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Notes on the Types of English Villages and their Distribution

  • William Page
Extract

Little has been done towards solving the problem of the Saxon settlement of England by studying the types of villages and their distribution. Professor Maitland saw the importance of the subject and pointed out how valuable in this respect was the ordnance map ‘that marvellous palimpsest which under Dr Meitzen's guidance we are beginning to decipher’. Helpful, however, as the ordnance maps are, they cannot be read alone, a knowledge of the archaeology, history and topography of the district under review is a necessary equipment for such an investigation. The remarks here made are tentative and are offered in the hope they may be an incentive to others with local knowledge to examine the evidence of their districts.

Professor Maitland, following Dr. Meitzen and others, has adopted two main types of settlements, namely, the scattered or dispersed, and the nucleated or clustered. These two types probably comprehend all forms of settlements, but certainly the nucleated type and possibly the scattered type, show many variants which it may be well to indicate before a methodical study of the subject can be made. I have elsewhere suggested the following classification of English towns and villages which will no doubt require modification and amplification but may meet a want for a preliminary inquiry; (I) scattered or dispersed settlements, (2) nucleated or clustered settlements off lines of communication, (3) nucleated settlements on lines of communication, (4) ring-fence settlements, (5) towns with bridge heads and double towns, (6) towns of gridiron plan, (7) towns of spider's web plan, (8) Bastide towns. Except for the first of these classes all of them are nucleated or clustered, and to this wider division I propose to devote my attention. It may perhaps be pointed out, however, that the scattered or dispersed settlements occur chiefly in Wales and in the west and north of England. They are found throughout Cornwall, in Devon, Somerset and the open parts of the Welsh border counties, in Yorkshire and Derbyshire, and probably they are the origin of the great parishes with their numerous townships of the other northern counties. They were adapted for a pastoral people and are generally to be found in moorland or mountainous country which has become divided into large parishes. They consist of hamlets and single houses or small groups of houses scattered somewhat promiscuously throughout a district. The principal hamlet from which the settlement or parish takes its name-which was probably the meeting place of the district and where the church was eventually placed-was generally on high land or a main road and frequently at cross roads, bridges, or such like places of nodality.

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1 Domesday Book and Beyond, 15.

2 Leeds, E.Thurlow Arch. of the Anglo-Saxon Settlements, p.121, et seq.

3 This frequency of Danish place-names does not extend into the south-eastern part of the Danelaw (Place Names of Beds, and Hunts., p. xix), for the reason probably that north of the Nene the land was held by conquest, whereas southward the lands were ceded by treaty with Ceowulf in 877. The most southerly point of the fighting at this time was at Peterborough (Medmenham) where the monastery was destroyed (Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, sub anno 870).

4 Cf. The Place Names of Worcestershire (English Place Name Soc. iv), p. xiv.

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Antiquity
  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquity
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