Approaches to the analysis of the topography, origins, growth and development of English medieval towns: case studies of selected towns and their wider applicability

Shaw, Michael Terence ORCID: 0000-0002-2814-1134 (2020). Approaches to the analysis of the topography, origins, growth and development of English medieval towns: case studies of selected towns and their wider applicability. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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The study of the topography, origins, growth and development of English medieval towns in has been the meeting ground, and, on occasions, the battle ground, of researchers from a wide range of disciplines, most especially historians, geographers and archaeologists. The purpose of this thesis is to identify the methodologies most commonly used across the disciplines; to assess their effectiveness; to highlight their strengths, weaknesses and limitations; and to suggest ways forward in urban topographical studies. The period covered is from the 7th century when the first towns and proto-towns can be identified down to c1540 before the changes wrought by the Dissolution of the Monasteries, although some earlier material is discussed where it is relevant to the later growth of an urban centre. Four differing approaches are identified: landscape analysis; documentary evidence; town-plan analysis and the results of archaeological investigation; although it is recognised that there is a degree of overlap between all of these. These are tested against a range of towns within the urban spectrum through a series of case studies. Four Cheshire towns are chosen to cover the range from small - medium-sized centres, including a largely industrial town. A fifth study, of Northampton, is chosen as an example of a large town, particularly because there has been a large number of archaeological investigations within the settlement.
The innovative use of GIS as a means of compiling, storing, analysing and illustrating a wide range of spatial data is central to the project. To assess the varying approaches, different ways of visualising the Cheshire towns are tested, while Northampton presents an opportunity to compare the results of GIS analysis using non-invasive sources against the findings from the relatively extensive archaeological investigations.
The results of the work emphasise the value of using all four techniques in combination. Large-scale archaeological investigation represents the most effective technique for reconstructing urban topography but it is rarely possible to excavate a sufficiently large area in an urban context to answer all of the questions that can be posed and the other techniques still offer insights which supplement the archaeological evidence. Despite the relatively large amount of archaeological work at Northampton only around 6% of the late Saxon town and 3% of the medieval town have been excavated while none of the Cheshire case study towns have seen any major archaeological interventions and this largely reflects a situation in English small towns as a whole. Nevertheless important observations have been made. Hence the towns of Frodsham and Macclesfield, together with Leek in Staffordshire, all three of which were founded by the same lord in the early 13th century, exhibit quite different town plan characteristics suggesting that the lord himself played little part in their design. The greater wealth of archaeological data from Northampton has demonstrated the presence of a middle Saxon elite centre whose existence could not have been predicted without excavation, while the existence of a long-established pottery type series has enabled the mapping of the extent of settlement at key periods within the town’s origin and development. Property boundaries plotted from Victorian mapping have been compared to boundaries discovered by archaeological excavation and shown in many cases to date back to the medieval period. Importantly, however, whereas at other major settlements such boundaries have been shown to date back to the late Saxon period those at Northampton are of post-Conquest, 12th-15th century, date, and are part of a major replanning and expansion of the town in the post-Conquest period. A general point which is made is the value of analogy. Hence aspects such as deflections in the road pattern consequent upon the building of bridges, the wholesale movement of settlements, the fossilisation of defensive boundaries in the street pattern and the planting of Norman castles to control and dominate Anglo-Saxon centres can all be shown to follow patterns identified elsewhere.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of History and Cultures
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain


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