An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of Northamptonshire, Volume 1, Archaeological Sites in North-East Northamptonshire. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1975.
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(OS 1:10000 a SP 99 SE, b SP 98 NE, c TL 09 SW, d TL 08 NW)
The parish is a large one occupying a roughly circular area of 2350 hectares, and lies W. of Oundle, between 330 ft. and 170 ft. above OD. The greater part is on Boulder Clay, but the three tributary streams of the Nene which cross the parish in deeply-cut valleys have exposed a complex variety of the underlying Jurassic limestones and clays.
Four small Roman settlements have been discovered in the parish, all on the N. side of the Lyveden valley, primarily as a result of intensive fieldwork; the choice of location does not appear to have been influenced by any particular geographical advantage, and further fieldwork is likely to lead to others being found.
There are two separate villages, Upper and Lower Benefield, lying in and to the N. of the valley of Glapthorn Brook. The church and the relatively well-preserved remains of Benefield Castle lie in Lower Benefield, both on the valley crest. The castle (6) apparently had a short period of occupation following its construction presumably in the mid 12th century. In the S. part of the parish in the Lyveden valley is a notable series of former medieval settlements, including a deserted village (5), four farmsteads (8–11) and a large industrial site (Pilton (8)). All these are part of the unusually dense medieval occupation of this area (see p. xxxix; Fig. 12).
b(1) Settlement (SP 967876), on a gentle S.-facing slope on Boulder Clay at 305 ft. above OD. A roughly circular area of black soil 25 m. diam. is covered with lumps of limestone rubble and quantities of Roman pottery (BNFAS, 4 (1970), 39).
b(2) Settlement (SP 969868), on the N. side of the valley of Lyveden Brook, on Boulder Clay at 270 ft. above OD. Fragments of mortaria, Nene Valley and samian wares have been found in a thick scatter of glacial boulders. The boulders were perhaps building material (BNFAS, 5 (1971), 6).
b(3) Settlement (?) (SP 963867), in a similar position to (2). Roman pottery and limestone rubble have been found (OS Record Cards).
b(4) Settlement (SP 981867), on the N. side of the Lyveden valley, on Boulder Clay at 250 ft. above OD. A scatter of Roman pottery associated with areas of flint, boulders and small patches of dark earth has been found (BNFAS, 4 (1970), 39).
Medieval and Later
d(5) Deserted village of Churchfield (TL 005877; Fig. 28) lies immediately N.E. of Churchfield Farm on the N. side of the Lyveden Brook on limestone at 150 ft. above OD. Except for a small area of extant earthworks near the farm, the site has been almost completely destroyed by ploughing. Part of the site has always been in Oundle parish.
The history of the village is ill-recorded. It is mentioned by name in a charter of c. 964 and again in the early 12th century (VCH Northants., II (1906), 92–3), but such population records as exist probably include the moated medieval settlement at Wakerley Lodge (Oundle (12)), the history of which is also unknown. (K.J. Allison et al., The Deserted Villages of Northants. (1966), 37)
In 1301 nine tax payers are listed under Churchfield (PRO, E/179/155/31) and the village is named in the Nomina Villarum of 1316. By 1674 only one occupied house is listed in the Hearth Tax Returns and this is almost certainly the present farm. In the early 18th century the county historian recorded only a single farm (J. Bridges, Hist. of Northants., II (1791), 405). The village apparently had a chapel, in existence by 1189, but the name suggests that one had been there much earlier.
The greater part of the site is now under the plough, but the whole area is covered with limestone rubble and pottery dating from the 12th to the early 13th century, much of it being the local Lyveden ware. Other finds from the site include tile, oyster shells, bone, iron slag and a silver groat of Edward III (London mint, 1360–69). Metalwork, a green-glazed zoomorphic finial, possibly a hound or ox, and fragments of a glass flask with applied rib pattern probably of the 13th to 15th centuries, are also recorded.
Air photographs (RAF VAP 58/RAF/2119, 0035) show faint soil marks in two places. Immediately E. of the farm buildings a small paddock contains a number of irregular earthworks up to 2 m. high. Some limestone walls, part of a rectangular building, were excavated by Oundle School in 1960–64 ('a' on plan). These were later surveyed but proved difficult to interpret. These appeared to be several rooms of a substantial domestic building.
A window head (Plate 24) has also been found. It consists of a semicircular tympanum-shaped stone with ribbed tooth decoration round the perimeter, and a rebated vesica-opening in the spandrel between the heads of two pointed lights; these lights are chamfered and terminate on involuted capitals and responds, and at the apices are pierced lugs for vertical bars. It is probably late 12th-century and of secular origin. Some fragments of cylindrical shafts have also been recovered. (BNFAS, 2 (1967), 22–3; 5 (1971), 29; Med. Arch., XV (1971), 169; Notes on Churchfield Excavations, Oundle School, copy in NMR)
b(6) Benefield Castle (SP 98738845; Fig. 29, Plate 6) lies immediately W. of Benefield church on the end of a flat-topped N.E-projecting spur at just over 250 ft. above OD, on Boulder Clay. The date of its construction is not known, but it certainly existed in 1208; it has been suggested that it was erected during the mid 12th-century civil wars. In 1298 it was described as an old castle and by 1315 it was referred to only as the site of the castle. Part of a wall was still standing in the early 18th century (VCH Northants., III (1930), 76–7). The site consists of a roughly rectangular island, slightly raised, surrounded by a wide ditch up to 2.5 m. deep, with the remains of an outer bank no more than 1 m. high, on the S. and S.W. sides. This has been much altered by its subsequent use as a headland for the adjacent ridge-and-furrow. The interior is level with no trace of former walls or buildings. There is no indication of an entrance but one is shown in the centre of the E. side on both the 1824 Enclosure Map and the 1848 Tithe Map (NRO; Plate 6).
b(7) Settlement remains (SP 990886–992891), formerly part of Lower Benefield, lie on the S. side of the main street of the village. Fragmentary remains of closes, bounded by low banks, extend from the street up the valley side, and, passing under the existing hedges, end against ridge-and-furrow. One close still contained a house in the mid 19th century (Tithe Map, 1848), but the rest had been abandoned. Further N.E., immediately W. and S.W. of Brook Farm, are the remains of a deeply-cut hollow-way running S. to the brook. On the E. side of the hollow-way are traces of other closes and paddocks, all of which had been abandoned by 1848.
b(8) Settlement (SP 968868) lies on the N. side of the Lyveden Brook on a gentle slope at 270 ft. above OD on Boulder Clay. Lyveden ware has been found in association with two patches of dark earth and some limestone rubble. Perhaps the site of a medieval farmstead. (BNFAS, 5 (1971), 29; Med. Arch., XV (1971), 168)
b(9) Settlement (SP 979858) lies on the S. side of the Lyveden Brook 170 m. W. of Lyveden Old Bield, at 220 ft. above OD on Cornbrash. A dense scatter of Lyveden ware, as well as limestone rubble, has been found. It has been suggested that the remains are the site of an isolated medieval farmstead. More pottery has been found further S. at SP 980857. (BNFAS, 3 (1969), 20; 5 (1971), 29; Med. Arch., XV (1971), 168)
b(10) Settlement (?) (SP 980865) lies on a S.-projecting spur above the Lyveden Brook at 260 ft. above OD on Boulder Clay. A circular moat with much 11th and 12th-century pottery is alleged to have been found. No trace of the moat can now be seen although a scatter of medieval pottery covers the area. (OS Records Cards)
b(11) Settlement (?) (SP 980874) lies around the modern Banshaw Lodge on level ground at 380 ft. above OD on Boulder Clay. Medieval pottery is recorded (BNFAS, 2 (1967), 22) and sherds of Lyveden ware associated with limestone rubble, have been found in the same area since 1967. The finds indicate an isolated medieval farmstead.
b(12) Windmill mound (SP 98678918) lies immediately W. of the main A427 road, between Upper and Lower Benefield on the crest of a valley, at 250 ft. above OD. The mound is roughly circular, 15 m. in diam., 1.5 m. high with a flat top. A ditch 5 m.-7 m. wide and 0.5 m. deep is traceable around it. The fields to the N. and E. were both called Mill Field in 1824 (NRO, Enclosure Map).
For Medieval Settlement S. of Banshaw Wood, see Pilton (8). For the Biggin Deer Park, see Oundle (13).
b(13) Post-Medieval farmstead (SP 985873), on the S. side of Banshaw Wood on Boulder Clay at 225 ft. above OD. A dense scatter of masonry associated with a large quantity of 18th-century pottery has been found.
(14) Cultivation remains. An Act of Parliament for enclosing wastes and commonable land in the parish was passed in 1820, but this only involved a relatively small area since the greater part had already been enclosed by this time. Nothing is known of the former common fields, but extensive ridgeand-furrow, apparently of these fields, can be seen on the ground, or traced on air photographs, around the two villages of Upper and Lower Benefield, and in the extreme N. of the parish. It is mainly in the form of end-on furlongs of C and reversed-S form, although a large area of rectangular interlocked furlongs exists E. of Spring Wood (SP 973880). Extensive traces of ridge-and-furrow survive in the Lyveden valley in the S. of the parish; it consists of both end-on and interlocked furlongs, and part apparently overlies a medieval occupation and pottery site (Pilton (8)). This ridge-and-furrow may be associated with the deserted village, medieval moat and other remains, which lie to the S. in Pilton parish (see also Sectional Preface, p.xxxix).
In addition, there are also considerable remains of ridgeand-furrow in the E. and S.E. of the parish associated with the deserted medieval settlement of Churchfield (5) (RAF VAP CPE/UK 2109, 3103–9, 3419–26, 4241–7, 4365–73, 4416–23).