Rural settlement contraction in the East Riding of Yorkshire c.1660-1760 with particular reference to the Bainton Beacon division
Although evidence of settlement contraction in the form of earthworks and empty house sites is to be found throughout England, the timing and causes of village 'shrinkage' have received little attention from historians. This thesis examines the occurrence and causes of settlement contraction in an area of the East Riding of Yorkshire between the mid 17th century and mid 18th century. Nationally this was a period when general population stagnation coincided with marked urban expansion suggesting widespread rural depopulation. A comparison of the number of households or families in rural townships in the East Riding in the 1670s and 1740s confirms a substantial drop in the size of many settlements. Using detailed documentary material relating to individual townships the possible causes of settlement contraction are explored. Epidemic disease, the implementation of the 'settlement acts', agrarian reorganization, agricultural depression, and migration and urban growth all contributed to decline in village population, but this study concludes that the primary factor for determining the occurrence and extent of contraction was the nature of landownership in individual settlements. Two chapters are devoted to examining the physical impact which contraction had upon settlements showing that, whilst the 'shrunken' village was the most common outcome, desertion of villages between 1660 and 1760 also occurred. The study concludes by providing evidence for rural depopulation at this period elsewhere in England, and demonstrates that the experience of the East Riding was far from unusual.