By Caron Newman and Richard Newman
The Regional Research Framework for North East England published in 2006, highlighted some themes that were considered important to progressing our understanding of the Later Middle Ages through archaeological investigation. These themes cover a range of archaeological interest areas landscape, urban development, artefacts, vernacular architecture, churches and industry. They were notably light, however, on subject areas covered in other regional and national medieval research agendas. Such areas included variations in medieval rural settlement, high status buildings, conflict and military archaeology, and the application of scientific methods and theoretical models to furthering the archaeological understanding of the later medieval period.
The current reassessment of the Regional Research Framework does not deal with upstanding remains, though the authors acknowledge that there should be a seamless interface between above and below ground remains in medieval archaeological research. Consequently, the primary research themes from the 2006 framework, against which progress will be assessed in the current reassessment, are as follows:
The North East region’s later medieval archaeology has not benefitted from the discovery of new sites and the massive upsurge in data that can be generated through the archaeological work associated with a major infrastructure project, along with its guarantee of well-funded analysis and publication. To achieve landscape-scale projects, and not to be constrained by the limitations of university-based research funding, the North East has been reliant on community-based archaeological projects often funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. In this regard later medieval archaeology in the North East has benefitted from the existence of one of the most ambitious and successful of such projects, Altogether Archaeology, a project that has been wide in both its geographical scope and research intent. The continued focus on community archaeology by Tees archaeology has also been of considerable benefit to furthering medieval research objectives.
Since 2006 there have been national research initiatives either examining aspects of medieval archaeology or dealing with specialist areas of archaeological research that are relevant to the study of medieval archaeology. One area where there has been particularly significant development has been in the study of medieval rural settlement. A research and management framework for medieval rural settlement and landscape was published in 2007 (MSRG) following a review of national research undertaken in the period 1996– 2006 (Gardiner 2006). A similar review process was carried out around the same time by the Society of Medieval Archaeology (Gilchrist and Reynolds 2009). The 2007 research agenda for medieval settlement contains points that remain relevant today. It highlighted that the data held in historic environment records on medieval rural settlements must be improved. It further highlighted a need for a strategy to address the threat posed by often small-scale development to information contained within still-occupied rural settlements of medieval origin. The lack of published investigation of households, including through the analysis of artefact distribution, was further highlighted. The medieval rural settlement agenda also emphasised the need for further “interdisciplinary, problem oriented enquiry” into entire estates, manors or parishes of the type that were so successful at Wharram Percy in Yorkshire (Wrathmell 2012) or Shapwick, Somerset (Aston and Gerrard 2013), but which have never been undertaken in the North East. This supports one of the 2006 research priorities defined for the North East which remains unanswered.
In 2012 the Medieval Settlement Research Group co-ordinated the publication of Medieval Rural Settlement. Britain and Ireland, AD 800-1600 (Christie and Stamper 2012), which contained a review of later medieval settlement archaeology in northern England (Wrathmell and Young). This useful and most recent point-in-time overview of northern England, emphasised that in that region the national two-part research strategy for medieval settlement, set out by John Hurst in the 1950s, has only been progressed in part. The region has responded well in relation to understanding the plan forms and uses of settlement buildings but Hurst’s agenda is not so well progressed with regard to the complete excavation of a medieval nucleated settlement, with no more than 20% of any northern village site explored (Wrathmell and Young 2012, 259-262). There is still a need for extensive excavation, including of whole tofts, otherwise the archaeological perspective will always be limited by scope in the understanding it facilitates. The same applies to the archaeological investigation of whole farmsteads, indeed the data available for dispersed settlements remains far more limited than it is for nucleated ones. Wrathmell and Young acknowledge that future funding streams may prohibit such extensive interventions and thus if interventions are to be small-scale then they “should be located within broader frameworks, designed to test hypotheses developed through the systematic analysis of detailed cropmark, geophysical, earthwork and documentary surveys related to both settlement and township” (Wrathmell and Young 2012, 265).
Medieval urban archaeology lacks the clear focus on future research that has been provided for rural settlement by the Medieval Settlement Research Group. Historic England’s ‘A Thematic Research Strategy for the Urban Historic Environment’ (English Heritage 2010) set priorities for that organisation’s funding rather than a more general research strategy for the urban archaeological resource. More widely applicable are some of the ideas within Grenville Astill’s paper on urban archaeology for the 50th anniversary celebrations for the Society for Medieval Archaeology (2009). This paper coalesced and developed many of the ideas expressed two years earlier in the multi-authored Society for Medieval Archaeology monograph on ‘Town and Country in the Middle Ages’ (Giles and Dyer 2007). Astill highlighted a variety of research themes including the potential for understanding social as well as the economic use of space and the linkages between towns and their rural hinterlands. Other areas that have had recent input into national research agendas for aspects of medieval archaeology include industry and commerce which was briefly addressed by Mellor in her contribution to The Oxford Handbook of Later Medieval Archaeology (2018, 446-448).
An interesting take on a pan-European research agenda for medieval religion was published in Medieval Archaeology in 2017. Taking as its subject matter religious transformations it sets out an archaeological agenda for examining religious cultural change (Thomas et al 2017). Within England this approach has most relevance at the very end of the later medieval period with the Dissolution of the monasteries. Its approach is unique in that it is not constrained by religious affiliation, embracing paganism, Islam and Judaism as well as Christianity.
Research priorities for specialisms within medieval archaeology at a national level have been published and certainly need to be accounted for in any reconsideration of the North East’s regional research framework. Of particular relevance is the research framework for ceramic studies produced by the Medieval Pottery Research Group (Irving 2011) which includes regionally based recommendations. National medieval research priorities for archaeobotany were published in 2013 (Van der Veen et al 2013). The North East is one of the least well represented areas for the availability of archaeobotanical datasets (Van der Veen et al 2013, fig.3). Of note in the assessment of archaeobotany in medieval archaeology was a decline in the number of samples analysed in the 21st century in contrast to the later 20th century, a feature noted elsewhere as in the Netherlands. This has been linked to the rise of developer-funded archaeology, though this may be a consequence of more focused programmes of analysis based on the findings of pre-analytical phase post-excavation assessments (Van der Veen et al 2013, 170-171). One of the research priorities noted was the need to carry out excavation in ‘successful’ still occupied settlements (Van der Veen et al 2013, 172) but in northern England just the need to collect samples was emphasised. The relative lack of focus on archaeobotanical remains in late medieval site excavations has been recently highlighted in The Oxford Handbook of Later Medieval Archaeology (Moffett 2018). The lack of adequacy of sampling is in part blamed on the inadequacy or absence of research aims for many excavations (Moffett 2018, 124).
Some local studies have also addressed aspects of the regional research agenda. Seven years after the publication of the Regional Research Framework an assessment was published of the archaeology of Newcastle-upon-Tyne (Graves and Heslop 2013). This significant and substantial piece of work not only presented a point in time overview of archaeological work in Newcastle-upon-Tyne of all periods but highlights areas of research interest and concern that are relevant to the medieval period. Ashbee and Luxford’s (2013) volume on Roman and medieval art and architecture in Newcastle and Northumberland, published in the same year and which contains a review of the town’s archaeology (Heslop and McCombie 2013), further aids an up-to-date and comprehensive presentation of the medieval material culture of the North East’s most significant medieval town.
