The medieval period saw the abandonment of around 3,000 villages and also towns. Christopher Dyer asks, what resulted in such an exodus and what continues to be to show that they were ever before there at all?


Even during a recession, we suppose towns and villages to expand. New housing estates are, after all, component of modern life. That is quite depressing, and even shocking, to watch dilapidated residences in towns or destroyed farmhouses in the country.

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Yet in previously centuries, roofless buildings, grass-covered streets and redundant dwellings were commonplace. We could take the story earlier to the degeneration of roman inn cities and villas in the fourth and also fifth centuries, or the abandonment of the ranches founded to change them in the landscape of the Anglo-Saxon period. This article, however, concentrates on hundreds of hamlets and villages – and also a handful of towns – the were deserted from about 1300 until recent times, yet have left traces the their presence in the modern-day landscape, plenty of of which deserve to still be visited.

By the year 1100, concentration of houses and people in villages with in between 12 and 50 dwellings had emerged in the Midlands, the north-east and main southern England, and parts of east Scotland and south Wales. However, in other places in brother most world lived in hamlets or scattered farms.

Villages flourished through the cultivation of grain in big open fields, and generally prospered in size until about 1300. They began to run right into trouble once the population fell in the 14th century. This meant less grain to be required, which might then be sold only at short prices.

These problems were exacerbated as soon as the peasant cultivators tried to readjust their farming by bringing in more animals, top to conflicts with neighbours over grazing land. Together a result, families moved out, and heirs did not take over their parents’ hold of land. Sometimes, the balance tipped completely over come pasture, and also the cultivators became redundant.

So, from approximately 1380 till the beforehand 16th century, countless villages were either deserted or severely shrunken. Sometimes the trouble came native within, together ambitious peasants take it over their neighbours’ land, drove thousands of sheep over the usual fields, and also newcomers were discouraged from relocating in.

periodically the lords that the village or their agents eliminated off the town by widening their own flocks and also herds, forcing tenants out, or buying increase land

These developments made communities quarrelsome and fractious. Worse still, they regularly doomed them come failure. Occasionally the lords of the village or your agents – such together the farmer who controlled the lord’s very own share the the village fields – eliminated off the village by broadening their own flocks and also herds, forcing tenants out, or buying up land. In many cases, after a duration of decay, the landlord eliminated the continuing to be vestiges the a once-thriving neighborhood in stimulate to profit from the wool and also meat that can be reared top top the site.

The problems of external migration, land being focused in fewer hands and also lords pursuing higher profits ongoing to pester villages well into the 17th century. Then, in the 18th century, villages came under attack from a various source: the owners of stately homes. The gentry were often blamed for removing towns that ‘spoilt the view’ when creating their see parks. However, the towns they gotten rid of were frequently in negative health by the time this landscaping was acquisition place.

Villages weren’t the only settlements to disappear indigenous the landscape. Hamlets and also farmsteads were additionally abandoned – but for various reasons. Those top top high ground to be blighted by bad weather, while those involved in managing pastures were no longer needed once the pastures were permanently settled, or when grazing to be reorganised.

Occasionally, also towns to be consigned to history. Dunwich in Suffolk was washed away by the waves; others to be damaged in wars. Yet there was commonly some underlying economic problem, such as shifts in trade, i m sorry weakened larger settlements and made them delicate to crashes of environment and also politics.

Plagues, weather and wars have all to be blamed for ruining Britain’s villages – frequently without justification. Some world claim that the an altering climate or soil fatigue made the land uninhabitable, but these are only likely to have actually been decisive components in extreme settings like high moorlands. Condition rarely killed everyone in a village, and also many abandoned by 1450 were still growing in 1380, 30 years after the black color Death. Wars rarely caused damage that might not be repaired.

So what stays of these deserted villages? sometimes a ruined structure marks the site. However these space usually component of a castle, manor home or church as they would have been the only rock structures in the village.

A common peasant home may have had a low, stone structure wall, yet was built mainly the timber and wattle and also daub, v a thatched roof, which one of two people decayed or was carried away to be recycled as soon as the village was abandoned.

Yet all is no lost. The website of houses are typically visible as grassed-over structures or communication on which the building stood. You can sometimes check out roads and also lanes together sunken hollow ways, when the borders of the enclosures (tofts) in which the homes stood room sometimes marked by banks and ditches.

Once the village had gone, the lord often constructed a mansion top top or near the site. It is in the fields surrounding these mansions the you can sometimes determine the grassed-over banks and hollows that walkways, flower beds and water features which formed part of the garden that populated the site of the village. Look closely and you can see the prospect mounds (for visitors to see the garden) or the pillow piles for rabbit warrens.

