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Margins of the East Fen: Historic Landscape Evolution

Section 3 - Comparisons

So far, the area of SEL has been largely treated in isolation. This has not been totally kept up because occasionally the linkages with another region's exhibition of the same phenomenon has been too obvious to overlook. But it is now time to look outside for comparisons in regions with similarities. There are many with the same national political history, for example; yet far fewer with similar juxtapositions of terrain type and probably even less with easily comparable administrative trajectories. Somewhere in the middle ground, there are a few regions that yield ideas and examples which can be used to suggest what may have happened in SEL where there are gaps in the local evidence. (These gaps are further explored in section 4). For ease of layout, these are divided by region rather than topic. The first major division deals with the rest of England and in particular the low-lying areas of medievally-reclaimed marsh and fen, and the second with the equivalent zones on the mainland of Europe. There is an obvious emphasis on the Low Countries but some other parts are also relevant. In each of these, a selection is made of particularly interesting features, such as sea-walls in Norfolk and salt-making in Denmark rather than attempting a comprehensive regional synopsis.

There are problems of access to continental material. There are many regional publications series and several of these are not available on-line. Even were the numerous libraries to be visited, the variety of languages used would mean a lot of time spent with a dictionary. So the use of material in Flemish, Dutch, German and Danish is restricted and this carries dangers. These are not so much with the empirical evidence as with the arguments, e.g., about post-Roman sea-level or methods of salt-making. That background has to be kept in mind when using the material from the southern North Sea and indeed from other seas around Europe.

3.1 English Regions

There are some places that are reminiscent of SEL. The southern fens are the obvious example, especially those portions that have a silt zone next the sea which hems in a peaty zone. Hence all the area southwards from Boston towards Ely and Cambridge may be relevant, but perhaps the southern Wash localities the most. Romney Marsh has a set of well-documented medieval intakes and a history of providing the templates for the work of the Commissioners of Sewers. The Somerset Levels have in-depth histories of water management, peat growth and reclamation and there are some similarities with their equivalents across the Bristol Channel, the Wentlooge Levels. Other minor areas used for salt extraction such as the Essex coast, the Tees and the Solway1 should not be ignored and at the risk of creating an international incident, the salt-making at St Monans in Fife needs a mention.

3.1.1 The Fenland South of the Witham

Few places on earth can have been investigated as thoroughly as the East Anglian fenland. Generations of scholars (mostly from Cambridge) in Geology, Quaternary Studies, Archaeology, Aerial Photography, Historical Geography, Historical Ecology and Economic History have made immense contributions. The massive Fenland Survey while concentrating on archaeological time nevertheless strayed effectively into later periods and even extended its work northwards across the Witham into Skirbeck, though stopping short of Candleshoe. The problem is therefore one of selecting which of many investigations and on which topics are most likely to help with the interpretation of the development of SEL.

3.1.1.1 Banks

In a zone so vulnerable to marine incursions, the most important element must be sea-banks. When fen systems came in contact with tidal waters, then sea- and fen-banks may not easily be distinguished. From east to west, for example, Wainfleet St Mary has the Fore-Path, Low Road, Poller Fen Bank and Old Fen Bank. While the first is probably solely a sea-bank, the rest may have been at once on salt-marsh and engaged in containing peat fen that only seasonally dried out. High Street is difficult to interpret: a sa-bank on the top of the Toftland? By the seventeenth century, there seems to have been no need for a sea-bank in the northern part of Wainfleet St Mary and so the probability exists that this was the case elsewhere. The 1606 map from Wrangle certainly has no symbol that could be taken to represent an 'active' sea-bank. Likewise, early colonisations of drier parts of upper salt-marsh may not have needed a bank since some crops can grow in spite of temporary inundation by high tides, provided there is drainage by ditches. This is even more true for grazing, though work on Romney Marsh posits that the land was divided into parcels before the banks were put up.2 By contrast, many reclamations may have been small-scale rectangular enclosures for which banks were essential.

Because it is assumed that reclamation started in a rural society in need of basic nutrition, the role, appearance and distribution of 'country banks' has been widely examined. The O.S. led off the general view by labelling obvious stretches of banks as 'Roman Bank' without any strong archaeological evidence, although it is known how interested the occupiers were in the salt-producing areas of eastern England;3 the inland salterns producing the idea that there was no Roman sea wall around the Wash.4 In his work on Elloe Wapentake, and its subsequent extension both north and south, Hallam totally revised any such idea for post-Roman times, pointing to the documentary evidence for early medieval beginnings and a great surge in the twelfth century, with continued pressure thereafter.5 Hallam tied the embanking of the high middle ages to communities and institutions (notably the monasteries) which resulted in many banks having different construction phases and so pursuing lateral courses that were not necessarily straight. The case is made for north Norfolk and the very south of Lincolnshire that any sea banks preceding a persistent and unitary sea-bank are likely to have been absorbed into a network of lanes around the primary settlements and so 'go largely unrecognised.;6 More questioning of the necessity of a bank being a sea-bank and not a fen-bank seems essential for any part of the circum-Wash region where peat has been a factor in settlement, especially if there was seaward growth of peat in the Late Saxon period. This era was also the time when the Sea Bank of Crowson et al became unitary, either as a single large project or by the unification of many smaller banks; rather than adopt an environmental explanation, they suggest the critical involvement of ealdorman Æthelwine who was in office 962 - 990. In any event, several lines of evidence converge upon the tenth century as a time of major construction of sea-banks.7 Once built, the outer sea-banks and those that contained tidal waters had to be maintained and so levies were collected from frontages and those likely to benefit from security, including towns. One testimony to success is the absence of loss of any coastal villages from East Anglia between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries,8 even though that encompasses the period after about 1285 when sea-level rise began to flood river basins so as to produce the Broads and to make problems in Wainfleet Haven and the East Fen. Whatever was protecting Skegness seems to have been successful until perhaps the fifteenth century though Leland's famous description refers back to an unspecified time before 1538.9

In some regions, timber walls were built as temporary measures and wood (as well as stones and straw) might be used to strengthen the banks built of the upper salt-marsh sediments. Medieval sea-walls seem to have been smaller than the examples still extant from the eighteenth century onwards and this no doubt helped to make them melt into the landscape once they were redundant. Some form of reinforcement is needed where sluices penetrate the banks and it is hard to imagine stone being used in east Lincolnshire. When big timbers were required in SEL, they had to be brought in from e.g., The Wolds. Excavations in Norfolk have shown how the main historic sea-bank near Clenchwarton was made using subtidal and intertidal muds, starting at the lower levels and moving up with the tide. The salt-marsh creeks were eventually replaced with ditches (Fig 3.1); these may in turn be fossilised in the pattern of field boundaries.

In very broad regional terms the regional history of sea-banks might have a number of phases:

  1. Early-Mid Saxon. Infrequent at first as salt-marsh is initially colonised. Some of these may have been buried under the deposits from later rises of sea-level.
  2. Late Saxon. Protection of main nucleations followed by some joining-up of linear sections. Inherited by DB lords. Advance of peat growth also brings about bank construction. The banks were probably not very high (and so have merged into subsequent landscapes) but often built under authority, e.g., of bishops and priors. After a high tide and a spell of summer dry weather it was possible to scrape up muds and silt from just outside the sea-bank that was 50 - 75 per cent salt.
  3. Eleventh century to c. 1250. Steady advance of banks seawards and into fen and mixed salt-peat lands. Darby talks of the Old Podike (south-west of King's Lynn) being built in 1223 'to defend the district against the upland waters.'10
  4. 1250 - 1400. Sea banks essential to keep the sea from flooding lands recently reclaimed and hence shrinking from being de-watered. Influxes of water add to pressure to keep rivers embanked. Royal concern shown in frequent Commissions of local men to report on state of banks. Hallam shows such banks in Elloe to be in parallel lines: names such as Guldyke and Old Fen Dyke have resonances further north. Nevertheless Suffolk lost the best part of five parishes in the 75 years before the BD.
  5. 1400 - 1600. Selective erosion on coasts breaks banks especially on exposed coasts like north Lindsey and south Norfolk / Suffolk. Arrangements for maintenance consolidated by permanent status of Commissioners of Sewers.
  6. 1600 - 1750. Time of further advance of reclamation in sheltered places and cessation of loss of coastal towns. Sea-banks seen as part of royal and national efforts to secure an increase of land. Flooding still a problem e.g., in 1631 some 20km of shoreline was breached in Norfolk, following similar inundations in 1607.11

Most of these conditions apply ceteris paribus to towns. Medieval towns were often walled as a means of controlling entrance and exit, whether they were at risk from flooding or not. An example exists in the region of a town with different kinds of banks: more in the nature of rural banks brought up to the town; the instance is, of course, King's Lynn. The excavations reported in 1977 show a system of 'irregular natural banks', though in Fig 186, there seems to be a clear rectangular pattern, one of which supports a street called Damgate, and there are a series of 'successively replaced estuarine lagoons;, which were used in the salt-making industry.12 To an eye brought up on Hallam's Lincolnshire work, these banks look much more like a set of rectangular embankments erected as part of a reclamation programme, possibly after salt-making had ceased in favour of urban establishment or as a way of unifying an urban structure earlier arrayed around a peninsula with islands.13 None of the main accounts of the foundation and growth of Boston14 have suggested an analogous situation but it would not be surprising if waste material provided a dry base upon which to build. The LiDAR map of Wainfleet All Saints makes it clear that the waste hills of the tofts continued north of the Haven and that the town is built on a raised area. Without borings and excavation it is not possible to tell if this is all salt waste and not urban detritus but the presence of Northholme confers another strand of evidence of salt-making and the CUCAP oblique of that estate has several germane indications (as do the 1968 O.S. verticals discussed in 2.2.3.2.1).

Does Wainfleet have banks which were necessary to its survival and growth? That there were raised areas of salt waste from an early medieval time is a corollary of the references to salterns in DB. Such piles of waste were usually intersected with watercourses, often regionally called 'fleets;. Such terrain would have provided a site for the establishment of a town and in the Wainfleet Custumal of 1242 there is the statement that:

And if any dike of the sea or of the marsh shall be broken and its owner shall fail to repair it within two tides, then he shall pay to the lord of the haven 16d. and to the vills 16d. for each of his holdings, and the bailiff of the haven shall make the offender have the repair done.15

Other documents make only scattered references to banks:

  1. In the fifteenth century, Wainfleet St Mary had sea-banks (les Sedykes) and dykes with paths (le Sedykstyght): either the toftland was insufficient protection here or these dykes were set back and relics of a former time.
  2. Phrases like 'at Damme' and especially 'the sea wall at Wainfleet called le damme' suggest that the word Dam may be used (as in Dutch) to mean a bank or wall.

The evidence from APs and maps, and fieldwork, add a little, though never spatially extended, evidence. What is typically seen therefore is a series of fragments of banks, of which the curved section just northeast of Wainfleet All Saints is a good example. Since this is accompanied by a dark line it looks as if this is a confining bank, very likely for a former course of Wainfleet Haven. Their presence does not give any indications that might allow inferences about age: they were doubtless modified and repaired time and time again.

In this landscape, anything over a metre higher than its surroundings attracts suspicion as having been a bank. The obvious candidates are in fact areas locally known as e.g., Wainfleet Bank where a double set either side of Wainfleet Haven still sits up from the areas to north and south; the Old Fen Bank in some sections at least, and parts of the bank followed by the easterly road (Croft Lane) from Northolme towards Croft. But there is no landscape evidence for a bank along the line of High Street for example even though the APs and GE show such a trace in Friskney. Some of the roads across the Low Grounds of Wainfleet St Mary appear to be raised above the fields but here as elsewhere there exists the likelihood that it is the land that has shrunk.

One interesting feature of such a pattern infused with such assumptions about banks as communications routes is the presence of two 'double' bank systems with a waterway in between. These are (1) Wainfleet Haven between the present town and the Old Fen Bank, and (2) The Lymn between Northolme and the site of Croft Manor. The history of the Lymn is obviously complex but at some stage must have flowed down this course to join The Haven since a 1443 document talks of Lymn and Market Place as in proximity to a property:

ex parte boreali fori eiusdem ville quemdam suream vocatem le Lymme.16

The placing of a watercourse between two banks is seen in the Netherlands and so is discussed in 3.6., as are continental examples of banks around towns.

Another cartographic indication of a bank is in the label of the drain which runs parallel with The Haven but to the north (forming the boundary between Wainfleet All Saints and Thorpe St Peter parishes) as 'Weirdyke' on some maps but 'Wardyke' on others. 'Wardyke' a term for a bank which protected one area from flooding by another and so it seems very likely that there was a bank along its line, with an accompanying drain. (There is a hint of this in the bank symbols in the early Six-Inch maps along the north side of the Bell Water drain just west of the Three Tuns at Thorpe Culvert, at TF 466 603). This situation seems common as Dugdale's map of the East Fen shows for the Lusdyke for much of its course (annoyingly, the Lusdyke was a watercourse not a bank even though it seems to have been encased in banks so as to make it trough-like). So the Weir-/War-dyke can be added to the overall list of putative banks.

