It’s Surrey Medieval’s Puttenham Church Week! An introduction to the parish church of St John Baptist

Every so often, I elect to make my life a little bit difficult by devising and binge-writing a week’s worth of posts under the banner of a “Surrey Medieval … Week”. So far I’ve done some of the simplest statistical analyses known to Man under the umbrella of Surrey Medieval Stats Week, and discussed a trio of 14th-century field-names from a copy of a Puttenham charter for the purposes of the snappily-titled Surrey Medieval Middle English Field-Names Week. This time around, as the title of this post does more than hint at, I’m keeping my focus on Puttenham but moving away from some unidentifiable fields to the parish’s most recognisable medieval building – the parish church of St John Baptist.


The memorial brass of Edward Cranford, rector of Puttenham from 1400 until his death on 8th August 1431. I’ll say more about Edward and his brass later in SMPCW!

Why have I chosen Puttenham church as the subject of a theme week? Two reasons. Most immediately, this coming Friday (28th October) I am talking to the Puttenham and Wanborough History Society on the subject ‘Lost Rectors of Medieval Puttenham’, following the Society’s AGM. The meeting kicks off at 8pm at the Marwick Hall, School Lane, Puttenham; if you’re in the area why not come along? Non-members will probably have to pay a couple of quid on the door (why not spend a fiver and join up for the year!) but I promise you I have soon good tales to tell – and not just about previously-unknown rectors…

The second reason why I’m doing this is because, though I’m not a person of Christian or any other religious faith, I have a lifelong connection with the church building. I was baptised in its font as a baby (the first of two times in my life I have worn a dress), and have a variety of subsequent memories attached to the building: freaking out while descending the spiral staircase of the tower during a school visit aged 7 or 8; not looking in the right direction when several congregation members claimed to have seen a ghost in the chancel during a Christmas Day service; and most recently rejoicing at seeing the church full of people for my Dad’s memorial service in April this year. Furthermore, it would be impossible for me to be meaningfully interested in the history and archaeology of medieval Puttenham without paying keen attention to its parish church, still for the most part a high to late medieval building.

I thought the best place to begin SMPCW would be with a photo-heavy post giving the reader a taste of the church and some of its medieval (and early modern) features. I mean no disrespect when I say Puttenham’s is an unremarkable church and so not as well known as those of neighbouring Compton or Thursley, for example. In many ways it is typical of the thousands of medieval parish churches across Britain that were substantially restored in the 19th century, with little sensitivity to the preservation of medieval fabric rather than its replacement. What I hope to demonstrate to the reader is that with optimism and patience, scraps of overlooked medieval fabric reveal themselves afresh, and show even “heavy” restorations do not obliterate some of the accumulated patina of centuries of activity within churches. A couple of times, I will give examples of very recent changes to the church interior that have obscured medieval features, and not for reasons of protection and preservation. This has lessened the overall interest of the church; not to a serious extent, but enough as to make suggest to all who care for churches like Puttenham to have a closer look at what’s in front of them when planning alterations.


Inside Puttenham church, 27th December 2015. This is the view through the tower arch looking east. The four bays of the Romanesque nave arcade can be seen on the left, and the rere-arch of the slightly later (but still round-headed) south door on the right. In the centre of the picture is the chancel arch, with the chancel chamber beyond.

Because I’m going to look at the origins of the church in detail in a forthcoming SMPCW post, for now I’ll merely note the earliest fabric belongs to a single-celled structure incorporating nave and chancel without any structural internal divisions, coterminous with the present nave. This was probably built on a previously-undeveloped site at the end of the 11th century or early in the 12th. The first (extant) addition to the church building was the north aisle, usually dated to the second half of the 12th century, perhaps circa 1160, making it one of the earliest such extensions to a Surrey church (which may partly explain the simple and unaccomplished decoration of the capitals of the arcade between nave and aisle). Walking around the exterior of the church during my most recent visit to Puttenham, I noticed a small number of dressed chalk quoins at the junction between the east end of the aisle north wall. The wall has the look of medieval masonry repointed but not refaced at a later date (most probably during the major 1861 restoration of the church), which raises the likelihood these comprise previously-unnoticed genuine later 12th-century fabric.


Dressed stone quoins at the junction of the nave north aisle (right side of image) and later north/Lady chapel (left side). The solitary squared block of chalk in the west wall of the chapel, visible beneath the rainwater gutter, may be a relocation from the former east wall of the aisle. 

The next surviving additions to the church were the present chancel and north/Lady chapel, usually ascribed to the late 12th century or (more often) the early 13th – the two-bay arcade between the two certainly has the look of work built in the 1200s. (Intriguingly, the chapel has a larger floor area than the chancel.) So far as we can tell, both were built at the same time, although there are few features to help support the concept of a common date of construction. One thing that suggests they were coeval is the record of fragments of stone string course being found in the north wall of the chapel during its restoration in 1910; an anonymous, rather bashed-about round string course survives on the south wall of the chancel (unfortunately, it’s just clipped out of the photo below).


In March 2015, I climbed a ladder to put new candles in the candelabra lighting the high altar in the chancel, and took the opportunity to take this photo looking west through the chancel arch to the nave and tower. On the right is the two-bay chancel arcade (partly infilled by ornate modern woodwork); on the extreme right can be seen the noted 15th-century “low side” window.

