excavation shows Stamford, Torksey, Lincolnshire, and Northampton to be among the major urban pottery-producing centres either side of the Conquest. Map analysis at places such as Market Harborough, Leicestershire, shows a common urban plan with a large central market place fringed by long narrow plots. Excavation in a number of sites reveals such plots to have contained shops and houses fronting onto the street, with working areas behind.

Most of the major medieval towns have seen some, albeit often piecemeal, archaeological investigation. Leicester has seen more extensive excavation on several sites (e.g. Buckley and Lucas 1987; Connor and Buckley 1999; Finn 1994; 2004; Kipling 2004; Lucas and Buckley 1989). Excavation inside the city walls, at Causeway Lane, revealed a densely occupied urban settlement in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries set within regularly laid out, planned plots, and pits within these have produced a large corpus of ceramic, environmental and faunal material relating to diet, health and living conditions (Connor and Buckley 1999; Monckton 1995). Similarly, recent excavations at 9 St Nicholas Place revealed the previously surveyed twelfth-century undercroft (Hagar and Buckley 1990), above ground masonry remains of a possible fourteenth-century building and associated twelfth- and thirteenth-century cobbled surfaces (Kipling 2004). Excavation, combined with regressive plan analysis, has thrown new light onto the development of the town and post-Conquest formal market place (Courtney 1996a; 1998).

Northampton has also seen excavation in several areas including Woolmonger and St Giles Streets, but work has focussed mainly on the area of the Saxon burh (Foard 1995a; Shaw 1984; 1996-7; Shaw and Steadman 1993-4; Soden 1998-9; Welsh 1996-7; Williams 1979). In Nottingham, most excavation has concentrated around the castle area. Standing building survey has complemented excavation in Lincoln and shown that a much greater number of buildings than formerly supposed are of medieval date (N. Alcock pers. comm.). A similar phenomenon is likely in other towns (e.g. Hagar and Buckley 1990).

Many larger towns such as Leicester had walls in the Middle Ages (e.g. Buckley and Lucas 1987; Lucas 1978-9). These were important status symbols as much as defensive features and also often functioned to demarcate privileged borough holdings from the suburbs beyond. The suburbs, which expanded rapidly from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and were the loci of extensive occupation, industry and even trade (Foard 1995a), have seen little investigation and their organisation remains poorly understood. In Leicester, excavation within the south medieval suburb has revealed domestic occupation and industrial activity including leather working and dyeing (Finn 1994; 2004; Gossip 1998), while in Northampton some excavation has taken place within the suburb of St Edmunds End.

In general, the urban archaeological evidence has to date provided glimpses of the past rather than any bigger picture. Although urban deposits are often rich and deeply stratified, they are severely compromised by subsequent and continuing occupation, whereby foundations and cellars destroy evidence and standing buildings make large areas inaccessible. The resulting ‘keyhole’ excavations, recorded in a diversity of places and sources, are difficult to bring together, hampering understanding of the character and development of medieval towns, although this problem is being addressed for major towns by the Urban Archaeological Database project (Jones et al. 2003). A review of the evidence for late medieval towns in the East Midlands by the Centre for Urban History, University of Leicester, has so far published an account for Northampton (Jones et al. 2000), which has evidence for a pre-Norman regular planned layout. Completion of more of these accounts will be useful. Notwithstanding this, archaeology has not, so far, contributed as much as might be expected to the understanding of commerce, manufacturing and standards of living in the towns of the region. 

Smaller medieval towns

Most smaller towns developed as market centres. The earliest documentary evidence for most dates to the post-Conquest era; only a few towns are recorded by 1086, including Higham Ferrers, Oundle and Kings Sutton, Northamptonshire; Torksey, Grantham and Louth, Lincolnshire; and Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. In some cases established settlements, usually associated with major manorial centres, were ‘promoted’, as at Oundle, where documentary and topographical analysis shows that rows of burgage tenements were added to an earlier agricultural settlement. The date of this extension is unclear, although Oundle is one of the few towns recorded in 1086. Other towns were new foundations, mostly of the twelfth or thirteenth centuries, set up as commercial ventures, such as at Langworth, Lincolnshire (Everson et al. 1991), Castle Carleton, Lincolnshire (Everson 1986; Owen 1992), or Market Harborough, Leicestershire (Beresford 1967). In many cases, where the date of the original market charter is unknown, it is unclear to what extent and for how long settlements first documented with markets in the twelfth or thirteenth century were already functioning as market centres before this date.

Smaller towns are generally less well understood than the major towns. Brackley, Northamptonshire, and Chesterfield, Derbyshire (Ellis 1989) have both seen extensive excavation, although in the latter case the medieval evidence remains unpublished. Most towns have received some sort of historical synthesis, but these vary widely in scope and quality. In Lincolnshire, Louth (Field 1978), Boston (Harding 1978), Barton-on-Humber (Bryant 1984; 1994), Horncastle (Field and Hurst 1983) and Sleaford (Elsdon 1997; Mahany and Roffe 1979) have useful studies synthesising archaeological data, but other towns such as Grimsby (Gillett 1970), Gainsborough (Beckwith 1988), and Grantham (Manterfield 1981) are less archaeologically focused. Important sites which have seen little investigation and for which no useful synthesis exists include Caistor and Torksey, Lincolnshire (Barley 1964; 1981). The small towns of medieval Leicestershire have received little attention (Liddle 1982b, 23), although those in Northamptonshire have fared better (Brown 1991a; Brown and Taylor 1974; Soden 1996-7). Little information is available for Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. 

Town and countryside

The relationship between towns and the countryside is crucial to our understanding of the medieval period,but is difficult to elucidate. The predominance of deserted settlements near to larger Leicestershire and Northamptonshire market towns, in areas such as river valleys not otherwise prone to desertion (Lewis et al. 1996), provides some corroboration for the suggestion that a higher urban mortality rate may have been balanced by immigration from the country although the dating of such a phenomenon is not always easy. Study of faunal remains in Lincoln (Dobney et al. 1996) and Leicester (Albarella 1997a; Gidney 1999; 2000) has thrown light on the provisioning of these towns from the countryside, although Northamptonshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire have seen little of this kind of investigation (see also Chapter 11). Study of pottery distribution around market centres is one way of tracing interactions between town and country, and comparison of urban and rural skeletal populations for disease and nutritional variation would be illuminating both of the quality of life in towns and its comparison with the country (see below). Research of this sort has not been widely carried out in the region. 

Late medieval towns

The later thirteenth century saw a major crisis in towns when the cloth industry moved out to the country, while further problems were caused by agricultural crises in the second decade of the fourteenth century and the Black Death of 1348-9. Recovery was not firmly on track until the sixteenth century or later. Despite these economic fluctuations, most medieval market towns ultimately survived, although in many cases severely reduced in size and wealth.

Others did not survive. Failed towns in many cases were new foundations which did not succeed commercially and were abandoned. Such settlements often lacked extensive fields of their own (on the grounds that the occupants would be traders not farmers) and so had no other form of support if the market failed to attract enough custom. Such sites are of interest and more easily accessible for excavation because of the lack of later occupation, but the extent to which information can be extrapolated to towns in general is limited. Villages which had the right to hold a market but remained village-like in form, still largely dependent on agriculture but with the benefits of revenue from trade, occupy a transitional place in the medieval settlement hierarchy. 

Standing buildings

The medieval period is the earliest for which domestic urban buildings survive upstanding, and these represent a vital resource. Widespread use of timber allows for dating by dendrochronology and a distinctive vernacular architectural tradition is the early use of brick in the east of the region. Vernacular building traditions are an important element through which regional identity is expressed and their study can contribute towards the identification of such identities in the medieval period.

Few towns have large numbers of known surviving medieval buildings, particularly pre-dating 1350, although additional examples have been revealed by intensive survey in some towns, most notably Lincoln (N. Alcock pers. comm.). The surviving medieval undercroft fronting the market place in Northampton is one of several recorded in the nineteenth century, while Flore’s house in Oakham, Rutland, dates to c. 1250 (Liddle 1982b, 25). Buildings of fifteenth-century or later date constitute a greater, although hardly immense, resource, with significant numbers in Oundle, Higham Ferrers and Brackley (Northamptonshire). Such buildings are crucial to understanding not only the nature and wealth of medieval construction, but also for the light they throw on excavated building foundations and the chronology of town planning. Crosses survive in many towns in the region of which some are market crosses or butter-crosses. 


The East Midlands includes a significant stretch of coastline, and its ports were a vital part of the regional, and even national economy. Coastal ports were sited at Skegness, Spalding, Wainfleet and Wrangle, while inland ports, connected to the coast by rivers, lay at Lincoln, Gainsborough and Stamford (Barley 1936). Boston, Grimsby and Saltfleet were sited slightly inland but functioned as coastal ports. Boston was for much of the period the most important port in the region, and was pre-eminent nationally for a while. To date only Lincoln has seen any extensive archaeological investigation and little of this has focussed on the wharf areas. 


Fairs were held once or twice a year, often on open sites, and may have been the earliest sites of regularised commercial exchange developing from Anglo-Scandinavian or Saxon moots or other significant places. Increasingly in the post-Conquest period, fairs became an adjunct to markets, with many new fair grants given in the thirteenth century. Little is known about such sites, although one possible fair site in Northamptonshire has been identified at Boughton Green, associated with a holy well and a turf maze. The existence of good documentary evidence for much of the East Midlands, combined with the generally better-than-average survival of the medieval landscape indicates a potential for the investigation of this difficult subject. 

Rural settlement

Rural settlements, whether classified as settlements or villages (often qualified as deserted, shrunken or shifted), hamlets, farmsteads or crofts, tend to form a substantial proportion of medieval SMR records in the East Midlands (Fig. 48 above). Around 450 medieval rural settlements (23 classified as farms, 113 as hamlets and 312 as villages) are recorded in Northamptonshire, 82 in Derbyshire (60 classified as deserted medieval villages and 22 as shrunken medieval villages), 87 in Nottinghamshire (68 as deserted villages, 14 as shrunken villages and five as shifted villages), and 117 in Lincolnshire (deserted medieval villages and shrunken medieval villages taken together total 221 on the SMR record). However, these omit large numbers of dispersed and continuing settlements. The region is distinctive for the study of rural settlement not only because much of it was under Danish control during the early part of the critical period for nucleation, but also because the survival of both physical remains and documentary sources for rural settlement in the period 850-1500 is unusually good. 

Nucleated villages

The most familiar form of medieval rural secular settlement is the nucleated village, where all settlement within the manor or township is located in one place with its fields around it. National work by Thorpe (Lewis et al. 1996, 4) and Roberts and Wrathmell (1994, fig. 2) both show that settlement in the East Midlands in the nineteenth century (the first period when mapping is available country-wide with a suitable level of detail) was predominantly nucleated. Nucleated villages dominate Northamptonshire, Lincolnshire, southern and eastern Leicestershire, southern and eastern Nottinghamshire and eastern Derbyshire.

Field survey on medieval nucleated settlements in Leicestershire (Hartley 1983; 1984; 1987; 1989b), Northamptonshire (RCHME 1975; 1980; 1981; 1982; 1984) and North Lincolnshire (Everson et al. 1991) has shown that nucleated settlement was similarly distributed in the Middle Ages. However, there is evidently considerable complexity and a high degree of local variation inherent in the medieval settlement pattern of the region (Lewis et al. 1996, 118-157). Much evidence remains to be discovered: recent reconnaissance in Nottinghamshire, where such remains were less well known, focussed on the areas in and around occupied settlements and raised the number of known settlement earthwork sites from 27 to 329 (Bishop and Challis 1998, 27). 

The origins of the nucleated village

Evidence for early nucleated settlements has been tentatively identified from fieldwalking pottery scatters at some sites, including Eaglethorpe in Warmington, Northamptonshire (Brown 1991a, 20), Newton-in-the-Willows, Northamptonshire (Webster and Cherry 1973, 147), Brixworth and Upton, Northamptonshire (Shaw 1993-4), Millfield near Blaston, Leicestershire (Liddle 1988) and in the Vale of Belvoir, Leicestershire (Hills and Liddon 1981). However, it remains difficult to generalise as to quite what form of occupation these scatters represent: at Raunds, Northamptonshire, early occupation proved to be manorial rather than village remains (Cadman 1983; Cadman and Foard 1984).

Fieldwalking in Northamptonshire and Leicestershire has shown that the nucleated village may have been very much less common before c. 850 AD. Then the settlement pattern was predominantly one of small, dispersed hamlets mostly sited on the best land and away from heavy clay subsoils (Foard 1978; Hills and Liddon 1981; Lewis et al. 1996, 92-4). Furthermore, late Saxon material is in most cases closely associated with later medieval nucleated settlements. Less work has been done in other parts of the region, but occasional examples such as Girton, Nottinghamshire, show a similar pattern. This has led to the suggestion that some time in or after the ninth century the dispersed settlements in parts of the East Midlands were reorganised during a ‘great replanning’ into nucleated villages with open field systems, founded on sites that are still mostly occupied today. Suggestions as to the reason or impetus for this reorganisation have ranged from the need to reorganise the field systems to increase productivity necessitating concomitant reorganisation of the settlement pattern, to a simple fashion among lords for model planned villages (ibid., 202-223, 235-8).

The presence of the Danelaw is a major feature of the region and its impact on settlement development either during or after the period of Danish control (a critical period for village evolution) must be better understood. In parts of the East Midlands, particularly east of the river Trent and north of the Welland (Hill 1981, 45), there is a high density of Danish place-name elements such as ‘thorp’ (meaning secondary settlement) or the suffix -by (meaning village or estate) in settlements, most of which are likely to date to the period of Danish control or the subsequent Danelaw (Fellows Jensen 1999a; 1999b). In a number of cases, such as Market Bosworth, Thurcaston, Heather, Exton, Huncote and Burbage (Leicestershire), the discovery of Danish items gives some support to the toponymic evidence for a significant level of Danish settlement. However, the distribution of Danish place-names does not correlate well with the distribution of nucleated settlements or even with the boundaries of the Danelaw. Overall, the impact of the Danelaw on the development of settlement and land use remains poorly understood although crucial to understanding of the period. 

Nucleated settlement plans

Largely as a result of earthwork survey, the later medieval layout of many nucleated settlements is well established in much of the region. Most comprise regularly planned properties, containing houses, yards and gardens, arranged either in a linear form as a single or double row along a central street, or as a cluster, usually gridded around a crossroads. Others are more complex polyfocal settlements, being made up of a number of component parts (Lewis et al. 1996, 120-127).

