(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
Fig. 28 Benefield (5) Deserted village of Churchfield
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),
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.
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
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)
Fig. 29 Benefield (6) Castle
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
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).