It’s quite likely there was an earlier chancel cell, built in response to the addition of the nave aisle (as it runs the entire length of the postulated original church, thereby overlapping with the eastern extremity logically reserved for the high altar). This may have been part and parcel of the aisle project, or a delayed resolution to the internal spatial complications caused by the new aisle. The latter eventuality might be preferred if weight is attached to the postulation, made by Philip Johnston in his account of the architectural history of the church printed in the Victoria History of the County of Surrey, that the style of the chancel arch is sufficiently distinctive as to intimate it pre-dates all that stands east of it. Indeed, its sequence of mouldings is broadly comparable to those of the nave south door (sorry, no photo for you!), which has been dated by various authorities to the period between circa 1170 and 1200. Together, they just might comprise a second phase of investment in the church fabric in the later 12th century.


One of the less obvious characteristics of the chancel arch is that it juts out at an angle into the nave, presumably an unintended product of its construction. This is readily apparent in this view looking through the 19th-century lectern arch on the north side of the chancel arch. 

Th chancel contains a number of the church’s most interesting later medieval features. I’ve included a detail of the mid-15th-century Cranford brass above, which was fortunate to not be covered over when the chancel was re-carpeted in recent years, a fate that befell a medieval encaustic tile (whose zoomorphic design is believed to represent a goat) just inside the altar rail. Set into the floor behind the high altar is a medieval altar stone, found beneath the chancel floor during one of the restorations of the later 19th or earlier 20th centuries. I’d love to know if there is any published scholarship that may help to date this unusual survival. Perhaps the form of the three incised crosses it bears – two of which are shown in the photos below – may hold the key? I wonder if it might date from the period when the church underwent significant remodelling in the earlier 14th century, embodied by the south chapel (now housing the organ and choir room), most of the surviving roofs, a number of (heavily-restored) windows, and perhaps the aforementioned hidden encaustic tile. This would tie in with documentary evidence that shows pre-Black Death Puttenham was populous and the scene of a dynamic land economy at the time.

Much as I love the wonky details of the nave arcade and chancel arch, architecturally speaking the finest medieval feature of Puttenham church is its chancel south-west “low side” window. This is quality 15th-century work, with corbels at the ends of the external drip course in the forms of an angel and a bishop – or at least a man in a pointed cap! Its western third includes the “low side” light, with possible original ironwork on its external face. This feature is curiously absent in 18th- and early 19th-century depictions of the church, though its stonework is not noticeably different from the rest of the window and it is hard to see why such a feature would be created during a 19th-century restoration. Accepting it to be an original feature, however, makes explaining its intended purpose no less easy. A valuable article by Paul Barnwell in issue 36 of Ecclesiology Today (thanks to English Parish for bringing this to my attention) runs through the various suggestions made over the decades about the function(s) of low side windows, before introducing a new hypothesis of their being for ventilation. The argument is well-reasoned, but I do feel in the case of Puttenham’s window that form goes far beyond function, and that ventilation of the west end of the chancel could have been achieved in a much less ostentatious manner. Maybe we’ll never know for certain its original function.

img_6200  img_6199

The final medieval addition to Puttenham church was the west tower (I will add that I harbour suspicions the pre-1400 church building was too large and comparatively complex for it not to have had a tower, perhaps one made of timber?). This was added in 15th century (although to me it bears more than a passing resemblance to the century-earlier west tower of Frensham church). Some local historians have attributed its commencement to Edward Cranford, in which case it was begun before 1431, and claimed that it was not completed until the early years of the 16th century. I don’t know the medieval textual basis of such claims, and feel these are assertions trying to match up vague architectural dating with very specific but very scarce historical testimony. The tower’s construction is remembered by the series of external putlog holes, most apparent on the west wall. These used to be home to nesting/roosting doves and jackdaws until (regrettably in my opinion) they were blocked off by grilles in the recent restoration of the tower and belfry. On my last visit, a swarm of bees had moved defiantly into one of the putlog holes.

Inside the tower, on the arch communicating with the nave, are a number of incised graffiti that have never been noted in any previous study of the church. The combination of extensive replacement of stonework as part of 19th-century restoration and subsequent whitewashing of the church’s internal walls and arches means these may well stand for a much larger number of original examples. Certainly, many medieval churches are filled with graffiti. The study of medieval graffiti is enjoying a heyday, with a well-received book published last year and several county surveys now underway in English counties (including Surrey, although it appears to have been on hiatus for a couple of years). Puttenham’s possible medieval graffiti are modest, but nevertheless of interest at a local level.

Most of the visible examples are to be found on the north jamb of the tower arch. Most conspicuous is a coupled cross – or a cross superimposed on a triangle – on the western chamfer depicted below. A second is now obscured from view by the adjacent bookcase; fortunately I took rubbings of both a few years ago. (For what it’s worth, I’m confident it’s total coincidence that Puttenham’s war memorial also takes the form of a coupled cross.)

A little lower down on the main face of the jamb are a couple of faintly-incised gridded patterns. One of these appears to have an arched head, and looks rather like a traceried window of the so-called Perpendicular style. Just possibly is an evocation of the tower’s original west window, which was blocked by the early 19th century and reopened with all new tracery in the 1861 restoration. The date of the tower arch means that all graffiti can be no earlier than the late 15th century: the possible window etching could be post-medieval, but I would argue the crosses, by dint of their subject matter, are more likely to be 16th century or earlier (allowing for a slow shift from Catholicism to Protestantism among parishioners-cum-graffiti carvers).

