Pages 170-175

An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of Northamptonshire, Volume 2, Archaeological Sites in Central Northamptonshire. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1979.

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(OS 1:10000 aSP 89 SW, bSP 88 NW, cSP 88 SW)

The L-shaped parish, covering some 1160 hectares, lies approximately midway between Corby and Market Harborough, Leicestershire. The S. third of the parish is largely on Boulder Clay at about 120 m.–135 m. above OD, except in the extreme S. where sands, lime-stones and clays are exposed in the valley of the E. flowing Pipewell Brook. In the centre of the parish also streams have exposed narrow outcrops of limestones, silts, sands and clays, while beyond, in the extreme N., the land rises again to a narrow ridge capped by glacial sands. Apart from some slight indications of Roman settlement little is known about early occupation in the parish. The major monument is the Cistercian Abbey of Pipewell (9) which lay in the S. of the parish on the site of a former village (8).

Prehistoric and Roman

Roman pottery sherds of the 4th century and a fragment of a Roman brooch have been found in the Pipewell area. A Roman coin has been found at the E. end of the village (SP 81538830; Northants. Archaeol., 10 (1975), 163).

For possible Round Barrow, see (11) below.

b(1) Double Ring Ditch (SP 81818825), immediately E. of the village, on the S. side of Carlton Road, on Northampton Sand at 120 m. above OD. Two concentric ring ditches, 35 m. and 12 m. in diam., are visible on air photographs (in NMR).

b(2) Settlement (SP 828880; Fig. 152), in the W. of the parish, immediately S.W. of Long Plantation, on Boulder Clay at 137 m. above OD. Air photographs (in NMR) show a small rectangular enclosure associated with a circular feature and a number of linear ditches. The latter intersect and join the enclosure but form no coherent pattern.

Fig. 152 Wilbarston (2) Cropmarks, (3) Roman settlement

b(3) Roman Settlement (SP 825884; Fig. 152), N.W. of (2), on Northampton Sand at 129 m. above OD. Air photographs (in NMR) show cropmarks of what may be a group of conjoined rectangular enclosures. Roman pottery has been found on the site (BNFAS, 4 (1970), 62).

b(4) Roman Settlement (?) (SP 82448530), 400 m. W.S.W. of Pipewell Upper Lodge, on Boulder Clay at 122 m. above OD. Roman sherds have been found, and a colour-coated rim came from the bed of a nearby stream (BNFAS, 3 (1969), 18).

Fig. 153 Wilbarston (5, 6) Cropmarks

b(5) Settlement (SP 818857; Fig. 153), in the S. of the parish, on Boulder Clay at 135 m. above OD. Air photographs (CUAP, BHO 45–6, 48–9) show a large roughly rectangular enclosure with a small enclosure in its S.W. corner. A number of interlocked ring ditches or hut circles are visible in the interior, though these are not clearly defined.

b(6) Enclosure (SP 822860; Fig. 153), 400 m. N.E. of (5) and in a similar position. Air photographs (CUAP, BHO 47) show an ovoid enclosure with no entrance or interior features. To the S. are two parallel ditches running E.—W., with indications of a former bank between them. These may not be of great antiquity.

Fig. 154 Wilbarston (8) Deserted village of Pipewell, (9) Site of Cistercian Abbey

Medieval and Later

An Anglo-Saxon ring and parts of two cruciform brooches have been found in the Pipewell area. These objects are in the Market Harborough Museum, but there is no information concerning their discovery (OS Record Cards).

b(7) Medieval Pottery (SP 82338523), on the E. edge of Goodman's Spinney, on Boulder Clay at 122 m. above OD. A scatter of medieval sherds has been found (BNFAS, 3 (1969), 29).

b(8) Deserted Village of Pipewell (centred SP 839857; Figs. 119 and 154; Plate 27), lies around the modern Pipewell village on both sides of the main street, on Upper Lincolnshire Limestone at 114 m. above OD.

The original village of Pipewell seems to have lain on both sides of the Harper's Brook on land which is now partly in Wilbarston and partly in Rushton parish. In Domesday Book Pipewell is listed with a recorded population of nine, divided between three manors, two of which lay in Rothwell Hundred, S. of the Harper's Brook, and the other in Stoke Hundred, later part of Corby Hundred, N. of the brook (VCH Northants., I (1902), 322, 333 and 340). This situation suggests that there were perhaps once two separate settlements on either side of the brook, both with the same name, a feature noted elsewhere in the county (see RCHM Northants., I (1975), Blatherwycke (3)).

