Finding History in the Fields of England’s Smallest County

Rutland is well known for its beautiful stone-built villages, and now a new book sheds light on hidden details of their history.

In dozens of fields across the little county there is evidence of abandoned cottages and old lanes, medieval moated sites, fish ponds, deer parks and formal gardens. The clues lie in “humps and bumps” in the fields, where these features were abandoned, but never ploughed away.  

Lifelong archaeologist (and former museum curator) Robert ‘Fred’ Hartley has been studying these sites for more than forty years. He said “I published a report on these earthworks in 1983, and over the years since then I have often returned to Rutland and added more bits of information. In the weird “lockdown” summer of 2020, when we were confined to our homes, I set up my drawing board in the garden shed and began to draw up new plans”.

The new book, “The Medieval Earthworks of Rutland”, has surveys of some 70+ sites across the county, and plans of village medieval field systems. “It has been a labour of love.” says Hartley, “To walk across these fields is to feel history beneath your feet, and it is amazing to think that some of the deserted villages were probably abandoned as a result of a previous pandemic – the Black Death of 1348.” 

The book will be of interest not only to archaeological professionals working in planning, excavation, and academia, but also to those with an interest in the development, or contraction and disappearance, of the medieval village and its fields.  If you walk the paths of Rutland or live in the county and wish to find out more about the location of buildings for village research, or about these bumps in the fields around you this is also the book for you.

The Medieval Earthworks of Rutland by Robert F Hartley was published on Saturday 29th July by Leicestershire Fieldworkers and costs £12.  Copies can be purchased from Rutland County Museum from the Fieldworkers from 2pm until 3.30pm on the 29th and afterwards from Rutland County Museum and Oakham Castle. It is also available by post (+£3.50 p+p) by contacting the Fieldworkers at and from independent booksellers.  133 pages, 88 plans, 17 landscape maps, 5 colour illustrations.  ISBN 978-0-9548200-4-6.