Alnham : The Village Layout
The 1619 map shows a village of four rows of dwellings and toft enclosures. Three of these rows defined a large triangular green, which was considerably longer from east to west than it was from north to south. The Aln ran along the south side of the green entering at the western end and exiting at the southeast angle. The fourth row sat within the green on the north side of the burn. At its east end, this row further divided into two, with houses facing one another across a lane.
The church and the manor house were located at the west end of the village, at the apex of the triangular green, and faced one another across the burn. The manorial centre is shown schematically as a large house, although documentary references and the evidence of the surviving turf-covered footings demonstrate that it actually took the form of a tower during the later medieval period. The same is true of the vicar’s residence, depicted immediately to the west of the church, where the remains of a tower-house still stand today, forming a classic ‘vicar’s pele’.
The single freehold toft shown on the south side of the burn, in the area between the manorial tower and the church, can still be traced as a set of well-defined earthworks, comprising an earthen enclosure with two house-sites in its northeast corner. To the west, a further enclosure devoid of buildings is evident both on the map and on the aerial photographs. Beyond that another toft with associated remains of buildings, which is not shown on the map, is revealed by surviving earthworks, its layout clearly evident on the aerial photographs in the form of a triangular enclosure and as many as three house-sites (cf. Dixon 1985, II, 27-8).
In contrast none of the tofts and house plots to the north of the burn are apparent on aerial photographs. Surviving ridge and furrow covering the area immediately to the east of the church shows this area was ploughed at some stage after the tenements were abandoned. No ridge and furrow is evident in the next field to the east, which has probably been levelled and reseeded at some subsequent period. However a ridge of land extending to the north east of the church probably represents the alignment of the north row whilst a second ridge on the north side of the modern road to the church matches the position of the middle row. In the latter area (NT 99271095), a rectangular enclosure formed by fragmentary banks of earth and stone has been identified, with an internal dividing bank suggesting it represents a block of two cottages. The remains are surrounded by a scatter of large undressed stones.
The map attached to the Inclosure Award of 1776-7 (NRO QRA 7-1) overlays the present road layout (newly established at this time as part of the enclosure) over the earlier pattern of toft enclosures showing precisely how the two relate. The village of 1619 extended from the church and its adjacent vicarage tower as far as present-day farmsteads of Pennylaws and Castle Farm, covering most of the two intervening fields on the north side of the road as well as the south side of the burn from Castle Farm to the site of the manorial tower and beyond to the ford at the western end of the village. This evidence demonstrates that Alnham was clearly a far more populous, but also more compact settlement than the present village.
It is tempting to suggest that the row located within the green was a secondary development, representing a partial infilling of what was perhaps initially a large undivided green. Conversely, the westernmost of the surviving toft earthworks, on the south side of the burn, is not represented on Norton’s map, implying it had already been abandoned some time before 1619.
The south row of the village is depicted as being noticeably less densely settled than the other three rows and does not extend right up to the manor house. Given the evidence for abandonment represented by the westernmost toft, it is conceivable that the southern row was at one stage more extensive than it appears on the 1619 map. These observations emphasise the point that medieval villages were dynamic living communities and their layout did not necessarily remain static over the centuries.