Pages 103-109

An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of Northamptonshire, Volume 3, Archaeological Sites in North-West Northamptonshire. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1981.

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In this section


(OS 1: 10000 a SP 66 NE, b SP 76 NW)

The parish, covering nearly 770 hectares, lies across an E.–W. ridge of Northampton Sand largely overlaid by Boulder Clay. From the top of the ridge which is between 115 m. and 145 m. above OD the land slopes N. and S. into the valleys of two small E.-flowing streams 85 m.–90 m. above OD which mark the parish boundaries. These valleys are cut into the underlying Upper Lias Clay, though this also is overlaid by Boulder Clay in some places.

Only one pre-medieval site (1) is known from the parish and though the large Saxon cemetery (2) is of some importance the main interest lies in the earthworks which reflect the great changes wrought in the landscape of Holdenby in the late 16th century. Up to that time the village of Holdenby appears to have been made up of two separate nuclei and was surrounded by its common fields. Between 1575 and 1587 Sir Christopher Hatton, who later became Lord Chancellor, built the famous Holdenby House and constructed the remarkable gardens around it (4), adding a large deer park after he had enclosed the common fields. He also built at least one new pond in the parish (6). At the same time he appears to have demolished both parts of the medieval settlement (3) and to have built a new village on one of the original sites, to a plan that was an integral part of the design of the house and garden.


b(1) Iron Age settlement (?) (SP 703686), in the N.E. of the parish on clay at 104 m. above OD. Sherds of pottery, probably of Iron Age date, were found in 1970 (BNFAS, 5 (1971), 3; NM).

Medieval and Later

a(2) Saxon cemetery (SP 695671), on Coney Hill, S. of the village on clays and Northampton Sand at about 110 m. above OD.

Finds were made on a number of occasions between 1862 and 1909. These comprised at least thirty skeletons, some with grave goods and some without, and also the crushed remains of a cinerary urn containing burnt bone and a broken hairpin. The burials had no uniform orientation. The objects accompanying the skeletons included urns, parts of spears and shields, knives, pins, bronze cruciform fibulae, iron penannular brooches, two saucer brooches, and a large square-headed brooch probably of early 7th-century date. There were also clasps, tweezers, fragments of ivory and beads of glass, amber and earthenware (Meaney, Gazetteer (1964), 190; E. A. Hartshorne, Memorials of Holdenby (1868), 6–7; VCH Northants., I (1902), 246–7; Northants. Natur. Hist. Soc. and FC, (1909), 91–99; J. Northants. Mus. and Art Gal., 6 (1969), 40; J. N. L. Myres, Anglo-Saxon Pottery and the Settlement of England (1969), Fig. 12, no. 799 and Fig. 15, no. 797).

Fig. 82 Holdenby (3) Deserted village

a(3) Deserted villages of Holdenby (around SP 692675 and 697679; Figs. 82 and 83; Plates 16, 17 and 18), lie in two separate places. One is 400 m. S.W. of the present village, around the medieval parish church on the N. side of a small S.E.-flowing stream, on glacial sands and gravels and Jurassic Clay, at 115 m. above OD. The other lies immediately N.E. of the present village on Boulder Clay at 122 m. above OD.

The history of Holdenby is almost unknown. The name was first recorded in 1086, but its pure Scandinavian etymology indicates an earlier beginning (PN Northants., 85). Domesday Book listed one manor of Holdenby with a recorded population of 14 and held by the Count of Mortain. However there was another manor held by the Count of Mortain, also with a recorded population of 14, listed as 'Aldenestone' and this has been plausibly identified as part of Holdenby (VCH Northants., I (1902), 328–9, 378). If this theory is correct it may be that Holdenby was at that time two physically separate settlements, one around the church and the other near the site of the present village.

