The landscape historian Deborah Hayter spoke to the Henley Archaeological & Historical Group at its latest meeting on 2nd May on the Lost Villages of Oxfordshire. There are estimated to be around 150 of these lost villages in the county, mostly located in agricultural areas outside the Chilterns, hence there are few in the Henley area.
Clues to their former existence lie in documentary records, such as the Domesday Book, or in the landscape – either through ‘humps and bumps’ or the presence of a church in a now-isolated location, as in Widford near Burford (pictured). It is sometimes possible to identify house platforms and streets, as in Astwick, by the Northamptonshire border.
There is a range of reasons for their desertion. Cooling of the climate after the Mediaeval Warm Period made later settlements on poor soil unattractive for farming. Small villages, lacking in amenities, such as a mill, and those without a local lord to manage affairs were particularly vulnerable. Economic trends, especially the switch from arable to husbandry agriculture, were another driver. In addition, there were the well-known events of plague and eviction by landlords – sometimes to more appealing accommodation as in Nuneham Courtenay.