Few have been dated archaeologically, but the regular plans exhibited by many nucleated villages such as Isham, Northamptonshire (ibid., 124; RCHME 1979, 99-101), seem to be of post-Conquest origin, sometimes as late as the twelfth or thirteenth century, roughly contemporary with the planned layout of many small towns. Documentary evidence gives a likely date for the replanning of the row settlement at Rockingham (Northamptonshire) as 1271, when a market charter was granted (RCHME 1979, 126-30; Taylor 1982). Some examples are earlier: Raunds, West Cotton, Warmington, Daventry, Stanwick, Higham Ferrers, Rothwell, Yardley Hastings, Naseby and Culworth (Northamptonshire) show regular tofts and crofts, laid out but not always fully occupied, dating to the mid tenth century (Audouy 1993-4; Mudd 1995; Soden 1996-7). Excavation at Barton Blount, Derbyshire, revealed regular tofts and crofts which may have originated in the eleventh century (Beresford 1975), while at Isham (Northamptonshire) ninth-century settlement near the parish church appears to have been replanned into a regular row after the Conquest (RCHME 1979, 99-101).

Excavation of nucleated villages has favoured deserted sites where access is not impeded by existing settlement. These, by definition, followed exceptional developmental trajectories in the medieval and post-medieval periods, as the majority of medieval settlements have continued in occupation to the present day. At Riseholme, Lincolnshire, one house and its well were examined within a regularly planned double row settlement (Thompson 1960). Extensive long-term excavations in the nucleated village of Raunds, Northamptonshire (Cadman 1983), highlighted the difficulty of correlating complex documentary and tenurial history with archaeological evidence. Other smaller excavations on nucleated villages include those at Little Newton (Bellamy 1996-7), and Thorpe in Earls Barton, Northamptonshire (Halpin 1981). 

Peasant buildings

Excavation has revealed some evidence for peasant buildings in rural settlements (Beresford 1975; Challis 1999), which do not, as a rule, survive upstanding. Post-medieval standing building evidence can be used to infer likely zones of varying medieval building tradition, which include construction in a variety of different types of stone, and also timber, cob and turf, with roofing comprising thatch, stone, slate, tile or turf. The limited excavation evidence for the medieval period suggests that local variations may be considerable, particularly in the chronology of the transition to stone building. At West Cotton, Northamptonshire, building entirely in stone is attested in the thirteenth century, while at Faxton cob building was replaced by timber framing in the twelfth-thirteenth century and subsequently in some examples, by stone in the fourteenth. As in towns, survey indicates that many more medieval standing buildings survive than are presently known, such as the Royal George in Cottingham, which has been dated to 1262 by dendrochronology, and twelve cruck-framed buildings of late fourteenth-century date have recently been identified in Leicestershire (N. Alcock pers. comm.). The dating of stone buildings, of which greater numbers of medieval date are, by implication, also likely to survive than is presently recognised, presents more problems than those of timber. 

Dispersed settlement

Not all medieval settlement comprised nucleated villages, but other forms are under-recorded and poorly understood. A distinctive feature of the East Midlands is the way in which regions of dispersed settlement occur in close proximity to those of nucleated settlement. Hamlets and farmsteads are also common within the nucleated regions, but as they tend to be small and have often continued in occupation, they lack the large and impressive earthworks which would lead to their inclusion on county SMRs. Place-name evidence such as ‘end’ names have also been used to try and identify dispersed settlement elements which have been subsumed into later nucleated villages.

In some regions, including Charnwood (Leicestershire), Whittlewood (Northamptonshire), the Lincolnshire coastal margins and fenland fringes, north and west Derbyshire, Sherwood Forest (Nottinghamshire), and the Coal Measures (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire), the post-medieval settlement pattern is primarily dispersed. Corroboration that settlement was similarly disposed in the Middle Ages is less easily obtained than in the nucleated regions as these areas have been less thoroughly studied. Few dispersed medieval settlements are included on SMRs and archaeological investigation has been minimal; the nature of medieval settlement in these areas and the process of woodland and marshland colonisation and exploitation remain poorly understood. Many medieval settlements in these areas probably remain to be discovered, a suspicion confirmed by surveys already undertaken or under way (Barnatt and Smith 1997; Bishop and Challis 1998; D. Jones 1988). There is however, a marked absence of evidence for medieval nucleation, which may be regarded, pro tem, as a significant indicator that the settlement pattern in the Middle Ages was indeed, as in later periods, largely dispersed. 

Settlement desertion

A black and white aerial photo showing fields, a road and farm buildings. In the central field extensive crop marks can be seen showing the outline of the medieval village.

Fig 49: The Deserted Medieval Village of Thurvaston, South Derbyshire

Deserted medieval settlements are common across the region (Fig. 49), but most known examples are nucleated villages concentrated in the areas of nucleated settlement. This is due, at least in part, to the greater visibility of deserted large villages compared with small dispersed hamlets or farmsteads. In Northamptonshire (RCHME 1975; 1981; 1982; 1984), Leicestershire (Hartley 1983; 1984; 1987; 1989b) and north Lincolnshire (Everson et al. 1991) these have mostly been recorded by field survey, but few have been excavated. The reasons for desertion remain unknown in most individual cases and different factors were probably involved at different sites and in different areas. Despite widespread citing of economic problems of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, which were certainly a major factor fatally weakening many settlements, many so-called deserted medieval villages continued in occupation well into the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Dispersed regions appear very much less prone to settlement desertion than champion regions such as east Leicester and north-west Northamptonshire, but it is unclear whether this observation in fact merely reflects the difficulty of recognising deserted elements of the dispersed settlement pattern.

Although the pattern and form of nucleated settlement regions are well recorded, the majority of medieval settlements, particularly those where occupation is continuing, have seen little or no archaeological investigation. If there is no corroborative physical evidence for documented medieval settlements other than the presence of a medieval building such as church, such sites are usually not included on SMRs as medieval settlements. This problem is particularly serious in areas of dispersed or mixed settlement. 

The Manor

The manor was the basic unit of medieval lordly landholding: the lord could be the king himself, a bishop or abbot in the case of manors granted to ecclesiastical establishments, or a lay lord who might hold just one manor, or scores of them across the country. The East Midlands was divided into several thousand manors, which ranged in size from a few hundred hectares to a thousand or more. Each was managed from a centre which included the lord’s residence (or that of his bailiff, representative or subinfeudated tenant) and a range of other structures which might include stock houses, barns, granaries, malting houses and breweries, mills, yards, gardens, orchards and fishponds.

There are a number of contradictions inherent to the study of manorial centres. They appear in many different forms: in some cases the centre of an estate might be a monastic grange or castle (see below). Some, but by no means all manorial sites are moated, but not all moated sites are manorial residences. The majority of medieval secular standing remains are manorial and many manorial sites remain in occupation, but few have significant surviving fabric from either the manor or its ancillary buildings. Many of the best-documented manors belonged to monastic houses, with the corollary that the manors of lay lords are less accessible to the historian and remain more poorly understood. The vast majority of manor sites remain unlocated or incorrectly identified, often as village remains, and, despite their ubiquity, remain poorly understood 

Pre-Conquest manorialisation

Historical evidence, including Domesday Book, makes it clear that the manor existed as an institution in essentially its later medieval form by the eleventh century, and originated well before that. However, only a few excavated manorial sites in the East Midlands have yielded evidence of pre-Conquest occupation. The well-known excavations at Goltho, Lincolnshire illustrate the creation and development of the buildings of the manorial site from c. AD 850 up to its transformation in the twelfth century into a small castle (Beresford 1982; 1987), importantly showing the manorial site bridging the Norman Conquest, an aspect for which further evidence has come from several other sites in the region. At Furnells in Raunds, Northamptonshire, extensive excavation of a manorial complex revealed several phases of building, including a post-in-trench hall in the second phase c. AD 700 and an aisled hall with associated church built in the ninth or tenth century (Cadman 1983). At nearby West Cotton, a substantial pre-Conquest building adjacent to a ninth- or tenth-century mill is thought to be the forerunner of the twelfth-century manor house on the same site (ibid.; Lewis et al. 1996, 102). Higham Ferrers castle, Northamptonshire, overlies the remains of a late pre-Conquest post-in-trench building, and a series of late eighth-century buildings in Northampton itself have been tentatively identified as a palace (Williams et al. 1985). 

Early estates

The development of medieval landholdings from large pre-Conquest (or earlier) estates has been investigated in several case studies including Brixworth, Northamptonshire, and Claybrooke, Leicestershire (Brown et al. 1977; Lewis et al. 1996, 106-10 and refs; Phythian-Adams 1978). The administrative system in Northamptonshire has been particularly well investigated (Foard 1985). Other counties have seen less work. Research in progress at the University of Leicester suggests an association between church and chapel dedications to Peter and Paul and early estate centres (G. Jones pers. comm.). In general, comprehension of the process by which late Saxon manors evolved out of Anglo-Saxon estates remains limited. In particular, the degree to which the multiple estate model first propounded in Wales (Jones 1979) existed in the East Midlands and formed the starting point for later manors remains the subject of debate, and the Danelaw may have significantly affected estate and parish development in the East Midlands (Hadley 2000). 

Moated manorial sites

Some manorial sites were surrounded by a moat: a wide, shallow ditch, usually intended to be water-filled, most dating to c. 1250-1350 AD. On a national scale, the East Midlands is not particularly heavily moated (Aberg 1978, 2), but moats are much commoner in the east on heavy clay subsoils and commensurately rarer in the west. Of the six counties, Lincolnshire contains the greatest number, even taking its size into account. Exact numbers of recorded sites tend to fluctuate as definitions change but there are in total a maximum of perhaps around 600 moats in the region.

A number of sites have been excavated, including Saxilby, which revealed a modest manorial complex comprising a timber hall and solar within a levelled moat (Whitwell 1969), and Epworth, Lincolnshire, a stone manorial complex which may be typical of many smaller manorial sites (Hayfield 1984). In Derbyshire a few small, largely unpublished trenches have been opened on moated sites (Monk 1951), whilst Callow Hall Farm contains a thirteenth- or fourteenth-century stone vaulted undercroft and fireplace. At Padley Hall, Derbyshire, only the gatehouse survives from the fourteenth-century house and although the footings of the rest of the complex were uncovered in 1933, no archaeological record was made (Hart 1981, 154). Other excavated moated sites include Mill Cotton, Ringstead, Irchester, Northamptonshire; Somerby, Lincolnshire; and Glen Parva, Sapcote, South Croxton and Long Whatton, Leicestershire (Liddle 1982b, 29-31; Pearce and Mellor 1986). 

Non-moated manorial sites

The discrepancy between the number of manors in the region and the number of known moated sites, even allowing for the post-medieval destruction of many moats, indicates that the great majority of medieval manorial sites were not moated. As such, and in the absence of standing remains, they can be difficult to identify, which may explain why ‘manorial site’ is not presently included as a monument type on many SMRs (e.g. Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire), while ‘manor house’ is. At some manorial sites moats are only revealed by excavation, as at ‘The Bedehouse’ in Lyddington, Rutland (Woodford 1981).

Holyoaks, Leicestershire, is one of the few non-moated manorial sites to have been excavated (G. Brown 1972), revealing a two-storey main building 20 m by 7 m housing a ground-floor kitchen and upper-floor living quarters and garderobe, with stables, stores and other buildings across a courtyard. All was apparently of thirteenth-century date, and the complex bears some similarities with moated manor complexes such as Donington-le-Heath (Liddle 1982b, 31).

In some cases the status of manorial sites changed as land was transferred from one lord to another or the site was upgraded: some manorial sites mutate into castles, as has been demonstrated by excavation of the manorial site of Bullington at Goltho, Lincolnshire (Beresford 1982; 1987; Everson 1988) and this is inferred at Mablethorpe, Lincolnshire, which acquired a licence to crennelate in the fifteenth century. 

Standing buildings

Manorial sites form the bulk of standing secular buildings such as Donington-le-Heath manor house and Medbourne Manor, Leicestershire, some of which have seen thorough and systematic review (e.g. RCHME 1984; Woodfield 1981). Few have seen associated excavation. Although as yet unpublished, the major excavation at Nassington Prebendal Manor, Northamptonshire, has highlighted the great potential of such sites for providing a sequence of development from the late Saxon to the post-medieval. Other sites such as Bradden Manor House, Northamptonshire, were recorded in detail before demolition but not excavated. At Irthlingborough, Northamptonshire, excavation included the nearby church: the close link between churches and manors is evident at many locations where manorial sites occur in close proximity to churches, including pre-Conquest sites such as Raunds Furnells and Earls Barton, Northamptonshire. 

The manorial landscape

Manorial complexes were the centres of landholdings, and the manor cannot be understood without considering its landscape context. Manorial appurtenances included gardens, parks, arable fields, meadow, woodland, fishponds, mills and warrens. Many manorial complexes are preserved as earthworks, and field survey has made good progress recording these in Northamptonshire (RCHME 1975; 1979; 1981; 1982), Leicestershire (Hartley 1983; 1984; 1987; 1989b) and north Lincolnshire (Everson et al. 1991). In many cases sites formerly thought to be the remains of medieval village settlement have been shown to be manorial sites as at West Firsby, Lincolnshire, and at Rand and North Ingelby, Lincolnshire, where survey identified associated manorial features beyond the moated platform. Survey has also proved an effective tool in differentiating between manorial moats and those fulfilling other functions. Isolated moated sites, or those in areas of dispersed settlement are less likely to be manorial, whilst those within villages can be more confidently associated with a manorial centre (Lewis et al. 1996, 140). Some moats associated with manors may be garden features. However, it is rarely possible to be certain as to the function of many specific elements of the manorial site from survey alone, and understanding of the layout of medieval manorial sites is still limited as long as survey is not tested by excavation. 

Castles and Military Sites

The East Midlands was not generally heavily castellated, with an average of around one castle per 50 square miles. This however conceals marked intra-regional differences. The northern counties have particularly low densities – Derbyshire with one castle per 63 square miles, and Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire both with one to around 70 square miles. Leicester and Northamptonshire, on the other hand, have densities of around 30-35 square miles per castle (Cathcart King 1983) – remarkably high for counties far from the border regions. This is probably due more to the nature of lordship in the area than to any real differences in the need for defences. A concentration of castles along the River Trent may reflect the role of this waterway as the last line of defence from the often unruly north of England and Scotland.

Many castles sites are well documented and have a long history of research, often, however, itself of some antiquity. Duffield Castle, Derbyshire, was excavated in 1900 (Manby 1957), and Hallaton, Leicestershire, in the late nineteenth century (Dibbin 1882). Some such as Castle Donington, Leicestershire, have seen only minimal excavation (Liddle 1982b, 19) and others none at all. There has been a predictable favouring of the more visually arresting and historically visible sites. Opportunities for excavation continue to present themselves occasionally as a result of refurbishment or consolidation (e.g. Reynolds 1975; Drewett and Freke 1974). Most known castle sites survive as earthworks, all of which have been recorded, although at varying levels from rudimentary Ordnance Survey antiquity models to detailed analytical surveys (Everson et al. 1991; Hartley 1983; 1984; 1987; 1989b; RCHME 1975; 1981; 1982; 1984). Recent overviews of early castles in Leicestershire and Rutland (Creighton 1997; 1999) and Nottinghamshire (Speight 1994; 1995) have been undertaken. 