The next indication of the size of the village is not until 1523 when its inhabitants paid £4 6s. tax (PRO, E179/155/161). This amount is larger than that for many other villages in the area such as Guilsborough, East Haddon and Harlestone and suggests that Holdenby was still a flourishing community. A little before 1580 Sir Christopher Hatton started work on the great house and the laying out of the gardens there (4). On the earliest map of Holdenby of 1580 (NRO; Plates 16 and 18) Holdenby House and its gardens are shown, apparently still incomplete. By then the medieval church stood isolated; in a small paddock to the S. of it ('a' on plan) are the words 'here stode ye manor howse'. To the N.E. of Holdenby House, on or near the site of the present village, lay the other part of Holdenby consisting of a small group of about ten buildings arranged around the S. end of a roughly triangular green. By 1587 (map in NRO; Plates 17 and 18) Hatton had completed his house and gardens. The church still stood isolated but the other part of the village had been completely rebuilt. The old green had been replaced by a large rectangular open area to the S.E. with five houses along its N. side. The whole plan was an integral part of the house and garden layout. This evidence suggests that both the medieval villages of Holdenby existed until just before 1580, and that when Hatton started work on his house and gardens he first removed the village around the church and later cleared and rebuilt the village to the N.E. of the house. Some support for this comes from an undated cutting in the Northampton Public Library saying that the village around the church was demolished in 1575 when construction on the house and gardens started.

In 1673 only nine householders paid the Hearth Tax (PRO, E179/254/14) but Bridges, writing in about 1720, said that there were 17 houses in the village (J. Bridges, Hist. of Northants., I (1791), 525). A map of 1762 (NRO) shows a situation similar to that of 1587, with eight houses along the N. side of the new green as well as the present Grange Farm to the S.E. and another house to the S. By 1842 (NRO, Tithe Map) a pair of cottages had been built on the W. side. In the late 19th century seven other estate cottages were erected, four within the green itself and the rest on a new road laid out from the N.E. corner of the green.

Little remains of the part of Holdenby village which was around the church and presumably such earthworks or indeed houses as existed by the late 16th century were destroyed by the garden construction. Certainly by 1580 the area S. and E. of the church was already 'The Orchard', bounded by a wooden fence; by 1587 ponds had been constructed within the orchard and the old manor house site ('a' on plan) appears to have had some form of garden laid out over it. Some other earthworks remain on the ground, however, in the area W. and S.W. of the church, and may have been associated with the earlier village. The best preserved are in the valley bottom to the S.W. ('b' on plan) where there are three ponds. The north-westernmost (not on plan) is a small oval embanked pond 1.5 m. deep. The middle one is much larger, roughly rectangular and cut back into the valley side with a large bank between it and the stream. At its N.W. end it turns and fades into a marshy area, the source of the water which once filled it. Below this pond and separated from it by a broad dam 2 m. high there is a small rectangular depression, again cut back into the hillside on the N.E. and with a bank on the S.E. From this pond a broad hollow-way extends up the hillside towards the old manor house site where, at its N.E. end, it is blocked by the ditch of the 1580 orchard. Just to the W. of this point there is a low mound only 0.25 m. high ('c' on plan). To the N. another shallow hollow-way, also blocked by the orchard ditch, runs W. down the hillside and then turns N.E. It can be traced for about 110 m. until it fades out just before it reaches the lower terrace of the garden, W. of the church. From near the end of the latter hollow-way another ditch or hollow-way can be traced N.W. across the park, passing between ridge-and-furrow. On the N. of this ditch, near the garden boundary, at least two low mutilated scarps are visible ('d' on plan) which appear to pre-date the gardens.

Of the original layout of the upper part of Holdenby village cleared and rebuilt by Hatton only a few fragments remain as the E. part of the later village lies across most of it (Fig. 82). In the S. corner of the present green, immediately E. of Whychcote House, is a low platform which may be the site of the southernmost house shown on the 1580 map and a degraded scarp further N.E. appears to coincide with a property boundary on the same map. More definite remains of the E. end of the village lie further N.E., on either side of the Church Brampton-East Haddon road. To the S. of the road the N. end of the earlier green appears as a scarp 1.5 m. high. Parts of the S. side are visible and so is part of the track, now a short length of hollow-way, which led to Spratton. N. of the modern road and now partly destroyed by ploughing are fragments of two other hollow-ways; one is another part of the Spratton track and the other is the N. part of the track to Church Brampton.

a(4) Garden remains (SP 693676; Fig. 83; Plates 16, 17 and 18), lie immediately S. and S.E. of Holdenby House on the top and the S.W.-facing slopes of a steep hillside, on Boulder Clay and Northampton Sand between 100 m. and 130 m. above OD. The remains are amongst the most impressive and important of their period in the county.

