I know what you’re thinking. No really, I do. “What? An update? But it hasn’t been a month and a half since your last one! Something must be wrong!” Nah, its just that classes are over and updating can actually serve as a somewhat productive way to take a break from paper writing.
For this post, I thought I’d share my trip to Wharram Percy. The town is way off in the middle of no where in what’s called the Wolds- a hilly area of chalky soil that isn’t really the greatest for farming. The day my archaeology class visited, it was a lovely sunny and warmish February day in York. By the time we got to Wharram Percy, it was cold, there was like a quarter inch of snow on the ground, and oh dear the mud… Sometimes I forget how much warmer York is compared to the rest of Yorkshire.
track to the village, which is a good mile away from the car park
Anyway, Wharram Percy is more or less your typical medieval village- and that’s partly because our idea of what a typical medieval village is COMES from Wharram Percy. The site has been extensively studied and excavated, and now serves as essentially the type site for English medieval villages, both deserted and not. While the site has a long history of habitation, the village reached its heyday (is that still a phrase?) around 900-1200 and then began a slow death, largely due to enclosures. If you’re a Thomas More fan (or a medievalist who had to read Utopia), you are likely aware that enclosures were blamed for pretty much everything, but in this case it does appear to have had some merit. As the wool trade became increasingly profitable for English landowners (read: wealthy people who had previously rented out land to peasants to farm), many chose to “enclose” public greens in favor of sheep grazing and at Wharram Percy, like other villages, the local manor lord slowly stopped renting land to tenants as their leases expired and instead used the land to raise sheep for the wool trade. The village was finally deserted in the 16th century, when the lord forcibly removed the last remaining families from the town. (There’s actually surviving evidence about a court case in which these peasant families sued the lord for the right to remain in Wharram Percy. You can guess who won.)
among the hills. This was taken from the main village area where the
peasant houses would have been and back behind where I’m standing
would have been the plots of land (strips) the villagers farmed.
timber roof. The church served as the parish church for several
surrounding villages and actually remained in use until the 1950s.