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 SP 99 NE)
The irregularly shaped parish, covering only 350 hectares, lies immediately N.E. of Laxton parish, of which it was once part. It lies across the deeply cut valley of Fineshade Brook, here flowing N. to the R. Welland. Except for the extensive areas of Boulder and Oxford Clays on the higher E. and S.E. parts of the parish, between 250 ft. and 300 ft. above OD, most of the parish lies on Jurassic limestones and marls.
Apart from the Roman and later iron-working sites, the major monument is the now much-mutilated Fineshade Castle (3) which was largely demolished in c. 1200.
Prehistoric and Roman
(1) Ring ditch (SP 97079895), in the extreme N.W. of the parish, on Oolitic Limestone at 215 ft. above OD. Diam. 15 m. (Air photographs in NMR).
(2) Iron-working sites (?) (unlocated). There is documentary and field evidence of iron-working sites in the parish. Most of them are probably medieval or later (see (4) below), but some areas of iron slag are said to be associated with Roman pottery and coins; other coins have been found elsewhere (Arch. J., XXXV (1878), 269; J. Morton, Nat. Hist. Northants., (1712), 532).
Medieval and Later
(3) Fineshade Castle and Priory (SP 973976; Fig. 48, Plate 6), on the E. side of a small brook in a steep-sided valley cut through limestone deposits, at 200 ft. above OD. The castle, known as 'Castle Hymel', is ill-recorded but apparently belonged to the Engayne family when it was demolished in c. 1200 to make way for the Augustinian Priory of St. Mary, founded by Richard Engayne who died in 1208. The priory was dissolved in 1536 and the conventual buildings were turned into a residence. These were demolished in 1749 and replaced by a large Georgian mansion which was pulled down in 1956, except for the stables and the S. part of the house. Traces of the castle still remain, but the whole area has been much altered by landscaping in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The local topography and such earthworks as exist suggest that the Castle may have been of the motte and bailey, or ring and bailey, type, with the motte or ring on the rising ground S. of the 18th-century house and E. of the stables, and with the bailey on the lower, flatter ground to the W. The best-preserved part is that which was presumably a section of the bailey rampart. This is a long curving bank up to 2.5 m. high running along the edge of a steep natural river cliff. At its S. end a gap which might be interpreted as an entrance is almost certainly a later cart-track. S.E. of the stables is another length of curved bank with an external ditch which may be the remains of the ring.
No trace remains on the ground of the Priory but it probably lay on the site of, and around, the 18th-century house. The church is alleged to have stood near here and skeletons and foundations are said to have been found in the area. In 1720 an 'arch' remained E. of the house. (VCH Northants., II (1906), 135–6; J. Bridges, Hist. of Northants., II (1791), 307; D. Knowles and R. N. Hadcock, Medieval Religious Houses, (1953), 137; N. Pevsner, Buildings of England, Northants., (1961), 210)
(4) Medieval or Later iron-working Sites (SP 97229748), S. of the castle on the side of the brook. A large mound of slag and clinker still exists, probably on or near the site of Furnace Mill which was referred to in the early 18th century. The water which was presumably used to drive this mill was held in a pond immediately to the S.W. in Laxton parish (see Laxton (3)). Another site, Forge Mill, probably lay further N.E. (at SP 974978) but no trace remains. A predecessor of the present ornamental lake N. of the castle probably provided the water supply. There are records of medieval iron-workings in the parish. (J. Bridges, Hist. of Northants., II (1791), 307; J. Morton, Nat. Hist. of Northants., (1712), 55)
(5) Cultivation Remains. The date of the enclosure of the common fields of Fineshade is not known. Ridge-and-furrow of these fields remains, or can be traced on air photographs, in a few places in the S. of the parish around the castle. (RAF VAP CPE/UK 1925, 2130–3, 3130–2)