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
The late medieval period is a critical one. With the survival of an ever greater number of documents, a rich archaeological record, and the little time that was to elapse before the first detailed maps began to be produced, this is the earliest landscape that can be reconstructed with any degree of security. Our view of the medieval landscape has been founded on the resultant plans, produced and reproduced with regularity in countless publications. The village depicted is at its largest - even where these have shrunk, the survival of earthworks permits the missing parts to be reconstituted. The open fields, redrawn from enclosure maps and surveys of furlong headlands and ridge and furrow strips, are shown at their greatest extent. Territorial boundaries are boldly defined and give an air of permanence. Indeed the impression often gained is that this is, and always was, what the medieval landscape looked like.
What has been presented here is very different. Through the exploration of a large block of countryside over a long period of time, what emerges is extraordinary fluidity. Medieval settlements and landscapes were in permanent transition. General economic, social and demographic trends meant that their development followed common trajectories. However, while subject to the same pressures or keen to exploit the same opportunities, individual territory development might follow different chronologies and move in different directions as their communities resolved the challenges they faced. It remains far from clear, owing to a lack of similar research undertaken on the same scale, whether the experience of the Whittlewood can be read as a representative sample of 'village country' in general. However, the number of parallels that can be drawn from other individual case-studies in other parts of the Midlands, at particular stages in their development, suggests that Whittlewood was far from exceptional. The engines that drove change often remain obscured, the precise timing of events vague, and uncertainty continues to surround how these influenced other parts of the villagescape. Nevertheless, their effects can be seen, revealing how complex and dynamic the medieval countryside was. The grubbing out of hedgerows, the amalgamation of farms, and the expansion of housing, all features of the modern countryside, are thus just the latest manifestations of a continuing tradition of rural changes. In this respect, what we are witnessing, and what the medieval lord or peasant saw, are not altogether dissimilar.
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Last updated: Mon Sep 4 2006