The pattern of settlement on the Welsh border

The pattern of settlement on the Welsh border

Jones, G.R.J.

Agricultural History Review, Vol.8 (1960)


In the zone which incorporates the western border counties of England and the adjoining marcher lordships of Wales the existence of an im- portant cultural frontier has long been recognized, although like all such boundaries it cannot everywhere be defined precisely in topographic terms. To Seebohm, in his study of the English Village Community, it was clear “that in the eleventh century, as it had done previously for 40o years, the river Wye separated by a sharp line the Saxon land, on which the manorial land system prevailed, from the Welsh land on which the Welsh tribal land system prevailed. ” Likewise Gray, in his analysis of English Field Systems, attempted to demonstrate that the boundary between the Celtic System and the Midland System passed through this zone.~The purpose of this paper is to reveal some of the major factors which underlie the arrangement of farmsteads within the zone. As the references to Seebohm and Gray imply, however, such an analysis must be based not simply on the patterns of farm- steads as they exist today, important though these are both as starting-points and as links in the chain of evidence, but also on the social and economic aspirations of the communities which created these patterns and modified them through past ages.

For the student of settlement this border zone, where the tides of struggle between English and Welsh ebbed and flowed over centuries, presents an embarrassment of problems, but adequate answers have hitherto been all too few. Why, for example, should the isolated farmstead, often set in the midst of its own fields, abound on the Welsh side of the border arm yet co-exist there alongside small nucleated hamlets? How was it that both these forms of settlement were associated until recently with unequivocal traces of open field? Were the Welsh hamlets simply a product of late and sporadic diffusion from the counties on the English side of the border where in Domesday times the hamlet of one or two ploughlands was by far the most frequent unit of settlement, or were these hamlets of an earlier origin?

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