In medieval times there appear to have been two separate villages of Holdenby, one at the bottom of the hillside around the now isolated church and one on the hilltop to the N.E. on the site of the present estate village (3). By the church was the medieval manor house of Holdenby where Christopher Hatton, whose family had held Holdenby since at least the 13th century, was born in 1540. Hatton moved into royal circles at the age of 21 and through the favour of the Queen rose rapidly. He was made one of the Queen's Gentlemen Pensioners in 1564 and became Vice Chamberlain and was knighted in 1578. From 1587 until his death in 1591 he was Lord Chancellor.

At some time before 1579 Sir Christopher Hatton started to build Holdenby House, on a new site on the hilltop above the church. Arranged around two large internal courts, it was one of the largest mansions built in England in the 16th century. The house was finished in 1583 but the great gardens which were laid out to the S.W. of it were not completed until at least 1587. On Hatton's death the house and the estates passed to his nephew Sir William Newport who took the name of Hatton but in 1607 James I bought Holdenby and it was held by the Crown until 1651. During this period further additions may have been made to the gardens. It was to Holdenby that Charles I came as a prisoner in 1646. In 1651, after it had been seized by Parliament, it was bought by Adam Baynes, Captain in the Parliamentary Army, who demolished the house except for part of the offices which he turned into a small hall; the gardens were apparently abandoned at that time. After the Restoration Holdenby was returned to the Crown and then sold. The house was finally rebuilt between 1873 and 1875, slightly to the N. of the original one.

Though Hatton's original house was the feature that excited most comment during its existence the gardens also were much admired. Norden (Speculi Britannia (1720), 49–50) writing in 1610 said '... with what industrye and toyle of man, the Garden hath bene raised, levelled, and formed out of a most craggye and unfitable Grounde now framed a most pleasante, sweete, and princely Place with divers walks, manie ascendings and descendings replenished also with manie delightfull trees of Fruit, artificially composed Arbors . . .'. The Commissioners who surveyed the estate in 1651 (E. St John Brooks, Sir Christopher Hatton (1946), 158) described it as 'a pleasant, spacious and fair garden adorned with several long walks, mounts, arbours and seats, with curious delightful knots and planted with fruit trees'. They also mention orchards, fishponds, bowling alleys, spinneys planted with ash and 'delightful' walks.

As a result of the early demolition of the original house and the fact that the 19th-century house and garden have hardly touched the original gardens, the earthworks of the latter have remained almost as they were in 1651. The date and development of many details can be elucidated from two fine maps of 1580 and 1587 made during the construction of the garden, as well as from a later Estate Map of 1762 and the Tithe Map of 1842 (all in NRO).

