3.3.6 South-west England

South-west England appears to have been relatively isolated and sparsely populated during the early medieval period. There is little clear evidence for the extent of woodland, although Stenton (1971) shows a narrow line of woodland running south/south-west from just south of Cirencester to a little north of Dorchester. Bond (1994, fig. 6.1) indicates a large number of royal forests towards the east of the region, including the Mendips in north Somerset and Selwood Forest on the Somerset/Wiltshire border. On the other hand some of the areas designated as forests, such as Exmoor, were bleak open moorland.

The Somerset Levels were the main area of marshland, surrounding the Rivers Brue and Parrett (Rippon et al. 2006, fig. 1). The process of wetland reclamation of the Levels appears to have begun around the 9th century, after a period of marine transgression (Rippon 1994). Domesday Book indicates that extensive reclamation must have taken place before the Norman Conquest as several vills are located solely on the alluvium. Therefore the coastline and tidal rivers must have been defended by banks, although this does not means that the internal area was necessarily drained. Documentary sources suggest that here, as in the Fenland, there was a strong monastic involvement.

Early medieval settlement: archaeological and historical background
Patterns of early medieval portable antiquities


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