27th November 2016

The Harpswell Landscape and Community Project

The Harpswell Landscape and Community Project is a multi-faceted archaeological and historical research framework exploring the development of Harpswell, Lincolnshire, a village located approximately 12miles north of Lincoln, England.

Harpswell today is perhaps best known for its remarkably well-preserved complex of archaeological earthworks, the majority of which relate to Harpswell Hall, a seventeenth century and later residence of the Whichcote family. The earthworks of the area were mapped in detail by the Royal Commission, who also noted how the post-medieval development of the hall and garden within an emparked setting led to the clearance of earlier medieval settlement (Everson et al. 1991, 107). Surviving elements of Harpswell Hall’s designed landscape that remain standing today include a prospect mound or viewing platform and a large, water-filled moat which acted as an ornamental garden feature (Scheduled Monument No: 33122).


Before construction of the hall, documentary sources indicate the existence of a large medieval community at Harpswell. The taxable population of the manor more than doubled between the Domesday Survey of 1086 and the early fourteenth century, making it one of the most populated settlement areas in West Lindsey at the time. It is likely that Harpswell was a significant centre even earlier in the medieval period, given the presence of Late Saxon/Early Norman fabric in the parish church. Situated at the foot of a dramatic limestone scarp, it may also be significant that the church stands on the site of a spring and possesses a potentially ancient dedication to St Chad (Everson et al. 1991, 46). Evaluation trenching by a commercial archaeological unit during the early 2000s identified the remains of several further substantial medieval buildings, hinting again at a thriving population.

It was during the medieval period that a residence of the Bishop of York was established at Harpswell, the location of which has never been determined with certainly (Everson and Stocker 2006). In the summer of 2016, however, a team from Bishop Grosseteste University undertook a detailed archaeological excavation in the undeveloped area to the south of the church as part of The Harpswell Landscape and Community Project. The investigations identified a complex and likely high-status medieval site, with occupation commencing in the Late Saxon period and ceasing at some point in the sixteenth century.


The highlight of the 2016 excavation was the uncovering of a substantial masonry structure, which appears to have been part of a formal walkway or approach. It is possible that these remains relate to the Bishop of York’s residence referred to in documentary sources for Harpswell, a manor which would have been one of the southernmost holdings in the entire diocese. Following the exiting developments of the 2016 season, the main aim of the 2017 excavation is to discover where this enigmatic approach led to, with the tantalising prospect that it is the routeway to the lost Archbishop’s residence.

harp-feat4The project will also:

  • Provide a timely investigation and analysis of the site under conditions of controlled open-area excavation. A key objective is to provide a clearer understanding of the character of the site, its period of occupation and the nature of related human activity. The project will also involve a retrospective analysis of previous interventions within this over-arching research objective. All excavation, record keeping, finds processing, conservation and archiving will comply with relevant Institute for Archaeologists standards and guidance, and the recommendations of Lincolnshire County Council as set out in the Lincolnshire Archaeological Handbook (1998; revised 2009).
  • Create a valuable opportunity to deliver a carefully managed training programme for novice and semi-experienced excavators. The training will cover excavation fieldwork including recording, planning and basic surveying, and finds processing. The nature of the archaeology/stratification on the site is appropriate to the level of training being offered. Qualified and suitably experienced archaeologists or specialists will deliver each aspect of the training. The training excavation will conform to the ‘EAA Code of Practice for Fieldwork Training’ (2000).
  • The excavation will provide an opportunity to conduct well managed public archaeology activities for the local community and the wider general public. Volunteers, undergraduate and postgraduate students from Bishop Grosseteste University will help deliver these activities. On 16th July the site will be open to the public, with tours of the excavation, historical re-enactment, food and drink venues, market stalls and traditional crafts/cooking all taking place as part of the Annual Festival of British Archaeology.


Everson, P.L., Taylor, C.C. and Dunn, C.J., 1991. Change and continuity: rural settlement in north-west Lincolnshire, RCHME/HMSO: London.

Th project owes a huge debt of gratitude to the landowner Mark Tatum, without whose help the proejct would not have been possible.