The abandoned medieval village of West Burton

West Burton Village is now deserted and has been designated as a scheduled ancient monument [No.29915]. The village went into terminal decline when the course of the River Trent altered 1797.  West Burton was originally on the side of the oxbow lake known as the Burton Round a similar one known as Bole Round or ‘No Mans Friend’ was situated further down river, adjacent to Bole.

At Burton Round the Trent used to take a circular sweep where the boatmen could place his hat on shore and after sailing two miles retrieve it. The Burton Round is referred to in Shakespeare’s play Henry IV – Part 1


The earthworks marking the site of the deserted village of West Burton are situated 2.5 miles south-west of Gainsborough near the former west bank of the river Trent which has formed an ox-bow at this point, (National Grid ref. SK 799854). The site was noticed by Professor Beresford in the early 1950s, and is visible on the RAF vertical aerial photograph (CPE/UK/ 1 880 6296) and on Dr. J.K. St. Josephs oblique view. It comprises substantial earthen mounds covering village buildings and banks, marking boundaries as well as sunken roads, one of which leads down to the rivers former edge. The Churchyard is still there with it’s gravestones, though the Church has gone. Apart from this the site is empty except for a 19th-century farmstead a few hundred yards away.

Unlike most deserted Villages, West Burton was not a victim of the depopulating enclosures of the 15th century. It was still a village of a Church and 15 houses in the middle of the 18th century, perhaps representing a population of about 80. A map of the place was drawn in 1750 by a Sheffield firm of surveyors, the Fairbanks. In the 1790’s the village had only seven or eight houses – perhaps not more than about 45 people. And by 1801 the whole parish of West Burton had only 33 people. In other words, in less than half a century the population of the village had fallen by about 50%. In 1851 only two inhabited houses remained in the village, housing 10 people, by the side of which was an uninhabited house. A map of West Burton in 1865 by Joseph Moor shows that the village had disappeared completely, except for the Church. But by this date there had been some repopulation of the parish by isolated farmsteads: Burton High House, Middle Farm House, Burton Low Farm House, Cheese House and also a Brick and Tile Yard. This partial repopulation of the parish seems to have been due to the estate management of Lord Middleton, who had by then purchased West Burton.

In 1884 West Burton was united with North and South Wheatley, and a vestry meeting in 1885 decided to apply for a faculty to demolish the disused ruinous Church. The faculty was granted early 1886, and presumably the demolition proceeded.

The following figures taken from the West Burton parish registers help to show that a small village still existed for most of the 18th century.

Decade Baptisms Burials

1721-30 12 15

1731-40 22 18

1741-50 21 9

1751-60 13 9

1761-70 39 24

1771-80 32 30

The Baptism registers for 1813-78 contains only 50 entries, and the burial register for 1814-1955 only 21 entries. By the early decades of the 19th century the village had practically disappeared. In 1813 a topographer wrote:

Rents have been in many instances raised in a most extra-ordinary proportion, even on the leasehold lands. We have heard of some instances particularly on the banks of the Trent, where they have been raised in a proportion of three to one, and left the farmers no choice between acceptance and dismission.

If rents were pushed up to a level which compelled farmers to leave, depopulation could result. The land tax assessments show that as late as 1782 there were 9 tenants in West Burton, falling to 7 in the late 1780s, and 2 in

1797. The landowner mentioned by Throsby, Allan Johnson Esq, had died in 1795, and by 1799 George Moody Esq, had taken his place. From 1819 D. Walters Esq appears as sole proprietor in West Burton, but the 1864 land tax assessment shows that by then Lord Middleton had become the sole proprietor. All this seems to suggest that the first phase of depopulation occurred in time of Allan Johnson, and the second and final phase was in the time of George Moody. It is known that West Burton was privately enclosed during the 18th century, but no details of this seem to be known. Certainly the enclosure had been carried out but is it just possible that in West Burton we have a case of enclosure followed by rack-renting, depopulation and then conversion to pasture. Unfortunately the disappearance of this village community cannot be brought into sharper perspective without the discovery of new evidence. When Francis White compiled his directory in the 1860s the tradition of a village having existed at West Burton was still remembered, but no hint was given as to the reason for its disappearance.

By D. Holland. BA

Methinks my moiety, north from Burton here,In quantity equals not one of yours:
See how this river comes me cranking in,
And cuts me from the best of all my land
A huge half-moon, a monstrous cantle out.
I’ll have the current in this place damm’d up;
And here the smug and silver Trent shall run
In a new channel, fair and evenly;
It shall not wind with such a deep indent,
To rob me of so rich a bottom here.      Wm. ShakespearSt. Helens Church


The following information appears in White’s History, Directory, and Gazetteer, dated1835.

The Church at West Burton, dedicated to St. Helen, is a small edifice with a turret by which hangs a bell. It has seating for 26. The living which is enjoyed by the Rev. Wm. Moulds is a perpetual curacy of the certified value of £12-13s-4d, and is the gift of Mr David Walters, of Gloucester House who is also the lay impropriator and owner of all the land in the parish, except the Mill Estate which belongs to Lord Worlock. Before the conquest there was a Manor here possessed by “Spanroe” and after that epoch, part of the parish was “of the Archbishop of York’s Soc. of Laneham.” After the Dissolution, Henry V111 gave the rectory, which had belonged to Worksop Priory, to one Wm. Neville, a gentleman and his heirs.

Burials in the graveyard

Ann Newton died 26/6/1772 aged 22yrs

Elizabeth Billiald = 17/7/176?

Thomas Billiald = 20/4/1766 = 48yrs

Elizabeth Smith = 2/2/1795 = 37yrs

John Billiald = 20/4/1811 = 78yrs

Joseph Carter = 26/8 1792 = 22yrs

George Warburton = 1/9/1952 = 77yrs

William Killeley = 27/10/1954 = 79yrs

Edith Warburton = 1/6/1955 = 75yrs

John Newton died in infancy


There were a few small dairy farms on the bank of the Trent where the meadows were excellent. These dairies produced a cheese known as Trent Bank Cheese.

Billy Killely 1946

The Cheese House was last occupied by a one-armed man named Billy Killely who’s occupation was a willow cutter. There was plenty of work about and plenty of Willows to be cut down there by the river which were sent by train to Sheffield for basket weaving etc. Billy was buried in St Helens Graveyard at West Burton.






More people than for a number of years turned out to witness the end of an era in the thanksgiving for the harvest which for 59yrs has been held in the old graveyard and on the site of the former Church at West Burton on Sunday.

For more senior members, memories of the annual day must have brought a touch of sadness, and for the young people who were there, to sing praises and give thanks, and to witness this historic half hour in the open countryside with it’s sweeping meadows and trees, mellowed farm buildings and the modern giant power station of West Burton towering above the skyline.

The Rector of North and Sth. Wheatley, the Rev. John Ford conducted and preached the service. His wife read the lesson.

Mr Ford said “One is very conscious of history standing in a place like this. You can use your imagination to wonder what this place was like in the days when it was a thriving village, with the river Trent flowing just beyond where we are attending this afternoon, now nothing except memories and a tiny churchyard nestling in the vast grounds of an even vaster modern power station”.

The village itself is scheduled as a “ancient monument” and is described in official records as “the deserted village of West Burton”. A little less than sixty years ago, before World War One began the first of these annual Open Air Services was held, and just 17 years after what remained of the tiny St Helens Church after it had been pulled down, it’s stone was taken to repair Sth. Leverton Church. The font was stored at Wheatley in 1836 and given to Sturton Church in 1920 where it is still in use.

Concluding the Rector said “Let us go forward into the future hopefully and confidently, expectantly and triumphantly knowing that even though we are often bewildered by the craziness of men and the uncertainty which seems to hang over everything nowadays, yet in the end Gods purposes cannot ultimately be thwarted, and in his own good time and way he will make it plain. I am sure that this is what those who have passed into History before us would tell us today as we meet here for the last time. So let my last words be those of the Bible, “be thou faithful unto death and I will give you a crown of life”. During the taking of the offerings the Hymn “ Now thank we all our God” was sung.

Following the blessing and a period of silence, instead of the usual hymn of praise associated with harvest thanksgivings the congregation sang the hymn “ Abide With Me” with it’s fitting verse on such a memorable day and at the close of another part of rural life, this would seem to sum up all one’s feelings. As the following words carried over the open fields of what was once the village of West Burton “Swift to it’s close ebs out life’s little day. Earths joys grow dim, it’s glories pass away. Change and decay in all around I see, O Thou who changest not, abide with me”.

Written by Fred Clark. Sunday September 17th 1972

Extract from William White’s History, Gazetteer and Directory 1884

BURTON (West) is a parish pleasantly situated on the west bank of the Trent, 7 miles N.E. by E. of Retford, and 4 miles S. By W. of Gainsborough, in Gainsborough union and county court district, Lincoln bankruptcy court district, North clay division of the Bassetlaw wapentake, Retford petty sessional division, North Leverton polling district, Bassetlaw parliamentary division of the county, Retford rural deanery, Nottingham archdeaconry, and Southwell diocese. It had 56 inhabitants in 1881 and comprises 710 acres of land: rateable value is £1418. Lord Middleton is sole owner of the soil and lord of the manor. Until 1797 the Trent here took a circuitous winding sweep, but in that year the stream forced itself through the narrow neck of land in a straight line, in consequence of which the old channel was filled up and divided between the counties of Nottingham and Lincoln; besides which the latter has now about 100 acres on the west side of the present course of the river. Before the Conquest there was a manor here possessed by “Speranoe”, and after that event part of the parish was a “Berue of the Archbishop of York’s soc of Laneham” . After the dissolution the rectory which had belonged to Worksop Priory, was given by Henry V111 to one William Nevill, gent and his heirs. The Church ST. Helen has been in a dilapidated condition for several years and is no longer used. The living is a perpetual curacy of the certified value of £12 – 13s – 6d, now £56 in the gift of Lord Middleton, and in the incumbency of the Rev.T.C.B Chamberlin, M.A, F.G.S. of North Wheatley. Charities – In 1621 William Clark bequeathed 20s yearly to one poor person of West Burton out of an estate at Walkerith in Lincolnshire. In 1710 George Green left 3 acres of land on the upper Ing of Sturton, and directed the rent of it to be paid to the schoolmaster for teaching 3 poor children of West Burton. At the Sturton enclosure in 1824 the school land was augmented with an allotment of 1A. 27P of land, which now lets for 37s per annum.

Post via Lincoln. Sturton is the nearest Money Order and Telegraph Office. Sturton is the nearest Railway Station.

Doncaster George, farmer.

Foster Thomas, farmer, High House.

Stephenson John, farmer.