The Deserted Medieval Village of Wharram Percy

Image by Gernot Keller

(Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic)

In America “DMV” stands for the Department of Motor Vehicles, while in Britain it refers to something far more interesting – deserted medieval villages.  Join us as we explore the enigmatic ruins of Wharram Percy, widely credited as the most famous deserted medieval village in England.

Images by Ralph Rye

(Images 1 and 2 licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic)

While several other DMVs are also in good condition, Wharram Percy, on the western edge of the chalk Wolds of North Yorkshire, has received significant celebrity. From 1950 to 1990, teams of archaeologists, historians and botanists pored over the settlement, following its identification in 1948 by Professor Maurice Beresford of the University of Leeds.  The ruined church and adjoining graveyard are the epicenter of the abandoned village.

Depictions of the Black Death

(Images 1 and 2 released into public domain)

Experts date initial settlement of the site to pre-historic times, but the village we see today was at its zenith from the 10th to the 12th centuries.  Wharram Percy, along with many of its neighbours, survived the Black Death of 1348-49, which wiped out half the European population.  But the villagers’ fortunes ran out when the local baron realised sheep’s wool would generate more revenue than traditional crop farming.

Image via Pietro de Crescenzi, Pier de Crescenzi

(Image released into public domain)

Changing prices and wages during the 15th century had given pasture farming an advantage over traditional arable, compounding the already tough lives of Wharram Percy’s inhabitants.  The village finally fell into abandonment in the early 16th century when the dreaded lord of the manor evicted the last families and demolished their homes to accomodate extra sheep pasturage.

Images via Google Earth

Wharram Percy is now in the care of English Heritage. Although only the ruined church is easily visible above ground, much more of the village layout can be seen in the surrounding fields.

Images by dougbelshaw

(Images licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic)

Medieval meets modern thanks to newly installed panels around the deserted medieval village, complimented by an audio tour that can be downloaded from the English Heritage website.  The Yorkshire Wolds Way long-distance footpath skirts the east of the village, making this a great destination for passing walkers.

Death of Henry Percy

(Image released into public domain)

Wharram Percy is located about one mile south of Wharram-le-Street – a name that highlights the lingering Norman legacy in England.  The village has also been linked to the Percy family, the Dukes of Northumberland, represented in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1 by the heroic but tragically impulsive Harry Hotspur (Henry Percy).

For more info about Wharram Percy, here’s a fascinating article written by local journalist Paul Johnson, touching on alleged paranormal activity, UFO sightings, and what may be evidence of sophisticated Anglo-Saxon brain surgery.



  • Oh I LOVE this one! I wish I could explore this spot tomorrow…


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