The general picture is of hints that there was a comprehensive protection against the sea by means of a sea-wall northwards from the town, and that southwards there were one or more sea-walls that were in places succeeded by the Tofts. Not to be forgotten, however, is that the reclamation sequence inland had produced a series of compartments that were available to help stem any flood. The post-medieval story is less one of sea-floods than of freshwater inundations, all of which would have been helped along by the shrinkage of land once it was taken from fen and salt-marsh.

3.1.1.2 Salt-Making

Much of the fenland held salt-making terrain from prehistoric times to the mid-seventeenth century. It is probably helpful to distinguish between (a) salterns that faced sands and salt-marsh where silts were scraped up and then processed, and (b) those where a channel led salt water into holding ponds and then filtration units. The linear saltern strips of Wrangle and Wainfleet St Mary are of the first type; the later fifteenth century coastal works near St Michael's Lane in Wainfleet St Mary are of the second type. Both types produced abundant waste material though it is not known if there were any differences between them. In that context, the main light thrown on the SEL salt industry (of whatever period) is its ability to function away from the shoreline. Provided that there are supplies of saline water then salt can be extracted from it, albeit at increasing energy costs as the water gets less saline. One possibility for 'inland' salting needs further thought: was it possible that there was a salt-rich layer of water under the whole SEL basin? Were the Quaternary deposits above the clays permeable enough to allow infiltration from the sea evenly, perhaps, or did some of the fossil watercourses that show up as roddons on the regional LiDAR act as conduits? The basal waters of many of the fen drains today have a high saline content, although it is possible that the ground water has been drawn inland by efficient pumping; nevertheless the possibility remains that salt-making away from tidal water could have been facilitated by the presence of a layer of salt-rich groundwater.

One question posed by the Wainfleet area work is that of the rectangular ponds and indeterminate enclosures found in the area. There are two main types: rectangles with thick walls, mostly square, and often having the circular features of post-evaporation sediments visible in aerial photographs. Examples of Wainfleet Bank typically measured about 45 x 45m with some slightly smaller examples. The second type are more often 10 - 12m square, in blocks whose boundaries are delineated by current land use; they are usually visible only under grassland.17 The latter type have a parallel in the engraving of 'Ancient Salt Pans at Bicker-haven, in Lincolnshire; in Miller and Skertchley's 1878 Fenland Past and Present book (Fig 3.2), but they do not give any indication of likely age. The larger enclosures are not recorded from other fenland locations and parallels must be sought elsewhere (section 3.2) The dating of these types of feature might be facilitated by excavation (though some luck might be needed) since no obvious comparisons seem to have entered the literature. Their age can only be a matter for speculation at present: they might be Roman salt-pans or they might be later holding-tanks for fish (especially eels and perch) that were sent to London in water-tanks mounted on wagons.

One comparison on a regional scale that can be drawn is between the long narrow line of toftland north of Wrangle Haven and the wider area to the south. The context of an excavation at Quadring, near the extinct Bicker Haven shows the importance of a supply of fresh water for salt-making, the presence of soil from the high and middle salt-marsh in the waste (confirming the source of the scraped-up silts), the likelihood that waste mounds were quarried in later times, the use of peat fuel and of lead trays for evaporation. A plan of local field shapes can be interpreted as rectangular enclosures of waste mounds which eventually make a transition to useful land. There is stage, however, when the waste mounds (always called 'hills;) are barren and the 'Floors or bottoms' are very wet. The 'Floors' may be settling ponds and possibly even modifications of the pans of the upper salt-marsh: in summer after a spell of dry weather that coincided with a spring tide, the bottom silt of such a pan might be 50 - 75 per cent salt.18 The evidence from the Bicker area implies that the long narrow 'hills' of the Wainfleet-Wrangle zone are not necessarily typical of the fenland as a whole. The coincidence of 'haven' location and DB presence at both Bicker and Wrangle/Leake suggests that the estuarine portion of Wainfleet was a likely location for salterns in medieval times, with the last phase of the industry on the more open shore of Wainfleet St Mary in late medieval-early modern times. If Mill Lane in Wainfleet All Saints (west from Bateman's Brewery) was a sea-bank then salt-making as high as Chop Hills is easily comprehended, and the sites high up Wainfleet Bank not at all unreasonable provided salt water was accessible.

The well-known mound belt of the northern Lincolnshire Marshland is also clearly different in its landscape presence and historical role and the pre-medieval industry (i.e., probably pre-sea-level rise Roman) may be different again; the detailed investigation from the Lincolnshire Marsh19 does not repeat the picture gained from the Wash coast and perhaps the overall scene is one of temporal discontinuities and of regional (or perhaps even local) differences in salt-making methods.

3.1.1.3 Settlement

Rural settlement is notorious for its shifts and very little from south Lincolnshire throws light on the SEL situation. The general position of Saxon-founded villages on artificially-created areas supplemented by Danish and Irish-Norse names is not challenged by interpretations further away. The statement that the Danish settlers took up the less-productive sites seems however to be belied by Irby and Firsby both of which have access to the fen but also (like Great Steeping) some higher and drier ground as well. Like Boston, the development of a town (at Wainfleet) seems to have been relatively late. The only settlement with a -wic name is at Butterwick, about 6km ENE of Boston and currently about 3km from the sea; at DB Freiston was a hamlet of Butterwick and this subsidiary was chosen for a cell of Crowland Abbey. Butterwick sits just south of a stream and so might have been on a haven analogous to those at Bicker and Wrangle; in this latter parish there is a Wicken Lane, now leading from the former head of Wrangle Haven towards Leake Commonside, which itself appears on APs to have been at the head of a creek. Wic is, nonetheless, capable of more than one interpretation especially in a marsh- or fen-edge location since salt-marsh islands used as refuges for sheep were in some regions called 'wicks;.20

In the most general of English contexts, the question of how much Saxon settlements shifted is key to early colonisation. Up to the Middle Saxon period, farmsteads were easily moved and thus archaeologically ephemeral; thereafter comes the emergence of arable cores surrounded by a fence and an irregular patchwork of strips and block-fields. While the hall of the magnate might be fixed, the rest of the settlement might move within a given territory. The roots of fiscal tenements and of the multiple estate seem to have been in the landscape of the seventh and eighth centuries: a new assemblage of territory, with the PN of -worth often attached to them. Given this history, the constants in a landscape of dispersed settlement are more likely to have been trackways than farmsteads. So any traceable landscape of early settlement in SEL is unlikely to have emerged before the 7 - 8th centuries but nevertheless was well established by the time of the Domesday survey.21 The parish boundaries of the region may well have remained undetermined until there was pressure on a resource such as fen or salt-marsh: in the East Fen the division of the Wainfleet, Friskney and Wrangle may not have happened until the tenth century and the same might apply to the intricate boundaries of Addlethorpe in the GEA.

3.1.2 Other Regions: Romney Marsh, Somerset, Fife

The 'official' relevance of Romney Marsh starts with the 1427 Statute of Sewers which was the model for Commissioners of Sewers; in the rest of England.22 Promulgated by the gentle and unwarlike Henry VI (then only 6 years old), the provisions of the statute underlay the work of commissions in Lincolnshire. After the 1390s the law and custom of Romney Marsh became applicable to most of England. Around 1400, commissions in Lincolnshire might equally be told to use the Romney Marsh precedents or the traditional local custom. (Owen points out that this may be an artifact of drafting)23 and were eventually taken up into the permanent establishments of Commissioners with their own courts in the time of Henry VIII in his Statute of Sewers of 1531.24 Less formally, work on the evolution of Romney Marsh has brought together considerations of both the physical geography and the economic history of the region in ways with relevance for studies in Lincolnshire. Salt was not a major occupation in Romney Marsh but its existence in medieval times is not in question. The method used was the scraping-up of a sandacre, with each unit having a filtering-pit or trough. This last declivity was the source of most of the wastes, which form a series of mounds (now mostly ploughed out) between New Romney and Belgar. Every salt-cote or boiling-house seemed to be on a mound for good drainage and one such raised area was called 'saltcotehelle;.25 This work is also a reminder of the equivalence of a 'quarter' and a 'seam' of salt and that four seams made a wagon-load or 'wey' of perhaps 256 gallons or 32 bushels. Work by Gardiner in the Brede valley produces other echoes of the Wainfleet area; a wide area of marsh was divided by a network of tidal channels, all of which were called fleets: Mareflet26 and Oldeflete among them. The river name itself was once Ee, as in one name for Wainfleet Haven. There was also a Damme which was a straight embankment about 1000m long across the valley, probably dating from 1250 - 1300. It served to protect part of the valley from flooding, as a causeway with a bridge and a sluice set into it, and a minor quay on its seaward side.27 The River Rhee was in fact an artificial construction. Its first phase was about 4km long but eventually it was extended to 23km. Its purpose was to scour the harbour of New Romney and its lasted until 1400 x 1430. The Rhee was enclosed between a pair of earth banks, with local traces of a third bank. Three sluices were to control the flow of water.28 Eddison claims that it is unique29 but perhaps the Lusdyke from Firsby Clough to the head of Wainfleet Haven disproves that claim.

Romney Marsh also provides data on coastal lands: that land could be used as pasture without enclosing it, having been divided into parcels before the emnabkments were made. Where ther were no natural watercourses in reclaimed land then straight ditches marked property boundaries and controlled stock. The regularity suggests feudal control. In the thirteenth century there might be one settlement site per six ha (= 15 acres) in spite of the lack of local wood e.g., to make sole-plates for timber frames in wetter areas. Thatching used straw, reeds and rushes alike. Fishing included offshore line fishing in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. with beach launching entirely possible. Some sites in the Marsh show evidence of specialisation, with presumably urban markets in view. Other relevant findings from Romney Marsh consider such matters as the transition from salt-marsh to arable, which could be as little as three years but might which equally include a ten-year stretch under grass; and the likelihood that Roman farmers took an interest in embankment, the role of shingle beaches and banks in providing higher ground for settlement (could sand dunes be an equivalent in SEL?) and the fact that few ditches were infilled between the sixteenth century and the twentieth century, so that nineteenth century maps record earlier field patterns reasonably faithfully. None of these features was necessarily present in Wainfleet Haven but they enlarge the scope of imaginative possibilities. Beyond all these findings, the density and quality of work on Romney Marsh of the type summarised above is allied to hypotheses on e.g., sediment autocompaction which challenges simplistic interpretations of coastal lowland straigraphy.30

The human imprint on the Somerset Levels received a Darby-style treatment from Michael Williams in 197031 and more recently there has been an enormous concentration of work on landscape archaeology and history by Stephen Rippon and his co-workers, of which the volume on the northern levels is most germane here32 Much of the salt-making in the region is of LIA/Roman date and were considered to be comparable with similar salterns in Norfolk, Essex and the South Coast with the possible exception of the substitution of hollowed-out logs for lead pans in the boiling part of the process. Ditches and gullies connected with tidal creeks and the whole system in one area was overlain by a field system of roughly the same age.33 No medieval salterns were recorded.

The major value of this study is in the general models which it develops which provide a benchmark for Lincolnshire studies, not least because the intensity of investigation has been much higher and therefore the potential can be shown. There are many similarities, as there are for Romney Marsh, not least of which is the 'cleaned slate;: 'the later Roman freshwater landscape, that had been embanked and partly enclosed, reverted to intertidal salt marshes and mudflats;34 Much the same happened in SEL though there is the hint in the archaeologists' interpretations that here the wiping-clean might have been during the Roman period rather than just after it. The Rippon method is to work back from the nineteenth century, teasing out a 'landscape stratigraphy' so as to identify elements in the landscape of different origins.35 Some of this methodology is adopted in the last section of the present work, though it has to be adapted for the greater intensity of recent land use in the Lincolnshire case. More use is made here of comparisons with the Low Countries which face Lindsey and Holland across the North Sea since they are likely to be more directly of use here than in Somerset.

One region of direct interest is that of the wetlands of the Humber estuary (HW), including south Holderness and the Vale of York. The most recent work has emphasised the archaeology, with older investigations treating the medieval and later drainage as a central theme.36 Findings include a decline in the population of the HW in the post-Roman period (as evidenced by decreased herb pollen in peat cores) and early medieval (AD 400 - 900) pottery coming only from a settlement (Walsham) on slightly raised ground. There is a high-status settlement or monastery at Flixborough overlooking the Trent flood plain but in general early and middle Saxon settlements are sparse in the HW. Only one example of a possible terp has been put forward: Luddington in the lower Trent valley. The wetter areas of south Holderness and some of the salt-marsh areas were reclaimed in the twelfth century (and onwards) and the drains that fell into the Humber were an important source of water-power for mills, some of which belonged to monasteries.