Sir Christopher Hatton's house (shown in outline stipple on plan) lay on the hilltop and the main garden, made up of three roughly rectangular sections, was placed symmetrically on the S. side of the house, across the steep valley side. The central piece, which lay immediately S. of the house, was a level flower garden 95 m. by 70 m. formed by the dumping of huge quantities of earth outwards into the valley to create a massive raised terrace ending in a scarp 5 m. high. This terrace is shown on both the 1580 and 1587 maps, occupied by an elaborate knot garden made up of four flower beds, one in each corner, of basically rectangular shape but with the inner corner cut by a central circular feature. Paths ran between the beds. The 1587 map also shows a schematic knot-design in each of the flower beds. The N. half of this overall design still survives under grass. The central feature is a circular mound some 30 m. in diam. and only 20 cm. high with, on its N. side, two curving paths which meet and extend N. towards the house and in the corners two of the original flower beds, now delimited by scarps about 25 cm. high. Along the E. and W. sides of this garden there are slightly raised walks, again only some 25 cm. high; the E. one is complete, but the W. one has been destroyed at its S. end. The N. side of the garden is bounded by a 19th-century ha-ha. This level terraced garden falls away steeply to two flanking rectangular areas where what was probably the natural slope has been made into flights of low terraces. On the W. seven terraces are each bounded by a scarp about 1 m. high. The upper one is probably 19th-century in date; the next has been altered by having a 19th-century wall inserted into it but was probably once the highest of the 16th-century terraces. The five terraces below are all original. At their W. ends they all run into a terrace-walk 1.5 m. high which bounds this side of the garden; a small bulbous projection from the walk, across one of the terraces, was probably the site of an arbour, though neither the 1580 nor the 1587 map shows anything here. At their E. ends the five terraces all turn uphill and fade out, having a sloping walk-way between them and the scarped edge of the central knot garden. Below the last terrace is a large rectangular pond 2 m. deep, cut into the hillside and bounded on the S. by a wide raised terrace which is a continuation of the W. terrace-walk. This pond is shown on the 1587 map, but not on the 1580 where its position is occupied by another terrace, suggesting a change of intention by Hatton during the construction.

Fig. 83 Holdenby (4) Garden remains

The area E. of the central knot garden is also terraced, in this case into seven narrow steps each bounded by a scarp 0.5 m.–0.75 m. high. At their W. ends they run into the scarped edge of the central garden, though the upper one has been damaged by the 19th-century ha-ha, and their E. ends run out onto a low scarp which edges this side of the gardens. Below the lowest terrace is a long narrow area bounded on the S. by a raised terrace-walk 1 m. high. On the 1580 map all these terraces are shown, and are called 'ye Rosaries', but on the 1587 map the area between the lowest terrace and the terrace-walk is called The Bowling Alley.

To the W. of the original house, on the gently sloping ground above the W. terraced garden, the 1580 map shows a rectangular garden divided into nine square flower beds intersected by walks. By 1587 these gardens seem already to have been abandoned, for the area is shown as occupied by rows of trees. Both maps show a building in the centre of the W. side, probably the conduit head to which water was carried along an open ditch across the adjacent fields before being passed into the gardens. The S. part of the area is occupied today by a 19th-century lawn and shrubbery as well as a modern tennis court, while the N. part is the kitchen garden of the present house. Only a short scarp along the W. side survives to mark the original edge of the garden here; another scarp along the E. side is a later addition. There is no trace of the conduit head though part of the conduit ditch still exists in the park to the W., cutting across earlier ridge-and-furrow.

On the E. side of the existing house, N. of the E. terraced garden, is a wide level pasture field. In 1580 the S. half of this was a square walled area called The Base Court fronting the main E. entrance to the house. By 1587 the base court had been entirely remodelled; it remained walled, but a central drive extended across it from the house entrance to the centre of the E. side where stood a large gatehouse. In front of the house there was another smaller building, also perhaps a gatehouse. In the centre of the N. and S. sides of the court were two archways, the S. one giving access to the terraced garden, the N. one to the newly laid out village and its rectangular 'green' (see (3) above). Today the boundaries on three sides of this base court survive though the W. edge is now occupied by a 19th-century ha-ha. On the E. is a low mutilated scarp, broken in the centre where the original gatehouse stood. No trace remains of the latter but it is illustrated in detail by John Thorpe (Walpole Soc., 40 (1966), Plate 84). The N. side of the court is marked by a low bank only 0.25 m. high which is clearly the foundations of the original stone wall. On the S. the edge is marked by two low scarps. The original impressive archways still survive, bearing the date 1583.

Beyond the base court to the E. lay, in 1580, a very large rectangular area called The Green, across which ran the main approach drive to the house. By 1587 this had been greatly extended in size and walled on its W. side. In its S.W. corner a large three-storey building called a banqueting house and illustrated in detail by John Thorpe (Walpole Soc., op. cit.) had been erected, trees had been planted just within the W. side and a rectangular pond dug in the N.E. corner. The site of the banqueting hall is now a shrubbery and apart from some rather uneven ground no trace remains. The site of the pond, within Ash Plantation, S.E. of Grange Farm (SP697676), is still marked by a rectangular depression much altered by a modern sewage plant. The rest of the area is a modern pasture field, devoid of remains.