The instances on the tower arch are not the only graffiti evident inside the church. In the chancel are some interesting incised letters, probably of early modern origin. The most conspicuous example, on the east face of the southern respond of the chancel arch, is also the most explicable; “HB 1625” must be associated with one of the two men named Henry Beedell, father and son, who were rectors for a remarkable 96 consecutive years between 1598 and 1694. In 1625, the elder Henry was rector, but it’s conceivable his son was literate (and naughty) enough to carve his initials on the chancel wall by that date. Quite why either did so is another matter… Across the chancel, the letters “RM” are carved into the masonry in a more simplistic style. No incumbent with these initials is known, nor can I find any parishioner to whom this might be attributed. The same goes for the “H” – or possibly “HP”? – to be found nearby. As for the other letter-like etchings also at the western end of the chancel arcade, it certainly looks like we have an “A” and perhaps another “H”, but they may be nothing more than meaningless juvenile doodles.

So there you have it, a whizz through of just a few of the less obvious features of the medieval church. In the coming days I’ll upload a paper on the place of the church within the local landscape and what this might say about its origins, present extracts from episcopal registers recording a fraught few months in the life of the church and parish in 1307, and try to identify the original function of a stone grave slab that’s been hidden in plain sight on the floor of the tower for over 100 years. All that and give my talk on the Friday night. Oof, this week’s gonna be a busy one.



Posted in Architecture, Church, History, Puttenham, SMPCW, Talk | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Off the Record — 20th October — UCL Institute of Archaeology — yours truly!

Super quick post to say this coming Thursday I’ll be giving the first of the IoA World Archaeology Section’s Off The Record lunchtime seminars of the new academic year. I’ll be running through my past, present and future research into -ingas name formations, in particular exploring their potential archaeological implications, using my MA dissertation study of Surrey as the basis. Expect my usual mix of terrible maps, hesitant Old English pronunciation, and one or two new ideas. Best of all, you can bring your lunch (just chew quietly!)

Thanks to the super Sarah Hoile for organising OTR, writing the following blog post which gives all the salient details, and coaxing me into speaking!

We’re pleased to announce that the first Off the Record lunchtime seminar this term will be given by Rob Briggs, talking about Rethinking -ingas: post-Roman social groups, place-names and archaeology in South-East England. Thursday 20th October 12-1pm in Room 209 All welcome, and please feel free to bring your lunch! More Off the Record seminars […]

via Off the Record – 20th October — worldarchaeologysection

Posted in Archaeology, London, PhD, Place-Names, Talk | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Mapping the Medieval Countryside

Every now and again, I find out about an online resource that goes on to yield information I did not know existed up until that point, either because it makes available material that was previously unpublished or that was sequestered away in hard-to-find published editions. Mapping the Medieval Countryside – – is just such a resource, and one that is worth bringing to wider attention (not for the first time, I’m behind the curve in being aware of the research project behind it, and likewise of the excellent-sounding companion book(s)). I used to put these things under my Links tab, maybe I will start doing so again, but seeing as how I’ve started I’ll plug on here and now with a brief overview of the site and then an example of what its subject matter can do to improve our understanding of the late medieval landscape of certain places.


MMC presents the texts of all English inquisitions post mortem (IPMs) from these years – that is to say ‘formal inquiries into the lands held at their deaths by tenants-in-chief of the crown …[i.e.] those who held lands directly from the king’ (seeing as how I’ve taken this quote from the site’s About page, why don’t I just refer you there for a full account of them?) Its timespan is the period 1418-1447 (at least for the time being), a bit late on in the medieval period for my normal tastes, but for very good reasons. If you’ve never seen or heard of IPMs before, let me tell you that they are fantastic sources, particularly in terms of the shine they light upon the institutional geographies of the later medieval English countryside, be it in terms of the social relations embodied by records of knights fees and rental payments, or the land uses and acreages of demesnes.

Most of the inquisition texts are formulaic and brief, giving little away in terms of details that might be useful to the landscape historian. But a minority are more forthcoming with local-level information, and short of contemporaneous surveys or accounts, I struggle to think of textual sources that afford such a window into the medieval manorial landscape. (There are also a fair few instances of inquisitions about proof of age, which consist of assorted old codgers saying they were doing this, that or the other on the day a child was baptised – some make for unintentionally hilarious reading).

My hope is that it continues to expand beyond its current Beta status to fulfil the stated intention of covering the entirety of the period circa 1236-1509, as it would comprise a formidable online resource for researchers and so forth. Far too many projects of this ilk tend to stall for want of money or personnel and never reach their full scale (viz. LangScape and ASChart/Anglo-Saxon Charters, two excellent resources I make ample use of when and where I can), so I hope those behind MMC will be able to avoid such pitfalls and complete the project.

Before you disappear and dive into the database for yourself, I’ll give an example of what the best (in the sense of most detailed) IPMs can reveal and thus help to refine our impressions of the late medieval rural landscape. Puttenham’s sole appearance in the database is enlightening so far as it goes, but that’s not very far when compared with certain other IPMs. Therefore, I want to focus on one related to Peper Harow, something of a favourite medieval place of mine in Surrey (hence my blogging about it once, twice, thrice before). Specifically, this is the inquisition post mortem for Joan Brocas, widow of Bernard, a knight, that took place at Guildford on 8th June 1429. After summarising various lands and rents in Guildford and adjacent Artington, the inquisition text moves on to the third of the manor of Peper Harow formerly in Bernard Brocas’ tenure:

“1/3 manor with a byre, stable, and dovecot on the eastern side of the church; a meadow called ‘Roberdesmede’ containing 3 acres; a meadow called ‘Gillemede’ containing one acre; 6½ a. arable in ‘le Courtfeld’ in ‘le Northfere’; 5 a. arable in ‘le Estfeld’ in ‘Stonyfere’; 5 a. arable in the same field called ‘le Middelfere’; a moor called ‘le Frythebrok’ containing 2 acres; 3 a. arable in ‘le Colcroft’; a moor called ‘Colcroft’, containing 1 a.; a warren containing 2 a. pasture in ‘le Northfeld’ with an adjacent garth by the Peper Harow cross”

The Peper Harow section ends with a list of assize rents dues from various tenants, among which was Maud Attelford, whose second name points to her residing at Attleford, the tiny almost-hamlet on the western edge of the parish.