No estuary where salt was made is likely to be without relevance for SEL. The list is long and includes regions where investigations have been thorough, such as the Solway Firth and those where only passing attention has been paid, as in the Tees. The Solway is of interest because of the detailed description of salt-making made in the eighteenth century, which is one of the few from the British Isles. There is also the eighteenth century works at St Monance in Fife, where a windmill was used to pump up sea-water into ponds from which evaporation took place before the brine was evaporated in a panhouse, using local coal as the fuel.37 It seems scarcely necessary to postulate the need for a windmill to pump up salt water in SEL when the tides are available, but it does fire the speculative possibility that a tide mill on a haven might serve two purposes. The first would be the trapping of water at high tide to power a wheel or wheels on the ebb, as with the extant example at Woodbridge in Suffolk and the second could be the trapping of some of that water into a salt-making process. An example of a tide mill has been excavated in Northern Ireland and this might point in the direction of Chop Hills on Wainfleet Haven, about 1.2km west of the town. It is reached by Mill Lane, which is normally taken to mean the road to the windmill at the brewery but none of the maps portray a mill there before the brewery's nineteenth century establishment. On the Burleigh maps of the 1580s the locality is called 'Iop / Jop Hills' in a region where the term 'hills' is usually reserved for salt waste. There are six small circles38 and the land/water interface symbol disappears although there seems to be two 'islets' of it out in the water (Fig 3.3). On modern maps and APs, the straight-sided downstream boundaries (including a road on the north side), with an upstream triangle, would fit the idea of a mill pool and although the gardens of today's houses are intensively worked over, there are some indications on aerial imagery of former heaps of material that might been salt-making waste. The apex of the triangle has a number of linear but interrupted 'stripes' of material which might be former mounds of the type seen elsewhere in the area.39 A saltern stilling-pool would also make an adequate tidal retention pool for a mill.40 The projection of an overall shape of a mill-pool with a dam is consistent with the excellent Irish example at Nendrum, which dates from 619 - 621 AD (Fig 3.4).41 An excavation in Leicestershire showed how a dammed river might generate a secondary dam in a tributary, to increase the effectiveness of the primary dam.42 Again, it is a layout which might fit Chop Hills, with the secondary stream being a diversion of the Lymn north of Wainfleet down Mat Pits Lane to The Haven. Although there is nothing beyond speculation, this Wainfleet site could go on a wish-list for further examination.43

3.2 The British Context

Although this study has affected to start after the Roman period, there is no doubt that the earlier era was important in the region, not least because the late/post Roman rise in sea-level was not uniform, so that a fresh start in Saxon times might in some places be illusory. In this region, too, the full extent of Roman settlement and its nature cannot be determined and hence its degree of continuity - if any - with early Saxon land-taking is uncertain. SEL might in fact be marginal to the core area of Roman occupation in Elloe and hence show few of its settlement and economic features. But if the marine deposits were thick over Skirbeck and Candleshoe then Roman features might only now be showing through holes in an eroding 'blanket;.

Beyond such generalities, the conclusion from e.g., the work in Romney Marsh has been that settlement and economy have varied in amplitude and success with local factors more than with major external influences such as climate and plague. The viability of a port seems to have been the key element in local prosperity: something to be remembered in the Wainfleet context. A port town will have certain freedoms to act and many of its citizens will be freed from feudal obligations, a trend which, along with enfranchisement, was common on the continent when new towns such as the bastides of France were established. New reclamations, in e.g., Flanders, were sometimes peopled with peasants who paid rent but who escaped some of the more onerous taxes. They might be obliged to repair dykes but in return a church might be built and a separate parish created, all before 1300. The new lands were usually royal grants to bodies such as monasteries or to favoured aristocrats.44 A speculative parallel with SEL can be seen, in which the lands created from fen and sea up to about 1300 were sites inhabited by a free peasantry and in which churches together with parishes were created by patrons such as Stixwold priory or the Kyme family. Equally the decline of the port of Wainfleet after about 1375 might have had repercussions for the regional economy, though which might be the chicken and which the egg seems impossible to determine.

3.2.1 Agriculture

In the absence of detailed recent work on the agronomy of SEL, resort has to be made to some other investigations. While not necessarily directly relevant, work in Norfolk by Campbell, for example, does elucidate topics which are worth looking out for in the evidence from SEL. Looking further back, there seems no evidence that would add detail to the general proposition that the Mid-Saxon period (AD 650 - 850) in eastern England was an era of substantial innovation in animal husbandry designed to produce a surplus;45 the key centres were the monasteries and secular estates and in lowland SEL, too little of them is known.

In Norfolk, cultivation in severalty was encouraged by fragmentation in the years to the mid-thirteenth century although an intensive and sustained production might be achieved; legumes and barley, fallow periods and horses underlay high outputs. With a BD mortality of perhaps 55 per cent, the transition to land transfers by conveyance rather than inheritance was accelerated, coming to prominence in the fifteenth century and favouring the agglomeration of holdings rather than their subdvision.46 The pervasiveness of common fields, for example, is not directly mappable in SEL, though work on enclosure in parishes on the north side of the East Fen47 does show how much of the land was in 'old enclosures' and hence outside the management structure of the common fields. Where there were pieces of fenland margin, then these were mostly already enclosed before the eighteenth century, suggesting that individual enterprise was responsible for nibbling at the edges of fen common. The presence of named fields such as East and West Fields at Great Steeping, a North Field at Burgh and a Great Field west of Wainfleet All Saints town, implies that there were common fields but not when.48 By contrast, 'closes' of land existed in Wrangle in 1242 x 1252 and in 1321 x 1324. There are also traces of infield-outfield systems in seventeenth century sources. A coherent hypothesis would be that 'old' dry lands at the core of vills retained common fields until enclosure but that new lands from fen or salt-marsh (including coastal salterns) were held in severalty. In the context of post-BD difficulties, the discussion of settlement shrinkage (2.4.8) gains relevance and perhaps some of these sites were already in a poor way after the multiple blows of 1315 - 1347, with only the 1330s promising better conditions.

Fragmentation also had its advantages in the sense of being receptive to new crops or to changes in emphasis. Again in Norfolk winter-sown cereals were dominant (at 50 - 100 per cent and nearly all wheat) in 1250 - 1449, but this was reversed in 1584 - 1739 when barley became the leading crop. Another change was the importance of sheep: before the BD they were mostly a peasants' animal but after the mid-1370s became more important in demesne farming; cattle were about 40 per cent of the animal units until the 1630s by which time oxen had been eliminated as draft animals in Norfolk.49 Animals are usually regarded as important elements in the nutrient cycling of cropping but dunging does not add to the nitrogen store of the farm unless an 'outside' source of animal fodder is tapped. In SEL, there was little woodland, for example, though sheep might bring in nutrients from the salt-marsh and cattle from the summer grazing on the fen, if they were corralled at night. If farmyard manure was not enough to fertilize the arable fields then other sources of nutrients had to be sought. In Norfolk, marling was common from the mid-thirteenth century onwards, though it had to be subsidiary to manure as it was very labour-intensive. Large towns such as Norwich produced saleable night soil but in SEL presumably only Boston had any chance of such an economy, albeit like Norwich water transport would have been possible.50 No evidence of marling either in documents or as relic pits has turned up in SEL. There are the ponds discussed in XXXXX but the presence of calcareous material beneath the tofts; surface seems unlikely unless there was a calcareous sand, for which there is no evidence. Claying was common in most fen areas but was a much later practice, becoming widespread in about 1830.51 There is an outside chance that some sort of early claying left the single reference to 'tile land' in Friskney in the seventeenth century Barkham rental (see 2.4.6.2) though the equivalence of 'tile' with bricks has more strength.52 If flax and hemp were grown then a high level of nutrients had to be provided for them and competition for high-quality wastes seems a likely result. The generalisations for coastal marshlands made by Rippon53 certainly have echoes in SEL. The thinning out of settlements was one interpretation of the village plan synopses (xxxxx) although he thinks that it was less prevalent in marshlands than on dryer ground. One other possible interaction might have come from the extra rainfall in the bad years of the fourteenth century: as land to the Wolds side of the Tofts was reclaimed, the drainage of freshwater fens was more difficult. The 1318 Inquest can be read in the light of that trend since it post-dates the substantial reclamations in Wrangle and Friskney as well as further south.

The national picture shows a number of years of scarcity in medieval times and it seems unlikely that SEL was exempt. The floodings recorded in 1300 - 1349 had a remarkable concentration in 1320 - 1327, followed by fewer floods but a consistent presence in 1329 - 1335 and some peaks in 1343 - 1350.54 Then, 1257 - 8, 1272, 1293 - 5 and 1315 - 7 were years of poor returns of grain. 1315 - 1317 produced probably the most serious food shortage in English history: some 15 per cent of the population of Essex died. Overall the first half of the fourteenth century produced many disastrous events. Apart from the harvest failure in 1316 (the worst until 1597, and accompanied by an outbreak of typhus) there was dearth again in 1330 - 31 and 1346 - 7; in 1319, 1320 and 1334 - 5 there were epidemics of disease in cattle and sheep. There is a wider political context as well: war was a constant feature of that half-century. It fell upon non-combatants in the forms of levies (which discouraged capital investment), war taxes (one was levied at the height of the great famine of 1315 - 1317) and compulsory purchase of food by the Crown. This latter was always below market price and often not paid for. As the enemies were either France or Scotland, or both, the demands for goods often fell more heavily upon the east coast, and notably on Cambridgeshire, Hunts and Lincolnshire.55

The local evidence for these general trends and events is patchy. Nearly all the documents in the Bethlem archive that deal with land transfers in Wainfleet in the fourteenth century and fifteenth century are 'grants;, and so not hereditary transfers. This is not totally informative since passing land down the family left no documents beyond wills. The fen management problems described in the 1318 Inquest56 would have come on top of a period of considerable stress caused by the weather, making their solution more difficult; the BD must have hit a population in poor shape. Attempts to sell fish outside the stipulated frameworks (forestalling) are seen in the courts and presumably reflect private attempts to increase incomes.57

Lest however too gloomy a picture of the region is portrayed, the overall position in terms of wealth seems favourable for 1300 - 1347. Detailed analyses of the data from Inquests Post Mortem show the lands around the Wash consistently appearing in the highest categories for total wealth per unit area and for lay wealth for unit area (except for the areas of wet fen) and a combined assessment of lay wealth and taxpayers has north Holland in the very top 'decile' and south Lindsey in the third highest 'decile', with a low figure for less than 6.4 taxpayers per square mile, compared with 8.0 or more in north Holland.58 The area around the Wash shows very high values for gain between DB and 1334 which probably reflects the value and quantity of reclaimed lands in that period;59 so altogether SEL is unlikely to have escaped the suffering of the first half of the fourteenth century but it could cope with it from a good base. Nevertheless, the evidence of the decline of the harbour at Wainfleet and the way in which Boston lost its eminence among English towns, both the in the second half of the fourteenth century, shows that nowhere was invulnerable to major economic shifts. In 1300, Hallam remarks, the fenlanders were not starving but 'their position was not an easy one;.60

The wealth of course reflects the population, both in terms of density and social class and Hallam posits a stable economy with a rising population between 1241 and 1348 but that the combination of flood and plague in the fourteenth century was disastrous: 'five centuries elapsed before the Lincolnshire fenland supported as many people again.'61 This work was done in the Spalding area and he calculated a population density in 1260 of 114 per square mile.62 The main determinant of growth to that level was land reclamation, which introduces a local element into absolute numbers, if not necessarily into densities. If undrained fen was an important element in peasant subsistence then its availability must have been a critical factor in people's well-being and the areas around the East Fen as well off as any, apart from the malaria. Whereas in some areas the BD might have left too few people to maintain a high-risk environment like SEL, there seems no evidence for wholesale retreat of either a managed or a disaster-led kind. Whatever caused the decline of Wainfleet as a port would have had repercussions in the local area since the local demands for good and services that could have diversified the local economy would have fallen away. The consequences may well have included the kind of leasing out or 'farming' of demesne that allowed peasants to accumulate larger holdings or the way in for butcher-graziers to dominate the economy of areas like Lincoln Marsh in the seventeenth century.63 In Wainfleet, a few family names seem to re-appear as if they were becoming prominent people: the Dandysons (of Pepperthorpe Hall in Wainfleet St Mary) are strong in Little Steeping in the sixteenth century but a Wainfleet representative becomes a 'yeoman' by 1583; the Maryngs held land in Wainfleet and in Louth in the 1420s, and the Mewsom/Mawson family were first mentioned in 1372 but one of them was a burgess of Wainfleet to the grand council of Edward III in 1337 and was described as a ship-owner. A Simon Newsom held pontage rights over 'Sailholmebrygge' in 1410, along with a Wace and an Ellercar, both documented families in Wainfleet St Mary.64

Hallam's regional picture contrasts with a general model such as that of Kitsikopoulos, which favours growing surpluses and improved peasant standards of living after the BD in spite of the nobility's attempts to claw back sources of wealth.65 Towns, almost certainly, had to attract population after the BD if they were to grow, a process impeded by further outbreaks of plague. So even if rural SEL was among the more robust economies of the post-BD period, the towns such as Wainfleet (and indeed Boston) were less well favoured.

