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Historic Landscape Character Assessment
Historic Landscape Character Assessment Historic Landscape Character Assessment

Historic landscapes

The historic landscape of Northamptonshire is extremely varied. It contains some of the country's most typically English landscapes with pretty villages and dramatic natural features.

In order to categorise and understand the different landscapes of Northamptonshire, the River Nene Regional Park researched and surveyed the land to create the Northamptonshire Environmental Character and Green Infrastructure Suite.

This suite focuses on the historic landscape character areas (HLCA) of Northamptonshire. It sorts them into twelve different types. These types are divided into the four themes listed below. A brief overview of the twelve landscapes has been provided from the suite.

Theme 1 - Non-parliamentary enclosure

01. Pre-19th century non-parliamentary enclosure

This historic landscape type is categorised by the following features:

  • Upper ground around watersheds and heads of valleys; provides a rolling landscape.
  • Irregular field patterns; the pre-19th century field enclosures were large, with curving hedges replicating the lines of earlier medieval ridge and furrow.
  • Remains of historic parkland and gardens; larger houses and halls with associated parks and gardens are plentiful in these parts of the county. Because these houses often have pastoral land associated with them a number of deserted medieval villages have been preserved e.g. Holdenby House.
  • Isolated, well-preserved ridge and furrow earthworks; elements of medieval ridge and furrow can be found where the land has been used as pasture land.
  • Small road and track systems; run between the earlier enclosure boundaries and often winding in character.
02. 19th century non-parliamentary enclosure

This historic landscape type is categorised by the following features:

  • Irregular field patterns; they retain their irregularity but are often split into smaller fields by planting hedges.
  • Historic parkland and garden remains; there are few larger houses in these areas, although there are examples including Lilford Hall and Deene Park. There are a number of deserted medieval villages, moated sites (e.g. Warmington) and motte and bailey castles (e.g. Fotheringhay) that can be found within these areas.
  • Isolated ridge and furrow earthworks; elements of medieval ridge and furrow can be found where the land has been used as pasture land.
03. Fragmented non-parliamentary enclosure

This historic landscape type is categorised by the following features:

  • Irregular field patterns; often retain their overall pre-19th century enclosure patterns. Also monuments such as Overstone Park have a significant impact on the survival of field patterns as they have provided an element of protection.
  • Historic parkland and garden remains; in this area it is only Overstone Park that exists, but its garden houses the deserted medieval village of Overstone.
  • Replanted ancient woodland; there are two areas that have been retained.
  • Ridge and furrow survival; is limited and areas have been damaged due to modern land use activities.
  • Aerodrome; Sywell was established in 1928 when it was a private members club only. The aerodrome was used in the war as a pilot training ground and aircraft repair facility.
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Theme 2 - Parliamentary enclosure

04. Early parliamentary enclosure

This historic landscape type is categorised by the following features:

  • Straight hedgerows and regular straight road systems; often designed by surveyors leading to straight boundaries many of which are in neat geometric patterns.
  • Low ancient or replanted ancient woodland survival; large areas of woodland were cleared to make way for agricultural practices.
  • Historic ornamental parks; these are few and far between, but some medieval deer parks exist. There are fewer historic houses and associated gardens, Bulwick Hall built in the 17th – 18th century can be found in this area.
  • Modern communication routes; There are few major transport links through this area but there are routes through using the earlier road systems.
05. 19th century parliamentary enclosure

This historic landscape type is categorised by the following features:

  • Fields with straight hedgerows enclosed by road; parliamentary enclosure normally occurred during the 18th century, but in these areas the enclosures continued into the 19th century.  It is estimated that approximately twenty parishes were enclosed after 1820.
  • Settlements expanded from their 19th century historic cores; most of the settlements in this landscape have not dramatically changed in size. However villages along the Nene Valley have grown since the late 19th century.
  • Ridge and furrow earthworks; ridge and furrow survives throughout the area.
  • Modern transport routes run through many areas; the M1, the London – Birmingham Railway, the A5 Trunk Road and the Grand Union Canal pass through Watford Gap. Other routes in the area are the A43, A45 and A14.
  • Ornamental landscaped parks; only a few country houses exist, however key examples include Althorp and Easton Neston.
06. Fragmented parliamentary enclosure

This historic landscape type is categorised by the following features:

  • Major valleys of the Welland, Nene and Tove; rolling hills in this area are cut through by rivers.
  • Defended medieval sites; There are a number of remaining examples including Farthingstone, Weedon Lois, Sulgrave, Sibbertoft, Little Houghton and Rockingham. These appear to all be located on higher land which provide a good defensive position.
  • Historic landscape parks; there are a number of 17th and 18th century houses in the area including Stoke Park and Edgecote House. Other more extensive examples include Boughton Park and Castle Ashby Estates.
  • Canal landscapes; The Grand Union canal flows through the west of the county and notable canal-side settlements are Braunston and Blisworth.​
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Theme 3 - Modern fields

07. Large modern fields

This historic landscape type is categorised by the following features:

  • Large irregular fields; created by the removal of field boundaries to create single, larger fields. These changes are linked to post-war farming practices, increased usage of machinery, and the creation of the Common Agricultural Policy.
  • Small settlements and isolated farmsteads; a number of small or significantly shrunken villages exist in these areas.
  • Deserted medieval villages or ridge and furrow earthworks; deserted villages have often been removed as part of the modern agricultural improvements. There is little ridge and furrow surviving. Along with the removal of hedges, in some locations earthwork sites were flattened to enable agricultural practices.  Ridge and furrow earthworks do survive in small areas of pasture immediately around some of the villages, such as at Elkington.
08. Reinstated mineral extraction

This historic landscape type is categorised by the following features:

  • Large irregular fields and wider 20th century fields; the reinstatement of agricultural land in these areas is highly evident. Although quarries were originally dug by hand, the large-scale 20th century extraction led to the loss of previous enclosure patterns.
  • Land re-used; although quarry extraction was traditionally undertaken by hand, the introduction of steam power in the 19th century led to a ‘hill and dale’ landscape, which covered large areas of the countryside. Hand dug quarries were often reverted back to agriculture once all of the minerals had been extracted. Where machines were used this had a man-made impact on the landscape. Former quarries are now used as landfill sites and for recreational uses.
  • Ridge and furrow or other earthwork monuments; are limited in this area due to the quarrying activities.  Patches do exist around some villages including Harringworth.
  • Historic woodland and parkland; deserted medieval villages are present at both Kirby and Glendon Halls. The parkland also includes some architectural monuments of note including Kirby Hall, Drayton House and the Triangular Lodge at Rushton.
  • Railway lines; are visible in these areas because they were used to support the ironstone industries in the area. The Midland Main Line railway was, for example, constructed through Kettering in 1857.
09. Flooded mineral extraction

This historic landscape type is categorised by the following features:

  • Large lakes; often interconnected and separated by industrial areas and small fields are found in these areas. 
  • Isolated monuments; minerals extraction did lead to the destruction of monuments. Intensive archaeological investigation through the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s did take place as part of the quarrying process. Only two examples of possible Bronze Age burial mounds exist, along with the remains of an earthwork causeway between Durobrivae and Irchester. 
  • Locks and canals; in this area the River Nene is navigable and this was made possible from 1758 to 1760. This enabled agricultural goods to be exported out of the county and additional mills were built at various points along its length. 
  • Modern leisure areas; a number of the flooded mineral extraction sites are today used for a variety of recreational pursuits and as wildlife sanctuaries.
10. Modern fields

This historic landscape type is categorised by the following features:

  • Modern communication routes; former and active lines of the London and North Western Railway and the Great Western Railway cross this area. These routes had stations in or close to some of the settlements in the area. Surviving parliamentary road systems between many of the villages in the area are also crossed by more major route ways including the A508 Market Harborough Road, a former turnpike road out of Northampton and the more recent M40 motorway in the Cherwell River Valley.
  • Large fields; the intervention of the railways in the Victorian period led to the loss of early parliamentary enclosure patterns.
  • Historic halls and grounds; Lamport Hall and Aynho Park and their associated parkland are located within this area. The Saxon church at Brixworth is also a fine example.​
11. Fragmented modern fields

This historic landscape type is categorised by the following features:

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Theme 4 - Woodland

12. Woodland

This historic landscape is categorised by the following features:

  • ​Ancient and replanted ancient woodland; these areas were once extensive medieval Royal Hunting grounds. These landscapes comprise dispersed woodland, interspersed by forest lawns, mixed agricultural land, parklands and relatively few and small scale settlements.
  • Former deer parks; remains of which can be seen at Hackleton. 
  • Halls and parkland; the historic houses and their parklands utilised forest areas as part of their designed landscapes and form an integral historic feature of the landscape.
  • Low settlement density; generally small scale settlements on the edges of woodlands are found throughout this landscape.
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Image acknowledgement:

River Nene © Theoria Photography, licenced under a Creative Commons licence

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If your question is research-related, please contact the Northamptonshire Archives.