Edited by Stephen Rippon and Bob Croft from contributions by Oliver Creighton, Bob Croft and Stephen Rippon
Note The preparation of this assessment has been hampered by a lack of information and input from some parts of the region. This will be apparent from the differing levels of detail afforded to some areas and topics, and the almost complete absence of Dorset and Wiltshire from the discussion.
The period covered by this review runs from the Norman Conquest in 1066 through to the Dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century, and unlike the pre-Conquest period is rich in both archaeology (including a continuous ceramic sequence across the region) and documentary sources. Like every region of England, the South West is rich in Medieval archaeology preserved within the fabric of today’s historic landscape, as extensive relict landscapes in areas of the countryside that are no longer used as intensively as they were in the past, and buried beneath our towns, villages, farmsteads and the plough soil. In places this Medieval archaeology has seen intensive research, but unfortunately it is sorely lacking in synthesis. In common with the rest of the country, the study of the Medieval period in the South West has also suffered from a fragmentation of scholarship, with detailed studies of documentary archives, placenames, archaeology and standing buildings all to often being carried out in isolation. A number of important overviews have been published in recent decades both on a county basis, for example, Cornwall (PrestonJones and Rose 1986), Somerset (Aston and Burrow 1982; Aston 1988), the former Avon area (Aston and Iles 1986) and Gloucestershire (Finberg 1975), and at a more regional scale (Aston and Lewis 1994; Kain and Ravenhill 1999), though these mostly have a broad landscape focus.
Unlike the preceding millennium, which had seen the upheavals of the Roman conquest and then growing Anglo-Saxon influence, and the related socioeconomic transformations reflected, for example, in the emergence, virtual desertion and then revival of an urban hierarchy, the post-Conquest Medieval period was one of relative social, political and economic continuity. Most of the key character defining features of the region – the foundations of its urban hierarchy, its settlement patterns and field systems, its industries and its communication systems – actually have their origins in the pre-Conquest period, and the 11th to 13th centuries simply saw a continuation of these developments rather than anything radically new: new towns were created and monasteries founded, settlement and field systems spread out into the more marginal environments, industrial production expanded and communication systems were improved, but all of these developments were built on pre-Conquest foundations (with the exception of urbanisation in the far south-west). It is true that the 14th century saw a major demographic decline, and resulting adjustments in the economy, but in contrast to the end of the Roman period the majority of the Medieval rural landscape and its towns continued in use.
Probably by the 11th century there had emerged, across the South West, rural landscapes of very different character. The north and east of the region formed part of what has been called England’s “central province”, with large, nucleated, villages surrounded by extensive open fields, while in the far south-west (beyond the Blackdown and Quantock Hills) the landscape was characterised by far more dispersed settlement patterns associated with a mixture of closes (enclosed fields) and small-scale open fields.
Some progress has been made in examining the development of these landscapes through a number of major projects. These include broad, countywide historic landscape characterisations; a technique pioneered and subsequently developed in Cornwall (Herring 1998), which has now been extended to cover much of the region.
There have also been local landscape studies carried out as part of development-led projects (for example at Roadford Reservoir) and university-based programmes of research, such as those at Shapwick (Aston and Gerrard 1999; Gerrard and Aston forthcoming), Puxton (Rippon 2000) and on Dartmoor (Austin 1978; Fleming 1994). The uplands have seen survey projects conducted by the former RCHME and continued by English Heritage, such as Bodmin Moor (Johnson and Rose 1994), Dartmoor (unpublished), Exmoor (Riley and Wilson-North 2001) and the Quantock Hills (Riley 2006); survey is currently underway on Mendip. The individual site reports from all these are available from the National Monuments Record and local HERs.
There have been more detailed assessments of Medieval settlement and landscapes around Brown Willy on Bodmin Moor (Herring 1986; 2006a), Holne Moor (Fleming and Ralph 1982) and Okehampton Park (Austin et al. 1980), on Dartmoor together with English Heritage survey work around Challacombe which included extensive strip lynchets.
A number of earlier surveys, based on the transcription of air photographic evidence and some limited fieldwork, were also carried out and integrated into HERs: Exmoor National Park, Quantock Hills AONB, Mendip Hills AONB (Ellis 1992), Blackdown Hills AONB and the Somerset Claylands. These have been augmented by more recent work as part of English Heritage’s National Mapping Programme, principally in Cornwall, but also in those areas where English Heritage field surveys have been undertaken.
Until recently the study of the Medieval landscape was based primarily around the survey and excavation of deserted Medieval settlements (see Aston 1988; Allan 1994b; Henderson and Weddell 1994), and early pioneering work on the morphology of extant settlements (Ellison 1983; Roberts 1987b, Fig. 9.6) has now been followed up as part of a national survey (Roberts and Wrathmell 2000). While Gloucestershire and most of Somerset lay within England’s “central province”, there was considerable diversity in the character of its Medieval landscape. To the north-east of the Blackdown and Quantock Hills the Medieval rural landscape followed the broadly Midland pattern, with a compact nucleated village adjacent to the church, surrounded by communally managed open field system, with small areas of woodland usually restricted to the steeper slopes, and meadow in the valley bottoms. The most intensively studied landscape has been Glastonbury Abbey’s manor at Shapwick on the Polden Hills in central Somerset, where the parish has seen a ten-year programme of interdisciplinary research, supported by the Universities of Bristol and Winchester, English Heritage and Somerset County Council (Aston and Gerrard 1999; Gerrard and Aston forthcoming). It appears that this planned village was created by (and probably in) the 10th century, replacing what had been a more dispersed settlement pattern, some elements of which were recorded by the names of furlongs in the open fields surrounding the village. Shapwick is one of a series of planned villages on the estates of Glastonbury, such as those on the Polden Hills together with the nearby island at Meare (Rippon 2004a), suggesting that the abbots were closely involved in restructuring and managing their estates (Corcos 2002). Similar landscapes of villages and open fields are found elsewhere in northern, central and eastern Somerset (Ellison 1983; Aston 1988; Rippon 1997a), though some areas, notably in the north of the county, had more dispersed settlements patterns with little evidence in the available documentary sources or the field boundary patterns to suggest that there were ever extensive open fields. This can be seen, for example, around Backwell, Nailsea and Wraxall in North Somerset, (Rippon 1997a, 198–200; Ponsford 2003). Some areas of the lowlands appear never to have experienced the complete transformation from a dispersed settlement pattern to one of nucleated villages and open fields, and this trend towards marked local difference in Medieval landscape character, here at the margins of England’s “central province”, is also seen on Somerset’s extensive wetlands, which were reclaimed at this time. The area around Puxton in North Somerset has seen the most intensive research. Here landscapes characterised by both nucleated and dispersed settlement patterns were created in a physically uniform environment that fell within estates held by the same lord of the manor (the bishops of Bath and Wells). This suggests that, in contrast to the highly interventionist abbots of Glastonbury, the bishops were less directly involved in physically structuring their estates with local communities playing a far more significant part in shaping the countryside (Rippon 2006).