3.2.2 Water Management

Research on areas like Romney Marsh, Norfolk, the Essex coast and the Severn Levels has allowed the extraction of some generalisations about medieval and early modern water management, though neither the volume nor the detail of the work equals that in the Low Countries. From the Halvergate Marshes in Norfolk, for example it is apparent that after embankment (thirteenth century-seventeenth century) that the creeks in the salt-marsh were converted into sinuous ditches; the enclosed areas may have needed a higher drainage density and so straight ditches were constructed, supplemented by small linear in-field surface drains to reduce flooding in shallow basins.66 Vills seem to have expanded at their own speed, erecting a fen bank for their own profit and extending a 'wardyke' along the flanks. New enclosures might be as long as one mile (1.6km) in length. The new enclosure could pass into arable use (the most desirable land use since it increased the cropping of cereals and legumes) in as little as 30 years, yielding valuable pasture and meadow resources in the interim.67 The effects of land shrinkage following drainage ('de-watering;) were not generally recognised until the nineteenth century: as late as 1809 John Rennie still thought that the Lincolnshire fens could always be drained by gravity. The research from other English places has confirmed that by the time of the Conquest the rights to the fens were divided up and probably those to salt-marsh as well; assemblies of men who broke banks were probably seeking to maintain common rights against lords who wanted to enclose. But there always lurks the possibility that the Danelaw might have different practices from the rest of England.68

In such low terrain, the drainage of arable land is always a critical matter and given the weather patterns reported above, it is not difficult to imagine crop losses from the waterlogging of fields which in upland zones would have drained more readily. The classical method of ridge and furrow is found in SEL and often distinguishable on APs even in places where modern ploughing seems to have flattened it entirely. The area around Firsby Clough and Little Steeping is especially rich in the feature. Areas of reclaimed land were sometimes divided into strips of 12 - 20m width (occasionally up to 50m) which were bounded by ditches and to which the name 'dyling' is often applied; in Latin documents this usually appears as 'daila', with the suggestion that the ON 'dal' is involved. If very wet, then probably the land lay in pasture; there is a preserved example at the fen end of Gateroom Lane in Wrangle (TF 438 527) and two records from the thirteenth century in Friskney, one of which had a mill as part of the grant.69 The Bardney chartulary of the twelfth century records a daila of meadow in Firsby. What needs further explanation are the long swales of land which show up on the regional LiDAR in much of Wainfleet St Mary and in southern Wainfleet All Saints: are these 'natural' ridges resulting from deposition patterns on a marsh or are they very long reclamation intakes?

Using water, rather than getting rid of it, is not usually straightforward in medieval England. Few lay people or institutions like towns wanted to invest in clean water, at any rate until the fifteenth century. Thus an engineered supply to a house or urban area was rare. Monasteries were much more likely to be concerned with both supply and effluent management.70 Wainfleet town's freshwater supply might be interrogated in that kind of context: since it is built on salt waste, where was the fresh water table? Since it was founded near the sea, would there in fact have been fresh ground water and since salt-making is enhanced by a freshwater supply, where was its source? The role of ponds in the latter has been examined but the overall impression can be gathered that a surface supply would be helpful. There is no direct evidence but a map of possible branches and diversions of the Lymn just north of the town can be interpreted as bringing Lymn water along the west side of the town's High Street before joining The Haven. The Lymn itself probably ran down the east side of the urban structure before falling into a Haven which was looping north towards Northolme, a bend subsequently taken out before 1550. The west-east drain (High Wainfleet Drain on the First Edition One-Inch maps) enters a triangle of drain courses north-west of the town and some diversions of its water into either the Lymn or into a drain running down to Chop Hills (i.e., along Mat Pits Lane) can be imagined. So while there is no direct evidence, the possibilities for a renewable supply of surface water to the town and its northern environs is possible. If the salt-makers of Sailholme required fresh water then ground- or rain-water seem the only sources. The monastic concern is reflected in Wainfleet only in the siting of the church of Wainfleet St. Thomas (near where it is assumed the monks of Bardney would have lived) close to the course of the Lymn when it had a directly southward run to The Haven.71

Water supply to monks in Wrangle is well documented by the agreement between Alexander of Pointon and the abbot of Waltham in 1184 x 1230 to have an aqueduct from the river Hestia to the gates of the monastic headquarters. It was to be no more than one thousand feet long and eighteen feet wide and the convent was not to enlarge it nor to fish in it, for Alexander retained the fishing rights.72 The exact nature of the water quality in the Hestia in largely reclaimed terrain may not have been sparkling but perhaps the local ground water was saline; the exact location of the monastic curia is not certain.

Monasteries did not usually take part in the conspicuously decorative form of water management which comprises moat-digging. Domestic moats mostly date from 1200 - 1325 and were status markers for the local gentry.73 They are common in SEL, with several examples singled out on the O.S. maps; in fact there were more since some manor houses which have not survived, as at Croft, Wainfleet St Mary, and Steeping show by their soil marks that they were surrounded by water features.

Likewise, fishponds were signs of high standing and often owned by the aristocrats among the lay folk. They were rare in Saxon times and most date after 1100; a few were raised by peasants as part of a fish-producing industry and like river fisheries often tried to catch high-status species. (Fresh-water fish were much more prized than 'common' sea fish like herring). Shad, salmon and lamprey, eel and pike were the main species sought for the tables of high-ranking lay and clerical men. The demands for fish from monastic sources are well known and an important building-time for their fishpond was 1200 - 1300. Fisheries were also made out of abandoned turbaries: Bourne Abbey was allowed to make fisheries in the marsh, in turbaries, dikes and cuts as well as in running water.74 In SEL a number of fishponds are identified on the O.S. maps and in the SMR, though the possibility that some of them might be salt-making ponds is not normally considered. Unless some detailed excavations are undertaken, no certainly is likely. The Manor Farm complex in Friskney (TF 449 555) certainly has rectangular pond-type enclosures but is set within a half-kilometre radius of many other small rectangular features and a complicated water-channelling and silt-mound producing system immediately to the south.75 Whatever 'ponds' there were at Manor Farm, they may have been a small part of a sophisticated water management array which seems to have reached almost as far south as Abbey Hills, a known monastic site which was probably a grange of Bardney Abbey.76

Flowing water was a primary source of power and also a substrate for transport. For the latter, the less flow the better provided there was enough to prevent silting; Lincoln city's canal system had silted up by 1375 and may have been usable only in winter by 1299. The Foss Dyke was questionable in 1335. Complains about the usefulness of the system were levied in 1335 - 1432 but the riparian owners would not keep up their inputs. As roads and bridges improved then comparable investment in water transport seems not to have kept pace. One of the Wainfleet miracles of 1374 records a cart with four quarters of salt going from Wainfleet to 'Lindsey' (versus partes Lindesie) tipping over at a small bridge at Irby.77 Beside the miracle of the recovery of a small boy from an hour of unconsciousness, the interest perhaps lies in the fact that the salt was being transported by land and not by water: the Lymn was at that time probably navigable to Halton Mill.

The watermill was without doubt of greater significance. The normal arrangement was that the right to mill grain rested with the manorial lord and that he could comple all his tenants to use his mill. A few were in the possession of free tenants but the more usual situation was comparable with the Bishop of Durham in the fourteenth century who received ten per cent of his total income from mills. Water mills were without doubt the earlier type of installation, with examples known in England from the sixth century. They required the usual upkeep costs of the mill's moving parts but also those of the setting: dams, leats and sluices. The illustration in the Luttrell Psalter is probably quite accurate, including the catching of eels in basketwork traps. After about 1180 any watermill whose costs were unusually high was likely to be replaced by a windmill since this was a cheaper form of technology.78 In a few places, tide mills were feasible (as at Nendrum supra) and when Wainfleet Haven was tidal, it might have been a suitable environment; once any form of dam or sluice was across the waterway, however, the utility was much reduced; the pond however might have been a suitable pond for salt-making. In complete contrast, a few farms had horse-mills: away from suitable water and with individual control of costs these had some appeal.79 In SEL, several medieval mills were specified as windmills and the example at Friskney is well known. Early in the thirteenth century Gilbert of Benniworth gave the priory of Ormsby a windmill and a saltern, with the sandacre and the higher ground, so at the junction of the upper salt-marsh and the toftland80 (et molendinum meum de vento cum situ predicti molendini et cum omnibus pertinenciis et totam terram quam habui ex utraque parte predicti molendini tam in sablone quam in alta terra). The Earl of Lincoln was granted two marks per annum from the mill of Peter son of Simon of Wainfleet (de quondam molendino ventricio) in 1304.81 These references echo the general finding that after 1180 windmills were the dominant form. But the map of Wainfleet Haven and the Lymn of the mid-sixteenth century depicts Steeping Mill with an unambiguous vertical water-wheel and a roofed structure.82

No local evidence for other forms of water control has been found: the fen waterways that were used to transport peat to the salterns seem not to have needed any upkeep that found its way into the documentary record.83 In the East Fen, the Deeps may well have provided a system of waterways for the (presumably) shallow-draught boats that were used. Even so, a bridge in Wrangle had to be constructed so as to allow the passage underneath of small boats carrying peat (ut navicule que turbam portent subtus pontem transire possint).

Considering the nature of SEL as a water-dominated landscape, the focus is largely on major arteries such as Wainfleet Haven, the Lymn, and the sea defences, and thus relatively little on minor matters of water use and control. In particular freshwater supply and management of minor flows seem to have taken care of themselves or at any rate were managed at a level which required no writing. None of the Bethlem documents, for example, allude to water control. The grand exception appears to be the Partney Inquisition of 1560 made by Commissioners of Sewers, which lays down the construction of nine 'petty goats' and 'spouts' in the two Wainfleet parishes; they were to be made in places like Crossgate, Collison Gate, and ''Somergate".84

3.3 The European Mainland

Some comparisons with continental Europe are conspicuous: the Netherlands; experience of embankment, peat extraction, polder management and settlement history is obvious. The same type of history is found in other parts of the North Sea coast, in Frisian, Schleswig, Flanders and other parts of Belgium. The Baltic is nevertheless relevant especially in terms of making salt in northern climates and in the development of small medieval ports. Lastly, even the coasts of the Mediterranean may yield interesting information about salt-making which while not immediately obvious as models for SEL may show some details of interpretive value. No claims can be made for a comprehensive review of the continental evidence: it is too diverse, too scattered in locations and in too great a variety of languages for a thorough analysis.85 Salt-marshes are common on these coasts and their history may be relevant to SEL.86 A very selective extraction of ideas and material is therefore inevitable. They are arranged by region and where the comparison with SEL can be made in a sentence or two it is dealt with at that point but more extensive comparisons have a separate section at 3.6.

3.3.1 The Netherlands

The Dutch term 'waterwolf' refers to the the incidence of flooding in the western Netherlands. In medieval times inundations rose to the point where the destructive effect of wind-driven water was common in history, literature and folklore. Though no exact equivalent has been found for SEL, the concept can be kept in mind when comparing e.g., the first half of the fourteenth century in the two regions, helped by the fact that the word 'waterwolf' is the same in both languages.87

No part of mainland Europe is more relevant than the Netherlands, (a) because of the parallels in physical and human geography, and (b) because of the density of work in history and archaeology. There is a great variety of interesting studies in three or more languages and a great diversity of books, monographs and journals, only a small proportion of which can be found in the UK. There is happily a lengthy edited synthesis of drainage and water management, plus a body of work by William TeBrake, which can be used as starting-points for an excavation of facts and ideas which have the potential to shed light on the history of SEL.88

3.3.1.1 Settlement

Much of the western Netherlands outside the peat zones was settled from prehistory onwards, with some continuity of human-environment relations between prehistoric and medieval times. In the early medieval era before AD 800, settlement was densest on dry areas, which comprised:

  1. Salt-marsh surfaces. If only occasionally inundated by tides, the upper horizons of accreting salt-marshes could support arable agriculture, since crops such as barley are tolerant of some salt. These areas did not need ditching in their early phases, since the creek network removed excess water. Once embankment took place, the dewatered land shrank and an organised network of drainage ditches was essential. Low embankments may have been protection against high levels of river water coming downstream as well as against high tides. Population densities of 20 per km2 may have been attained and although cereal production was possible, grazing animals represented a better source of calories since they could eat so many of the marsh plants as well as those of inned land.
  2. The edges of dune areas facing landwards towards the peat. This was a possible take-off point for reclamation of peat areas, whose production of arable crops would enhance the diet provided by inter-dune slacks and grazing resources.
  3. The levees of substantial watercourses, i.e., the features known in England as roddons. These were less significant as the rivers and creeks came to the coastal salt-marsh zones but higher up provided relatively flood-free ribbons of potential arable land. Comprised of silts and clays and being adjacent to perpetual water supply, they shrank relatively little and eventually stood proud of the surrounding areas. Churches in particular might be isolated from settlements which had moved to drier locations. Levees might be formed over peats but they were relatively low since peat compacted under the weight of the mineral deposits. Undyked rivers were unlikely to report or record floods.
  4. Artificial mounds called terpen (sing terp), wierden (in the Groningen region) and wurten in Germany. The earliest examples were built on salt-marsh surfaces and were raised some 4 - 5m above the local land surface. The start of terp building was in the fifth century BC, usually as single farms but by AD 100 radial terpen of perhaps 15 farms were formed (with an open space in the middle) on a mound 150m wide and 2.8m above present sea-level. In the post-Roman period there was a movement onto levees but a period of higher sea-level produced a second generation of terpen.89 Their attraction ceased in the eleventh century when effective diking became common and in later centuries they were often quarried for soil and fertiliser.90
  5. The siting and history of the terps feeds back into discussion of Germanic settlement along the Tofts. A complex discussion concludes that ridges parallel to the shoreline could have been formed by erosion of the salt-marsh shore-face during marine transgressions or storm-surge periods. In the back-basin thus formed, there was more clay than on the sandy ridge or bar. The top of the ridge is a sandy loam on its shoreward side.91 Detailed stratigraphy of the Tofts would be needed to see if a similar lithic history could be postulated for SEL.