Pre-Norman castle precursors

The introduction of the castle to England is conventionally ascribed to the Norman Conquest, but the region contains several notable pre-Conquest defended sites. Excavation at Stamford, Lincolnshire, revealed a late Saxon ditch thought to indicate pre-Conquest fortification of the site of the Norman ringwork (Mahany 1977b; 1978; Webster and Cherry 1977, 235-7). A similarly early date has been proposed for Sulgrave, Northamptonshire, where excavation recorded a Saxon hall and possible perimeter ditch, also underlying a Norman ringwork (Cathcart King 1983, 318 and refs; Webster and Cherry 1973, 147). A ringwork at Hathersage, Derbyshire, was excavated in the 1970s (Hodges 1980), while excavation at Groby, Leicestershire, showed the castle motte was constructed over a pre-existing building, for which the date is not yet clear (Creighton 1997, 25; Leicestershire Museums 1964, 51). 

Post-Conquest castles

The first post-Conquest castles in the region were built to assert Norman authority: to suppress the local populace and discourage uprisings against the new king. Nottingham and Lincoln (Lindley forthcoming) are two of the most important castles, both built in 1068 (Higham and Barker 1992, 59) and Leicester may be of the same date (Fox 1943). All three have seen extensive excavations (Cathcart King 1983, I, 261-2 and refs; II, 380-3 and refs), which continue to throw new light (e.g. Clarke 1952, 25; Reynolds 1975). The construction of Lincoln is documented as causing the destruction of 166 houses, and excavation has revealed the foundations of Saxon houses underneath Northampton Castle, which appeared, like Belvoir, Leicestershire, Bytham, Stamford, Lincolnshire, and Rockingham, Northamptonshire, within twenty years of the Conquest. Excavation has shown the potential of such sites to supplement the often rich documentary history, even where little survives above ground. Although just ‘a few fragments remain’ at Stamford, Lincolnshire (Cathcart King 1983, 262), the 1970s excavations revealed a hall, solar, cellars, arcade, grain drying kilns, a pottery kiln and garderobe, and untangled the development of the hall complex comprising six phases from the mid twelfth century to the fourteenth (Mahany 1977b), all within the ringwork bailey.

Other castles are much less well documented, some lacking any written record of their existence. Many of these may date to the Anarchy (1135-54), when large numbers of castles were built without the licences required in more orderly times. Most were destroyed when firm government was re-established. Examples include Cuckney, Nottinghamshire; The Mount at Legsby, Lincolnshire; Fleet, Lincolnshire, where fieldwork on a ploughed-out mound produced pottery of late eleventh- and twelfth-century date (Cathcart King 1983, 260); and Owston in Axeholme, Lincolnshire, where the poor state of the motte is attributed to its documented demolition in 1174/6 (Beckett 1988, 26-7; Cathcart King 1983, 262). Other unlicensed castes fared better: Barrow on Humber, Lincolnshire, is documented in 1189 (ibid., 259), while at Lowdham, Nottinghamshire, excavation indicated that the site was occupied until c. 1400 (ibid., 380). Not all undocumented castles necessarily originated during the Anarchy: Castle Dykes, Northamptonshire, has stone structures which suggest it was constructed at leisure, while Weedon Lois was an important estate centre.

Despite occasional flurries of military activity, most post-Conquest castles were used increasingly less for military purposes than for administration and display as the residences of lords and the centres of their estates: their construction signified the status of the occupants. Bolingbroke, Lincolnshire, was built by the earls of Chester and lay at the centre of a vast estate until 1608 (Thompson 1966; 1969); Higham Ferrers and Brackley also lie at the centre of large, ancient, wealthy estates. Peveril, Derbyshire, was the centre from which the surrounding royal forest in the Peak District was overseen. Other substantial examples include Folkingham, Bourne, Spalding, Carlton (Lincolnshire), and Bolsover, Horsely, Codnor, Melbourne, Bretby and Mackworth (Derbyshire). There is a strong correlation between castles and the estate centres of major lords, which goes some way to explaining their geographical distribution across the region. However, few of these sites have seen excavation that has revealed much about daily life or the standard of living. At Sleaford and Somerton Castles, Lincolnshire, earthwork survey has demonstrated the emphasis placed on ostentatious display using ornamental gardens and landscapes (see below). Similar potential exists in earthworks at Bolingbroke and Bytham, Lincolnshire. Recent doctoral research has sought to place the region’s castles in their landscape context and forms a foundation for future work (Creighton 1998).

Few castles have many surviving standing structures: in Northamptonshire only Barnwell (Audouy 1993-4; Giggins 1986; 1999) and Rockingham (Klingelhoffer 1983) survive to this level, while upstanding ancillary structures include those at Fotheringay and Thorpe Waterville, Northamptonshire, and Leicester. In Lincolnshire, only Lincoln (Lindley forthcoming) and Tattershall (Thompson 1974) have upstanding remains. The Great Hall of Leicester Castle dates to the twelfth century and is one of the largest surviving examples in the country (Alcock and Buckley 1987; Mackie and Buckley 1995). 

Lost castles

A significant minority of documented castle sites cannot be located. Cathcart King (1983) records three in Leicestershire, seven in Lincolnshire, six in Northamptonshire and one in Nottinghamshire. Other places with hints of lost castles are Irthlingborough, where eighteenth-century documents refer to the ‘castleyard’, and Rothwell, Northamptonshire, where one road is named Castle Street. A number of sites are also listed by Cathcart King as ‘possible castles’; few of these have been investigated, although Thrapston Castle, Northamptonshire, was identified in the 1970s (ibid., 319; Foard 1987). Earthworks at Thorpe Arnold, Leicestershire and Ridlington, Rutland, have been tentatively dated to the Iron Age, but it remains possible that they are in fact medieval (Liddle 1982b, 19). 

Battle sites

Medieval warfare has rarely been the subject of archaeological investigation, but its contribution is potentially high, as excavations at Towton, North Yorkshire, have recently shown. Pre-Conquest battle sites are hard to locate accurately, with the exception of those around burhs (see above), but the burial of 250 males with healed and unhealed wounds at Repton is presumed to be a war cemetery from the winter of 873-4 when the Danes over-wintered at the minster site.

Medieval battle sites have been little investigated except in Northamptonshire, but can be divided into those taking place around castles, and others. Many castles have seen some military action, mostly either during wars of succession such as the Anarchy and the Wars of the Roses, or as a result of disputes between lord and king. Rockingham, Fotheringay and Thorpe Waterville (Northamptonshire); Newark and Nottingham (Nottinghamshire); Bolsover, Harestan, Duffield and Peveril (Derbyshire); Castle Donington, Leicester, Mountsorrel and Sauvey (Leicestershire); and Bytham, Lincoln, Stamford and Bolingbroke (Lincolnshire), were all documented as having been taken by force, several more than once, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries (Cathcart King 1983). Archaeology has posited military action at Lilbourne, Northamptonshire, where survey suggests that the second motte may have been constructed to lay siege to the first.

Other than around castles, battles during the Anarchy have gone largely unrecorded. In later centuries, Northampton was the site of major action in April 1264, when it was besieged by the king in the struggle against Simon de Montfort (Treharne 1955). Only a small area where action probably took place is not now built-up. The town was also the site of a battle on 10th July 1460 during the Wars of the Roses, which took place primarily in the area now occupied by Delapre Park; the site is now included in the Battlefields Register (Foard n.d.; Smurthwaite n.d. a). The probable site of the battle of Edgecote (26th July 1469; Smurthwaite n.d. b; Haigh 1997) is not presently built upon but has not been archaeologically investigated, although a mass grave discovered in the nineteenth century may relate to this action. The Battle of Bosworth (1485), when Henry VII defeated Richard III, marking the end of the Wars of the Roses and the beginning of the Tudor period, took place at Dadlington, Leicestershire, and the site is of clear national importance. 



Monastic sites are often particularly well documented, in many cases complemented by good survival of archaeological remains, and in some by standing remains. The East Midlands has a large number of monastic sites, both rural and urban, representing all significant orders (Fig. 50). However, these are unevenly distributed across the region. Lincolnshire with 110 monasteries and four monastic hospitals (along with at least seven colleges and 31 non-monastic hospitals that are not included in this total) had the highest concentration of monastic houses in any county outside medieval Yorkshire (Bennett 1993a). Derbyshire, on the other hand, had around ten, Leicestershire 21, Northamptonshire 23 and Nottinghamshire 17 (Bishop 2000e).

A map of the midlands showing the distribution of sites. Sites are concentrated in the center and north of the region, with fewer in the south.

Fig 50: Distribution map of medieval sites mentioned in the text: Religious

Most monastic sites are well documented, with known locations and so new sites are rarely discovered. Exceptions to this rule include Newbo Abbey in Sedgebrook (Lincolnshire SMR), Heynings Priory (Everson 1989), Vaudey Abbey (Cope-Faulkner 2001), and Skendleby Priory (Masters 2003), all in Lincolnshire. The monastic ideal sought rural isolation for peaceful austere contemplation and worship; the Benedictines, Cluniacs, Augustinians and Premonstratensians, however, were not averse to developing or maintaining settlements, whilst the friars actively sought to settle in towns where they could support themselves by preaching and alms and to care for the populace.

Excavated sites include Axholme, Bardney, Thornholme, Sempringham, Louth Park and Thornton (Lincolnshire); Pipewell (Northamptonshire); Leicester Abbey, Grace Dieu nunnery (Miller 1969a), Launde and Garendon (Leicestershire; Liddle 1995b); Rufford, Beauvale and Lenton (Nottinghamshire); and Repton, Dale and Darley (Derbyshire). Much excavation is of some age, as at Leicester Abbey, excavated in 1855-64, 1920-23, and 1930 (Liddle 1982b, 38) or Beauvale (Coppack and Aston 2002, 145-146; Hill and Gill 1908). A few antiquarian excavations have been revisited including Thornton, Lincolnshire (Coppack 1991), Canons Ashby Priory, Northamptonshire (Audouy 1991; Taylor 1974), and Dale, Derbyshire (Cox 1875-1879; Drage 1990). Most recently a campaign of research and training excavation has been undertaken at Leicester Abbey from 2000-04 (Jones 2003, 125; Jones and Buckley 2004, 143). However, few monastic sites have been extensively excavated, and fewer still to modern standards including full publication. The only major modern investigations are the excavation of the inner and outer courts of Thornholme Priory, Lincolnshire (Coppack 1989; Coppack and Hayfield forthcoming); the Austin Friars in Leicester (Mellor and Pearce 1981); the Carmelite, Franciscan, and Dominican friaries in Lincoln (Jones et al. 2003, 301 and 311); and the hermitage of Grafton Regis in Northamptonshire.

Early monasticism

Pre-tenth-century monasteries such as Repton (Derbyshire), Oundle (Northamptonshire), Barrow (Lincolnshire) and Breedon-on-the-Hill (Leicestershire) originated as minsters founded, mostly close to royal vills, in the seventh and eighth centuries as centres of Christian learning, devotion, and evangelism. Identification of minster sites is rarely straightforward and often has to be inferred from a combination of historical and archaeological sources. Detailed investigations have been carried out at Repton, Derbyshire, Brixworth, Northamptonshire (Audouy 1993; Everson 1979b; Parsons 1977) and Fishtoft, Lincolnshire, although the results have yet to be fully published. Additionally the site at Flawford, Nottinghamshire, has been suggested as the location of a lesser minster. The church lies at a point equidistant between five villages whose territories are thought to have comprised the minster parochia or parish (Webster and Cherry 1972, 159, 178). Other excavated minster sites include Weedon Bec and Oundle, in Northamptonshire, of late Anglo-Saxon date (Johnson 1993-4), with cemeteries adjacent to St Gregory’s in Northampton, and possibly at Passenham, Northamptonshire.

The wealth of spiritual and artistic monastic life in the late pre-Conquest period is evident in the quality of the sculptural friezes at Breedon-on-the-Hill, Leicestershire (see Chapter 7 above), South Kyme, Lincolnshire, and Bakewell, Derbyshire, and the ninth-century crosses at Bakewell, Eyam and Bradbourne, Derbyshire (Stafford 1985, 104-106). Much of the evidence has been brought together in a single corpus which will throw light on regional material culture and stylistic contacts.

The political importance of monasteries is exemplified by Bardney, the burial site of St Oswald, and Æthelred of Mercia and his wife Osthryth in the late seventh and early eighth centuries, and Repton, which was the burial site for the Mercian kings Wiglaf and Wigstan in the ninth century (Stafford 1985, 104-106). Documentary evidence suggests that minster sites were targets for the Danes in the later ninth century. Repton has already been mentioned, while Lindsey, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, was (possibly) the victim of the first Danish attack in the region in AD 841. However, there is little evidence for widespread and severe disruption before the arrival of the Great Army in 867. 

Reform and the new orders

In the tenth century the English monastic movement was extensively reformed and revitalised in a Europe-wide reform which established the Benedictine order as the standard. Many new monasteries were founded, and older monasteries refounded, by royalty, churchmen (e.g. Crowland), or laymen (Burton on Trent, Derbyshire; St Mary de Castro, Leicester). Following the Conquest, a number of Benedictine cells dependent on Norman houses were established (e.g. Spalding, Lincolnshire), some at least on the sites of earlier monasteries (e.g. Bardney, Lincolnshire).

In the twelfth century several new monastic orders originating in Europe came to England. In the East Midlands, the earliest were the Cluniacs, settling at Lenton, Nottinghamshire, in 1102, followed by the Augustinian canons, Cistercians, Premonstratensian canons, the Military Orders of the Knights Templar and Hospitlar, and finally the Carthusians in the fourteenth century. Hermitages also experienced a renaissance from the twelfth century (Gilchrist 1995, 175-177). Remarkably, we know very little about the choice of sites for new monasteries, the form of their earliest buildings, or their economy, although for the Cistercian order the potential has been revealed by modern excavations at Fountains Abbey and Sawley Abbey (Coppack et al. 2002; Gilyard-Beer and Coppack 1986).

