WOLFAGE MANOR, BRIXWORTH, NORTHAMPTONSHIRE. SP 737705
The following notes and attached sketchplans refer to the site of the Manor of Wolfage (RCAHM Northants Vol III Brixworth 39), and its environs. They were produced as a result of obtaining access to have a look at the site of the manor on 29th March 2005, which resulted in two subsequent visits 31st March and 3rd April, a total of about 15 hours, as the remains proved an interesting opportunity to explore a complex site. There appear to have been surveys of the earthworks by D. N. Hall and A. fi.. Brown, neither of which I have seen, and these notes are offered as one individual’s impressions. Access was by permission of Mr Turney at Park Farm.
According to the Victoria County History (Vol 4, pi51) the earliest reference to Wolfage Manor was in 1509, in respect of Isabel Harrington, but I have seen a genealogy of the Harrington family on the web (Ancestry.co.uk) which asserts that a number of members of the Harrington family were born at Wolfage Manor in the latter half of the 15th century, though on what authority is not given. It is likely, however, that Wolfage was the seat of the manor of Brixworth, or an alias for that manor, otherwise referred to in inquisitions etc., as Bricklesworth or Brixworth. The manor was divided up into fifths and part fifths in 1518, on the terms of an inquisition in 1498 (PRO Cal of Inq 1178), and Bridges c. 1720 (vol 2 p84) refers to ‘the ruins of Wolfage-house’. An enclosed park is shown on an estate map of 1688 (Northants Record Office) on the high ground to southeast, from which the present farm name derives, and this might date back to the licence to the then holder Simon fitz Simon in 1231 to plant a small spinney adjacent to his garden at Brixworth, subject to it not interfering with the liberties of the forest (Bridges 1720 citing Rot. Rip. 15 Henry III). VCH recounts that Simon was succeeded by his nephew John de Verdun, for whom there is an inquisition in 1295 (PRO Cal of Inq Vol III 298), and passed by marriage to the Harringtons in 1436.
Figure 1 shows the manor site and related earthworks (A, B and G and two ponds). G-G may be an earlier enclosure predating the present sub-rectangular field that corresponds to the Park on the 1688 Plan. A low bank along the escarpment appears to correspond to the contour of the edge of the summit within the field. In addition where the present field boundary/lynchet crosses the ridge there are two earlier wall fragments within bushes, including hawthorn. North and south, where the land falls away, there are mostly robbed out wall remains, 55 cm thick on the north, 70 cms on the south, but where indicated on the sketch there are wall footings extending deep into the lynchet, exposed in rabbit burrows. The two fragments are for a wall 1.2 metres thick, drystone facings rubble fill. These might be of medieval origin. I note that many flints were found here in Paul Martin & David Hall’s fieldwalking surveys in the 1970s (Beds Arch Jnl vol 14, 1980, p 5), 3911 items, the highest of the 27 surveyed sites, and understand Saxon material was also found here. It seems feasible that G-G might be part of a settlement enclosure, perhaps re-used in Saxon times and again in the setting out of the small park.
A-A on Figure 1 is a trackway ascending the escarpment, where it is divided into two offset scarps, and there is a small square structure set in the angle of the turn. B-B is an embankment, breached across spring lines, which seems to indicate a lade on the upslope side. The latter part is a mere terrace, which maintains the head, and may indicate a water mill here. At the base of the terrace is a rectangular embanked channel which redirects the watercourse accumulating from the springs, but is not logically aligned to the pond below, and might again have been used to drive a mill; there is a platform at the upper end of the pond at C which might relate. The pond has almost certainly been recut several times, and the substantial dam is likely to be post-medieval. A possibly earlier foundation can be seen at the Spratton Road end at F, and the lower lying features at E may be an earlier pond bank or perhaps a mill foundation on the north bank using the head from the pond. There is a possible pond lower down but no sign of the dam.