The most interesting details the inquisition supplies for Peper Harow relate to the geography of the medieval village and the surrounding agricultural landscape. Most direct evidence was lost when Peper Harow manor was rebuilt as a mansion, the village remodelled and the surrounding land emparked, all of which occurred in the latter half of the 18th century. In the early 15th century, the demesne centre is stated to have lain due east of the church(yard), and I think the wording indicates the three named structures were on the west of the manorial enclosure. Even if not, the inquisition text confirms that the present mansion and grounds stand on the same spot as their late medieval precursors. 


Looking south-west across Peper Harow Park towards the floodplain of the River Wey. The land in the foreground may have fallen within the medieval “Court Field”, beyond which were the meadows.

The 1429 inquisition specifies three types of non-arable land use: meadow, i.e. grassland kept for mowing, moor, land of marshy or otherwise not notably productive character used for grazing, and pasture – in this case logically for rabbits. The two meadows unsurprisingly have names ending with Middle English (ME) mēde, ‘meadow, grassland’: the first half of the former is evidently the personal name Robert, but the latter is harder to ascertain – a personal name Gille is one possibility, in which case it reinforces the impression that Peper Harow’s meadow resources were under several rather than communal tenure from a date much earlier than that of the IPM. The moor named le Frythebrok is appropriately damp and marginal in its implication (being from ME frith, “woodland/woodland meadow/enclosure/fence” + brōk, “(small) stream”), whereas (le) Colcroft, named as a location for arable land as well, is suitably less immediately explicable (take your pick from ME cōl, “vegetable”, cōl, “charcoal”, or cōl, “cool, cold” + croft, “enclosure, small piece of ground”).

A long time ago, I cited evidence that suggested Peper Harow may not have had a system of multiple open fields, rather its arable was operated on an infield-outfield system. I’m not sure if it’s a source of regret or not to learn from the 1429 inquisition that Peper Harow did after all have a multiplicity of open fields. Indeed, the nomenclature of these fields is very similar to that found in Puttenham. The first named, le Courtfeld, was probably situated close to the demesne centre (its specific most probably being ME court, ‘manor house with its court, enclosed yard’). The second, le Estfeld, i.e. “the East Field”, must have lain to the east of the village and, well, it doesn’t take much to deduce where le Northfeld sat in relation to them, even if it’s not identified as the location of any arable acres by the inquisition. The names of the three named subdivisions of these fields all end in -fere, a ME agricultural term which ultimately comes from Old English furh, ‘a strip for ploughing’, and seems to have been something of a Godalming-area vernacular speciality.


Looking north-west across Peper Harow Park towards Elstead Road and Warren Hill (visible on the horizon on the left-hand side). The footpath running across the park meets Elstead Road by Warren Hill, where the rabbit warren and associated garth lay at the suggested site of “the Peper Harow cross”. The road may have separated the medieval Court and North Fields.

The ‘warren containing 2 acres [of] pasture in “the North Field” with an adjacent garth by the Peper Harow cross’ is of considerable interest from a topographical point of view. To judge from the approximate location intimated by the field-name, it was to be found in the northernmost parts of the manor’s arable. This puts it in the vicinity of Warren Hill, and surely accounts for the surviving place-name. Of course, this then begs the question of what was meant by ‘the Peper Harow cross’. A wayside cross, or a crossroads? As much as I would like it to be the former, I suspect the latter offers a better explanation. It is feasible that the line of the present footpath between Peper Harow village and Warren Hill once continued north from where it meets Elstead Road towards Michen Hall and Rodsall. In fact, there’s still a farm track along this line, and it may mark a much older route than would be suspected without the testimony of the 1429 inquisition. All in all, a window to a world that may have seemed lost to us but, with care, is susceptible to partial reconstruction to a remarkably fine level of detail.

Posted in Agriculture, Documents, Field-names, History, Landscape, Middle English, Peper Harow, Surrey | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New work! Testing Transhumance

A brief post as I’ve gone on about transhumance and pigs more than enough already in the past couple of years. My co-authored article (with the late Dennis Turner) was published a few weeks ago in the new volume of Surrey Archaeological Collections. In time-honoured tradition, I’ve added a page under the Work tab with an introduction to the article and link to the article itself (or go straight to the source here on Academia).

It marks the culmination of around three years of intermittent activity on my part (and many years of thinking and writing on Dennis’ part before that). As something I came to as a complete rookie, the subject matter of the article revealed itself to be of huge interest, with huge amounts still insufficiently understood or yet to be subject to proper synthesis. Unfortunately, it’s not something that I’m going to be able to pursue now or in the near future, other than as a minor element of my PhD research. Thus, I’m hoping that by publishing on early medieval pig husbandry and transhumance, and by making it available online, it might pique the interest of others and inspire the articles and theses I believe the topics deserve!


The hedgerow running up the hill above is the former eastern boundary of Ambersham, the long, thin Wealden estate in West Sussex discussed on page 184 of the article. It was granted by King Edgar to the church of St Andrew, East Meon, in 963; the diploma recording this grant (S 718) includes an Old English boundary clause delimiting the estate.

