Medieval Moat And Bridge Of ‘High Significance’ Found Protecting An English Farmhouse

Published March 14, 2024

Excavations near Tewkesbury Abbey revealed the site of a Medieval farmstead — and the surprising remains of a moat that once surrounded it.

Archaeologists Stripping Back Modern Deposits

Cotswald ArchaeologyArchaeologists stripping back modern deposits known as “overburden” to reveal the Medieval site beneath.

While excavating a historic site near Tewkesbury, England, researchers recently uncovered a Medieval farmhouse — complete with the remnants of a Medieval moat of “high significance.”

The farmhouse, dating back to the 12th or 13th century C.E., was uncovered at Cowfield Farm in rural Gloucestershire. There, a newer brick farmhouse was damaged by a fire back in 2004. As unfortunate as the fire was, it was also what allowed researchers to start quite literally digging into Cowfield Farm’s surprising history.

What Cowfield Farm Teaches Us About Medieval Life

The Medieval inhabitants of Cowfield Farm were as close to middle class as a peasant could be. While they technically did not own their land, they were free, legally speaking, and leased the land as tenants of Tewkesbury Abbey.

Surprisingly, evidence shows that their land was once surrounded by a moat.

Bridge Across The Moat

Cotswald ArchaeologyThe remains of a bridge that once crossed over the moat.

“If you say moat, everybody thinks of a castle with a big moat around it, as a defensive ditch,” Jon Hart of Cotswold Archaeology told the BBC. “But moats were used way down the social scale to the wealthier peasants, the movers and shakers of village life. A moat was partly for security, as there was no police force; so there was a practical aspect.”

The moat would have also served a spiritual purpose. Hart said this one was “definitely filled with water,” which would have aligned with Christian symbolism, in which water represents purity. The water-filled moat would have also symbolically protected the lady of the house from outside threats, as she would have been “surrounded by a symbolic virtuous belt of water.”

Researchers also found remnants of a wooden moat bridge dated to the 15th century, though the moat and farmhouse are likely older.

The excavation revealed more than just a moat, however. The team unearthed countless Medieval objects, offering a unique glimpse into the rural lives of Medieval families.

Medieval Shoe

Cotswald ArchaeologyPieces of a Medieval shoe recovered at the site.

Among these finds were a pilgrim badge depicting the archangel Michael defeating the Devil and a copper-alloy clasp from a leather-bound book, likely lost when a monk visited the farm to take stock.

“We can get a really interesting glimpse into the social private life of the farmers,” Hart said. “We found an unusual bucket-shaped pottery vessel, sort of mug-sized, probably used for women who had just given birth and are lying in bed, recovering, needing nourishing food like broth or soups that are easy to eat when you have a baby crawling all over you.”

Medieval Book Clasp

Cotswald ArchaeologyThe copper-alloy book clasp recovered at the site.

These discoveries are made even more exciting by the fact that archaeologists rarely get to research Medieval, rural sites like this.

“We know a lot about Medieval towns, but rather less about what was going on in the countryside, so we’re really interested in how the two interact,” Hart said.

A Rare Opportunity To Study Rural Sites

Today, Tewkesbury is like many other locations across England: industrial, urban, and tightly packed. In other words, it’s a far cry from the highly spaced out, rural region it was in Medieval times.

Tewkesbury Abbey Today

Wikimedia CommonsTewkesbury and the abbey today.

However, as Hart acknowledged, remnants of that long-forgotten time still remain beneath the surface.

“Finding a Medieval rural site which we can actually directly link to the Abbey, which is smack in the middle of Tewkesbury, is absolutely fantastic,” Hart said.

“It’s a modern landscape of industrial parks, retail centers, and MoD depot, just off one of the M5 junctions. At first glance you wouldn’t think it was all that interesting for archaeologists, but actually beneath all that, there are layers of time there. There are stories to be unpicked.”

Although the site has now been covered, a detailed catalog of the discoveries along with photographs and digital scans will live on in an archive at the Tewkesbury Museum.

After reading about this discovery and the insight it provides into Medieval life, see our list of 37 astounding facts about Medieval England. Then, learn about nine everyday Medieval customs ranging from the bizarre to the sadistic.

Austin Harvey
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Austin Harvey has also had work published with Discover Magazine, Giddy, and Lucid covering topics on mental health, sexual health, history, and sociology. He holds a Bachelor's degree from Point Park University.
Maggie Donahue
Maggie Donahue is an assistant editor at All That's Interesting. She has a Master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a Bachelor's degree in creative writing and film studies from Johns Hopkins University. Before landing at ATI, she covered arts and culture at The A.V. Club and Colorado Public Radio and also wrote for Longreads. She is interested in stories about scientific discoveries, pop culture, the weird corners of history, unexplained phenomena, nature, and the outdoors.
Cite This Article
Harvey, Austin. "Medieval Moat And Bridge Of ‘High Significance’ Found Protecting An English Farmhouse.", March 14, 2024, Accessed April 20, 2024.