Over the weekend I attended the Medieval Settlement Research Group Spring Conference in Lincoln. This event was organised by Carenza Lewis – now Professor for the Public Understanding of Research at the University. It took as its focus a review of work done in Currently Occupied Rural Settlements (CORS) in Eastern England. Most of this work originated in Carezna’s work with Access Cambridge, but was then taken, and expand by the many different communities that had been involved. So both the Saturday and Sunday were a mix of local people presenting their own projects, results and challenges as well as the ‘professional’ workers on the subject. The professional here is in quote marks – not to be derogatory to this group of people but to emphases the high quality and professional presentations made by all the community groups. Nearly all sticking to time, all well supported by very good visual aids and all clear and audible to a large lecture theatre. They are all to be congratulated on their work and show what a blurred line exists between amateur and professional.
I am not going to summarise all the work these groups have done here as that would be a real disservice to the many insights they gave at the conference but here are the groups that presented and the links to their websites were many of their materials can be freely accessed.
Sharnbrook Local History Group http://slhg.org.uk/
West Wickham & District Local History Group – https://www.facebook.com/pages/West-Wickham-Big-Village-Dig/208527505966436
Pirton Local History Group – http://www.pirtonhistory.org.uk/
Great Bowden Heritage and Archaeology – http://www.greatbowdenheritage.btck.co.uk/
Lutterworth Fieldworkers – http://leicsfieldworkers.co.uk/currentwork/local-groups/lutterworth-fieldwork-group/
Binham Local History Group – http://www.binhampriory.org/BLHG.html
Bingham Heritage Trails Association http://www.binghamheritage.org.uk/
Nayland with Wissington Conservation Society – http://www.naylandconservation.org.uk/index.html
Swaledale and Arkengarthdale Archaeology group – http://www.swaag.org/
All of these groups had undertaken the technique of 1x1m test pits throughout the villages trying to locate finds (mostly pottery) to plot the development of their settlements. Although each settlement paints a slightly different picture, one overarching theme seems to be a decline in activity in most (but not all) settlements in the 15th- 16th centuries (well a reduction in the pottery that was recovered). This could be explained by issues of the post-black death period and I for one are looking forward to Carenza’s paper on this that will be appearing soon in Antiquity. She presented the issues surrounding this idea and the nature of the evidence on the Saturday afternoon.
This test pit methodology has been rolled out a numerous villages across the country and the tight control on the method and the consistent approach to having one pottery specialist look at the pottery does help comparing one settlement with the next. What would be really interesting is to see if this methodology produced similar results in deserted settlements – digging in the back plots of medieval houses long since gone – does the pottery assemblages here also see a decline? Of course many of the deserted settlements are not necessarily deserted until later on – and any sampling strategy of sites to be chosen would have to look at the variety of dates and possible reasons for desertion, and so some deserted sites may mirror some of the CORS sites and show a revival in the 17th century. But perhaps a DURS project (Deserted Unoccupied Rural Settlement Project) may be an interesting addition to the CORS project…..
Also tackled over the weekend were issues of the development of settlements and field systems. Looking at ‘persistent’ places and the added value of Portable Antiquities Scheme data was Adam Daubney, the role building survey can play in helping understand complex landscape development was presented by Jeremy Lake of Historic England, looking at evidence for Middle Saxon development and settlement on the edges of existing settlements were Duncan Wright and Richard Mortimer, place-names and settlement development was tackled by Richard Jones and Susan Oosthuizen looked at the origin of open field systems and suggesting a twelfth century date for the classic three-field system.
All in all a very interesting weekend with plenty to ponder. An although the focus was clearly on surviving settlements, all the papers presented also brought forward new questions to answer on deserted settlement as well. You cannot study one with the other. The final part of the weekend though directly tackled this issue – with a visit to the deserted village of Riseholme, just outside Lincoln and this will be reflected on in the next post……