8 villages that disappeared

We perform not know what this settlement was called, however its modern name is Hafod y Nant Criafolen. Hafod describes a seasonal settlement, i m sorry accommodated herdsmen relocating from your permanent residences in the sink to watch after their livestock in the summer.

The adjacent lake is a modern reservoir – the site initially lay ~ above the sheet of an area the pasture, and consisted the seven residences with enclosures that irregular form attached. The find from the excavations the these homes showed that they were lived in in the 15th and 16th centuries, but likewise revealed something of life ~ above the summer pastures.

Spindle whorls were supplied to weight distaffs when spinning woollen yarn in ready for towel making, but the key task because that the females living below would have actually been milking cows and also ewes, and also making butter and also cheese. The males rode about in the hills, judging from the equine shoes and also spurs the were found.

Later sources from Ireland tell us of the pleasures the life top top the hills once the young dairywomen and also herdsmen were freed from the restrictions and conventions of life in the valley settlement. The finds from Brenig, however, consisted of pieces that a sword and a pistol, a reminder that the insecurities of living on a remote hillside.

This hafod, located in the Brenig Valley, was more than likely abandoned as soon as farming was reorganised in the 17th century.


This item of open up moorland at a height of 400 metres lies surrounded by the industrial and also post-industrial landscape of the southern Wales coalfield. A team of six 13th-century homes lay in a heat on a shelf of land on the edge of the moor, overlooking the valley with which the small river of the Bargoed-Rhymney runs.

Each residence was developed on a fairly level platform created by digging right into the slope in ~ the greater end, and also piling the earth excavated at the lower end.

The dwellings were each around 15–20 metres long, constructed with a short stone foundation wall and also a framework of timber. Once some of the homes were excavated in the 1930s, hearths were found in the middle of the floor.

So was this a permanent settlement? metal working walk on there, saying it was an ext than a summer camp, however its most likely use would have actually been together a hafod.

The homes were abandoned soon after 1300, evaluate by the pottery excavated in and around them. This may have actually been the an outcome of the deteriorating climate. Or possibly the peasants were left impoverished by the vast fines levied on them after a rebellion against the English lords the Caerphilly castle in 1314.


The striking attribute of this site is the destroy of the church tower, which to be rebuilt soon after the totality church fell down in 1600. The long hollow method defines the village street, v the banks and ditches specifying the close the door in which dwellings stood. This well-preserved earthworks room not regularly seen in Norfolk, mainly due to the fact that so many sites have actually been ploughed up in modern-day times.

The long street, however, mirrors that the elongated arrangement – the one-street village – was developed in east Anglia as well as in other parts that the country. Another recurring function is the early modern-day garden visible around the present house, with a deep hollow way and a series of rectangle-shaped enclosures. This shows the effects of the rich landowner on the landscape after the town had gone.

Godwick was always a little place, with 14 peasants tape-recorded in Domesday publication in 1086. It payment a modest lot of taxes in 1334, which declined as the ar shrank in the 15th century. Just five households paid tax in 1525 when the village was, in reality, already ceasing to exist.


Quarrendon was sited ~ above the low-lying clays that Buckinghamshire, i m sorry is an excellent land because that pasturing animals and also growing crops. This is, in part ways, common of the deserted villages found in Midland counties, since the village was large, with at the very least 300 inhabitants approximately 1330 and their 60 houses grouped closely together.

The peasants live chiefly from cultivation grain in open fields. An unusual attribute was that there to be a pair that settlements, a quarter of a mile apart. Your remains can still be checked out in the modern-day grassland.

The irregular shape of the settlements says that castle were not deliberately planned, yet had roads (now significant by sunken hollow ways) conference at a centre, probably a tiny green, surrounded by clusters of platforms, and small enclosures or yards. The homes were constructed from timber and also wattle and daub, with low rock foundations. Fragments of the stone-built church can still be checked out lying between the 2 settlements.

The number of families living at Quarrendon decreased after 1350, and also fell swiftly in the 16th century, through only 4 remaining in 1563. The land to be taken over by the Lee family, who started as butchers and who, through the profits, purchase land, climbed to come to be commercially-minded landing gentry. They developed a house with sophisticated garden, which rectal the room between the 2 deserted village sites.

On the western village site, paddocks deserve to be watched where cattle were retained after the desertion. ~ above the other site are pillow mounds. These were man-made warrens because that rabbits, which were symbolic that privilege and a leisured style of life.

The village’s role was to enable peasants to get a life from farming. The was replaced by a landscape designed because that aristocratic pleasure and prestige.


On the slopes the Dartmoor, surrounding by bracken, lied the granite foundations of 11 buildings, including houses, barns and also bakehouses which have actually kilns and also ovens.