I say this is the culmination of my work on the matter, but there’s a chance I’ll be speaking on it (and in particular on the bits about which I’ve had changes of heart since completing the article!) at some point this Autumn. As and when this is confirmed, I’ll tweet the details in case anyone who reads this or the article fancies coming along.

Posted in Anglo-Saxon, Charters, News, Pigs, Publishing, Sussex | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Out of office

I’m writing this post while on an overnight train from Miami to Washington, DC. I’ve been in the States for a couple of weeks now, having previously been in Cuba for just shy of a fortnight. I’ll be this side of the Pond for another few days (New York beckons after we’re done in Capitol City) then it’s back to London for barely enough time to get over my jetlag before it’s off to Berlin for a “lads” weekend (I use the inverted commas advisedly as fellow lads are in reality two fellow culture vultures who are both leading lights in major London museums!)

I know what you’re thinking, pretty sweet summer holidays, Boasty McBoastface. The thing is, this year to date has been anything but sweet for me. Just after Christmas my father passed away, after several years of poor health and more time spent in hospital than at home. His death was therefore something we knew was coming and so were steeled for, but – as I’m sure many who read these words will know – the grief that follows the passing of a loved one is not something that’s easy to legislate for. It took me considerably longer than I’d bargained on to get back in a positive frame of mind, during the latter stages of which my wonderful girlfriend and I resolved to seize the opportunity of both being temporarily without current employment but with money saved from previous jobs to finish our “life reset” with a flourish by travelling for a few weeks.

Through the past few months Surrey Medieval has been (along with my PhD research) a source of comfort and stability. Regular readers may have noticed several of my 2016 posts have been considerably longer than the pattern established in previous years. The reasons for this have been partly inspiration, and partly consolation. My old man was an architect (and moreover one belonging to the old school – all hand-drawn plans and calculating things himself) but was unstinting in his support for my left-turn into medieval studies. He did his best to keep up with the new things I’d post on Surrey Medieval, so I like to think he’d approve of me putting so much time and energy into stuff for the site since the turn of the year.

I love travel (who doesn’t?!), especially for how it gets me thinking about new places visited and experiences gained along the way. Of course, this time around I’ve had even more to think about. When I first decided to write a post to explain my recent silence and current whereabouts, I found myself shaping up to launch into a tirade against post-referendum  Britain while celebrating the beauty of Cuba, its people, and certain aspects of the state. As it turned out, I never began to write such a piece, and 2+ weeks travelling across the USA from sea to shining sea inevitably yielded much new food for thought (not to mention food for the stomach – oh, New Orleans!). I’ve thought about politics and economics. I’ve thought about what it means to be British, and how I’ve taken to self-identifying as being from London rather than from the UK. I’ve thought about how progress in society can only really come from the present and the future, not the past, and thus how I can rationalise studying what I do in a way that has practical value beyond shooting down wanton misuses of the history or archaeology of the medieval period. And, needless to say, I’ve thought about my father and some of the many good times we shared.

It’ll be a few weeks before I’m back posting new stuff here again. (My phone has stopped working which is why I’ve been silent on Twitter too, so that’ll need fixing before I’m tweeting again.) I’ve got a few ideas up my sleeve, for that is where I keep my ideas, including some long-delayed pieces about Puttenham church. As and when I do compose these I intend the outcomes to be a lot more focused and succinct than the multi-page screeds referred to earlier; they were labours of love, but in this tl;dr age must quickly exhaust the attention spans of most readers. More immediately, I must start preparing myself for the jolt back to reality that the end of my travels will bring, and the need to find a new (fulfilling!) job as well as resume my PhD research in earnest.

Let me sign off from a very dark Charleston, South Carolina, by bidding you a most enjoyable remainder of your summer, Northern Hemisphere!

Posted in Travel | Leave a comment

The Fields of Puttenhamia: Some thoughts on the place of Roman landscape features in the early medieval period and beyond

This is me returning to the theme of early fields and field systems initiated by a long (and gratifyingly popular) post from back in the Spring. Identifying the physical remains of field systems in the northern half of Puttenham Common may have been easy, what with them standing out so clearly on the LiDAR imagery, but identifying when they were created is a very different matter. As things stand – and this is all very provisional – the evidence fits best with an origin in the (?Middle) Bronze Age but with at least one subsequent phase of re-use as arguably attested by the scatters of abraded Romano-British pottery sherds, and one brief phase of partial destruction by plough in the late 1940s.

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Abraded sherds of what I take to be Romano-British pottery found by yours truly on the Hillbury ridge and northern lip of the Long Bottom valley

Beyond such matters, however, are other questions that I’ve been wanting to probe in depth. What I held back from highlighting in my first piece (but is perfectly obvious from the LiDAR imagery) is that the field boundaries to the east and north of those parts of Puttenham Common containing the suggested field systems follow very similar orientations. Could it be that the traces of field boundaries on the Common share a genesis with the extant systems beyond? If so, is the extant fieldscape of Puttenham parish in part much older than has been believed?

My starting to write up this recent bout of field systems-related work just so happened to coincide with getting my hands on a major new-ish book, The Fields of Britannia (trust me, if this had been intentional I wouldn’t mention it being coincidental!) The major Leverhulme-funded, University of Exeter-based research project of the same name that preceded the book had been on my radar for some time – I made reference to it way back when in an update to my paper on Thursley, reporting the dissemination of radiocarbon dating of a peat deposit from Boundless Copse that showed they belonged to the early medieval period. Contrary to what I anticipated, this finding does not appear in the full published report of The Fields of Britannia, but does make it into a Surrey Archaeological Collections article probably published too late to make the project’s cut (see the section by Grant, Norcott and Stevens in Thompson and Manning 2014, 12-15).