By far the most significant national overview ever produced of later medieval archaeology was published in 2018, The Oxford Handbook of Later Medieval Archaeology. This comprehensive coverage of the state of the subject today addresses various research themes that were not a feature of the 2006 NERFF. These include material culture and gender differences, childhood, and popular belief and recreation, all reflective of recent research developments that have occurred in later medieval archaeology during the past 15 years. Other than to a limited extent in the volume on the archaeology of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, these themes have not been represented in the medieval research work carried out in the North East. The Oxford Handbook is supplemented by the previously mentioned Society for Medieval Archaeology monographs on the interrelationship between towns and the countryside (Giles and Dyer 2007) and the medieval archaeology overview published for the 50th anniversary celebrations (Gilchrist and Reynolds 2009), along with the Medieval Settlement Research Group’ s 2012 volume on rural settlement (Christie and Stamper). Beyond settlements, the attendant field systems and their relationship to settlements has been considered in an historical volume on The Open Fields of England (Hall 2014), though apart from an occasional foray into Northumberland, the North East is little mentioned. The European context for British medieval archaeology is provided by the two volume The Archaeology of Medieval Europe (Carver and Klapste 2011).
In 2006 one of the national lacunae was the archaeology of the transition from the Later Anglo-Saxon period into the High Middle Ages. This was addressed through the Society for Medieval Archaeology monograph on The Archaeology of the 11th Century (Hadley and Dyer 2017). Within that volume a consideration of the regional dimensions of the Norman Conquest (McClain 2017) contains a brief, largely documentary and Yorkshire based consideration, of the northern English landscape in the later 11th century. Specific themes in medieval archaeology that have received national coverage include studies reflecting a growing understanding of the importance of designed and planned landscapes in the Middles Ages (Creighton 2009a; Jamieson and Lane 2015). Elite landscapes and castles in their landscape setting have been much covered in the past two decades (Creighton 2009b: Creighton 2018). Early castles have been highlighted with reference to their material culture within an Anglo-Norman polity (Davies et al 2016) and as aspects of the 12th century Anarchy (Creighton and Wright 2017). Historically based reviews of aspects of medieval religion abound, but new archaeological perspectives are rare. Gilchrist’s (2014) review of monastic and church archaeology within a European context is useful but highlights the contribution of archaeological research being more prevalent in the early medieval rather than later medieval period. Since 2006 there has been little published as national overviews of medieval industry and commerce other than the relevant chapters of The Oxford Handbook of Later Medieval Archaeology (2018).
Some of the new developments to have an impact on medieval archaeology in the past 15 years, or to have the potential to do so, are shared with other periods. Other developments, though not unique to medieval archaeology, are disproportionately significant to it in comparison to other periods. In the former category, Bayesian analysis of radiocarbon results has had a significant impact on the refinement of dating, especially on prehistoric sites. Bayesian analysis has been little used by development-led archaeologists and as with most advances in archaeological science there is a considerable time lag before their uptake in community archaeological projects. Given the importance of community projects for advancing aspects of medieval archaeology in the North East, this is an area that needs addressing.
In stark contrast to Bayesian analysis the use of LiDAR for site discovery has been widely adopted by community groups because of its ease of availability on the internet and the relative ease of access to software to manipulate the data. Across the country, but especially so in under explored areas and areas covered by woodland, LiDAR has hugely improved remote methods of site discovery and has helped to engage a new audience in archaeological research. The technique has added many new sites to historic environment records, the majority of which are likely to have been historic period sites because of the impacts of past agriculture on the site visibility of sites of earlier periods. The use of LiDAR for site discovery, especially in community-led projects, has been significant in advancing medieval archaeological knowledge in the North East. LiDAR, however, has huge limitations because of its current lack of available comprehensive coverage, which leads to biases in the distribution of new site discovery. The development of new remote sensing techniques, such as multi-spectral analysis, will be less accessible for archaeologists outside of universities or not engaged professionally on major infrastructure projects, but has the potential to further refine site identification using remote imagery.
A recurrent area of concern in publications dealing with medieval archaeological research is the problem posed by threats to, and the complexities of investigating, later medieval remains in still occupied rural settlements. One approach to learning more about the archaeology of such settlements through minimal ground intervention techniques has been in the use of test pits. The use of test pits to examine currently occupied rural settlements (CORS) has been pioneered in the UK and developed by Carenza Lewis through the University of Cambridge (Lewis 2007). The settlements explored were all in East Anglia, but the 2,511 test pits excavated between 2005 and 2018 proved the efficacy of the exploratory technique (Lewis 2019). Such a systematic approach could be replicated and progressed in the North East as part of an historic environment record enhancement exercise.
The Medieval Settlement Research Group’s 2007 research agenda stated that, “Archaeological theory has played relatively little part in interpreting the medieval past, but its application to medieval settlement studies may provide new insights into this area of study”. Subsequently, later medieval archaeology has become a much more theoretically informed discipline, borrowing approaches both from prehistorians and later historical archaeologists. The need for a more theoretically informed approach to later medieval archaeology and the benefits of it have been covered in recently published articles and papers (Gilchrist 2009; McClain 2012; Graves and Gerrard 2018). Agency theory and cultural material biography, especially, have been used as approaches to structure archaeological evidence and to gain more data from it. These new ways of dealing with the archaeological evidence for the later medieval period are exemplified by Ben Jervis in his approach to artefacts (Jervis 2014) or Roberta Gilchrist in her work on life courses with concentrations on childhood and old age in the later Middle Ages (Gilchrist 2012). One area of national research interest that has developed greatly in the past 15 years is the examination of groups traditionally excluded or marginalised within the medieval archaeological narrative, such as women and children. The latter especially have been highlighted through the study of space, artefacts (Lewis 2009; Hadley and Herner 2014) and osteology (Lewis 2016).
A further area of improvement since 2006 is in the increased accessibility of research theses through their publication online. The lack of reference to the work of university-based research students, unless their theses were subsequently published, was a notable weakness in all the regional archaeological research frameworks published in the early 2000s. The capacity to search for and download these works through national databases such as Ethos and regional ones such as Durham etheses and Whiterose etheses has enabled archaeologists dealing with all periods to stay more easily abreast of the latest British university research. Sadly, a search of all three of the above databases revealed little new scholarly research into the later medieval archaeology of the North East, other than Caroline Smith’s 2016 MA thesis from Durham University on the residences of the Bishop of Durham. Reviewing the admittedly partial picture of university research revealed by these datasets, suggests that later medieval archaeology is not currently a popular area of research within British universities, although some areas do fare better than the North East; Yorkshire and East Anglia for example. The apparent limited interest of British universities in the later medieval archaeology of north-east England needs to be addressed. A notable exception is Durham University through their commercial arm Archaeological Services Durham University (ASDU) and their major research project in Bishop Auckland. Durham University academics, like Pam Graves and Chris Gerrard, also have been at the forefront of some of the major regional and national publication initiatives.
