Site location

The crop mark enclosure known as Cottam B (NGR 49754667) lies immediately to the west of Burrow House Farm, high on the Yorkshire Wolds between Driffield and Malton, and some 20km from the North Sea coast. The site takes its name from the civil parish of Cottam, within which it now lies. However, the civil parish was only created in 1935 through the combination of the townships of Cowlam and Cottam (VCH 1974, 263); formerly the site would have lain within the township of Cowlam, as shown on the first edition six-inch Ordnance Survey map of 1854.

Both Cottam and Cowlam are first mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. Cottam is listed as Cottun, from the Old English Cotum, the dative plural of cote, meaning 'at the cottages'. The vill is assessed at nine carucates taxable and we are told that Ulfr had one manor there, but that it is now waste held by the Archbishop of York. Cowlam appears four times in Domesday as Colmun and once as Coletun. Smith interprets this on topographical grounds as the Old Scandinavian of Kollum, the dative plural of kollr, meaning 'at the hill-tops' although this would reject the four Colmun Domesday spellings (Smith 1937, 126). In Cowlam, there are six carucates taxable held by Ketilbjorn and his brother; six carucates held by Berenger of Tosny; and possibly a further six held by the King. Domesday Book also noted the presence of a church at Cowlam, with half a carucate of land owned by Archbishop Thomas.

Both townships once contained extensive earthwork remains of medieval villages, although those at Cowlam were ploughed out in 1972 (Brewster and Hayfield 1988). Aerial photographs of Cowlam taken after the ploughing reveal that it was a three-row, 'T-'shaped village whose regular alignment of croft boundaries suggests a planned layout (Brewster and Hayfield 1988, 33). The chapel of St. Mary survives as a small Gothic building rebuilt in 1852 on the site of the old church. It contains a large tub-shaped Norman font with arcaded figures. At Cottam the extensive earthworks of the deserted medieval village still survive and the site is a scheduled ancient monument. The chapel of Holy Trinity, which still forms a focal point of the village, is first mentioned in 1274 as a chapelry of Langtoft. It was rebuilt in 1818 and again in 1890, as a small red brick building consisting of a nave and chancel with lancet windows and a bellcote. A Norman font and carved stone were removed from this site to Langtoft church in 1950 (Pevsner 1995, 385). Both sites were visited and described by Maurice Beresford in his early accounts of the deserted medieval village sites of the Yorkshire Wolds (Beresford 1954, 330). Like Wharram Percy, Beresford ascribed their depopulation to the end of the medieval period when expansion of the wool trade led to large tracts of the Wolds being converted to permanent pasture, grazed by huge flocks of sheep.

The parish is cut on its borders by steep-sided dry valleys known locally as dales or slacks. Burrow House Farm lies within an area of high ground in the north-east of the Cowlam township, at the head of Philip's Slack. In the adjacent Cowlam Well Dale, some 60m from the site of Cowlam village lies a well of unknown antiquity, but which can be assumed to have been a source of water from at least the medieval period.

The Cowlam township boundaries seem, for the most part, ancient, lying for much of their length either along valley bottoms, or along the courses of prehistoric bank and ditch 'entrenchments'. The north-eastern part of the township boundary seems more irregular as it takes in the area called Burrow, centred on Burrow House, which probably formed a separate estate at some time in the past. The English Place Name society found the name first cited as Burrehou in the 1285 Yorkshire Inquisitions (Smith 1937, 126). The first element is doubtful but the second is haugr, an element belonging chiefly to the Wolds and apparently used of both hill and burial mounds. It is uncertain what, if any, autonomy Burrow had during the Middle Ages.

A major route way, known as the High Street, runs along the northern edge of the Cowlam township. It follows the line of an earlier road, visible immediately to the south of the modern road as a soil mark, which has long been recognised as a Roman road (Maule Cole 1899, 41; Stoertz 1997, map 1) linking Sledmere in the west with Rudston and Bridlington in the east. The line of Neolithic and Bronze Age barrows along the road suggest that it may have originated as a prehistoric trackway. A second road, known as the Driffield Road, runs NNW-SSE from West Heslerton down to Driffield, effectively bisecting the township. The remains of the village of Cowlam lie immediately to the east of this road. The 1854 map also shows a disused trackway running from Burrow House Farm south-west towards Cowlam village; that track has subsequently been ploughed out.

The Cottam B enclosure can itself be seen to sit astride an ancient north-south trackway which has been observed as a crop mark running alongside one arm of the fluvio-glacial valley and linking Cottam B to a second crop mark enclosure, of more typical 'ladder settlement' form, known as Cottam A. From there the trackway appears to continue to the south and to head in the direction of the preserved earthworks of the deserted medieval village of Cottam (Stoertz 1997, Map 1).

Elsewhere in the parish there are a number of prominent prehistoric burial mounds, now largely ploughed out. The Willie Howe tumulus was excavated by both Canon Greenwell and Lord Londesborough in 1887. Greenwell worked extensively throughout the parish, also digging Willie Howe in 1887, barrows 50-54 around Burrow House farm and two tumuli to the north of Cottam Grange. He also identified barrows 57, 58, and possibly 59. Mortimer (1905, 1909) was also active and excavated barrow 277 in 1892, Kemp Howe in 1878, Cowlam Cross Roads and barrow 296. Brewster re-excavated Willie Howe in 1967 and Kemp Howe in 1968 (Brewster 1969; Watts and Rahtz 1984). Stead excavated six square barrows in 1969 and 1972, four of which had been dug by Greenwell, along with an embankment in the same area (Stead 1986).


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Last updated: Tue May 15 2001