3.3.1.2 Embankment

Given the importance of protecting enclosed land, the detail on the spatial layout of banks is surprisingly restricted. Low embankments to deflect upstream water are a new idea in British examples, and there is probably no conscious attempt to imitate the Dutch polder as a unit under a single control authority. The Dutch banks themselves show a variety of engineering solutions in terms of slopes and of materials: sods of peat, clay, wooden shoring, layers of seaweed and reed mats were all used. Seaweed was also used as a plaster layer in estuaries to counteract wave action on banks and sea-walls.92 The state of a polder as being lower than its major drainage canal and needing water-lifting to keep it dry is however found in SEL. It seems that at least part of the Low Grounds of Friskney and Wainfleet St Mary were of this type by the seventeenth or early eighteenth century; more intriguing perhaps is the presence in the same area of 'Poller Fendyke' (shown on Dugdale's map and found in a few documents).93

Once embankments are in place, then sluices become essential. The early history of this piece of technology is not relevant here; rather, the improvement of sluice-building from 1300 onwards meant that ever bigger installations could be constructed, with a typical medieval size (w x h) of 3 x 3m metamorphosing into a 4 x 6m mechanism, which might be 20m long. The doors could be hinged at the top, bottom or sides and from the sixteenth century mitred gates were introduced. From 1408, the use of windmills to lift water from enclosed field systems (i.e., polders) meant that sluices needed to be large in order to deal with the increased water storage capacity (as lakes and canals) then made possible.94 The paintings of J. van Ruisdael (1628 - 1682) show some clear depictions of sluices.95

One other consequence of embankment was often the construction of dams on the rivers. In effect, this meant the complete enclosure of a drainage unit, the better to control it and especially to keep salt water out. Ditches might be constructed to drain individual areas and their drainages were then kept separate. This might lead to several drains located alongside each other, separated by low banks. This look like the case with the outflows ('runs;) of the Lymn, Thorpe and Bratoft Gotes in the vicinity of the Queen's Gote on Wainfleet Haven.

3.3.1.3 Reclamation of Peats

The area of peatland behind the coastal silt belt in SEL is usually mapped as being quite limited; the imagery from SPOT and a number of other satellites do however show a black staining over most of the former East Fen wetlands. This peatland is very small by comparison with the zone of the Netherlands which was covered in peat in early medieval times.96 Behind the coast, raised bogs were common, with diameters of 10 - 15km and a height of +3 - +4m ASL and possessing a radial drainage pattern. The vegetation was oligotrophic, with Sphagnum moss as the dominant genus. If the land was subject to river influence then the additional nutrients allowed the formation of a 'forest peat;, which was only just above river level. In addition to these continuous extents, there were peats intercalated with salt-marsh mineral deposits in inter-creek zones and peats covered with clays formed during periods of high sea-level.

In AD 800 the main peat zones of the Netherlands were devoid of human occupation but between 800 - 1250 reclamation for agriculture produced population densities of 40 per km2. Communities based on salt-marshes, on levees or at the edge of sand-dunes began working their way into bogs via the natural streams of the radial drainage. Characteristically, strips were demarcated by ditches and were 1250m long and 95 - 115m wide and a linear settlement pattern resulted. Taking the water table down 1.0m allowed a sod to be formed and arable production to take place: the name akker was applied to reclaimed peatlands.97 Once a drainage system was established and maintained then shrinkage of the peat was ubiquitous, and rates of 2cm/yr were experienced. Other changes included alterations of the 'natural; drainage as the surface shrank, the enlargement of small areas of open water and the formation of thin clay sheets from unoxidised mineral particles within the peat. In the Netherlands, neither salt-marsh use nor peatland reclamation required embankment in the early stages, with the drier climate of the tenth century being helpful for the drainage of first the Sphagnum peats; later the wood and reed peats needed the security of enclosure by banks.98

The new lands were susceptible to flooding, so storm surges and river floods took on an additional importance and as a consequence were better recorded.99 After 1100, for example, there were major losses of land in 1134, 1163, 1170, 1196, 1214, 1219 and 1248. So the maintenance of the land gained from the peat extents was precarious and the collective attitude of the populations of the Netherlands towards taming the waterwolf probably dates from this time. One of the measures adopted was to make sure the church stayed dry by not dewatering its peaty foundations, but it and the associated settlement might both be moved; in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries some village sites might be moved to sites with better traffic flows, in order to market produce.

One other use of peat which resulted in lowered land surfaces was its burning to extract salt. It was common to dig out blocks of peat that lay near the surface of the land and to burn them as a way of producing a salty ash that could be further refined. A well known painting from the sixteenth century documents the various stages in the process (Fig 3.5).100 No published investigation from the British Isles has suggested that this method was used west of the North Sea though in SEL it seems likely that some of the thin peats investigated by Waller et al101 might have been saline and possibly even that many of the East Fen peats had some salt at depth. Dutch sources also point to the use of marine eel-grass (Zostera marina) as a fuel for boiling saline solutions once the peats had all been used up.102 The history of salt-making in the Netherlands has not been all brought together, though there are hints of monastic involvement in the eighth and ninth centuries and a better documented set of evidence from the twelfth century onwards.103 The possible parallel with SEL is obvious.

3.3.1.4 Towns

The progress of and the reasons for the growth of towns are very variable and the Dutch history reflects this. Towns like Maastricht, Utrecht and Nijmegen are said to have originated as Roman forts. If there is an equivalent in SEL then it would probably be Skegness since there is speculation that the castle referred to by Defoe was the remains of a Roman signal station. The interpretation of the DB Tric as containing the same PN element as -tricht and -trecht adds to that interpretation. For whatever reason, Skegness was never an important town until the nineteenth century. One lesson of the Netherlands' history is that a port town may develop on a different site from a pre-existing but waterside settlement because the newer functions demanded a different layout such as access to a better channel or more space for wharfage. A double ribbon either side of a river where it widened or joined a bigger river was a possible result. Growth meant changes in topography: small mounds grew to big terp-like elevations as debris accumulated, river banks became streets and side-streams were transformed into canals and cuts for individual owners. Medemblik, for example, started on a narrow 500 metre-long terp from which successive waterfronts were built out into a river. Equally, watercourses within and just outside the town might get filled in and because waterfronts tended to move into the stream or estuary, tenement boundaries were in constant motion. Although the waterfront might be the great focus of life in port towns, the rest of the town essentially reflected its rural surroundings in terms of occupational structure.104 Lastly, it must be recognised that a port town depends on a flourishing hinterland for its prosperity. The largest town in the Baltic (Wolin in Poland - population 8000) was surrounded by such an environmentally-depleted set of soils and woodlands that by the tenth century it could not sustain itself for resources nor recover from seaborne raids.105

3.3.1.5 Landscape Description

The history of the Netherlands has bequeathed a small number of written descriptions of the terrain in late Antiquity and medieval times. These are conveniently gathered by TeBrake, who points out that these accounts are rarely objective and that there is a need to take into account the lenses through which their authors saw the landscapes and the audiences for which they were written.106

The accounts start with the Natural History of Pliny the Elder, writing from personal experience of the northern Netherlands and north-western Germany in AD 47. He saw huts on mounds that were surrounded at high tides and people who used 'dried mud' for fuel but had no apparent means of subsistence other than fishing. In classical imperialist mode, he thought that it would be best for them to be taken into the Empire. TeBrake thinks he (Pliny) saw temporary summer dwelling-places and not the people's permanent settlements, and that an Italian would have not understood the nature of life on the marine margins of the North Sea. He is followed in the annals by Frederick, bishop of Utrecht in the ninth century who thought the Frisians lived in water like fish and rarely travelled to anywhere that they might become civilized. Hence their killing of St Boniface some seventy-five years earlier, whose hagiography Frederick was preparing. A little later a Spanish-Arabian merchant traversed the Rhine delta and he remarked on the dried mud, the primacy of livestock-keeping and also on dried-up salt lakes without vegetation. TeBrake denies the validity of the salt-lake image and substitutes mud-flats, though bare dry saline pans are not uncommon on North Sea accreting coasts. Lastly there is a Viking saga from the twelfth century which is based on earlier material. This is known as Egil's Saga and recounts a plundering expedition into the lands of the Frisian. They sailed up a large shallow river (probably the Oude Rijn) into flat lands interspersed with woods; near the villages the inhabitants had enclosed their fields and meadows with ditches, which had wooden beams or bridges over them. Between the settlement and the forest there was a fence.

All these sources might equally have come from SEL in the time up to about AD 1000; in addition TeBrake summarises a document from the ninth century when a grant included "seven complete estates or manors ... including clearings, fields, pastures, meadows, woods, waters, mills, and fisheries, as well as serfs."107 This, and others like it from the tenth century, sounds very like the estates of Saxon thegns known in England at the time.

3.3.2 North-Western Germany

Though several parts of the North Sea coast of Germany are similar to those of the Netherlands, the type of work most accessible from outside is that on the fluctuations of sea-level, coastal evolution and the response from early medieval settlers. The most interesting theme for the present work is that of the raised mounds or Wurten found in low-lying coastal districts.

Thus it is fortunate that two review papers are in international sources and for many readers glücklich that they are in English.108 One finding is the prevalence of riverbank forests on the levees of the coastal lowlands, being zoned upwards from reedbeds through a willow woodland to an elm-oak-ash forest. This formed a 'gallery' forest since there was no woodland behind it and had disappeared by about AD 1000. In peat districts and where there were no levees there was no woodland. In the first century AD many raised mounds formed the basis of settlements protected from increased flooding. These reached a height of +5m ASL and were normally in clay districts; they confirm the Dutch notion of a radial pattern with open space in the centre and an economy concentrated on animal husbandry, especially of cattle. Some small-scale arable farming was dominated by beans, with subsidiary amounts of oats, emmer, flax, and wild flax, Camelina sativa. But the presence of the halophyte Juncus gerardii indicated that the wurt investigated in such detail was in fact built on a salt-marsh. All the Wurten were vacated in the middle of the fifth century and this desertion was accompanied by an exodus from the rest of the region and is thought to be a cultural/political emigration rather than an environmentally-driven abandonment. The usual interpretation is that this population movement was to England where it came to be called the Saxon and Anglian invasion. An interval of emptiness followed, after which a new settlement phase started in the seventh and eight centuries. In response to rising sea-level, another phase of Wurten emerged; these too were on salt-marsh terrain and concentrated on animal rearing, this time with a higher ratio of sheep to cattle. Most of these second-phase Wurten became the centres of medieval and modern villages. The point is made that effective diking along this coast resulted in an increase in storm-flood level in the bays and estuaries, especially from the thirteenth century onwards. Floods invaded peat areas and even deposited clays beneath peat layers: i.e., the clays are younger than the peats that overlay them. More detail about Wurten in North Frisia and their relations to salt-marshes and to the flooding which followed widespread embankment in the high middle ages is given by Meier.109 This includes the information that the methods of salt-making in early times are unknown (the first reference is to 1180) but that by the early modern period the Dutch method of burning blocks of peat was widespread: 1m3 of peat could produce 24kg of salt.

If there was indeed a direct migration from the Wurten of Germany to England in the fifth century then it is interesting that, as Van der Noort maintains,110 there are virtually no equivalents in eastern England, where the terrain would have been familiar and where the cultural evidence for their arrival is undisputed. Further discussion will be undertaken in the context of the 'North Sea culture' concept (3.5).