The date when open fields were enclosed also varies significantly. In many areas of Gloucestershire and Somerset the open fields were enclosed by agreement, a process starting in the late Medieval period, though some open fields survived to be enclosed by Act of Parliament in Somerset. Aston (1989) has reviewed the current state of knowledge with regard to the study of deserted settlements in Gloucestershire, Somerset, and Wiltshire. Few deserted Medieval farmsteads have been examined in the region but unpublished work at Carscliffe in Cheddar by Bristol University has shown that the site was occupied from the 12th to the 17th century (Mark Horton pers. com.).
In the south-west of the region the Medieval rural landscape was distinctly different. Historic Landscape Characterisation in both Cornwall and Devon (Cornwall County Council 1996; Turner 2006b) has greatly improved our understanding of the wider Medieval landscape particularly in terms of the extent and broad morphology of its field systems and of its upland and rough grazing. Strip fields, or the cropping units they were within, were enclosed from the 13th century onwards and are recognised in all parts of Cornwall (Herring 2006b). They are particularly visible on Bodmin Moor, but there are well-preserved relict outfield strips in parts of West Penwith, as at Treen Common and Chun Downs. Forrabury Stitches,
Boscastle, is a surviving open field that maintains the strip form of individual holdings and also includes some strip lynchets. There is some limited survival of unenclosed strips in the coastal zone nearby, as at Bossiney. This surviving physical evidence been complemented by assessment and interpretation of place-name evidence (Padel 1985; 1988a). Overall, this was a region of predominantly dispersed settlements, though some at least of what are now isolated farmsteads may have been small hamlets until the late Medieval period (Beresford 1964; Aston 1983; Fox 1989). Surveys across the South West have also identified evidence for the colonisation of marginal upland during the 12th and 13th centuries, most notably on the higher uplands (Herring 1986; Johnson and Rose 1994; Henderson and Weddell 1994). These remains are particularly well preserved on Bodmin Moor and Dartmoor, where a full range of domestic dwellings, corn-drying barns, ridge and furrow (spadedug lazy-beds as well as plough ridges), lynchets, hollow-ways, pasture boundaries and shepherds’ huts all survive in excellent condition and the dynamic ways in which they were inter-related are easy to record and understand. There are indications of new woodland settlements being established in south-east Cornwall at about the same time, some of which have English rather than Cornish names (Peter Herring, pers. comm.). There is another cluster of apparently English names, including several in –ley, in the immediate vicinity of Bodmin. These may indicate Medieval colonisation but could also relate to the establishment of a new urban settlement at Bodmin in the Late Saxon period (Kirkham 2005a). The Isles of Scilly were also colonised with new settlements, following the acquisition of a large part by Tavistock Abbey, probably in the late 11th century. These included a monastic settlement on what is now Tresco and minor new planted hamlets such as Bantom and Sturtom on Bryher (C Thomas 1985). There was also a nucleated settlement at Old Town, St Mary’s, enhanced from the 13th century by the construction of a castle (C Thomas 1985). The Late Medieval period saw the abandonment of some settlements in the highest upland areas, while hamlets in some places contracted to single farmsteads (Beresford 1964; Herring 1986; Fox 1989; Johnson and Rose 1994; Henderson and Weddell 1994). There are extensive Medieval settlement remains on Bodmin Moor, although it is uncertain when these were abandoned (Herring 1986; Johnson and Rose 1994). The plague must have had some impact, but it is likely that the situation was complicated by significant local economic factors, notably tinning, which probably acted as something of a brake on abandonment. Examples of abandoned settlements also occur elsewhere in upland contexts in Cornwall, as at Treworld, Lesnewth (Dudley and Minter 1966; Dudley 1955–6). Some environmental analysis covering the Medieval period has been undertaken for Bodmin Moor (Austin et al. 1989). This shows changes in grazing intensity over the period, reflected in variations in levels of grassland, heath and scrub. In lowland Cornwall there was continuing reduction in ancient woodland, although some new woodland areas were created in deer parks (Herring 2003).
Although proportionally less than on the uplands, there were also abandonments in lowland Cornwall (Herring and Thomas 1993). Many hamlets in Cornwall, Devon and western Somerset did not shrink to single farms but rather split into two or sometimes three separate settlements, often single farms, distinguished by place-name elements such as Higher and Lower, East and West, Great and Little, Vean and Wollas etc (Herring 2006b). On the coast, however, specialised fishing villages started to emerge (Fox 2001). Aston (1989) has reviewed the state of knowledge of deserted settlement in Somerset, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire.
Across the region there have been a number of studies of vernacular architecture, though there is little in the way of synthesis: see Hall (1983) for southern Gloucestershire, Penoyre (2005) for Somerset, Preston-Jones and Rose (1986) for Cornwall, and Beacham (1990) and Cherry and Pevsner (1989) for Devon. Rural housing appears to have been dominated by two- or three-roomed cross-passage houses, with longhouses a common feature in the Medieval landscape of Cornwall and Devon (though there are relatively few standing examples). A number of these have been recorded by excavation and survey but these examples may not be typical: for the most part they lie in marginal upland settings, subsequently abandoned, mostly in the east of Cornwall. Long houses away from the uplands have been identified at Tresmorn and Treworld, and as extant buildings at Cullacott, Stonaford and Halbathick; it seems likely that they were also the dominant house type in lowland settings (Herring and Berry 1997). Cornwall and Devon also had smaller forms of longhouse which Cathy Parkes has termed “mixed-houses” (Parkes 1987).
