Wharram Percy is a deserted medieval village (DMV) on the western edge of the chalk wolds in the East Riding of Yorkshire. The site is about one mile south of Wharram le Street and is clearly signposted from the B1248, Beverley to Malton road. It has been marked on maps since the early 1850s when the surveyors of the first six inch Ordnance Survey map recorded the field above the church as 'site of ancient village'.
Wharram Percy is perhaps the best known DMV in the whole of England, although there are several others which are in a similarly good state of preservation. The reason for its celebrity is that it was researched each summer by combined teams of archaeologists, historians and even botanists, from circa 1950 to 1990 following its identification as a DMV by the late Professor M.W. Beresford, of Leeds University, in 1948.
There is a small English Heritage car park. A footpath from it, of about half a mile, leads to the DMV where, in a valley, one sees first an empty brick building and then the shell of Saint Martin's church. There are informative signs by English Heritage throughout the, approximately, thirty acre site.
The large scale of the village site only becomes apparent on climbing up the side of the valley where one discovers, on a plateau , humps and hollows indicating the foundations of dwellings and the boundaries of gardens.
(above) a photograph of one of English Heritage's signboards which they have placed at the site.
The Black Death of 1348-9 does not seem to have paid a significant part in the desertion of Wharram Percy although the large fall in population in the country as a whole at that time, must have made relocation to a less remote spot, more likely.
The villagers of Wharram Percy seem to have suffered instead, from the changes in prices and wages in the fifteenth century, which gave pastoral farming (of particularly sheep), an advantage over traditional cereal farming. The village was finally abandoned in the early sixteenth century when the lord of the manor turned out the last few families and knocked down their homes to make room for extra sheep pasturage.
The church of Saint Martin continued to be used for several centuries more, but congregations declined sharply when a new, more conveniently situated church was built in neighbouring Thixendale in 1870. It gradually became dilapidated and when the lead from the roof was stolen, its fate was sealed. Part of the tower fell down in early 1960 after a storm.
Looking west on the plateau above the Church, humps and hollows indicating the foundations of dwellings and the boundaries of gardens. ( Photo: Judy McLoughlin)
Photos of Wharram Percy in July 2004
Top left: Looking north across the valley to the large plateau in the distance, with its bumps, and lumps .
Top right: On the valley floor, looking north, across the pond and the site of the watermill to the church.
Left: Looking east, down from the plateau, to the ruined church of Saint Martin. The west face of the church tower fell in early 1960.
The plateau, at right, and the remote valley of Wharram Percy DMV. ( Photo: Judy McLoughlin)
Beresford M.W. and Hurst J.G. 'Wharram Percy Deserted Medieval Village' English Heritage 1990
Beresford M.W.'The Lost Villages of England' Lutterworth Press 1963
Beresford M.W.'History on the Ground' Lutterworth Press 1971
Beresford M.W. and Hurst J.G. 'Deserted Medieval Villages' Lutterworth Press 1971
Beresford M.W. and St Joseph J.K. 'Medieval England - an Aerial Survey' Cambridge Univ Press 1979
Hoskins W.G.'The Making of the English Landscape' Hodder & Stoughton 1988
Sawyer P.H. (ed) 'English Medieval Settlement ' Edward Arnold 1979, pp52-85
See also Lost villages of Nottinghamshire and Lost village of Gainsthorpe, Lincolnshire
A time there was, ere England's griefs began,
When every rood of ground maintain'd its man;
For him light labour spread her wholesome store,
Just gave what life requir'd, but gave no more:
His best companions, innocence and health;
And his best riches, ignorance of wealth.
But times are alter'd; trade's unfeeling train
Usurp the land and dispossess the swain;
Along the lawn, where scatter'd hamlets rose,
Unwieldy wealth and cumbrous pomp repose,
And every want to opulence allied,
And every pang that folly pays to pride.
Those gentle hours that plenty bade to bloom,
Those calm desires that ask'd but little room,
Those healthful sports that grac'd the peaceful scene,
Liv'd in each look, and brighten'd all the green,--
These, far departing, seek a kinder shore,
And rural mirth and manners are no more.
Oliver Goldsmith - extract from 'The Deserted Village' First Published in 1770.
It has been suggested that Goldsmith was thinking of the Oxfordshire village of Nuneham Courteney when he wrote the poem.
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