The manor site earthworks are shown in more detail in Figure 2., and part in greater detail in Figure 3. The level marked C in both sketchplans looks more like a garden, and seems to have been built up above the natural level. It diminishes the defensive potential of the spur by linking it to the rising ground to south-east at K and L, and extends to the edge of the site with little break in slope on south-west. It is clear from the configuration of the ground that the spur forms a low knoll that must originally have been isolated from the slopes of the main hill, centred on F, a rounded eminence within the foundations, and the natural angle of the spur a little lower to north-west, where the ground falls steepest, at N. If the site was used historically for a defendable manor, that integrity is totally undermined by C. However at the northern end of the main rectangle of C, the corners are expanded suggesting the plinths for corner buttressing of a high wall. The foundations extending southwards do not make sense as an individual building (the space outlined by dots, 13 by 13 metres, 42’8″, is too wide to be the single span of all but major examples of halls, while the outline bases are too narrow to be buildings round a courtyard). If C represents a large enclosed space why only buttressing here? A more plausible explanation is that it is a fragment of a significant stone building incorporated in the bounds of C. Possibly at a fairly late stage the manor was remodelled as a house for one of the divisions of the estate, perhaps on the platform L, for which these were formal gardens (Holdenby, where Sir Christopher Hatton created a massive house and gardens in 1580, is only 5 km south-west).
Further indications that C is a later adornment of the site is the way it appears to overlap B and F, and its off-alignment with A and E. A is itself is a substantial building overall 25 by 12 metres with massive end and side walls, internally perhaps 16 by 5 metres, with a drop in level midway possibly denoting two rooms. The wall line from the north-east corner is clearly extended in a curve to form the acute angular feature E, formed by a low but fairly distinct scarp to the outside, and a very clear angle. It suggests an earlier triangular courtyard through the east side of A to the curve B, over which C is an overlap at a later date. The eastward continuation of E as a slight scarp also demarcates the edge of the rising knoll from the more level ground northwards through the cut-away north of M-M. D is an inferior foundation appended to the north end of C, level with the base of C. The north and east of the site from N round to J is a steep escarpment, which may have been modified by the cutting of the pond and the construction of its dam. A wallfoundation M-M flanks a lower level 8 to 10 metres deep along the north edge, within which H may be a building. I is a low circular outline on what is a shallower continuation of H. M, through the angle of the escarpment through J and G continues the same pattern, being about ten metres from the edge of the site, although there is an embankment along the edge east of G. G is a massive curved embankment or perhaps modified natural with a rectilnear recessed ‘room’ cut in on the west. J-J thus combines G, the gap and the bank along the edge into a defensive feature, suggesting that M-M and J-J might mark the bounds of a courtyard which is more axial to C.
There are some very distinctive scarps on the western slopes (Figure 2), which seem to have the intention of steepening the slope. There are three main scarps and some minor ones at the slope foot. The uppermost is fairly slight but marks the edge of the summit and curves onto the upper edge of a hollow or scoop (‘PIT’ on Figure 2); the lower scarps grade towards the outside of the ‘pit’ suggesting this is a late quarry out of the original circuit. The second scarp on the west side is the most marked, two metres high in places, but diminishes north and south; the third scarp is at the base of the slope, and fairly small. They reinforce the impression that the earliest form of the site was a circular or oval knoll, isolated from the higher ground, perhaps by a ditch beneath C. By the south end of C the relative height is much diminished and extends into cut-ways from the slope at L and south of L. Similarly K is a subrectangular outline where the scarp alongside J meets the hillside, and is on the slope of the rising ground. The most vulnerable aspect of the site is on a line between J and B, which suggests there may have been a ditch beneath C. The impression of this observer therefore is that C, while apparently the most significant feature on the site as it stands, is a late addition, raised over earlier remains, and possibly represents garden landscaping. There are some words in latin here on the 1688 map, of which ‘fertilis’ is the only intelligible word, and might lend credence to this being garden landscaping. By connecting directly to the rising ground south-east, C diminishes the defensive potential of the site, which probably focussed on the elevation F, if this is not mere building remains or other spoil. The substantial building A could be of any period, though adjacent to what may be an earlier triangular or trapezoidal courtyard on this elevation, which appears to pass under C.
Dr Thomas C. Welsh 4th April 2005
School of Applied Science, University College Northampton, Park Campus, Boughton Green Road, Northampton, NN2 7AL
01604 892502 [email protected]
Further notes on the research of Wolfage Manor can be found here........