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Quarrendon Open Day 2006 Quarrendon deserted village site


National Significance

Quarrendon is a nationally outstanding example (as recognised by its status as a scheduled ancient monument) of an English village that was depopulated in the 16th century and of the subsequent development of a Tudor manor, gardens and wider landscape incorporating much of the site of the village and its chapel. Because the area has been maintained as grassland for over three centuries, the form of these features has been clearly preserved. There are grounds for suspecting that the site may also have been significant in the Saxon period and possibly earlier.

Local Significance and Potential

1. The site offers an exceptional opportunity for local inhabitants, and a wider public, to experience and appreciate the pattern of English rural life as it developed across the centuries. Such an informed understanding can contribute greatly to the identity of the local community at a time when an expanding Aylesbury is absorbing villages once separate from it.

2. The Quarrendon Leas area contains a mixture of grassland, hedges, trees and waterbodies, with the River Thame at the southern boundary of the site: each of these habitats has the potential to support wildlife. While its current ecological interest may be of less significance than its archaeological and historical interest, overall the site has the potential to be a valuable wildlife resource and, with appropriate management, could support a range of species and habitats.

3. The site, including the buffer land around it to the north of the River Thame, could make a major contribution to the 'green infrastructure' of Aylesbury and the Vale, where there is a recognised deficit at present. Given appropriate management of ecologically and archaeologically sensitive areas, there is considerable scope for informal public recreation here, and it would also contribute to the overall provision of green space in the area.

Significance of Particular Components

A. Archaeological and Historical

1. The Medieval Village.
The visible earthworks of the village preserve the layout of the village of Quarrendon in the late middle ages. At that time the settlement was one of farmsteads, grouped around irregular greens and connected by sunken roadways with the surrounding fields and with the town of Aylesbury across the river. At the time of its desertion it was the product of a long development over centuries, during which it may have had different layouts and different social structures. The visible earthworks represent one important element, but there is likely to be equally important evidence buried below ground, which would be susceptible to future archaeological analysis. Furthermore, there are areas of significance relative to the village that lie outside the currently scheduled monument, but which should also be subject to appropriate management; for instance, a field containing ridge-and-furrow (evidence of medieval strip ploughing) between the scheduled monument and Quarrendon House Farm.

2. The Elizabethan Garden.
The most spectacular aspect of the site is the series of earthworks associated with the great garden and park created in the Tudor period by the Lee family, whose wealth was built on sheep farming. Much of this work is probably to be attributed to the period between 1550 and 1611, when Quarrendon was the property of Sir Henry Lee, courtier and Queen's Champion to Elizabeth I, together with his first and second wives, Anne Paget and Anne Vavasour. The main garden occupies a large quadrilateral area, defined by water-channels, terraced promenades and viewing platforms; while the subdivisions within this may have been intended to embody certain geometric ratios thought significant by the Elizabethans. Subsidiary areas enclosed by water-channels lie to the north and south of this main area. These Elizabethan garden earthworks are regarded as one of only a handful in the country to be so well preserved.

3. The Water Management System.
An integral aspect of the Tudor gardens was the careful management of the water that would have been necessary to ensure that levels in the water-courses were maintained at the proper height. This required the diversion to the garden of water from the stream flowing southward through Quarrendon, and the return of surplus water to the stream or to the Thame. The main feeder was taken from some 400m upstream and followed an indirect course in order to gather further run-off water. The original system is largely preserved in modern field drains and dyked hedges and deserves management and protection. However, though the system is an integral feature of the historic gardens, it is without any formal protection outside the boundaries of the scheduled monument. In addition to the managed water system for the gardens, the regular flooding of the adjacent meadows was also important for the farming of the land.

4. The Rabbit Warrens.
Of quite a different character, but of no less interest, are the artificial rabbit warrens that were created as an eye-catcher on the skyline. These clearly had a practical function insofar as the rabbits provided meat and fur; but it has been suggested that warrens may also have had symbolic significance in referring to Catholic beliefs, as has been shown more clearly at other contemporary sites.

5. The Moat and Manor House Site.
The manor house of the Lee family is thought to have been located within the surviving moated enclosure. Although no direct archaeological evidence of this has been found so far, the association of moated site and manor is common in the county. The still partly water-filled moat is an important and attractive feature of the site. The manor house site is of key significance as the focal point of the garden and park layout, and the foundations of the farmhouse that occupied part of the site remain as a point of reference.