The features described above were the main gardens of Hatton's house, but there was also another part which appears to have been included in them at an early date, namely a long rectangular piece of land below the main garden and asymmetrically placed to it, with the medieval church in the N.W. corner. In 1580 this was bounded by a wooden fence planted with trees and called 'the orchard'; there was a pond within it, just E. of the church. In the S.W. corner, S. of the church, the 1580 map states 'here stode ye manor howse', thus giving the location of the earlier medieval manor house of Holdenby (see (3) above). By 1587 this part of the garden had been much altered. The manor house site is shown in pecked lines, with a rectangular layout, perhaps a knot garden. The earlier pond is shown larger and five other rectangular ponds, arranged in a square, lie near the centre. In the S.E. corner a polygonal feature is shown which is probably the existing mount. All these features have survived. The boundary of the gardens now exists as a ditch on the W. and most of the S. side, and as a low bank on the rest of the S. and all of the E. side. The pond near the church is still a large rectangular depression raised 2 m. high above the land to the S.E., while the five ponds in the centre are the same as they were in 1587. The mount in the S.E. corner is a large circular mound, 4.5 m. high, but badly disturbed by a fox earth.

This area also contains a number of other features which do not appear on the 1587 map and thus presumably post-date it. These may relate to the period in the early 17th century when Holdenby was held by the Crown, when the gardens were perhaps improved. They include two parallel terraces S.E. of the church which run the width of the garden and may be the remains of further terraced walks or flower beds. On the N. side of the garden, E. of the large pond, is a battered scarp which may be the N. edge of an old trackway. However the most interesting of these additional features lie E. of the group of five ponds and W. of the mount. Here there are two conjoined but distinct groups of earthworks. To the W. of the mount and bounded on the N. and S. by low scarps is a series of eight terraces on a low W.-facing slope. These terraces fade out at one end, to N. and S. alternately, producing a zig-zag path leading from the ponds up the hill to the mount. Immediately N. of these is a roughly rectangular area cut back into the hillside, and bounded by banks or scarps. It slopes W. and its higher E. end is almost semicircular. Its interior is divided into three parts by low scarps only 20 cm. high, presumabably the boundaries of flower beds. From near the centre of the S. side of this additional group of gardens a broad raised terrace or bank extends S.S.W. across the adjacent field leading towards a pond which already existed in 1580. The purpose of this bank is unknown but it was probably an access-way from the garden into the park (Northants. P. and P., 5 (1977), 392–5: N. Pevsner, Northamptonshire (1961), 253–4; M. W. Beresford and J. K. S. St Joseph, Medieval England: An Aerial Survey (1958), 58–60; J. Bridges, Hist. of Northants., I (1791), 525; RAF VAP CPE/UK/1994, 2366–7).

a(5) Deer park (centred SP 695670; Plates 16 and 17), lies S. and S.E. of Holdenby House, on rolling clayland, between 120 m. and 135 m. above OD. The park is a late one, created by Sir Christopher Hatton between 1580 and 1587 as part of his work at Holdenby which also included the building of Holdenby House, the laying out of its gardens (4) and the removal and rebuilding of Holdenby village (3). It is not shown on the map of 1580 (NRO; Plate 16) when, apparently, the common fields of the parish still existed but is depicted on the map of 1587 (NRO; Plate 17), bounded by a continuous wooden fence and with drawings of deer and rabbits within it. It covered some 250 hectares, almost one third of the whole parish. The deer park probably fell into disuse after 1651 when the house was demolished and had certainly been abandoned by 1762 (NRO, Estate Map).