There is a particular need for new investigations in lowland areas that integrate standing building survey, and the publication/synthesis of existing surveys. Importantly, in the vernacular building tradition, Devon has 85% of the national total of Medieval smoke-blackened thatch (Cox and Thorp 2001; Letts 1999). In Devon work has concentrated on several areas notably Dartmoor (Henderson and Weddell 1994; Thorp and Cox 1994) and the Dartmoor fringe. There has been little synthesis of the numerous smallscale archaeological and building recording episodes across Devon (such as Allan and Langman 2002; Keystone 1993; Silvester 1980; Thorp 1982; Goddard and Todd 2005; Waterhouse 2000). There is some evidence for enclosed Medieval farmsteads such as Dunkeswell (Silvester 1980) but other evidence from the Roadford Project and Cleave Hill, Membury is as yet unpublished. English Heritage has funded a programme of dendro-dating of house timbers across Devon and Somerset but no synthesis of this data is readily available.
There have been several studies of the urban settlements within some counties: for instance, Cornwall (Sheppard 1980), Somerset (Aston and Leech 1977; Aston 1986), Dorset (Penn 1980), former Avon (Leech 1975) and more recently the reports of the English Heritage Extensive Urban Survey Project.
With the exception of Cornwall, the South West had a large number of urban centres by the 11th century, with Somerset particularly well-endowed. The following centuries saw the continued growth of these existing centres, most notably the major regional centre of Bristol, and the emergence of a series of new towns that showed differing degrees of success.
In Cornwall there are some indications of urban or proto-urban centres in the pre-Conquest period, including St Stephen-by-Launceston, Liskeard, Bodmin and St Germans, the focus of which was almost certainly their pre-Norman religious houses. The Medieval period saw the development of a series of small to moderate sized urban market centres, many of which originated as planted settlements laid out by major local landowning families during the 12th to 14th centuries such as Tregony (Pomeroy), Boscastle (Bottreaux), Lostwithiel (Cardinan), St Columb (Arundell, in the 15th or even 16th century) and St Ives (Willoughby). Several of the new towns were on the coast (Penryn, St Mawes, Fowey, Looe, Padstow, St Ives and Penzance) and were more or less closely based on maritime trade and/or fishing; at Penzance urban development around a market site was separate from activity in the harbour area. Other towns such as Tregony, Grampound, St Germans and Wadebridge were located on tidal rivers and another group appears to have been associated with highways (St Columb, Mitchell, Camelford, Callington and Kilkhampton).
Launceston and probably Fowey became walled and gated during the period. Many lengths of the wall at Launceston survive as standing remains, together with the south gate, but additional evidence for the former line of the wall and accompanying ditch has come from several minor archaeological investigations. A number of the new urban creations have a similar “planned” layout: a main axis laid out along the spine of a ridge with burgage plots running back from the roadway down the flanks; several of those following this pattern have a castle on the same axis (Helston, Truro, Tregony and Boscastle) and also incorporate early market places. Lostwithiel may have been reorganised by the Cardinan family on a grid plan in the 13th century. Little is known of the form of urban buildings of this period in Cornwall; several archaeological investigations have been carried out in Medieval areas of Truro, Launceston and Bodmin, for example, but evidence of the form of early structures has been elusive. The earliest standing urban building is probably the Duchy palace at Lostwithiel with origins in the late 13th century. Tintagel Old Post Office is a later 14th- or 15th-century domestic building of yeoman or merchant status constructed within the 13th-century planted town associated with Tintagel Castle (Berry et al. 2003a;b). The major ports included Fowey, Lostwithiel, Saltash, Padstow, Mousehole and St Michael’s Mount; little is known of their early forms although the harbour at St Michael’s Mount survives more or less intact and the west quay at Mousehole may be Medieval (Peter Herring, pers. comm.). The numerous “porth” place-names around the coast mark landing places of greater and lesser importance, some of which, such as Bossiney, accommodated small-scale fishing activity. Leland (c.1540) noted “fisher towns” and “succour for fishing boats” at a variety of places around the coast, including Port Quin, Port Isaac, Pentewan, Golant, Polruan, Millbrook and the muchdecayed St Germans (Gray 2000); he also found piers at Penzance, Newlyn, Mousehole and St Mawes.
Devon has four pre-Conquest burhs, Exeter, Pilton, Totnes and Lydford, and the latter’s subsequent failure to develop as a town has left surviving earthworks and open areas with high archaeological potential (important excavations by Addyman in the 1960s remain unpublished). In the post-Conquest period there was a somewhat denser pattern of relatively small towns spread across the whole county, though with two urban centres – Exeter and Plymouth – on an altogether different scale (having populations of c.3,000, Fox 1999, map 51.2). Devon had the greatest density of boroughs in England (while Cornwall had the third highest), which is probably due to the fragmented patterns of lordship/lack of large compact estates, its diverse economy, and difficulties in travelling across such difficult terrain (Fox 1999, 402). Although a small number of towns failed in Cornwall, far more places in Devon shrunk during the Late Medieval period to become little more than villages (for instance, South Zeal). Several pieces of work have been published on excavation projects in Devon’s smaller Medieval towns such as Barnstaple, Exmouth, Kingsteignton and Newton Abbot (Markuson 1980; Weddell 1980; 1985; 1986; 1987). Much more remains as grey literature particularly for Barnstaple where there is a significant backlog of excavation reports linked to ceramic assemblages that need to be analysed and reported on. There have been building recording programmes in some Devon towns such as Totnes (unpublished Keystone reports in the Devon HER).
Exeter By the Norman Conquest, Exeter was one of the ten largest towns in England with 399 houses recorded in Domesday Book and a population of c.2000. The Conquest had a profound impact on the city with a large earthwork castle being constructed on Rougemont Hill, an expanded cathedral close and the foundation of St Nicholas’ Priory (parts of which still survive). Although the Greyfriars (Franciscans) vacated their intra-mural precinct in favour of the suburbs, the Dominicans (Blackfrairs) came to dominate the north-east quarter of the city. By the late 12th century a narrow timber bridge had been built alongside the ancient ford across the Exe, which was replaced by a stone structure and earthen causeway that led to the West Gate in c.1200. While some examples of Norman architecture survive, most notably the two towers of the cathedral, there appears to have been a major programme of rebuilding in Exeter in the 13th century that included the cathedral’s nave/chancel, the city gates and numerous town houses. The source of Exeter’s wealth was largely based on its role as the major secular/ecclesiastical centre within the region, and on trade, notably cloth. In addition to the castle, cathedral, St Nicholas’ Priory and the Medieval stone bridge over the Exe, long stretches of the city walls still survive along with a number of houses. Perhaps the most remarkable survival, however, is the system of underground passages, which contained the city’s piped water supply (Henderson 1999; Orme and Henderson 1999). More recently, Dyer and Allan (2004b) and the excavations at Princesshay have provided additional information on the Medieval water supply to the city.
