Over the past ten years technological advances in survey equipment and methodologies along with large scale landscape surveys have had the biggest impact on the understanding of the rural settlement pattern. The availability of this data for analysis through websites like the ADS has opened up this resource to researchers. Although research excavations are comparatively rare, those that have taken place are helping to refine chronologies of site types and features that previously were only tentatively identified as medieval in date.
Advancements in statistical analysis techniques and GIS are bringing new tools to the study of medieval landscapes and settlement to pose new questions. Previous studies relied heavily on Robert and Wrathmell’s An Atlas of Rural Settlement in England (2000). In 2010 the original study maps were converted to geospatial data, now available on the ADS. Lowerre applied regression and clustering techniques to this and other relevant data, to look for national and regional patterns. The conclusion reached was that “far more of the variation in the measures of settlement organisation is not explained by the environmental variables than is explained by them” (Lowerre 2014, 102). In a region where the reasons for the settlement patterns are not fully understood, there are implications for current and future studies emphasising the need to consider social and cultural factors not evident from archaeology alone.
Completion of the HLC created an important set of GIS data, identifying possible medieval settlement centres and land divisions. The Greater Manchester HLC highlights that “the HLC has identified a surprising number of past rural landscape features. Some of these point to early farming and settlement of medieval and earlier periods, and would repay more detailed research”. So far, only a handful of studies have used the HLC data to examine medieval landuse and settlement. One of the most significant of these is Newman’s doctoral thesis which took HLC data, along with map regression and other documents, to model the 18th century field and settlement patterns for Cumbria. This was used to develop a map of the settlement and land use across Cumbria in the late medieval period (Newman 2014). Documentary research is an important tool when studying landscapes, Winchester (2011, 125-149) has considered upland seasonal settlement through ‘shieling’ place-names.
As a counter point to the southern bias noted in the original framework (Newman 2006, 115-117), Cumbria has had an intensive programme of landscape surveys, especially on land owned by the National Trust within the LDNP. Landscape Partnership Schemes (see table 2), often HLF funded, have encouraged local communities to engage with their heritage. Though targeted excavation of dispersed settlements is still rare, some initiatives have come directly from the local community such as the Duddon Valley Local History Group (DVLHG). The DVLHG have long been active in the area and have discovered the remains of around 35 longhouses (Matthiessen et al 2013), which led to the Duddon Valley Longhouse Project (C), a component of the larger Ring Cairns to Reservoirs project. This is a three year scheme looking at the valley and its settlements, examining relationships in the landscape and how they have changed over time. It includes the excavation, survey and sampling of one longhouse at Tongue House High Close with plans to excavate a further three. The results from Tongue House High Close suggest a Medieval/early Post-Medieval (1514-1798 cal AD, (275±30BP: SUERC-69651)) date for final occupation. A possible palaeochannel under the house produced a late 7th-late 9th century date range, suggesting occupation during the early medieval period (Bradley et al 2016 39) (Fig 4).
Survey and investigation of upland medieval settlements is a recurrent theme over the last ten years. An English Heritage survey was undertaken at Scordale (C), in response to increasing environmental damage from water runoff. It identified a series of possible settlements and cattle management systems from the post Roman, through to the post medieval period. Possible late medieval or post medieval miners’ settlements and post medieval shielings were also identified, although the latter could have earlier origins as transhumance is known in the region from at least the 13th century. A handful of sites in the lower valley may indicate more permanent settlements and include a possible medieval longhouse though specific dating is not possible without excavation. No medieval field patterns indicative of arable farming were identified which suggests a pastoral economy (Hunt and Ainsworth 2010).
Apart from an increasing number of community projects, excavation in rural areas is generally limited to Utility-funded commercial projects. These often take in swathes of landscape and usually trace the history and evolution of landuse using documentary evidence. In some cases, they include walkover surveys that identify previously unknown archaeological features. For examples see the West Cumbria Pipeline, (Schofield 2014), the Quarry Hill to Stainburn and Cockermouth (C) pipeline extensions (Peters and Newman 2015).
Grey literature provides a growing body of evidence for settlement and land use. Evidence tends to be limited for settlement and buildings are particularly difficult to identify and date from excavation, often being no more than post holes and possible beam slots as at Irby (M) (Philpott and Adams 2010). However accompanying research on other projects can reveal new insights into the period, for example work at Heaton Park (GM) may have located a lost medieval village through place name evidence and map regression (Arrowsmith 2008).
The collation of grey literature leading to publication is an increasingly common means of disseminating the results of archaeological investigation. An example is the presentation of the archaeology and history of Warburton, Trafford (GM), which originated from WEA classes and the work of STAG conducted over 19 years. It covers all aspect of the small village, once part of the medieval manor of Warburgetune, including its role as part of a short lived priory of the Premonstratensian order (Nevell et al 2015). Documentary records were consulted alongside archaeological reports and particular emphasis was placed on the recording of a wide range of late medieval/post medieval timber framed buildings (Fig 5).
The cumulative work in advance of development at Kingsway, Rochdale (GM) looked at a dispersed group of post medieval farmsteads arranged around what was probably a medieval assart estate. Reports are currently being collated with publication planned for the future (Redhead pers. comm) (Fig 6).
A gazetteer of lost medieval settlements is now online, set up in 2014 by the University of Hull. It lists the sites noted by Beresford in the early 1970s but will also include sites of lost settlements discovered since then (https://www.dmv.hull.ac.uk/). Currently (2017) a total of 14 for the region are listed on the gazetteer although none were identified in Lancashire and Merseyside in the original survey.