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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The parish, of some 1130 hectares, extends E. from the R. Nene at 70 ft. above OD on land rising steeply to a maximum of 260 ft. above OD. Most of it is on Boulder Clay, or Oxford Clay, except in the N.W. around Polebrook village where, in a shallow tributary valley close to the Nene, limestones outcrop.
Nothing of prehistoric date is recorded in this parish but some Roman settlements are now known. The main point of interest is that Polebrook contains the deserted medieval village of Kingsthorpe (4) and also the former village of Armston, now reduced to two farms and four cottages (5) (Fig. 10). Both appear always to have been minor settlements which may have originated as secondary or daughter-hamlets of Polebrook.
a(1) Roman settlement (?) (unlocated) possibly in or near the village. Stukeley recorded 'Roman urns and coins' as being frequently found at Polebrook, and certainly two urns, one containing bones, were found there in 1738. A Roman earring was found in the school grounds in 1959 (TL 07118713). (Surtees Soc., 80 (1887), 58; OS Record Cards)
b(2) Roman settlement (TL 08028490) lies in the S.E. of the parish on Boulder Clay at 225 ft. above OD. Air photographs show a small rectangular enclosure 30 m. by 15 m. The enclosure is associated with a scatter of late Roman pottery and some stone, which extends S.E. beyond it. (RAF VAP CPE/UK 541/143, 4199–4202; BNFAS, 8 (1972), 15)
a(3) Roman settlement (TL 08158538) lies 600 m. N. of (2) and in a similar position. An area 70 m. by 20 m., orientated N.E.-S.W., is covered by a scatter of stone and Roman pottery. Part of a rotary quern has also been found. (BNFAS, 8 (1973), 15)
a(4) Deserted village of Kingsthorpe (TL 080857; Fig. 84; Plate 12), S.E. of Polebrook village, in and around a valley draining N.W., on Boulder Clay at around 200 ft. above OD; most of the site is now permanent arable and the remains have been largely destroyed.
The village is listed in Domesday Book (VCH Northants., I (1902), 315) together with Armston (see (5)) as having a combined recorded population of 18. Thus both were probably small places at that time. Its history, apart from the manorial descent, is largely unknown and its population is unrecorded (VCH Northants., III (1930), 105–6). From various late 14th-century charters and court rolls (in NRO) it seems that the village had been a small but flourishing community until that time when it started to decline (inf. A. E. Brown). In the 1524 Lay Subsidy it was linked with Polebrook with a total recorded population of 31 (PRO E179/155/134). To judge by the figures given for adjacent villages, this would suggest that the majority of the 31 people lived at Polebrook and that Kingsthorpe was already almost deserted. In 1517, Thorney Abbey, which by then owned both the manors of Kingsthorpe, had enclosed six acres of land and destroyed one house, and in about 1600 the Montagu family of Boughton, who had acquired the ownership, enclosed more land 'in the hamlet of Kingsthorpe'. By about 1720, nothing remained and the site was described as having 'hollow places with marks and foundations of a village' (J. Bridges, Hist. of Northants., II (1791), 417).
The village remains now consist only of a length of deeply hollowed track, up to 1.5 m. deep, at the upper end of the village, which continues in a mutilated form through Round Coppice and into Three Acre Spinney. Within the coppice are remains of some sunken house-platforms. Elsewhere nothing now exists of the village but from air photographs taken in 1948 it is possible to indicate (Fig. 84) the form and alignments of hollow-ways and ditches, and to show some distinct soil and crop-marks. Medieval pottery, dating mainly from the 12th to 14th centuries as well as building materials, has been found scattered over that part of the site now ploughed, with a marked concentration along the hollow-way or main street (shown stippled on Fig. 84). In the S. corner of the site is a small square moat, still largely undamaged, with a ditch up to 2 m. deep. (K. J. Allison et al., The Deserted Villages of Northants., (1966), 41; VCH Northants., II (1906), 412; RAF VAP 541/143, 4199–4200)
a(5) Settlement remains (TL 061859; Figs. 85 and 86) formerly part of the village of Armston, lie around existing farms, mainly on Boulder Clay at 200 ft. above OD, and on the crest of a N.-facing spur. The village is listed in Domesday Book with Kingsthorpe (see (4)), and with a combined recorded population of 18 (VCH Northants., I (1902), 315). In 1301, 28 taxpayers were recorded in the Lay Subsidy Rolls for Armston (PRO E/179/155/31) and ten in 1524 (PRO E/179/155/134) but the latter is almost certainly an underestimate. Around 1600 the Montagus of Boughton enclosed 30 acres of arable land and the common fields were finally enclosed in 1683 (see (6)). In 1674, seven separate houses are listed in the Hearth Tax Returns (PRO E/179/254/14). In about 1720 J. Bridges recorded four houses (Hist. of Northants., II (1791), 417) but on a map of 1716 (NRO) five houses are shown, while neither of the two present farms existed. In 1841, 26 people are listed as living at Armston and two farms and four cottages are still occupied (K. J. Allison et al., Deserted Villages of Northants., (1966), 34; VCH Northants., III (1930), 103–5).
