In recent years the site known as Brauncewell Lodge or Grange has developed as a small village, but the original settlement of Brauncewell was situated on the edge of the heath some two miles to the east where the medieval church still stands (Fig 5). The place is first noticed in Domesday Book. In 1086 there was one small manor of two carucates and six bovates - the area is one of extremely high carucation - which was held by Alfred of Lincoln in succession to a certain Aldene. Most of the land, however, was soke of Geoffrey Alselin's manor of Ruskington, and it seems likely that the whole of Brauncewell was formerly a minor element in a shire which had its caput there. By 1086 the tributary dues which held the estate together were under pressure, and in Brauncewell were already giving way to new forms of exploitation. Alfred's manor had been booked out of the shire before the Conquest, and Geoffrey Alselin had established a demesne there and further provided for two of his men in the reign of King William (1). Subsequently all of the land was granted to the successors - whether direct or otherwise is not clear - of these tenants when the land was enfeoffed in the mid twelfth century, and Alfred's manor was likewise demised in hereditary fee. All three fees descended into the fifteenth century, but much of their land had passed to the foundations of Catley, Haverholme, Newbo, and the Temple at Temple Bruer by the thirteenth century (2). At the Dissolution almost the whole settlement was acquired by Robert Carre, and the manor descended to the present day as part of the Bristol estate (3).
As in Dunsby, there may have been a degree of dispersed settlement before the Conquest, but manorialisation was probably responsible for nucleation on the present site. In 1086 there were thirteen sokemen, three villeins, and five bordars in Brauncewell, representing a population of perhaps a hundred individuals or so. The subsequent desertion of the site has been attributed to a catastrophic fire (4), but the fall in population appears to have been a far more gradual process. The grant of land to religious houses must have taken much land out of arable cultivation in the thirteenth century and probably led to the contraction of the village. Climatic changes compounded the shrinkage and by the early fourteenth century there even seems to have been a labour shortage, for direct exploitation gave way to the leasing of estates (5). The Black Death appears to have exacerbated the situation, and in 1406 it was reported that two tenements in Brauncewell were wasted 'and all the land belonging to [them] lies uncultivated, and in the lord's hands for want of tenants' (6). Despite the enclosure of land for sheep, there was some recovery in the sixteenth century, and by 1616 there were 60 communicants in the combined parishes of Brauncewell and Dunsby (7). In the nineteenth century there were still a few houses there, and a population of 131, but this included the Lodge area. Only the Manor House farm and its buildings remain on the site at the present time (8).
The larger area of settlement is aligned east-west along one street, and the rectangular shapes of small stone houses and stone-walled crofts are clearly visible (Fig 6). From the ground it can be seen that these extend eastwards beyond the scheduled site into a field now under plough, and at the time of survey the farmer confirmed that ploughing had taken place there long before the site was scheduled. The earthworks south of the church, in the field called Church Close (9), and aligned north-south, are of quite different character. They consist of larger, almost square enclosures with fewer obvious remains of buildings, although some foundations are visible on air photographs (10). That illustrated (Pl II), taken in snow in 1978, reveals regularly spaced dark squares in each of these enclosures. On the 1839 map two large ponds are shown at the south and south-east end of the complex and, being adjacent to the Manor House, the whole area would appear to be formal gardens in which water was was a feature. Perhaps the square marks represent statuary or regularly spaced ornamental trees.
1. Lincs DB, 27/45; 64/6.
2. LRdeS, 341; BF, 1024; RH i, 281a; FA iii, 154, 155, 205; CI ii, 392-3, 423; CI iv, 86; CI 181; CI 191; CI xii, 295; CI xvi, 86; CIM vii, 170; Trollope, 213-5; 'Haverholme Charters' ed. C. W. Foster, Lincolnshire Notes and Queries 17, 29; Religious Houses ii, 95, 125, 145.
3. Trollope, 214-5.
4. Trollope, 215.
5. The Knights Hospitallers in England being the Report of Prior Philip de Thame to the Grand Master Elyan de Villanova for AD 1338, eds L. B. Larking, J. M. Kemble, London 1857, 154.
6. CIM vii, 170.
7. Trollope, 216.
8. White 1856, 445.
9. LAO, BRA 641.
10. M. W. Beresford and J. K. St. Joseph, Medieval England, Cambridge 1979, 127-9, Pl. 50; CCAP, CFK 060.