Except for one small part, all of the perimeter shown on the 1587 map still exists as a hedge-line and can be traced from the N.E. corner of Holdenby village (SP 697679) and along the S. side of the road to Church Brampton as far as the parish boundary (SP 706675). It then followed the parish boundary S. to the S.E. corner of Holdenby parish (SP 704661) where it turned W. again along the parish boundary for some 400 m. (to SP 701661). At this point the parish boundary turns S. and then runs W. along the stream, but the deer park pale, still a modern hedge-bank, carried straight on to the W., parallel to and just N. of the stream. At Blackthorn Spinney (SP 692662) the boundary swung N. in a broad curve until it met the small S.E.-flowing stream a little to the S.W. of Holdenby church (SP 689674). Along this section, although the bank is little more than a normal hedge-bank, there is on the E. side a steep-sided ditch 4 m. wide and 1 m. deep. Beyond the stream the boundary runs N.E. for nearly 200 m. across the 19th-century landscaped park. Here it is a broad open ditch some 12 m. wide and 1.5 m. deep with ridge-and-furrow parallel to it on the W. This may in fact be an earlier feature re-used as the park boundary. The ditch then makes a right-angle turn and runs to a point just short of the S.W. corner of the gardens of Holdenby House where it fades out. From there the park boundary followed the S. edge of the W. part of the main gardens, the W. side of the churchyard, the S.W., S. and E. sides of the lower part of the gardens, and the edge of the large area known as The Green in 1587; it then re-joined the Brampton road.

The interior of the park is entirely covered by ridge-and-furrow of the former common fields which it replaced, with the exception of a long narrow strip of land near the W. side, running N.E.–S.W., which was called Fowlham Meadow in 1587 (M. W. Beresford and J. K. S. St Joseph, Medieval England: An Aerial Survey (1958), 60).

a(6) Dam (SP 699684; Plate 17), lies across the valley of a small E.-flowing stream in the N. of the parish, on Upper Lias Clay at 100 m. above OD. The present road from Holdenby to Spratton runs along the top of the dam and has presumably much altered it. It is some 80 m. long with a maximum height of 2.5 m. and is marked as an embankment on the OS 1: 2500 map (SP 6968). On the parish map of 1580 (NRO) nothing is shown at this point, but on the 1587 map (NRO) the dam is depicted with a triangular pond behind it and is therefore presumably part of the work carried out in the parish at that time by Sir Christopher Hatton.

(7) Cultivation remains (Plates 16 and 17). The enclosure of the common fields of Holdenby took place between 1584 and 1587 and was therefore carried out by Sir Christopher Hatton as part of his extensive work there. On a map of 1580 (NRO) four open fields are shown. Wood Field occupies the S.E. of the parish, and Longlande Field the S.W., separated from the former by a long narrow piece of land called Fowlham Meadow. The whole of the N. part of the parish, N. of the East Haddon–Brampton road was North Field, and in the W. there was a small Parke Field. In 1584 these fields probably still existed for on a map of Church Brampton of that date (NRO) the land beyond the Brampton parish boundary, in the N.E. corner of Holdenby parish, is marked as Holdenby North Field. However a map of 1587 (NRO) shows that by that date the deer park (5) had been created covering the whole of the former Wood Field, about a quarter of the former Parke and Longlande Fields and a small part of the North Field. The remaining area of the parish had been divided into enclosed fields.

Ridge-and-furrow of these fields remains on the ground or can be traced on air photographs over wide areas of the parish. The pattern for Longlande Field is complete and for Parke Field is virtually so. The area of Fowlham Meadow is devoid of ridge-and-furrow, but most of the furlongs in Wood Field are visible. In contrast little ridge-and-furrow can be seen in North Field except on its S. and S.W. parts.

In the 19th-century parkland W. of Holdenby House the ridge-and-furrow is exceptionally well preserved and consists of long end-on furlongs, sweeping down the valley side. Elsewhere it is mainly ploughed out but can be seen on air photographs arranged in broad interlocked furlongs up to 450 m. long with some large former headlands still surviving as broad ridges up to 12 m. wide and 0.25 m. high and as much as 600 m. long (e.g. at SP 685675; RAF VAP CPE/UK/1994, 2364–9, 4257–61, 4367–72).