NEWBY Wiske, or “the New Village on the River Wiske”, as we would say in modern English, between Thirsk and Northallerton, has a name that reminds us that human settlement, even in peaceful England, has never been particularly stable.

Now, it is surely natural that, as population grew, new villages and hamlets were set up. But, curiously, the majority of England’s Newbys and the closely-related Newtons – and there are almost 100 – have nothing to do with increased population and everything to do, instead, with changing landscape use.

In the early eighth century, villages broke up in the search for better land, communities often shifting several hundred yards to the right or left or up and down. This is the reason why many ancient villages have a church at the edge or outside their bounds – the church stands on the original site of the village.

After the Norman Conquest, the invaders shifted villages to better defended spots, many “New Villages” and deserted villages resulting – Britain has more than 3,000.

Newby Wiske first appears in the 12th century and may be one of those. In the wet 13th century, it was flooding – especially in cases like this when villages were near rivers; in the 15th century, intensive pasturing.

Indeed, throughout English history, locals were constantly forced to pick up their bags and resettle in “New Villages”, leaving a neverending chain of empty plots behind them.

Viewed from space by a patient Martian with a powerful telescope, it would have looked as if humanity was engaged in a tortuous dance.