Work on north-western Germany reveals the complexity of coastal zone processes in low-lying areas at times of sea-level change. The conclusions reached by Behre111 that were reproduced in 2.1.x are amplified in a number of studies which add complexities. The regional picture can be changed, for example, by flooding which creates new bays once embankments have been breached: Jade Bay is quoted as one example. Further some phases of sea-level change can be very short (tens rather than hundreds of years) and so caution is needed in extrapolation. However, the rise in sea-level between 4600 cal BC and 275 cal BC can be set at 4mm/yr which is low enough for peat growth to take place. This work also calculates that 40 per cent of sea-level rise is isostatic and the rest eustatic.112 The overall picture for this region is one of a slow rise between 340 BC and 1015 AD with today's levels being reached at 1400 - 1450 AD in spite of a short phase of lowering levels around 1290 AD (with the creation of new bays) and the effects of the LIA being felt in lower levels from about 1530 AD.113 The relevance for SEL is not obvious, though the creation of new bays seems to lack evidence.

3.3.3 Denmark

The peninsular nature of Jylland means that Denmark faces both the North Sea and the Baltic though its many eastern islands have in general a Baltic air and the coast south of Esbjerg has much in common with that of Schleswig-Holstein. Much of the coastline is indented with shallow fjords but there are no big estuaries.

One aspect of Danish history well explored is that of coastal towns such as Køge, a planned harbour town on the wide bay south of Copenhagen. It was only 13km from Roskilde, which in the thirteenth century was the capital of Denmark. It was granted its urban status in 1288 and laid out on a broad foreshore that stretched back from the north bank of a river. The salt-marshes were drained with a system of ditches and the site surrounded with a semi-circular moat; on the main river the town's inland limit was apparently delimited with a bridge built at the site of a paved ford. In 1411 the harbour was shifted seawards to accommodate bigger ships for a trade with the Baltic which included salt.114 Like English examples, it had a roughly rectangular plan with a conspicuous market place and a harbour at the edge of the built-up area.

Unexpectedly, the Danish island of Læso had a thriving medieval and early modern salt industry. The island is in mid-Kattegat at 57° 16' N, 10° 59' E and the marine foreland of the southern quarter was the scene of an industry that flourished for about 500 years from the twelfth century before the wood used for boiling ran out and the deforestation allowed the blowing of sand; the height of activity was in its first three centuries and it ceased in 1652. The unusual feature in many ways was that the brine came from ground water and was accessed via wells. The regional salinity of the sea-water is 2.2 - 2.8 per cent but there is a layer of groundwater no more than 50 cm below the surface with salinities up to 17 per cent. The key geological feature is a basal impermeable clay with a thin layer of marine postglacial sands, silts and gravels carrying the water.115 The result from the air (Fig 3.6) shows some parallels with SEL: the presence of lines of round black soil marks, for example, a number of small square enclosures, and an area of coastal meadows with a micro topography with hillocks and anthills which is reminiscent of the terrain in the loop of the Old Haven east of Magdalen School at Wainfleet when seen on the earlier BW aerials.116

3.3.4 The Baltic

An example deeper into the Baltic is the Polish town of Kołobrzeg (57°10'N 15°34'E) where in 1150 - 1300 salt production took place between the town and the sea, with the landing place for salt production being distinct from the town's quays.117 An analogy with King's Lynn may be apposite. In the Bohuslän province of Sweden, the scientist, theologian and philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg noted that the conditions might allow salt production118 since the relatively low salinity might be offset by abundant fuel (wood and / or peat) and cheap iron for the boiling. He noted that Strömstad (58°56'N 11°10'E) was a special centre of the industry.

The Slavic areas of the southern shore of the Baltic were also dotted with salt production sites. Not all of these were coastal but towns such as Greifswald and Kołobrzeg had flourishing medieval industries, encouraged by the Baltic trade of the Hansa. By 1200 the abbey at Greifswald, at the mouth of the river, had built up considerable wealth as the result of salt-making based on pans higher up the river, in sheltered reaches.119

These two examples are to some extent documented but there are probably many others that historians and archaeologists have either not bothered to write up or are mentioned only in highly local sources. What is points up is that if salt-making was widespread this far north then (a) it is likely to be virtually ubiquitous in more southerly latitudes where solar evaporation becomes ever more possible, (b) that in Britain there should be widespread representation of sea-salt extraction (i) wherever rock salt was not a vigorous competitor, (ii) whenever imported salt was more expensive, (iii) in places and at times that an entrepreneur decided that solar evaporation was worthwhile for at least part of the process, and (iv) if cheap fuels (peat, wood, coal) were available for boiling brine. Thus starting in Flanders and working southwards, an increasing frequency of artisanal salt-making can be expected and even now there are some remains of such industrial enterprises.

3.3.5 Flanders and North-West France

Working south from the central relevance of the Netherlands, the similarity to SEL of the coastal plain of Flanders is often clear. This comes through in some of the pictures that accompany Raoul Blanchard's regional essay on Flanders, an example of the French regional school of its time, effortlessly capturing the character of a region. The watery landscape, windmills, settlement along roads and embankments, could all be depictions of SEL at the same time or in the second half of the nineteenth century.120 There are even echoes of place-names in the use of the term 'Aa' for a river,121 which is also found applied to medieval Wainfleet Haven.122

Recent research has produced very detailed evaluations of coastal evolution and in particular a very critical view of the Dunkerque transgression model, replacing it with more shaded regional histories and in particular the realisation that some of the coastal inundations have been human-made rather than 'natural;. This is especially germane for the first millennium AD. The detailed investigation of the coastal plain of Belgium has raised the question of an apparent invasion by the sea of peat areas which had been worked in Roman times.123 Thus the flooding of areas of peatland discussed for the Netherlands for AD 800 - 1250 (3.3.1.3) took place here but at a much earlier time. The main point is that a late Roman transgression by the sea might not be due to a rise in RSL but rather to thorough human exploitation of wetland environments, with the peat presumably used to fuel salt-making. The other main finding is that rising sea-levels reworked older channel deposits: the tides removed the upper (Holocene) material and then reworked any erodible sands of those channels, some of which were of Pleistocene age. Further, a change in local facies does not necessarily indicate rises and falls in sea-level, at any rate in tidal back-barrier locations.124

The likely sites of salt-making were variable within an estuary. This is shown by work in Normany, especially in the valley of the River Dives inland from Cabourg. A late Roman rise in sea-level here favoured the relocation of salinae from the coast to the inner estuary and there seems to have been a medieval equivalent:125

La situation semble avoir relativement peu évolué à la fin du Moyen Âge ; on note, par exemple, que dans les années 1380 - 1410, plusieurs maisons et héritages situés à Varaville jouxtent la mer, tandis qu'il est fait mention immédiatement en aval de la chaussée de Varaville de fosses « devant la mer ». Cette large ouverture vers la mer a permis à l'exploitation du sel de perdurer.126

Aerial imagery shows various field patterns and pond outlines which would not look out of place in SEL; waste mounds in this part of Normany were called 'hogues', which recalls the Latin 'hoga' found in some Lincolnshire coast documents. Linguistic evidence led Lucien Musset to assert that the saltmaking here was of Scandinavian origin.127

In a much more general context, Pounds has pointed out the great variety of field and settlement systems and the importance of meadow in the lowlands of North-western Europe in the ninth century.128 He also noted the importance of the monasteries in creating more order and more uniform systems of land occupancy and use, and the fact that those areas which had greater wealth even at that date became the cores of regions of political power in later centuries.

3.3.6 South from Biscay

It is to be expected that from Biscay southwards and into the Mediterranean that the technology of coastal salt-making might change. The fundamental difference from more northerly locations is the increased power of the sun and hence the greater role of solar evaporation and the lesser need for boiling the brine. There is also the bonus that salt is still made in many such places and so the landscape of salt-making can be observed, albeit with caution about possible changes in methods and layout down the centuries.

Along the southern shores of Bretagne, for instance, there is a large area (5.5km at its widest) of salt-making terrain largely composed of small irregular enclosures, immediately north of Batz-sur-Mer (centred at approx 47°18'N 2°27'W).129 Within each enclosure there is a set of ponds of a rigidly regular shape, with sides of 8 - 10m. Two features are noteworthy:

  1. Several ponds show 'gatherings' of salt (or other minerals) in circular form within the pond; this is also true of dried-out ponds that seem to have been abandoned.
  2. It is clearly the practice to rake out salt crystals into heaps along the bunds between ponds. To anticipate, this is common in many southern-European (and elsewhere) examples of modern salt-making. From the air there are a series of white spots along the edges of ponds and sometimes at the intersections of pond walls.130
  3. The solar-based process appears to need a series of ponds of increasing concentration and if pumping is needed between them, windmills have traditionally been the power source.
  4. The same collocation of irregular fields with added rectangular enclosures can be seen at Noirmouter-en-l'ile (46°59'N 2°15'W) and the nearby Ile de Ré where the foreshore at le Martray has a pattern of apparently fossil rectangles. Rectangular ponds are also found, with little mechanisation of salt production.131

Covering a smaller area but also on the Atlantic coast, Puerto Santa Maria in Spain (36°35'N 6°10'W) shows a typical modern pattern, with areas of long narrow ponds (255 x 28m) and separate zones of larger rectangular enclosures; some are almost square (200 x 318m) and some oblong (245 x 350m) with a 'ribbed' appearance at one magnification which resolves at higher resolutions into a myriad of small rectangles about 8 x 15m.

In Catalonia, similar sets of tanks are visible at Tancada on the Ebro delta (40°38'N 0°44'E) whereas across the delta at Salines de Trinitat (40°34'N 0°41'E) only the oblong vats are present. Both installations are small. The salt-making around the Camargue and almost as far east as Marseille is sometimes on a large scale e.g., Salin de Giraud at 43°21'N 4°38'E but the works at le Paty de la Trinité (43°21'N 4°38'E) are scarcely regularized at all, with irregular ponds (a little like the Deeps of the East Fen) all interconnected with straight ditches. At Caligari in Sardinia, a medium-sized plant has two sizes of almost-square ponds, 95 x 95m and 250 x 300m and no other plant. Trapani in Sicily has a large salt-making zone (2.5 x 2.8km) mostly of square and oblong ponds in some of which long thin ribbons of salt have been raked down the centre, with larger circular mounds at the ends. Windmills are present and at one place the whole is presided over by a large brick tower, the Torre de Nubia.132 None of these areas however achieved the pre-eminence of the Venetian republic, which held a monopoly on the production and trade throughout the regions of its hegemony.133

Most of the Mediterranean has the remains of artisanal salt-making and some of these sites have also been adapted for modern production. An organisation to promote interest in traditional 'salinas' exists134 and there are some mostly southern-Europe sites with academic work.135 The coast of Croatia is an area with historic information that shows the locations, production and trade in salt, which was a fundamental item in the business of e.g., the republic of Dubrovnik (Ragusa), with data starting in 1360.136 Some sites are still visible and indeed working, as at Šibenik (data for 1546 - 1579), Ston (1566 - 1794) and the island of Pag, first noted in 1576. One general conclusion is that year-on-year production was very variable and this is attributed to the weather during the summer harvest season. If this was true of the Adriatic then it suggests that any more northerly salinas relying on solar evaporation will progressively be more likely to have poor seasons. The exceptions might be the Baltic sites where the Scandinavian anticyclone could give a spell of settled high temperatures in summer.

Other features of possible interest include:

  1. Inland salinas in Spain (e.g., at Imón and La Olmeda, Guadalajara) which use sun and wind only, where ground-water brine is pumped around pools using mule-power.137
  2. In the late seventeenth century salt was refined at Boston and King's Lynn by using a mixture of rock salt and sea-water, with a plant still in use in Boston in 1819.138

3.4 The Rest of the World

To discuss all the features of medieval SEL which might have a parallel outside Europe would be a large-scale undertaking: a new version of Dugdale's Embanking to be begin with and the considerations of field systems and settlement patterns to follow. One theme that is world-wide is the making of salt and there is work to be done on comparative salinology. One salina at least is world-famous: the Rose Lake in Senegal (Lac Retba, 14° 49' N 17°13'W); here there is a single saline lake near the coast and the salt is raked out to the periphery. In common with everywhere else, it is formed into conical heaps before bagging and in this case the heaps appear to have a nipple-like summit to them, as if an inverted bucket of salt had topped off the mound. (The colour of the lake is due to minerals which reflect sunlight strongly at dusk and dawn and the lake was the inspiration for one of Sir Michael Tippet's last compositions.) In Japan the most famous gourmet salt (Nazuna) recognises the inimical effects of high rainfall and is made in solar-heated houses in Kyushu. (There is also a sea-salt favoured ice-cream).