The Augustinian canons, although not strictly monks, were particularly enthusiastically supported by the crown and Norman lords, with six houses founded in Leicestershire (Liddle 1982b, 21) and 14 in Lincolnshire (Coppack forthcoming) before 1200. Only five, Thornton, Thornholme and Torksey in Lincolnshire (both royal foundations), St John’s Abbey in Northampton, and Leicester Abbey, Leicestershire, have seen modern excavation. Of Cistercian houses, only Haverholme, Lincolnshire (an early desertion), and Garendon, Leicestershire (Miller 1969b; Williams 1965; 1969; 1970), have seen extensive modern excavation. Exceptionally, the region hosted two of the nine successful Carthusian monasteries in England, Beauvale, Nottinghamshire, and Axholme, Lincolnshire. Beauvale, which has substantial surviving ruins, was remarkably well excavated in 1905-08 (Hill and Gill 1908); Axholme was briefly examined by Peter Wenham in 1968 (unpublished).

The only new monastic order to originate in Britain was founded in Lincolnshire by St Gilbert of Sempringham. Eleven of the 26 Gilbertine houses lie in the county, including the characteristic double houses (for men and women) of Alvingham, Bullington, Catley, Haverholme, Nunormsby, Sempringham, Sixhills and Tunstall. Only Sempringham (Graham and Braun 1940), Haverholme and Nunormsby have had significant excavation. Of the order’s single houses for men, only Mattersey (Nottinghamshire) has been excavated (Peers 1930). The Gilbertine plan has yet to be fully understood and is being addressed at Sempringham, the mother-house of the order (Coppack and Lane 2003).

The Templars, suppressed more than two centuries before the Dissolution, are an elusive order. This makes the excavations at South Witham, Lincolnshire, the only Templar preceptory in England to have been excavated almost completely and to modern standards in 1965-67 (Mayes 2002), particularly important. The site differs significantly from those of most other monastic orders, reflecting its role as a collecting point for grain and revenue from its estates, which funded the activities of the order as military escorts and bankers for the crusades.

South Witham was abandoned in the early fourteenth century, but other templar sites including Stydd and Temple Normanton (Derbyshire), and Rothley (Leicestershire), where buildings including the hall and chapel are still standing, were transferred to the Knights Hospitlar. The Hospitlar site of Old Dalby (Leicestershire) is not known for certain, although survey has identified a possible candidate (Hartley 1987, 12). Earthworks are also present at the Templar site of Beaumont Leys, Leicestershire, and Willoughton, Lincolnshire. A preceptory of the Knights of St Lazarus existed at Locko, Derbyshire, where lepers were cared for (Marcombe 1991), as was the case at Burton Lazars, the order’s head house in England, which was excavated in 1913 (although the precise location is unclear). Other hospitals are known at Castleton, Barlborough, Bolsover, and Staveley in Derbyshire.

At the communal hermitage at Grafton Regis, Northamptonshire, a dependency of the Augustinian St John’s Abbey in Northampton, excavation indicates that the site included many of the standard monastic components including a chapel, cloister, graveyard, and domestic accommodation including a latrine, bakehouse, brewhouse, dovecote, and guest house (Parker 1981; Wilson and Hurst 1966, 202-204). Other, more solitary, hermitic activity is likely to have been pursued by anchorites settled on churches, which are documented in a number of Northamptonshire parishes, although no associated structures have been positively identified. 

Urban monasteries

A number of Benedictine, Cluniac, and Augustinian houses were ‘urban’ from the twelfth century, and the number of urban monasteries increased substantially from the thirteenth century when the five main orders of friars that originated in Europe came into the region. The friars particularly settled in towns to preach, seek alms, and provide support to the urban poor (although they were substantially adopted by the merchant classes). Leicester, in addition to an Augustinian abbey, had four friaries (Franciscan, Augustinian, Dominican, and Friars of the Sack); Lincoln, in addition to a Benedictine cell, a Gilbertine house and two monastic hospitals, had five (Franciscan – parts of which survive, Carmelite, Dominican, Augustinian, and Friars of the Sack); Boston, as well as a Benedictine cell, had four (Franciscan, Dominican – with substantial remains, Augustinian, and Carmelite); and Derby, in addition to a house of Benedictine nuns, cells of Augustinians and Cluniacs and two monastic hospitals, had one (Dominican).

Generally, the survival of buildings is poor in the extreme, but there have been substantial excavations of Franciscan friaries in Lincoln (Stocker 1984) and Grantham (unpublished), Dominican friaries at Lincoln (Jones et al. 2003, 301) and Boston, an Augustinian friary at Leicester (Mellor and Pearce 1981) and a Carmelite friary at Lincoln (Jones et al. 2003, 311).

Exceptionally, urban manors were held in their entirety by major monasteries, such as Kettering and Oundle (Peterborough), and Wellingborough (Crowland; Page 1936), all in Northamptonshire. 

Standing buildings

A black and white photograph of a street. There are houses on the right hand side, and at the end is a partially ruined medieval abbey.

Fig 51: The East Midlands only has one major Benedictine monastery, Crowland Abbey in Lincolnshire, a late tenth-century foundation on the site of a middle Saxon monastery

A few sites have standing remains, including Mattersea, Welbeck and Beauvale (Nottinghamshire); Lincoln, Thornton, Barlings and Tupholme (Lincolnshire); and Repton (Derbyshire). Churches, which were in part parochial, survive at Crowland (Fig. 51), Bourne and Deeping St James (Lincolnshire), and Canons Ashby (Northamptonshire). Few of these buildings have been thoroughly investigated, although useful work has been carried out in Lincoln (Stocker 1990) and at Barlings (Everson et al. forthcoming) and Tupholme (Coppack and Hall forthcoming).

Monastic appurtenances and the rural landscape

Although standing remains of monastic houses are relatively rare, many survive remarkably well preserved as earthworks. In Leicestershire (Hartley 1983; 1984; 1987; 1989b), north Lincolnshire (Everson et al. 1991) and Northamptonshire (RCHME 1975; 1981; 1982; 1984), where these have been subject to comprehensive earthwork survey, details of the plan and layout can be reconstructed in considerable detail, as at Thornton (Coppack 1991), Thornholme (Coppack and Hayfield forthcoming), Tupholme and Kirkstead (Everson et al. 1991), Lincolnshire; and Owston or Belvoir, Leicestershire (Hartley 1987, 19; Liddle 1982b, 45). Where earthworks do not survive, equally impressive layouts can be recovered from aerial photography, as at Sempringham, Lincolnshire (Coppack and Lane 2003). In most cases, these sites include not only the main monastic ranges, but also evidence for other features which supported monastic life: the buildings, courts, ponds and closes of the inner and outer courts, which cannot always be fully understood (Everson 1989; Everson et al. 1991, 46-47). These provided the connection between the monasteries and their estates, and as a result reflect the development of the house’s economy. As Thornholme Priory, Lincolnshire, hasdemonstrated (Coppack and Hayfield forthcoming), they are remarkably complex in their development, unlike cloister ranges.

At the Premonstratensian site of Barlings, Lincolnshire, the only surviving masonry comprises part of the northern arcade and a crossing pier of the church, but earthwork survey revealed the precinct boundary, a gatehouse, an approaching causeway, a ferry point, and numerous ponds and leats providing both fish and sanitation for the occupants, both vital to the correct conduct of monastic life (Everson et al. forthcoming). At Augustinian Thornton, Lincolnshire, where significant elements of the claustral nucleus and precinct boundary survive, earthwork survey identified large elements of the wider precinct and home grange, interpreted from a surviving survey of 1539, which not only named individual buildings but also listed their contents (Coppack 1991). These are both sites which have dramatically altered their landscape setting. Earthwork survey complimented by geophysical prospection has proved particularly useful at the charterhouses of Axholme, Lincolnshire, and Beauvale, Nottinghamshire (Coppack and Aston 2002).

The landscape context is an important aspect of the impact of monastic houses, and is vital to understanding both the economic underpinning of the monastic houses themselves and the development of the landscape they controlled. Not all monasteries which held land in the region were actually located within it: Ramsey, Peterborough and Westminster were all major land-owners (Beckett 1988; Martin 1978; 1980).

The development of monastic estates is an area where historical and geographical research is poorly developed, partly because of the lack of published cartulary evidence. Yet there are good sources for identifying the estates of individual houses, even where a cartulary is lacking. The only house for which this has been addressed is Augustinian Thornholme (Moore 1982). It is only in this context that individual elements of the monastic estate and their development can be understood. Not surprisingly, the development of the monastery itself mirrors, or is mirrored by, the development of its estate.

Detached monastic farms, called granges by some orders and manors by others, often had a significant impact in reclaiming, improving, and exploiting land, particularly in marginal zones. Survey in north Derbyshire has identified 41 possible grange sites owned by at least 20 different houses, most of which belonged to the Augustinian or Cistercian orders (Hart 1981); survey in Leicestershire identified more than 40 (Courtney 1980; Liddle 1982b, 38). Field survey in Northamptonshire (RCHME 1975; 1981; 1982; 1984), Lincolnshire (Everson et al. 1991), and Leicestershire (Hartley 1983; 1984; 1987; 1989b) has identified, recorded and interpreted the layout of many grange sites, such as that at Sysonby, Leicestershire (Liddle 1982b, 38-39), and Collow, Lincolnshire (Everson et al. 1991, 123). In some respects the plans are similar to secular manor sites, with building platforms, yards, paddocks, gardens, and fishponds, all frequently defined and bounded by enclosure ditches or banks, although a gridded layout is particularly clear at many grange sites.

Excavated granges include Badby Grange, North-amptonshire, which remains unpublished, Stanley Grange, Derbyshire (Challis 1998), and the Peter-borough grange of Fiskerton, Lincolnshire. Roystone Grange (Hodges 1991) lies in the Derbyshire Peak District, a region devoid of monastic houses but where a number of monasteries held estates. Extensive excavation and survey here has revealed the layout of elaborate grange buildings and shown how systematically the landscape was colonised and exploited for profit, mainly from sheep and lead mining. In contrast to the mainly pastoral and extractive activities at Roystone, at Needham grange, Derbyshire, open field strips attest to arable cultivation. It was normal for granges to practise a mixed economy, although one regime might predominate. 

The Dissolution

The limited survival of most monastic houses bears mute witness to the effectiveness of the Dissolution of 1536-40, although the mechanism of suppression has been little studied. Leases of monastic sites from 1537 required the demolition of churches, chapter houses and dormitories, although in some areas this was not effective. In the East Midlands, there is evidence of large-scale demolition by contractors like Anthony Freeman in Lincolnshire. At Lenton Priory, which owned land in seven counties, and was the most powerful monastery in Nottinghamshire, excavation has revealed little more than the lower walling of the church. Field survey on many sites, notably in Lincolnshire, has shown the extent to which monastic sites continued in occupation as country houses, selectively reusing buildings and laying out or remodelling gardens (Everson 1996). This has been tested by excavation only at Bardney and Sempringham. A similar fate is revealed in Nottinghamshire, at Welbeck, Rufford and Newstead (Pevsner and Williamson 1979, 19). 

Hospitals and colleges

Allied to the monastic settlement of the East Midlands were hospitals for lepers, the sick or indigent, and travellers, mostly poorly documented and rarely with any structural remains. They were both sub-urban and rural, and their distribution is similar to that of monastic sites (Fig. 50 above). Northamptonshire had 14 hospitals, Lincolnshire had 31 (plus two early foundations that became monasteries in their own right), Derbyshire had nine, Leicestershire 15, and Nottinghamshire 12.

Only a small number of sites can be accurately located. Most were independent, although a few were monastic. Peterborough Abbey, for instance, had a leper hospital and a hospital for poor sisters and the sick they tended in Peterborough, as well as three in Stamford (Lincolnshire) for lepers, the poor, and for poor pilgrims, and one at Cotes by Rockingham (Northamptonshire) for lepers. Selby Abbey maintained a hospital at Brigg (Lincolnshire) at the crossing of the River Ancholme. The Priory of St Mary and St Lazarus of Burton Lazars had dependent leper hospitals at Lincoln, Threekingham (Lincolnshire), and Locko (Derbyshire). The short-lived Priory of the Holy Sepulchre in Nottingham was converted into a hospital and retained its brethren. The Dean and Chapter of Lincoln maintained the hospital of St Giles, the site of which is known and which retains considerable architectural detail, for retired minor clergy from the cathedral. Independent hospitals were staffed by a master and ‘brothers’ or ‘sisters’ who might have enjoyed a communal life; they might also be endowed with estates.

Only one site has been excavated in the East Midlands, at Partney (Lincolnshire), and few have been studied nationally. One of the principal difficulties in studying hospital sites is the changing nature of the provision they provided. From c. 1115 to before 1318, Partney functioned as a hospital for wayfarers; it then became a monastic cell, before it was finally abandoned by 1460. The site comprised a stone-built chapel, a series of timber buildings in ditched enclosures and a cemetery. Its change of function cannot easily be detected in the excavated buildings which probably comprise only a part of the site.

Parts of three hospitals survive as standing buildings: the chapel of the hospital of Sts John Baptist and John Evangelist in Northampton; the hospital of Sts James and John in Brackley (Northamptonshire), and the hospital chapel at Martin by Bawtry (Nottinghamshire). Earthworks and modern property boundaries define the site of the great Malandry or leper hospital on South Common in Lincoln (Cookson 1843).

Colleges were institutions that housed families of priests associated with the serving of collegiate churches, schools, hospitals, and chantries, and were led either by a dean or master depending on status. There has always been some confusion between houses provided for chantry priests and colleges. Colleges here conform to the definition by Knowles and Hadcock (1953, 325 et seq.) that they housed a minimum of three priests, and that they also housed clerks or choristers. Never numerous, they were fairly evenly spread within the East Midlands: Northamptonshire had six colleges, Lincolnshire had five (plus the short-lived university at Stamford), Derbyshire had two, Leicestershire, five, and Nottinghamshire, five.

Early colleges, predating the Norman Conquest, were associated with churches of All Saints and St Alkmund in Derby, St Martin in Leicester (transferred to St Mary de Castro in 1107), and the collegiate church of Southwell, Nottinghamshire. Their form and structure is unknown. The College of the Vicars Choral in Lincoln was established after 1280 and is one of the earliest surviving secular colleges in England (Stocker forthcoming; Wood 1951). Its hall, several lodgings, gatehouse, and barn survive in use. Sibthorpe, Nottinghamshire, Noseley, Leicestershire, and Cotter-stock, Northamptonshire, were established by the early fourteenth century to serve collegiate churches, although Cotterstock was given the hospital of Perio, Northamptonshire in 1329. Kirby Bellars, Leicestershire, founded as a chantry in 1315, rapidly became a college, and in 1359 was converted into a house of Augustinian canons, indicating that the relationship between chantry priest and coenobite could be fairly fluid. The majority of colleges, however, were late medieval foundations post-dating the Black Death and reflecting the growth of chantries. Spilsby College, Lincolnshire was established after 1347, and Clifton College, Nottinghamshire, formalised a group of chantry priests in 1387.

