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The development of historic field systems in northern England: a case study at Wallington, Northumberland

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Soetkin Vervust, Tim Kinnaird, Niels Dabaut, Sam Turner

School/Research organisations


Wallington in central Northumberland is a late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century country house with associated pleasure grounds. Much of the surrounding estate is agricultural land, though there are also expanses of moorland and conifer plantation. The character of Wallington’s landscape, now divided into fifteen separate farm holdings, was to a large extent shaped by estate management practices and improvements in the eighteenth– nineteenth centuries. Today’s settlement pattern is made up largely of dispersed farmsteads, with field systems which reflect the orderly rectilinear layout of planned enclosure, being separated mainly by long and fairly straight stonefaced banks. In medieval and early modern times, by contrast, the landscape is thought to have been quite different, with nucleated villages set amidst irregular open fields which were farmed collectively.

The process of long-term landscape change from open to enclosed field systems has been inferred across the whole of Northumberland but it can be difficult to understand in detail. Absolute dating evidence for field systems before the eighteenth century is generally lacking and the origins and development of historic earthworks including boundary banks and the remains of arable farming are poorly understood.

This paper presents results of research which used retrogressive landscape analysis (based on documentary evidence, archaeological data, aerial photographs, and historic cartography) to identify five areas for detailed geoarchaeological investigation and sampling with optically stimulated luminescence profiling and dating (OSL-PD). The results provide new perspectives on the development of landscape character at Wallington which have wider relevance for north-east England and beyond.



Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-70
Number of pages14
JournalLandscape History
Issue number2
Early online date13 Dec 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 13 Dec 2020

    Research areas

  • Field boundaries, GIS, historic landscape character, optically-stimulated luminescence profiling and dating, OSL

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