ROPSLEY AND HUMBY: GREAT HUMBY AND LITTLE HUMBY
Great Humby is now virtually deserted, and the earthworks at Little Humby indicate that settlement in its vicinity was formerly of somewhat greater extent than at present (Fig 14). However, little independent early documentation survives to trace the varying fortunes of either, for throughout much of their history they were small hamlets which were dependent on neighbouring settlements. Thus, in the medieval period both were in the twelve-carucate hundred, and then vill, of Ropsley, and Little Humby belonged to the Albini manor that was situated there, while Great Humby was a chapelry of Old Somerby and parcel of the Aincurt fee in the same settlement(1). Nevertheless, there is a separate account of Humby in Domesday Book, and this seems to refer exclusively to an estate in Great Humby since the land belonged to the honour of Walter de Aincurt. At that time there were 15 sokemen, one villein, and one bordar there, indicating a sizeable population of perhaps 60 souls or so (2). The land probably remained soke until sometime between 1212 and 1242 when it was subenfeoffed and a manor house was built, probably on the site of the old hall (3). Little Humby is more difficult to identify in the sources. It would seem, however, that the settlement was included in the estate of Ropsley until the thirteenth century, but by 1303 there were two tenants of the fee, said to be situated in Ropsley and Humby, and it is likely that one of them, possibly Robert de Kirton, had a separate manor house in Little Humby by that time (4).
In both Great and Little Humby, then, manorialisation was late and probably never complete, and the fact seems to reflect the basic nature of society and settlement in the area. Socage tenure was all but universal in the eleventh century, and dispersed clusters of farms were probably the predominant form of settlement. Thus, Ropsley itself appears to be polyfocal with at least two greens, and Little Humby may have had a similar form. The present hamlet is grouped around a small triangle of ground, but one of the groups of earthworks surveyed, Fig. known locally as Overton Green (5), is situated a hundred or so metres to the east. They may therefore represent a discrete nucleus, and it is not impossible that this was the now lost settlement of Ogarth which was a member of Ropsley in the fourteenth century (6). Both characteristics are probably a function of assarting, for, as place-names and Domesday Book indicate, the area was densely wooded in the early Middle Ages, and consequently it was not readily amenable to seigneurial exploitation at an early date. As elsewhere, however, changing economic and climatic conditions precipitated changes in the fourteenth century and settlement began to gravitate to the primary centres and peripheral hamlets to shrink and disappear. By the sixteenth century both Great and Little Humby had attained their present modest size.
Both earthwork sites were brought to attention as a result of the Ropsley parish survey carried out by a Manpower Services team for the then South Lincolnshire Archaeological Unit (7). The Great Humby earthworks had already been noted as a shrunken village but the Overton Green site was an entirely new discovery (8). It occupies an area of about 150 by 300 metres, under grass at the time of survey. The chief feature is an east-west track across the northern edge of the close, the line of which continues eastwards towards the township of Sapperton and is still followed by a public footpath (Fig 15). The remains of a quickthorn hedge separated the track from the rest of the field. A series of ditched enclosures appears to be house platforms, although some irregularity in the central area may have been caused by removal of soil or building material. Less pronounced earthworks can be seen in the arable field to the east, where stone walls have been ploughed out and where a quantity of medieval pottery of at least tenth to fourteenth century date has been recovered (8).
At Great Humby the earthworks fall into two groups, one north (Fig 16) and one south-west (Fig 17) of the seventeenth century chapel (9). The area immediately north of this building is marked as the site of Great Humby Hall, and still contains two large linked water-filled moats. In the field north of these moats, and south of Overton Green, a small mound levelled in 1981 was thought to have been a mill mound.
1. Lincs DB, 18/24; 31/4; FA ii Li, 145, 191; BF, 1037; D. M. Owen, 'Medieval Chapels in Lincolnshire', LHA 10, (1975), 20. Before the Conquest Great Humby was probably in the parish of Ropsley, for in 1086 the customs and tithes of the land were said to belong to the church of St Peter (Lincs DB, 72/56). The division of the land of Tori, who held both Ropsley and Old Somerby in 1066, between two tenants-in-chief in the reign of the Conqueror seems to have also shaped the boundaries of parishes in the area. Great Humby was administered with Somerby from the sixteenth century as a member of its parish, and it is possible that it had been in the vill of Somerby at an earlier period.
2. Lincs DB, 31/4.
3. BF, 1037.
4. FA ii Li, 145. Kirton Wood is situated in the south of Ropsley township and may have originally belonged to Humby.
5. Pers. comm. T. Lane.
6. FA ii Li, 191; Lincs DB, lxii.
7. 'Archaeological Notes for 1979', LHA 15, (1980), 78-9.
8. Medieval Village Research Group Annual Reports 27, 1979, 8 and 28, 1980, 7, Fig. 5,.
9. Pevsner, Lincs, 552-3.