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'Catesby', An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of Northamptonshire, Volume 3: Archaeological sites in North-West Northamptonshire (1981), pp. 37-43. URL: Date accessed: 18 April 2014. Add to my bookshelf


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(OS 1: 10000 a SP 56 SW, b SP 55 NW)

The long narrow parish, covering some 825 hectares, lies on either side of the R. Leam which flows across the N.W. part. From the higher S.W. end of the parish where Northampton Sand outcrops on the isolated Arbury Hill and Sharmans Hill at 210 m. above OD, the land slopes gently N.W. on Upper Lias Clay and Middle Lias Marlstone Rock and then more steeply down an indented scarp face of silts and limestone to the R. Leam, here flowing N.E. in a broad valley of Lower Lias Clay at 122 m. above OD. Beyond the river, to the N.W., is a broad area of undulating clayland between 130 m. and 145 m. above OD, which was the land associated with the now deserted village of Newbold (6). The rest of the parish was divided between two other now largely deserted villages, Upper and Lower Catesby (2) and (3). The history of the three villages is obscure and the remains of each have been either totally or partly destroyed. The 17th-century garden remains (4) on the site of an earlier Cistercian priory are of considerable interest.


Roman coins, including some of Faustina and Maximianus, are said to have been found in Catesby Park (around SP 516595) before 1720 (J. Bridges, Hist. of Northants., I (1791), 36; OS Record Cards).

b(1) Roman burial (SP 52715885), S. of Upper Catesby on clay at 175 m. above OD. A Roman cinerary urn was found in 1895 during the sinking of an air shaft in Catesby Tunnel (OS Record Cards).

Medieval and Later

b(2) Deserted village of Upper Catesby (SP 528594; Figs. 35 and 36), stands near the W. end of a prominent W.-facing spur of limestone at 167 m. above OD. A village of Catesby was first mentioned in 1086 when Domesday Book listed it as a four-hide estate with a recorded population of 25, including a priest (VCH Northants., I (1902), 338). However this entry certainly included the village of Lower Catesby (3) and probably yet another village in the parish, Newbold (6), both now deserted. About 1175 Robert de Esseby, grandson of Sasfrid who held the manor of Catesby under William Peveral in 1086, founded a house of Cistercian nuns at Lower Catesby (4). This priory was granted the church of Catesby, the chapel of Hellidon and lands, tenements and mills in the parish. It later received a number of other grants of land in Catesby from the Esseby family. In 1301 thirteen taxpayers are listed for Catesby and Newbold (PRO, E179/155/31); 172 people paid the Poll Tax in 1377 and 126 in 1379 (M. W. Beresford, The Lost Villages of England (1954), 366). In the early 15th century land in the parish had certainly reverted to pasture for 'untilled Grounds in Catesby and Newbold, let to Divers tenants' are recorded. In addition the priory was running sheep on its land for in the same period accounts record large sums of money received by the priory for wool (J. M. Steane, The Northants. Landscape (1974), 174). In 1491 the prioress of Catesby destroyed 14 houses at 'Catesby', eviciting 60 people, and enclosed land and converted it to pasture (M. W. Beresford, op.cit.). However it is not certain that this destruction and enclosure was at either Upper or Lower Catesby; it may have been at Newbold. In 1517–18 sixty people were said to have been evicted from Catesby (J. M. Steane, op. cit.). The priory was dissolved in 1536 and the parish church destroyed though part of it survived in a ruinous state for some years. Five houses are said to have existed at this time in 'Catesby'. In 1537 the site of the nunnery and its lands was sold to John Only and either he or his descendants built a large house out of the priory, attached to which was a set of elaborate gardens (4). In 1801 there were 95 people living in the parish (J. Bridges, Hist. of Northants., I (1791), 32; Whellan, Dir, 390–3; K. J. Allison, et al., The Deserted Villages of Northants. (1966), 37).