In 1143 the Cistercian Abbey of St. Mary (9) was founded and established on the N. side of Harper's Brook, E. of the road. To ensure isolation in accordance with the rules of the Order, part at least of the existing settlement must have been swept away and certainly some of the abbey buildings extended across land formerly occupied by houses of the village. However, one part of the abbey's lands at Pipewell, known as West Hall, was apparently still occupied by secular tenants as late as 1291 when a manor court was held there. Indeed there may always have been some form of settlement attached to the abbey. In the early 15th century, when the abbey was in some financial difficulty, a petition presented to the Pope claimed that houses and buildings were very ruinous and worn with age and that many tenements had been abandoned by their inhabitants on account of the barrenness of the lands (VCH Northants., II (1906), 119). The final surrender of the house took place in November 1538 and the land reverted to lay ownership. By 1674 two people were paying Hearth Tax in Pipewell (PRO, El79/254/14) and around 1720 there were 20 inhabitants. In 1841 121 people were living in the area. These latter figures reflect the slow recolonisation of the village in post-medieval times (K.J. Allison et al., The Deserted Villages of Northants., (1966), 45).

It is difficult to identify which of the earthworks surviving around the modern village relate to the former village, but those which may be so interpreted lie in two places. Immediately S. of the church ('a' on Fig. 154; SP 84057) is a series of scarps and banks as well as one building platform. These appear to lie outside the main area of monastic activity. On the S. side of the Harper's Brook, E. of Pipewell Hall (SP 840855; 'b' on Fig. 154) is a group of sub-rectangular platforms set back into the hillside and cut through at their lower, northern ends by the mutilated fragments of monastic buildings. In addition, in the area W. of the present village street ('g' on Fig. 154), two slight rectangular enclosures, bounded by low banks and scarps together with other slight depressions along the street itself may be part of the former village (RAF VAP F21 82/RAF/865, 0235–6; F22 540/RAF/1312, 0099–0101; CUAP, AEV 42).

From the evidence on a number of late maps it is also possible to ascertain boundaries which may be those either of the land of the original village of Pipewell or of the demesne land of the abbey (9) (Fig. 119; NRO, Map of Wilbarston, 1815; Map of Rushton, 1837; Map of Stoke Albany, 1802).

b(9) Site of Cistercian Abbey (SP 840856; Fig. 154; Plate 27), lies on both sides of the Harper's Brook partly in Rushton parish, on Upper Lincolnshire Limestone between 107 m. and 114 m. above OD.

The abbey was founded in 1143 by William Batevileyn as a daughter house of Newminster, Northumberland. It was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, but because of its unusual position set across the boundary of two parishes and two hundreds it was called, in early records, by the name of St. Mary de Divisis. The original monastic buildings must have been constructed soon after the foundation, but these were entirely rebuilt in the early 14th century. The new church was consecrated in 1311, and in 1312 the cemetery, cloisters and chapter house were dedicated.

The abbey was finally dissolved in 1538. By 1540 the buildings were in a state of ruin and these were then systematically demolished for their stone over the next century (VCH Northants., II (1906), 116–121).

Excavations were carried out on the site of the church and claustral buildings in 1909 by H. Brakspear after some inconclusive digging on the site in the previous year. Brakspear uncovered a number of the 'pillars' of the church but no walls were found, owing to robbing. 'After a week's digging it was decided to stop, as the entire demolition of the foundations of the main walls rendered further investigations fruitless'. The excavator published a plan of his work, but this was to a great extent conjectural. In fact the actual discoveries in the area of the chancel comprised only the S.W. pier base of the crossing, the pier bases of the first four bays of the choir or nave, three pier bases of the south arcade (?) of the presbytery together with a fragment of the E. wall, and three piers of the chapels on the E. side of the transepts. Further S., in what was interpreted as the chapter house, a small area of plain tiles was uncovered and a stone coffin containing an undisturbed skeleton. Elsewhere a few pieces of walling were noted. Other finds included pieces of decorated stone, animal bones and ornamental tiles. Amongst the latter were some (BM) which have hunting scenes and running dogs depicted on them, and one (NM) decorated with an unidentified coat of arms, perhaps of Pipewell Abbey itself. A small stone mould, probably of 15th-century date and used for casting strap ends, was also found (Ass. Arch. Soc. Reps., 29 (1907–8, 361–2; 30 (1909), 119–20, 299) 312; Northants. P. and P., 5 (1973), 10; BNFAS, 2 (1967), 28).

The existing earthworks cover a large area and are not easy to interpret. Some of them ('a' and 'b' on Fig. 154) are perhaps part of the former village of Pipewell (8) and have no direct connection with the abbey. Among the rest certain features can be identified. On the E. of the site ('c' on Fig. 154; at SP 84058567) is an area of very disturbed earthworks which mark the site of the 1909 excavations on the crossing, presbytery and E. end of the nave of the church. Immediately to the S. is a further area of disturbance, which is the part interpreted as the chapter house in 1909. The position of the grave found there is marked by a stone slab. Immediately to the W. is a level area bounded on the S. and E. by low scarps ('d' on Fig. 154), said to be the site of the cloister. Between the cloister area and the stream the ground is covered by low scarps and banks and shallow depressions forming no coherent pattern. These earthworks also extend a short distance S. of the stream where they cut into the terraces which are perhaps part of the earlier village ('b' on Fig. 154). Along the stream, and exposed by its down-cutting, are at least three fragments of limestone-rubble walling. All this area must have been occupied by the claustral buildings. A little to the E., close to the stream, is a large Mound ('e' on Fig. 154; SP 84128561). It was described as a mill mound in 1909, but this is unlikely. It is a steep-sided conical mound some 3.5 m. high with a small flat top. It is constructed largely of limestone rubble. It stands unconformably on an earlier levelled platform some 0.5 m. high which has a ditch on its E. side. The appearance of the mound suggests that it is post-medieval and unconnected with the abbey. Around it to the N. is a narrow drainage ditch of unknown date.

