Wharram Percy was discovered in 1851 by a land survey for the Ordnance Survey. Originally founded in the Bronze age, it had suddenly been abandoned in the 16th Century.
It isn’t unique in being abandoned as approximately 3000 medieval villages across England were deserted between the 11th and 18th centuries. it is probably one of the most famous, mostly due to the amount of archaeological excavation it has been subjected to.
The village had two water mills at the height of its occupancy, when it is thought to have had a population of around 150 to 180 people. The mill pond survived after the village was depopulated because it was stocked with fish for the lord of the manor.
In the village itself you can see the outlines of 30 medieval peasants’ houses. Each house had a toft and a croft, a toft being a small garden area for growing food and a croft being a larger parcel of land attached to each house for farming. The people lived in one half of the house and their animals in the other half. The houses were rebuilt on average every 50 years, sometimes larger or in a different orientation.
So what about the “Killer Sheep”? Well By the 15th century, sheep farming had become far more profitable than arable farming, so the lord of the manor turned more of his land into pasture land, leaving less for the farming of crops. This in turn led to less work and less food for the villagers of Wharram Percy, so that they were forced to leave the village to find work and food elsewhere. In the end, documentary evidence shows that there were just four homes left occupied when the landowner, Baron Hilton, evicted the few remaining villagers around 1517. Archaeologists think that the last inhabitant of Wharram Percy was either a vagrant or an inhabitant who refused to move out, who was killed when a dilapidated house collapsed on him whilst he slept.
Wharram Percy is managed by English Heritage and is open to the public all year round in daylight hours; admission is free. The site is signposted from the B1248 Beverley to Malton road, or can be reached the Wolds Way long distance footpath.