At a national level, the subject has matured and developed. It has diversified, become more pan-European in approach and outlook and has engaged more thoroughly with theoretical approaches. Further it has benefitted from technological advances and the application of archaeological science. Structurally too, the way later medieval archaeology is resourced and engaged with has evolved since the publication of NERFF’s 2006 volume. While university-based research has always had its disciplinary titans who have been instrumental in developing the discipline at a national and international scale, as reflected in publications such as the Oxford Handbook, regionally academia has been limited in its impact on and engagement with later medieval archaeology in North East England. The reasons for this are associated with the nature of project-based university archaeological research and the drivers behind this research. Developer-funded archaeology too has continued to be limited by the way it is structured. Although generally targeted away from the honeypot sites, their interventions are usually deliberately limited in scope and either publication of the results is not required, not considered worthwhile or still fails to be funded. Nevertheless, the continued expansion of grey literature and its frequent, though not comprehensive, availability online through the Archaeology Data Service, means that the results of new work are generally available to researchers relatively quickly. Some of the slack in medieval archaeological research in the North-East, produced by these issues with academic and developer-led archaeology, have been taken up by the work of community archaeological groups, usually involving professional archaeologists from both the academic and developer-led sectors. The very accessibility of medieval archaeology, both in terms of surviving visible remains and intellectually, benefits its study greatly in relation to community engagement.
A structural issue that has been at the heart of the regional research frameworks is the very definition of regions and that no matter how necessary as an aid to stimulating debate, any attempt to compartmentalise and bound a subject risks loss at the margins and a preconditioning of outcomes. As a means of structuring archaeological research, a regional definition based on a now redundant 20th century political subdivision for purposes of economic development, can seem absurd. Certainly, the north East region neither corresponds to an historically defined pays or a definable ecosystems area, both considered by Astill as ways of approaching the medieval regions of Britain (2018). The exclusion of historic Cumberland from any assessment of medieval settlement and landscape in Northumberland and County Durham, not only artificially divides the north Pennines but splits the Anglo-Scottish borderlands, a clearly definable later medieval cultural entity. Equally, it can be argued that lower Teesdale in the medieval period should be viewed as part of the North Riding of Yorkshire.
The impact of the current system of compartmentalising the regional research frameworks has been discussed in detail by Belford with particular emphasis on its impact on archaeological research in the Welsh borders (2020). Even more than along the Welsh border, the Anglo-Scottish border in the later medieval and early modern periods formed a cohesive cultural zone. There were similarities in settlement pattern, buildings, field systems and wider material culture. There were climatic and ecological similarities as well as family ties and to an extent political marginalisation. Yet the evident need to review this area archaeologically as one distinct place is at odds with the requirements of current political realities. The need to increase cross-border collaboration for at least the medieval period is a key necessity of the North East region’s archaeological research framework. Collaboration with neighbouring modern regions in the North West and Yorkshire is easier to facilitate and has been served well in the past by overviews of archaeological research that have focused on the entire north of England rather than on just one part of the North (for example Wrathmell and Young 2012). Overall, this is a need to avoid the creation of new intellectual divisions and silos imposed by modern administrative and political realities. Moreover, historic borders should be viewed as areas of cross-fertilisation and cultural hybridisation as well as zones of conflict and consequently as areas ripe for research.
Conflict archaeology has been an area of growing interest in the past 15 years and has become ‘a dynamic area of investigation within historic archaeology’ (Scott and McFeaters 2011, 104). The North-East was the key area of England for the Anglo-Scottish Wars of the Middle Ages, with major battles at sites such as Neville’s Cross, Otterburn, Piercebridge and the last major medieval battle fought between the kingdoms of Scotland and England at Flodden, Northumberland in 1513. The landscape of this battlefield was the focus of a major programme of research between 2008 and 2016 aimed at contributing to the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the battle (Flodden 1513 Ecomuseum 2020). Importantly the project took a cross border approach and the programme of archaeological research resulted in a significant publication in 2018. The focus of the battle was not found through the archaeological research, though cannonballs and items of material culture possibly associated with the battle’s participants were recovered (Miller et al 2018). Furthermore, the battle was contextualised within its landscape and setting and as part of this initiative the Flodden 500 project led to research investigations at the nearby Norham and Wark castles. In 2012 Guard Archaeology Ltd undertook geophysical surveys at Norham, a former property of the bishops of Durham. Four possible artillery emplacements were identified, conceivably dating to sieges in 1496 and 1513 (Rennie 2014). At Wark, a flattish area to the west of the castle was investigated by geophysical survey followed by targeted trial trenches and test pits. These interventions identified pits containing much medieval pottery and other domestic and food waste. The pits were interpreted as possible latrines that were filled in with waste generated by food consumption from a significant assembly of people. The conclusion was that the investigated area may have served as a camp for troops during the medieval period (Archaeological Practice 2017). Some work undertaken by historians is also of relevance to those studying conflict archaeology in the region as for example David Grummit’s study of the impact of gunpowder weaponry in the Anglo-Scottish border (2012).
One of the most significant advances in the understanding of major lordship castles in the North-East comes not from new field work but the publication of long-ago completed fieldwork. In 2007 the report was published of the excavations at Barnard Castle from 1974-81 (Austin 2007). The report does not just look at the castle but places it in its landscape setting and serves as an exemplar of an archaeological study of a castle and its environs. Most recent work on medieval sites redolent of the exercise of power and prestige display has been largely focused on scheduled monuments, rather than on sites potentially at risk from modern development or land use management practices. Aside from work at Wark and Norham, little significant work has happened at individual secular castle sites in the region since 2006. The main research project focused on a castle has been at Bamburgh, work which has been ongoing since the 1990s. Investigations within the inner ward between 1997 and 2010 have been published in the Archaeological Journal (Kirton and Young 2017). More recent work at Bamburgh Castle features on the project website (Bamburgh Research Project 2020), while accounts of the wider ranging work of the project team within the castle’s hinterland, often development-led interventions, is available online as grey literature from the Archaeology Data Service. The project is multi-period in scope with a focus within the castle on the early medieval period, nevertheless, aspects of the castle’s later medieval archaeology have been investigated such as a 12th century chapel within the inner ward and evidence has been examined to show how the medieval castle developed out of an earlier medieval stronghold (Kirton and Young 2017). Westgate Castle, a former castle of the bishops of Durham, is a scheduled monument in Weardale and was investigated as part of the Altogether Archaeology community archaeology project. Geophysical survey and trial trenching revealed that substantial below ground remains relating to the occupation of the medieval castle survive on the eastern side of the site. It was further demonstrated that remains relating to the castle and the pale of the associated deer park extended beyond the scheduled and thus protected area (ASDU 2012).
Away from the major lordship castles, the exercise and expression of secular power in the landscape has been archaeologically investigated in a few places. Scargill Castle is a fortified house in County Durham which was the subject of a Time Team investigation in 2008. Trial trenches, building and topographic analysis within the area of the scheduled monument revealed that the fortified manor house had probably originated in the 13th century. The method of construction suggested that the medieval building phases were more geared to defence than those of the 16th century, though the enclosing later medieval barmkin wall may have been more aimed at surrounding a space for stock control rather than adding to the defensive qualities of the still surviving stone tower (Wessex Archaeology 2009). At Sockburn Hall, near Darlington in 2007 Historic England (then English Heritage) undertook documentary research, topographic and geophysical surveys to better understand the scheduled area to improve its long-term conservation. The surveys revealed that the protected post-medieval mansion and its surrounding parkland were just the latest incarnation of a significant estate centre which evolved from the early medieval period. The research was especially significant for the later medieval period, highlighting the location of a possible medieval manor house and emphasising the landscape qualities that made it a suitable seat for a barony (Went and Jecock 2007).