Fig. 155 Wilbarston (10) Dam, (11) Windmill mound

W. of the abbey site are two parallel rectangular Fishponds ('f' on Fig. 154; SP 83968557), only 0.5 m. deep. To the W. of the main village street, within the park of Pipewell Hall, are other earthworks. In the N.E. corner, S.W. of the church ('g' on Fig. 154; SP 83908575), are two rectangular enclosures, bounded by low banks less than 0.5 m. high and much damaged by later activity. These may be part of the monastic site though they could relate to the former village. S. and S.W. of these is a large area of old quarries, some merely shallow digging, but others up to 8 m. deep. These are undated but may be medieval and were perhaps the source of stone for the abbey.

On the W. of the site is a massive sinuous bank up to 4 m. high which extends N.W. from the stream near Pipewell Hall ('h' on Fig. 154). This appears to be the Dam of a pond which when in existence would have occupied a large area of land N. and N.W. of the hall, covering at least 2.5 hectares. This pond may have been to provide power for the abbey mill, which would thus have been situated at the S. end of the dam just N.E. of the hall. No trace of this can be seen.

The possible boundaries of the demesne land of the abbey can be identified from information contained in a number of late maps of the area (Fig. 119; NRO, Map of Wilbarston, 1815; Map of Rushton, 1837; Map of Stoke Albany, 1802; CUAP, AEV 42; RAF VAP F21 82/RAF/865, 0235–6; F22 540/RAF/1312, 0099– 0101).

b(10) Dam (SP 82348523; Fig.155), 500 m. S.W. of Pipewell Upper Lodge, lies across the valley of the Harper's Brook, on clay at 122 m. above OD. It consists of a large bank, 120 m. long and up to 30 m. wide with a maximum height of 5 m. There is a large gap in the centre with a channel, now dry, leading E. to the modern stream. Traces of an overflow channel, now recut to form the present stream course, exist at the S. end. The remains of the pond in which the water was held was W. of the dam, in Rushton parish. To the N. of the dam is an elongated quarry-pit which probably provided the spoil for it. It is possibly the site of a watermill (RAF VAP F22 82/RAF/865, 0232–3).

b(11) Windmill Mound (?) (SP 82328552; Fig. 155), 250 m. N. of (8), on Boulder Clay at 132 m. above OD. The mound is 23 m. in diam. and 2.7 m. high, with a large central depression 1 m. deep. It is surrounded by a shallow ditch 0.5 m. deep, with traces of a ramp or causeway across it on the S. side. It is respected by the surrounding ridge-and-furrow. The site has been said to be a round barrow but it is more likely to be a medieval windmill mound (BNFAS, 2 (1967), 37; 4 (1970), 57; OS Record Cards; RAF VAP F22 82/RAF/865, 0232–3).

b(12) Windmill Mound (SP 81898840), 600 m. E. of the church, on Northampton Sand at 112 m. above OD. A slight mound 15 m. in diam., now almost ploughed out, is the site of a windmill shown as a tower mill on an estate map of the parish of 1815 (NRO).

(13) Cultivation Remains. The common fields of Wilbarston were enclosed by Act of Parliament of 1798 (NRO, Map of part of the parish). Ridge-and-furrow of these fields remains on the ground or can be traced on air photographs over most of the N. two-thirds of the parish. N. of the village it is almost all arranged in end-on furlongs running across the contours between N.E.-flowing streams, and mainly with reversed-S curves. S. of the village also, most of the ridge-and-furrow is arranged in end-on furlongs, with the well-marked remains of broad headlands still visible in the modern arable, but there are also several interlocked furlongs, some with ridges as little as 50 m. long.

In the extreme S. of the parish, within the land of Pipewell (Fig. 119), ridge-and-furrow exists or can be traced S. and S.W. of Pipewell Wood. Along the edge of Harper's Brook it lies at right-angles to the contours. Elsewhere it is arranged in interlocked furlongs. The date of the enclosure of the fields of Pipewell is unknown but they appear to have been still in existence in 1539 (PRO, E315/399/f148; RAF VAP CPE/UK/2109, 3273–80, 4135–9, 4272–6; 541/612, 3024–8, 4024–8; F21 82/ RAF/865, 0235–8; F21 540/RAF/1312, 0098–101; F22 540/RAF/1312, 0098–102).