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I mention all of this because palaeoenvironmental evidence is one part of the “triple threat” that The Fields of Britannia comprises. The other two are diachronic change in faunal assemblages, and the common orientation/alignment of dated Late Roman field boundaries with ones of medieval or later date. The brilliance of project and book alike are their scope, and the latter interweaves the results of the data collection and analysis to compelling (if lengthy and dare I say it occasionally repetitive) effect. I have no doubt that The Fields of Britannia will prove to be a landmark book in English landscape studies, both as a go-to reference work and also the stimulus for new research.

A major feature of the analysis is the extent to which excavated Late Roman field boundaries (i.e. excavated rural linear features found to contain pottery or other artefacts dateable to the 4th century CE) and those mapped in the later 19th century – but potentially in existence in the medieval period – are oriented (coincident, either one overlying the other or one effectively acting as an extension of the other) or aligned (run in the same direction but not overlying or continuing the other) in ways that might admit the persistence of the Roman-era land divisions to influence those of the historic landscape (definitions given in Rippon, Smart and Pears 2015, 100-101).

The “headline” result is that roughly two-thirds – 64% to be precise – of the excavated Late Roman-era boundaries studied in lowland England ‘share a common orientation or alignment or orientation with medieval landscapes (i.e. historic landscapes characterized by former medieval Closes or former Open Fields)’ (Rippon, Smart and Pears 2015, 323, which includes some caveats about the sources of the percentage). For the South East region as defined by the project, in which Puttenham parish lies, the figure is a very similar 63%, dropping to a still impressive 55% when landscapes of Indeterminate type that may or may not be of medieval origin are factored in (Rippon, Smart and Pears 2015, 141; also 107 for definitions of the aforementioned types of fieldscape). Each represents a powerful, quantitative case in favour of continuity in some form from the 4th to 5th century CE and beyond, rather than wholesale abandonment.

I’ve created a page under the Puttenham tab that looks at two arguments presented in The Fields of Britannia (alignment being unrelated to topography, and the non-survival of former field boundaries in dense woodland environments) where I think there’s some margin for doubt, before concluding with an application of some of the key conclusions of The Fields of Britannia to Puttenham in the belief that this can help to frame and enhance our understanding on the exceedingly limited body of evidence from the parish. Please click through to take a look – it’s a long’un but a good’un, trust me!

Posted in Agriculture, Anglo-Saxon, Archaeology, Books, Dating, Field-names, Landscape, Old English, Pottery, Puttenham, Topography | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pannage and the Disco: Reflections on Leeds International Medieval Congress 2016

It’s little over a week since I returned from Leeds and this year’s International Medieval Congress. Previously when I’ve been to big conferences I’ve prevaricated about writing up my experiences and observations as, well, it requires quite a lot of time and words to do it justice. In spite of this, I’ve fast-tracked my IMC 2016 write-up because I was keen to set down my thoughts on the event, as it was a really significant one for me. Not so much because of its theme (‘Food, Feast & Famine’, which was something of a fertile topic – heck, I even contrived to get in on the act in a roundabout manner) but because there were certain things about the congress that were truly inspiring, and reassured me that, whatever the future holds (both for higher education and my place within it), the next generation of medievalists has an abundance of passion and energy for the period that is sure to take their various disciplines to better places.

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I spent the Monday night of IMC week not in Leeds but in nearby Wakefield, staying in a hotel my Dad designed back in the 1970s. Here’s a view from the main staircase towards the spire of Wakefield cathedral, renewed in 1823 in what I hope was faithful emulation of the medieval original. At the time of my visit there was a family of peregrine falcons (with some very vocal fledglings) in residence on the spire, with one of the birds using a crocket as a perch! The falcons have their own webpage and Twitter account, although I think nesting season may be over for this year.

Swings and round tables

Truth be told, I arrived at the Congress on a massive downer about the prospect of days hearing (and speaking) about the medieval period when things in the present day are in such a rotten state. The vote in favour of Brexit was the last thing anyone needed, and the issues it raised about real and perceived inequalities in British society got me thinking that, on a personal level, is it really worth dedicating so much time and attention to things that took place so long ago as to be essentially irrelevant to the here and now? As someone looking for work in a new field to the one I have been employed in for the past few years, could/Should I not be focusing on “real world” activities that serve to address and remedy some of the things that motivated people to vote for the illogical and self-destructive option? Yet the subsequent three days restored my faith in medieval studies and convinced me that the discipline is one worth sticking with in some capacity.

But hang on, I hear you ask, what’s with three days when the Congress lasts four? Last year, I hared around IMC bouncing from session to session to wine reception, to the extent that I burnt out by the Thursday lunchtime and skipped the final session in favour of sinking a couple of bottles of Congress Ale while trying to work out what the hell had happened over the past few days. My attitude this year was less is more. If there’s precious little in the programme that appeals for one or more set of sessions, is it really worth being present on the off-chance something might prove far better than its advertised title? I thought not, and skipped the entire first day in favour of doing other things outside of Leeds, finally arriving mid-morning on the Tuesday. (Apologies to anyone reading this who organised, moderated and/or spoke at a session on the first day, I’m sure it and you were great – this was about me being mercenary, not a negative personal judgement against you!) Thereafter, for various reasons, I went to three sessions a day, plus a couple of plenaries (including foraging!) and a non-programmed meeting, and came out the other side feeling pretty good all things considered.