During the 14th century the building of fortified residences permeated down the ranks of society so that not only the great lords built them but so did the lesser nobility and gentry. A physical result of this activity is that Northumberland went from being a county of relatively few castles in the early 13th century to the “most heavily encastellated county in England” (King 2007, 373). Using historical sources primarily, Andy King challenges the traditional historian’s view that this was a response to the Anglo-Scottish wars and proposes that many if not most of the castles built in Northumberland during the 14th century were more about social emulation, social prestige and local fashion than they were about defence and security. This view derived from documentary sources appears supported by the physical character of many of the castles that were inadequately built for defensive purposes. Even if lacking in defensive qualities, the imposing size and appearance of these residences were statements in the landscape.
The expression of power in the landscape was not only secular but also ecclesiastic, especially in land under the control of the Prince Bishops of Durham. A research project by Durham University, with fieldwork carried out by ASDU, is ongoing at Auckland Castle, formerly a palace of the Bishops of Durham, and forming part of the Auckland Project. Work, including excavation has revealed previously unknown building ranges and has helped highlight further research questions (Durham University 2020). Durham University’s interest in the expressions of lordship of the bishops of Durham is taken further through contextual studies. Taking the results of ASDU excavations at Westgate Castle (see above) and in Darlington town centre (ASDU 2013) along with survey evidence from Bishop Middleham Castle and combining this data with landscape analyses and historical sources, an overview was derived of the development of a medieval magnate’s changing household requirements (Smith et al 2017). The contextualising view of the medieval residences of the bishops of Durham was expanded further in Caroline Smith’s MA thesis which examined the portfolio of the Bishop of Durham’s great houses. Smith concluded that taken together the residences evidence, “the changing nature of the role of the bishops over the High Medieval Period” (Smith 2016, 107). A recurrent theme throughout much of the research undertaken into medieval elite residences in the North East over the past two decades has been the iteration between the residences and their environs. The importance of positioning and landscape setting to enhance the messages being given by the structures is a common feature of the work on the Prince Bishops’ palaces and castles, of the study of Barnard Castle and the examination of Sockburn Hall.
“Development-driven archaeology has had relatively little impact on our understanding of medieval landscapes due to limited development in the region’s villages and the small size of those interventions” (Petts and Gerard 2006, 170). This statement continues to be true but medieval rural society is being explored archaeologically outside of development-led work by research teams from Historic England (then still English Heritage) academic researchers and community groups and these three strands of activity have made some advances, especially in relation to further site recognition. Rural medieval settlement archaeological research in the region over the past 15 years contrasts with medieval urban archaeology, where work largely has been undertaken as a response to development. Medieval rural settlement archaeology in the region in terms of increased understanding, has been dominated by the work of community groups in recent years, but such work has been geographically restricted largely to the uplands of Northumberland and County Durham and the lowlands of the Hartlepool and Stockton districts. Work has ranged from small-scale survey and excavation, through detailed township-scale survey and excavation to landscape-scale survey. Most of the work has tended towards broadening rather than deepening knowledge.
There have been two significant overviews of medieval settlement in the North East published since Shared Visions (Petts and Gerrard 2006). In 2008 Brian Roberts produced a synthesis of his thoughts and ideas about medieval settlement morphology based on a career of research undertaken largely in the later 20th century. This wide-ranging book, mostly based on documentary research and survey, includes case studies from County Durham especially (Roberts 2008). When Robert’s work is combined with Wrathmell and Young’s brief but informative overview of medieval settlement research undertaken in northern England published in 2012, a fairly comprehensive picture can be derived of the development of medieval settlement studies in north-east England up to 2012. Wrathmell and Young point out that excavations especially are still focused on nucleated village settlements with far less work having been done on dispersed settlement patterns. They further emphasis the lack of detailed landscape survey undertaken to place these remains “in a wider geographical and chronological context” (Wrathmell and Young 2012, 259). This lack of landscape-based contextualising research has begun to be addressed more recently, especially through research students and community groups using LiDAR evidence to carry out wider landscape surveys.
The availability of LiDAR has had a significant impact on site discovery in the North East, as it has elsewhere, with a particularly useful survey having been undertake as part of the Altogether Archaeology community project. Using LiDAR, volunteers examined the north Pennine areas of the Allen valley and Hexhamshire within Northumberland. Numerous farmsteads and field systems of medieval and post-medieval date were recorded for the first time (Ainsworth 2016). First envisaged as a community landscape identification survey, volunteers were encouraged to look at a landscape using a range of newly available resources such as LiDAR. A total of 1,027 new archaeological sites (990 in Northumberland and 37 in Durham) were identified and recorded. More traditional forms of remote image interpretation have continued to produce results as at Hartside, Northumberland and Cockfield, County Durham (Roberts 2006). Individual sites where earthworks are prominent have continued to be surveyed in the field. In 2007, English Heritage undertook historical and archaeological research into the deserted medieval village of Ulnaby near Darlington, with the fieldwork primarily comprising earthwork survey (Grindey, Jecock and Oswald 2008). Another earthwork survey by Tees Archaeology near Darlington at Little Stainton revealed three discrete medieval properties with evidence of house platforms (Daniels 2019). Other site survey work has been undertaken by individual researchers as at West Backworth, near Newcastle (Astbury 2013). Work on medieval settlement by the Altogether Archaeology project includes a geophysical survey of remains, many surviving as earthworks, at Bradley Green near Bardon Mill, Northumberland (ASDU 2015a).
Sometimes community-led projects have resulted in more in-depth work with desk-based research and earthwork survey being complemented by excavation as at Muggleswick Grange. This Altogether Archaeology project in County Durham, involved standing building survey, geophysical survey and excavation. The excavation revealed well-preserved remains of the medieval grange, but the results are only available as an unpublished report from the Altogether Archaeology website (Morrison et al 2015). Other intrusive community-led investigations in the region include Well Head near Holwick in Teesdale as part of the Altogether Archaeology programme (Green 2017). Following a survey in 2011 (Schofield and Quartermaine 2011) excavations were undertaken in 2017 and 18, with one longhouse dating to the late 12th-13th century being completely excavated (Green and Frodsham 2019). Elsewhere in the Tees valley the River Tees Rediscovered project has carried out trial trenching at the existing village of Egglescliff near Stockton-on- Tees, where evidence of medieval settlement was found that suggested a likely decline in settlement activity in the later medieval period (Errickson and Daniels 2015).
Other work on medieval settlement based on excavated data includes an evaluation in response to a proposal for housing development in North Sunderland, Northumberland, which found medieval masonry walls considered to be typical of medieval settlement back plot features (Leadbitter 2008). In Wynyard Park near Hartlepool structural remains associated with 14th to 16th century pottery appear to be indicative of part of a medieval settlement and other remains are suggestive of an estate centre documented from the 12th century at Low Newton Hanzard (McMeekin 2009). The most significant published settlement investigation, however, is that undertaken by Piers Dixon at Alnhamsheles on the Rowhope Burn in Northumberland (Dixon 2014). which looks at the deserted settlement in its landscape using a range of techniques. Nevertheless, it is the presentation of work undertaken between 1979 and 1983, as part of Dixon’s PhD research.
