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Being one of the first deserted medieval settlements to be extensively excavated, the site of Seacourt promised to provide important evidence in connexion with the chronology of medieval pottery and small finds.
Additionally, the excavations, notably those in the line of the impending Western by-pass project in 1938/39 by Rupert Bruce-Mitford and then later in 1958/59 by Martin Biddle, cast new light on medieval economic history and of conditions at the end of the 14th century when important changes were taking place in the status of the English peasantry.
The position of the early nucleus of settlement has not so far been located. It may have lain in the south-eastern part of the village; however, the trial trenches dug in 1939 did not reveal any clear indication of dates earlier than the 12th century.
The evidence from Areas 1,2,5,6 and 11 suggest the village expanded greatly to the north and west towards the end of the 12th century, reflecting the rising population and land hunger which reached its height in the later 13th century (Beresford, 1954). During this time, a shift from timber construction towards that of stone was observed.
Apart from the probable byre in Area 1 and the wooden barn-byre in Area 5, the structures excavated at Seacourt were dwellings. The only traces of industrial processes were those of iron-smelting in Area 31. Agriculture and animal husbandry were clearly the main occupations.
The Seacourt house
The early 13th century house in Area 5 is so similar in size and plan to the later stone houses that it may be safe to assume it is representative of the typical Seacourt house. It is a rectangular structure, about 25 ft by 14 ft internally, with a single hearth either centralised or against the middle of the rear wall, with no sign of any partitions or walls. In no cases were enough roof-tiles found to suggest anything but a thatched roof.
Unlike the typical medieval long-house, the Seacourt houses had no provision for accommodating animals. Instead, it seems likely that animals were kept in subsidiary buildings, examples of which have been associated with most of the stone houses and also the timber house of Area 5. The origins of this type of farm-unit, surely differing from those which gave rise to the long-house, at present is unclear.
There is little evidence for a coherent plan of the village until the middle of the 13th century, at which time the paving of the north-south street defined the future main access of this part of the village. However, timber structures in Areas 1 and 5 suggest positioning about an earlier boundary of the same location. All the excavated stone buildings seem to be laid out in relation to this north-south street, on to which the doors of the houses probably opened. In some cases, the houses seemed to have faced each other, as if laid out in pairs.
Figure 3. Overall plan of Seacourt Area,
1958/59 source: Biddle (1963)
(Click image for Detail)
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