Introduction | Exploring Medieval Village Territories | The Evolution of Post-medieval Village Territories | The Creation of Village Territories | The Development of Medieval Village Territories | Late Medieval Village Territories | Conclusions

4.2 The transition from estates to villages

Locally, the transition from extensive to compact estates has left no trace in the documentary record, but elsewhere we can observe smaller land units being granted away. But there was not a moment of universal reorganisation which saw the immediate and total break up of large estates. Rather the landscape fragmented as a result of a series of individual partitions.

The land that was being divided was sparsely populated but rich in natural resources. Although the clay was heavy to work, it provided a neutral and fertile seed bed for arable cultivation and a good base for pastoral farming, while significant woodland had regenerated since the Roman period on the higher parts of the watershed. The limited evidence suggests that settlement was dispersed in the period c. 600-850, the population living in individual farmsteads or small hamlets, although these were unevenly spread. Six or seven contemporary sites lay within a radius of 1 mile (1.5 km) of the later village of Leckhampstead. By contrast, in what would later become the parishes of Akeley, Lillingstone Dayrell, Whittlebury and Wicken, only one or two sites have been found, while in places such as Silverstone and Lillingstone Lovell there is no evidence for any settlement before AD 850. Generally the population settled in the valley bottoms (Passenham) or in the middle courses of smaller tributary streams (Leckhampstead and Stowe) but they do seem to have avoided the higher clay interfluves. Small areas of arable were cultivated around the farmsteads, attested by faint haloes of pottery spread on their ploughed fields as part of the manuring admixture, but the majority of the area appears to have been given over to woodland and pasture (Jones 2005). Some of the settlements lay in the general vicinity of estate centres, such as Passenham and Stowe.


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