Away from settlement cores little intrusive work has been made available that contributes to the understanding of the wider landscape. Excavations undertaken on land at Barforth Grange, County Durham identified three ditches, two pits and a series of plough furrows (Ross 2012). Likely settlement edge activity, including iron smelting, of 13th to 14th century date was found in an evaluation at Kirkleatham, Redcar, Teeside (Noakes and Railton 2011). Medieval agrarian landscape and industrial features were recorded during evaluation and earthwork survey at Wynyard Park, near Hartlepool (McMeekin 2009), work facilitated by the extensive recent housing developments that have been established there. One area of the wider medieval landscape upon which useful research has been undertaken is on the networks of communications that linked the settlements with their support activities and resources. The Coquetdale Community Archaeology group in the Northumberland National Park have produced a volume on old routes through the Cheviots, which whilst refreshingly multi-period in scope, contains much useful information on medieval land use and connectivity within the Cheviots (Jones 2018). A similar multi-period approach had been taken earlier on the drove roads of Northumberland (Roberts et al 2010). Another multi-period project looking at routeways in Northumberland was Altogether Archaeology’s work on Hexham Fell which excavated sections across ‘lost’ routes including the former medieval route from Hexham to Alston (Green and Finch 2016). A similar volunteer investigation including excavation of a former routeway, was carried out by Tees Archaeology when they investigated the network of routes connecting the now destroyed medieval settlement of Newham to neighbouring hinterland settlements (Errickson 2014). Beyond the study of routeways little work has focused on the wider medieval rural landscape of the North East in the past two decades. One site specific exception is the study of the impacts of long-term pastoralism using historical and palynological research methods to provide an ecological context for the Northumberland Archaeological Group’s excavations on Wether Hill in the Cheviots (Davies and Dixon 2007). In the Wether Hill vicinity it was found that while the patterns of grazing from the high medieval period remained consistent into the late medieval period there was a localised contraction in cultivation. At Newcastle University chronometric analysis using optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) has been undertaken of boundary banks in Northumberland (as part of a wider study) to provide an improved chronology for land divisions usually perceived to be medieval, no report is currently available on the results of this work, however (Caron Newman pers. comm.).
In the past fourteen years more work has been undertaken in north east England on medieval urban remains than any other aspect of the archaeology of the Middle Ages. It is in this arena that planning-initiated and development-led archaeology has made its most significant contribution to medieval archaeological research within the North East. Consequently, considerable progress has been made in understanding the nature of the medieval archaeological resource in some of the region’s towns that experienced rapid development in the 19th and 20th centuries. Of particular note is the work undertaken in Newcastle where the medieval archaeology of the city and the later 20th and early 21st century interventions exploring it, were examined in two complementary volumes published in 2013. Recent excavations were reviewed by David Heslop and Grace McCombie for the British Archaeological Association’s volume on Roman and medieval architecture in Newcastle and Northumberland (Ashbee and Luxford 2013). The later medieval archaeology of Newcastle was reviewed in greater detail by Graves and Heslop for their assessment of Newcastle’s archaeological resource (2013). Along with this assessment of Newcastle’s medieval archaeology, Hartlepool has a volume dedicated solely to its medieval archaeology (Daniels 2010). Although based primarily on excavations undertaken in the 1980s and 90s the volume presents the best coverage of a medieval port in the North East and is an important contributor to understanding the smaller medieval town. Less detailed reviews of urban medieval archaeology have been published for Gateshead (Nolan 2007) and for Sunderland (Newman et al, 2020). Reviews of smaller modern towns with medieval origins have been compiled for 18 towns in Northumberland following the completion of the local authority’s extensive urban survey for that county. The individual town reports written by Rhona Finlayson and Caroline Hardie with Alan Williams can be accessed through the Archaeology Data Service (Northumberland County Council 2011).
Some work has been undertaken on town plans and their development, especially on the layout of burgage plots. Keith Lilley has revisited his own work on the plan of Alnwick in his consideration of the impact of the Norman Conquest on urban landscapes (Lilley 2017, 38-42). Robin Tait has also looked at burgage patterns in Alnwick and Berwick-upon-Tweed and found that while there was little evidence of consistency in plot size, northern English plots have much in common with burgage plots in some Scottish burghs (Tait 2011), a subject area he has given much attention (Tait 2008). This is a notable, sadly unusual but very necessary example of the exercise of cross border expertise and comparisons. In general for urban medieval archaeology there has been a lack of synthetic analysis within the region, across neighbouring regions and between the north of England and southern Scotland but Tait’s work comparing plot patterns in Alnwick, Berwick-upon-Tweed and Cockermouth in Cumbria is a good example of the potential of such approaches.
Recent archaeological investigations of medieval urban remains in the North East, have for the most part been small scale and are largely unpublished. Exceptions include excavations in Newcastle at Percy Street (Swann 2013), The Close (Platell 2013) and on Westgate Street (Jackson 2019). All revealed aspects of the medieval town including the industrial processes being undertaken within it. Percy Street and Westgate Street highlighted how areas of the town, previously viewed as having been settled after the construction of the town wall, were occupied as early as the 12th century with evidence for abandonment by the 14th century (Swann 2013, 232). Further work, currently unpublished, that also relates to the growth of medieval Newcastle was undertaken at the Quayside. At the LiveWorks site on the Quayside, excavations undertaken in 2014, indicate that the foreshore had been reclaimed before the end of the 14th century in part with deposited shipping ballast (Taylor-Wilson 2015). Before 1400 activities were taking place on the new land including the construction of a monumental sandstone wall interpreted as a property boundary. Further structures post-dating this wall were erected in the later 14th-15th centuries.
Less work of a significant scale has taken place in Gateshead in comparison to Newcastle, but it includes work at Oakwellgate, in advance of the construction of The Sage, where evidence was found of a medieval burgage plot (Nolan and Vaughan 2007). There has been little work in the small medieval borough and port of Sunderland beyond some small interventions adjacent to the river frontage, but a recent published Historic Area Assessment highlighted the potential for surviving deposits (Newman et al 2020). There has been very little new work undertaken in Hartlepool since the publication of the 2010 review of the town’s medieval archaeology by Robin Daniels, though some work has been undertaken on the town walls in response to the Environment Agency’s flood protection and sea defence measures. In Darlington, some investigations were undertaken by ASDU between 2013 -15 including at Feethams, Beaumont Street and the Town Hall. Excavations revealed the boundaries of burgage plots along with evidence of domestic waste disposal and small-scale industrial activities to the rear of the plots (ASDU 2020a). None of this work is published though post-excavation assessments have been prepared for the Beaumont Street (2020a) and Feethams sites (2019), while the town hall analytical report has been completed (2015b).
Fieldwork in smaller towns, away from the modern urban centres, has often not been published. One exception is work in Berwick where evidence of medieval occupation up to 13th/14th century, including corn drying has been identified (Hindmarch 2011). In Alnwick similar evidence for substantial 12th and 13th century structures, probably relating to the town’s early development has been identified but reports on the work are only available as grey literature (Carey 2007). Similarly, from Corbridge substantial evidence for the medieval town, including two burials, stone buildings and industrial activity has been recorded but the work is buried away as grey literature (Liddell 2007). In Yarm, a small intervention within a recognisable medieval burgage plot produced evidence of a later medieval stone surface and a grain grindstone from either a wind or water mill (Scurfield 2013).