Since most of the surviving remains are in poor condition, the original layout of the village is obscure. The open space between the two existing farms was known as 'The Green' in 1840 (NRO, Tithe Map), but this name may have been given after the abandonment of the houses. The remains fall into four separate parts: (a) is a long wide ditch ('a'-'a' on Fig. 85), up to 2 m. deep, marked as a 'moat' on OS maps, on the N. side of the Green. At its W. end it turns S. and widens into a pond. In 1840 this ditch extended for some 80 m. further S. At its E. end it runs into Horse Close Spinney and turns N. through it. (b) S.E. of Horse Close Spinney and parallel to the field road, are the remains of a series of house-platforms, ditches and other low earthworks ('b'). Two houses stood in 1716 (NRO, map; Fig. 86). To the S. of ('b'), on the rising ground, are the remains of a large rectangular enclosure ('c'), bounded by a ditch up to 1.5 m. deep, now partly destroyed. There was still a house near the N.W. corner in 1716, and unpublished excavations by Oundle School produced 'the remains of a row of small cottages'. Large quantities of medieval pottery, including St. Neots Ware, have been discovered here. The identification of this site with a chapel of St. Mary Magdalene is incorrect, but a hospital of St. John the Baptist, founded in 1232, or a chapel of St. Leonard founded in the early 13th century, may have been situated here. To the S. and S.W. of ('c') is a series of hollowways, low banks and ditches ('d'). A St. Neots Ware cookingpot is recorded as coming from Armston (Procs. CAS, XLIX (1956), 69). (VCH Northants., II (1906), 14; D. Knowles and R. N. Hadcock, Medieval Religious Houses (1953), 252; OS Record Cards)
(6) Cultivation remains. The common fields of Polebrook were enclosed by an Act of Parliament of 1790. Their layout is shown on a map of 1733 (NRO) as being in three large fields, North, Middle and South Fields.
Ridge-and-furrow of these fields survives on the ground or can be traced on air photographs around the village and in the E. of the parish, arranged in end-on and interlocked furlongs many being of well-marked reversed-S form. These remains can be correlated exactly with the named furlongs on the 1733 map.
The common fields of Armston, now an almost deserted hamlet (5) S. of Polebrook, are said to have been enclosed in 1683 (VCH Northants., III (1930), 101). An Act of Enclosure for land there was passed in 1807, but to judge from a map of 1716 (NRO) little remained to be enclosed. Ridge-and-furrow of the former common fields of Armston exists or can be traced N., S. and E. of the hamlet, arranged in end-on and interlocked furlongs.
The date of the enclosure of the common fields of the now deserted village of Kingstorpe (4) is not known. There are some records of piecemeal enclosure in the early 16th century and larger-scale enclosures took place in the late 16th and 17th centuries after the acquisition of the manor by the Montagu family in 1540 (PRO DL/44/633 and 645). This suggests that the abandonment of the common fields took place slowly over a long period. Ridge-and-furrow of these fields exists around the site of the village (TL 081858 and 079854) and can be traced on air photographs to the E. (TL 095860). (RAF VAP CPE/UK 2109, 3401–8; 541/143, 4198–4202; 541/602, 3053–4)