Prof Susan Oosthuizen Profile picture
Professor (Em.) of Medieval Archaeology, University of Cambridge. Early medieval landscape history/archaeology, & rights of common.
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May 8 9 tweets 7 min read
Short🧵. As many people know, Laxton, in Nottinghamshire, is one of the few places in England where large-scale #medieval open #fields survive, still collectively organised & managed in the same way that they were 6 and more centuries ago. … /1 The term ‘open fields’ has become shorthand for large (often huge) areas of arable, subdivided into unhedged blocks (‘furlongs’), subdivided in turn into narrow strips (‘selions’). #medieval #landscape. /2
Sep 9, 2021 23 tweets 11 min read
Pollard willows along a river bank are such a vivid reminder of centuries of unremembered famers’ labour in supporting the present with hope for a sustainable future. Here’s the story they tell… THREAD 2. Most obviously, willows are trees that prefer damp conditions so they’re often planted along rivers, streams & canals so that their root systems will help to keep the banks stable in times of flood (photo: John Sutton). But that’s the least interesting part of their story.
Sep 1, 2021 20 tweets 7 min read
Every walk has a puzzle or more that might tell the story of how that landscape evolved. That’s what makes for so much fun. So here’s a 🧵about a recent amble in case you might enjoy it too. 2. We walked past this pair of houses, one set closely behind the other. Which was the earlier? How might one tell?
Jun 6, 2021 8 tweets 2 min read
The great historian G. M. Trevelyan on the enchantment of history:

‘The appeal of History to us all is in the last analysis poetic. But the poetry of History does not consist of imagination roaming at large, but of imagination pursuing the fact & fastening upon it. (1/n) 2. That which compels the historian to ‘scorn delights and live laborious days’ is the ardor of his own curiosity to know what really happened long ago in that land of mystery which we call the past. To peer into that magic mirror and see fresh figures there every day ... (2/n)
Feb 4, 2021 17 tweets 7 min read
THREAD. There’s so much water in the fields at present - fields are floating in water. Here in the east of England it’s a practical lesson explaining so much about land use before under-field drainage began in the 17thC. 2. Seasonal springs are suddenly bubbling with water ...
Dec 22, 2020 17 tweets 8 min read
THREAD. A seriously muddy walk across one of the high, flat, clay plateaux of S Cambs. today, was full of reminders that this land, too heavy for ox-drawn ploughs, was medieval common pasture studded with managed woodland.. 2. The fields were full of water despite being at the top of the hills - too flat to drain well, studded with small pockets of low land that made temporary ponds..
Dec 10, 2020 8 tweets 2 min read
THREAD. This news from @NTChedworth has significant implications.
1. The mosaic was laid around 2 generations after Roman administration & armies were withdrawn from Britain.
2. The creation of a mosaic is a highly-skilled task. That means either (a) the craft survived in ... .. practice over the intervening +/- half century, ie mosaics continued to be laid across OR (b) the craftsmen were brought over from the continent. There is no reason, as far as I know, to suppose (b).
3. The industry making the tiles also continued to operate.
Dec 1, 2020 24 tweets 13 min read
THREAD. The fun of landscape history is that, quite often, it’s little, insignificant details in plain sight that reveal past now-lost landscapes. They turn a country walk into a detective story - like this amble in Comberton, Cambs., reconstructing its vanished village green. 2. All that’s left today is this small grassy area and duck pond at the centre of the village - jam-packed with signals to its communal function: village sign, gritting box, benches, litter bin, & a bus stop just out of shot on the L. The 19thC OS map shows even more of them ...
Oct 14, 2020 28 tweets 16 min read
THREAD. Here’s a story about how I went looking for the obvious in a landscape and found something much more interesting. The place was Isleham, on the NE Cambs fen-edge & the initial hook was an early 12thC chapel, almost all that remains of a Breton priory.. 2. ...founded within a generation of the Conquest. Today, only the priory chapel remains. It was converted into a barn & remained in agricultural use until the mid-20thC.
british-history.ac.uk/vch/cambs/vol1…
Aug 31, 2020 8 tweets 2 min read
Brilliant evisceration by #Stefan #Collini of consumerism in higher education & analysis of what’s needed so that #universities can properly play their part (& it’s only a part) in supporting a drive to social equity & justice
theguardian.com/commentisfree/… ‘One of the most obvious is between our de facto endorsement of a bitterly class-divided society and our fantasy that universities can not only escape the consequences of this but can positively correct it. We seem, for example, to be willing to allow wealthy parents to buy...
