Great Tosson : The Map Evidence
The clearest evidence for the layout of the medieval village is provided by a two maps of Great Tosson village and township dating to 1632, which are included in the Wellbeck Atlas, ‘A Book of Plans of the Estates of William, Earl of Newcastle, 1629-40’, all surveyed by William Senior (NRO 782/11-12).
The problems in using early 17th century maps to restore the medieval pattern are of course evident and it must be emphasised that the map displays an early modern layout not necessarily a medieval one. Because the map is so distant from our own time it is easy to imagine that it represents an unchanging historic pattern, whereas many detailed elements of an earlier, medieval settlement layout might have been altered in the intervening period.
The maps show a village formed by two rows facing one another across a broad, roughly oblong green. The buildings of the modern village have substantially encroached on this green, but its general location can be gauged with relative ease. The character of the two rows differed markedly. The southern row contained eight tenements and was significantly longer than the north row.
Each of the tenements comprised a cottage with a long toft enclosure attached to the rear of the building. The five tenements in the middle of the row were recessed, with respect to those to the east and west, creating space for the green. In contrast only three tenements are shown on the northern row, and none of these have tofts attached. They may represent simple cottage holding occupied by day-labourers.
The tenements at either end of the south row appear somewhat different. The green narrows at both ends of the village, but it is particularly marked at the west end. Two plots occupy the east end of the south row, but apart from the fact that frontages projected forward there is little to distinguish them from the other tenements in the row. The tofts are no greater in width than their neighbours to the west.
However, the messuage in the more westerly of these two tenements might represent the tower house, the remains of which survive towards the east end of the settlement, constituting a fixed point of reference between the modern village, the early modern one and the late medieval settlement. This messuage may be depicted slightly differently from the others in the row, but it is impossible to be certain given the poor resolution of the copy. However it is also possible, given its position that the tower nestled in the south eastern corner of the green, rather than in its own plot, in which case we must conclude that the tower is not obviously depicted by William Senior’s plan.
At the west end of the row, a much larger building is shown occupying the largest plot in the village. The latter was not only two three times wider than the other tofts, but also significantly longer, with the rear of the enclosure extending beyond the back line of the other tofts. This would seem to denote a privileged status of some kind and might imply this was the site of a manorial complex, perhaps a replacement for the tower house, erected after security along the border had improved and the tower’s accommodation was no longer deemed adequate.
By the time the enclosure, tithe and Ordnance Survey maps appear the main farm complex seems to have shifted eastward, encroaching on the green.