The hamlet probably started life c1000 advertisement as a shieling – a summer negotiation for herdsmen. Houses for long-term occupation were added in the 13th century, and the citizens cultivated component of the moorland, wherein traces that ploughed fields can still be seen. Yards and gardens lay next to the buildings.

The house structures have made it through so well the visitors have the right to see doorways and also internal partition walls that divided the room (the room where human being ate and socialised) native the room (for sleeping and storage). It was once thought that the hamlet was exit in the early 14th century, perhaps since the climate was worsening, but now it’s believed that human being finally left in the late 14th century, complying with the black color Death.

The residents weren’t eliminated by the plague, however. Instead, the general loss in populace made it feasible for peasants to relocate to more hospitable locations in the valley.


The coastline of the English Channel on the Sussex/Kent border to be unstable, and the port of Old Winchelsea to be being damaged by flooding when, in between 1283 and 1288, Edward I started a new town to accommodate the displaced population.

He collection about the job systematically, rather choose the planners the Milton Keynes and also Telford in the 20th century, purchase the land which had actually belonged come the hamlet of Iham and also laying out a network of streets, set exactly at ideal angles, before surveying currently of house plots follow me the streets.

Old Winchelsea had been a sizable town, and also its follower was assigned 802 plots, enough for a population of 5,000. The town did quite well out of the alcohol trade, fishing, and wood and also timber from the Sussex Weald, yet it to be raided by the French, the estuary ultimately silted, and also the sea retreated.

Today’s visitors have the right to see gates and component of the town’s walls. The church, once really big, has actually been reduced in size, and around it sit the staying houses. Demonstrating the they was standing on the web page of the original merchants’ houses, several of these structures have medieval cellars underneath.

Most that the south and west components of the old city are currently fields, and also the footpath towards the brand-new Gate is one old sunken way, with building rock and roofing tiles plainly visible on one of two people side.


Over this 17th-century site stands the damaged remains that a bastle, a characteristic domestic and defensive structure of the Scottish borders, and a ‘ferm toun’, a hamlet because that peasant cultivators uncovered everywhere in Scotland. The bastle had actually two storeys, and also was constructed as a precaution against raiding next from northern England, or without doubt other parts of Scotland. Often cattle were retained on the floor floor and also the family members lived top top the upper storey.

The bastle’s building contractors were wealthy sufficient to bought a substantial house, and had residential or commercial property worth protecting. About this framework were 6 peasant houses, all of one storey, with accommodation for human being at one end and also animals in ~ the other. These long residences were in usage in western and northern England as well as Scotland.

The dwellings were fastened to tiny yards, and the peasants grew crops and also pastured pets nearby. The civilization were not hopelessly poor, and were in call with a broader world, together the find from excavations – coins, tobacco pipes and also pottery make in Staffordshire – demonstrate. The negotiation was abandoned shortly after 1700 but we carry out not recognize why.


Wharram Percy, possibly the best-known English deserted village, took 40 years to excavate. Tourists to the village see the damaged church first, sitting in a steep-sided valley near some unoccupied victorian terraced cottages and also a pond. A solitary farmhouse stood below in the 19th century, i m sorry farmed soil thatonce noted a living because that 40 peasant families.

On the plateau over the valley space rows of little rectangular enclosures, around 40 in all, containing residence sites, sometimes still through visible foundation walls. The walls of the manor houses and its farm structures can also be seen, and also hollow ways, boundary banks and also enclosed crofts.

The village was clearly planned due to the fact that the rows of homes are set out in a continuous pattern. Possibly a mr of the manor walk this, however when? The tenth century is possible, however it could have happened as late as the 12th century.

By around 1280 there were roughly 40 peasant family members farming about 18 acre each, and cultivating wheat and also barley in the areas stretching out from the town over the chalk wolds. The neighborhood suffered native Scottish raids, famine, condition and economic troubles, and also had halved in size by the 14th century. By around 1500 over there were only four big farms left, and also these to be turned into a single sheep pasture end the next half century.

The church reflects the background of the village it served, started in the tenth century, broadening until around 1300, and then losing aisles and shrinking over the next two centuries. Excavations revealed homes with low chalk walls, when supporting lumber frames and also thatched roofs.

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Judging indigenous their rather drab pottery, the villagers the the 13th and also 14th centuries walk not have actually a wide selection of possessions, and also the skeletal of the villagers buried in the churchyard reveal hunger, disease and high mortality. A huge house from about 1500, maybe belonging come a greedy villager who had swallowed increase neighbours’ land, to be prosperous sufficient to burn coal and also drink ale indigenous German stoneware jugs.


Christopher Dyer is professor of regional and local background at the university of Leicester and co-editor of Deserted towns Revisited, (Univ of Hertfordshire Press, 2010)