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I had a very quick transition from holiday to conference mode after arriving in Leeds, plunging almost immediately into the fray with Session 624, organised and populated by my pals at the University of Nottingham’s Institute for Name-Studies. For me, the pick of the three papers was Becca Gregory‘s look at field-name vocabulary in the context of the “Midland System” of open/common-field agriculture, of which this is a murky mid-paper snapshot.

There was a lot of talk at last year’s IMC about utilising social media to reach out beyond the academy and engage with wider audiences, which was (and is) all well and good, but in retrospect had something of a self-congratulatory, I-have-this-many-followers air about it – thinking something is a solution to an issue without ascertaining if that is truly the case. This year I felt there was more of an edge, and for good reason. The anti-expert tone of some of the debate in the run-up to the EU Referendum in the UK was a worrying turn of events and, in an age of state austerity measures, medieval studies is an obvious soft target, a luxury that can be dispensed with to focus on proper, useful subjects (let me add that I don’t for a second presume that most or all of the aforementioned issues also apply wherever else in the world you might be reading this). Medieval studies – what’s it good for?

Quite a lot actually. Among the things that reinvigorated my positivity towards the field, the first was the off-programme IMC Anti-Brexit meeting, held on the Tuesday evening and representing the coming together of a bunch of brilliant people – mostly junior academics and PhD students – concerned about how medievalists can best respond to the issues thrown up by Brexit. I dovetailed the meeting with a round table (in name only – the participants were sat in a long line) entitled ‘Are The Middle Ages Relevant?’ (Session 926), which took a much-needed global perspective in addressing the question. It hammered home that the period can be (more) relevant to (more) people if the concept of a thing or things being medieval is applied to different parts of the world rather than just Europe and the Near East as is so often the case. Fast forward to Thursday morning and Session 1503 – ‘Medieval Modern: The Use of the Medieval in Modern and Contemporary Arts’ – was excellent, a hangover-beating 90-minute reminder that Old and Middle English literature shouldn’t be left to ossify in standard scholarly editions but merits performance and publication in new and different formats.

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Like a beautiful analogue word cloud, this is one of the multi-lingual inscription plates that accompany poet David Jones’ The Anathemata (1955), shown as part of Francesca Brooks‘ paper ‘A Poetic Historiography of the Early English Settlements’ in Session 1503.

Probably the most important event at this year’s IMC was one I did not attend (for good although not entirely unavoidable reasons – I wish I had made more of an effort to sort other stuff in advance so as to free up my time to be present). The Wednesday lunchtime round table ‘Embracing the #Femfog’ (Session 1198), was a last-minute addition to the programme, and a powerfully progressive statement on the part of IMC’s organisers. If you’re not familiar with the Femfog controversy and how it tore through the medievalist community (and beyond) at the start of this year then there’s plenty of online articles that give the necessary background – I’m linking this one because its author summarises other responses as well as offering their own opinion. Since then, there’s been a reappropriation of the term/hashtag for the purposes of highlighting structural inequalities and abuses of power within academia as it’s presently configured and staffed, and the round table provided a public forum for discussing these and ways of overcoming them. I urge you to read the tweets that resulted from the session, helpfully Storified by Shyama Rajendran. If there could be a single instance of something at IMC 2016 demonstrating why medieval studies is a vibrant, diverse and dynamic field of scholarship, and what is more one that can look forward to a brighter, better future, this was it.

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Little bit of a non sequitur, but a beautiful one nonetheless, this is a double-page from a lavishly-illustrated ninth-century Carolingian manuscript showing scenes from the story of St John the Baptist (now you see it!) The image was a repeated part of Beatrice Kitzinger’s paper ‘The Transformation of Carolingian Art’ in Session 1612, most of which went waaay over my head but was a treat for the eyes all the same.

A few quick shout-outs to other papers in other sessions I attended that I thought were especially good. Walter Pohl is a titan of Late Antique/Early Medieval studies, and I foresee some of my coming years spent reading through the breezeblock-sized volumes he’s edited as part of the Transformation of the Roman World programme. Thus it was a delight to hear him in Session 1612 present (at greater length than planned owing to a speaker dropping out) on ‘Ethnicity and the “Nation” in 9th- and 10th-Century Europe’ and the many theoretical implications of his title. Another Austrian highlight was a session that formed part of a strand linked to the ongoing project Digitising Patterns of Power, notably the contribution from cartographer Alexander Pucher setting out what post-Google Maps cartography might look to achieve in the context of historical research. Last but by no means least, in Session 1337 James Chetwood gave a fantastic paper, underpinned by statistics and intermittent Paul Simon lyrics, on changes to dithematic personal naming practices in England circa 700-1100 that did away with the old chestnut of the Norman Conquest changing everything (someone should tell English Heritage) in favour of a period of gradual transition, one in which the ninth century was a more significant motor for change.

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Bought more books in the second-hand book fair than I’d intended to (c’mon, who can resist a half-price offer?), fortunately there’s at least one blog post I can squeeze out of them, and that’s on top of their long-term referencing potential.

Looking at the pig picture

My paper was in Session 1221, ‘Hunting and Husbandry’, and a very good session it was too, thanks to my fellow speakers and audience of course, but especially the input of the moderator, László Bartosiewicz. The main focus of my research lies elsewhere but, as longer-term readers of Surrey Medieval may be aware, I have been working away at an article about pig farming on and off for the best part of the past three years. I dealt with what will hopefully prove to be the final set of corrections suggested by the editors last month, so all being well it will be published in Volume 99 of the Surrey Archaeological Collections before the year is out. It dawned on me at some point after last year’s Congress that the food-y focus of the 2016 edition would fit well with the article’s subject matter and so I put together a paper proposal, which was duly accepted by the IMC Programming Committee and pooled with two others into the aforementioned session.

