City and Countryside in Medieval England
Agricultural History Review, Vol. 43:1 (1995)
How societies in the past achieved economic take-off is an issue of considerable interest and concern for historians and academics in general. That it is a complicated matter almost everyone agrees, if for no other reason than that such economic take-off has proved elusive for so many countries today. Nor are these questions limited solely to recent centuries. Examples of economic take-off are by no means restricted to the industrialized world, and could often be very wide-ranging over time and geography.’ Indeed, it can be argued that studying these earlier cases – take-off in embryo, as it were – will provide a clearer picture of the sequence of events leading to new levels of economic development.
Medieval England is, in many ways, an ideal society to study in this regard. Its economic development was still at a relatively early stage, yet, as with the rest of Europe, it was undergoing a fairly remarkable economic transformation up to the end of the thirteenth century in particular. Furthermore, the documents for this period in England survive in remarkable numbers, not only in the famous example of Domesday Book but also in the wealth of manorial records from the thirteenth century onwards, which are unique for Europe, if not the world, at this time.
Nevertheless, although there are certainly some notable achievements, systematic work on this wide-ranging and diverse body of material has only just begun. Of particular interest is the emergence of large, multi-personnel projects, relatively new for the medieyal period, that have begun to apply increasingly strin- gent approaches to the surviving documentary material. The book under review here, A Medieval capital and its grain supply, comes from just such a collaborative effort. The overall project, called ‘Feeding the City’, has been joindy organized by Bruce Campbell, from the Queen’s University of Belfast, and Derek Keene, from the Centre for Metropolitan History (Institute of Historical Research, University of London). Its primary aim is ‘to investigate the impact of London’s [medieval] demand for food and other supplies on the agricul- ture and on the distribution systems of the metro- politan hinterland’, the assumption being that the ‘growth or otherwise of cities, of the urban systems of which they were a part, and of the agriculture that supported them, were inextricably linked’.