Water as a Resource: The Significance of Milling in the Early Medieval Landscape of the South-West Midlands of England
Harding, Lesley Anne
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
This thesis examines the evidence for early medieval mills in England and considers their place in the physical and social landscape of the period. The evidence for these mills is sparse, with only nine sites from the early medieval period having been excavated in England to date, with all these sites being accidental finds. The difficulties in locating and interpreting early medieval mill sites are examined, and it is concluded that their locations cannot be predicted in terms of topographical factors alone. Excavation evidence suggests that mills of this period are more likely to be found on high-status sites and this theory is tested using an analysis of mills in a series of ‘nested’ study areas within the south-west Midlands to establish whether any relationship can be proposed between the number and value of early mills and the social status of the different categories of landholder. Firstly, the Domesday record of mills in the five counties of Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire, Somerset and Oxfordshire, in the south-west Midlands, is examined by class of landholder (royal, episcopal, monastic and lay) to determine the distribution, locations and values of mills by this date. This shows that mills are still important on royal estates by the mid-11th century, although changing social and economic conditions mean that they are more widespread than they appear to have been during the early medieval period based on the archaeological evidence, and are no longer the preserve of landowners of high status. Secondly, a number of major early medieval estate centres are identified in a second ‘nested’ study area of Gloucestershire, Worcestershire and Herefordshire and the record of mills on those manors at the time of Domesday analysed, to establish whether mills continue to be important on these centres at this date. A sample of one of these early estate centres for each of the three counties is also considered, to determine whether mills at these centres were more numerous and valuable by the time of Domesday than on other manors in the three counties. The analysis substantiates the archaeological evidence for the association between known early medieval mills and sites of high status, with mills appearing to be a common feature of these early estate centres. By the time of Domesday, mills on the early estate centres also appear to have been generally more valuable and more efficient than mills in the three counties as a whole, although those in the sample were no more valuable than other mills in similar favourable topographical locations. This supports the view that, by this date, mills were no longer solely a feature of high-status estates alone. Finally, the location of watermills in the landscape is considered, in particular their relationship with parish boundaries, to establish whether the use of a parish boundary for a mill leat, or deviations in parish boundaries around mill sites, can provide a methodology for locating early medieval watermill sites. Examples identified within this final ‘nested’ study area of four blocks of land within the counties of Gloucestershire, Worcestershire and Herefordshire are, however, fewer than anticipated, demonstrating the difficulties in finding mills of this period from evidence in the landscape today. The thesis therefore concludes that mills can be considered to be a common feature of high-status sites in the early medieval period, with major early medieval estate centres (and early monastic sites), as well as royal centres at the time of Domesday, being locations where the presence of an early medieval watermill should be anticipated.
MPhil in Archaeology