a history of Britain's rural landscape
With more of us living in urban environments, far removed from the countryside, it is easy to loose touch with the origins of the rural enviroments that surround our towns and cities.
Our on-line whistle-stop, historical tour will show you how changes in agriculture and farming have left their marks on Britain's rural landscape. It is a complex subject and our on-line article is no more than a very simplified overview which may help you interpret the rural landscape when you next visit the countryside... Certainly in the case of villages almost every one has a unique development story to tell, and it is unwise to jump to conclusions merely based on the siting of a settlement.
Rural communities have continually changed; sometimes collapsing through economic pressures, or becoming fossilised through the whims and control of major landowners who hindered expansion or the building of public houses and inns.
Nearly every part of Britain's countryside has been touched by man at some stage in history - from the barren deforested Peak District cleared by slash-and-burn in neolithic times, to the New Forest created as a hunting ground by William the Conqueror in 1079, to the Fens, watermeadows of Hampshire, and the Broads of Norfolk which are the result of peat extraction during the Middle Ages. Our landscape is also littered with old communication routes like the ancient Icknield Way, Roman roads such as Watling Street, and pack-horse routes which straddled the hill ranges between Pennine towns. And then there are tell-tale signs of woodland industries - like the coppiced oaks in the Quantock Hills, and pollarded beeches of Burnham Beeches in Buckinghamshire.
Neolithic people cleared many areas of Britain of their forest. For example, prior to the arrival of folk on the scene in East Anglia there was a large amount of oak, elm, lime and alder forestation in that area, as analysis of pollen taken from Hockham Mere has shown. The Yorkshire Wolds, South Downs and Salisbury Plain were also cleared of their forestation by man.
From the Iron Age until the arrival of the Romans farming was pretty subsistence-like. A farmer would raise cattle or, to a lesser extent sheep and pigs, grow ancient varieties of wheat [such as spelt, emmer and einkorn] and other grains, and complement these with berries and fruit when in season. Perhaps a not unfamiliar story to countless generations of farmers and countryfolk who have done likewise ever since.