Investigations of undeveloped medieval urban sites are unusual, but Tees Archaeology commenced a community archaeology investigation of the presumed burgage plots at Boroughgate, Skelton in 2018 following LiDAR analysis, earthwork and geophysical survey in the previous year (Errickson et al 2017). The remains were considered to be a failed attempt by the de Brus family to found a borough adjacent to their castle. The excavations confirmed occupation from the 12th century with a likely settlement reorganisation in the early 13th century and abandonment later in the 14th century (Adams and Daniels 2019). The importance of studying abandoned medieval boroughs cannot be understated because the knowledge of their archaeological deposits provides a baseline against which to evaluate and position the results from medieval towns that experienced later development where morphology will have been altered and archaeological deposits are likely to be disturbed and truncated. As the de Brus family also laid out the boroughs of Yarm and Hartlepool, there is potential for an intertown study of the impact of one aristocratic family on medieval urban development. Such a comparative study can also examine the similarities and contrasts in the archaeological records of towns to elucidate archaeological signatures for success or failure.
In the 21st century the collection and analysis of environmental evidence from suitable deposits has become routine in any archaeological study involving below ground intervention. Reviews of the medieval palaeobotanical and zooarchaeological evidence for Hartlepool and Newcastle upon-Tyne are contained in Daniel’s (2010) coverage of Hartlepool and integrated throughout the medieval text in Graves and Heslop’s (2013) coverage of Newcastle. Fieldwork has not produced much new data since 2006 though evidence for provisioning in Newcastle-upon Tyne has been published (Swann 2013, Jackson 2019). O,Meara’s master’s thesis (2016), examining the evidence for diet from medieval urban cess pits in northern England, highlights the paucity of evidence from the North East outside Newcastle. In Newcastle archaeobotanical remains indicate the processing of cereals into flour and the direct consumption of pulses along with wild foodstuffs such as brambleberry and hazel nuts as well as more exotic items including grape, fig and walnut.
One of the research priorities defined in the 2006 framework was to tie in pottery assemblages from small towns and rural sites to the type series developed for the large urban centres. For the most part there has been little progress in this area. As stated by Graves and Heslop “the full extent of production, distribution and consumption of ceramics in the wider North East is not yet understood, as no full synthesis has been made” (2013, 210). A useful if short summary of the state of play for understanding medieval pottery in Newcastle-upon-Tyne is contained in the chapter on material culture in Newcastle Upon Tyne. The Eye of the North (Graves and Heslop 2010). Urban archaeological research has facilitated some furtherance of understanding medieval pottery sequences in the region but the lack of current research opportunities for local medieval pottery overviews provided by academic research programmes, developer-led archaeology and community archaeology has limited much progress. A notable exception in the study of urban pottery assemblages is Peter Didsbury’s review of medieval pottery in Hartlepool (Daniels, Didsbury and Vince 2010). The 2011 Medieval Pottery Research Group research framework noted the need to further develop Didsbury’s assessment and highlighted the need to develop a chronological type series for Cleveland and Durham, including a reassessment of Tees Valley wares, and more generally in the North East an assessment of Late Reduced Greenwares (Irving 2011, 30-31).
Little significant new archaeological work has been published or undertaken in the past two decades on the medieval churches or monasteries of the North East, though this review ignores any survey work on above ground still functioning structures. No fieldwork at all appears to have been undertaken or at least reported upon in an accessible format on the less well-researched structures of monasticism such as nunneries, preceptories, friaries, hermitages and hospitals. Such features are covered in urban overviews as for example the five friaries, the nunnery of St Bartholomew, and the hospitals of St Mary the blessed virgin and Mary Magdalen all in Newcastle-upon-Tyne (Graves and Heslop 2013, 149-170). Any archaeological fieldwork undertaken on these sites mostly predates the 21st century. In 2015 one of the most significant projects undertaken since 2000 was finally published, the survey work completed between 2001-03 by Historic England (then English Heritage) at Egglestone Abbey near Barnard Castle, County Durham. The research project carried out at this Premonstratensian monastery took a landscape approach involving topographic survey followed by geophysical survey. The results of the fieldwork were published as a multi-period analysis to provide greater insights into the character and development of the monastic site (Branse-Instone and Dunn 2015). Little new fieldwork has been undertaken on monastic sites other than at Hexham Abbey and what has been done is small scale. For example, ASDU have undertaken geophysical surveys at Holystone Priory in Northumberland (2007) and at Blanchland, Northumberland (ASDU 2020b). The latter work was undertaken as part of a parish-based local heritage project, but none of the features noted were attributed to later medieval monastic activity. Slightly more informative were interventions by Wardell Armstrong at St Peters, Monkwearmouth (Churchill 2013). St Peters had been part of the two-centered Anglo-Saxon monastery of Monkwearmouth and Jarrow. Monkwearmouth was refounded in the 11th century as a monastic cell of Durham. Evaluations and watching briefs in advance of landscaping works revealed a floor surface of likely later medieval date that had previously been observed during Professor Cramp’s excavations (2005). Jarrow and Monkwearmouth were also the focus of a remote sensing and landscape characterisation study of the joint Anglo-Saxon monastery which included examining its evolution through the later medieval period (Turner et al 2017).
Excavations and a watching brief were carried out at Hexham Abbey between 2012-14 (Carlton and Ryder 2018). The resultant published report is a comprehensive description of the observations made but the nature of the excavations undertaken in response to limited development proposals, prevented the results adding much to the understanding of the Abbey church. Of interest was a glazed earthen ware segmented water pipe of later medieval date. A further unconnected watching brief was carried out at Hexham Abbey in 2018 and discovered surviving wall footings and a ditch which are likely to have formed part of the medieval monastic precinct boundary (Archaeological Practice 2018). Hexham Abbey has been the focus of research undertaken by Newcastle University using remote sensing techniques and laser scanning, though the driver behind this research has been Roman and early medieval evidence contained within the later medieval abbey building and grounds (Hueglin, Turner and Astbury 2018). Geophysical survey carried out in 2018 added little new information relevant to likely later medieval buried remains, but during the work parchmarks were observed that probably relate to the inner wall of the Romanesque cloister (Hueglin, Turner and Astbury 2018, figs 43 and 44). Hexham Abbey has also been the subject of a published study of the movement of later medieval fittings following the Dissolution (Clark 2010). This study shows that the abbey at Hexham fared better than most in northern England, retaining not only the church to serve its parish but also many of the items from within it. Elsewhere far worse outcomes were usually experienced as made clear in a study of the impacts of the Dissolution on the Cistercian monasteries of northern England (Carter 2015).
