Village Archaeology in Eden

Orton and Tebay Local History Society welcomed Tom Clare to talk about “Village Archaeology. in Eden”

Until the industrial revolution most people lived in villages and not in towns. Research was done by Beresford and Hurst at the site of Wharram  Percy in the 1950’s, and much of the information found then, has formed the basis for other village investigations

Wharram Percy - Deserted Medieval Village
Maurice Beresford & John Hurst

Houses tended to be laid out either around a green or along a street, and might have a cross, the remains of stocks and a maypole. Two thirds of these remain today and  in Cumbria very few of these have been abandoned. How did these villages evolve ? Tom Clare stated that we should think of these as archaeological sites much as we would a Roman site.  Traditionally there would have been a village road with houses spread along both sides, a church and maybe a manor house. Then you would have strip enclosures running back from the houses. There was usually a ‘back lane’ which ran between the crofts and fields, and many villages still show signs of the drove-ways, where the cattle were herded.

If you look at what we have today in some of our villages you will see the same layout . (Go and Look at Google earth). At Maulds Meaburn you can see from an arial photo earthworks of old buildings and the back lane. These are  further up the village from where the village sits today so that it seems that the village has moved southwards. At Crosby Ravensworth to the south of the village is the entrance from a Drove Road.

At Orton you can see where the back lane runs to the east of the village behind the houses which comes into the sunken way that goes up onto the fells which was probably an ancient walkway. In Eden we still have evidence of Drove Ways which can still be seen here but have disappeared in most of England. Cumbria has 1/3 of all common land in England and this we need to preserve.

Many villages have Ridge and Furrows within the fields, some are on enclosed land and some on common land and are 15th century or earlier in date. Some of these can be a metre high and are a third of a chain (22 yards) wide. Even in Kendal you can see that many old shop fronts are 11 yards or 22 yards wide. You still find this in our fields today. You can also see this in the Lynchetts which are almost certainly medieval in date.

So this moved us on to this issue: if the fields here are like Wharram Percy would medieval houses also be here.
The Cross Passage houses are a classic type. You would have the house on one side and the byre on the other side, and entrance to the house would be via a passage between the two. These are rare as most have been renovated but you can still see them if you know what to look for.

Not all farms were in villages, some had been built higher on the fells and we are not sure why. You can see this at Wet Sleddale where there was medieval farming and you can see old earthworks and Lynchetts. Tom Clare thought that there was a possible correlation between the weather and these farms. If you look at the climate you can see periods over the last 2000 years when it was drier. In the 13th century it was dry and it is possible people who lived in the Eden valley started farming higher up. Then came a wet period in the 14th century and farmers seemed to have abandoned these places and went back to the valleys. This has not been proved ; it is just a theory. At about this time farming also changed from arable to sheep.

Some villages only appeared with the industrial revolution and places like Tebay only appeared with the railway. Tebay imposed a totally different way of living on people and should therefore be thought of as a place that needs conserving.

Tom’s talk left the audience with a new insight into where they live, and a better understanding of the history all around them.