Aug 19, 2020 5 tweets 4 min read
The Iron Age earthwork at Borough Fen is one of several #prehistoric enclosures built near the borders of the fen wetlands to manage large #communal herds of cattle grazing on the damp #pastures in summer, were centres for autumn roundups & seasonal assemblies for managing both. ImageImage It lies in the same #common wetland grazed by the whole of the #medieval Soke of Peterborough; that was the early medieval common pasture of the 5th/6thC Gyrwe (‘fen people’); & which, @PryorFrancis’s work suggests, had been common through prehistory. Image
Aug 9, 2020 7 tweets 4 min read
The atmospheric earthworks of the deserted #medieval village of Nobold, Northants., first recorded in 1284 - the main street, house plots & their back yards clearly visible. Most of the house sites & yards were ploughed up after abandonment (of which more, in a moment) ... (1/3) 2. You can tell ploughing happened after the village was abandoned as the blocks of ridges are bounded by the ditches that divided one property from the next. Is it possible to tell when it was abandoned? Well, maybe ...
Jul 31, 2020 19 tweets 7 min read
THREAD. This entry is typical of the Cambs. #Domesday Book (1086).
1st, it lists the major landowners after the Norman Conquest - here at Barton, Humphrey was Guy de Raimbeaucourt’s tenant in 1086.
2nd (& this is what I’m interested in) it lists the landowners *before* ... Image 2. ... 1066. As you can see, there were 24 of them & they were all free men - they could grant and sell their land without permission from anyone else. They didn’t ‘belong’ to a manor, but farmed independently.
And DB tells us a number of other interesting things about them ... Image
Jul 10, 2020 22 tweets 11 min read
THREAD. The origins of English villages like Spaldwick, Hunts., so typical of the rural landscape, is a question that’s puzzled historians and archaeologists for generations. (Photo from Christopher Taylor’s masterfully annotated 1988 re-edition of Hoskins’ classic book.) 2. Most people in rural prehistoric and Roman Britain tended to live in farms and hamlets dispersed around the landscape (though for a qualification of this generalisation see Christopher Taylor’s 1983 Village & Farmstead). Take the archaeology of Doddington, Northants 👉....
Jun 10, 2020 22 tweets 9 min read
THREAD. I fell in love with landscape history in 1984 when I read this book: the author explained, through worked examples, how maps (on rainy days like today) & explorations on the ground can reveal the history of our familiar landscapes. For example... 2. Here’s a modern (1980’s) map of Pockley in N Yorks. which, Taylor explained, had previously been described as ‘an unplanned village of elongated form’. He took a closer look and came up with a quite different interpretation...
Jun 3, 2020 8 tweets 2 min read
1. There has been substantial, often controversial, debate over the past year about the racist use of the term ‘Anglo-Saxon’. To get the background, if you’re not already familiar with it, see 👇 2. In my view: the term presents all of us, whatever we do & whoever we are, with an ethical Q. It is fundamental to a commitment to equality, justice, & human dignity to support any group which tells us that a term is discriminatory, offensive, & an aspect of their oppression.
Apr 17, 2020 7 tweets 6 min read
Day 1 of 7 in #PhotosOfMyLife: a picture a day for a week, no people, no explanations. Rules: no words, no people.
I was nominated by @harphat 💐. Do join in with your own 7 if you’d like to. Image Day 2 of 7 in #PhotosOfMyLife: a picture a day for a week, no people, no explanations. Rules: no words, no people.
I was nominated by @harphat 💐. Do join in with your own 7 if you’d like to. Image
Apr 14, 2020 30 tweets 14 min read
THREAD. The East Anglian #fen basin was one of the richest and most populous areas of #medieval England... this thread explores how local communities managed the #landscape that produced the wealth that built huge parish churches - like this one at Terrington St Clement 2. There were more people making enough in the early 14thC to be liable for tax than almost anywhere else in England, and the average community was among the wealthiest n the country. So where did their money come from?
Mar 19, 2020 13 tweets 9 min read
THREAD. Whether poring over old/modern maps or going for a walk in new/familiar places it’s always fun to wonder what the landscape we see today was like in the past & why/how it became the world we know today. Here are my #Top10Books for beginners in #medieval #landscape history Image No. 1 is Christopher Taylor’s beautifully written, highly readable history of the English landscape - ahead of its time in 1983, still the best introduction today & quite ridiculously cheap secondhand. It far surpasses Hoskins, wonderful though the latter was in its time. ImageImage
Mar 7, 2020 19 tweets 9 min read
THREAD. Here’s the story of the reconstruction of the layout of a small #medieval town in 1249-5 - including who was living where: #CanYouBelieveIt? It’s March, in fenland like many of my examples, but the methods are straightforward & can be applied anywhere. 2. Altho the one I’m interested in (around the crossing of the R Nene) is called March today, it was called Mercheford in 1249-50 when it was 1st recorded. The 13thC place called March lay about a mile to the S around the church near the bottom of the OS map.
Feb 14, 2020 9 tweets 4 min read
Thrilled earlier in the week, during a short trip to the Netherlands, to find that the main road from/to Hoek van Holland runs along the top of the Maasdijk, a massive 13thC earthen bank running fir miles along the N side of the estuary of the R Maas ... ImageImage 2. .. to protect the low-lying coast to the N from flooding. You can see the road running from top L towards bottom R on this topographical map, coloured to show height above sea level. Almost everything behind the dyke is at sea level... Image