Plymouth The Medieval town of Plymouth appears to have developed in the 13th century around a fishing village called Sutton on the west side of Sutton Pool (Brayshay et al. 1999). Its growing prominence as a port in the Medieval period owed much to the decline of Plympton, which had previously offered a safe inland harbour before the silting of the Plym rendered the river impassable for sea-going ships (Gill 1993). Thus, Plymouth became the largest settlement between the head of the two major estuaries (those of the Plym and the Tamar) that coalesce as Plymouth Sound. The town achieved Borough status in 1439 and was important both commercially and militarily in the Medieval period offering a defended port once the castle (built by or in the 14th century) was in place; the defences were strengthened in the 16th century by a number of blockhouses at points on the coastal approaches. Excavations close to the harbour at Sutton Pool and within the Barbican area have revealed the Medieval shoreline and a series of reclamations and quays that were constructed as the port flourished in the Late Medieval period (Barber 1986; Ray 1995b; Stead 2003). Waterfront archaeology has been rich in artefact recovery. Little is known, however, about the rest of the town which suffered extensive redevelopment following the bombing of the Second World War and recent excavation in 2005 at the Drake’s Circus development in the north of the Old Town area has been disappointing with virtually no archaeological survival encountered (Stead pers. comm.). Carmelite and Franciscan friaries were founded in the late 13th century and late 14th century respectively. Evidence for the Carmelite friary came to light in 1992 (Henderson 1995) whilst the Franciscan friary has escaped detection but it is confidently believed to lie at the west end of New Street (Barber 1973). Despite the place-name “Blackfriars” on the Barbican, there is no evidence for the Dominican order at Plymouth and recent studies at the Blackfriars Distillery have shown that it was unlikely to have had an ecclesiastical origin, although it was clearly a building of some importance (Heaton 2003). Little is known about the city walls and it is uncertain whether there was any continuous defensive circuit until the Civil War (Pye 1995). A handful of Late Medieval town houses survive (such as Prysten House and the Merchants’ House) although evidence is emerging for further examples “hidden” within later remodelling. The ancient town church of St Andrew dates from the mid- to late 15th century with earlier origins and is the largest parish church in Devon. It was gutted during the Second World War and subsequently rebuilt. Prior to the dominance of Plymouth as a major port, nearby Plympton had already developed as a river port with two foci. Plympton Priory was founded in c.900 and closed down by King Henry 1 in 1121 because “the monks would not give up the concubines”; it was refounded in the same year (Gill 1993). Limited excavations have revealed part of the south-western range of buildings and some above ground remains survive (Gibbons 1998). The second focus was an earth and timber castle which had been constructed perhaps by the end of the 11th century and this was subsequently rebuilt in stone in 1140 in the characteristic Norman motte and bailey manner, the ruins of which still stand. The town, which grew up to the south of the castle, clearly displays in plan the distinctive burgage plots characteristic of Medieval town settlement. By 1242 Plympton Erle as it was known had achieved the status of a borough but as the sea-going estuary of the River Plym began to silt up, as a result of the tin working further up stream, Plympton lost its trade to Plymouth. Another Medieval settlement later overshadowed by Plymouth and incorporated within it was Stonehouse on the east bank of Stonehouse Creek at the mouth of the Tamar estuary. The settlement developed as a Medieval port with a range of trading and sea-faring connections that echo those of Plymouth (Ray 1998). Its importance in the Medieval period is confirmed by its acquisition of a town wall perhaps by the early 15th century; a section of the wall survives to full height within the grounds of Stonehall Flats. There is potential for archaeological remains at the site of the Medieval fortified manor of Stonehouse north of the High Street and on the former Medieval shoreline and quay now lying behind reclaimed land (JP Gardiner 2000).
Somerset had a relatively high density of pre-Conquest burhs (Watchet, Lyng, Langport, Axbridge, Cadbury Castle and Bath), other defended urban centres (Ilchester and possibly Taunton), and other settlements of possibly urban status judging from the presence of mints, and Domesday markets and burgesses (Milverton, Ilminster, Crewkerne, South Petherton, Yeovil, Milborne Port, Bruton, and Frome). Apart from Axbridge and Bath the north of Somerset appears to have been devoid of 11th-century towns which may reflect the emergence of Bristol as a major centre. In the post-Conquest period a number of new towns emerged, for example around preexisting ecclesiastical centres (such as Glastonbury and Wells), and on “greenfield” sites (the major port at Bridgwater and the, ultimately failed, foundations at Downend, Rackley and Lower Weare). The most extensive excavations have been in Bridgwater, Glastonbury, Ilchester (Leach 1982; 1994), Taunton (Leach 1984) and Wells.
The major Medieval city in the South West was Bristol, whose topography was dominated by its castle constructed in the early Norman period in the eastern part of the town. Recently discovered documentary evidence suggests that there was a defended bridgehead on the Somerset bank of the Avon which may have originated in the pre-Conquest period. By 1200 the town, castle, abbey and other institutions (such as St Bartholomew’s Hospital, Price and Ponsford 1998) were well-established with suburbs developing in Broadmead and Old Market. There was also a planned development, separate from Bristol, at Redcliffe on the south bank of the River Avon. In the 12th century the inner circuit of the town wall enclosed the town and this area has seen limited archaeological examination (Rahtz 1960). The walled area was extended in the following century to enclose the immediately adjacent areas outside the original course of the town wall including Redcliffe on the Somerset side of the river. The area of the early port is not known but there is some evidence (a “hythe” name) to suggest that it may have lain to the south of the historic core area some distance from the present river course. It has been suggested that the area south of the Castle may have been a focus for the early port, on the basis of street name evidence; this has not yet been tested but the steepness of the cliff may make it unlikely. Wherever it was, the 12th-century port was clearly substantial as it was used as the base from which to mount the invasion of Ireland. In the 1240s the River Frome was diverted to join the Avon further downstream which allowed the area of the quays to double in size.