3.5 The North Sea Region in Medieval Times

A recurring idea in the historiography of England's east coast is that of a region in which the sea was a unifying element. Thus the coasts of Kent and Essex and north to Northumbria were part of a nexus that included the Normandy-Baltic stretch of continental Europe. The relative ease of communication meant the flow of people, goods and ideas was frequent and lasting.139

3.5.1 Medieval Frisia

Equally constant in the literature is the notion of early medieval Frisia as one of the epicentres of influence throughout this region. From the sixth century onwards, there were exports and imports which conformed the importance of Frisia in other areas of Europe and the British Isles. Te Brake indeed uses the term 'North Sea culture' for a domain that included Frisia, Scandinavia and England.140 That this realm extended to Normandy as well has been strongly argued by Lebecq.141 The desertion of the first generation of mound settlements (terpen and Wurten) by immigrants to England in the fifth century has been discussed (3.3.2) though it has to be emphasised that evidence for similar settlements in England is exiguous. A different chronology proposed by Bremmer sees little evidence for Frisian participation in the initial movements of Germanic people to England:142

On the whole, place-names compounded with Fris- seem to point to individual Frisian settlements from after the Adventus. There is abundant evidence for Frisian activity in Anglo-Saxon England at that period.

By 700 Frisian coins were present in England in large numbers as a result of interchange with trading sites and emporia on the continent so that mid-Saxon (AD 650 - 850) Lincolnshire was part of a trading pattern
in which Frisia was a definite node143 with strong connections into Frisia and the lower Rhine via e.g., Dorestad. No doubt a well-developed system of tolls, jurisdictions and exemptions applied throughout this movement arena, though no suggestions have yet been made for the presence of hostels for officials and for sailors (mansio, wic) along the Lincolnshire coast.144 However important the Frisians were, they were probably not monopolists: they were not the only sailors of the key vessels in the period to the ninth century.145

3.5.2 Maritime Technologies

Medieval vessels have been the subject of some archaeological and historical interest, especially since underwater recovery has been improved. After the late twelfth century the cog became the vessel of choice for deep water trade and it was superseded by the carvel after about 1480.146 In the eleventh and twelfth centuries (including therefore the period when Wainfleet was founded as a port) about 1.5m of water was needed for a fully laden sea-going ship147 of the Scandinavian type. Vessels based on the Scandinavian knarr (a cargo-oriented version of the longship) would have been able to penetrate well inland on tidal rivers. Its length was typically 16m and had a breadth of 5m; it drew only about 1.0 - 1.5m of water when laden with a cargo of up to 24 tonnes. These boats of the Viking tradition which were common until about 1200 drew only 1.5m when fully laden, whereas the cogs of the thirteenth century and fourteenth century needed 3m. At 1200 most vessels carried 7 - 17 tonnes of cargo, whereas in about 1000 the range was 5 - 50 tonnes.148 For inland commerce, punts and barges were used.

The actual size of the named Wainfleet boats is not known but from their dates (e.g., 'le Peter' of 1389,149 'la Mariole' of 1351)150 and that they were trading with Zeeland and with Norway, it seems likely they were cogs. About that time, it seems likely that Wainfleet was losing its sea-borne trades; by 1500 bulk trades such as herring, grain, lumber and salt were economically most viable in larger ships, with cargo capacities of 1000m3, which was three times that of one hundred years earlier. Coastal trade could still have been maintained by smaller boats. More and more excavations of medieval towns around the North Sea have shown that by the fourteenth century it was common to have built-up wharves extending into the waterway, with warehouses set back from an open wharfage area. The earliest wharves date from the ninth century and the morphology of medieval ports suggests that goods were best landed near to market places and that mooring posts in the waterways were common as well as on-shore where they could anchor ropes that were used to haul boats onto a beach.151 Ports were also the sites of stake nets that caught eels from upstream, like the statements in the Wainfleet Custumal. This document suggests a lack of wharfage but that does not preclude later developments of a quay and this is one relic that might be susceptible to Ground Penetrating Radar. In general terms, the conditions in small medieval harbours included such features as wharfage from the tenth century onwards, often with an open area between the harbour wall and any buildings or roads; the wharves were often placed where any solid ground came down to the water; the presence of walls and ramparts in a system round the town and not only as conventional town walls; the use of rivers and loops of rivers for port development rather than the construction of basins, occasionally with the making of a canal; and the fact that an industry like salt production might be at some distance from the harbour (as at King's Lynn) but there would then be a need to have a place to store and sell salt at the harbour.152

3.5.3 Local and Regional Differences

Such discussions are of necessity broad-scale and permissive: they do not determine what exactly happened and where. Trade, for example, was variable by country and by region: England;s role in trading medieval salt was different from that of France or of Mediterranean Europe, especially as the continental suppliers began to establish their dominance.153 Likewise, the ports of The Wash were at one time dominated by the export of wool: at the end of the thirteenth century, 'compared with wool other wares were of little account;154 The localisation meant however that decline in one commodity could have a devastating effect on prosperity. The other great export of the Wash was salt but this declined in the course of the fourteenth century since cheaper imports from France, Spain and Portugal were arriving and they were also penetrating those northern markets hitherto recipients of English salt. Thus as wool and salt both declined in the mid-fourteenth century as staples of prosperity in the Wash then Boston and Lynn suffered setbacks, a process repeated in the mid-fifteenth century. Subsidiary ports and creeks, of which Wainfleet was surely one, endured similar declines; Wainfleet was also disadvantaged by the accumulation of salt-marsh behind the growing proto-Gibraltar Point, making access to the port ever more tortuous. Wainfleet thereafter was relegated to the category of small ports, creeks and hythes which were either confined to local trade or acted as collecting centres for larger ports.155 In 1372, John of Gaunt ordered the sale of his mill at Wainfleet: if it was a watermill or tidal mill, the it too suggests a declining resource.156 In 1375, it can be recalled, the chapel of St Edmund was roofless. One finding from studies of such places is the prevalence of small, local, staithes and similar landing places in towns off the main waterways and some of the LiDAR and other aerial evidence for Wainfleet can be viewed in that light as well as in the probable context of establishing a fresh-water supply for the town; all the more important if the ground-water under the Tofts and under reclaimed salt-marsh was saline to some degree.

The tensions between the importance of local diversity and central control come in the view taken of regional and local complexity versus generalised frameworks of interpretation. Maritime exchange networks involved settlements of varying degrees of complexity and seasonality of occupation; there are small sites and local centres of exchange away from the known and documented emporia.157 Around the Wash, Boston and Lynn are late foundations and so it is likely that there were sites of possibly informal exchanges at, most likely, the sheltered entrances to creeks and havens. Thus it is possible to see the foundation of Wainfleet All Saints as an attempt by an authority to control and tax a trade which was evolving. The apparent involvement of The Earl of Lincoln and his wife Hawise in early references to the port and market suggest that they were the agents of royal outreach into this system. If the likely dates of the imposition of a new town on the north side of The Haven are 1150 - 1200 then they coincide with a surge of lands given into the hands of the monks of Bury St Edmunds in Sailholm on the south side. It may be either naive or simply obvious to suggest that Bury was already established on the south side and that the Earl took advantage of the demarcation afforded by The Haven.

3.5.4 Evidence from Human Genetics

If there was truly a North Sea domain, then many kinds of evidence should remain: coins and other material objects as well as place-names are commonly quoted. A new line of consideration is appearing in the form of studies of DNA in the populations either side of the North Sea. These aim basically at saying whether regional populations in England have DNA which is likely to be derived from the continent in relatively recent times: for example in the medieval period rather than the Neolithic. The technology is fairly complex and the statistical arguments underlying the results much more so, though in the end the authors of the relevant papers seem to manage to reach comprehensible verbal conclusions.

Wilson, for example, suggests that recent invasions of Britain from Scandinavia seem to have left a significant paternal legacy, in contrast to earlier 'cultural revolutions; that left more maternal genetic material.158 A transect from Frisia and Norway to North Wales provided evidence for a genetic affinity between central England and Frisia such that there had been a mass migration rather than a gradual influx.159 One study was very cautious about the Frisian as ancestors rather than other Germanic groups: the replacement of 'Britons' might be due to Saxons, Danes or a combination of both groups.160 Even so, a Late Saxon site in Norwich showed a genetic signature consistent with immigrations from possible areas of Saxon invasions.161 The work of Thomas and collaborators used Y-chromosome variation to argue that in Anglo-Saxon times people of indigenous ethnicity (i.e., 'Britons') were at a social disadvantage and that intermarriage was limited; only a small Germanic immigrant population was needed to provide evidence for a high degree of continentally-derived male line ancestry in England. These argument have been contested and elicited further reply.162

Overall, these studies are pointers to the same stories as archaeological and documentary sources and like them undergo continual reinterpretation.163 For SEL they clearly need more studies and especially targeted investigations of long-resident Lincolnshire families.

3.6 The Wainfleet Area in Comparative Contexts

This section aims to put some of the SEL findings (and especially material from Wainfleet itself) into the contexts brought forward in 3.1 - 3.5. So as to be selective, three main themes are discussed: (a) those of settlement, with special reference to the plans of the villages which may show shrinkage, relocation or special-factor siting; (b) the environmental effects of the reclamation of salt-marsh and peatlands; and (c) the ways in which salt-making along the Wash may have varied through time. Nearly all the material has already been cited so this discussion avoids footnotes where possible.

3.6.1 Settlements

A common theme from continental Europe, mirrored in the identification of DMVs and similar settlements nearer home, is that of shrunken villages. The plans set out in the Appendices in section 2.1 certainly seem to show examples of places where there is no core of densely settled area with a periphery of small fields. The separation of the church from the rest of the village may emphasize this pattern, though medieval plans may include an open and polyfocal option. Little Steeping is an example of the church being well away from the current housing area, Firsby is open-plan and Friskney may well be so. Both Croft and Thorpe St Peter have churches the same size as elsewhere but very little local building. So if a discrepancy between the size and site of a church and the number of houses is a criterion then shrinkage seems very likely. Dates are difficult to ascribe. Flooding and the BD are possible factors in the high Middle Ages; in the early modern period, the extensive use of pasture by renters who lived elsewhere (in the Wolds for instance) meant that there was little need for local labour. One instance of stress came in 1395 when the Pope allowed the unification of the parish churches of Thorpe and Croft under the guardianship of the Prior of Kyme since their revenues had deteriorated; any clerical vacancies were to be filled by canons of the priory or similar appointees.164 In the overall context this suggests a combination of rising sea-levels producing flooding (or at least high and possibly saline water-tables) and continuing effects of the BD. No evidence was found to extend this model to other places. A more basic economic model may deserve further thought in the case of Wainfleet All Saints town. Here, much evidence points to the decline of the port in the late fourteenth century as the wool trade declined and concentrated at Boston, and possibly the salt trade also as imports became cheaper.165

Another theme brought into play by comparative studies is that of relocation. The reasons for this have included new route ways made possible by reclamation. This might apply to the DB entry of Langene which then disappears but is identified with the present site of Irby, whose church seems to be all Perpendicular (i.e., 1335 onwards), which was by the fourteenth century on the road from Wainfleet towards the Wolds, presumably aiming for Horncastle. There is a hint of the road;s importance when it features in one of the St Edmund;s chapel miracles of 1375. One interpretation would make the Wainfleet-Spilsby road via Irby a consequence of the reclamation of the northern fen-edge.

A more obvious example of relocation is seen in the virtual disappearance of the settlement of Wainfleet in its up-Haven location and the appearance of Wainfleet All Saints town on the north bank of The Haven nearer the mouth of the estuary. The early settlement had two churches and both remained in some isolation from some at least of their parishioners. Was Wainfleet Bank largely deserted or was there enough settlement to persuade the owners of the churches to keep them in their 'original' locations? Was the establishment of Wainfleet St Thomas on the northern side of the town an attempt by Bardney Abbey to cash in on church-less but prosperous inhabitants, and likewise whoever built St John;s chapel in the town, now known only by a street name? Was it totally the presence of Bury's lands on Sailholme that prevented Stixwold Abbey from establishing a physical presence there as distinct from wresting concessions about money and clerical actions from Bury in Wainfleet St Mary parish? The reasons for the inertia of church provision for Wainfleet after (say) 1200 are clouded in a sea-mist of speculation and more evidence is badly needed; the fact that the Stixwold-Bury disputes went all the way to the Pope for adjudication allows the inference that local pride may have been only one of the motivational forces. The collapse of the fabric at Wainfleet All Saints (closed in 1809) may also point to another reason for moving settlements, as seen in the Low Countries, which is the flooding made more likely by the dewatering of reclaimed areas which then shrink. The tower was originally built 'upon a stratum of sand and sea-shells', says Oldfield on page 37. At the rear of the churchyard of the site of the old church on Wainfleet Bank, there is a steep and sudden declivity of a half-metre or so, where presumably the roddon deposits end, though it sounds more as if this substrate was reclaimed estuarine material.

