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

5. The Development of Medieval Village Territories

5.1 Alternative settlement models

The landscape over which the new territories were laid out was already at different stages of development. Contained within individual township/parishes could be settlements already of considerable age, or more fledgling communities, indeed settlements who owed their origins to the new land division. The form that these settlements had already assumed, or that they were quick to adopt, would have a considerable bearing upon all subsequent developments. It would appear that in many senses the act of field and settlement forming quickly fixed existing patterns of settlement in place, creating a base upon which subsequent generations would build, and providing a tradition of settlement within each territory which was rarely later obliterated. This is not to argue that settlement patterns failed to evolve. They did, often exhibiting important changes in morphology. However, underlying tendencies towards either nucleation or dispersion, dependent upon which type of pattern was in place at the time of each individual villagescape lay-out, would persist throughout.

5.1.1 Dispersed settlement

Thus in Leckhampstead, under the early estate system, a dense pattern of dispersed settlement had developed before AD 850 along the middle course of the River Leck. When the villagescape of Leckhampstead was finally constituted after Akeley had been separated from it, the pattern had simplified from six or seven original foci to a group of three surviving sites. These remained geographically distinct from one another and would become the nuclei from which later growth would occur. Early in the 12th century, based on ceramic evidence, a fourth area of settlement was founded lying between these, on a virgin site never before occupied, but again separate from them. There was ample scope for the extension of one or all of the existing foci. Why this course of action was ignored in favour of construction on a new site, it might be argued, reveals how persistent the model of dispersion had become to the community at Leckhampstead. More so, since the initiation of what would become known as 'Middle End' was begun at a time when the alternative settlement model of nucleation had become so prevalent within the immediate vicinity. The same was true at Silverstone. Beginning life as a loose collection of farmsteads set around a large arable oval or green, the village would develop together with satellite settlements at West End, Cattle End and the lost Wood End. These did not occupy exactly the same locations as the earlier farmsteads, so there was a degree of fluidity. But a tradition of multi-nodal small settlement clusters seems to have framed these developments, just as the central space continued to articulate these places as it had done the farms. And a similar situation pertained in Wick Dive. Wick Dive probably represents the centre for the earliest manifestation of the Wicken estate. At the moment it was reduced to a single territory, with the surrender of its western half to form Wick Hamon, it contained both a small settlement on the site of the later village, and a farmstead one mile (1.5km) south-east of it. The latter, Dagnall, would grow into a sizeable hamlet farming its own fields by the end of the middle ages.

The dispersed settlement patterns of Leckhampstead, Silverstone and Wick Dive had their origins in different periods, Leckhampstead before the middle of the 9th century, Wick Dive in the mid-10th century, and Silverstone approaching the end of the first millennium. It mattered not how old and well established these places were when their villagescapes were forged, simply that this was the pattern of settlement when they did. Given different timing, their settlement patterns may have followed alternative trajectories. If two of the three Silverstone farmsteads had failed before the villagescape was created, it may have adopted a more nucleated form instead.

5.1.2 Nucleated settlement

It was certainly the case, however, that a general tendency towards nuclear settlement models can be observed within the majority of newly formed settlements. Two processes seem to be at play here. The first was the division of earlier estates around existing settlements. This was the case, for example, for Lamport and probably Boycott in Stowe, and at Whittlebury where the hillfort had remained a focus for occupation. When first constituted, therefore, these new villagescapes contained only one settlement. Just as a tradition of dispersion had developed in other places, so communities within these new territories seem to have been influenced by their more nuclear origins. In these places, nucleation models appear not to have been consciously adopted, rather they were simply perpetuated. In others, however, settlement seems to have followed the redistribution of land as apparently occurred in Wick Hamon, Akeley and perhaps Dadford in Stowe and Puxley in Passenham. Without a pre-existing pattern of settlement defining how they should subsequently develop, communities here were free to choose how they might live together. Under such circumstances it might be expected that nucleated or dispersed forms of settlement would develop in largely equal numbers. And it would appear in Whittlewood that different choices were indeed made in different places. Settlement in Puxley, for instance, appears to have been dispersed from the outset. But Puxley was an exception. Most tended towards nucleation rather than dispersion. This disparity from the expected norm – settlement weighted heavily towards nucleation and the near absence of the adoption of dispersed forms – occurring within physical, social or economic environments which did not favour one form of settlement over another, surely reveals that they were created against a strong backdrop of cultural influence which, for whatever reason, pushed them towards nucleation.

It has recently been argued that villages were impelled to nucleate because of the need to assemble works for urgent seasonal tasks such as spring ploughing and hay making (Williamson 2003). We do not believe that co-operative ploughing and a shortage of time for spring sowing was confined to areas of nucleated settlement, and in most villages the mowing of meadows was the responsibility of individual households, not the whole community in unison. We would prefer to argue that while there may have been practical advantages in gathering cultivators into a single compact settlement, the villagers and their lords were also influenced by developments beyond the settlement and its immediate surroundings. The creation of village settlements within the study area occurred at a relatively late date. By the time of their establishment, nucleated villages had already become the most prevalent settlement form across much of the central Midlands. Here these compact villages had begun to prove successful solutions to housing a growing population while maintaining an open countryside available for maximum economic exploitation within the relatively new context of restricted territories. Could it be argued, then, that nucleated settlement patterns in Whittlewood were adopted for cultural as well as economic reasons, as communities actively sought to emulate and share in the success of this model (Lewis et al. 1997)? If so, might this then explain why nucleated settlement plans in Whittlewood were so positively espoused in places where no earlier tradition of settlement had existed, while the dispersed forms of settlement that they might have chosen appear to have been largely rejected.


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