Medieval Bristol was extremely cosmopolitan and had a small but influential Jewish community. The remains of a structure previously identified as a mikveh, and now suggested (Hillaby and Sermon 2004), due to its location, to be a bet tohorah (for ritual washing of the dead), have recently been scheduled. There is considerable artefactual evidence from excavations, including organic finds from waterfront sites, of the wide contacts that Bristol enjoyed in this period, both with its immediate hinterland and from Europe. By the 15th century it is clear that Bristol was incredibly wealthy and probably ranked second to London. Antiquarian illustrations of the Medieval buildings (many of which were destroyed in the 18th and 19th centuries) show the amount of architectural investment. There are large gaps in our knowledge of Medieval Bristol, including the smaller settlements around it, the port, urban housing and the churches. Evidence from previous excavations has led to broad generalisations that have not been fully tested. There has also been a concentration on certain areas, such as the castle, primarily due to development pressures and funding opportunities. There is also a large backlog of unpublished excavations, often carried out by government employment schemes in the 1970s and 80s but unfortunately also true of some recent work.
Not much work has been carried out in the known Medieval settlements of Gloucestershire. In Thornbury the work of the Extensive Urban Survey has identified several urban forms of tenement plots, some of which appear to have been laid out as late as the 16th century. Thornbury Castle was in decline c.1500 and evidence suggests that the earlier manor may have been moated. Gloucester was the largest town in Medieval Gloucestershire but its archaeology is not well known, mostly because earlier excavators concentrated on the Roman period and because much remains unpublished. St Oswald’s Priory is an exception (Heighway and Bryant 1999). There has been hardly any excavation at Medieval Cirencester. There were important abbeys in both these towns and at Cirencester it is suggested that the abbey held back the development of the town (Chris Dyer pers. comm.). The lord of Tewkesbury was not the abbey but the earls of Gloucester, and their successors, and it is possible that they had an important role in the urbanisation of the town. There are about 30 other towns covered by the Extensive Urban Survey, of which Newent was the largest. There has been very little archaeological work in any of them and almost none on street frontage sites. Cheltenham is known to have originated in the Medieval period but little evidence has been found in excavations in the town. There appears to be evidence that the small towns in the Cotswolds had strong links to monastic houses (some outside the county such as Evesham and Pershore). Gloucester has recently been treated to a most intensive topographical survey which has incorporated archaeological information into the analysis. New work is currently under way by John Rhodes and these studies will help with the understanding of the development of Medieval Gloucester. (Chris Dyer pers. com.). There is a large number of small towns comparable with the density in Somerset, some of which are described as “wool” towns, though they appeared to serve the same functions as in other counties, providing market centres for the general needs of a rural hinterland. Their wider connections are suggested by their positions on major roads (some were “thoroughfare” towns and on the frontier between Cotswold and valley landscapes, for example, Wootton under Edge or Chipping Camden). Several of these towns have a large number of surviving secular buildings, as well as impressive churches, but the buildings are badly in need of study; the rewards are indicated by the architectural surveys of Northleach carried out by the Victoria County History. Very little excavation has been done in these towns, though Tewkesbury is an exception (Hannan 1993) and not enough is known about this important group of urban communities. There is a current PhD by Antonia Douthwaite, University of Birmingham, on Gloucestershire towns.
The Medieval period saw significant improvements to the communications in the South West. Bridges were constructed on main highways – such as those at St Erth and Wadebridge in Cornwall – and were evidently wide enough for wheeled vehicles. Many Medieval bridges survive in excellent condition and some have been studied (by, for example, SW Brown 1981; 1982). Less is known about roads, both in terms of the network of routes at this period and their construction and maintenance. A number of wayside crosses survive in the west of the region and within surviving Medieval landscapes local lanes and by-ways, often deeply hollowed, are embedded in the field patterns.
Although canals are usually thought of as a PostMedieval innovation, in the Somerset Levels a series of canals was dug by Glastonbury in the Brue and Axe valleys, and possibly by the bishops of Bath and Wells in the North Somerset Levels (the Banwell River), in order to link their inland estates centres with the mother church and the coast (Rippon 2004a; 2006; forthcoming).
Industrial production was found across the South West during the Medieval period although it has seen surprisingly little archaeological investigation. In Devon and Cornwall a wide range of metal ores were extracted, most famously tin (Gerrard 2000). The excavation of stream deposits was extensive around the granite uplands such as Bodmin Moor (Herring et al. forthcoming) and the surviving remains are of national importance; shaft working has been identified as early as the 13th century at Godolphin Hill in Cornwall (Herring 1997b). Associated activities such as ore processing and smelting must also have taken place widely, but there are few published investigations of surviving remains (Austin et al. 1989; Gerrard 1985). Lead was worked around Charterhouse-onMendip in Somerset, Combe Martin in North Devon and underground mining took place in silver-lead mines on the Bere Alston peninsula from the late 13th century (Mayer 1990). There is evidence on Dartmoor for tin-streaming and openworking, with numerous associated features including trial pits, leats and the mills where the ores were stamped and or smelted (Newman 1998). One tin mill has been excavated but not fully published. Iron was mined in a number of locations, most famously in the Forest of Dean but also at Iron Acton in southern Gloucestershire and on Exmoor and the Blackdown Hills (Griffith and Weddell 1996; Riley and Wilson-North 2001; Passmore 2000). Production on the Blackdown Hills is known from Medieval documents but the archaeological evidence is mainly of Saxon date.
Far less is known about the mining of other metals, such as copper at South Molton and silver at Bere Ferrers (both in Devon) though the latter is an extremely well documented industry that has left some impressive earthwork remains (Claughton 2003). A major research project on the Medieval silver mines at Bere Alston is being undertaken at the University of Exeter and there are some references to Medieval silver/lead working at Combe Martin (Bill Horner pers. comm.).
The Medieval period saw a number of major pottery industries emerge, most notably at Ham Green and Wanstrow in northern Somerset and Donyatt in southern Somerset (Coleman-Smith and Pearson 1988; Coleman-Smith 2002). There was important ceramic production in Barnstaple which developed into a major industry in the 17th and 18th centuries. Other pottery production sites include Bridgetown, Totnes and recent research into east Devon fabrics such as Membury Ware has shown the need for further research (Allan and Langman 2002).
