We will now turn from the archaeology of Wharram Percy to consider the documentary records that throw light on its history. I will focus in particular on documents that provide an insight into the decline and eventual abandonment of the village.
Most of the information summarised here comes from M W Beresford, Documentary Evidence for the History of Wharram Percy, ch. 2 in D D Andrews and G Milne ed., Wharram: A Study of Settlement in the Yorkshire Wolds, Volume I, The Society for Medieval Archaeology Monographs no. 8.
Wharram Percy receives a brief mention in the Domesday Book of 1086, though it was then called Warran or Warron. The three references indicate that at that time there were already two manors, they estimate the total amount of land at nine carucates, and they give the names of three landholders, Lagman, Carle, and Chilbert.
A carucate was the amount of land that could be ploughed by a team of eight oxen in a year, roughly 120 acres.
Fifteen post mortem inquisitions have survived, dating from years between 1267 and 1543. Most were compiled after the death of a member of the Percy family, but the last three refer to members of the Hilton family who acquired Wharram Percy in 1402. Five of the inquisitions include what are known as extents, surveys with topographical information and valuations.
The extent for 1323 reveals some economic difficulties, though these may have been a temporary effect of famine or Scottish invasions. In 1323 the total value of Wharram Percy estate was estimated at £12 6s 4d, considerably less than the £21 12s 6d given in 1267. Two thirds of the demesne bovates were not being cultivated.
The demesne was the land attached to the manor itself; a bovate was one eighth of a carucate.
By 1368 some recovery had taken place, as one of the mills, both described as derelict in 1323, was back in action and both pools were producing a profit, presumably from fishing. At that time thirty houses were occupied, and the names of their tenants are given. 68 bovates of land were under cultivation. The 1368 inquisition provides a detailed description of the open fields on the outskirts of the village.
By 1435 the level of occupation had started to decline. The inquisition of that year states that only 16 messuages or dwellings were inhabited, and the same figure is given in 1458.
Evidence that the final depopulation came as a result of eviction by the landlord comes from the Commission of Enquiry set up by Cardinal Wolsey in 1517. Anti-enclosure Acts had been passed by Parliament in 1489 and 1515, the second in particular being intended to penalise landowners who converted their properties from arable farming to pasture for sheep. The material presented to the Commission in regard to Wharram Percy states that “after the said Michaelmas” four messuages and four ploughs were “thrown down”. The dating is vague, but the statement indicates that at some point between 1488 and 1517 the tenants were evicted from the last four houses by the landlord, Baron Hilton.
There is plenty of indirect evidence that in the following years the village was empty apart from the vicar of the church. Parish registers surviving from the early sixteenth century show that the church was still being used by people from neighbouring villages, but there are no entries at all for Wharram Percy itself. Similarly, in the lawsuits of 1555-56 concerning the rebuilding of the vicarage after a major fire many local witnesses were called, but none of them came from Wharram Percy.