The technology of medieval sheep farming: some evidence from Crawley, Hampshire, 1208–1349
Agricultural History Review, Vol.51:2 (2003)
Sheep farming was a profitable business for the bishops of Winchester before the Black Death. Evidence from the manor of Crawley demonstrates that investment in the management of the flock peaked in the early fourteenth century. Elsewhere on the estate, improvements in the provision of sires, housing, feeding, medicaments and the labour supply have been shown to impact favourably upon fertility and mortality rates. However, this was not the case at Crawley. Instead, this paper confirms Stone’s view that productivity was determined by conscious decisions taken by demesne managers and argues that their concern in this period was to raise fleece weights.
The pessimism which for so long pervaded historical writing about the performance of medieval agriculture has now almost entirely evaporated to be replaced by a much greater appreciation of its achievements. In particular, the ability of medieval farmers to feed a population of about six million in England at the beginning of the fourteenth century, of which perhaps 15 or even 20 per cent lived in towns, has been acknowledged to be an impressive demonstration of the effectiveness of agricultural production and distribution at this time.