In Cornwall, local production of grass-marked and Sandy Lane-type pottery continued into the early part of the period and gabbroic clays from the Lizard remained in use until the 13th century (Carl Thorpe pers. comm.). Later, however, pottery production is known only from Lostwithiel and St Germans; much pottery was imported from north Devon, some from elsewhere in Britain and also the continent.
Wool production and cloth making were both important in the 14th and 15th centuries; some evidence for this is available in the form of “tucking mill” place-names. The woollen industry was also very important on Dartmoor; there is a 14th-century reference to fulling mill in Moretonhampstead. Evidence for tanning has been identified at Glastonbury, Taunton and Hardington Mandeville in Somerset but further work is needed to understand the importance of this industry in the South West.
Fishing and victualling of ships was important for many coastal settlements, and shipbuilding was also carried on. In south Devon, Fox (2001) has shown that until the Late Medieval period, coastal resources were exploited from inland manors/settlements whose primary focus was agriculture, making some of the many coastal fishing villages that are so characteristic of Devon and Cornwall a relatively recent addition to our landscape.
Stone was quarried locally across the region, and its use in houses, agricultural buildings and field boundaries adds much to the local colour and diversity of the South West. Some particular stone sources were of more than local importance. In Cornwall, quarrying at Polyphant, Pentewan and Cataclews supplied the construction or rebuilding of many churches and there is evidence for slate quarrying in the Delabole area. Slate quarrying was also common in parts of Somerset with Morte slate quarried in the west of the county and lias in the east. Granite quarrying at De Lank may also originate in the Medieval period but the dominant source for granite at this time was moorstone; working of surface stone included production of millstones and cider mills. In Somerset the quarries at Ham Hill, Dundry and Doulting were established by the 12th century and were particularly important in church building (particularly at Wells and Glastonbury). Beer stone was used extensively in the 11thcentury Exeter Cathedral. Other east Devon coastal quarries such as Dunscombe were exploited in the Medieval period.
Salt production is recorded in Domesday at Seaton and Beer. Medieval bell founding is known at some sites notably in Exeter associated with the recent excavations at the Princesshay site (Bill Horner pers. comm.). Coal was mined to the north of Mendip, notably at Norton and Radstock and bell pits of late Medieval date are known in the Holcombe area of Somerset. Evidence for charcoal burning is widespread in the form of platforms in surviving ancient woodland; dating is uncertain as the activity continued until fairly recently.
Although the Norman Conquest brought about a profound dislocation in landownership at the higher levels of society, at the local scale there was probably little disruption beyond the major towns and the basic fabric of society remained unchanged. Across the South West, however, there appear to have been significant differences in the way that, particularly rural, society was structured. For most of the region the manor was the primary unit around which daily life was conducted and in a number of areas the church was the dominant landowner (see Rippon 2004b, fig 27.14 for mapping of the major ecclesiastical estates in Somerset). The manorial system in Cornwall, as evidenced by the estate of the Earldom and later the Duchy of Cornwall, was much looser than that to the east. There were fewer labour services, more money rents and greater freedom of decision-making for tenants. The most obvious material consequences of this situation were the relatively early enclosure of some open fields, although the co-operative character of working the land within the hamlets of the lowland countryside is likely to have persisted strongly. The hundred continued as the basis of the intraregional administrative system of Cornwall and elsewhere; a number of hundred pounds are known but it is not clear whether there may have been other physical remains such as hundred meeting places or boundary marks. The parish system is likely to have its origins in the Early Medieval period but was subject to some later manipulation, particularly where new urban developments took place; examples of late parishes in Cornwall, typically considerably smaller than others, include Truro, Tregony St James and probably Forrabury, created to serve Boscastle. The tin industry was regulated by a number of stannaries, each operating over a defined area. The taxation and assay element of the system operated via coinage halls in a number of towns but, as with hundreds, it is not clear whether there were other physical elements of their jurisdiction. Tithings, associated with law and order, represent another layer of local administration (Pool 1981; Harvey 1997).
The dominant ideological role of Christianity in everyday life is clear from the ubiquitous presence of religious structures within the landscape, from parish churches to wayside crosses; the latter continued to be erected through the Medieval period and new wellhouses were constructed at some holy wells, demonstrating the continued importance of these structures in popular religious observance. Some survival of elements of earlier beliefs, or at least a popular re-working of orthodox Christian observance, may be indicated by aspects of the iconography within churches and in continuity of use of sites such as holy wells. In Cornwall, the most important Norman church is St Germans, but Tintagel, Morwenstow, Crantock, Bodmin and Minster all have significant early features. The major rebuilding programme on Cornish churches during the 15th and 16th centuries testifies to a degree of material wealth in the county at the time. While there are many individual studies of church fabric there has been little synthesis. Churchyard morphology has been the subjects of a significant study by Preston-Jones (1994). Crosses and holy wells have also been the subject of considerable attention, and the former in particular now have a considerably more refined stylistic chronology. Chapels served a variety of functions – bridge chapels, chantry chapels, lighthouse chapels, chapels in houses and castles – and were widely distributed in considerable numbers. In Devon there has been relatively little work on parish churches, with the notable exception of Buckfastleigh, where a Saxon precursor to the Medieval church may represent the original site of the nearby Buckfast Abbey. There has been some limited recording of church interiors and the preparation of conservation plans for some larger buildings has produced new information. Both Exeter and Wells cathedrals have seen important programmes of recent work (for example Rodwell 2001).
In Cornwall monastic foundations, lazar houses, hospitals and chapels have had relatively little attention, although it is clear that they were present in considerable numbers. Monastic foundations and priories, for example, included St Michael’s Mount, Minster, Tregony, Bodmin, St Germans, Tywardreath, Penryn (Glasney), Launceston, St Buryan, Lammana, Crantock and Truro. There has been recent recording of the standing remains at Launceston Priory (Gossip 2002), excavation of Bodmin Priory (O’Hara 1985) and of associated graves (Thorpe 2000), a Time Team search for remains of St Leonard’s leper hospital, near Launceston (Harding et al. 1997), and re-assessment of the possible Medieval cathedral at St Germans (Olson and Preston-Jones 1998–9). A short programme of excavation at Glasney, Penryn, in 2003 found significant evidence for the form and fabric of part of the pre-Reformation monastic institution and college (Cole forthcoming).
In Devon, a number of monasteries have been the subject of archaeological research, building on Finberg’s (1969) seminal historical study of Tavistock and its estates. The evidence for the urban and suburban monasteries in Exeter is summarised above but, just to the east of the city, Polsloe Priory has seen the most extensive excavations (though they remain unpublished). There has also been recent work at Torre Abbey overlooking Torbay. Some work has also been carried out on the Bishop’s Palace in Paignton where examination of a supposed chapel next to the church had led to its re-identification as a lodging block; the earliest fabric is 13th century though the manor is documented from the 12th century. Parts of the Medieval site of Buckfast have been excavated, together with extensive up-standing fabric survey (SW Brown 1988). In Devon there area numerous published and grey literature reports on abbey, priories, chapels and chantries, some of which is available in an unpublished report: Devon Religious Houses Survey (Devon County Council).
In Somerset much of the land was held by the church (see Dunning 2001), with Glastonbury being the wealthiest monastery in England and Wales by the 16th century. The monastery itself has seen several programmes of, mostly unpublished, excavations (summarised in Rahtz and Watts 2003). A programme of post-excavation work has now been instigated by the Abbey trustees. Athelney has recently seen extensive geophysical survey giving a complete plan of the site for the first time; there have been limited modern excavations at Cleeve Abbey and Muchelney Abbey. Recent work by Time Team (and others) at the Knights Templar preceptory at Templecombe has been published (Harding et al. 2003). There have also been excavations of the urban monasteries at Taunton Priory and Bridgwater Friary. The bishops of Bath and Wells had a palace at Wells that has seen some limited geophysical survey and trial excavations by Bristol University in recent years (Gerrard et al. 1998; Payne and Hoggett 1999). The bishops also had a number of country houses including that at Meare which is most famous for its fine 14th-century fish house: the nearby manor house and church date from the same period (Rippon 2004b). There have also been geophysical surveys of the bishops’ houses at Blackford and Wookey as part of a wider study (Payne 2003).
The most intensive analysis of a Medieval skeletal collection in Somerset was carried out by Juliette Rogers on the burials excavated from Wells (in Rodwell 2001). Recent work at Taunton on the site of the church of Augustinian canons has shown that there is good survival of early burials, perhaps from 1158 until c.1500. The cemetery served the town and several of the surrounding manors. Detailed analysis of this cemetery evidence has yet to be commissioned but initial indications suggest that there is a range of burial traditions ranging from charcoal burials with layers of charcoal upon which wooden coffins were placed, through to substantial stone-lined graves found inside the priory church. Palaeopathological studies will make a substantial contribution to the study of Medieval populations and burial practice in Taunton and have implications for the county and wider region.
While the varied types of sites and settlements covered in this section have in common a “defensive” aspect, it is important to emphasise that both Medieval castles and town defences had functions and significance that extended far beyond any presumed military capacity. Thus castles were also focal points within networks of estates as well as elite residences and icons of lordship, while town defences had symbolic and amenity values as well as offering communities protective advantages (Creighton 2005; Creighton and Higham 2005). It should not escape our attention that only a small minority of the region’s castles saw any military action: of a total of 127 castles recorded in the counties of Cornwall, Devon, Gloucestershire and Somerset in the period c.1066–1652, only 48 sieges are recorded in total, many of these in the civil war of the 1640s (King 1983; see also Liddiard 2005, 71). Organised assaults on walled towns were similarly infrequent: for example, of the five times that the city of Exeter was attacked in the period after the Norman Conquest, four occurred after 1485 and the supposed prolonged period of internal peace heralded by the Tudor dynasty (see Stoyle 2003).
Archaeology has proved especially informative with regard to the region’s urban castles. The major royal castle at Bristol, for instance, has been subjected to a number of excavations, although many remain to be published in full. Excavations in the late 1940s and early 1950s were important but fairly limited in scale, preceding a major campaign the late 1960s and early 1970s in advance of a new civic centre that was never built. This work uncovered several areas of the castle, including part of Robert of Gloucester’s imposing keep of the early 12th century as well as defensive features relating to the earlier earth and timber Norman castle (but see Ponsford 1979; Leech 1998). Excavation of Gloucester’s first Norman castle in the early 1980s revealed that part of the bailey overlay a Late Roman building that had been rebuilt and re-used intermittently from the 6th until the 11th century, when it was demolished and levelled in advance of castle-building (Darvill 1988, 45–6). This fortification was a relatively short-lived feature of Gloucester’s townscape, being replaced by a new foundation on a fresh waterfront site in the first decades of the 12th century (Hurst 1984, 76). At Lydford, meanwhile, excavation of both an early (11th or 12th century) ring work in the angle of the Saxon burh defences and a later stronghouse and stannary prison has clarified the successive chronological relationship between two unusually closely spaced castle sites (Wilson and Hurst 1965, 170–1; Saunders 1980). Other significant examples of urban castle excavations include Barnstaple, where the Norman motte and bailey was seen to have displaced part of a Late Saxon cemetery (Miles 1986), and Totnes, where the stone-built foundations of a timber superstructure, possibly a tower, were found on the motte top (Rigold 1954). The Bishop of Winchester’s castle at Taunton, again built over a Late Saxon cemetery, has been excavated on several occasions, although the most extensive work, by Gray in the 1920s, appears to have been recorded extremely poorly (Bush and Meek 1984; Pearson 1984; Clements 1984). Recent re-excavation of some of Gray’s areas has shown that he missed much and that the structure of the “keep” is much more complex than he suggested. More work is planned as part of a major project to update the museum (Chris Webster pers. comm.).