The documented history noted above conceals a complex picture of settlement which some post-medieval documentation and the earthwork remains partly reveal. There appear to have been two villages, one at Upper Catesby where the medieval parish church stood, the other at Lower Catesby, both presumably listed under the one entry for Domesday Book together with Newbold. The priory was apparently sited just outside the village of Lower Catesby and it was perhaps part of this village which was destroyed in 1495. Upper Catesby, recorded as Overcatsby in 1389 (PN Northants., 16), may also have been partly deserted, but the five houses still remaining at 'Catesby' in 1536 were probably here. Certainly by about 1720 Bridges (op. cit.) noted that there were still 'eight houses with about five and twenty inhabitants' at Upper Catesby, and on Eyre's Map of Northants. (1791) seven buildings are depicted. In the early 19th century there were at least six buildings on the site (1st ed. OS 1 in. map, (1834)). These must have been removed; the present six pairs of semi-detached cottages were erected between 1863 and 1901 on a new alignment.

The remains of Upper Catesby fall into two parts. Immediately S.E. of the existing houses, and now entirely destroyed by modern cultivation, was a series of embanked closes, separated from the adjacent ridge-and-furrow to the S. by a low bank and ditch and with traces of buildings at the N. ends where the existing lane to Badby seems to have been the main street. The closes at the W. end were cut by a later quarry.

To the N. and W. of the existing houses the earthworks of the former village still remain. The most marked feature is a hollow-way up to 1 m. deep which runs N.W. from the garden of the northernmost house to the crest of the spur. Here its depth increases to 2.5 m. as it runs down the hillside. It can be traced as a continuous feature for about 1 km. until it becomes the main street of the deserted village of Lower Catesby (3). To the E. it presumably continued along the line of the present houses to meet the Badby lane. To the S. of the hollow-way and W. of the existing houses are some indeterminate low scarps, and a rectangular paddock which was the graveyard and the site of the parish church. To the N. of the hollow-way and the modern houses are the fragmentary remains of further closes and some possible house-sites. However, apart from a section in the centre where a later quarry-pit has been dug, all the remains have been overploughed in a narrow ridge-and-furrow only 5 m. wide. The ridges are very slight and probably only represent a short period of ploughing (RAF VAP CPE/UK/1994, 1279–80; CUAP, SA66).

b(3) Deserted village of Lower Catesby (SP 515597; Figs. 35 and 37), lies N. of Catesby Church at 122 m. above OD, on the N. side of a shallow valley, opposite the sites of the priory and of the later gardens (4). The history, size and date of desertion of this village is not known with certainty, owing to the fact that most of the documentary evidence includes not only Upper Catesby (2) but also Newbold (6), both now also depopulated. The documentary record as it is known is summarised under Upper Catesby.

Fig. 36 Catesby (2) Deserted village of Upper Catesby

About half the remaining earthworks of the village were destroyed in 1975 immediately before the Commission first visited the site but enough remains on the ground or can be seen on air photographs for the general layout to be recovered. The main feature was a broad hollow-way up to 1 m. deep running E.–W. along the valley side. At its W. end it curved N.W. into the valley of the R. Leam and faded out. To the E. it can be traced for about 1 km. until it becomes the main street of Upper Catesby (2). Large sections of this hollow-way between the two villages have been destroyed by ploughing, but a great deal of stone rubble was noted along its line (around SP 522597; local inf.). On the N. side of the hollow-way, at Lower Catesby, were rectangular closes or paddocks bounded by low scarps or ditches. The part to the E., which was the best preserved, has now been destroyed, but some possible building platforms exist in the part which survives. To the S. of the hollow-way there are several scarps and ditches extending down the hillside and these may also be the remains of closes along the former main street; their S. ends have all been destroyed or cut across by a later line of ponds in the valley bottom. These ponds probably date from the medieval period and were perhaps originally the fishponds of Catesby Priory. This would suggest that at least part of the village had been abandoned or removed at an early date (RAF VAP CPE/UK/1994, 1279–80; CUAP, AHG39, 41).

b(4) Site of Cistercian priory and of post-medieval house and garden (SP515595; Fig. 37), lie around the existing church at Lower Catesby at 122 m. above OD. The R. Leam forms the S. and W. boundary of the site.

The N. part of the area was occupied by the former village of Lower Catesby (3) but in 1175 Robert de Esseby, who held the manor, founded a house of Cistercian nuns there. This was originally endowed with the church of Catesby, the chapel of Hellidon and apparently with at least part of the villages of Upper and Lower Catesby (2) and (3) and Newbold (6). Little of its earlier history is known, but in 1229 the King granted wood from the Forest of Silverstone for the building of the priory church (VCH Northants., II (1906), 121–5).

The priory was dissolved in 1536 and the following year the site and its lands were sold to John Onley, whose family held it until the early 17th century when it passed to the Parkhursts. At least part of the priory buildings were turned into a mansion house for the Onleys who presumably demolished the rest and, either then or perhaps later in the 17th century, laid out an elaborate garden around and to the E. of the house. An engraving of the house in about 1720 (J. Bridges, Hist. of Northants., I (1791), 32) and drawings of the house made in 1844 (in the present Catesby House) suggest that the 16th-century house was arranged around a central courtyard, perhaps the original cloister, but that the main W. front was rebuilt around 1700, probably by the Parkhursts, with a symmetrical elevation and projecting wings. A late 18th-century map (Eyre, Map of Northants. (1791)) shows a rigidly formal garden E. of the house, with rectangular ponds and intersecting footpaths, but this may be partly conventionalized as the earthworks, apparently of earlier date, do not agree with the map. The house was finally demolished in 1863 and the materials used in the new Catesby House erected near Upper Catesby. The church was rebuilt at the same time.

It is difficult to ascertain exactly which of the remaining earthworks belong to the priory and which to the later house and garden but the main outlines appear to be clear. The present church is probably on the site of the priory church and the conventual buildings would have been to the S. of it ('a' on plan). Maps of 18th and 19th-century date and surviving illustrations of the house, which seems to have incorporated at least part of the cloister range, lend support to this supposition. The large terrace ('a' on plan), which is still 2 m. high, and the indeterminate earthworks to the W. and N., are mainly the remains of the house and perhaps an outer terrace wall with, to the E., a series of earthworks which must be the 17th-century gardens. These consist of two retangular sunken basins 1.5 m. deep, with a raised terrace 1 m. high on the W. and a higher terrace 1.5 m. high on the E. ('b' on plan). Further E. again is a rectangular pond and beyond, E. of the track to Hellidon, a straight sunken way ('c' on plan).

On the S. side of the garden is the site of a large pond with a broad dam up to 2 m. high at its W. end ('d' on plan). This may have been part of the gardens but it could also have had earlier origins as a fishpond of the priory.

The W. edge of the site is bounded by a deep ditch with an outer bank which curves in an arc above the R. Leam ('e' on plan). Although this has previously been described as a moat, it is unlikely to have had any defensive purpose. It may have been the W. boundary of the 17th-century garden, for the main W. front of the house certainly faced it, but it is likely to be medieval in origin for it appears to have been used to carry water from the R. Leam around the spur into the next valley. It is up to 2 m. deep and the outer bank is faced with stone rubble. Its N. end has been damaged but the presence there of blocks of limestone and ashlar suggests that the channel may have been a leat leading water to a mill. If this explanation is correct, the ditch must certainly have been altered in later times, perhaps as a part of the 17th-century gardens.

On the N. side of the area, in the valley bottom below the existing cottages, are two sub-rectangular depressions each with traces of a low bank or dam only 1.25 m. high at its lower, W. end. These appear to be the remains of two ponds which, perhaps, were either fishponds of the priory or a source of additional water for the assumed mill, or both. Above them to the E. is a larger pond, still water-filled, which appears to be ornamental and part of the 17th-century garden though it may have had earlier origins. These ponds appear to cut through, and are thus later than, a series of low scarps which extend northwards and which are the close boundaries of the deserted village of Lower Catesby (3) which lies immediately to the N. (RAF VAP CPE/UK/1994, 1279–80; CUAP, AHG 39–41).

Fig. 37 Catesby (3) Deserted village of Lower Catesby, (4) Site of priory and of house and gardens

b(5) Earthworks (SP 521594; Fig. 38), S. of the road from Upper to Lower Catesby, at 105 m. above OD. The earthworks lie in a flat field, with a pond to the W., and consist of a roughly rectangular arrangement of banks and ditches. On the S. side is the recut channel of a small stream, now dry, up to 2 m. deep. This is joined at right-angles by a smaller, shallower channel. The N.E. angle thus formed is occupied by an L-shaped platform following the line of the two channels. This platform is level and varies in height above the uneven land-surface, so it is highest, some 0.5 m., in the S. and fades to the N. There is a small bank 0.25 m. high on top of the platform. To the N. are ill-defined ditches and scarps.

Neither the date nor the function of the earthworks is known; they may be the remains of a manor house or of a group of farm buildings. The field in which they stand is known as Court Close (RAF VAP CPE/UK/1994, 1279–80; CUAP, SA63).

Fig. 38 Catesby (5) Earthworks

a(6) Deserted village of Newbold (SP 517606; Fig. 35; Plate 5), situated in the N.W. part of Catesby parish on a S.-facing slope above the R. Leam, on clay at 125 m. above OD. It lay on the E. edge of an area of some 280 hectares N.W. of the R. Leam; this land probably represents the original estate of Newbold. The village is not mentioned in Domesday Book, but it is almost certainly included there in the entry for Catesby (2, 3) which, with a recorded population of 25, seems abnormally large. It is first noted in documents in 1203 (PN Northants., 17) and its position and its name 'new building' suggest that it originated as a secondary settlement of Catesby. In 1301 it was listed together with Catesby with a total of 13 taxpayers (PRO, E179/155/31). Part of the village held by Catesby Priory was perhaps destroyed and its site converted to pasture in 1495 at the same time as the two Catesby villages (2) and (3). Indeed some of the 14 houses at Catesby which were removed in that year by the prioress of Catesby may have been at Newbold.

The expulsion of 60 people from Catesby, again by the priory, in 1491 may also refer to Newbold (M. W. Beresford, Lost Villages of England (1954), 366–8). Certainly by 1535 the priory held a 'Newboldefeld', indicating perhaps that it was already a sheep-walk by then (K. J. Allison et al., The Deserted Villages of Northants. (1966), 43) and even at an earlier date, in the early 15th century, the priory received rents from the pasture of untilled ground in Catesby and Newbold let to tenants and this suggests that sheep were already important there (J. M. Steane, The Northants. Landscape (1974), 174). In the early 18th century Bridges (Hist. of Northants., I (1791), 32) recorded that there were then only four houses with ten inhabitants at Newbold. These houses were almost certainly the present dispersed farmsteads.

Until 1966 the extremely fine earthworks of the village remained complete. They were then ploughed and completely destroyed but from air photographs taken before destruction it is possible to ascertain the main features of the site. Most of the village earthworks lay in a rectangular block orientated S.W.–N.E. and bounded by a bank and outer ditch on the S.E. and N.E. and by a hollow-way on the N.W. The interior of this area was divided into three main parts. The S.E. block consisted of a number of ditched and embanked closes, including one with ridge-and-furrow on it, all of which had the remains of former buildings at their N.E. ends fronting a broad hollow-way. The latter also formed the S.W. side of the central part of the village which was entirely occupied by a large number of closes. Some of these contained raised platforms of various sizes, all probably the sites of former buildings. On the N.W. side of this area was a very wide road or access-way, bounded by scarps and ditches, which extended S.E. beyond the village to the edge of the R. Leam. To the N.W. of that was the third part of the village, divided into two distinct areas. In the S.E. corner was a large embanked enclosure with traces of smaller sub-divisions in the form of low banks and scarps as well as building platforms, and to the N.W. was a block of ridge-and-furrow. Outside the village and immediately to the N.W. of it was a large sub-rectangular area edged by ridge-and-furrow which contained no major visible remains. Two hollow-ways, one from the W. and the other from the S.W. ran through ridge-and-furrow to enter this area on its W. side (J. K. S. St Joseph, The Uses of Air Photography (1966), pl. 64; J. M. Steane, The Northants. Landscape (1974), pl. 9; CUAP, AHG33–7, AWV21–3, SA69–74, SN81–2; CPE/UK/1994, 1281–2).

When the site was levelled and ploughed in 1967 areas of grey daub were noted on the former house-sites. Much 12th-century pottery was found together with a gilded buckle and the bowl of a pewter spoon. At the W. end of the village, foundations of a large stone building were recorded(Med. Arch., 12(1968), 203; DMVRG 15th Annual Rep., (1967), 4; 17 (1969), 7).

a(7) Pond (SP 508604), lies immediately S. of Lower Farm, Newbold, at the head of a small S.-draining valley on clay at 140 m. above OD. It consists of a long rectangular depression orientated E.–W. and extending in a semicircle on the N. side with a circular island in the centre. To the N. are other low scarps, and the whole may be the remains of a small 17th or 18th-century garden associated with the farm (pond correctly shown on OS 1:25000 plan, SP 5060; RAF VAP CPE/UK/1994, 1281–2).

(8) Cultivation remains. The date of the enclosure of the common fields of Upper and Lower Catesby is unknown. The prioress of Catesby is said to have enclosed 16 virgates (about 75 hectares) and converted it to pasture in 1496, but some of this may have been in the land of Newbold (6). Even in the early 15th century, the priory received rent from pasture in Catesby and Newbold (see (2) and (6)). However, when the priory was dissolved in 1539, although it possessed 250 acres of enclosed pasture at Catesby, of its 160 acres of arable land there, all but seven acres was in the common fields (PRO, E315/399/f 120).

Ridge-and-furrow of these fields exists on the ground or can be traced on air photographs over almost the entire area of land which is attributable to the villages of Catesby. It is all arranged in interlocked rectangular furlongs, some with reversed-S ridges, except to the S.E. of Upper Catesby (SP 535586) where there is an area of end-on furlongs on the slopes below Arbury Hill. Among the best preserved ridge-and-furrow is that immediately E. of Lower Catesby (SP 518596).

Other ridge-and-furrow of interest overlies part of the deserted village of Upper Catesby (2) (Fig. 36) and must post-date the abandonment of that part of the village. This ridge-and-furrow is narrow, only 5 m. wide, and is likely to be relatively recent. The fact that the ploughing has not obliterated the underlying village remains suggests that it was short-lived, and perhaps was only carried out once. In the same area, immediately S.E. of that part of the deserted village which has been destroyed, was a block of double reversed-S ridge-and-furrow (SP 531590), an example of the reploughing of two end-on furlongs into one, as quite commonly occurs.

The date of the enclosure of the common fields of Newbold (6) is also unknown, though they appear to have disappeared by 1535 and perhaps were partly enclosed in the 15th century (see above).

Ridge-and-furrow of these fields can be traced over the entire area of land that belonged to Newbold. It is arranged mainly in rectangular end-on and interlocked furlongs except around the isolated hill in the S.W. (SP 505602) where the ridges radiate outwards from the rounded summit (RAF VAP CPE/UK/1994, 1156–60, 1277–85).

Canons Ashby