At non-monastic parish churches and chantry chapels the scale of below ground archaeological interventions generally have been limited and the results sparse. Two of the most significant and published programmes of investigation were at the churches of St Michael and All Angels Houghton-le-Spring, near Sunderland and historically part of County Durham (Ryder and Carlton 2014) and at the church of St Lawrence, Warkworth in Northumberland (Carlton and Ryder 2014). Excavations in advance of the installation of underfloor heating at Houghton-le-Spring revealed evidence of previously unknown pre-Norman and Norman building phases and the reuse of Roman building materials in the medieval period was identified. This early church was probably destroyed by fire in the 13th to 14th century and the basis of the existing church was then formed (Ryder and Carlton 2014). Development-led investigations, ahead of various works at the Church of St Lawrence, Warkworth, including strengthening buttresses, has demonstrated that church’s importance as a parish church in Northumberland (Carlton and Ryder 2014). As at Houghton-le-Spring the later medieval church was found to be a rebuild on the site of a pre-Conquest church.
The parish church which has probably received most archaeological attention in recent years is the church of St Nicholas, Newcastle. An overview of its archaeological and historical significance was contained in the archaeological assessment of Newcastle-upon-Tyne published in 2013 (Graves and Heslop), which contained a summary of an archaeological evaluation undertaken in 2007. This evaluation revealed seven medieval human burials and deeply stratified medieval deposits of 13th to 15th century date (Graves and Heslop 2013, 144; PCA 2007). One other relatively significant but unpublished piece of church-related fieldwork was undertaken at Frosterley, Co Durham by ASDU as part of an Altogether Archaeology community project. The project involved a partial excavation of the site of St Botolph’s Chapel. As well as evidence for early medieval origins, later medieval phases were identified, including a fragment of font made from Frosterley marble (ASDU 2015c). In addition to investigations of buildings and sites, work has continued on items of architecture and individual artefacts including publication of the archaeological context of the 11th to early 12th century cross head found at Spindlestone, Budle Bay, Northumberland (Ryder and Carlton 2017).
No records have been noted of regional archaeological work undertaken to investigate informal, popular religious practices in the High and Late Middle Ages, such as the use of holy wells, festivals or of any projects incidentally producing evidence for popular ritual or ‘magical’ practices and beliefs. Using Portable Antiquity Scheme (PAS) data from across England, William Anderson speculated in 2010 that the finding of ampullae within ploughed land suggested that such items were a product of ritual discard perhaps as some form of field blessing ceremony for cultivated land (Anderson 2010, 197). It is notable that only one such ampulla was recorded at the time in County Durham and Teeside and none at all for Northumberland. It is unclear whether this distribution reflects past activities or contemporary collection practices. Revisiting the PAS data ten years on and examining the current regional distribution in relation to land quality and to the national picture could prove informative.
Overviews of urban-based medieval industry have been published within the urban archaeological reviews for Hartlepool (Daniels 2010), Newcastle (Graves and Heslop 2013) and briefly for Gateshead (Nolan 2007). New fieldwork that has added information on urban industry has largely been confined to Newcastle upon Tyne where interventions have revealed evidence for tanning at the Close and Westgate St (Jackson 2019), charcoal burning at High Bridge and a blacksmith’s workshop at Percy Street. This latter site was recognised from industrial residues and smithing hearth base fragments suggesting that the building, from outside of which the industrial waste deposits were recovered, was used as a smithy. A radiocarbon date obtained from one of the waste deposits indicated activity in the period 1270-1390 (Swann 2013, 2011). Evidence for iron and bronze metalworking in the 12th to 13th centuries was found during excavations at The Angel, Corbridge (Liddell 2007). Evidence for later medieval bronze working is rare, with other northern examples known from York and Carlisle. Despite the importance of the industrial site in Corbridge, it has yet to be published and the results are only available as an unpublished report, downloadable from ADS.
Investigation of medieval rural industrial sites in the past fourteen years has focused largely on water powered and wind powered mills. The most significant investigation undertaken is the Coquetdale Community Archaeology Group’s excavation of Barrowburn fulling mill. An article setting out the documentary basis for the mill was published in 2014 (Carlton and Jones) with the results of the excavation following a year later (Carlton and Jones 2015). The fulling mill probably belonged to Newminster Abbey. Amongst a variety of significant discoveries made was a masonry-lined wheel pit of which this was one of the best surviving examples in Britain from a medieval mill (Carlton and Jones 2015). The excavation of a medieval watermill in Britain is unusual. In many cases medieval watermills were substantially repurposed in the post-medieval period so that little medieval fabric survives within sites that continued into the post-medieval period. Where such continuity was absent the precise location of medieval remains is often not identifiable. In excavating a post-medieval watermill at Wallington in Northumberland, in 2018 and 19, a team from Newcastle University found significant finds evidence to suggest that the post-medieval mill was preceded by an earlier medieval structure in the same location (Caron Newman pers. comm.). As well as watermills one likely windmill base has been excavated in the North East in recent years, at Eaglesfield Road, Hartlepool. The likely cross base of a post-mill was revealed (ASDU 2013). Locationally associated features suggested that the area containing the mill was occupied between the 10th and 14th centuries. The immediate hinterland of later medieval and early post-medieval towns frequently featured post-mills.
Since the previous iteration of the North East’s archaeological research framework little work has been undertaken in the region on medieval extractive industries. Other medieval industries that would have been significant in the region such as boat building or sea fishing have also received relatively little archaeological attention. Boat building was briefly covered in the review of archaeology in Hartlepool (Daniels et al 2010, 147-149) but little other new research or synthesis has been undertaken. Fishing was highlighted as an under-researched area in the previous research framework at both a national and regional level. Although in-depth and synthetic archaeological work into fishing is still awaited across the region, there has been some progress. At a national level, the publication of a major interdisciplinary study has set the English fishing industry in a European and north Atlantic context (Barrett and Orton 2016). Elsewhere in England, there have been some studies of the fishing industry based on zooarchaeological remains as in York (Harland et al 2016). In London both zooarchaeological and isotopic data indicate that 11th to 12th century cod was locally derived from the nearby marine environment, but later in the medieval period much came from the north Atlantic (Orton et al 2014). Isotopic analysis of fish bones combined with historical research is considered to be producing evidence of a ‘fish revolution’ c1500 in northern Europe, because of the huge increase in cod imported from the Newfoundland area (Holm et al 2018).
Regionally, no overviews of the medieval fishing industry have been produced. Even the multi-period analysis of archaeology associated with the North Sea, published by Robert van de Noort (2012), contains only the briefest review of medieval sea fishing. Nevertheless, van de Noort does assert that specialist fishing communities were only established along the North Sea coast after the later 15th century advent of long-distance deep-sea fishing (2012, 88-89). At a more local level in Hartlepool, the importance of herring to that town’s medieval marine fishing industry and food consumption has been evidenced (Daniels et al 2010, 159). An historical study using monastic accounts has demonstrated the importance of the north Atlantic fishery towards the end of the Middle Ages for the coastal inhabitants of north Northumberland (Osler and Porteous 2010). A further short historical account of the medieval fishing industry of the Farne Islands was included in the volume covering the Peregrini Lindisfarne landscape project (Porteus 2017, 54-55). Some analysis of the fish bone material is contained in Graves and Heslop’s review of the archaeology of Newcastle-upon-Tyne but they note how understanding the relevance of the material to Newcastle has been limited by the poor recovery of fish bones from most medieval deposits in Newcastle (2013, 204). Similarly, from Hartlepool any overview of the importance of fishing to medieval Hartlepool is hampered by the relative lack of soil sieving on past excavations (Anderson et al 2010, 291). Even so, fish bones allow the recognition of cod, haddock and whiting as all being important to Hartlepool’s medieval fishery (Daniels et al 2010, 160).
