3rd May 1580. Abandoned Villages.

Wharram Percy, Yorkshire, is one of many deserted villages, since medieval times, where open-field systems were abandoned for sheep runs, which Oliver Goldsmith described in the ‘Deserted Village’ (1770).

Wharram Percy probably one of the more famous deserted villages.

Wharram Percy flourished in the 13/14thc when held by the powerful Percy Family, though suffering in the Plague (Black Death), 1348-50 and by 1368 could still muster 30 cottages and a corn-mill.

However by 1430 when acquired by the Hilton’s of Sunderland the village was turned over to sheep runs; by 1500 the remaining families were evicted.

Today Thomas Tusser died in 1580 best known for: ‘A Hundreth Good Pointes of Husbandrie’ (sic) which give a vital insight into Tudor farming techniques.(1)

Tusser would have been familiar with the communal, open-field system where manually operated, wooden ploughs turned the soil, but only in one direction, as the ploughshares and mould-boards turned to the right and were non-reversible, thus had to be manually moved across the headland to return on the parallel strip.

Gainsthorpe, Lincolnshire showing grass bumps, trackways and fishpond.

Kirby, Northants showing Crofts, Tofts and fish pond.






The result was ‘Ridge and Furrow’ which can still be seen in areas where the fields haven’t been ploughed since the open field system gave way to sheep, and then hedged-fields after the 18thc Enclosure Movement and especially noticeable in areas of deserted villages.

Little Oxenden, Northants, a classic layout with the long groove showing the old main route, and rectangular Crofts (gardens), and within smaller earthworks Tofts (walled plots and houses).

East Matfen, near Durham, ridge and furrow, undulating ploughing.








Fritwell in Oxfordshire had an open field system until common lands were enclosed in 1808, which was happening on a large scale at the time. Another notable example was the depopulation of Abingdon near Northampton where the Thursby’s enclosed the land on the estate of Abingdon Manor. (2)

E(I)nclosure is referred to in Jane Austen’s, ‘Sense and Sensibility’, when pompous John Dashwood says ‘the Inclosure of Norland Common ‘is a most serious drain’. It represents one of the few mentions of the current social scene, in her books.

Over 3,000 vanished villages have been identified in Britain, resulting from economic causes, those of the 18thc from ’emparkment’ by the lord of the ‘big-house’ of common-lands, or just to improve their view, the villagers in most cases being re-housed elsewhere.

(1) His publisher was Richard Tottel (Tothill) who acquired the Patent to print all authorised books on the Common Law which role resulted in the Worshipful Company of Stationers.

(2) Once home to the last of Shakespeare’s direct descendants, Elizabeth Be(a)rnard (nee Hall), who had married secondly Sir John Barnard and buried in 1670 in the nearby family vaults. In 1981 a coffin was found of Elizabeth under the Lady Chapel.

Ref: History of Northampton. v4. Salzman, L.F. 1937.

Ref: Lost Villages of England Leigh Driver 2008, New Holland.

Ref: Wikipedia.org/ Abingdon Park History.

Ref: A Vision of Britain through Time/Hungry Bentley.

Ref: medievalhistory.com/medieval-villages.

Ref: heritagecalling.com/abandoned-villages/Pics.



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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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