Of those castles located within Medieval towns that grew up around them (as opposed to those imposed in extant urban settlements), Launceston is archaeologically the best known. Within the bailey, a planned arrangement of closely spaced and substantial self-contained stone houses was revealed and the development of its perimeter defences was clarified, while other work concentrated on the castle gatehouses (Saunders 1977). The region’s rural castles are less well known archaeologically, although Okehampton is a major exception. Here, a sequence of motte-top stone structures has been revealed as well as a multi-phase complex of domestic structures within the bailey (Higham 1977; Higham et al. 1982). As at Launceston, the assemblage of environmental evidence – in particular animal and fish bone – has provided rich evidence not only of aristocratic consumption but the site’s economic inter-relationship with its hinterland. In common with the great majority of castles in the countryside of Devon and Cornwall, this was a relatively secluded site forming a component part of a characteristically dispersed settlement pattern. In Somerset and Gloucestershire the rural contexts of castle sites are more varied, with examples found in association with nucleated villages not uncommon. In certain cases, villages may even clustered within the baileys of early castles, as at Balland’s Castle (Somerset) and English Bicknor (Gloucestershire), where churches lay within the outer defences. All counties contain well-preserved earthworks of the Norman earth and timber castles, a large proportion of them completely undocumented, that dotted the landscape: Holwell Castle, Parracombe (Devon) and Nether Stowey and Stogursey (Somerset) are particularly fine examples. Both mottes and ringworks are known in large numbers, although excavations at Castle Neroche (Somerset) provide us with an important reminder that such superficial earthwork forms can conceal more complex sequences, here from an enclosure castle to a motte and bailey (Davison 1972). In Cornwall, meanwhile, confusion may arise in the differentiation between the earthworks of Norman ringworks and earlier rounds.
Many other castle sites are significant not because of surviving earthworks or excavated evidence but because of the quality or importance of their upstanding masonry remains. The gatehouse of Rougemont Castle, representing the principal standing vestige of Exeter castle, is a structure of national importance, representing one of the earliest stonebuilt features of castle architecture in Britain and displaying an intriguing combination of Early Norman and Late Anglo-Saxon elements (Blaylock 1987). Berkeley (Gloucestershire), Restormel (Cornwall) and Trematon Castle (Cornwall) preserve notable examples of Norman shell keeps, which may represent a regionally distinctive building tradition of sorts. Particularly important examples of Late Medieval castles or defended manorial sites with significant upstanding remains include Nunney castle, a remarkable structure of c.1373 resembling a tower-house with Frenchstyle detailing, set in a pond, and the late 14th-century courtyard castle of Farleigh Hungerford (Somerset), as well as Bickleigh and Compton (Devon) and Beverston and Thornbury in Gloucestershire.
The region also contains several sites that provide outstanding evidence for the early provision of gunpowder artillery. The defended manor house at Berry Pomeroy (SW Brown 1996) displays unusual gunports from the 15th century, while Dartmouth castle (built from 1481) is an early example of a coastal artillery fort. Other forms of fortification dating to the Middle Ages include siege castles (the ringwork of Dane’s Castle, Exeter, dating to the mid-12th century is one of a tiny number to have been excavated, Nenk et al. 1994, 203–4), and crenellated ecclesiastical precincts and/or bishop’s palaces (such as Exeter or Wells).
Overall, the siting of castles within the region displays little evidence of a military rationale. With the exception of royal fortresses such as the Norman castles at Exeter and Gloucester, these sites were overwhelmingly positioned with an eye for the control of local resources and settlements. Moreover, there is compelling evidence that in at least some cases the landscape settings of castles were manipulated for reasons of leisure, pleasure and aesthetic impact. At places such as Launceston, Okehampton and Restormel, for example, deer parks were important components in designed landscapes that visually complemented these buildings (Herring 2003). The Medieval castle at Tintagel appears to have been constructed not for military reasons but to create a symbolic link between the Earldom of Cornwall and the legend of King Arthur (Padel 1988b). Although St Michael’s Mount is often overlooked as a Medieval fortification, it may have been important as a symbol of Cornwall’s incorporation into the wider English state and accordingly it became a disproportionately frequent focus for discontent during a variety of civil disturbances and minor rebellions (Herring 1993a).
The tradition of “private” defence represented by the region’s numerous Medieval castles contrasts with the “communal” fortifications of Medieval towns (Creighton and Higham 2005). In many cases the defences of urban settlements were of considerable antiquity, maintained and in some cases re-built or extended in the post-Conquest period. Thus the walled Roman circuits around Exeter and Bath survived through the Middle Ages on essentially unchanged lines; in contrast, Gloucester’s Roman enceinte was extended out to the River Severn in the 12th and 13th centuries to embrace a greatly enlarged area. Elsewhere, the burghal-period circuits around Barnstaple and Totnes saw at least some limited reuse in the immediate post-Conquest period but went rapidly out of use thereafter, in marked contrast to Bristol, where the defences of the Early Medieval burh on a peninsula site were added to by large walled extensions, to the north and south, in the 13th century. Defensive circuits around towns of post-Conquest origin were remarkably rare: Launceston is the main example, where the town grew up in a semi-circular defended enclosure annexed to the castle. Launceston’s walls are probably the work of Earl Richard in the mid-13th century and form part of a carefully designed landscape of power and prestige associated with the town and castle and its setting at this period (Herring 2003).
Taunton’s irregular oval circuit is apparently of 12thcentury date, while according to the antiquarian John Leland, Bridgwater was provided with stone gates but the Medieval town “wall” was formed by joinedtogether sections of stone houses. The port of Plymouth possessed enclosing defences of some sort by at least the 15th century and possibly earlier, although these were disrupted by a massive expansion to the circuit in the Elizabethan and later periods. Compared to castles, archaeological investigations of town defences are few and far between. Perhaps the most important are the series of excavations on the southern extension of Bristol’s defences known as the “Portwall”, where the wall’s sophisticated design may be related to its situation on the edge of the Temple Fee of the Knights Templar (Jackson 1994; BARAS 2000; see also Leech 1998). The only place where detailed recording of standing remains has taken place is Exeter, where a fabric survey of Exeter’s city wall has revealed a complex sequence of repair and re-use from the Roman to Post-Medieval periods (Blaylock 1995). In Devon there is evidence of Norman works on Saxon defences (SW Brown 1999; Dyer and Allan 2004a; Henderson 2001; Markuson 1980; Miles 1986 and current work at Rougemont in Exeter not yet published). Devon also has a fair amount of published work on castle/town defences including surveys and excavations (SW Brown 1996; 1999; Dyer and Allan 2004a; Stoyle 2003; Henderson 2001; Higham et al. 1982; 1985; Higham and Goddard 1987; Miles 1986; Wilson-North 1991). There is also much in grey literature reports in the Devon HER (including the Dane’s Castle excavation in Exeter).
Bob Croft would like to thank numerous colleagues in Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Bristol, South Gloucestershire and Gloucestershire for their contributions towards this text. There is a particular thank-you to Mick Aston and Chris Dyer for their very helpful comments and suggestions notably for Somerset and Gloucestershire and for general guidance on the Medieval world in the South West.