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The decline of Casthorpe

Domesday book indicates that in the second half of the eleventh century Casthorpe was thriving. There were four 'manors' which may have been four distinct settlements rather than a single 'nucleated' village (such as Barrowby).

However by the early fourteenth century the lay subsidy rolls mention only East and West Casthorpe. There is archaeological and documentary evidence that West Casthorpe was around Casthorpe House (shown on modern OS maps as Casthorpe House Farm). There are aerial photographs showing crop marks and earthworks of a moat, crofts, building, platform, fishpond, ridge and furrow and stack stand. Source.

East Casthorpe is thought to be where Casthorpe Lodge is now, although no archaeological confirmation has yet been discovered.

And the other two?

On the basis of the Domesday Book entry there should be two more eleventh century occupation sites. Alternatively, East and West Casthorpe might originally have been two closely-adjoining manors. But there are two possibilities.

Casthorpe Farm, Coe Farm and Casthorpe House Farm (Casthorpe Lodge is to the east of the latter).

To the north-west of Casthorpe House is Casthorpe Farm. I have yet to discover how long there has been a farm there. But the location is right for one of the mills mentioned in Domesday. Just possibly this is the location of the third settlement inferred from the Domesday Book entry.

And to the east of Casthorpe Farm is Coe Farm. Little or nothing gives any indication of the age of this farm (it is shown, without a name, on the earliest OS map of 1887). There is a slim possibility that this is the 'lost' fourth settlement.

My main reasoning for Casthorpe Farm and Coe Farm originating as Anglo-Saxon 'manorial' settlements is simply that until the availability of piped water (most likely in the 1930s or the 1950s – does anyone know when Casthorpe was connected?) then farms needed to be near reliable natural water supplies. That's as true for the early twentieth century as for, say, the eleventh century. This means there are only a limited number of options for such settlements.

Casthorpe House and Casthorpe Lodge in 1887.

Why did medieval villages go into decline?

The popular perception is that medieval villages became deserted in the mid-fourteenth century because of the Black Death. But things are never that simple. And, as with Casthorpe, many were in decline before the Black Death.

Let's step back to the origin of Casthorpe. The 'thorpe' element tells us this was a 'daughter settlement' set up in the tenth or early eleventh century. Mostly thorpes were set up to increase the amount of arable land. But, almost inevitably, thorpes occupied land that wasn't idea for arable farming. So when things got difficult then folks moved to villages with better prospects.

By the thirteenth century the price of wool had gone up and demand outstripped supply. Employing one man to look after a large flock of sheep was far more profitable to the landowner than having a village population big enough to cope with arable farming. In consequence a great many settlements in England were depopulated and the fields converted to sheep ranges. And monastic landowners were just as likely to evict their tenants as individual manorial lords.

The Black Death in the middle of the fourteen century did have an influence. But it rarely killed nearly everyone in a settlement. But probably every village in the country was left without enough men to farm the arable fields. Furthermore, the reduced population – for at least a couple of generations – required less arable land to produce enough food. So the available labour shifted to villages with the best land – almost certainly not the thorpes.

The overall outcome is that only a small proportion of medieval villages became totally deserted. Most continued to exist in a seriously 'shrunken' form. Typically as one farm (as with East and West Casthorpe) and sometimes with the church surviving nearby for a few centuries. For example, the only building left at Thorpe in the Glebe on the Leicestershire-Nottinghamshire border is now known as 'Church Site Farm'.

Casthorpe's decline is fairly typical

From the broad perspective of English shrunken medieval settlements then East and West Casthorpe are fairly typical.

Unlike many thorpes, where only one farm survives, in this case there's at least two. But the Domesday entry all-but tells us why. Though there is an enigma about why only two and not three or four. Or are maps telling more than historians have hitherto considered?

If you think I've got something wrong – or can add additional information or photographs – then please email me:– bobtrubs@indigogroup.co.uk.

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what's new?

Articles about Barrowby

Barrowby's location and geology

summary of prehistoric Barrowby

summary of Roman Barrowby



Seventeenth and eighteenth centuries

Nineteenth century

nineteenth and twentieth century population

Twentieth century

guided walks in and around Barrowby

there's more could be said...


index of surnames in Cryer 1979

Articles and web links for nearby places

rare seventeenth fonts at Muston, Bottesford and Orston from Project Gargoyle Newsletter 2020

Ironstone quarries of Leicestershire
YouTube video

Wyville's wells

Harston's Anglo-Saxon carvings

Bottesford's effigies

Grantham Canal Society

The Grantham Canal
All you need to know – and more – from Wikipedia

Croxton Kerrial manor house excavations
photos and brief details from Leicester Mercury.
By 2021 the remains had been consolidated and there are annual open days.

Harlaxton History Society

Bottesford History Group

Grantham Civic Society

Grantham Museum

Heritage Lincolnshire