Monday, 1 August 2011

The Lost Villages

There are around 60 alleged Deserted Medieval Villages (DMV's) in the county of Nottinghamshire. A few of these fall within the area of Sherwood with many more in other areas of the shire.

Most people assume that deserted villages were the result of the Black death in the late 1340's. However this doesn't appear to be the case for those that we have records of. Some were the victims of poor farming land, some just moved location by a few hundred metres to existing village locations. Some were the result of monastic clearance.

 Rufford Abbey undercroft and the remains of the later mansion that was destroyed by fire in the 1950's

The village of Grimston lay between the village of Wellow and the hamlet of Ompton on the modern A616 road a couple of miles east of Rufford Abbey. Local legend has it that it was swallowed into the earth by an earthquake. The less romantic truth it was one of the villages that was removed by the monks of Ruffed so they could acquire the farming land surrounding it. This happened in the years after the abbey was founded around 1146. Grimston was not alone, the villages of Inkersall, Beesthorpe and Cratley suffered the same fate - even the village of Rufford itself disappeared. The villagers were moved to the new settlement at Wellow where they continue farming the land to this day.

Nothing much visible remains of these DMV's as most of the land has been ploughed up over the centuries so removing any evidence of their existence. In fact, the locations of some DMV's such as Cratley is open to debate. All of these DMV's are listed in the Domesday Book, only Wellow is not.

    The location of Willoughby by Walesby, the earthworks of the settlement are visible from the air

There is a DMV only 200 meters east of my own village of Walesby. This was the original Saxon settlement (although it has a Danish name) and was recorded as 'Wilgebi' in Domesday. Although the reasons for this becoming a DMV are unclear it would seem that poor conditions may have played a part. The DMV lies on a clay soil near a stream and the area would have been water-logged at various times of the year, especially in the early 1300\s when there was a mini 'ice age' when the climate was cooler and much wetter.

The village of Walesby is on slightly higher ground and on a slightly better soil which would have been drier - parts of the village have the same well-drained sandy soil that the forest lies on. It seems that the villagers of Willoughby migrated the 200 metres west across the stream for a better life. The name of Willoughby is preserved in the farm that the earthworks are adjacent to.

Just north of Walesby is the hamlet of Haughton, a few houses that sit on the road between Ollerton and Retford. Again, another DMV lies somewhere in this locality but its exact location is unclear. The present hamlet is over 400 metres west of the location of the long since demolished Haughton Hall.

                                     The remains of Haughton Chapel, dedicated to St James

Another 400 or more metres to the east of the Hall are the remains of Haughton Chapel. This was the church for the original village of Haughton so it must have been somewhere nearby - the current hamlet is over half a mile west along the banks of the River Maun. The chapel became attached to the mansion house until it was demolished in the 1770's, the chapel was already in a ruinous state by then. The reasons for Haughton becoming deserted are also unclear but may have been related to when the original mansion was built in the early 1400's.

The majority of the larger DMV's appear to have been abandoned in the 1500's and 1600's. This was mainly due to the landowners of the area enclosing the land for their own use and agriculture. Around 400 villages and towns in Nottinghamshire were mentioned in Domesday, most of these still exist today.

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