Three colleges, all associated with the Yorkist cause in the late fourteenth century, have been partially excavated: Fotheringhay and Higham Ferrers, Northamptonshire and Tattershall, Lincolnshire. Of these three only Chichele College at Higham Ferrers has substantial surviving remains, which include a school and bedehouse. Tattershall and Fotheringhay retain their collegiate churches, and Tattershall retains an almshouse (still in use) and a school (ruinous). Newark College in Leicester was established on the pre-existing hospital there.

Stamford housed halls for the Gilbertines (St Gilbert’s Hall) and Benedictines, based on monastic houses but of collegiate structure, and a similar hall (Brazenose Hall) for secular students between 1266 and 1344. The gatehouse of Brazenose survives.

The last college to be established was Thornton, Lincolnshire, a conversion of a major Augustinian abbey to avoid its suppression in 1539/40. It only survived for seven years, but as a personal action of Henry VIII (which parallels the conversion of Westminster Abbey as a royal peculiar) it is of remarkable significance given the substantial survival of the site. It was retained to provide a royal lodging associated with a ferry to the royal town of Hull. 


The major episcopal centre for most of the period was Lincoln, although the later Anglo-Saxon period was one of shifting episcopal territories, with bishops’ seats frequently being transferred from one location to another for reasons that had less to do with religion than with politics. Leicester was the original seat of the bishopric created around 679 for the Kingdom of the Middle Angles and Lindsey too had a long history as an independent see covering much of Leicestershire. Much of the rest of the region was under the control of Dorchester-on-Thames (Berkshire), York or Lichfield (Staffordshire). Lindsey was incorporated into Dorchester shortly after 900, and although Leicester on the eve of the Norman Conquest was within Dorchester-on-Thames, it retained an episcopal seat (Hill 1981, fig. 254-6). After the Conquest, the majority of the region lay within the see of Lincoln, which reached from the Humber to the Thames and included most of Lincolnshire, Leicestershire and Rutland. Nottinghamshire, however, remained within the see of York, and Derbyshire within Lichfield.

At Lincoln Cathedral (Fig. 51), the only major surviving ecclesiastical building in the region, many of the standing buildings have been subject to extensive historical, structural and topographical investigation (S. Jones et al. 1984; 1987; 1990; 1996; Major 1953-1974;). The cathedral was repeatedly the focus of architectural and artistic innovation which then acted as an inspiration for ecclesiastical building elsewhere in the region (Stocker and Vince 1997; Stocker and Everson forthcoming). 

Ecclesiastical palaces

The Bishop’s palace in Lincoln has been extensively investigated, although some of the results remain unpublished (Chapman et al. 1975; Faulkner 1974). Excavation of the Bishop’s palace of The Bedehouse in Lyddington, Rutland, revealed a great hall and associated buildings surrounded by a 5.5 m wide moat, beyond which lay a park and fishponds (Simms 1955; Woodford 1981). Earthwork survey at the Bishop’s houses outside Lincoln, at Nettleham, Stow and Sleaford Castle, Lincolnshire, none of which have any upstanding masonry remains, has revealed much of their layout and function. Nettleham was a retreat and lodging for important guests with an attached enclosed garden situated close to Lincoln, while Stow and Sleaford Castle are both set within elaborate ornamental landscapes incorporating contrived expanses of water and parkland. A similar emphasis on ornamental landscape settings for episcopal houses in the East Midlands is evident at the Bishop of Durham’s residence of Somerton Castle, Lincolnshire, where some standing remains also survive. 


Despite shifting episcopal responsibilities in the later Anglo-Saxon period, church building was carried out rapidly as the system of large minster parochiae administering to many communities was broken up into smaller local units serving single villages, manors or more localised dispersed settlements. The way that this process took place at a local level in the East Midlands is not yet well understood, but its correlation with the transition in secular land units from large multiple estates to smaller manors has been noted and was one subject of investigation at Raunds, Northamptonshire, where a pre-Conquest church was excavated adjacent to Furnells manor (Cadman 1983). Recent research has suggested that the model widely used for the development of the minster and parochial systems may not be applicable within the Danelaw.

Nearly all medieval churches were in existence by the second quarter of the twelfth century, and new church foundations possibly peaked as early as the decades immediately after AD 1000 (Morris 1989, 140-167). Few of these can be identified from the existing archaeological or, indeed, the historical, record. Just ten of the 195 medieval churches in Nottinghamshire have evidence for their existence before the Conquest, while of 150 medieval churches in Derbyshire only a few can be dated to the pre-Conquest era. The Domesday Book for Northamptonshire records just 59 priests and one church out of 380 churches known to have existed by the end of the Middle Ages. The extent to which existing records underestimate the number of late Saxon and early Norman churches has been demonstrated, if proof were needed, by architectural investigation at sites such as Greens Norton and Earls Barton, Northamptonshire, which have revealed Saxon stonework in manors for which no priest or church is recorded.

Few churches in the region have been the subject of archaeological investigation, and most of this work is of some antiquity. None of the 150 medieval churches in Derbyshire, with the exception of Repton, has been recently excavated. Some excavations, however, have been carried out to a very high standard in recent years. Examples in Lincolnshire include St Peter’s, Barton on Humber, and St Mark in Wigford and St Paul in the Bail, Lincoln (Bennett 1993b). However refurbishment provided an opportunity for only very limited investigation at Holton-le-Clay (Sills 1982), Healing (Bishop 1978), Keelby (Field 1986) and Stow (Field 1984a). Similarly, only four of the 24 church excavations recorded on the Northamptonshire SMR were of any significant extent, and two of those were antiquarian investigations.

Even the wave of rural church redundancies in the 1970s and 1980s seems to have provided only limited scope for investigation, mostly restricted to recording of standing remains, as at Miningsby, Lincolnshire (Everson 1980). Exceptions include Cumberworth, Lincolnshire (Green 1993). In Northamptonshire 28 churches including Catesby, Clopton, Boughton Green and Brackley St James were abandoned in the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, but few of these have been excavated. The unexpected discovery of the previously lost ninth- or tenth-century church of Raunds Furnells, Northamptonshire, in the 1970s (Cadman 1983) suggests that other unknown medieval churches remain to be discovered.

Churches might seem to be ideal subjects for methodical architectural investigation, but little detailed investigative work has in fact been carried out, while a survey of all standing medieval churches in Northampton by RCHME/EH remains unpublished. County overviews (Pevsner 1973; Pevsner and Harris 1964; Pevsner and Williamson 1978; 1979; 1984) record main architectural phases and stylistic elements such as the decorated 1160-70 chancel at Tickencote, Rutland (Pevsner 1960, 273 and 327). Brixworth and Earls Barton, Northamptonshire have been subject to more detailed architectural investigation (e.g. Parsons 1977). 


Chapels appear frequently in church and manorial records, but are more elusive than churches, as they are commonly smaller, in use for shorter periods, or integrated within another building such as a manor house. Chantry chapels, of which three are recorded on the Nottinghamshire SMR, would be sited within parochial or monastic churches. The Nottinghamshire SMR lists 195 medieval churches, but only 32 chapels. It is unclear whether this reflects the true situation or simply the difficulty of identifying sites.

At Burham, Lincolnshire, an entire parochial chapel was excavated (Coppack 1986). At Brentingby, Leicestershire, excavation revealed a structural sequence commencing in the early twelfth century with several phases of rebuilding and elaborate decoration (Liddle 1982b, 21). A small square enclosure at Legsby, Lincolnshire, overlying arable and containing a small rectangular building, may be the chapel erected in the thirteenth century to serve the small settlement of Caldecotes (Everson et al. 1991, 126). Excavation of a circular moated site at Brockey Farm, Leicestershire, revealed two stone coffins, suggesting that this site, presumably manorial, may have had its own chapel (Clarke 1952, 41). However, the sites of many documented medieval chapels are now lost, such as at North Marefield, Leicestershire, documented from 1166 until at least the fourteenth century (Everson 1994). 

Human remains

Most medieval churches were associated with burial grounds, but few have been excavated. The few exceptions include St Peter’s, Barton on Humber, and St Mark in Wigford and St Paul in the Bail, Lincoln, none of which have yet been published. In the latter two cases, the remains were reburied without adequate study. Jones et al. (2003, 296) have drawn attention to the present lack of potential for studying physical anthropology within Lincoln’s population: only the small and atypical group from Whitefriars is now available (Steane et al. 2001). Most recently, in Leicester, excavation has revealed parts of cemeteries belonging to the two ‘lost’ churches of St Michael and St Peter (Gnanaratnam 2004). At Raunds, Northamptonshire, both church and graveyard were completely excavated, and excavations at Repton, Derbyshire, included church and burials. The results from St Peter’s, Barton on Humber, would be of particular interest as the early medieval material from the nearby Castledykes cemetery is available for comparison (Drinkall and Foreman 1998). Too few populations are available to allow comparisons between rural and urban sites, and monastic cemeteries have fared even worse. 


The East Midlands was an important source of coal and iron ore in the Middle Ages: the foundations of the industrial nature of the north-west of the region were laid in the medieval period. The most visible industries were those concerned with iron production, lead mining, coal mining, cloth manufacture, leather working, potting, stone quarrying, milling, salt production, fishing, and timber management. Some, such as cloth manufacture, leather working and potting, are found widely across the country, but others, such as iron, coal and lead mining and salt production, are more geographically limited by the availability of resources. Any archaeological consideration of industry faces the problem that some processes leave more trace than others, and activities such as woodworking, lace making or metalworking are rarely detectable. 


Pottery manufacture is attested at a number of sites, both before and after, the Norman Conquest, but by no means all production sites suspected to have existed in the region have been located. Kilns have been found in both rural and urban locations, although rural sites seem to be common only from the twelfth century onwards. National reviews (Hurst 1976; McCarthy and Brooks 1988) have provided very useful syntheses of the evidence for pottery manufacture and distribution in the region. 

Pre-Conquest pottery

The late Saxon period saw a transition from handmade, largely locally produced, clamp-fired pottery, to specialist-produced wares fired in kilns. Important pre-Conquest pottery production sites have been found in Northampton (Blinkhorn 1996; Williams 1974;); Lincoln (Coppack 1973a; Miles et al. 1989), Torksey (Barley 1964; 1981), Stamford, Lincolnshire (Kilmurray 1980; Mahany et al. 1982); Leicester (Hebditch 1968; Woodland 1981); and Nottingham (McCarthy and Brooks 1988; Nailor 1984; Wildgoose 1961). Several production sites have more than one kiln. All identified production sites in the East Midlands are in urban contexts, although pre-Conquest production may have occurred at Lyveden, Northamptonshire (McCarthy and Brooks 1988, 74). Generally it is unclear whether or not pottery was produced outside the emerging towns in the late pre-Conquest era.

The production sites of a number of fabrics of this date are unknown, including those of Derby ware (Coppack 1972), Derby Brown Sandy and Grey Gritty wares, Nottingham Splashed ware, Goltho Shelly ware and Orange ware from Barton-on-Humber (McCarthy and Brooks 1988, 156-7; 171). Their production sites are suspected to lie in towns: it is presumed, for example, that the kilns for the Derby wares lay in Derby, and those for Nottingham Splashed ware in Nottingham.

The impact of the Danelaw on pottery production is unclear (McCarthy and Brooks 1988, 65-6). Wheel throwing (at Leicester, Stamford and Torksey), use of updraught kilns and production of red-painted continental wares (at Stamford and Northampton) are all more common in the Danelaw and around its borders and have been attributed to Scandinavian influence. However, these trends are not unknown elsewhere in England and it may be significant that there was no contemporary tradition of pottery manufacture in Denmark (ibid.).

Potting in this period was a commercial activity producing for a wide market: by the mid tenth century, pottery – including cooking pots, storage vessels, bowls, pitchers and lamps – was in use by all levels of society. Stamford ware in particular is found widely across the region (and beyond). However, the relatively small number of findspots makes reconstruction of the means by which pottery was distributed difficult, although it must be assumed that itinerant peddlars and the nascent market centres were both important. On analogy with Roman and medieval patterns, transportation may well have relied on waterways as much if not more than roads. +

Post-Conquest pottery

Post-Conquest pottery production is much more widespread and the number of centres and wares increased from the early twelfth century. Although urban centres such as Northampton and Nottingham continued in production, a number of new rural production sites appear for the first time. At Toynton All Saints, Lincolnshire (Healey 1984), Potter Hanworth, Lincolnshire (Healey 1974), Potters Marston, Leicestershire (Haynes 1952; Sawday 1991; and Davies and Sawday 1999 for excavated urban groups), and Stanion, Northamptonshire (Bellamy 1983), kilns and wasters have been found within nucleated villages. Areas of dispersed settlement such as Rockingham Forest (Foard 1991) and Whittlewood in Northamptonshire (Jope and Ivens 1995) also played host to pottery manufacture. At Lyveden in Rockingham Forest, extensive pottery production was attested within a dispersed (subsequently deserted) settlement (Bryant and Steane 1969; 1974; Steane 1967a; Steane and Bryant 1975). Excavation of a number of structures illuminated the organisation of rural pottery production, revealing a highly organised complex with demarcated manufacturing, drying, storage and firing areas. It also showed that such settlements were agricultural villages, not wholly dependent on potting, which seems to have been a cottage industry regarded as lowly, and hard work for little reward (Dyer 1982).

The role of the market in the distribution of pottery in the post-Conquest era was considerable (Moorhouse 1981), evident in more remote areas such as the Peak District. Water transport was also important, as is evident in the distribution of Humber wares across Lincolnshire (Moorhouse 1983).

Wheel throwing and glazing became gradually more widespread, particularly from the thirteenth century onwards, but otherwise there was little innovation in potting in the region. The number of production centres declines in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. From the fifteenth century forms become more standardised across wider areas, and Ticknall, Derbyshire, was one of many centres producing brown-glazed Cistercian-type wares, Midland Purple and Midland Yellow wares. The Midland Purple ware transition is distinctly different from the transition to the post-medieval in other regions. 

Iron production

Iron ore is a significant resource in the East Midlands, and its processing was an important industry in parts of it. Ironworking can be adduced by the presence of bloom, slag or charcoal burning, often recorded during fieldwalking or aerial photography. Dating such activity is reliant on radiocarbon or, more commonly, associated finds; hence little is known of late pre-Norman ironworking for which finds, in particular pottery, are rare.

