The Shropshire villages which vanished with a trace

Salopians will have heard of places in the shadow of the Clee Hills like Ditton Priors and Abdon. But what about Leverdgrene, Great Oxenbold, and The Yelds?

Earthworks are often the only trace – this is Corfham Castle, just south of Diddlebury.
Earthworks are often the only trace – this is Corfham Castle, just south of Diddlebury.

They are some of the county's lost communities, which vanished with a trace – often all that is left are undulations in the landscape, best seen from the air, which betray the location of settlements which disappeared centuries ago.

Historian and author Bernard O'Connor examines over 30 of them in a book called "Deserted Medieval Settlements of the Clee Hills."

Earthworks are often the only trace – this is Corfham Castle, south of Diddlebury

Bernard retired to Bouldon, a small hamlet on the western foothills of the Clee Hills, in 2019, and was immediately keen to find out all he could about the local area.

Flashback to 1985 when he was living in Malinslee, Telford, and was on an archaeology course and was given handouts on deserted medieval villages.

"Little did I know then that I'd still be using them nearly 40 years later," he says.

According to one of them, the 1:50,000 Ordnance Survey map of Ludlow includes 24 sites of deserted medieval villages, and a further 17 where the village has shrunk to six houses or less.

"As most of the deserted medieval villages are on or near the Clee Hills, I decided to investigate them," he says.

Reasons for their disappearance were many and varied, with factors including the Black Death, diseases of animals, crop failures, weather disasters, localised disputes, economic pressures, and even wealthy landowners wanting to get rid of unsightly buildings which spoiled their view.

Among the villages which come under the microscope in the book are Bitterley, where there was a dig by Channel Four's "Time Team" in 2011 which tried to find a reputed deserted medieval village 700 metres east of the "new" village. The results were inconclusive.

The Time Team excavation at Bitterley

Egerton is briefly mentioned in medieval documents, and earthworks are visible both sides of a stream which passed through it.

Leverdgrene was in the parish of Stoke St Milborough, but no documentation of the site has emerged. Great and Little Oxenbold were recorded in the Domesday Book as Oxibola, and the Saxon landowners had been Edric the Wild and Siward the Fat.

As for The Yelds, that was near Lydehole Farm in Diddlebury parish, but Bernard says no details of the site have come to light.

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