The past 15 years have seen considerable progress in both the understanding of later medieval archaeology in the North East and in the dissemination of research results. Of especial note has been the urban archaeological work undertaken. Not only have two nationally significant volumes been published presenting the archaeology of the medieval towns of Hartlepool and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, but considerable progress has been made on understanding the medieval archaeology of Gateshead and of some of the smaller medieval towns. Advances in the understanding of urban archaeology have been the stand-out success in recent later medieval research for the North East. The North East has more generally benefitted from both national advances in understanding, as well as local projects, examining aspects of elite residences and landscapes and the development of religious establishments, though far more remains to be done on appreciating the wider landscape impact of ecclesiastical landholding.
Despite some keynote projects and evident progress in some areas, none of the five research themes taken from the 2006 published regional research framework for the North East and highlighted in the introduction of this paper, have been fully addressed. Of these “the development of a large-scale (parish scale or above) landscape archaeology project exploring the long-term development of a rural region in the North-East” remains a priority. Such landscape-scale projects, however, should perhaps be structured where possible in relation to medieval landholdings rather than modern subdivisions, so the investigation of a manor or a lordship may be the most instructive way of organising such a project. Taking a medieval secular or ecclesiastical territory as the basis for landscape-scale archaeological research allows for the development of useful thematic studies as with Durham University’s work on the palaces of the Bishops of Durham.
The 2006 research priority for further research into medieval pottery assemblages remains an outstanding regional need, but it can be refined with reference to the regional research priorities defined by the Medieval Pottery Research Group (Irving 2011, 30-31). The need to refine pottery sequence chronologies is still a requirement and the improving suite of scientific dating techniques and refinements in the ways in which they are used, should assist in doing this. It is not sufficient to have such techniques and methodologies available for them to be applied, however, projects also need to be appropriately funded to access these mechanisms. To acquire the funding, appropriate problem-oriented, project-specific research questions need to be asked at the outset of a project and developed through the project’s design. Only by these means will the appropriate deposits be sampled, and the necessary degree of sampling be undertaken for example.
The relative lack of sampling in the North East and the more general inadequacy of well-defined project research aims that would facilitate sampling, have been highlighted in reviews of archaeobotanical research (Van der Veen et al 2013; Moffett 2018). The review of national research priorities for the archaeobotany of medieval Britain published in 2013, also highlighted the need to conduct investigations of still occupied settlements of medieval origin, a concern echoed by the Medieval Settlement Research Group’s overview of national research priorities (2007). While small-scale interventions may be undertaken within still occupied settlement areas of medieval origin, resulting from planning conditions imposed on development, this model of research is spasmodic, relies on happenstance and frequently lacks context. To address the structural inadequacies that are inevitable in development-led archaeological investigations, contextualising research should be undertaken across a wide range and quantity of rural settlements and small towns. Such research could be achieved by the application of the CORS technique in the North East, test pitting to examine currently occupied rural settlements, as pioneered in East Anglia (Lewis 2019). This type of work would be ideal for community-based groups to undertake.
Community-based groups have made significant contributions to identifying likely medieval remains, especially in relation to upland rural sites, through the study of online satellite imagery and online available LiDAR imagery and further local studies should be encouraged. Remote sensing and new techniques of studying the data, such as multi-spectral analysis, are areas of rapid technical development. These new technologies and methodologies require the input of research institutions to fully exploit their potential. Irrespective of the degree of technical input, however, when carrying out remote sensing identification surveys of medieval archaeological remains, it is essential that the remote sensing data is contextualised through sound landscape-focused documentary research.
An area where research has been limited in the North East in recent years is in the understanding of medieval industrial development. Despite some interesting projects carried out on rural industrial sites, such work remains rather isolated and site-specific and little recent work has been undertaken on the region’s significant medieval extractive industries. Work is lacking in understanding the context of manufacturing and processing industrial activity in and around towns. Here a more area-based approach may help, aimed at identifying evidence for zoning and if such is apparent, at studying industrial quarters or suburbs within medieval towns. The impact on the encouragement of industry within urban hinterlands, as for example in the siting of windmills, potteries and tanneries would also benefit from wider multi-disciplinary investigation.
As well as new technologies applicable to medieval archaeology having developed since the last iteration of the North East’s Regional Research Framework, new intellectual approaches have evolved to examine the material culture of the medieval world. Many of these approaches are highlighted in the Oxford Handbook of Later Medieval Archaeology (2018). Such approaches involve studying areas of society often under-represented in traditional archaeological studies, including women, children, the elderly and marginalised communities, as well as themes such as folk-based religious practice and belief systems. Whilst examining these lesser studied groups in and areas of medieval society and culture may not feature at the forefront of a site excavation strategy, these are areas that need consideration and articulation in defining research questions especially for studies of artefacts, both site-based and wider-ranging as in distributive analysis of Portable Antiquities Scheme data. Similarly, to these new areas of study that have arisen in recent years, so the application of theoretical approaches has grown in medieval archaeology. It is important that the definition of project research objectives and the analysis of archaeological data is theoretically informed. To ensure this happens the involvement of the university sector is key in community-led research projects and in a more general way with development-led archaeology. To avoid missed research opportunities and to take medieval archaeology in the North East forward into the future, inter-sectorial crossover is essential.
Finally, the issue of defining meaningful project research aims is one that continues to cause concerns across the country and in all archaeological areas but is especially a problem for the later medieval period. For development-led archaeology there is no doubt that the use of regional research frameworks has been part of the problem. Rather than being applied as guides, they have been used as templates and support documents, with archaeologists slavishly trying to shoehorn pre-defined projects into a regional research agenda box. Instead of highlighting the genuine potential of a project, research aims are all too often parroted from a regional research agenda. Instead of being used to develop projects, too often the regional research priorities are adopted as justification for projects that have already been circumscribed by development need or community interest. It is perfectly reasonable that projects are defined in this way, but they should not be justified by retrofitting research aims for which the projects were not designed. Far better that such projects have bespoke research objectives, no matter how limited, that work for their project even if they do not tally with anything contained in a regional research framework.
Cross-sectorial and multi-disciplinary approaches will be crucial to taking later medieval archaeology forward in the North-East. The continued involvement of professional archaeologists with community-based and volunteer-led programmes of research will be essential for this to happen. The importance of community archaeology in advancing research into the later medieval period cannot be underestimated, especially for wider landscape-scale projects. The need for such programmes to be appropriately informed and adequately funded is plain to allow the use of the full suite of scientific techniques, such as appropriate levels of palaeoenvironmental sampling, OSL dating of landscape features and the securer dating of material culture through the Bayesian analysis of radiocarbon dated sites. Such techniques need to be more widely applied in the development-led sector too, assuming opportunities continue to be afforded to make meaningful contributions to medieval archaeological research through the planning process. Other research topics such as examining medieval material culture to inform issues relating to gender, childhood or popular belief and folk practices, may require a greater engagement with the medieval archaeology of the North East by the university sector. Such engagement will not simply involve major university led research programmes, such as Durham University’s work at Bishop Auckland (though more are welcome), but greater participation by postgraduate and undergraduate scholars taking forward far more projects of lesser scope.