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Morris Dancers

Stow on the Wold

Deserted Cotswold Villages

Cotswold Place Names

The Battle of Stow-on-the-Wold 1646

Tracks and Roads across the Cotswolds

The Cotswold Lion

An Early Cotswold Visit

The History of Bourton-on-the-Water

Cotswold Roofs

Cotswold Dry Stone Walls

Cotswold Ridge and Furrows

The Rollright Stones

The Gypsy Horse Fair at Stow-on-the-Wold

The Cotswolds - In the Beginning

Ralph Green

Ralph Green lives in Bourton-on-the-Water and used to work for many years at the Stow-on-the-Wold Visitor Information Centre.

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Deserted Cotswold Villages

If you do much walking across the Cotswolds, eventually you will pass through a deserted village. Some sites are easily missed but others are more obvious. It is the bumps and hollows covering an acre or two that tell you that you are on a medieval main street. Typically, you will be walking in a hollow way with flat-topped banks on either side. Houses once stood on the level areas and with a little imagination, it is possible to make out enclosed areas behind. Banks and ditches mark out places where these villagers once kept livestock and grew a few crops. The street is sunken because it was worn away over many years by wagons, the movement of people and cattle and helped along by the wind and rain. There are around 80 deserted villages in the Cotswold and, surprisingly, many sites have avoided the plough.

The deserted Cotswold village of Ditchford Frary
The deserted village of Ditchford Frary

It is easy to say that the villages must have been abandoned because of the Black Death, the dreadful plague that swept across England in 1348-48, but there is more to it than that.

During the Norman period, the Cistercian Order of monks established their abbeys at Hailes, Kingswood and Bruern as they did throughout England. Their life was one of solitude, devotion and meditation cut off from the outside world. They were not allowed to accept any form of tithe or revenue from others but could accept gifts of land. Because the basis of their creed called for them to be established as far away as possible from the habitation of others, they felt obliged to remove the villagers from their expanding estates.

Throughout the 13th and parts of the 14th  century Europe suffered from a climate change with severe winters and cold, very wet summers. This resulted in crop failures and livestock diseases. Here in the Cotswolds overgrazing and poor soil fertility only added to the problem, putting too great a stain of village communities that were already in slow decline anyway. Many families left the high Cotswolds for the
Vale of Evesham and the Severn Vale, never to return.

Lower Harford
The deserted village of Lower Harford

The Black Death also played its part, but there were not as many plague villages as you may think because many relocated, often on slightly higher ground and some were actually re-colonised. The shrinking workforce was beginning to affect the long established feudal system that would eventually break down, which in turn would hastened the decline of the village. The feudal system said that nobility held land for the crown in return for military service. The labourer lived on his lord’s land and had to share some of his produce with him and to provide a certain number of days work for him. In return, the lord had to provide protection for him and the village community. A labourer now found he was able to take employment elsewhere, work for a wage and be free of obligations to his lord. In an effort to control his costs, the lord moved into sheep farming and enclosed the open fields. This meant eviction and the resulting poverty was to create much resentment in the years ahead. The feudal system continued to decline throughout the next 150 years but the plague kept recurring right into the late 17th century.

England continued to move to a wage based economy, and the labourer’s tie to his feudal lord was slowly broken. The drift of people from the countryside accelerated and our towns and cities expanded, the very towns and cities that had themselves been tiny villages, but for good fortune, could easily have been just bumps and hollows in the ground. 



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Deserted Cotswold Villages

This page last modified Monday, 24-Jul-2023 11:24:17 CEST