I like conference panels where there’s a diversity of subject matter and disciplinary perspectives among the papers, and this session was all that and more. I kicked off proceedings, following which came Sirpa Aalto of the University of Oulu looking at the wealth of medieval hunting regulation texts from medieval Sweden and some of their zoological implications, and Zoe Bartliff of the University of Glasgow examining whether recurrent topoi related to hunting episodes in medieval Welsh literature could stem from a pan-Celtic fertility mythos. It all hung together very well and made me reevaluate how I have understood forests (in the geographical rather than legal sense). Coming from a background where I look at place-names as a source of testimony about settlements and other centres of archaeological significance, I realised I had fallen into the trap of seeing woodlands as not merely marginal, but largely deserted environments. The reality is that in the medieval period they were places full of both animal and human life.

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Here’s my model of extensive pig husbandry in the Wealden region of South-East England. If you weren’t there for my paper, you’ll have to wait for the article for an explanation (though frankly it is pretty self-explanatory).

Other than overrunning the allotted 20 minutes by a little bit, my paper went well, and in the concluding discussion and afterwards people said things about it which were far more complimentary than perhaps it merited. Preparing it had led me to reevaluate elements of the model at its heart and, had I had the time, there were one or two of which I would have changed, but as it was they had to remain in there and likewise will do in the published article. However, on the whole I stand by its contents and the coherent system it depicts. I’ve never come across another attempt to distill early medieval pig husbandry practices into a model so, regardless of its minor flaws, I’m satisfied it will contribute something to future discourse on the subject.

One significant point was raised in the questions at the end of the session, concerning the nature of the most famous (and very possibly only) Anglo-Saxon depiction of humans and pig-like creatures in a wooded setting – the September page of the so-called Cotton Tiberius Calendar manuscript, held at the British Library, and reproduced below. The questioner (whose identity I neglected to note, but my thanks to him for his contribution) pointed out that the details of the illustration make it much more likely that it depicts a wild boar hunt than the driving of a herd of pigs to a mast pasture (what would become the pannage of this post’s title). It just so happened that something Sirpa said in her paper made me think of this scene and caused me to reach the same conclusion in the time between my paper and questions – honestly! So, at the risk of seeming to wander off-topic, here’s a short explanation-cum-justification for my change of heart…

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An 11th-century depiction of boar hunting NOT pig droving, from the September page of the Cotton Tiberius Calendar (London, British Library Cotton Tiberius B V f.7r). The image and some further information about the manuscript can be found via the BL Online Gallery.

I knew there wasn’t consensus as to the subject matter of the Calendar illustration, but the majority of things I read that mention it interpret the scene as one of swine herding/pasturing, not wild boar hunting, so I went along with that in my paper and article alike. Earlier medieval pigs were probably little different in appearance to wild boars, so the key is to focus on what the men have with them: two dogs, a horn, a spear, and a sword. The gentlemen who made the comment during the questions characterised such accoutrements as ‘aristocratic’; I wouldn’t go quite so far along the social spectrum but they are at odds with what other sources of information tell us about the swineherd’s toolkit. Later manuscript illustrations of swineherds show them with long sticks with which to beat acorns down from trees, but never so far as I know with anything more weapon-like (other than for slaughtering the beasts come winter). The OE version of the Rectitudines Singularum Personarum notes that a tenant swineherd had to be gehorsad (“horsed”) at all times – there’s no mention of being “gehundad” (“hounded”, i.e. “having a hound” – I’m improvising the OE here) but elsewhere in the same text there’s a reference to a headorhund, “hunting dog”. So, all in all, I think we’re on firm ground rejecting the September page of the Cotton Tiberius Calendar as a (unique) depiction of Anglo-Saxon pig pasturing under trees; instead, it shows well-armed men hunting wild boar in a wooded environment. Spread the word!

Time to be realistic

If IMC 2016 got me thinking more positively about medieval studies and the future, it also made me think more practically about where I’m going with my PhD research and what it’s likely to lead to. It seems to be the default setting among PhD students that becoming a doctor is a stepping stone to a career as an academic, which of course it is, but it’s not as simple or linear as that. Many (and, based on personal anecdotal experience, I would hazard most) get no further than graduation, and maybe publishing a chapter of their thesis, before finding employment in other sectors. Not being the youngest of guns, I’ve been grappling with what I want to achieve with my PhD, and mid-Congress I came to the conclusion that I want to complete my thesis and thereby make what I hope will be an important contribution to my sub-field(s), but abandon the pursuit of forging a career in academia off the back of it. I met plenty of brilliant current PhDs and early career medievalists with a true ardour for the period and for teaching others about it, and have no doubt that the best of them will become the leading academics of tomorrow. I’ll be back at Leeds next year and aim to present on some aspect of my PhD research (I’m toying with the idea of proposing a group-names-related session). By then, I may have a kickass new job/career as well!

Oh, and to reference the second part of my title, the disco (or dance, or whatever you want to call the gloriously non-academic blowout on the Wednesday night) was every bit as good as last year. These guys are the bomb.

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On the Friday morning, and on the way to the coach station, I finally I made good on my intention to take a general picture or two of the Congress – just as they’re dismantling the temporary structures (or erecting ones for the next conference).

Posted in Being organised, Conference, Leeds, Pigs | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment