A small selection of the LOCATIONS found recently in Burnley, Pendle and West Craven by members of the PDCAS




            John A Clayton          





Early Development


The reasons for the settlement patterns of North West England are many and varied - existing towns, villages and hamlets all share a common history, some extending back 7,000 years while others have been created within the last one hundred and fifty years. Each modern settlement stands as testimony to its original founders but what of our older towns, villages and hamlets – and the surprisingly large number of lost or abandoned occupation sites? It is easy to glance at a map showing a network of urban sprawl and rural villages, interconnected by a vast network of roads, and not give it a second thought – this is the 20th century landscape we grew up in and, for us at least, it has always been like this.  


Historians and archaeologists can also fall into the trap of taking modern settlement patterns for granted – all too often the lives of our ancient forebears are separated from ours in a way that severs any connection between us. Early villages may be excavated and abandoned sites noted but this does nothing to tell the story of the countless generations of people who settled within our district, cleared the heavy woodlands with stone tools, created the field patterns that can still be recognised today and formulated the system of farming, industry and culture that still dictates our modern lives.   


Aerial imaging (particularly LiDAR aerial laser imaging) has transformed the discipline of landscape archaeology – fieldwork is all well and good when a site is known but is severely limited when it comes to actually locating landscape features on the ground. Employing LiDAR across a large area of our Lancashire-Yorkshire border district it is clear that the early settlement pattern of this area is far more complex than previously thought. We (the Burnley, Pendle and West Craven Archaeology Project) have, to date, discovered at least ten lost or shrunken villages. Examining the images of these ghostly outlines of once thriving communities serves to highlight the fact that our modern world did not simply appear from the ether – it is based on the hard work and tenacity of others.


The lost/abandoned villages we can now see were social links between our prehistory and the growth of the Industrial Age. A successful settlement needed the basics of water supply, shelter from the prevailing winds, well-drained productive land, large areas of standing woodland and good road or sea communications with the outside world. It also needed a socio-political system that did not break the will of the lowly cottars – the church was an invaluable element in this. Above all, perhaps, the settlement also needed luck – some villages appear to have fared worse than others in times of plague pandemics while the micro-climate of one village might protect against the worst effects of crop failure and famine compared to a neighbouring village. There were also the pressures of invasion by Angles, Saxons and Normans plus numerous attacks by pillagers from north of the border.    


Archaeologists have discovered a large number of pre-historic settlements on the bleak upland moors that do not conform to the modern idea of a suitable site. This inclined 19th century antiquarians to the view that anyone who would set up camp in what are now the most desolate areas of our hills and moors must have been semi-wild idiots. Even well into the 20th century distinguished archaeologists often shared this view, hence Sir Mortimer Wheeler’s description of our Iron Age ancestors as being  ‘capering ninnies covered in woad.


Thankfully much progress has been made toward understanding the lives of settlers within the (British) Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age (c. 4,000 BC to 45AD). Study of weather patterns, pollen, soil and seed analysis, the lifestyle of individuals evident within their bones, woodland clearance and new sub-surface land survey methods have shown that the upper reaches of our moorlands and higher hills were well populated for a period of some 4,000 years. These people did not survive in animal skin shelters, living off berries and nuts – they occupied stone and timber houses on favourable upland sites of woodland and grassland close to watercourses within a far more temperate climate than that of our modern day.


As metal-working technology advanced new ploughs were able to work previously untenable soils and so the Iron Age has left us not only with scattered groupings of small patchwork fields but also larger arable areas on the outer community land fringes. Modern archaeological survey methods show that there are numerous Iron Age settlements, with related field systems, within our district and that many of these continued through the Roman period (as Romano British villages) and into the Dark Age (Early Medieval) period.


Aerial landscape survey provides us with (in many cases) the only evidence for early settlement patterns. There is little recorded evidence for North Western rural settlement prior to the 11th century Domesday Book and even this is severely limited in the information it carries for the Lancashire-Yorkshire border area. From the 12th century there is an increasing corpus of written record relating to landholding and it becomes increasingly easier for the historian to tell the story of a village or town down the centuries into the Modern period.   


Our problem, then, is to locate deserted or lost settlements and to relate these to the modern settlement patterns. There is no firm template for the assessment of a lost Romano British village, nor do Anglo Saxon villages give up their secrets easily - each site is unique. That said, a certain pattern of village development is to be expected within all periods – settlements need streets, houses, stock enclosures, agricultural buildings, defences, water supply, external trackways and industrial areas for kilns and metal working.


By the time of the Iron Age, and its attendant unsettled weather patterns, most of the earlier upland settlements had migrated down from the uplands and moorlands into the more productive land of the valleys. For a period roughly covering the period of the first millennium BC it was common practice for communities to build hillforts to provide defensive foci for the occupants of settlements within the area. It is not clear whether the hillforts were erected purely in reaction to a raised threat of inter-tribal violence or simply as a sop to a prevailing fashion for showing off the status of a community. Aerial LiDAR evidence has been instrumental in locating at least twelve previously unknown hillfort features within the area extending from Burnley to Hellifield; many of these also have attendant lost settlement systems. There is a strong suggestion, then, that there were far more Iron Age and Romano British villages within our district than the official archaeological records would have us believe.


So. . . we have a precedent for continual occupation of our land from at least 4,000 BC through to the 5th century AD when the Romans departed our sylvan shores. At this time we were a predominantly British people ruling the area through a series of minor British kingdoms. The name Brigantes is often bandied about in relation to this but there is a strong argument in favour of this simply being a description of the tribal confederacy occupying our northern upland areas. In reality there were numerous tribal estates within minor kingdoms; the area extending from Earby to the Ribble and Middop to Hellifield appears to have been an estate within the kingdom of Craven. There is no known political or regal centre relating to Craven but over the summer of 2015 we (the BPC Archaeology Project) carried out archaeological work within the district extending from Gisburn to Long Preston. Here we found evidence to suggest that this area was of much higher status than previously realised and may well have been the ‘capital’ of the Craven kingdom.


In the century or two following the Roman departure our area would have comprised of hamlets and scattered individual farmsteads set amongst small enclosed fields. Hollow ways (sunken tracks) led from the settlements up onto the open cattle grazing areas of the high ground. Towards the end of the 600s AD Anglo Saxon culture began to move into our northern district but it is widely thought that the British kingdom of Elmet, part of the old West Riding of Yorkshire around Leeds, was still 'British' at the start of the 7th century. However, by this time the Angles had invaded West Craven from their base in East Anglia – this was the first British kingdom to be taken in our area. Modern place-names around Gisburn and Barnoldswick still betray their Anglian roots. It is possible that no change was wrought in settlement type or pattern by the Anglian take-over of the region, but whatever the degree of settlement continuity the names of the settlements today are, as they were in 1086 in Domesday Book, predominantly Anglian (Hoober for example is pure Anglian).


There are two striking patterns to settlements extant within this period – the planned or nucleated settlement and the piecemeal development of dispersed settlement. Planned (nucleated) settlements follow the pattern easily recognised within our modern towns and villages where uniform streets are lined with buildings and a central area of common land (the village green); the lord of the manor would live on the edge of the community alongside his own fields and the church building would offer a defined foci for village life. This type of village was often created from scratch by feudal landlords or their local retainers. It has been suggested that most planned villages were a result of rebuilding following the ravages of Malcolm III’s invasion in 1061 or because of the deliberate wasting of our district by the Normans. However, there is no firm evidence for this – ‘planned’ settlements may have evolved at any time from the 9th century onwards.   


The ‘unplanned’ sites can be seen to have grown without regulation or pattern; usually these were a loose grouping of widely scattered houses and farmsteads within a roughly central landholding. The related village would grow through a need for communal effort within farming practice – where the ground was heavy it was necessary to employ large plough teams of up to eight or ten oxen. Grouping the farm workers’ houses around a single farm unit (a yard, barn, grain/feed/tool stores etc.) allowed the workers to share the expense of the draught animals and plough equipment. The remnants of this system can still be seen in local farm buildings carrying the name ‘Fold’ – more often than not these are farm buildings and cottages arranged around a communal yard.


Having set the scene, so to speak, we can now look at the LiDAR evidence for the lost village sites within our area and attempt to make sense of why they occupied a particular landscape location, what was the story relating to the life of the village and why did it become deserted?


John A Clayton

December 2015





Clayton J.   Archaeology of Burnley and Pendle (Part One and Part Two)  Barrowford Press  2014

Graham S. C.  Barnoldswick - The Story of a Pennine Town  SP Amazon  2008

Gelling M. & Cole A.  The Landscape of Place-names   Shaun Tyas   Stamford   2000

Kenyon D.  The Origins of Lancashire   Manchester University Press   1991

Newman R. (ed.) The Archaeology of Lancashire   Lancaster University Archaeological Unit   1996

A probable Middle Bronze Age ditched/enclosed farmstead settlement at Clough Head (Townhouse) on the southern outskirts of Nelson.


A short distance to the south of this feature is the lost village of Laughton (Southfield) and just to the east is the manor site of Townhouse Farm.


Here we see a continuity of settlement over the past 5,000 years within the same compact area.


Unfortunately this extremely rare farmstead site is included in the Pendle Borough Schedule for housing development. I have supplied the Council with a report on the site but do not expect that this will sway them in their decision to build here!



Image copyright Environment Agency 2013. All rights reserved







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