6. The Ruins of the Church.
The medieval church of St Peter, which was a chapelry of the parish of Aylesbury (focused on Bierton church), was intact at the beginning of the 19th century but is reduced to a ruin today. A number of illustrations record its gradual decay. Its importance lies not so much in the quality of the existing ruins, as in its historic significance. The church was restored in the late 16th century by Sir Henry Lee and formerly contained his tomb together with that of his wife Anne Vavasour; while the almshouse founded by him may have lain immediately to the south. At an earlier date the chapel, which is known to have been in existence by the 12th century, would have served the surrounding medieval village. The church was clearly a key feature throughout the history of the medieval and post-medieval site down to the 17th century

7. Earlier history of the site
According to medieval tradition still current in the Tudor period, St Osyth was born (c.660) at the rural residence of her father Frithuwold; and this residence or 'royal vill' was said to be at Quarrendon. Frithuwold himself was the sub-king of a region within the larger kingdom of Mercia, and he was married to Wilburh, the sister of king Wulfhere of Mercia (658-674). Eadgyth, the sister of Wilburh and Wulfhere, is traditionally recorded as the first abbess of the monastery or minster in Aylesbury, possibly on the site of the present St Mary's.

There is clear archaeological evidence for occupation at the Quarrendon site during the later Saxon period and slight evidence for earlier Saxon occupation. Although there was no substantial Roman period occupation in Aylesbury, it is significant that there was a substantial settlement nearby on Akeman Street. It is possible that Quarrendon was a successor settlement to the latter site.

8. Later history of the site.
Sir Henry Lee died without children in 1611, when his estates passed to a cousin, and subsequently the family's interests were centred on Ditchley Park, Oxfordshire. By the early 18th century the Quarrendon property was tenanted and the great manor house reduced in size; until eventually in 1802 the property was sold. These changes had a beneficial effect from the point of view of the preservation of the site, insofar as the gardens were not subjected to the changes in fashion that elsewhere marked the development of great estates from the 17th to the 19th centuries. Quarrendon remained under low intensity grazing by sheep and cattle, and latterly the land was regarded as especially suited for the fattening of beef cattle, which were then sold in Aylesbury market. Evidence remains of ox-pens and other agricultural buildings of these later periods and they constitute a significant witness to the continuity of agriculture on the site

9. The Wider Archaeological Context.
The Quarrendon site itself offers a remarkable view of English history and rural life over at least seven centuries (and probably longer), but at no time did this settlement exist in isolation. Its significance must finally be appreciated in the context of the wider surrounding area to which it relates, and to the evolving understanding of this wider area. A programme of archaeological investigation currently being undertaken before the development of adjacent areas will be of importance in adding to this broader understanding.

B. Ecological

10. The Medieval Village Site
The mediaeval village was notified as a Biological Notification Site in the 1980s, for its neutral grassland and associated habitats. A Red Data Book plant, Good King Henry (Chenopodium bonus-henricus) was recorded in 1987, but has not been found since. This plant was introduced to Britain in pre-Roman times and is a perennial of disturbed, nutrient-rich soil, often being found around farm buildings or on 'waste' ground.

11. The River Thame
The River Thame at the southern boundary is also listed as a BNS. Water Voles (a protected species and a Priority species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan) were recorded along this stretch of river in the past, but the most recent record available is from 1986.

12. The Floodplain
The area of grassland at the west of the site has been mapped by Natural England as "Floodplain Grazing Marsh", a Priority habitat type in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. However, further survey information would be needed in order to confirm whether this land currently meets the definition for Floodplain Grazing Marsh.

12. Protected Species
There are records of some other protected species within the site. Great Crested Newts were recorded in a pond at the north-west of the site in 2002. Badgers are active within the site, including (in 2002) active setts. A range of birds, including some protected and/or declining species (e.g. skylark, song thrush, linnet, yellowhammer, grey partridge) have been recorded, mostly in relatively low numbers.

13. Black Poplars
A particular feature of the site is the presence of Black Poplars. Aylesbury Vale is regarded as a stronghold for this native tree, which is of considerable significance within the landscape of the Vale.

Open Day, September 2006

On the 9th September 2006, by kind permission of the Diocese of Oxford, the Buckinghamshire Archaeological Society arranged an open day at the historic site of Quarrendon near Aylesbury, which is soon to be surrounded by development. The open day was attended by about 500 visitors. Although the site is legally protected as a scheduled ancient monument, the Society believes that positive management is needed to ensure its future as a historic asset for Buckinghamshire.