Iron production required large quantities of timber for fuel and charcoal and hence tended to be restricted to wooded areas. The charcoal burning industry in Northamptonshire has been extensively mapped from air photography, and has been radiocarbon dated to the centuries either side of the Norman Conquest (Foard 2001a). A number of slag heaps have been identified, some surviving as earthworks. In Northamptonshire, well-preserved ironworking sites exist at Fineshade and Oundle Wood, the former associated with a castle, but unusual in that there is no village. Some limited excavation of iron smelting sites has taken place at Lyveden, Stanion (both also rural pottery producing centres) and Easton Maudit, while a possible forge site at Weldon was the subject of an amateur excavation. Ponds at Fineshade and Weldon have been tentatively identified as hammer ponds to power water-driven forges although no water-powered sites have been identified for certain.

A major thirteenth-century iron smelting site was excavated at Stanley Grange, Derbyshire, revealing eight furnaces and areas for ore preparation and slag disposal and clay pits for furnace building (Challis 1998). Elsewhere in the county it is suspected that the association of ironstone with the Coal Measures has resulted in the destruction of much of the evidence by coal mining. In Lincolnshire evidence is restricted to that for smithing as at Goltho (Beresford 1975, 34, 46), but the presence of iron ore in the west of the county suggests that evidence similar to that for north-east Northamptonshire may remain to be discovered. One bloomery is recorded on the Nottinghamshire SMR, which is likely to considerably under-represent the true extent of evidence for ironworking in that county.

The limited investigation of ironworking in the region suggests that it may have been carried out part-time by communities who also supported themselves by farming and pastoralism as part of a mixed woodland rural economy. The Northamptonshire evidence suggests that ironworking here had declined by the later Middle Ages, although the reasons are unknown. Little is likewise known of the social context of ironworking and the mechanisms for distribution, such as to what extent smelted iron was worked into finished objects on site, or sold on in pig form for finishing elsewhere. 

Coal mining

A black and white photograph of an open cast mine, taken from above. A complex structure of tunnels and excavations has been exposed, approximately 100 metres of which is visible.

Fig 52: Later medieval `pillar and stall` coal mining exposed by modern opencast mining at Coleorton, Leicestershire

A distinctive feature of the East Midlands are the Coal Measures which outcrop in east and south Derbyshire, north-west Leicestershire and west Nottinghamshire, where exploitation has been claimed in Roman contexts: the region is recognised as one of the cradles of the coal industry nationwide. By the mid thirteenth century the use of coal for smithing, brewing and lime burning was well established in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, and increased in subsequent centuries (Nixon 1969, 70). References to a number of early fourteenth-century deaths and the construction of a drain at Cossall, Nottinghamshire, suggest that underground working may have been more extensive than simple bell pitting. There is little archaeological evidence for medieval coal mining, but excavations at Lounge, Leicestershire, revealing fifteenth-century pillars and stalls show that evidence can and does survive (Fig. 52).

Lead mining

Lead mining is uncommon in the region generally, but was widespread across the Peak District. Important in the Roman period, it rose to prominence again in the late Anglo-Saxon period: ‘lead works’ are recorded in all the royal manors of the Derbyshire Peak in Domesday Book. Formal laws in the mid thirteenth century attest to the continuing value of lead in the Middle Ages (Barnatt and Smith 1997, 99; Ford and Rieuwerts 1975). Nine lead mines are recorded on the Derbyshire SMR, but archaeological evidence remains under-recorded; early mines are commonly reworked, destroying evidence, and underground workings are difficult to date. At Bonsall, Derbyshire, extensive pit workings survive as earthworks, some of which must pre-date 1620, when complaints were made about the danger the pits posed to grazing animals (Beresford and St Joseph 1979, 259-60). More detailed investigation might reveal a medieval date for sites such as this. 

Cloth production

The production of woollen broadcloth was one of the most important regional industries in the Middle Ages, being the major industry in towns such as Northampton. Fulling, tentering and dyeing were all carried out manually, mostly in towns until the later thirteenth century when fulling was carried out by mills more commonly on rural sites. Little archaeological evidence for cloth working has been found to compliment the extensive documentary evidence for towns such as Leicester and Northampton. Place-names provide hints as to the physical reality of the documented record, such as Walkergate in Louth, Lincolnshire, Walkers Lane in Leicester (‘walkers’ referring to fullers) or Scarlet Well Street in Northampton, which may refer to a dyeworks. Fulling mills in Northamptonshire are documented at Wellingborough and Kettering. Linen working is indicated by records of flaxlands at Higham Ferrers and Kettering, Northamptonshire, with fourteenth-century linen shops at the former. Flax retting evidence has been excavated at West Cotton. 

Leather working

Leather working is another important medieval industry for which the documentary record is much greater than the archaeological evidence. In towns such as Northampton it may have become the most important industry by the sixteenth century; direct archaeological evidence for tanning comes from St Peter’s Way (Shaw 1996) from the late medieval period onwards. In Leicester, excavations in the southern suburb found evidence for tanning or some form of hide processing in the late medieval and early post-medieval phase, but concluded that the workshop could have been that of a whittawer or parchment maker (Finn 2004, 38). Finds in waterlogged deposits suggest leatherworking in the north-western part of the town, which is supported by documentary evidence. This appears to be the same area where fullers worked, and it seems likely that smelly activities were deliberately concentrated in this one part of the town. No archaeological investigation has been undertaken here, although excavation on the Austin Friars site produced shoes, knife sheaths, belts and clothing fragments attesting to the quality of items produced (Allin 1981a; 1981b). 

Stone quarrying

Several regions of the East Midlands are sources of building stone of more than merely local importance (Alexander 1995). Stone from Barnack, Northamptonshire, was used in medieval buildings as far afield as Cambridge and Norwich and remains of the quarry, which was virtually worked out by the sixteenth century, are preserved as earthworks west of the village (Beresford and St Joseph 1979, 254-5). The same limestone outcrop was worked from Lincoln and Ancaster, Lincolnshire and Clipsham and Ketton, Rutland. At Weldon and Collyweston, Northamptonshire, stone and slate respectively were quarried from the open field, and remains of such extraction may survive among earthworks at Helmdon, Collyweston and Easton, Northamptonshire (Steane 1967b). None of these sites have seen any archaeological investigation. 

Salt production

Salt was highly valued for its preservative qualities in the Middle Ages. The only available regional source is the sea and thus medieval salt production was restricted to Lincolnshire, where there was a major industry from at least the eleventh century which survived into the post-medieval period. Extensive remains survive around Lindsey and the Wash and the industry has been the subject of frequent research (Beresford and St Joseph 1979, 262-5; De Brisay and Evans 1975; Grady 1999; Hallam 1960; Healey 1993; Rudkin 1975; Rudkin and Owen 1960; Sturman 1984). The location and extent of salterns have been mapped from aerial photography by the RCHME National Monuments Programme, and excavations of structures and processes carried out at Bicker (Healey 1975) and Wainfleet (McAvoy 1994). 


Fish were an important part of the medieval diet and fisheries are extensively documented in the region. Sea fishing was carried out off Lincolnshire’s coastline from ports such as Grimsby and Boston, as well as from numerous other smaller settlements. Silting up of some of the creeks on which these lay suggests a high potential for investigation for associated harbour facilities such as slipways, boatyards and processing buildings, as has been demonstrated by investigation elsewhere on the North Sea coastline (Aberg and Lewis 2000). Similarly, associated boat building and repair must have been a significant activity in coastal regions, but no archaeological evidence has yet been found. Inland, riverine fisheries on the Witham, in Lincolnshire, and the Trent, in Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire, have seen some archaeological investigation (Cooper 2003; Cooper and Ripper 2000; 2001; Salisbury 1991; White 1984), but have otherwise received little attention: their occurrence is difficult to predict.


Corn milling was carried out everywhere across the region, invariably in mills owned by manorial lords which peasants were bound to patronise. A total of 168 are recorded in Domesday Book in Northamp-tonshire alone, and they have been the subject of review nationally (Holt 1988). Despite this, no detailed survey has been carried out of medieval mills across the region, and little excavation or fieldwork, although the sites of abandoned documented water mills can often be identified from earthwork evidence. Rare exceptions are the water mill at West Cotton, Northamptonshire (Gaimster et al. 1989, 204-206; 1990, 204) and a twelfth-century mill dam on the Trent at Castle Donington Leicestershire (Clay and Salisbury 1990).

From the twelfth century onwards windmills supplemented the capacity provided by water mills for grinding the grain of a rising population. Windmill sites survive most commonly as round mounds, usually at field corners. Many may remain unrecognised within areas of other earthworks such as ridge and furrow. At Lamport, Northamptonshire, the windmill has been completely excavated (Posnansky 1956a), while that at Strixton, Northamptonshire has seen more limited investigation (Hall 1973). 

The Agrarian Landscape

The land supported the population of the East Midlands and was increasingly intensively exploited up to the late fourteenth century as the population grew. There was little of the landscape that was could not be used in some way for food production.


Regular open fields

In the Middle Ages the majority of the region was champion landscape with nucleated settlement (see above) and arable land organised as communal open strip field systems. These strips were cropped under a two or three year rotation, and were once extensively attested as ridge and furrow. Although much of this has subsequently been destroyed by modern cultivation, the East Midlands retains some of the best-preserved areas of ridge and furrow field system in the country, which represent a nationally important resource.

The medieval open field systems of Northamptonshire have been extensively recorded and analysed using a combination of documentary sources and fieldwork (Hall 1972; 1995). In other counties including Leicestershire and Lincolnshire sample areas have been recorded but not extensively analysed (Hartley 1983; 1984; 1987; 1989b; Hayes and Lane 1992; Lane 1993). The field systems of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire have received little attention. 

The origins of the open field system

The origin of the open field system has received considerable attention, particularly in Northampton-shire. Documentary research, fieldwalking and settlement pattern analysis suggest that introduction of the system pre-dates the Norman Conquest. Occasional charters support this, such as that for Southwell, Nottinghamshire, apparently dated AD 956, which may refer to open field organisation (Whitelock 1955, 513-4). However, the exact chronology remains unclear, as do the reasons for, and mechanisms behind, such a comprehensively disruptive reorganisation as the inception of the system must have involved (Lewis et al. 1996, 170-7; 202-4; Russell 1975; see also above). Most documentary evidence for field systems is much later, dating to the twelfth century and later: regular open field systems continued to be reorganised on a local sporadic scale throughout the Middle Ages. 

Irregular field systems

Fields and field systems of non-champion regions such as Charnwood, Leicestershire, Whittlewood and Rockingham, Northamptonshire, the Lincolnshire fenland, north and west Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire have generally been little studied. Field systems in such areas tend to be less regular and were organised in a variety of different ways which remain poorly understood. Documentary evidence suggests that waste and woodland in these areas saw extensive assarting and clearance continuing up to the fourteenth century, long after the limits of arable in the champion regions had been largely fixed (Raftis 1974).

Not all fields were used for arable cultivation. Meadow land, lying almost exclusively on alluvial floodplains was the most valuable land and was defined by boundaries to prevent stock getting in and ruining the crop that would otherwise sustain those beasts kept alive over the winter. Pasture could be enclosed or open, and animals were also pastured on the fields that were fallowed each year in the open field systems. A proportion of enclosed fields within less regular field systems may have been semi-permanent paddocks rather than arable land. 

Woodland and waste

Woodland was an important resource providing fuel, timber for building and working, and pannage for pigs. By perhaps the thirteenth century, woodland was scarce in the champion regions, particularly the main river valleys, but elsewhere it remained extensive despite clearance for arable and settlement. Woodland was carefully managed, and it must be suspected that the complex system of divisions into areas for rotational coppicing which is detailed in royal forests such as Rockingham, Northamptonshire, in the early post-medieval period, must also have been in use before 1500.

Some research into woodland has been carried out, notably in Northamptonshire and Lincolnshire (Foard 2001a; Gibbons 1975, 27-35; Lane 1995; Peterken 1971), but has been dominated by non-archaeological study. The current state of research into parks and woodland in Leicestershire has recently been reviewed by Squires (2004) and has combined both archaeological and documentary study. Woodland banks, subdivisions, ponds, and coppices are all well preserved in places, and form a valuable and under-investigated resource.

Although sustainable harvesting was the aim of much medieval woodland management, the extent of woodland was much reduced across the region between 850 and 1500 by clearance, attested by documents and place-names. In these woodland areas it should be possible to observe the formation process of a distinctively dispersed pattern of land use and settlement using evidence from a range of disciplines including archaeology, history and ecology.

The role of land described as waste is not well understood, as documentary sources are largely uninformative, but is unlikely to have been unused, perhaps providing additional rough pasture or fuel in the form of turf or furze. 

Stock rearing

Archaeological evidence for livestock management is known sporadically across the region, but has not been systematically recorded or reviewed. Most of the evidence is manorial in origin, relating to specialised structures created for specific purposes, and most comes from counties where extensive earthwork survey has been conducted, namely Northamptonshire, Leicestershire and north-east Lincolnshire. The range of evidence includes rabbit warrens, sheep folds, sheep pens, dew/stock ponds, shielings, vaccaries, fishponds, dovecotes, duck decoy ponds and deer parks. 

Rabbit farming

Rabbits were introduced to England by the Normans, and farmed by lords as a source of fur and fresh meat. Of Mediterranean origin, rabbits preferred well-drained sandy soils. Rabbit warrens can be evidenced by maps, place-names and the survival of earthworks. In some cases these comprise small ditched or walled (as at Whiston, Northamptonshire) enclosures, but are more commonly low cigar-shaped earthworks termed pillow mounds. A complex of at least eleven mounds within a ditched enclosure was identified during survey at North Carlton, Lincolnshire (Everson et al. 1991, 137-9), apparently belonging to the Premonstratensian monastic grange of Barlings. Other pillow mounds are known at Easton Maudit, Gretton, Hardwick, Rockingham, Sulgrave, Benefield, Collyweston, Fotheringay, Stoke Doyle, Weekley, Fawsley, Hollowell and Sulby, all in Northamptonshire. The coincidence with higher status lordly possessions, including castles, is apparent, but a considerable amount of further evidence for rabbit farming doubtless remains unrecorded or unrecognised. Most known examples are of later medieval date and a number overlie ridge and furrow, but the economic implications of this are unexplored. 

Sheep farming

Sheep farming, supplying as it did the wool and cloth trade, was of vital importance to the East Midlands. Sheep folds or cotes were buildings thought to be used for housing sheep during winter, lambing, or for storing fodder, usually sited remotely from settlements. They have been identified occasionally during survey, as at Kelmarsh, Northamptonshire (RCHME 1981), or West Firsby, Lincolnshire (Everson et al. 1991, 211-3), but many more examples doubtless remain unrecognised or unrecorded, particularly in upland areas. Sheep pens are larger unroofed enclosures thought to be used for cooping sheep for short periods of time. Such pens in some cases contain folds. There seems to be little recorded evidence for penning in the region, although it is likely that such features were once widely in use.

Dew ponds are small clay-lined artificial ponds used for watering animals grazing pasture remote from other water sources. Many ponds exist, but there has been little research to identify their date and function.

Vaccaries and bercaries were specialised units for cow and sheep rearing. Most known examples belonged to monastic institutions, but little investigation has been carried out into their layout, function and chronology. Shielings were seasonally occupied shelters for shepherds on high pastures such as the Peak, and which sometimes formed the nucleus of permanent settlement. 

Pig keeping

Pigs, such an efficient means of turning refuse into meat that could be cured for the winter, were kept widely in the Anglo-Saxon and medieval periods in back yards of peasant dwellings or grazed collectively in woodland. Theirs are the third commonest bone find on most Saxon and medieval settlement excavations, but the nature of archaeological evidence for associated sties, pens or enclosures is almost unknown, in the East Midlands as elsewhere. Such feature doubtless existed and may well survive unrecognised. 

Fish farming

Fish was important in the medieval diet, providing variety, and an alternative source of protein during Lent and other times when meat eating was proscribed. The extent to which fish was available to the inland peasant is unclear from documentary sources, and archaeological evidence for fish consumption is difficult to identify. However fishponds are common in association with manorial sites, monastic complexes, parks and warrens. Earthwork survey, particularly in Northamptonshire and Leicestershire, has recorded hundreds of fishponds, ranging from small moated ponds at Higham Ferrers College, Northamptonshire, to large complexes of five or more, fed and drained by a network of leats and sluices as at Braybrooke and Harrington, Northamptonshire. There remains a major problem in both classifying and dating fishponds, with many known examples probably being of post-medieval date. Riverine fisheries were probably as important as fishponds, but tend to leave very little trace in the archaeological record (but see Cooper 2003; Cooper and Ripper 2000; 2001). 


Doves or pigeons provided further variety for the lordly diet, although dove or pigeon bones are also occasionally found during excavation of peasant dwellings. Dovecotes occur not uncommonly in historical documents, but only a few have been excavated, such as that at Raunds Furnells, Northamptonshire. The sites of others have been identified by earthwork survey, as at Mallows Cotton, Northamptonshire. 

Deer parks

Venison was one of the most exclusive meats in Saxon and medieval England and its management is particularly pertinent to the East Midlands: the penalties incurred by deer poachers are nowhere more famous than in the tales of Sherwood Forest. Hunting is attested by 1086 in Rockingham and Whittlewood Forests, Northamptonshire, and such royal forests contained a number of private hunting reserves such as Geddington Chase and Yardley Chase, Northamptonshire, attached to medieval manors. Within the royal forests of Rockingham, Whittlewood, Charnwood (Leicester-shire), Sherwood (Nottinghamshire), and the Peak (Derbyshire) deer were exclusively owned by the king, but during the medieval periods lords increasingly aped royalty by creating deer parks on their manors (Steane 1973). Deer parks are widely distributed but notably absent from areas of royal forest such as the Peak. As with royal forests and chases, the deer in the parks were both a carefully managed and farmed source of meat, and a source of entertainment when they were hunted with dogs or from horseback.

Deer parks are not uncommon across the region, with 37 recorded on the SMR for Nottinghamshire, 17 in Derbyshire and 34 in Leicestershire (Cantor 1970-1; Squires 2004), with a further nine in Rutland (Cantor 1980, 17). Most were established in the thirteenth century, with smaller numbers coming into existence in the twelfth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Archaeological evidence for the date of park creation comes from ridge and furrow and charcoal hearths used prior to clearance. Most of these parks remained in use until the post-medieval period, although both the Black Death and the Dissolution had a profound affect on their survival and evolution (Squires 2004, 146).

Deer parks were bounded by pales usually consisting of earthen banks with inner ditches, although some such as Moulton Park, Northamptonshire, have stone walls. Deer parks vary widely in size across the region. The extent of most of the larger examples is known, and they have been mapped in Northamptonshire and Leicestershire. Even here, however, it is suspected that some smaller parks remain to be discovered, and most lodge sites are lost. More detailed research can add considerable information, by identifying the sites of lodges (some moated) and deer leaps (allowing deer into, but not out of, the park) and showing the nature and extent of survival of park pales, internal divisions and other features. 


The study of communications is important to understanding the nature and economy of the region in the Middle Ages, but has been rather overlooked to date. Streets and tracks provided links within settlements, and between settlements and fields, while roads linked settlements to each other. In some cases these reused Roman roads including Watling Street on Leicester’s south-western border and either side of Towcester, Ermine Street north of Lincoln, the High Dyke through Ancaster, and Tillbridge Lane in western Lindsey and Nottinghamshire. Evidence for roads originating in the early Anglo-Saxon period comes from names such as herepath and King’s Roads. But many other roads must have developed after this, both in champion regions which saw extensive late Anglo-Saxon reorganisation of settlement and field systems at this date, and in non-champion areas, where settlement, colonisation and land use remained more fluid into the post-Conquest period.

Many medieval roads remain in use to this day, but others fell out of use due to factors such as settlement abandonment, emparkment, industrial failure or relocation and enclosure (piecemeal or parliamentary) and survive as archaeological features such as hollow ways, found widely across the region or causeways, such as the Fen Causeway linking the island of Stickney to the mainland, in Lincolnshire. Wide droveways were used to drive stock and can be identified from maps and are often detectable in earthwork and landscape surveys. In areas of high moor such as the Peak, routes may be marked by stones.

Points where roads crossed waterways can be identified from place-names containing the element ford or brig and often remained fixed in the landscape. Bridges such as at West Rasen, Lincolnshire, the triangular bridge at Crowland, Lincolnshire or the High Bridge at Lincoln, all recorded in the MPP industrial STEP report, represented a substantial investment and often attracted other features such as chapels. Bridges do not however appear to be consistently recorded on the county SMRs: Nottinghamshire has just four and Lincolnshire only one. At Castle Donington, Leicestershire, three phases of timber and stone bridge piers crossing the Trent dating from c. 1090, 1215 and 1238 have been excavated (Fig. 53; Cooper 2003; Cooper and Ripper 1994a ; 1994b).

Use of inland and coastal waterways as communication routes is indicated by distributions of pottery but has not been analysed in detail. The Trent is of major importance as both a barrier and a trade route.

A black and white photograph of an archaeological site. In the background a river is visible. In the foreground large timber structures are being excavated.

Fig 53: Late eleventh-century bridge under excavation at Hemington Quarry, Castle Donnington, Leicestershire

Archaeological and documentary evidence combined with regressive map analysis should allow the communication system to be reconstructed at a fairly high level, identifying distinctions and regional types which would refine understanding of regional diversity in the Middle Ages (Fairclough et al. 1999), but this has not yet been attempted.

Research Agenda

The East Midlands sweeps from the high summit of the Derbyshire Peak to the low salt marshes of the Lincolnshire coastline, from the edges of the Humber watershed to the Fens. In the period 800-1500 the region in some ways typifies other parts of England, and in other regards is very distinctive. This is perhaps its essence.

The East Midlands typifies other areas in being a region of lowland mixed champion and pastoral landscapes with a varied topography and geology, while its economic highs and low were, by and large, shared by the rest of the country. It lies in the middle of England, looking both to the north and to the south for economic and cultural contacts. While it is a rural area, not completely overshadowed by London, and with its own independent economy and trade routes, the economic impact of that growing city would have gradually impinged more as the Middle Ages progressed, although some parts of the region would always have remained more isolated than others. This could be said of much of England, and as such the region can in certain instances act as an archaeological test-bed for other parts of the country.

In other respects the East Midlands does have a quite distinct regional identity in this period. Perhaps more important than any other factor is the secession of most of it to the Danes in the later Anglo-Saxon period, a time of crucial importance to the development of many of the institutions of medieval England, including the village, the field system, the town and the parish, all of whose formative period seems to have lain in the later pre-Conquest era. Regional artistic traditions may also owe much to this period. Nevertheless, however large the impact of the Danish period looms in the history of the region, other factors have shaped its distinctive identity. A remarkable combination of natural mineral resources including coal, lead, iron and stone variously outcrop in each of the five counties, whilst through the centre of the region runs the great arterial waterway of the River Trent, which both unites and divides the East Midlands.

In terms of the heritage resource, the region is pre-eminent in the quality and range of its medieval earthworks, ranging from individual monuments to entire landscapes of settlements and fields stretching for miles. The region also benefits from a good range of historical evidence for the pre- and post-Conquest periods.

Some of the research priorities identified here have been deemed important because of the way in which study of that subject in the East Midlands can be extrapolated to other regions where the primary evidence may not be not as good or research is not as far advanced. Others have been identified because of the light they can throw on the unique character of the East Midlands and its distinctive historical trajectory. Others may have elements of both as, for example, in the study of the agrarian landscape: Leicestershire and Northamptonshire contain the best-preserved and most fully studied examples of the medieval open field system in the world, a system which can be seen less clearly in many other parts of England and Europe. However, it may be that the system ultimately developed in a different manner in the East Midlands, contributing to its distinctive regional identity.

The research priorities identified in this report may be summarised as follows, using the same sectional headings as in the resource assessment: 


The impact of the Danelaw in the development of towns in the pre-Norman era is a crucial problem for which strategies are needed to recover more evidence. Better understanding of the early origins of towns is a priority, both for larger county towns and smaller market towns, particularly as archaeological deposits in towns where occupation is continuing are highly vulnerable. Detailed synthesising of evidence is needed for all towns, which should be treated as single entities on record systems so that information is kept together. The suburbs and extramural areas should not be neglected, including industrial areas. We need to know what was the impetus behind urbanism, how towns supported themselves. Strategies for the investigation of the relationship between town and hinterland and trading networks must be developed. Boston is an important port for which an archaeological strategy should be developed.

The unusual co-existence in the East Midlands of a number of towns where occupation has been continuous since the Roman period, combined with a relatively well-preserved wider historic landscape provides considerable potential for looking at aspects of change and continuity in the urban context within the wider context of settlement nucleation, the origins of the manor and complex field systems.

Pre-Norman towns

  • Review is needed of existing material to assess the impact and nature of Danish occupation and of the Danelaw on occupation in and fortification of the towns of the region.
  • Clarification of the nature of urbanism in the pre-Norman era generally is a priority, including assessment of the level of distinction between the Danish burhs, non-Danish burhs and other settlements which might be considered urban at this date.

Towns in the Post-Conquest period

  • Better understanding of the chronology of development of major towns from Anglo-Scandinavian origins through subsequent growth and later medieval decline is vital.
  • More evidence is needed for industrial activity and standards of living in major towns.
  • Investigation of medieval suburbs is an important subject which has seen little attention.

Smaller medieval towns

  • The origins of market towns is poorly understood and a high priority for research. Comparison of select market sites including examples which were and were not Anglo-Scandinavian burhs is required.
  • Synthesising accounts should be available for all towns in the region, as a step to reviewing medieval urbanism generally – should the UAD-style approach be applied to smaller towns?

Town and countryside

  • Clarification of the nature and extent of urban catchments, hinterlands and spheres of influence should be sought through selected case-studies across the region.

Standing buildings

  • A programme of identification, recording and dating of standing medieval urban buildings is a high priority, as the size of this resource is unclear but the information it can yield is vitally important.
  • The requirements of PPG15 must be rigorously and consistently applied, and include non-listed buildings.


  • Ports were a vital part of the economy of the East Midlands and beyond. The archaeological potential of such places should be investigated, Boston being a particularly important case study.


  • Fair sites, if identifiable, should be a priority for investigation, particularly if on open ground, having potential for illuminating early development of commercial activity in the region.

Rural settlement

We must assess the nature and extent of Danish settlement, particularly to address the archaeological significance of Danish places-names in the region. Also we must investigate existing nucleated villages to trace their early history and development, and to understand settlement landscapes and the scope of the ‘great replanning’. We need to know the early settlement history of many more continuing nucleated villages in order to establish what, if anything, lay on these sites before the late Saxon period. It is particularly important that we also investigate dispersed settlement elements (including hamlets and farmsteads) within both champion regions and pastoral areas, because such elements are so widespread and therefore vital to understanding the medieval landscape. While they are unrecognised and unrecorded they are unprotected and vulnerable to destruction, which will compromise our ability ever to understand and protect them.

Nucleated villages

  • Investigation of the relationship between settlement development and the Danelaw is a high research priority, within the wider framework of investigation of the impact of the Danelaw more generally. Ideally this should encompass areas within and beyond the Danelaw, although scope for this is limited in the East Midlands which is almost entirely within the Danelaw.
  • Listing, mapping and assessment of all Danish place-names in the region should be carried out and evaluated against the range of archaeological data; comparison with other areas within and beyond the Danelaw would aid understanding of the impact of the period of Danish administration.
  • The East Midlands is particularly well suited to research into the origins of the nucleated village as the surviving evidence is so good across a range of different landscapes.
  • A programme of trial excavation at selected sites to establish more accurately the date of the regular settlement plans recorded so widely from field survey is a priority, particularly in view of the apparent differences in village plans between the north and south of the region.
  • Understanding of the detailed pattern and evolution of rural settlements is still limited. Recording of settlements on SMRs as entities including archaeological, architectural, historical and carto-graphic evidence would allow evidence to be synthesised and compared on a regional scale.
  • The quality of documentary evidence for many villages raises the possibility of identifying the status of individual tenements on the ground.
  • Archaeological investigation of medieval settlements which are still in occupation is a high priority as knowledge of rural settlement is presently seriously biased towards sites deserted in the medieval or later periods. Every possible opportunity to excavate within existing medieval villages, particularly near the centres, should be taken. The nature and impact of the ‘great replanning’ cannot be understood until more is known about the early development of continuing settlements.

Peasant buildings

  • Further investigation into the form and development of peasant buildings should be a long-term research aim following synthesis of the existing evidence.
  • Dendrochronology of timbers in standing buildings has high potential for both dating structures and provenancing timber (in both rural and urban contexts); illuminating fluctuations in the regional economy demonstrable by phases of house building; elucidating the development of various traditions of vernacular architecture across the East Midlands; and illuminating the trade in timber which ranged from Sherwood Forest to the Baltic.
  • Investigation into methods of dating stone vernacular buildings of medieval date would be valuable.

Dispersed settlement

  • Dispersed settlement elements within primarily champion regions remain under-recorded, and are a crucial clue to understanding the development and functioning of the medieval settlement pattern.
  • Dispersed medieval rural settlements are a high priority for research including primary documentary recording, field reconnaissance and trial excavation, as they represent a significant proportion of settlement in the region but have seen very little investigation.
  • Isolated farmstead sites suspected to be of medieval date should be investigated for corroborative evidence of medieval activity.
  • Settlement in upland areas, where the distinctive medieval extractive industry was so important, is a high priority for research.

Settlement desertion

  • The phenomenon of settlement desertion requires further attention, particularly in areas of dispersed settlement.
  • Ensuring that all medieval settlements – not just those which have yielded archaeological evidence – are recorded on SMRs, NMR etc, is a high priority. This is an exercise where historical, architectural and archaeological evidence must be used together.
  • A review of SMR records is needed to ascertain the exact extent and nature of desertion of all sites recorded as ‘DMV’ or ‘SMV’.

The manor

We need strategies for developing a better under-standing of the early development of the manor and manorial estate. We must establish how we can best carry out landscape studies to establish the estates of known early manorial sites in order that significant features can be recognised in future. Understanding of the function and layout of many manorial complexes needs to be improved so that we can identify priorities for preservation/mitigation in the face of threat.

Pre-Conquest manorialisation

  • The development of the medieval manor from the Anglo-Saxon period is a major theme of historical research in the East Midlands were significant work has provided a base for more advanced investigation.
  • There is a need to complement excavated examples of pre-Norman manorial sites with landscape studies of early manorial estates.

Early estates

  • Research into the extent to which the process of estate development in the Danelaw followed a distinct pattern is vital to understanding the development of the region.
  • Many monastic estates in the East Midlands have a particularly good range of historic documents, making them a good avenue for the investigation of English medieval estates.

Moated manorial sites

  • Synthesis of the evidence for moated sites in the region would be timely.
  • Moats potentially provide an important source of well-preserved waterlogged deposits relating to seigneurial occupation which could throw light on the standards of living of the medieval lordly class, and, by comparison with material from other rural settlements and towns, illuminate social differences.

Non-moated manorial sites

  • Classification of moated and manorial sites should be reviewed, to include ‘moated manorial site’, ‘manorial site’, ‘garden moat’ etc.

Standing buildings

  • There is a need for an up-to-date corpus of standing building remains of manorial sites for those parts of the region where one is lacking.

The manorial landscape

  • Trial excavation is needed at a sample number of manorial sites to ascertain the function of features whose function as manorial appurtenances has been suggested by earthwork survey.

Castles and military sites

Evidence for antecedent occupation at castle sites is a high priority for understanding the origins of the castle in England, the impact of the Norman Conquest on lordship, and for bridging the gap between the pre- and post-Conquest eras. The symbolic and aesthetic landscapes of castles as centres of lordship are vital to understanding these monuments in their wider non-military light. Excavations should be targeted to the relationship between a castle and its hinterland.

Smaller mottes are vulnerable to attritional damage particularly from ploughing, and while many remain undated, their function and role cannot be understood, and any light they can throw on historical events such as the Anarchy remains unshed and may be lost forever if damage continues. If only the mound is protected, evidence of ancillary structures will be lost, which weakens the case for protection elsewhere. The potential for battle sites must be adequately assessed and a strategy developed for the site of the Battle of Bosworth.

Pre-Norman castle precursors

  • The issue of the origins of the castle in England is important yet unresolved: the East Midlands contains some key sites and further targeted research would be well placed to build on this base.

Post-Conquest castles

  • Undated minor motte and bailey castles represent an important monument type which is a high priority for research in order to ascertain their chronology and role, and for the light such understanding would throw on issues such as military and seigneurial conduct during the Angevin period and the Anarchy. Such sites are often particularly vulnerable to damage from agricultural and leisure activities.
  • The landscape context of castles is a high priority for future research.

Lost castles

  • The evidence for lost castles should be reviewed and synthesised, and a programme developed to locate as many such sites as possible.

Battle sites

  • Archaeological investigation of the sites of Edgecote and particularly Bosworth (which has high potential) are a real priority as sites of national importance.


Strategies must be developed to address the evolution of parishes in the tenth and early eleventh centuries in the East Midlands, which has a strong base of excavation at key sites and would therefore be a good area to carry out extensive research. The origins of monasticism in the seventh and early eighth centuries, already partly examined in Lincolnshire (Stocker 1993), should be further examined and other sites sought. The influence of these early centres on post-Conquest monastic settlement has been studied only in Lincolnshire. The region contains a large proportion of England’s Gilbertine houses, including the founding house of the order at Sempringham, which remains under cultivation. As the only English monastic order, its sites contain crucial evidence bearing on its origins and planning; research on these sites is both a national and international priority.

The region also has a number of Templar sites with potential for detailed investigation, building on the exceptional results from South Witham. A robust programme of investigation to identify all evidence (historical, architectural and archaeological) for early churches is a high priority. Lost church sites are a particular priority as they are needed to help complete the picture of medieval parochial provision, and as abandoned sites they offer the potential of less disturbed deposits. Analysis of all human remains should be completed and reviewed across the region, or even beyond, for comparisons of dietary/mortality/morbidity patterns between rural/urban/monastic populations.


  • The identification of lesser minster sites and early monastic sites and their planning is vital to understanding the role and development of the pre-Conquest church in the region and the impact of the Danelaw.
  • Use must be made of the particularly fine corpus of sculptural evidence to complement other areas of research into issues such as regionality and wider cultural contact.
  • Research into the origins of the Gilbertine order, the development of the Gilbertine plan and economy, makes the study of Sempringham Priory, Lincolnshire, a high priority in national terms.
  • Research on temporary monastic sites, which often did not develop beyond their foundation-period buildings – for instance the Fountains daughter-house of Haverholme, Lincolnshire – is an international priority.
  • Groups of monasteries, for instance those of the Witham valley in Lincolnshire, provide an exceptional chance to study the differences and similarities between orders on a regional basis, both in terms of planning and economy, and probably in terms of their origins.
  • The East Midlands is particularly well endowed with Templar sites with high potential for research into this little studied order, building on the pioneering excavation of both Temple Bruer (which has rare standing remains) and South Witham.
  • Granges/manors are a priority for research because of their impact on the landscape, both in their own right and often as well-preserved and well-documented sources of evidence for land management. Priority should be given those sites which demonstrate the upland and lowland economies of individual monasteries/orders.
  • A programme should be developed to identify eremitic sites and structures throughout the region.
  • Specific case studies of the monastic estate are needed to establish the economic basis of monastic life related to specific parts of the region (i.e. wetland, clayland, upland).
  • A number of important sites remain unpublished (e.g. Grafton Regis, Haverholme, North Ormsby) and every effort should be made to rectify this situation.

Hospitals and colleges

  • We need to examine early foundations.
  • Further work should be undertaken to establish the form and extent of the partially excavated hospital at Partney.
  • The excavation of Tattershall College should be published.
  • Both survey and historical research should be concentrated on a range of sites to establish their potential for further research.


  • To understand the development of minster parochiae into parishes within the Danelaw, research building on the important excavations already carried out is a high priority.
  • Further identification of evidence for early church building in the region is needed.
  • Suspected lost church sites are a particular priority, both to enhance understanding of medieval parochial provision, and for the higher potential they offer for undisturbed deposits.


  • Review of the evidence for chapels and investigation when the opportunity arises would improve understanding of this element of medieval religious provision.

Human remains

  • Human remains represent the only direct evidence for many aspects of medieval life. Analysis of human remains should be a high priority when these are discovered. We need data sets that will allow the comparison of populations, for instance over time, between town and county, or between monk and peasant, including aspects such as health, stature, diet, morbidity and mortality.
  • A programme of DNA analysis of cemetery populations of pre- and (more commonly) post-Conquest date could indicate the extent of sustained Danish settlement in the region.


Industry is one of the most important aspects of the East Midlands. In particular iron, coal and lead working are all distinctive to the region and very important to it. The remains of such industry should be sought and thoroughly investigated as experience shows that more evidence often remains for medieval activity than is initially supposed. Sites where survival is good must be a high priority for detailed research. Industrial areas must be investigated also within their wider landscape context, viz. the settlement and land use patterns of the ironworking industry, the Derbyshire lead mining industry and the Nottinghamshire coal industry are little understood but vital. The pottery industry is critical for understanding the impact of the Danelaw, the emergence of the market economy and early commercial production and distribution.

  • Greater understanding of the way in which these industries, particularly the extractive mineral industries, were controlled and organised by royal, monastic and lay lords is very important.


  • Identification of production sites for all pre-Conquest pottery wares remains important.
  • Thorough review of late Anglo-Saxon pottery across the region is critical for understanding crucial issues such as the impact of the Danelaw, the emergence of the market economy, and the character of early commercial production and distribution.
  • Systematic regional study of the distribution of post-Conquest ceramics, including those produced in the region and those imported into it, could elucidate the modes of distribution and spheres of exchange of rural and urban production centres.
  • The distinctive Midland Purple ware transition is an important aspect of regional material culture as it is accessible for archaeological research and should be the subject of further investigation within a wider context.

Iron production

  • Sites associated with iron production are a little-understood and threatened resource: their identification and investigation should be regarded as a priority.
  • Clarification of the chronology and social context of ironworking is an important research objective.

Coal mining

  • The development of strategies for identifying, recording and investigating coal mining is important as such sites are a threatened and poorly understood resource but represent a distinctive element in the region’s, and indeed the country’s, historical development.

Lead mining

  • As with coal mining, the development of strategies for identifying, recording and investigating lead mining is an important priority. Much recording to date has been from the air, and further ground-based follow-up is needed.

Cloth production

  • A review of place-name and documentary evidence for activities related to the cloth industry would provide a springboard for archaeological investigation of this important aspect of the medieval economy of the East Midlands.

Leather working

  • A regional review of the archaeological and documentary evidence for leather working would be timely as part of a review of industrial activity in towns generally.


  • A review of the documentary evidence for medieval fishing would provide a better framework for future management of the potential resource of sites associated with the fishing industry.
  • The archaeology of the coastline is a urgent priority (see below).

The agrarian landscape

More detailed archaeological evidence is needed to refine dating of the origins of the open field system, and we must develop strategies for recovering environmental data for the impact of the change in the agrarian system. There is an urgent need for research into the field systems of the non-champion regions, since while the evidence is not understood it is not adequately protected, and for mapping of the landscape of upland areas including the Peak. The archaeological resource in areas of woodland is hardly known at all, and must be regarded as a high priority for recording, as its high potential has been demonstrated by areas such as Rockingham which have been investigated. Evidence for sheep farming seems likely to have been widely under-recorded and thus vulnerable to loss. A programme of identifying and recording sheep farming features should be a priority.


  • More detailed archaeological evidence is needed to refine the dating of the origins of the regular Midland open field system in the region which has the best surviving evidence in England.
  • Recovery of environmental evidence from open field systems is needed to help ascertain the impact of the introduction of the open field system and associated changes in land use. Such evidence would throw new light on the introduction of new crop species such as rivet wheat and new combinations of cropping such as dredge, and their impact on field use.
  • There is an urgent need for research into field systems of non-champion landscapes, both to establish the nature and extent nature of the resource and to record the evidence. The East Midlands is an ideal area for such research as it has good survival of regular open field systems near to a variety of different landscapes with less regular systems.
  • Better understanding of the pattern of land use and field systems in upland areas, particularly the Peak District, is important.

Woodland and waste

  • Detailed fieldwork should be carried out to record and analyse woodland features in sample woodlands of medieval date to try and understand the character of such archaeological remains and the activities they represent, ideally in both royal forest land and manorial woodland.
  • There is a need for more case studies of landscape development in woodland regions.
  • Sherwood Forest is an area of woodland whose investigation to date has not reflected its regional economic importance or its place in popular history.

Stock rearing

  • Synthesis of archaeological and documentary evidence for rabbit farming would be useful.
  • The evidence for sheep farming has not been given the attention commensurate to its importance to the medieval economy of the East Midlands.
  • Evidence for pig rearing and management should be sought.
  • Detailed assessment of the structures associated with medieval deer management and hunting would clarify understanding of this aspect of the medieval lordly economy.
  • The potential of parks for preserving pre-thirteenth-century medieval remains including field systems and evidence for aspects of the woodland economy, should be quantified.
  • Review and synthesis of the evidence for stock management in the landscape generally is needed to illuminate different regional traditions and changes over time.


  • Archaeological and documentary evidence combined with regressive map analysis should allow the communication system of the region to be reconstructed to a fairly high level, identifying distinctions and regional types which would refine understanding of regional diversity in the Middle Ages.

Cross-thematic priorities

A number of issues transcend the thematic structure of this report:

  • Current understanding of the medieval period in Northamptonshire and Leicestershire (and Lindsey in Lincolnshire) benefits enormously from the vast amount of research, in particular earthwork survey, that has been carried out. A programme to bring other areas of the East Midlands up to this standard must be a high priority, using aerial survey, air photograph mapping, ground reconnaissance and field survey. The National Mapping Project will provide a base for this.
  • The high level of knowledge of some areas should not lead to the conclusion that further work there is contraindicated while other regions ‘catch up’, rather that it provides an excellent base for advanced research to tackle unresolved issues.
  • The impact of the Danelaw is a critical priority, but consideration should be given to the boundaries for this, as comparison with regions outside the Danelaw may be merited.
  • Setting of research themes in a wider landscape context is a priority for almost all areas of research.
  • It is essential that any investigation into this period is planned as multi-disciplinary, combining archaeology, history, historical architecture, and other specialisms as appropriate from the outset.
  • The archaeology of the coastline is an urgent priority in face of continuing threats of erosion from the sea. An assessment of the resource is urgently needed, to allow a programme of preservation by record or investigation to be brought in where needed.
  • An extensive rigorous programme to identify and date standing buildings of medieval date is a high priority in settlements and sites of all types across the region.
  • A programme of selective excavation of unidentified surveyed earthwork features, especially on manorial sites and in pastoral regions is needed to expand the knowledge base when extrapolating findings to other sites.
  • A GIS database system for the region, forming part of a national system is urgently required.
  • A number of seminal excavation sites and surveys have not been published (e.g. Grafton Regis, Northamptonshire churches, Brixworth), and publication of this backlog must be carried out.
  • Many excavations have been carried out by antiquarians; some assessment of the value of these would help in assessing the nature of the resource and priorities for the future.


This report is a synthesis of documents produced by Dave Barrett (Derbyshire), Mike Bishop (Nottinghamshire), Paul Everson (Lincolnshire), Glenn Foard (Northamptonshire), Peter Liddle (Leicestershire) and Oliver Creighton (Castles). Staff at county SMRs have been most helpful in supplying distribution maps and additional information. Glyn Coppack made a considerable contribution to the sections on monastic sites, hospitals and colleges. Nick Cooper has given me invaluable support and encouragement. Nat Alcock, Richard Buckley, Paul Courtney, Della Hooke, Graham Jones and Angela Monckton have all provided detailed comments and additional reference material. Many other individuals, too numerous to thank individually, have been involved in discussion at meetings and via the Internet and their ideas and comments have been gratefully received.

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