Late Medieval


Compiled by Carolanne King

(with contributions by Nigel Neil)


Each chapter presents a summary of the archaeological and historic environment research undertaken in North West England since 2006 for the particular period or subject. The chapters are arranged using the same structure as the original resource assessment subject chapter for the first North West Archaeology Research Framework published in 2006 (Brennand et al 2006). The update is not a replacement of that work, but rather an addition and enhancement. The 2006 resource assessment text remains a key foundation document for regional research studies in North West England. Nor are the chapters merely a list of all work undertaken since 2006. Instead, they highlight key new data, emerging subject areas, and fresh synthesis in the decade or more since the original regional Research Framework was published.

The chapters have been compiled by an author with special knowledge of the period/subject area and use material provided by a variety of researchers who are also credited. The project included consultation and workshops designed to highlight any omissions in recent significant work. The chapters provide the framework for revised questions and supporting statements/strategies. Being available on this wiki platform allows historic environment practitioners to update and refresh these chapters as new research findings come to light or gaps in data/coverage are identified. It was agreed that these chapters should be published as a point-in-time monograph in 2020 through the CBA North West to complement the original volume of 2006.


Over the last ten years, the late medieval period of the region has seen a substantial body of archaeological investigations, analysis and publication. It is finding its place in national themes on medieval archaeology and history, contributing to nationwide synthesis such as that of medieval settlement (Winchester 2011, 125-149). The synthesis and publication of major projects undertaken before 2006 is a major theme of the last decade. For example, the Carlisle Millennium project had its second volume published during the assessment period (Howard-Davis 2009). The extensive excavation programme at Norton Priory (Ch), which ran 1970-1987, was reviewed and published (Brown and Howard-Davis 2008). The fantastic collection of artefacts from Meols on the Wirral is now presented in a single volume catalogue (Griffiths et al 2007). Several of the region’s towns and cities have also had recent syntheses dealing with their history and archaeology. These include Chester (Ward 2015) and Carlisle (Brennand and Stringer 2011).

The previous review identified a bias towards the south of the region in late medieval studies with the debate on the factors regulating distribution of nucleated and dispersed settlements an on-going topic (Newman 2006, 115-117). In the interim years, a significant number of landscape surveys across Cumbria, particularly those commissioned by the National Trust, along with individual research projects (e.g. Newman 2014), have gone some way towards compensating for the southern bias.

New technologies and online presentation of results are rapidly becoming an established part of archaeological investigations for the period. This is along with more holistic approaches to historical landscapes. The regional HLC programme is now complete; Greater Manchester being the last finishing in 2012.

Historic Landscape Characterisation of the North West:

CountyNotesDate of completionPublicationAvailability
CheshireIncludes Wirral Metropolitan Borough Commenced 200220052007 Minor revisions 2008Elements available to the public on line through Cheshire archaeology service as downloadable PDFs. Copy of reports with ADS and available to public on line through ADS
CumbriaBegun in 2004 mapping of LDNP completed in 2005, the rest of Cumbria completed 200820082009Copy of reports held by ADS and available to public online
Greater ManchesterBegun July 2007 completed March 201220122012Copy of reports held by ADS and available to public online. Published for the general reader as ‘Slice Through Time’
LancashireStarted 1999 completed 200020002002Copy of reports held by ADS and available to public online
MerseysideCommissioned 2003, pilot phase until 2005. Project Officer post then vacant until 2008. Reviewed and reinitiated 2010, finished 201120112011 Reports available online through Liverpool Museums. Copy of reports held by ADS and available to public
The popular publication for the Greater Manchester Historic Landscape Characterisation project, published by GMAU in 2012 (courtesy of Norman Redhead)

One surprising conclusion from this was that with the exception of the city itself most districts had surviving evidence for medieval field systems (Mitchell et al 2012). The NMP continues with plotting and analysis of features from aerial photographs and Environment Agency LiDAR data. LiDAR is particularly useful in the uplands of a region where pasture is the norm and cropmarks rarely occur. A previously unknown second motte at Shocklach Castle (Ch) was discovered through LiDAR (Hardwick 2017). The development of drones and new photogrammetric software allows complex 3D surveys such as the 3D survey of Gleaston Castle (C) funded by the Morecambe Bay Partnership.

Advances in scientific techniques have aided the study of this period, perhaps none more so than dendrochronology. The Historic England (begun as English Heritage) programme of tree ring dating across the region has had a significant impact on our understanding of the development of many buildings.

Consultation with stakeholders, predominantly local ALGAOs, the National Parks and the National Trust, shows that in the last decade around 83 significant projects across the region added to our knowledge of the period. These major projects were accompanied by numerous smaller investigations where information was fragmentary. However they all provide an important source of data for analysis, this is particularly relevant for the field of ceramic studies where pottery assemblages, small and large, have the potential to inform new regional sequences. Significant new pottery production sites have come to light at Samlesbury (L) (Wood et al 2007) and Petergate (C) (Railton et al 2014).

Although most of these major projects were commercial, there are specifically targeted research excavation projects such as that at Poulton (Ch), which are aiding our understanding of the period. A recent increase in HLF Landscape Partnership Schemes (table 2), have seen more community research and excavation programmes such as those at Cultrum Abbey (C) and Wolsty Castle (C) (Fig 3). Community based archaeological research is becoming more frequent and where developed and run with professional guidance these projects are an important means of addressing specific questions from the 2007 agenda. The programme of works at Buckton Castle (GM) is an example where community excavations contributed to a better understanding of the form and origins of the site (Grimsditch et al 2012).

University based research, though not extensive, tackles aspects of the period in the North West including such themes as the context of Cheshire castles (Swallow 2015). Regional sites are also included in national projects such as the study of moated sites in Medieval England (Coveney 2015). The study of distributions of specific find types across the region is now possible through PAS data and a number of projects examine regional and national aspects of specific find types, including pilgrim ampulla (Anderson 2010) and medieval coins (Keller 2012).

Together, these types of archaeological investigation provide a resource that can be tapped to answer some of the questions posed in 2007. Such is the extent of this resource it is not possible to refer to all the relevant projects or produce a detailed synthesis of the implications of their findings within the context of this review.

Medieval sites mentioned in text (created by Rachael Reader)

Key overview comments to address for the Late Medieval period

A number of overarching comments came out of workshop discussions for the framework that should be taken into consideration for the late medieval period:

  • Settlement at two levels. We are ready to ask questions on unusual settlement forms.
  • There is a lack of understanding of urban and rural poor and this should be targeted for research i.e. don’t just dig higher status sites.
  • Development of rural housing from Roman, early medieval through to post medieval – status can change through time.
  • Emphasis on problems. Need to look at effect of disaster on settlements, such as Harrying of the North.
  • Importance of documentary resources.
  • How do monasteries affect settlement patterns and vice versa?
  • Look at failed and successful towns – failed ones just as interesting.
  • Wider landscape including royal forests and deer parks need study.
  • Why do some elements of religious houses survive and not others?
  • Granges are the ‘Cinderella’ of studies. Should look at their impact on landscape and use.
  • Wider pool of expertise needed e.g. geology/geomorphology.
  • Identify quarries to help match up stone of future conservation.
  • Emphasis on defence but what about ‘pseudo’ defence linked to expressions of status.
  • There is no national corpus for mason’s marks (last attempted in 1954 by Davis), therefore there is little chance of identifying masons or teams e.g. there are 17 mason’s marks on Lancaster Castle gatehouse of 13th to 15th century date.

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