One last settlement topic is that of the terp. SEL seems to be an area highly suited to settlement on raised areas, and there is no dispute that roddons were so used. Several churches are on raised ground, but the Low Grounds from Wainfleet St Mary to Wrangle166 and the great empty area north to Hogsthorpe lack most forms of settlement other than demonstrably 'late; farms, though there is an apparent DMV at Ashington End, between Orby and Winthorpe (TF 515 678).167 Hogsthorpe itself is clearly on a raised area, as is Addlethorpe. Another candidate is Thorpe St Peter with a group of buildings and crofts near the church. However, no place-name interpreter has gone beyond the accepted idea that 'thorpe; is a small daughter-settlement, even though the DB forms of some places is torp. Van de Noort interrogates the absence of terps in the Humber wetlands and only finds one landscape example; the churches; positions can also be explained by the shrinkage of the local terrain rather than the raising-up of a drier zone. Only in southern Lincolnshire is there any explicit acceptance tht there may have been some mounding in the absence of salt-making and that a general mounding of sites in the Middle Saxon period might point to the destinations of continental immigrants like the ones who apparently left for Britain in the mid-fifth century.168 The Lincolnshire sites around Quadring were apparently abandoned in the early ninth century.169 Excavations have shown QUA33 to be the best example of a possible terp and there may have been more since it was later common to quarry them for manure or for brick-making: there is a Brick Lane on the fringe of Wrangle village. More mapping, more excavation and some thought about how the term terp might look in English would all be potentially interesting.

3.6.2 Environmental Consequences of Reclamation

Many accounts of reclamation of peat and salt-marsh in the UK assume that once reclaimed, the land stays more or less static. More detailed investigation of former salt-marsh areas however shows that the land shrinks as its water content declines and that a sequence of parallel reclamations is likely to show progressively lower land surfaces away from the sea. On the continent, the reclamation of extensive peatlands allowed the extension of agricultural use of the surface but at the price of extensive oxidation of the peats and the lowering of surfaces so that protection against flooding became a high social priority. In the Low Countries the peat loss seems to have happened from Roman times onwards and the reclamation by embankment of inorganic sediments from about 1000.

It is not known with certainty what type of ecosystem was reclaimed in those areas which Hallam investigated and which form the bulk of the reclamations of the post-Conquest period. If they were on the seaward side of the Tofts then they were almost certainly salt-marsh but on the landward side there is less clarity. In Wrangle, for example, it seems as if there was salt-marsh on the seaward side of the Low Grounds and the evidence from the Low Grounds of Wainfleet St Mary is that there was at some stage salt-making as far north as Wainfleet Bank and probably beyond it to the north. The presence of peatland in the central and south-eastern parts of the East Fen seems assured and so the unfamiliar possibility of a mixed zone with tidal water interfacing with peats (as happens in Jade Bay in NW Germany) has to be considered.

What seems not to have happened in SEL is wholesale early reclamation of peats leading to large-scale inundation. Clearly, mosses were exploited for turbary both around the East Fen and in its depths but the continental-type evidence for large-scale conversion in the shape of a particular field pattern is limited in extent, though not entirely absent. Some of the mosses appear to have become pasture, others fisheries, and the Deeps remained open until the major drainage episodes of the Fen were undertaken. The large cranberry-bearing bogs of Wainfleet St Mary and Friskney did not disappear until the nineteenth century, when they were drained and divided into the same kinds of field pattern as elsewhere in the post-Rennie fen. However, the shrinkage of the East Fen is not in doubt since W. H. Wheeler gives measured data and the current O.S. maps; enclosure of quite large areas within a zero metre contour combine to confirm the progress of land surface lowering. In the Low Grounds of Wainfleet St Mary there was once a mixture of clays and peats which probably derived from a mixed zone and the subsequent shrinkage shows in the way the church stands above the surrounding fields.170 It is also then possible that The Haven roddon on which the early Wainfleet was built was not particularly elevated and that although there are now raised areas next to The Haven, these are estuarine deposits thrown into prominence by shrinkage at their margins.171 It might then also be the case that the prominence of the tofts above the Low Grounds is partly due to shrinkage of the Low Grounds rather than simply the quantity of salt waste.172 The lesson for the whole region seems to be that whenever anything raised is encountered - churches, banks, roads, footpaths - then check the possibility that it is the surrounding surfaces that have shrunk.

The patterns of embankment might be expected to have parallels in reclamation projects elsewhere. The most likely seem to be the rectangular patterns of roads, tracks and footpaths in e.g., Wainfleet All Saints parish which conform to models of individual enclosure within a larger communal area: most of that parish would fit the idea of large-scale communal banks around most of the parish and smaller areas taken in severalty within that. The possibility of enclosed drainage areas like the Dutch polders is enhanced in Wainfleet St Mary, partly by the presence of the name 'Poller, Peller, Polar; in various spellings and partly by the presence of at least one windmill on Wainfleet Bank in the seventeenth century (and maybe more than one) which presupposes an enclosed drainage hinterland and not an open-ended commitment to pump up water from anywhere north of Friskney. But like many of these comparative features, none seem so thoroughgoing as are found in e.g., the Low Countries.

3.6.3 Ways of Making Salt

A rapid survey of recent and historic salt-making in Europe, as reported in 3.3 above, reveals that salt is made in a number of different ways.173 A more detailed overview of SEL is given in Appendix 2.2.1. The basic difference is between the northern latitudes where the use of a fuel such as peat or wood (occasionally coal) to boil a brine is necessary, and the southern sites where solar evaporation is sufficient. The dividing line seems to be somewhere about the Bay of Biscay along the French coast. There are subdivisions within each type: in the northern sector there are types with a big solar evaporation pool with filter beds off it which contrast with places where the sea-water is led straight into smaller pools where it undergoes evaporation and filtration before boiling. Within this category there are two types which seem to be unique to place: the greva or sandacres of the east coast of England, where sand is scraped up after spring tides, and the Dutch practice of digging out coastal peats that are saturated with salt and burning them to release the salt.174 The southern class is more uniform in depending on a series of rectangular enclosures through which the water moves (using wind-powered pumping if necessary) but in which there may be a varying array of small and large ponds. Only in the tropics is this control abandoned for a quasi-natural pool shallow enough to produce salt crystals constantly, which can be raked out to the sides. There does not appear to be a single dating framework that can be applied to these methods, though there are examples within each category that can be dated. As well as the available methods, there may have ben economic considerations which affected the type of extractive process used, as suggested for Roman Britain.175

In SEL the evidence for a channel from the sea being fed into a set of marginal filtration units with a clay base and peat filters is clearest in Wainfleet St Mary, in the 1994 publication of McAvoy and the subsequent additions in the SMR . The date (ca 1500) seems secure and the persistence of the waste heaps into documentation in the early seventeenth century suggests this method persisted on this site until the demise of the industry. Another instance of the method was seen near Wrangle. However, a late Saxon version of the same technique is postulated for Marshchapel-2 on the N Lincs Marsh and illustrated on the cover of Ellis et al. Medieval hearths and waste heaps at Quadring on Bicker Haven do not have any defined water supply and so Healey assumes that the greva method was used to provide a concentrated source of salt. This is reinforced by the presence of 'strip; fields which are thought to mark the original saltern boundaries and which are adduced by Hallam to mark those limits in the medieval greva of Wainfleet St Mary, Friskney and Wrangle.176 Here the presence of smooth-surfaced toftland is an additional piece of evidence.

Apart from a speculative interpretation of some rectangular 'ponds; on the seashore at Sutton-on-Sea after the 1953 floods, none of the regular rectangular enclosures visible on aerial imagery in SEL have been attributed to salt-making. The existence of both large (ca 30 - 40m), thick-walled 'ponds'; and sets of small (4 - 12m) rectangular features can be widely seen on GE, in BW APs and on LiDAR. Examples from near Wainfleet town and Wainfleet Bank are seen in Figs 3.7 and 3.8. The nearest parallels are the engraving of Bicker 'salt-ponds; in Skertchley and in the rectangular layout of most Mediterranean salt-works.177 The similarity between the southern pond patchwork and the relic features in SEL provokes the thought of Roman examples but there is no independent archaeological evidence. In particular it seems unlikely that salt could have been made using only solar power. On the coast of Essex, at Paglesham, there were a large number of shallow ponds used for evaporating sea-water. The correspondent thought that they were at least Elizabethan.178 There is clearly a need for more fieldwork and excavation.

3.6.4 Freshwater Diversions

The comparable places in e.g., continental Europe seem not to have been investigated for their freshwater relationships except in terms of relatively large-scale embankment, drainage and polder-making, plus the diversion of major rivers. More local management must have occurred in order to ensure the water supply of growing medieval towns and it also seems that the making of high-quality salt is enhanced by a fresh-water supply. The SEL evidence (especially that from Wainfleet itself) is especially interesting in that regard:

  1. The thirteenth century agreement between Hawise and Philip of Kyme about the flow of water from the Wolds into The Haven via the Lusdyke. The wording also suggests that the latter was already in existence and the New Lymn is referred to even earlier. The purpose of the diversion is however clear: it is to help to keep the port open. It is entirely speculative to wonder if silting was becoming noticeable, just as it became unavoidable in later times; 1240 precedes the major floods which seem to have heralded the sea-level rises and storminess but a managed and banked estuary might well have been vulnerable to slight shifts in sediment movements.
  2. The need in summer for the flushing of the ditches in Croft may say more than is apparent at first sight179 and in particular the likelihood of the cattle otherwise having to drink salty water. Most of Croft parish would have been coastal in the thirteenth century and recently reclaimed land might easily have had a brackish runoff as well as the possibility of a saline ground-water layer.
  3. The other diversions involving the Lymn (not mentioned in the Laws documents) which include the 'moat; at Northolme and the westward branch that (a) might go to meet a drainage channel system involving the Brewster Lane drain and a branch southwards along the west edge of the burgage plots and (b) might tie to The Haven via Mat Pits Lane. The southward branch could have supplied part of the town with freshwater and also serviced the area of rectangular ponds on the western side of the lower town.
  4. If the town needed a surface supply of fresh water then it suggests that the silts on which it is built may have had saline ground water; if that also applied to the Tofts then the absence of settlement on them is easily understood. In Wrangle, the building of the conduit to the gate of Waltham's curia may also have been part of a fresh water supply strategy.
  5. Both the Lymn and The Haven are enclosed in double banks immediately outside the town; the Lymn stretch was the scene of a number of cloughs, The Haven apparently not so. At one time, The Haven was likely to have been tidal as far as the OFB and if regulated by the town's ability to close the port 'at Hidam'; might thereafter have functioned as a washland. Like examples in the Netherlands, there would then have been dams/sluices at either end of that stretch: at Hidam and also at the 'Ea;s End;, i.e., most likely at the OFB, with an embanked watercourse in between. Alternatively, there might have been two dams within the town's limits, the better to exercise a unified control.180 If two dams were near enough to constitute a lock then a nearby pond might be needed as a reservoir; the big 'pond; just west of Wainfleet All Saints town shown on LiDAR might be an example.181

3.6.5 Regional Context, Local Features

Platts sets out a local economic history that mostly fits the data unearthed in this study.182 Between 1250 and 1350 the 'frontier closed;. Reclamation of new lands was for the time being too difficult or at any rate not profitable. After the BD there was less pressure on land though Wainfleet was still a reasonably large town. It lost much of its wealth in the later fourteenth century and by 1377 had a population of perhaps 1000 people, being likely past the peak of its prosperity by the 1330s. Thus the foundation of the school in 1484 and the royal charter thereafter can be seen as attempts to retrieve a bad situation rather than celebrate a high status. The technological advances in water control in the Netherlands after about 1300183 do not seem to have made any difference to the prosperity of SEL, where surely knowledge of them would have been available; the same seems to apply to fisheries.184

Looking at SEL in the broadest context, it contains many features which are found elsewhere in the North Sea basin. The local expression of them was conditioned by the drainage pattern that emerged from the earliest post-Roman reclamations and so some features are 'squeezed; between the East Fen and the sea. Likewise the East Fen played an important role in the regional ecology and economy until the nineteenth century, setting the area apart from otherwise comparable places.

SEL, like the rest of Lindsey with possible exception of Grimsby, seems to have lacked an emporium in the sense of a coastal trading area which was then regulated and became an important town. It could be that Wainfleet was on the way to that standing (though the material evidence for the trading volume is lacking) but was overtaken (after a late start) by Boston, with its better access to a prosperous hinterland which included the city of Lincoln, seat of powerful earls. The earls of Lincoln may have owned and developed Wainfleet but they could as easily have switched their approval to another place.185 This points up a major theme: that although the natural conditions provide sets of both opportunities and constraints, the motivations and capabilities of the powerful are critical mediators of what actually happens on the ground and indeed in an indirect way of what survives for historians to interpret.