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Durham University

Margins of the East Fen: Historic Landscape Evolution

2.2 From 1100 - 1500: The Coast

Though both the preceding centuries up to about 1100 and the later changes wrought in the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I cannot be ignored, the Middle Ages were crucial for the coast in many ways. They saw the threat of sea-level rise threaten both the stabilisation of the coastline of the Wash and the maintenance of the distinction between fen and dry land. There was also the establishment of strong monastic influence, which played a leading part in the major medieval industry of salt-making. This section will emphasise the medieval period, while also discussing the eras either side if it.

The starting-point for this section is a map of the region after the time of DB, but modified to take in a larger region than Fig 2.1.4. The later map (Fig 2.2.1) This admits more uncertainties, such as the south edge of the West Fen and the types of terrain immediately north-east of Boston and south-west of Wrangle, which were outside the scope of the present study. Certain assumptions remain: that the coastline north of present-day Skegness was further east and that proto-Gibraltar Point was still making its way southwards. The status of zones 3 and 3a is that of mixed salt-marsh and peat fen but the 3a portion might have been drier land from which the waters of the by-now embanked East Fen had partially (or perhaps seasonally) retreated. The Tofts have been built up by salt-making in a thin line from the western edge at the Low Road-Friskney Head Dyke line to the putative sea-bank at High Street. To their south and east lay the Wash, with a band of salt-marsh, fringed by mud - and sand-flats before coming to open water which was itself interrupted by sand banks.

2.2.1 The Natural Environment: Ecosystems and Resources

The sea in pre-industrial societies has always been two-faced: it is a store of resources but at the same time a source of danger. The North Sea has storms and it floods the low land along its coasts and up the estuaries but it also yields fish and salt. The fenland is a reservoir of fresh water which cannot always be controlled but it is useful for fuel, thatch, fish and birds. Although the ecology of these environments is little found in direct evidence, knowledge of them in general is good enough for a reconstruction of their basic nature in medieval times and, importantly for this exercise, an assessment of the impact of human activities.1

2.2.1.1 The Conditions of the Sea

The details of changes in sea conditions on both sides of the southern North Sea vary with the quantity of research and the reliability of the orginal sources.2 An overall position for the period from the Danish invasions to 1600 would depict sea-level falling from about 725 to 950 and then undergoing a steady rise to a peak around 1380, with a fall thereafter to a lower level at 1600 - 1650. In Norfolk, submergence of land is held to have proceeded rapidly after a great flood in 1287, with a need to protect flat areas by embanking the rivers. Even so, it has been argued that there is no good evidence of the loss of a single village by coast erosion in the 11 - 14th century period in East Anglia. Rapid sea-level rise generally produces a deficiency of sediment at the land-sea interface but if the sediment supply is kept up or enhanced then e.g., the erosive effects of sea-level rise may be mitigated and accretion may be enhanced.

If rising sea-level is accompanied by increased storminess then the potential for flooding is increased greatly, especially in the southern North Sea where the funnel-like topography channels the water from northerly winds into a storm surge, as happened in 1953. If a surge coincides with a high tide then the potential for driving water well inland is higher still. A number of studies of sea floods in both England and the Low Countries have been made, with identifications of periods of increased storminess and of individual storm events. If the whole basin is counted, then the period 1250 - 1500 is a time of high levels of storm activity, with 1300 - 1500 highest within that era. The years 1014, 1029, 1099, 1236, 1248, 1287, 1288, 1291 and 1334 have been identified as times of basin-wide surges. From a long list of events in eastern England 1275 - 1348, the fens and East Anglia can be singled out as recipients of flooding in 1277, 1282, 1285, 1286, 1287, 1288, 1308, 1316, 1318, 1321/2, 1325, 1334, 1335, 1337, 1339, 1344 and there are other records of ‘widespread inundation.’3 Storm frequency was high in the first quarter of the fifteenth century and between 1455 and 1500, 1510 - 1530s, 1560 - 1590s and the 1610s.

Such a chronology implies few long periods without a major flooding potential and hence any low-lying area adjacent to the east coast was under virtually constant and unpredictable threat of loss of human life, livestock and land; invasion of the East Fen by salt water also meant a menace to the many resources of the fen that depended upon fresh water, especially fishing and grazing.

2.2.1.2 The Land - Sea Interface

The ecosystem of main interest is salt-marsh. On a ‘natural’ shore, this appears immediately seaward of the last of the solid land; where there is a sea-bank then it forms a zone above the mud-flats and sand-flats. Its upper level is only inundated at very high tides and in storms but its lower level receives all but the lowest tides. Its surface is mostly vegetated with a clear zonation of plants that varies with height above mean sea-level and that skin is traversed by channels and pocked with pools.4 The latter may retain water from the last high tide and thus become very saline as they dry out. Along the Lindsey coast of the Wash, the belt of salt-marsh is currently usually less than 1.0km in width from the sea-wall to the interface with bare mud or sand, with some extensions of the vegetated zone seawards along major creeks.

The vegetation patterns and overall ecology of salt-marshes have been studied for many years and are generally well documented.5 The salt-marsh areas around the Wash have been thoroughly considered from the points of view of their rates of accretion in the lee of shingle spits, as at Blakeney Point in Norfolk6 or their role in hosting bird populations along the Lincolnshire shore.7 In the present context, studies of the morphology of the marshes, including pool and creek structure,8 and their dynamics in relation to sea-level9 are perhaps the most relevant. Examination of an aerial photograph of part of the shoreline of the Wash near Butterwick shows the features clearly (Fig 2.2.2). This image shows many elements of a salt-marsh’s upper levels (the sea-wall is visible in the top right corner), with a dendritic creek system that begins to straighten out towards the sand-flats. Numerous irregular pools (‘pans’) are visible and the reflectance on some of them suggest a high salt content. An enlargement of part of this image is presented as Fig 2.2.3.

Detailed local studies are essential if the chronology and spatial spread of tidal marshes is to be understood. In this area, no appropriate studies of the history of the marsh per se have been undertaken, so some inferences from more general models have to be made.10 The two main initial factors of interest are (a) the rate of mineral sediment supply, which enables the marsh to build and (b) the movements of relative sea-level. Also to be taken into account is the rate of sediment compaction. It is regionally relevant that if the supply of organic material from vegetation exceeds the rate of sea-level change then a peat fen will develop. Where the rate of rise dominates then minerogenic salt-marsh will form even to very high tidal levels and may take over former freshwater habitats like birch carr as brackish water pervades.11 In times of falling or stationary sea-level then the influx of fresh water from higher ground is likely to push the peat fen seawards. Creek networks grow as peat fen is transgressed by minerogenic marshes but can be smothered if peat regains ground at a later time. Where the preceding peat fen consisted of domed raised bogs then the initiation of creek networks is uniform in neither time or space.12 The creeks themselves tend to be dendritic when tidal forces are dominant in sheltered environments and linear when exposed to the force of waves.13 Thus the creek pattern visible from aerial imagery of the East Fen confirms that there had been a sheltered embayment.14

Some of the characteristics of salt-marsh are retained after reclamation. Aerial photos show the creek pattern and some of the circular features in the most recent coastal reclamations; if these can be picked up further inland then it is a good indication of the former distribution of salt-marsh though not of itself dateable. Examples inland from the photos discussed above can be seen in Fig 2.2.4. Creeks can certainly be seen over much of the East Fen in satellite images such as Google Earth (just east of Stickney for example) but is not immediately certain whether these derive from e.g., a post-Roman marine transgression or are the exhumed ghosts of earlier creek systems. To the extent that some look as if they have been modified by the construction of straight embankments then they may be post-Roman: an example is at Lat 53.075036 Long 0.096008 (TF 40524 55282). In detailed soil survey work, soil series can be recognised which incorporate former creeks, which have siltier soils than their clay-rich matrices; where soils with a high humic content have shrunk then they may be slightly raised above the contextual level.15

Human impacts upon salt-marshes are not confined to their deliberate embankment and reclamation for agriculture and other economic purposes. Grazing of cattle and sheep was a major use, with sheep being preferable since they were easier to move across creek systems. This use may have led to the provision of drove roads from the edge of the marsh to points near the low tide levels. Crossing main channels would have needed bridges. There were probably ecological impacts from such grazing since cattle poach soft ground and help to produce blocked drainage channels; sheep compact the surface whence faster runoff produces a drier surface. Both result in a reduction in the diversity of plant species, with Puccinellia maritima and Festuca rubra becoming dominant.16 The second major use of the marshes was as gathering-places for the saline water which was the raw material for salt-making. This was so important in medieval Lindsey that an Appendix (2.2.1) is devoted to it. Likewise, the building of sea-banks and the reclamation of salt-marsh is set aside into a section (see 2.2.4 below) given over to it. Grazing and salt-making are almost certainly associated but the former survived the demise of the latter. A grant in 1519 somewhere near the exit of Wainfleet Haven specified 10 acres of pasture with a fishery and a sandacre17 and in 1587 a ‘toft ground and pastures in Wainfleet St Mary’ of 16 acres ‘with all the salt marshes and fishing belonging to it’18 was sold to Richard Lowes. Later, in 1768, a sequence of fields working seawards from near Wainfleet Hall in Wainfleet St Mary are called ‘Old Marshes (some growing turnips, oats and barley), New Marshes Summer Eaten, Out or Salt Marshes Summer Eaten’19 with no mention of salt-making which is known to have stopped along this coast by that time; an earlier (1627) inquisition into reclamations on the north side of Wainfleet Haven likewise had no mention of salt-making.20 In a similar fashion the 1606 map of Wrangle’s shoreline21 has a large vignette of a sheep on the salt-marsh area but no salt-making. In the same zone it also has sketches of a horse, a rabbit and some rather indeterminate quadrupeds, the most southerly of which appears to be a rocking horse, which seems unlikely. The salt-marsh was not a simple undifferentiated common: in the thirteenth century a marsh outside the ‘Hauedyk’ in Huttoft had boundaries marked by a plough furrow and by stones and sticks (divisas factas per aruram cuiusdam caruce et etiam per lapides et palos interpositos).22

On the Wrangle map there is an offshore sand-bank called Herring Hill which lies north-south and which is transected by six nets across the width of the bank and into some of which fish are seen to be swimming. This is a reminder of off-shore fishery, which is infrequently mentioned in Lindsey documents compared with inland fisheries. Several species would no doubt be caught by such nets and by boat, with herring a leading contender. In 1215 Ds Simon de Thorp held a toft in Wainfleet St Mary from the monastery of Bury St Edmunds (and therefore probably on Sailholme) and paid as rent 1 mulluellum which was probably a codfish.23 Tolls were imposed on ships bringing fish in 1234 to Wainfleet for sale: Et quelibet in navis venins cum pisc’ causa vendendi dabit ijd de tolneto.24 In 1340, the Assessors of the Ninth noted that the income of the two Wainfleet churches included the tithes of sea-fishing boats.25 In the reign of Henry VIII, a cut for the Little Lymn was to be made from ‘Braitoft Gote’ usque lobcryke per lyneam ex traverso marisco.26 The ‘lob’ was one of the common names for the pollack. What is not clear about sea-fishing is the extent to which it was controlled via manorial authority, as distinct from inland fisheries which were usually leased (to ‘farmers’) by the monarch. The status of whales was in no doubt: they were a royal prerogative even though that might be delegated.27 In 1317 there was an Inquest at Wainfleet about a small whale that had come ashore between the Wapentakes of Candleshoe and Skirbeck, and certain sailors from Norfolk had carried off a great part.28 In 1331/2 William Kyme of Croft appropriated five mark’s worth of a whale that belonged to the Crown. He and his men were interrupted by the tide which then threw it further north on the Skegness shore. In 1334 the lords of the port of Friskney, Ebulo Lestrange and his wife Alice complained that on September 20th various men had carried away a whale worth 100L cast ashore within his manor, which was his by right of wreck of sea.29 Slightly later, Alice countess of Lincoln claimed wreck of sea in Wainfleet and Friskney and so complained to a commission in 1340 that various men had carried away two fish called ‘baleyn’ worth 200L that were washed ashore at Friskney.30 Unless it is a freak of the survival of records, the 1340s were the time when rises in sea-level were drowning inland turbaries in Norfolk and possibly in the East Fen as well. Perhaps extra-high tides were increasing the chances of washing whales (and ‘royal fish’ included porpoises) ashore.

As a speculative footnote, it can be recorded that the offshore zone of Lincolnshire is fraught with hazard for mariners, since there are a number of shallow and no doubt shifting sand bars, on some of which today’s windfarms are placed. A guide to the coasts of Europe for a voyage from York to Rome in the twelfth century31 places some emphasis on sand-banks (while reciting some familiar place-names) and it could just be that the problems of navigation were a factor in the apparent absence of early medieval emporia along the Lindsey coast.

2.2.1.3 Human Impact Upon the Tidal Marshes

The main impact was of course total transformation by reclamation, in which embankment was the main technology employed.32 The suggestion in section 2.1 that inland of the coastal proto-toftland and north along the coastal dune belt would have been good sites for early banks rings true. These protected dry land from spring tides though not from big floods.33 Once there was a firm foundation then investment in substantial structures was more likely and so compartments of upper salt-marsh were enclosed, perhaps up to hundreds of hectares. The upper marsh was relatively dry and usually unencumbered with deeply incised creeks. The construction of an embankment allows the further incremental growth of salt-marsh at its seaward foot, so that another area then presents itself for reclamation. These ‘secondary’ enclosures tend to be smaller and in Kent have been shown to weave their way across marsh to as to take in its higher areas.34 Building the embankment meant the severance of the heads of creeks, which remained as water-filled ‘fleets’. The enclosure was drained by a series of ditches interspersed with shallow ridges. Embankments can of course fail and flooding take back the land.35 This is unlikely to destroy the flooded landscape (as was shown in the 1953 floods in eastern England) but may salinify cropland and create a good deal of work; in East Lindsey a breach in an embankment was known as a ‘gull’ and Gold Fen Dyke in Wrangle may be an instance of such a phenomenon becoming immortalised in its name.

One topic of human impact upon salt-marsh ecology that has been ignored is that of the effects of salt-making by scraping up of surface horizons after inundation by high tides. This has been little explored by commentators, who have made the assumption that tidal coverage meant ecological renewal. That the scraping was effective was demonstrated by the presence of ‘soil’ from the middle and high marsh in excavated salterns (ca. 1350 - 1400) in Bicker Haven.36

2.2.1.4 Sand Dunes

Sand dunes have a temporary look and indeed they are formed relatively rapidly and can be eroded with equal speed. Although accounts of their present-day ecology are plentiful, studies of the long-term history of dunes are less so.37 Local investigations are always needed since the circumstances of their formation and disappearance are nearly always a response to local conditions rather than global change. In Lindsey, 70 per cent of the dunes are between Cleethorpes and Mablethorpe, where they now form part of a complex of coastal habitats including mudflats, saltmarsh, dune slacks and grassland. The dune system and its integral freshwater area is managed by grazing, mowing and scrub control in order to maintain a wide range of habitat types; old ponds and dykes have been restored. South from Skegness much of the sand dune area is within the Gibraltar Point NNR and is also covered by Ramsar Site, Special Protection Area (SPA) and Special Area for Conservation (SAC) designations. This is a zone of accretion where an extensive sand dune system has been developing over several centuries, gradually extending southwards in a series of parallel ridges running approximately north to south. Dune slacks here are not as extensive as at Saltfleetby-Theddlethorpe, but the freshwater marsh with natural and man-made ponds has a rich and varied plant and animal life. ‘Strip saltings’ (alternating strips of saltmarsh and low sand dunes) are well developed.38 The whole ecology was invaded by salt water in December 2013, with as yet unknown long-term consequences.

It is not known whether the medieval dunes conformed to this pattern. They must have needed the same initial conditions for formation, namely an adequate supply of sand in the intertidal zone and sufficient onshore winds. A wide beach, the surface of which dries out between high tides, is also important. Dry sand is then blown landwards and deposited above the high water mark, where it is trapped by strand-line plants and dune-building grasses such as sand couch Agropyron pungens, marram grass Ammophila arenaria and lyme grass Leymus arenarius. The first obvious sand ridges are the mobile dunes, immediately landward of the strandline, where sand deposition is greatest. They support rather few plant species, the most characteristic being marram grass. Semi-fixed dunes occur where the rate of sand deposition has slowed but there is still a significant amount of bare sand. Fixed dune grassland forms when sand deposition is no longer significant and the surface has stabilised and become fully vegetated, and some soil development has taken place. Dune heaths, dominated by heather species, occur when dunes have been acidified due to leaching of calcium or where the source sand is low in shell or calcium carbonate. Dune slacks are wet depressions between dune ridges and can include habitats such as marsh, pools and lagoons. Fixed dunes are, or have been, maintained by grazing, whether by stock or rabbits. In the absence of grazing, they tend to develop into rough grass or scrub. Only one scrub species, sea-buckthorn Hippophae rhamnoides, is confined to dunes.

The antiquity of dunes on the Lindsey coast is attested by the use of the term melr ON ‘a sand-bank’ ‘a sand hill’ as in Ingoldmells, ‘Ingólf’s sand-banks’.39 If they form at the top of a sandy beach for example, then presumably they have shared in the retreat of the coastline north of Skegness; it has also been shown that Gibraltar Point has migrated southwards within the last century,40 so (making assumptions about the availability of source material) it has been doing so for some time. Maps from the seventeenth century and eighteenth century usually show no characteristic ‘hook’ at the mouth of Wainfleet Haven, though their accuracy for local detail is not reliable.41 Even supposing that a system of dune ridges with intermediate slacks was present in the past, there is no evidence about how many ridges were present.

The dunes north of Skegness had a variable relationship with sea-banks. This factor is exemplified by the Post-Mortem inquest on the property of William de Wylugby (Willoughby), knight, who died in 1409 and who left 2 pieces of pasture in Hogsthorpe called ‘les Meles’ amounting to 2 acres but whose annual value was 4d and no more because they were often submerged by the tides of the sea.42 In 1364, a plot of land in Sutton (on Sea) was leased by John son of Cristiana between le Melalanti on the south and abutting on the common Havedyk (i.e., a sea-bank) east and the common way west.43 Instances of ‘meles’ are collected by Owen and include Theddlethorpe c. 1200, Hogsthorpe before 1232 and a hamlet of Westmells in Skegness in the late twelfth century.44 The Court Rolls of Ingoldmells contain numerous instances of illegal depasturing on ‘les meles’ and the protective value of the dunes must have easily been compromised by grazing.45 Rabbits were probably the worst enemy but both cattle and sheep had the potential to cause ‘blow-outs. Any fragility in the fourteenth century would have been exploited by the rising sea-level of the time and between the fourteenth and the seventeenth centuries all the vills between Skegness and Mablethorpe (i.e., Trusthorpe, Sutton, Mumby Chapel and Ingoldmells) reported losses of land. In spite of the presence of sea-banks and dunes, in 1525 or 1526 the dunes at Skegness were breached; the great flood of 1571 wrought damage along the entire east coast.46 Flooding will have robbed some coastal villages of unenclosed grazing resources: in c. 1175 Greenfield Priory was granted range for 300 sheep in pasture ultra Hafdic de Mumbi.47 The Mumby and Huttoft parishes have yielded many thirteenth century references to sheep grazing beyond the Haudyk.48

There appears to be no fossil marker in the landscape for the former presence of sand dunes: no field pattern, for example, that shows the ‘reclamation’ of dune systems. Given the history of the coastline, too, it can be assumed that dune systems migrated landwards (along the stretch north of Skegness) and southwards from Skegness in a shifting Gibraltar Point. A map from the later eighteenth century49 shows ‘The Warren’ approximately seaward of Toll Bar Farm (TF 562 600) though a detailed 1792 map has no indication of dunes at all.50 Grundy’s sometimes-accurate map of 1774 has no southern boundary line to its ‘Meals or Sand Hills’ and there is no hook at Gibralter (sic).51 The map in Wheeler’s book of 189452 showed an offshore sand bar waiting to be joined to the mainland to form the hook of the Point. Thus many of the former locations of dunes are covered either by the sea, by caravan parks or by urban development. If grazing was discouraged, then their place in the economy was very limited beyond that of adding to the role of the sea-banks in preserving the land beyond.

2.2.1.5 Groundwater Quality

One feature of the physical environment which may also undergo change at human hands is the nature of the groundwater underneath the land surface. The whole of the East Fen basin is underlain by impermeable Kimmeridge Clay but above that there is a variable layer of silts and alluvial clays in undulations, hollows and palaeochannels which result in large measure from the last glaciation of the region. These sediments are liable to become saturated and act as an aquifer; in the lower Witham valley the base of the saturated level is at -10m to -15m OD. In the northwest of the basin, water emerges as springs on some of the gravel terraces, often after sustained precipitation.

Input from the atmosphere is only one source of influence on the hydrology. In particular, sea-banks do not prevent saline intrusions into the largely freshwater ambience of the inland water table. Neither do the silts of the Tofts. The denser saline water underlies the less dense fresh water in the porous glacial and post-glacial deposits in the Fen basin. The laminations of fresh and saline water are affected by temperature so that saline levels in the drains rise in the summer and drop in the winter. Further, many of the soils within the area contain a certain amount of undiluted salt from the time when they were intertidal salt marsh. After the drainage of the Fen, the need to dig ever deeper drains has meant that they tap the saline water horizons and so release saline water into the drainage system. Again, evaporation from the soils may produce salinification of the soils by a thin crust of salts near the soil surface. After the nineteenth century the position has been complicated by the removal of fresh water from the Wolds’ runoff since it is intercepted by the northern catchwater drains.

From today’s distributions and data, as monitored by the Internal Drainage Board, it is not simple to retrodict the nature of the groundwater in historical times. As often, the experience of the Netherlands is relevant though the emphasis there has been on modelling changes in order to predict the effects of rises in RSL. The models do however take into account rises in RSL and land subsidence. Thus the finding that subsidence in a peaty district had little effect on the salt load of surface waters in adjacent areas is of interest. When sea-level rises, the flux of salt water rises differentially towards the drains and so discharge is increasingly salty.53 That there can be rapid temporal variations in the balance of fresh and saline waters is another finding with application to reclamation projects but here again the recharge of saline water from the sea is an ever-present process.54 A by-product of a study of the groundwater relations of wet fen over the last 2000 years was the finding that recent land use changes had in fact increased the flow of water into such fens and that the configuration of groundwater flows was now so little like the historic situation that it was not a good basis for the conservation of the fen habitat.55

Where might such findings intersect with the historical evidence? Instances are discussed later56 in this narrative but may be briefly foreshadowed here.

  1. The major concern from the fourteenth century onwards that the Fen might be damaged by the intrusion of salt water, especially up Wainfleet Haven. Though the ingress of tidal surface waters is the obvious mechanism, it might be hazarded that the managers and tenants of the Fen had some experience of the effects of salt water from other sources, once of which could have been the salinising effects of local ‘hot spots’ of salt emergence within the fen, or even the deeper turbaries (such as those which became The Deeps, one of which was called Salter Gate which would now be near Eastville)57 finding saline intrusions at their base.
  2. The thirteenth century agreement between Philip Kyme and Hawise of Lincoln to ‘refresh’ Philip’s pastures in Croft. Whereas this has been interpreted as due to dessication in a time of dry climate, an alternative might be the appearance of salt water during summer in the local drains from which cattle were accustomed to drink and the need for Lymn water to flush this through. In early twentieth century Flanders the ditches and canals needed to be flushed through to keep them from being filled with brackish water.58
  3. The interesting, if unusual, geology of the Danish island of Læso in the Kattegat, where a layer of salt groundwater is found at very little depth: up to 17 per cent at no more than 50cm. This gave rise to a salt-making industry from the twelfth century until 1652. It raises the speculation that if there were saline upwellings or ‘hot spots’ in the East Fen then salt-making could have been carried on well away from the sea or its estuaries.

None of these is conclusive: they all involve speculation beyond the evidence for SEL. Yet looked at together they are a reminder that in shallow basins of recent sedimentation and fluctuating sea-level the likelihood is that the whole of the East Fen has been underlain by a saline wedge since The Wash was formed59 and that its appearance at the surface would have provided both opportunity and difficulty.

2.2.2 Havens: Size, Management and Relation to the East Fen

At some time in the post-Roman period, the outflow of freshwater to the sea must have been largely controlled by natural features. Yet there is ample evidence to argue that they were subject to modification by their marginal human communities from Saxon times onwards. Their nature therefore acts as a transition feature to the more exclusively humanised elements in later sections. But the location and structure has to be reconstructed since they are now either totally transformed or a pale vestige of a former presence. In this area, the presence of ‘havens’ at Wainfleet and Wrangle is well attested, that at Friskney possible but less well explored.60 No haven has been proposed for the drainage east of Stickney and Sibsey into the Witham. The two or possibly three recognised havens have the East Fen as a common source area; it collected the water from the Wolds and the slightly higher land to the north of the Lymn and acted as a store for it before the fresh water was channelled down the havens to an estuary. Thus it would be expected that the lower stretches of a haven would be tidal and indeed that tides might reach well inland. On the ebb the flow would be mostly fresh water and at the head of the haven a brackish mixture would be common. Rippon’s models suggest that embankment of the lower reaches would be an early form of regulation and in this region, the building of a bank to contain the wet fen would mean the installation of a sluice to prevent salt water from invading the fen, as well as keeping fresh water within the fen bounds in order to protect its special resources. Any discussion of the history of havens has to try to locate these features and to give them a date.

2.2.2.1 Wainfleet Haven

The watercourse now labelled Wainfleet Haven has a number of parts. Below Wainfleet Clough (TF 542 596) it is tidal; there is then a series of straight stretches with sharp bends as far as Chain Bridge (TF 502 587) on the outskirts of the town; from there to Crow’s Bridge it is a wide drain, taking the water from the New Cut of 1818 that comes down from Firsby Clough. Above Crow’s Bridge (TF 481 592) the Haven runs between two banks with roads on them, crosses the line of the Old Fen Bank and runs into the East Fen itself, where its line is called Good Dyke, and on some pre-O.S. maps, South Stream. Between Crow’s Bridge and the Old Fen Bank it bisects the now ‘deserted’ site of Saxon Wainfleet, with the site of the church of Wainfleet All Saints/All Hallows on the north bank, and the extant Wainfleet St Mary about 0.5km to the south.

Before 1500, much of the lowest reach did not exist except as the outflow of the Haven drainage over a salt-marsh and sand or mud flats to open water. Roughly speaking (there are more precise estimates in a later section) all the land surface and hence also the course of the river below White House Bridge and Farm dates from the 1560s and after. Between that location and the eastern edge of the town there was some earlier reclamation, though of uncertain date. So the earliest Wainfleet Haven probably ran into the open sea in that location. The LiDAR picture of Wainfleet Haven shows higher ground extending all along the course of the upper haven, suggesting the presence of a roddon. Care has to be taken with such interpretations since shrinkage of the land around is likely to cast some soils into relief but in this case it appears reasonably obvious that there was higher (and drier) land along the sides of the watercourse.61 From Crow’s Bridge seawards, the roads now called Mill Lane and the westwards extension of Vicarage Lane on either side of the Haven look like former banks enclosing an estuary. The topography is complicated by the intrusion of Toftland, through which the Haven flows62 (Fig 2.2.5). (At this stage in the present account, the Haven’s course seawards from the present sea-clough and inside the Old Fen Bank are of lesser interest: more will be said in later sections.) What is immediately germane is the section between the town and the Old Fen Bank and between the town and the bank of the 1560s which accompanied a clough across the Haven as ordered by Queen Elizabeth I. For convenience, these two sections will be divided at Salem Bridge (TF 495 585) and called the upper and lower Havens respectively (Fig 2.2.6).

Without doubt the major importance of Wainfleet Haven until the fourteenth century was as a channel of commerce since water transport was recognised as the first option for any moveable produce. The commerce of e.g., Late Saxon times is not directly known, but by the time of DB salt production was an important industry and this continued until about 1600. In 1234 the port of Wainfleet had rules about the tax payable on salt movements. Corn and fish were also traded.63 Thus the management of the Haven as a commercial waterway was a significant matter for those with authority, who were generally those who took some profits as well.

The commerce theme first appears in an agreement of 1240 between Hawise, Countess of Lincoln64 and Phillip II of Kyme, about the flow of water down the New Lymn (from Firsby Clough to the head of Wainfleet Haven, mostly across the East Fen in an embanked channel). Phillip agrees to take water for his manor of Croft only at between Easter and Michaelmas for alternate periods of three weeks. Thus most of the water will flow down the New Lymn and obviate the damage being done to Hawise’s port of Wainfleet (ad nocumentum portus predicte Hawis’ in Weynfled).65 That this was a perennial problem is shown as late as c. 1674 when a legal argument about drainage in the Tetford area claims the importance of the Great Lymn (now the name for the New Lymn or Lusdyke) as a support for Wainfleet Haven, ‘which is one of His Majesty’s ports where he has officers to receive his customs.’66

There were other problems to the management of the upper part of Wainfleet Haven. The first gets extended treatment in the section on the fen and is concerned with water regulation by means of dams; the second is the obstructions caused by weirs both of which will be further explored in the discussion of the East Fen and its medieval management. Yet another question concerns the embankment of the Haven. The way in which Mill Lane and the extension of Vicarage Lane narrow down towards Chop Hills suggests a broad estuarine stretch, probably widening out after the constriction caused by higher ground near Salem Bridge and another pair of raised areas along the TF 492 easting. The LiDAR data show an augmented area of silting at Chop Hills, and upstream thereafter the Haven has all the characteristics of a roddon, less raised as it approaches the Old Fen Bank, which shows as a southward-pointing area of higher land. The variable separation of these roads hints at the possibility of there being water storage between them, i.e., a washland. So the basic question of why this is all called ‘Wainfleet Bank’ is unresolved: was there only one Bank (in which case was it the northern or the southern bank?) or were there two and in that case which way was the ‘outside’? Was the term transferred from banks which enclosed the core area of Saxon settlement? The Little Lymn to the north of Thorpe St Peter had farms and holdings along it in early modern times which were called Lime/Lymm Bank so that the holding of ‘rivers’ within banks seems a common practice; the Lymn south of Croft looks much the same as Wainfleet Haven in having roads either side. Green suggests that the great flood of 1287 was the signal for submergence of flat pastures67 and so enclosing the rivers by banks - or higher banks - would have been a natural response in the Wainfleet area.

The use of Salem Bridge as a dividing marker begs the question of its own antiquity, since the present structure was built in the nineteenth century. The first mention of it is in a Bury extent of Sailholme in 1303/4, where Simon de ecclesia holds a messuage which belonged to Ranulph Attebriggehende; a toft which had also belonged to Ranulph was now rented by Alice Attebriggehende, later said clearly to be at the head of the bridge (ad caput pontis). She paid 6d and Simon 7d.68 In 1410. Thomas Wace and two others were granted ‘pontage’ of ‘Sailholmbrygge’ for two years as recompense for its repair.69 So the bridge went from the town south to Sailholme, carrying the King’s Road to Friskney and Boston at least from the fourteenth century. The earlier grants of land of the-mid twelfth century to Bury St Edmunds abbey make no mention of a bridge and Bury’s extent of Sailholme in 1212/13 says nothing.70 So there is a likelihood (though no more) that the first Salem Bridge was built between 1200 and 1300; its exact site is unknown although unlikely to have been radically different.

In this middle section, the LiDAR data shows three side-channels, two upstream from the bridge and one downstream. Upstream, a channel runs northwards to a tear-shaped area (c. 200 x 100m) of low ground, mostly within the playing field of the present school. On the south side, a channel leaves the Haven near St Mary’s vicarage and curls back towards Sailholme, bringing a salt water passage at some stage onto the lands south of Wainfleet Hall. On the same side, below it, a creek runs south from The Grange (TF 586 495) along the line of the B1195 as far as the farm at Key’s Toft. Thus the Haven at some time in the past was furnished with some side-creeks, one of which led into a shallow but sizeable depression. Leland gives some idea, though without enough detail for locational certainty:

The haven of Waynflete enterith into the lande by a creke a **** miles, and after it that it hath enterid a pratye waye, it casteth out crosse of eche syde of the creke, but not farre, an armlet into the Fennes and makith a little morisch lake, at the butt hed of it.71

The pre-modern Haven must have ended not far below Sailholme Bridge, for much of the terrain between the eastern fringe of Wainfleet All Saints town and the present coast was reclaimed after 1550 (see section 2.5). Since salt-making ceased by about 1650 along this coast then aerial evidence of dark soil patches which accompanied salt extraction, together with Salter’s Way, mark the southern fringe of the estuary at perhaps 1500; the northern side is less easily traced but the southern end of Croft Bank is presumably relevant, as is the presence of Bamburgh Field in 1360.72 All these scraps of evidence are gathered up in one map (Fig 2.2.6). It could just be that this Haven was at one time much wider and that much of the two big Wainfleet parishes is reclaimed estuary, but more invesigation of this possibility is needed.

2.2.2.2 Wrangle Haven

Wrangle Haven was a contrast to Wainfleet Haven If the landscape indications like Sea Dyke and Sea Dyke Farm, Eel Pool Lane, the silt ribbon shown on LiDAR, and the run of roads and footpaths are put together, then there is a case for an inlet which was about 3km from the village to its head and a little over 1.0km at its widest. The traces of its presence in field boundary patterns of the nineteenth century seem to stop at Wrangle Bank near the King’s Hill (TF 412 531) motte-and-bailey ‘castle’. At the widest that can be envisaged, the haven was distinguishable from the Wash east of Workhouse End, then became narrow, curving to the north-west round Joy Hill and opening out NNW as far north as Wrangle Bank. On the west side there are indications that it was confined by a bank (hence the lane called Sea Dyke) and on the east by a straight bank now marked by Pindar Lane, running past a Sea Dyke Farm (TF 423 515) into a more credibly uneven section as far as the village. The very straight road is unparalleled in Wrangle outside the fen and it may be a ‘late’ realignment of an earlier road or bank. The area enclosed by these two roads has several transverse lanes and paths and a series of compartments can be imagined. Much of the western edge dyke is also the parish boundary with Leake. Havens and estuaries are naturally places where salt-making might be practised since sheltered shores with a good expanse of salt-marsh and a forced tidal range would have been prime sites. But while the open shore of Wrangle towards the Wash demonstrates the linear-parallel field pattern recognised as relic salterns, the land of the former Haven north from the village shows no such patterns. DB does not indicate any salterns at Wrangle, but 41 in Leake hundred; it seems unlikely that they occupied the western side of Wrangle Haven even though the parish came down to the sea-dyke there. There is too the interesting fact that all the reclamation appears to have been on the Wrangle side of the parish boundary.

The position of the King’s Hill is interesting in the light of the evidence from the Netherlands that such constructions were placed near to water access. On the aerial photos one of the several channels that are visible as soil marks in the cultivated area outside the present limits of the site connects the likely ‘moat’ with the presumed line of the minimal haven once it had been reclaimed from either side, fixing the narrow set of fields easily visible on the nineteenth century maps. The fortified site seems to have been placed at the head of tidal navigation and where the fen was contained by a bank; presumably the fen or estuary areas held some resources or settlements of interest to the Norman lords: control of the salt trade is an obvious possibility. In Edward III’s levy of 1359, Wrangle had to raise one ship and eight men, compared with two ships from Wainfleet.73 A major trade was in salt, for in 1340 - 1343 Wrangle exported 217½ ‘ways’ of salt to Great Yarmouth and received 23 ‘lasts’ of herring; in 1340 - 1360 some 35 lasts of herring were imported.74 At some stage, all the upper Haven above the village was reclaimed and as seaward marshes or sandy shores were also reclaimed the port was harder to reach and eventually (though the date is unknown) this function ceased. (It is traditionally asserted that vessels formerly sailed up the harbour to within a quarter of a mile of the church). There is no indication of a haven on Dugdale’s map of 1661, for example and the silting up of at least part is recorded in an Inquest of 1318 when the havens of Friskney and Wrangle are totally obstructed by the height of the land and of the sands thrown up by the attacks of the sea (per altitudinem terre et sabulorum per maris impetus ibidem proietcorum totaliter sunt obstructi).75 The later and minimal courses of the Haven are plotted on Fig 2.2.7 where it looks as if the ‘crooked creek’ idea is maintained, with the ‘beacon’ of the 1890s six-inch map located on its shore (TF 428 500).

2.2.2.3 Other Havens?

1 There are occasional hints that Friskney had a haven. It was never assessed for impressed vessels but there are legends about people coming to church by boat76 and the muster of nine sea fishermen in 1626 and ten in 1628, in both cases more than Wainfleet. Oldfield’s Wainfleet quotes Leland’s Itinerary as ‘wher some say was ons a Havenet, but I have not the Certente of it’. It is a mile and a half from the shore’. Oldfield also quotes a 1327 entry in the Escheat Rolls of Edward III in which Alice the wife of Thomas Earl of Lincoln claimed the possession of the seaport in the village of Friskney along with right of wreck and the royal fisheries.77 If a haven existed then it has to be imagined as running south-south-west from the vicinity of the church to Fold Hill (TF 466 546) and then passing through perhaps three sea-banks before encountering the Wash. A straight and regulated course seems very likely in the circumstances. A blocked portus at Friskney in the fourteenth century is mentioned in the same sentence as Wrangle.78 It seems as if the growth of the Tofts might have been inimical to a haven; this also applies to any idea of a larger haven further south on the Friskney/Wrangle boundary.

2 The pattern of field boundaries, roads and footpaths that suggests the former stretch of Wrangle Haven also points up the possibility of another haven or a branch off Wrangle Haven leading via Old Leake to Leake Commonside and beyond, in a general north-westerly direction, with the map and satellite indications petering out just short of the railway (TF 380 531). There is the possibility that it joined Wrangle Haven about 0.5km south of Workhouse End (TF 427 498) (Fig 2.2.8).

3 Most of the pre-19th century maps show no indentations of the coastline between the exit of Wainfleet Haven and Boston. Dugdale’s 1661 map has a shallow inlet at the outfall of the Black Gote from Friskney Eaudyke, but he is not totally reliable e.g., on the Lymn below Firsby Clow. Indeed, most maps before 1750 have no allusion to a Gibraltar Point but Marshall’s chart clearly shows it exists, so there is a good deal of blind copying in those earlier maps; John Cary’s county map of 1787 is an exception. There are minor havens north of Skegness on most historic maps but these are in different drainages and therefore not dealt with in this study.79

2.2.2.4 General Observations on Havens

It is quite unchallengeable that the medieval story of the havens is their disappearance. While the general post BD decline of east Lincolnshire’s economy played a role, more specific local causes for decline in the period from c.1300 onwards can be discerned:

  1. A fourteenth century rise in sea-level, bringing with it quantities of silt at high tides and in storms, so producing perhaps the opposite effect to the intuitive reaction to higher water levels in estuaries.
  2. An increase in the amount of sub- and supra-tidal salt-marsh being reclaimed for grazing and then arable which meant that any haven’s course to the open sea was longer and, unless channelled with the input of a lot of labour, more tortuous. This process seems to accelerate after about 1550 rather than in the medieval era but it seems unlikely that it started from scratch.
  3. The popularity of salt-making in the silt-rich shelter of estuaries exacerbates the decline of the haven by extending drier land seaward, as the waste accumulates and the desire to move seawards along the sandacre increases.

The demise of Wrangle Haven seems to be unrecorded but the 1485 Royal Charter for Wainfleet makes it quite clear that the commerce of the town has decayed:80

... an ancient sea-port ... formerly existed there ... for lack of coming of friendly ships and for other causes and because of great losses falling upon the said men and tenants, the said town is nearly a ruin and will soon come to its final destruction, unless relieved;

Even allowing for the Duchy of Lancaster making the best case, that state can only be attributed to poorer trade prospects via the Haven, among which its lower capacity to attract shipping was an important factor. By 1350, says Platts,81 the frontier had closed and even Grimsby harbour was silting up in 1280. So the ports of Lincolnshire were altogether in a poorer state by 1350. In an early example of recreation and shopping being the vehicle for regeneration, more fairs were one answer, just as a casino is currently being touted for the coastal strip.

2.2.3 Salt: Manufacture, Settlement and Economy, Landscape Effects

An early reference to a salt-maker is found in the History of the Danes (Book 6) by Saxo Grammaticus, a Danish annalist whose supposed dates are 1150 - 1220. He wrote:

Siquidem decoquendi salis opificem professus inter sordidioris ministerii famulos ignobilia exsequebatur officia. Cibi quoque capiendi tempore discubitu ultimus exsistere solebat.

[Hiarn was received by the king] hiding his purpose under the pretence of servitude. For, giving himself out as a salt-distiller, he performed base offices among the servants who did the filthiest work.

And the poor chap gets slain within a very few lines. In this account, the occupation of a salt-maker is a lowly one, at any rate at court. Yet the importance of salt cannot be gainsaid since it was one of the principal means for preserving animal tissues such as meat and fish, in making cheese, and doubtless for rubbing into wounds.82 In east Lincolnshire and further south, the plethora of Roman salterns (themselves by no means the first in the region) testify to the importance of the Wash in the Roman economy, and some of it was exported to the continent from these shores; Ptolemy places the term ‘Salinae’ not too far from Skegness.83

2.2.3.1 Methods of Salt - Making

The excavations of Saxon and later medieval salterns point to two distinct methods of making salt. Too few detailed investigations with unequivocal dating have been made to say whether they are separated in time or by region, though the presence of one or the other is quite marked in some localities. More general detail is given in Appendix 2.2.1 and here only the very local relevance is explored. The methods postulated for this period and place are:

  1. The highest part of a salt-marsh or sandy foreshore is marked out as a sandacre or greva. It is raked to increase the surface settling area for water with a high salt content. This is covered only at high spring tides after which there may be a salt-silt mixture which is 50 - 75 per cent salt. This is then scraped up by a mold-board pulled by oxen. A pile is made next to a boiling-house and protected from rain. In the house (a ‘salt-cote’) a lead pan is fired by wood or, more often, peat, and the mixture gradually refined to the point where the desired grade of salt is produced.84 The salt is stored in heaps with protection from rain until transported away.
  2. A channel leads from a creek or high salt-marsh to a pool where the saline solution is stored and natural evaporation takes place.85 The water is fed into a series of filtration units using peat turves as collectors for the salt; these are then burned and the salt ash again filtered for its content. The water may also be evaporated afresh. Like the previous method, fuel is required and stored on site. The finished product accumulates, covered, on site until taken away.

2.2.3.2 The Wainfleet Coasts

The concept of ‘coast’ is stretched somewhat to include the area mapped by the O.S. as 'Low Grounds' since there is evidence that salt was extracted from salt-marsh on the landward side of the toftland as it emerged. The division from 'fen' is mostly one of convenience here and the possibility that some salt-making was carried out deep into the East Fen will be discussed in 2.2.3.3.

The first task is to see if there is any evidence in these three locations for (a) the former presence of salt-marsh and (b) for other physical evidence of salterns which used one of the methods in 2.2.3.1 above. Five criteria are suggested:

  1. In aerial photographs, the remains of anatomical features of salt-marsh, such as creek systems, SMPs, pimple-type mounds, and irregular pans, all of which can survive reclamation and subsequent manipulation by ploughing.
  2. Also in aerials, irregular-edged mounds (sometimes called lobate or floriform) of salt waste, sometimes also kidney-shaped, comparable to those which are so clear in the marshland of north-east Lincolnshire. The arcuate linear mounds still in existence at Wainfleet St Mary seem to be a restricted phenomenon, found only in one other location, in Wrangle.
  3. Black patches visible as soil marks in areas where salt-making was possible. These may be circular but are more likely to have been ploughed out into more linear shapes.
  4. Channels which lead into a pool which in turn has the possible presence of dispersal areas which represent the former filtration units. These are now difficult to spot except in excavations and exceptionally clear APs. Some imagery (notably LiDAR) shows depressions along the surface of the Tofts which might be lagoons or ponds but there is no corroborative evidence.
  5. Field patterns which fossilise the one-time greva/sandacre even though much reorganisation of boundaries has taken place. The patterns are best seen on the O.S. nineteenth century six-inch maps and on the 1:25,000 Provisional Edition. On the latter, both ditch and ‘dry’ boundaries of this type are found.

These remotely sensed traces can then be set against the documentary record. The latter is time-specific in presenting a record of a saltern at a particular moment, whereas the landscape evidence is not anchored in the same way, if at all. Archaeological evidence (scarce along this part of the coast) may or may not tie down a saltern to a specific period. The outcome is usually a multi-period set of phenomena to which a good deal of inference has to be applied in order to produce a chronology. In this area, the starting point will be the salterns noted in DB and possible extensions of their locations, followed by the toftland zone documented by monasteries and ending with the late medieval and early modern salt-making places which probably represent the last flowering of the industry. The detailed traces in documents and other forms of evidence are set out in Appendix 2.2.2.

In reviewing the detailed material from the Appendix, a map of sites and landscape types discussed above forms a useful basis for an overall look at the two Wainfleet parishes (Fig 2.2.9). Points to note are:

  1. The wide spread of the greva-type sites, with narrow linear divisions, lines of circular features and sometimes evidence of rectangles that held a building. More of these would surely be found with extra scrutiny and perhaps better ‘historic’ air cover.
  2. The large area where the field pattern is consonant with greva installations in both the Low Grounds of Wainfleet St Mary and on the Tofts. Though there are some field-lines that go through from Low Grounds to the Tofts, there are others where there is a break.
  3. The c. 1500 saltmaking enterprises are confined to one corner of the area considered.
  4. The ‘big pool’ in the grounds of the modern school at Wainfleet All Saints shown in LiDAR (centred at TF 495 589) is an ambiguous feature which might have no connection with salt at all, though it would provide a large shallow holding area for salt water since it is connected to the Haven by a narrow channel.

More excavation and more field walking are needed above all to confirm that pattern of land usage and to give some chronological firmness to these spatial indications. As they stand, it is possible to envisage the earliest works to be around High Wainfleet and at the fen/salt-marsh embayment junction in Thorpe St Peter, extending eastwards via a series of block reclamations to north and south of the Haven, with each block having a roughly similar field alignment. After the development of Sailholme by Bury abbey (though clearly they were not the first to make salt there) there was seaward development of the Tofts until they extended as far as the Fore-path, beyond which only the 1500-era workings took place. Thus the salterns in DB were probably the westernmost examples plus perhaps some around the Haven estuary (which probably widened out below Chop Hills at TF 488 589) but the monastic involvement was concentrated at Sailholme; speculatively, this declined by about 1350 so as to produce the stories of the roofless chapel at about 1370. There is no indication that Bury St Edmunds, for example, was involved in the 1500-era salt extraction proceedings. In 1485, for example, the Bury lands had been leased to the Rector of Halton.86

There is a further possible site worth discussion. High up Good Dyke (the western extension of Wainfleet Haven into the East Fen) the 1968 photographs87 (Fig 2.2.10) show a small patch of unimproved land, where the road dog-legs at a farm (TF 450 590); the unimproved strip of land looks like a saltern of the greva type with linear divisions and in the eastern section a hint of some transverse boundary marks. Circular features are present and in the southern part of the western section small examples of the features form a straight line. At some period of the past, therefore, the Haven-Good Dyke channel was tidal to this point, some 1.6km west of the Fen Bank. This finding is an alert to the possibility that elsewhere on the Haven there might be other sites which were part of the reclamation process for tidal flats. One such is the place known as Chop Hills (TF 488 589) about 1.0km west of Salem Bridge. The triangular layout of the land parcels suggest that there may have been other uses, but a plot of visible elements from the air, using several sources,88 suggests that there are circular features throughout and that some of them are in lines, allowing the inference that salt was an agent of land conversion here. The same is true of some of the land to the north and indeed south across the Haven as well, so it was part of a transition from tidal fleot to dry land. The triangular layout, however, may be capable of other interpretations, discussed in the section on the East Fen and its drainage through Wainfleet Haven. Wainfleet All Saints also contained a holding called Saltcroft in 1417 x 1418.89

As later discussions will argue, there was other economic activity in these two townships besides making salt. Wherever there are artificial channels for water, evidence of former salt-marsh, ponds or pools, and heaps of pale silty material, however, salt-making must be evaluated and discarded before other explanations are adopted. However, the basic chronology for Wainfleet set out by Hallam has now been superseded by later evidence.90

2.2.3.3 Friskney

The documentation of salt-making in the township of Friskney is scattered compared with the plentiful references in Wainfleet and Wrangle in the twelfth century and thirteenth centuries. The physical evidence is convincing if it is accepted that the raised land called the Tofts is in fact salt waste; in Friskney there is a line of toftland the whole length of the parish and of the same width as in Wainfleet St Mary and northern Wrangle.91 So it seems as if the few documentary references are a facet of survival rather than reflecting any absence of the practice. Overall, Friskney, yields much less information about salt-making than Wainfleet St Mary or Wrangle; most of the evidence is for coastal extraction and the possibility of the Low Grounds (as in Wainfleet St Mary) must be borne in mind.92 What there is, however, does not contradict in any way the information from north and south. The major difference may lie in the absence of involvement of a major monastic institution as with Bury St Edmunds in Wainfleet St Mary and Waltham Holy Cross in Wrangle; important though Bardney was, it tended not to have such consolidated holdings along the coast.93 However, Matthew son of Milonis de Wenflet gave the abbey land in Friskney cum salinis et sandacris et omnium aliis pertincicis suis and a further grant of 2 acres of arable land which rendered every year tres basellos salis et sex denarios ad festum Sancto Oswaldi.94 Hallam quotes a twelfth century charter where there is new land (Neuland) to the west of a head dyke, so that may be in the Low Grounds rather than the seaward side of the Tofts.95 In the field north of Friskney church there is a pond with a channel, like those of Sailholme in Wainfleet St Mary (TF 460 355). Grants of coastline in Friskney were certainly being made in 1349 which encompassed the whole traditional suite, quod predictum toftum a fossato maris usque ad profundum maris cum edificiis superedificatis et cum omnibus suis pertiniciis, although it does not actually specify that it is a saltern.96 A document that is difficult to interpret, simply called ‘Salt Rents in Friskney’ and undated, though assigned to the fifteenth century lists rents payable by 30 individuals.97 The entries are partly of the type:

John Gose at Xmas 3s. 5d.
Same at Easter 3s. 8d halfpenny
Same at S Bot. 3s. 5d.
Same at Mich. 10s. 2d.
Same at Vinc. S Petri 1 quarter of salt 1 bushel

Thus they do not specify what type of holding; the Dymmock family have a named set of holdings:

John Dymmok for Lyndylbydayle/Hundylbydayle 12d.
Same for Hendmanhill 2d.
Same for Porecroft 4d.
Same for Lowdayle 1d.
Same at Vinc. S Petri 2.5 quarters of salt
Same at Vinc. S Petri for Bosuncroft lately Choeburry lately Bosunbrig' ?2s.?
Same at Vinc. S Petri for Watkyntoft lea 1.5 quarters of salt
And at Mich. 5 bushels

And others have a single-line entry quoting rents of salt or for a toft, a ‘dayle’ or a house. Altogether, salt features 13 times and in some entries it is payable twice a year, at St Peter ad Vincula (August 1st) and Michaelmas (29 September but October 11 is Old Michaelmas Day ) which agrees with the hypothesis that saltmaking was a summer occupation. The document is elusive in its information content but it is clear that a lord was collecting rent from a number of salt-makers along the coast in the fifteenth century but that he/they also held property in Boston (5s from the house ‘where Alice Rose used to live’) and Wainfleet (2d from William Butt, chaplain).98 A deed of 1349 allowed Alan son of Walter of Friskney the reversion of a toft between the seadyke and the open sea with buildings on it (toftum a fossato maris vsque ad profundum maris cum edificiis superedificatis).99 Salt is not mentioned but the site and building suggest that it may once have been a salting even if not at that moment; the witnessing was just after St Peter ad Vincula. Where the rental document has entries of 3 - 4 items of cash and 1 - 2 items of salt, one inference is that agriculture was an economic activity as well as salt.

2.2.3.4 Wrangle

Salt in Wrangle is well attested. There is an end-point in a map of part of the foreshore in 1606100 which while not showing any contemporary saltmaking certainly portrays the results of several centuries of it and the aerial coverage is good and includes some 1944 USAAF material.101 Above all, the documents relating to the properties of Waltham Holy Cross, many of which concern saltmaking, have been edited and made available in a single volume.102 There are also a number of references to greva in the Great Cowcher of the Duchy of Lancaster.103 The outcome of all these data for Wrangle is clear in many respects. There is a clear line of Toftland whose form reflects saltmaking at least between c. 1150 and perhaps 1550 (or 1600 at the latest). Not clear is the involvement of Wrangle Haven (Fig 2.2.7) in the industry. There are no unequivocal indications from the Waltham material that this inlet was part of the set of sandacre assignments and as noted above the DB salterns in the area were assigned to Leake, not Wrangle. Given that part of one DB manor was waste on account of the action of the sea, it sounds as if the Haven was still open at that time and that its closure was a later process; nevertheless, the very infilling of it could have been a consequence of salt-waste production. The field patterns on e.g., the late nineteenth century Six-Inch map lack the linear shapes associated with salterns and there are few ponds compared with Wainfleet St Mary. So the weight of the evidence from the landscapes of the recent past is that the saltmaking was done on the open shore at any rate from the twelfth century onwards. Part at least of the Haven remained open until later: Hallam quotes Pishey Thompson’s ‘it is traditionally asserted that vessels formerly sailed up the harbour to within a quarter of a mile of the church’ (1856), and Marrat’s History of Lincolnshire (1814) who says the haven came within a half-mile of the church.104 Neither, surely, were recounting eye-witness evidence.

2.2.3.5 a Waynflete Usque ad Wrangle: The Tofts in Context

Even on satellite pictures, the Tofts stand out; on false colour imagery they are especially noticeable as a belt between Wainfleet Haven and Wrangle village. What happens at either end? At the north, the characteristic field patterns and reflectance carry over into Northolme but then diminish into the low land area of Croft parish. If there was salt-marsh in Croft (see below) then its exploitation did not throw up the large areas of waste seen south of Wainfleet Haven. At the southern end, the picture is not clear: it looks as if (a) either most of the land around Leake Hurn’s End, Leverton and Benington is raised to the general toft level or (b) any saltmaking processes were diffused into patterns not easily recognised. Detailed investigation of medieval saltmaking in that area is needed. But there is a clear 12km of toft between Northolme and Wrangle church with an average width of about 0.8km; an equally rough average of the current depth of the salt waste is 2.0m. That equals 19 million m3 of material . Using quoted dimensions for Lincoln Cathedral of 147 x 53 x 23m (0.18 million m3 )then there is enough waste to fill the interior of the cathedral about 100 times. Thus the tofts are one of the largest human constructions of medieval Britain, albeit an inadvertent effort.

Inspections of maps and APs show one feature along the entire length: that apart from the buildings which are likely the descendants of the late-period salt-cotes on the seaward edge as in Wainfleet St Mary and Wrangle, there are few traces of medieval settlement on the land surface. There is a line of holdings along the landward side fronting the Low grounds. In between the Fore-path and the Low Road-Friskney Head Dyke Road there are few buildings even on the 1950s maps. In Wainfleet St Mary there are two well-settled transverse roads: St Michael’s and Groose Lanes (in earlier times Mousegate and Crossgate), and Friskney Eaudyke connects fen to sea in straight line sections (Fig 2.2.12). The map shows clearly that between the Low Rd and High Street there are virtually no buildings but there are a few between High Street and the Fore-path; the next density is along the outer edge of salt-making as far south as Wrangle and thereafter along the line of the seaward lane in the 1606 map of Wrangle foreshore. If the Wrangle distribution is significant then the A52 line (which is just seaward of the preserved mounds at Wainfleet St Mary) in Friskney and Wainfleet St Mary represents the seaward limit of the industry when it finished between 1500 and 1600; a good date would be the great storm of 1571, though that is perhaps too simplistic.105

The inference from these distributions is that at any rate initially, the waste mounds were not suitable for settlement, even though they were doubtless turned into grazing and eventually arable land and that eventually they became parts of bigger holdings in which the main building(s) sat on the edges of the higher ground. In 1396 a cottage called Mylnhouse (i.e., the Mill House) was at Cotes along with an arable plot at Cotecroftes called Thomlyntoft with named owners on all sides: not the marsh nor the sea.106 Since the toft area is also the zone where most ponds are found, then it is perhaps the absence of water for human consumption (as distinct from pond water for cattle) within the top few metres of material that was a disincentive to building permanent dwellings and livestock housing. The silts may not have held water and wells might soon have reached a brackish stratum. More evidence is needed on this point.

2.2.3.6 Other Locations

One theme of this section is the gradual differentiation of different landscape types from an initial matrix of inter-tidal habitats. If that is the correct picture then the distribution of salt-marsh and its availability to a saltmaking industry and thence to reclaimable supra-tidal (and often embanked) land should be widespread. Here, the picture in some of the communities adjacent to the major coastal belt is examined to see if any further data fill out the story, especially as villages further away from the present coast are concerned. There is insufficient detail to construct a major appendix, so all the gathered data are given at the present location in the text.

2.2.3.6.1 Leake

There is no intention to examine Leake in detail but it has been noted that although Wrangle lacks salinae in DB, Leake is well provided: it is a jurisdiction of Drayton under Count Alan like part of Wrangle, with 52 freemen and 45 others with 11 ploughs and 26 salinae; two of the Count’s men have 15 salinae.107

Using the 1:25k map and aerial imagery, it is possible to suggest a haven running from a junction with Wrangle Haven near Workhouse End northwards past Leake Common side to Wrangle Bank (Fig 2.2.8). This sheltered estuary might have been a typical salters’ site. The conjunction of Leake and Wrangle Haven is demonstrated by a grant in 1187 x 1209 of xij acras terre in Leke Neuland iuxta portum de Wrangle, which suggests the juxtaposition of the two vills as well as the filling-in of Wrangle Haven.108 Leake’s outer coast in medieval times was probably somewhere between Old Leake (a mirror to Wrangle perhaps) and Leake Hurn’s End. There are no obvious saltern strips along that line, but there are areas of long and narrow plots containing circular features on the A52 for example at TF 405 497 and black soil marks to the south-east. (This area has so little permanent grass remaining that the chances of detecting saltern strips are quite low). So although there is no obvious Toftland in Leake, the probability of medieval saltern presence is high; note however that the Leake-Wrangle parish boundary runs down Sea Dyke lane which may well have been the western side of Wrangle Haven and hence salterns on this shore could have been assigned to Leake township in DB.

2.2.3.6.2 Croft

So much of Croft parish is obviously reclaimed from the sea in early modern and later times that plotting its medieval layout carries a good degree of uncertainty. At the southern extremity it comes close into the town of Wainfleet at Northolme and it seems likely that its specified limits were bound up with changes in the course of Wainfleet Haven. An outer limit is certainly that of Croft Bank, now mostly followed by the A52, but northwards there are field patterns and straight roads which suggest relatively late reclamation. In fact, the boundaries of Croft are amongst the most ‘interesting’ in the region, with the complexities around the lower Lymn (including by the fifteenth century an area called Sutton End), the apparently arbitrary division with Burgh-le-Marsh on the north side and the protruding section almost up to Burgh itself in the north-west corner, known as Croft End. Gilbert de Gand’s holding had been worth 20s in 1066 but was now valued at £4 with seven ploughs and 120 acres of meadow.109 Looking at a map of field types (Fig 2.2.13) there is a core area of small fields around the church which in turn is surrounded by a mixture of rectangular and irregular fields which can be imagined as the extensions to the parish land after an initial settlement. The parish possesses a dense array of footpaths and if it is reckoned that these, along with the lanes and roads, represent former sea-banks then a set of small enclosures suggests itself, with blind lanes like Guthram Drove (starting at TF 510 613) leading into unreclaimed land. That there was salt-marsh in the past, probably as part of the post-Roman transgression is more certain and the first place to look for saltmaking as an agent of land reclamation would be in the periphery of the core area (Fig 2.2.14). The entire area lacks any field systems of the Wainfleet St Mary parallel type but there is an unusual jumble of narrow strips on different axes and many circular features in the area between the Lymn and Church Lane (1968 photos,110 centered on TF 505 615); there is as well a linear strip of small circular features alongside Croft Road at TF 507 606. Ridge-and-furrow is common and may point to some of the increase in value experienced by Croft in medieval times. The indications are that salt-making was not a major factor in the reclamation of land in Croft. Guthram Drove heads north-east into salt-marsh through some areas of parallel strips with lines of small circular features but unequivocal signs are not obvious. That there was some post-DB activity is suggested by the grant by Phillip of Kyme of 20 sesters of salt from Croft to Bardney abbey in 1148 x 1166111 but land depositions in the early seventeenth century make no mention of saltmaking.112 The progress of reclamation, by whatever means, may have been rapid since in Elizabeth’s time there was a chantry of St Helen ‘in Crofte in Marisco’ in lands near the sea which were charged with heavy expenses against flooding.113

2.2.3.6.3 Thorpe St Peter

Previous discussion of Wainfleet suggested that at some stage in medieval history, this parish had an interface with the sea and that the presence of Bamburgh Field due north of Wainfleet All Saints in 1360 suggests an end-date for such a phenomenon. In 1318 there had been a Commission ‘de wallis et fossatis’ for the sea-coast between ‘Fryskenaye and Thorpe by Waynflet’ which is a hint of a coastal strip.114 Given the findings at Thorpe Fendykes set out under Wainfleet All Saints, it would not be surprising to find other evidence of saltmaking along the northern edge of an inlet of the sea whose axis was near to the Bellwater-Wainfleet Relief Drain line of today. To start with the church, Keen suggests that Thorpe St Peter’s building is upon a salt-mound,115 a condition postulated for several others in the region, though without any discussion of whether it is the surrounding land that has shrunk. There is a tantalising hint of the presence of small rectangular enclosures and a line of circular features in an adjacent field between the church and the Relief Drain (TF 484 605) but no better imagery than GE. There are similar possibilities north of the church (TF 486 611) but the imagery is not first-class and early soil marks are overlain by ridge-and-furrow; a batch of fields up against Lymn Bank either side of TF 495 618 have circular features and the degree of organisation that leads to suspicion of a salina. It has a conspicuous set of small fields and a stream on the Bluesky imagery;116 the small enclosure boundaries are sometimes composed entirely of small circular features. The ditch seems to lead into the Lymn. If there had been salt-marsh here, then it had probably gone by the thirteenth century when the Lymn was a source of water for livestock in Croft.117

2.2.3.6.4 Little Steeping

This township seems a long way from any coastlines so far examined in any detail. In the medieval period it was host to a grange of Revesby Abbey at Sedgedyke, which is the general area immediately south of the former Little Steeping railway station (TF 437 605). Its documentary connection to saltmaking is solely through a grant of 1162 x 1173 in which a salina at Wainfleet is fired with peat from a turbary at Sedgedyke:118

... scilicet unam salinam cum quodam tofto eidem pertinente in territorio de Wainflet iuxta portum versus meridiem et eisamenta maresci ad eandem salinam et liberum ingressum et egressum a salina ad grangiam suam de Seggedie per terram meam et hominum meorum.

At first glance, it looks as if this might mean there was a ‘salina ad grangiam Seggedie’ but the Latin may translate as ‘to and from the salina [at Wainfleet] in the direction of Sedgedyke through my land ...’ so that the idea of saltmaking in Little Steeping is ambiguous at best.

Yet the Bluesky high-resolution AP for this area (tile TF 45SW) yields an example (TF 445 620) of the features noted above for Wainfleet Northolme and found elsewhere and discussed in Appendix 2.2.1. This is a set of small rectangles with clear boundaries (Fig 2.2.16). Some have irregular ‘mounds’ with a white reflectance and in a few there are the circular features noted in more coastal zones. It looks as if there was an attempt at salt-marsh using solar evaporation in shallow pools but there is no indication of date. The presence of circular features seems to be a good indication of salt-marsh but more regulation of the terrain is needed for a diagnosis of saltmaking. For example, immediately to the east of the village of Little Steeping, a 1968 image119 shows distinct ridge-and-furrow overlying a former set of field boundaries and some circular features. (TF 437 628) These latter however could be randomly distributed, albeit there are hints of a line of them. Accords the river to the north (TF 442 631) there is an area of small rectangular enclosures as at Sedgedyke (Fig 2.2.17) that lacks large circular features but has a good scatter of smaller ones and a few of larger dimensions. There is little relationship between their occurrence and the boundaries except perhaps for a rather irregular mass of possible features along the eastern boundary of the area portrayed. At 14 ft above OD, this field would not have been out of reach of tidal creeks in the middle ages, though Bardney Abbey (a major landlord in Steeping) got most of its recorded salt from the coast. The pattern is echoed120 in fields south of the village to the east of Station Lane (TF 437 616) where the ‘field’ pattern is so regular that a more modern origin must be suspected.121 There are fragmentary traces of a similar-looking pattern west of the village (TF 429 627) which is bordered by a sinuous ‘stream’ traceable eastwards into the village at TF 432 627 but it has no obvious ‘lower’ end to the south, stopping abruptly at a modern field boundary. On the 1946 photo it appears to be embanked as it approaches the lane off the village’s main road.

Thus in Little Steeping the indications of saltmaking are uncertain: they rouse suspicions which cannot be confirmed with any confidence; none of the grants for ‘Steeping’ in the Bardney cartulary of the twelfth century mention salterns.122 There is, intriguingly, an entry in the SMR which refers to ‘a possible Roman saltern site, now destroyed’, without any specific location.123 Until a late date, the area was within reach of the sea if Oldfield’s account (relayed from Hollingshed) of the 1571 flood in (Great) Steeping is accurate: ‘Steeping was wholly carried away, where was a wayne loade of willowe tops, the body of the wayne, with the willows carried one way, and the axilltree and wheels another way’.124

2.2.3.6.5 Firsby

One of the main interests in Firsby is the building of the New Lymn (which became called the Lusdyke) across the East Fen to the Head of Wainfleet Haven, sometime before 1240. Associated with that construction was the grant of ‘a holm’ between Firsby and the New Lymn (quondam holm est inter Frisebi et Novum Limme) in 1162 x 1191.125 A holm was often a higher piece of land within marshland and in this region had often been a salt-making site, as seen at Sailholme and Northolme in Wainfleet.126 There is no guarantee that this was the case in Firsby, but it suggests that saltmaking was a possible activity. In the mid-thirteenth century, a land grant included three selions at ‘Salterhill’ (trium aliorum cum suis pertiniciis in idem parochium iacentium apud Salterhil videlicet partem occidentale). This can only suggest, although in Wainfleet the term ‘hill’ is reserved for mounds of salt waste.

Evidence on the ground is difficult to acquire in the sense that older APs seem to show very little detail but the 1978 CUCAP image can yield some detail after digital manipulation (Fig 2.2.15): in one instance of possible small rectangles and a plethora of small circular features (TF 459 629). To its east a rectangular land division is apparent with, it seems, one circular feature per unit in some of the rectangles and other smaller examples perched on the boundary lines (Fig 2.2.16). If this is saltmaking then when? The rectangular pools suggest either a very late date in the industry’s history (see below in 2.2.3.4) or a pre-medieval one. (This far from the sea in say 1200 a source of salt water may have been rather distant, unless the fen still contained creeks with connections to the sea or unless the progress of reclamation was very slow hereabouts.) It leaves the possibility that this was a Roman site (maybe ‘lost’ like the supposed site at Little Steeping) which was either at the edge of the post-Roman transgression (the GE elevation readings for this field are in the 7 - 12ft range and so should have been comfortably covered) or else were buried and have been exhumed by recent agriculture and drainage. Appendix 2.2.1 discusses the evidence for and interpretation of these incidences of rectangular ‘pools’ of two main sizes.

2.2.3.7 Salt Making Revisited

The diversity of phenomena chronicled in the section on salt may lead to one or two departures from the extant accounts of saltmaking in the region. The mounds variously interpreted as mill mounds at Friskney and Wainfleet St Mary are sufficiently associated with saltern sites, for example, to be labelled hoga, the mounds of salt waste which built up at salt-cotes and which had a function as look-outs for the shepherding of beasts on the salt-marsh.127 Of greater interest, perhaps, is the addition of a different method of salt extraction. As well as the greva and in addition to the pool-with-filtration units there seems to be a small ponds-with-sharp boundaries ‘factory’ in various places, not least well ‘inland’ at Little Steeping and Firsby. Assuming for the moment that these are indeed for salt and not hemp nor flax, what kind of industry is this? It certainly appears to be a solar-powered installation, though none of the other methods yield any evidence of their fuelling except by black patches in aerial photos and charcoal in excavations. The sun powered what Robinson calls a short-lived industry along the Marsh Coast in the late 16th and early 17th centuries;128 and in Miller & Skertchley’s fenland book, there is an engraving of ‘Ancient Salt Pans, at Bicker-haven ... ’ but with no suggestion about how ancient.129 This leaves for serious consideration the possibility that the ‘two sizes of pond’ phenomenon130 is a relic of an early medieval industry (given the ‘inland’ nature of some of the sites) not so far recounted in the literature, or that perhaps these are traces of the Roman industry (and the layout is reminiscent of artisanal saltmaking around the Mediterranean to this day, e.g., in Sicily and around the Adriatic) which have emerged from underneath the deposits of the late/post-Roman transgression, or are early modern installations which somehow have left no trace in the documents. To this speculation can be added the good evidence that the East Fen may have been underlain (as now) by saline ground-water and that there may have been ‘hot spots’ where this discharged to the surface. Such places would have been excellent sites for salt-making since among other things they were not reliant on tides and if towards the Wolds then well inside the zone of deepest peat deposits. On the tohr hand, the pattern in APs may derive from modern underdrainage.

The extension of all the findings inland of the Tofts is similar in outcome to that of Hallam for the Low Grounds of Wrangle and vills to its south: that there looks to have been a great deal of late eleventh-early twelfth century reclamation. Hallam does not detail the actual methodology of reclamation other than to suggest that it took place in a mixture of habitats (marsh, fen and drier or ‘hard’ fen) with some meres and turbaries. Further north, that picture can be endorsed but with the addition of the conversion of salt-marsh to dry land. Yet further north, the East Fen region’s industry shows little similarity to the ring-mounds and other shapes of silt piles discussed for east Lincolnshire by Fenwick.131

One unexplained feature of settlement is the absence of any historically traceable settlement actually on the toftland between Wainfleet and Wrangle, other than on the probable sites of the former salt-cotes. Apart from obvious recent building and the presence of a few farms on sites between High St and the Fore-path the surface (Fig 2.2.17) has neither buildings nor traces on aerial imagery. LiDAR shows a top surface split into units by the field boundaries in Wainfleet St Mary and into many smaller parts in Wrangle but in Friskney seems to have a greater contiguity at the higher level. Few farms are next to or within the highest ground except on the seaward side of Wainfleet St Mary Something of a lacuna in Wrangle might make the case for the removal of the material or for another land use before the salt-making was resumed, but there is no further evidence. The LiDAR does very helpfully show another set of crescent-mound waste heaps (centered on TF 457 526) like those at Wainfleet St Mary and apparently the only other place where they are found on this stretch of coastline.

The contribution of saltmaking to coastal evolution is without doubt huge. The volume of waste that comprises the upper layers (if not indeed the total) of the Tofts was crudely calculated as enough to fill the interior volume of Lincoln Cathedral at least 100 times. It must therefore be one of the quantitatively largest medieval monuments in the country. Beyond that, the role of the greva method in creating land suitable for grazing and arable, thus hastening the progress of reclamation, is too great and diverse to calculate. It was, however, important in several places that so far would not be considered historically likely, as at the head of an apparent embayment between Wainfleet All Saints and Thorpe St Peter. So although the coast as we know it was much influenced by salt-making up to 1500, there are other parts of the region whose landscape owed much to the impact of salt-making: the Low Grounds of Wainfleet St Mary and Friskney, for example, and likely those of Wrangle as well. Further, as will be shown later, the presence of the Tofts in the seventeenth century was in some places regarded as sufficient protection against the sea: they formed a ‘natural’ sea-bank.

2.2.4 Per Impetus Maris: The Medieval Sea-Bank

A detailed document of 1318 talks of the changes along the shores of Friskney and Wainfleet and the role of the sea as a factor: transformations come about because of the forcing, even vehement, action of the sea: per impetus maris.132 This is similar to, but more forceful than, the designations of ‘waste’ at Wrangle and Wainfleet in DB, per fluxum maris, ‘by the [flowing] action of the sea’. The 1318 Inquisition was about the East Fen but it points towards the importance of the sea in the regional landscape and the ways it was at once both a resource and a threat. The resources were dominated by salt and fish, and the threat by flooding from the North Sea and Wash, first identified hereabouts as ‘Normandeepe’.

Since Saxon times, the sea had yielded to the communities along its shore. Whether directly for agriculture and settlement or for those same purposes via the waste material from salt-making, land had been reclaimed. The Tofts are the best example but there are many other places round the Wash and on the northern coast of Lindsey where dry and productive land was created from former salt-marsh. Both Boston and King’s Lynn were built on heaps of salt debris. Yet obviously, none of this land was very high above sea-level and in fact as it dried out (became ‘dewatered’) it shrank, though not perhaps on the scale of peaty land. So it could be at risk from incursions by the sea, as if there had not been a conquest but a rather uneasy stand-off in a conflict not yet over. As was shown in 1953, the North Sea can produce a set of meteorological and geophysical circumstances that will test any barriers; even those set up by the Dutch, masters of marine protection, can be overwhelmed. The nightmare comes when a very high spring tide is pushed southwards by strong winds from a northerly point; the water of the North Sea is then funnelled into a smaller area and so tides are well above normal spring levels. Any kind of defences can then be over-topped and water may run into the lower areas beyond. Not only is tremendous damage done and lives of people and livestock taken, but the salt water may remain in the soil long enough to impair crop production for a season or two.

The risks of extensive flooding are increased if the relative level of land and sea is changing in favour of the sea: a ‘rise in sea-level’ as it is usually phrased, though in this area the land may have shrunk as it was dewatered: successive reclamations away from the sea are usually slightly lower above a datum point as they have had longer to lose their water content; reclaimed peat fen or soils with a peat layer may shrink quite spectacularly and quickly. There was, as already discussed, a sea-level rise in Late Roman times, which created the salt-marsh and peat fen embayment that formed the backdrop to Saxon settlement and out of which medieval landscapes were created by the marginal communities. This seems to have stabilised in Late Saxon times, though the creation of ‘waste’ set down in DB can be interpreted as evidence of some renewed upward movement. In both Wrangle and Wainfleet, however, the land parcels denoted by the DB Commissioners may well have been on estuaries and sea-level changes might have been less important than more local sediment dynamics. But by 1200, and lasting until nearly 1500, there was another tranche of sea-level rise, documented from most of Atlantic Europe. This peaked at 1230 - 1460, when there was a rise of at least 1.0m from the 1000 level.133 Thus any coastal settlement and economic activity after about 1000 until the peak of the rise ca 1380 took place in the context of rising sea-level and only after about 1460 was there a significant fall until about 1700, when rapid rises began again.

One again, a reminder is needed that the effects of rising water levels may be exacerbated by human activity. The reclamation of areas of peatland, for example, renders whole landscapes vulnerable to flood from the sea once a bank has been breached; in addition, embankment of estuaries funnels the tide into a narrower space. Thus any changes in sea-level caused by climatic change are likely to be mediated through human activities in areas of low-lying coastlines and their hinterlands.

2.2.4.1 Changes in Relative Sea-Level

There has been little emphasis on the medieval period in the studies made in eastern England. By contrast, those on the opposite shore of the North Sea have been very detailed. They show, among other findings, that local detail must not be overlooked. The Wash is on the zero line for uplift/downwarping, so this can be discounted as a factor. The adoption of a German-generated sea-level curve for the Wash is full of pitfalls. Used as a general indication, the Behre curve is relevant in the sense that it confirms the overall trends adopted for eastern England, namely that AD 1000 comes at the low stage of a recession of sea-level and that thereafter until about 1380 there is a continuous rise in relative sea-level. Thereafter there is a fall until 1660. The fluctuations in sea-level are bound up with the incidence of sea-floods in the region, of which the most detailed list is in Table 2.2.1 for the period 1275 - 1348. It is clear that these 70 years were a time of immense flooding problems and to relate them in part at least to higher tide levels does not seem unduly deterministic. Hallam adds the earlier dates of 1014, 1099, 1176, 1178, 1236, 1248, 1250, 1253 and 1254, with a gap between 1254 and the Lincolnshire floods of 1277.134 The floods of 1278 and 1318 seems to be very severe, possibly the worst until the great flood of 1571.

The complicating factor in the effect of such fluctuations is the status of the land following human occupancy.135 Dewatering of salt-marsh causes it to shrink but above all, the reclamation of peatlands or their large-scale digging-out for the resource not only allows the formation of shallow lakes like the Norfolk Broads in river valleys but also the covering of large areas with a marine incursion, so that a minerogenic salt-marsh is placed quickly on top of an organic layer whose upper strata have been removed as fuel. In this region, the formation of the Deeps in the East Fen will be examined later (section 2.3) but the great unknown is the impact of Roman saltmaking on peat deposits: the very wide distribution of that industry and the probable lack of other fuels raises the suspicion that there might have been a very distinct lowering of the land surface in parts of Lincoln Marsh as well as the East Fen and the bordering Low Grounds. Confirmatory evidence is however lacking.

As a working line, however, it can be taken that between DB and 1400 the vills of the Lincolnshire coast are subject to the effects of rising sea-level (of perhaps 1.2m overall) with a stabilisation and fall from 1400 - 1700. The first process brings greater danger from floods and storm surges, silting up of havens and a greater needs of protection for lands behind banks (including salt-works landward of sea-banks) but allows greater inland tidal penetration so that salt-making can in theory be carried on well inland. The effects on salt-marshes are more difficult to assess. While the dangers of increased storminess and coastal flooding were no doubt an increasing hazard, the extra energy presumably brings its cargo of salt-laden silt to higher levels and so (a) the salt-mash builds more rapidly and (b) the salter has less far to go to tap a recoverable layer of silt. The second process must have resulted in large areas of salt-marsh being exposed for longer periods and thus shown to be relatively easy to embank and reclaim (see section 2.5). In a short-term perspective, most of the inundations seem to have been in the winter half of the year when it is generally accepted that the salters were inland following other occupations.

2.2.4.2 The Making of the Banks

There are two major aspects to sea-bank installation and maintenance: the techniques employed and the institutional context. The construction of a bank generally took material from the upper salt-marsh or from a soil on the inland side of the chosen line and used it to build to whatever height was needed to keep out floods. As Allen puts it, ‘Earth banks vary from a metre or so tall and a few metres wide to majestic features many metres high with a footprint of many tens of metres.’136 Supporting piles may be needed if the ground is very soft, as when a creek was crossed. Wave attack may necessitate a facing of a material such as brushwood, timber or mineral matter. None of the last-mentioned has been postulated for Lincolnshire banks. The construction would have to be completed within a single period, since a half-finished bank would succumb to winter storms. Given the effort involved, many measured banks seem quite low: examples from eastern England of medieval heights of 1.8m, 2.4m and 1.2m have been recorded and a 12 - 13th century embankment in Kent comprised several layers of marsh clay with individual sods of 0.15 - 0.20m square.137 Bailey has suggested that a depressed land market did not justify a large investment in sea-banks in the later fourteenth century going on into the fifteenth century.138

Sluices are needed to drain the reclaimed land or in the case of rivers, tidal doors. In both cases the pressure of water at high tide pens up the outflow, which can then be released at low tide. Quite precise control is possible provided the labour is adequate. Within the reclaimed area soil changes follow on the loss of tidal influx, and de-watering brings about shrinkage so that the new land is more vulnerable to flooding. The course of embankment may produce varying patterns but in general early enclosures tend to be irregular and later ones rectangular, with possibly equally regular internal divisions. Repaired scour-holes after failures often take the form of a crescentic kink in the line of the bank (Fig 2.2.18). When a dyke fell out of use, its soil might be removed for agricultural purposes and so its landscape presence was much reduced, though likely to remain as a road, ditch-line or footpath.

The institutional context is less well explored, though it is obvious that communal effort is likely to produce the best results. A vill was likely responsible for its stretch of bank and the reeve had the authority to summon the men to do the work. Payments might be related to the frontage of the vill or in the high middle ages and after to the individual land-holder: the areas assessed for payment were called the ‘landlawers’. Major banks might however be due to the initiative of a magnate: the example of the great bank of Norfolk and South Lincs has been mentioned in the previous section. It can be imagined (though with no supporting evidence as yet) that the Earl of Lincoln might take it upon himself to raise the money and labour for the protection of stretches of coastline along the Wash and Lincoln Marsh. Whatever the detailed arrangements, it is certain that the breaking of banks or failure to maintain them were grave offences. (It is said that the punishment for allowing a bank to degrade to the point of failure was to bury the tenant in the breach, presumably when alive.) In the southern Wapentakes of Elloe and Kirton, Hallam notes that the main ‘Roman’ sea-bank was not built as one unit but by the Conquest was one unit of defence.139 Usually the holders of bovates were responsible for repairs but they might be exempted by their lord for a fee, which would be one way of bringing about unified control. By 1286, there is an example of a community building a sea-bank and having a dyke-reeve and a rating system but the earlier association of sea-bank and bovate suggests a pre-Conquest origin of these defences.

Two public bodies were especially important for both sea-bank and fen-bank construction and maintenance. The royal interest was protected by specially appointed Commissions for particular regions, often of stretches of coast. Their commission was recorded in the Patent Rolls and their numbers and dates can be calculated from the Calendars; the Lindsey and north Holland total for 1287 - 1414 is 55. Of particular interest here are those de Walliis et Fossatis, of which there are a considerable number for the coast between Boston and Grimsby. A list of most of these between 1300 and 1552 is given in Dugdale’s Imbanking.140 Before that time, special Commissions were known in Lincolnshire (especially but not only for Holland) from 1253 through to 1305. It has been argued that nationally the Commissions were especially active in the reign of Edward III (1327 - 1377) except in the period 1337 - 1346; they were more active after an understandable lull around the time of the BD. One of Henry VIII’s innovations was to put such Commissions onto a permanent basis from 1531 with such local membership as seemed appropriate and with a remit to enforce the standards established for Romney Marsh. Both bodies therefore operated in South Lincolnshire, with the special focus of the Walliis et Fossatis men on sea-bank status being absorbed into the work of the Commissioners of Sewers.141

In the landscape of today and on recent imagery and maps, sea-banks will to some extent mimic the run of those still active but with increasing invisibility with age. Synoptically, they are likely to be mostly straight but with abrupt turns at particular boundaries (not all of which will make sense in today’s terms) and to be occupied by roads, tracks and footpaths; the denser network of nineteenth century paths needs scrutiny of that possibility. They are likely to enclose rectangular areas of terrain unless the layout of coast and rivers demands otherwise. In the areas marginal to the East Fen the distinction between sea-bank and fen-bank will be difficult to make since sea-bank construction usually ran up a tidal river and in this region that might mean transferring the risk of flooding from salt to fresh water.

2.2.4.3 Local Evidence for Sea-Banks: Cartography and History

In the Wrangle-Wainfleet zone, the post -1500 sea-bank sequence becomes easy to trace compared with the earlier times set out (Fig 2.2.19). The first sea-bank to be identified has been the High Street (now a public footpath - in theory at least) along the crest of the Tofts, starting on Sailholme and ending just short of Wrangle village. Added to that is the Fore-path discussed above along with the development of the Tofts. There is a general assumption that from Holland Lane in Friskney (TF 456 530) northwards, the A52 follows a sea-bank and indeed from Wainfleet to Skegness it is called Croft Bank. (It is usually labelled ‘Roman Bank’ but this is now no longer believed.) South of Holland Lane the A52 traverses the Tofts and runs on their landward side towards Wrangle, raising the question of whether that road and its north-easterly continuation through Friskney and Wainfleet St Mary (as parts of Friskney Head Dyke on the nineteenth century One-Inch map and today’s Low Road in Wainfleet St Mary) might once have been a bank. Given the findings about salt in e.g., Wainfleet St Mary (2.2.3.2.1 and .2) then it would likely be a bank against salt-marsh rather than fen, if it is assumed that the Old Fen Bank was in place. The other candidates for banks against tidal water must be the roads along either side of Wainfleet Haven: close in on the southern side but represented by Mill Lane on the north. Upstream from Crow’s Bridge, both are close to the watercourse. (Seawards of the A52 there are a number of obvious parallel banks which date from after 1500 and will be discussed in the appropriate section.)

Between the most landward bank (line B on the map) and the Old Fen Bank, it was shown above that there was salt-making and the presence of salt-marsh. Within that zone, there are a number of rectangular pieces of land bounded by roads or footpaths and it seems likely that these are smaller enclosures set within areas of more ambitious reclamation. These can be found in Thorpe St Peter, Wainfleet All Saints, Wainfleet St Mary and Wrangle. In Friskney they appear to be confined to the Low Grounds contiguous with Wainfleet St Mary.

The dating of these supposed banks is difficult. None has been subjected to a modern excavation to see if their base might contain dateable artefacts. The only way forward at present is to make a certain number of assumptions and construct a chronology thereon in the full knowledge that it might have to be radically revised in the light of very little extra information. One cornerstone might be the Hallam view of the High Street bank: ‘This means that all the Highgate in Wainfleet, Friskney and Wrangle is older than 1086, and it is very likely as old as the villages immediately behind it’.142 The Low Road bank, which also extends as far as Wrangle (though with an uncertain stretch in Friskney) might then be a bank which enclosed new lands reclaimed from salt-marsh in a ‘landward’ direction, i.e., towards the freshwater fen. Or, it might have preceded the High Street/Gate bank, and the Highgate bank is a seaward land-take to stabilise ground first taken in eastwards of the Low Road bank. That the Highgate bank is on the crest of the Tofts (thus being generally higher than the Low Road, at 14 - 17 ft ASL compared to 8 - 14ft ASL, might suggest antiquity in the sense of there having been a longer period of time to accumulate waste material. In any case the zone between Low Road and High Street is likely to have been the earliest land to be converted from salt-marsh to ‘dry’ land above the level of most floods. At a very crude calculation, zone 1 on Fig 2.2.20 might be 200 years of accumulation, zone 2 about 400 years and zone 3 only 100 years. If width of the map is divided by years and zone 1 made into an index of 1.0 then zone 2 is 0.2 and zone 3 equals 0.48. Put another way, along a notional line across the Tofts there would be accumulations of 1875 m3 of material in zone 1, 90m3 in zone 2 and 33m3 in zone 3.4, assuming a sea-level datum of +5ft. This number divided by the number of years gives 9.3 m3/yr for zone 1, 0.225 m3/yr for zone 2 and 0.33 m3/yr for zone 3.143

But - and it is a big but - why is High Street built on the crest of the Tofts if it was a sea-bank? Was there really a need to superimpose a sea-bank onto of a distinctive feature which was capable of providing protection to landward terrain? If it was not a bank (and presumably then the trace of a road, track or path) does that mean that the Fore-path likewise was not a sea-bank, even though its lower and more seaward position makes a better case?

Another possible clue to sequence is the run of field boundaries and roads. It is apparent from Fig 2.2.20 that the Low Road is a line of discontinuity: that few boundaries run into the Low Grounds from Zone 1 of the Tofts. This is also brought out by Fig 2.2.21 where the line trends within the Low Grounds are shown and only a few, usually following roads, go through onto the Tofts. This suggests that the layout of the Low Grounds was anchored either at the Old Fen Bank to the west or on Wainfleet Bank to the north. That there is little continuity between the Low Grounds and the East Fen might suggest the Fen Bank as an important launching platform but the final reclamation of the East Fen may have done much to create an entirely new field pattern on that side. Yet if the Low Grounds’ pattern is that of greva then the E to W pattern’s dominance is entirely the right one. At a guess, the intaking of the Low Grounds came from the Tofts but under some form of new regime that had tenurial discontinuities with the older units. In 2.1, a look at field names in Wainfleet St Mary allowed the inference that the dominant element is OE, with some ON as well. So it may be that the Low Grounds were a Saxon reclamation and thus the zone 1 of the Tofts (between the Low Road and High Street) is, pace Hallam, a Saxon entity. What then of zone 2, between High Street and the Fore-path? It has been argued above (2.2.3.2.2) that at Sailholme the twelfth century and thirteenth century holdings belonging to Bury St Edmunds occupy most of the land between Wainfleet Haven and St Michael’s Lane; however the salterns excavated by McAvoy lie outside the Fore-path.144 If we assume that these salterns were outside the bank represented by the Fore-path and they date to ca 1500 then the zone 2 stretch of the Tofts (between High Street and Fore-path) dates from between DB and 1500. This seems quite a narrow strip for so many years. Field boundaries show considerable continuity between zones 1 and 2 but less between zones 2 and 3, so unless this is a post-medieval imposition it argues for institutional continuity between e.g., Late Saxon times and perhaps 1350. If the McAvoy salterns were behind a sea-bank (which seems likely for a set of ponds and filtering tanks) then here at any rate the A52 line (though not the recent Wainfleet by-pass) is along the line of a sea-bank which antedates 1500. But much of this argument is thrown into doubt if High Street is not a credible sea-bank.

2.2.4.4 Local Evidence for Sea-Banks: Documents

A further source of evidence for the presence of sea-banks is the relevant documents for Wainfleet and Friskney. These fall into three main groups:

  1. Foundation documents for the Bury St Edmunds holdings on Sailholme, dating from the twelfth century, discussed in 2.2.3.2.2
  2. Charters and rentals for the thirteenth-sixteenth centuries for Wainfleet and Friskney, not so far examined. Some are collected in Dugdale’s Imbanking and Draining.145
  3. Documents from after 1500 which allude to former states of the coastline, often in the context of the reclamations of salt-marsh which followed a pioneering effort in Wainfleet St Mary in the 1560s.

The foundation documents for Sailholme are mostly silent on the subject of banks. In one entry,146 Thomas son of Miles granted to Bury St Edmunds 3 acres of land in Wainfleet lying in Mikeldeile ‘next to the bank’ but using iuxta ripam where ‘ripa’ is the word for an ordinary river-bank; a sea-bank would be a ‘fossata’ or a Latinised version of ‘dyke/dik’. None of the grants of sand-making land and appurtenances mention any obligation to maintain banks. In 1389, a land grant south of the land of Thomas Grose (and therefore probably in the Crossgate/Groose lane area of Sailholme) abutted the sea to the east but had no mention of any sea-bank.147 The same is true of a grant in 1453 with named tenants to all sides except the east but no mention of banks.148

The explicit occurrence of sea-banks in medieval documents is not high along the the coast of the Wash. compared with, for example, the North Sea vills of Ingoldmells, Sutton and Huttoft. The manor of Ingoldmells encompassed parts of Winthorpe and Skegness and it is clear that there were sand-dunes and that they were subject to careful control.149 The Levy Book of the Sea (1500) issued at Boston by royal Commissioners notes that most of the North Sea ‘towns’ were either in ‘very great’ or ‘great’ danger of the sea: Skegness and Ingoldmells in the second category, and Croft merely ‘great danger of the sea to the extent of 1370½ acres.150 The end-point of medieval upkeep in Skegness seems to be the Partney Inquest of 1560.151 This looks like a response to the events of 1526 when the church and a greater part of the parish of Skegness was submerged. Along with them went the so-called castle of Skegness, which is speculatively reckoned to be the remains of a Roman shore fort.152 The 1560 Inquisition called for a new sea-bank in Skegness to begin at ‘Ra(w)nsome Hirn and to be attached to the New Bank 40 falls to the south; and also another bank from the Guildhall ‘to the staver in the lands of Charles late Duke of Suffolk’. According to Robinson153 this work began in 1568 but was not complete by 1574, being very probably interrupted by the very great flood of 1571. In 1574, the officers repairing a ‘new sea bank’ at Skegness and Winthorpe ordered it to be finished and in 1581 the seabank of Winthorpe was declared to be defective in length and breadth ‘from the ende of Ingoldmells seabancke unto Jowles Cloute’ and furnished with a levy of 4d per acre in Winthorpe for two years; the coupling of Winthorpe and Skegness in many of the Commissioners of Sewers’ findings suggests that there was a contiguous area of low-lying lands (‘le mershe country’ and ‘le levell’) which needed constant protection.154 Exact locations for these banks do not appear possible from the evidence written down, though the ‘Roman Bank’ north from near Skegness railway station was begun in the 1568 - 1574 period. There was at any rate a Croft sea-bank in 1628.155

What emerges from accounts of this coast is that it was vulnerable all through the high middle ages, with several reports of storms, bank failure and inundation, and the destruction of property, including churches (Sutton, Mablethorpe and Chapel St Leonards), so that Commissioners of Sewers often ordered banks to be raised and a levy raised on those who would benefit. They further prohibited the pasturing of stock on the sea-walls and especially wanted no rabbit warrens.156 The rise of sea-level and local responses created unusual situations: a petition from tenants in Sutton (on Sea) in about 1400 talked of common land beyond the sea-ditch in a place where the church formerly stood, before being ‘destroyed and laid waste by an inundation of the sea’.157

The susceptibility to floods along the coast north of Skegness seems to bear little relation to estimates of sea-level change. Skegness is clearly the hinge-point between the maritime regimes of the open North Sea and those of the Wash; tracing its history is complicated by the reach of the manor of Ingoldmells into its territory and that of neighbouring Winthorpe as part of its presence in six parishes but not the whole part of any one of them. To the south of Skegness there seems to be a contrast from the sixteenth century onwards between a losing battle north of Skegness and the profits of salt-marsh reclamation to the south;158 just how far that applies between DB and 1500 needs investigation.

In 1345, Croft was among the ‘townes’ ‘in danger of the sea’ that were charged to the repair of the sea banks, to the extent of 1490½ acres, as was Winthorpe at 1682½ acres and Skegness at 761 acres.159 In the Levy Book of 1500, the surveyors made a transect ‘from the sea bank of Croft’.160 The continuing presence of so much land behind it ‘in danger of the sea’ (for 1370½ acres were assessed) suggests that it was of greater age, possibly at either end so as to protect any land behind the southward-migrating sand-spit eventually to form Gibraltar Point and at the other end to keep dry the core area around Croft church and from there down the Lymn to Bamburgh Field north of Wainfleet All Saints town, mentioned in the 1360s. There is a great sweep of land without medieval settlement all the way from Croft Bank to the Willoughby High Drain and Hogsthorpe which is labelled ‘Salt Marsh’ on the 1829 One-Inch O.S. map and which might have been open to the sea at its southern end until Croft Bank was effectively closed up. This process might have been accelerated by the southward movement of the spit that was to become Gibraltar Point, since in 1602 a Thomas Gusse rented ‘all the meales [i.e., sand-dunes] in Croft called Longe Rigge and Hobhurst’.161

In Wainfleet, the earliest mention is in the Wainfleet port Custumal of 1234,

‘... if any bank of the sea or marsh has been broken and he whose bank it is has not mended it within two tides, he shall give to the lord of the port as his amercement sixteen pence’ (si aliquot fossatum maris vel marisci fractum fuerit ...)

and there was also a prohibition of the blocking of roads by the erection of a wall or any bank (per murum vel aliquot fossatum).162 Commissions de Walliis et Fossatis are recorded from 1287 onwards for stretches of coastline that included the Wash and so there is perhaps a presumption that Wainfleet, Friskney and Wrangle all had sea-bank protection in the period between the High Street dyke and 1500. This would encompass grants like that of Ellerkartoft in Wainfleet St Mary in 1424/5 which was ‘abutting on Normandepe towards the E and les Sedykes towards the W.’163 The same toft changed hands again in 1472 when as before the sea was on the east but in this document it is ‘le Sedykestyght’ towards the west.164 A grant from Walter Flayne in 1480 of arable land in Wainfleet St Mary abutted on ‘le Sedykes towards the E’.165 Unless the Fore-path was a bank constructed after say 1480 then it sounds as if it was ‘les sedykes’ referred to in these grants, but that any bank along the A52 line was not yet in existence. However since the salt-works by the A52 in Wainfleet St Mary date from around 1500, the bank behind which it is supposed they were constructed must have followed quickly upon these transfers of land. That there was a critical sea-bank at Wainfleet in 1397 is shown by the record of malefactors who

dug a ditch through the sea-bank at Wainfleet called le Damme [trencheam super fossatum maris apud Waynflete vocatum le Damme] so that the sea water came in and submerged and ruined Bolingbroke Marsh [i.e., the East Fen] and the pastures of Thorpe, [Little] Steeping, Toynton, Keal, Stickford, Stickney, Sibsey and other adjacent villages.166

For Friskney there seems to be only the reversion of a toft ‘from the sea-dyke to the deep sea, with the buildings thereon’.167 This sounds like a saltern, though no mention is made of such; of some interest is its date of 3 August 1349 when the BD was at its height in Lincolnshire.

In Wrangle there is a good density of medieval documentation, as described in the section on medieval; saltmaking. The terms ‘sea-bank’ or ‘sea-dyke’ do not however occur in the Waltham charters,168 being replaced by the occasionally ambiguous fossa and fossata. If this word is interpreted as ‘bank’ or ‘dyke’ then its occurrences seem to be in the context of banks running inland and demarcating e.g., the township of Wolmersty from its neighbours in Friskney and Wrangle. Lateral dykes parallel to the shoreline lack the characteristic names of Lindsey Marsh such as ‘Haudyk’ as do those of Wainfleet St Mary and seem more like fendykes than sea-banks. The records of the Commissioners of Sewers for the sixteenth century emphasise the condition of the fen banks, though there is a mention of the ‘sedyke lying at Ryngle Herne’ and the note to the effect that pigs were a danger to sea-banks or any other banks in Boston and Skirbeck.169 Note, however, that the High St path/bank is perpetuated south into Wrangle but that the Fore-path disappears at approximately the boundary with Friskney. This suggests that the High St bank was redundant by the late Middle Ages and that the management of the coast in Skirbeck wapentake had been different from that to the north. There is some confirmation of this in the 1606 map170 of part of the coastline of Wrangle in which saltmaking seems to have ceased but the tofts and salt-cotes are detectable. But there is no indication of an active bank though the lane leading to Wainfleet (now Mill Lane) might have been a bank.

The reclamations of salt-marsh after 1550 added a great deal of land to the Wash coastline. Its progress is discussed elsewhere, but some of the documents give clues to pre-existing topography. In particular, the construction of the ‘New Banke’ after 1565 from the Queen’s Gote on Wainfleet Haven to the toftline in Wainfleet St Mary makes it clear that how it was to run: ‘And that the saide newe bancke upon both sides of the goote to the hill' callede the cotesides in wainflet aforesaid ...’ where ‘hill’ is usually a synonym for toftland.171 This confirmed in 1624 by an Inquest of a Special Commission of James I on the topic of salt-marshes and their intaking,172 which says at one point:

John Taylor aged 48 says that at Wainfleet St Mary there is a seabank on the south side of the Earl of Exeter's marshes called the graunge marsh for the defence of the town from the sea, but a rise of ground called the Toftes unto which there be certain salt marshes adjoining and belonging, with lands and fishings in the tenure of sundry persons. Sometimes the marshes are overflowne and they make their yearly perambulation as far as the overflowing of the sea will permit.

The same is true further north:

Robert Elvings aged 86 approx. says there is no sea bank on the north side of the Earl of Exeter's marshes. There are divers tofts or hills that do defend the sea [sic] from the water running into the country unto every one of the toftes according unto their breache have a salt marsh going down to the sea or deep and sometimes are overflowed with the sea.

And of Friskney:

Friskney is found to have no other banks belonging to the town to save them from the sea but one by [couple of lost words at edge] ground called the toft; the inhabitants do perambulate; the salt marshes are within the jurisdiction of the Admiralty and are occupied by diverse persons.

So by about 1600 there was no active sea-bank in Wainfleet St Mary and Friskney: salt-marsh abutted directly onto the rise of ground presented by the Tofts and these ‘hills’ were the defence against the sea. Its level had fallen from its 1380s height and at 1650 was at its lowest point before rising again after 1700. Only when further and later reclamation was undertaken were banks once again constructed; when a new gowt was made in Wainfleet Haven about 1605 by Sir Valentine Browne,173

then within 1 year of the erecting of the goate or clowe Sir Valentyne, his heirs or assigns, and the heirs or assigns of Hamond Upton, or some of them, shall and will at their own expense make or cause to be made a good high strong and substantial bank or banks on either side of the said goate to serve to exclude and hold out the sea and waters thereof there from passing or coming up to Wainfleet and Thorpe or either of them; the bank/banks shall be so far in length as the lands marshes or grounds of Sir Valentine, his heirs and assigns, and of the heirs and assigns of Hamond Upton do or shall extend against the sea there.

If the sea might come up to Thorpe, it suggests that one of the roads north from Wainfleet All Saints towards Croft must have been a sea-bank; since Bamburgh Field existed in the fourteenth century then it was north of that field and south of Croft Road, with the Lymn tucked away behind the bank until its confluence with the Haven (i.e., from the Wainfleet Relief Drain to TF 504 604).

The occurrence of ‘le sedyke’ and ‘sedykstight’ in Wainfleet St Mary is seen in a document of 1610 setting out the Landlawers’ of that parish, namely the lands which were subject to levy for protection from the sea. In making a map (Fig 2.2.22) of these bounds, a number of assumptions and interpretations have been made and a fresh detailed interpretation of the Landlawer will be added as a Supplement in due course.

2.2.4.5 Local Evidence for Sea-Banks: Field Indications

The dimensions of ancient sea-banks are well known from a number of documents and they point to substantial structures. Equally, the banks in the current outmarsh are highly visible and not easily ignored. If the landscape has had successions of these features then detection of them when walking or simply observing should enable their placement on a map without much hesitation. Yet, to take one example, to follow the course of High Street through Wainfleet St Mary is to realise that the processes of modern intensive agriculture have been so thorough that most remains have been excised. The same is true for most other footpaths present on the O.S. maps: many of the paths have gone and where they remain as statutory rights of way, they are a narrow trail through cropland. Wainfleet Bank itself is more convincing since there is on the north side a drop-off of land height, though this might be originally the edge of the roddon. Its south side does drop away but only slightly. Some fen banks on the other hand carry roads which are obviously above the surrounding area; yet there is always the possibility that it is the land on either side that has shrunk. Even LiDAR does not seem to pick up narrow bank structures except in the case of recent examples like the Steeping River north-west from Crow’s Bridge. Thus, in this case, negative evidence in the field is not, unfortunately, strongly indicative of former conditions.

2.2.4.6 Sea-Banks: The Regional Picture

This account has improved the state of knowledge about a gap in the accounts of the sea-banks of Lindsey and north Holland. The coast north of Skegness has been chronicled by Owen177 and by the Humber wetlands group,178 and south of Wrangle by Hallam.179 But the detail for the Wash coastline between the outfall of Wainfleet Haven and Wrangle Haven has been missing. In outline, the evidence seems to depict:

  1. A pre-Conquest bank or banks all the way along this stretch of coast. The date is not known with any precision but a series of deductions from documents suggests that it was linked to Saxon or Danish polities (e.g., the association of bank maintenance with bovates) and its unity has led to interpretations of an overall control. The claims of the Low Road line along the landward side of the Tofts have probably been under-assessed.
  2. Another bank to the seaward of the High Street, running a more or less constant distance from the seaward edge of the higher ground of the Tofts, and referred to as the Fore-path. It runs from Sailholme to the northern edge of Wrangle parish. This is probably from the high Middle Ages; it might be the feature referred to in documents of the 15th century as the ‘sedyk’; those documents do not suggest that there were two sea-dykes, as if one was redundant by then. But the sedyke could have been High Street. If the fore-path answered to any overall control then it was a feature of Candleshoe wapentake and not of Wolmersty/Skirbeck.
  3. A later period (from perhaps 1500 - 1650) when in Wrangle and Wainfleet St Mary there was no sea-bank but the Tofts were held to be a sufficient defence against the sea. Friskney was probably the same but there is a lack of the evidence seen for the other two parishes. Wainfleet All Saints, Croft and Skegness (and probably Winthorpe) relied upon banks.
  4. From the 1560s there was large-scale reclamation of salt-marsh and each intake was enclosed behind a sea-bank, the remains of which are mostly visible today and which are clearly mapped.

If it is accepted that sea-level was rising from the time of the Conquest to about 1380 and then falling to ca 1660, with a rise thereafter which was essentially quite rapid until 1800, then the need for bank construction in the medieval period seems to be reinforced in the late sixteenth century and diminished in the first half of the seventeenth century. However many of the reclamations to be discussed later were brought about at a time of rising sea-level and so it appears that sediment supply was equal to the task of accreting along the shoreline even when mean sea-level was rising.180 Thus the course of land use in providing sediment to the rivers of eastern England such as the Humber as well as those of the Wash may have had an equal importance. The vulnerability of land behind the sea defences to flood from the sea (as well as from rivers and the fen) also depends on the degree to which it has been lowered by land use practices such as peat digging and dewatering by drain construction and, from the seventeenth century, water lifting by windmills.181 Land was lost to fluxum maris in the manor of Ingoldmells in 1404, 1485 and 1665 - 1666, none of which are noted times of sea-level rise.182 The medieval practice in this region of keeping a high water table (importantly, of fresh water) in the East Fen is unlikely to have been followed in e.g., areas of Low Grounds, which were places where turbaries were interspersed with drier ground. Thus the need for sea-bank construction and maintenance has links to long-term land use practices as well as regional changes in the natural environment.

2.2.5 Sea Fisheries

Even when Wainfleet Haven had virtually ceased to function for shipping in the seventeenth century, there were some fishermen left.183 Overall, eels were probably the most taken species in the region since they were caught in both fresh- and salt-water environments and so they will be discussed along with the management of Wainfleet Haven as a watercourse. In salt water, the earliest record is of the rent payment in 1215 from a Sailholme tenant of Bury St Edmunds rented for one codfish: Ds Simon de Thorp tenet unam tuftam de novo feoffamento per 1 mulluellum.184

That there were valuable marine resources is shown by the claim of Alice Countess of Lincoln in 1340 that she was entitled to wreck of sea within the townships of Friskney and Wainfleet and that in Friskney various men had carried away two fish called ‘baleyn’ washed ashore in Friskney (worth 200L) and assaulted her men and her servants.185 There was a similar example in Croft. Apparently whales were not hunted deliberately in England as was the case in Normandy and Flanders, though there also beached cetaceans were very much the possession of royal families.186 In SEL, specific fish species are rarely mentioned: there is a ‘Lob Creek’ across Croft Marsh in 1526187 which may commemorate the name of the pollack and in Wainfleet Haven in 1588 a commission reported that apart from eels ‘certain flat fish are caught’.188 What is common, in documents from 1356 to 1610 in Wainfleet is that there is an association of a toft and often a pasture, with a sandacre or greva, and a fishery. In 1356, for example, there is a grant

of an area [placea] of pasture called Barowetoft' with all its sandacre and fishery lying in Wainfleet in parish of St Mary between the land of the abbot and convent of Revesby on the south side and the land called Greestoft and the haven on the north, abutting towards the west on the haven and towards the east on Normandepe.189

The same property changed hands in 1591 when Thomas Palmer

now grants 10 acres of pasture and 100 acres of marsh with a fishery and sandacre called Barrowetofte in Wainfleet, between the land of the abbot and convent of Revesby on the S and the land formerly of William de Aldeburgh knight on the north, and abutting on Normandepe towards the east and on the haven of Wainfleet towards the west.190

and in 1610 Sir Edward Barkham included in his list of Wainfleet properties

1 tenement with a toft adjoining with the saltmarshes lands and fishings, containing 6 acres, bounding the parsonage lands on the N and Coxon on the S, on the lands late Emlyn's on the west, and on Normandeepe on the east.191

The difference being that in 1610 this list of about 20 such properties contained references to salt marsh but none to saltmaking, suggesting that the practice had stopped by then. The fisheries were included in the tithe as well as in the title and one clue may come from the phrase ‘sea fisheries operated by hand’ in Wainfleet St Mary in 1475 - 1476;192 these might have been nets set up on the foreshore or even offshore as seen on the 1606 map of Wrangle coastline, where the offshore sandbank called Herring Hill is transected with permanent nets, reminiscent of a few places in e.g., Scotland today where salmon are netted at high tide along sandy beaches by permanent installations.193 In Wrangle, the medieval grants to Waltham and Dereham for salt-making do not generally specify fisheries as well.

The difference in the grants of Barrowtoft between 1356 and 1519 may be significant: the latter grant specifies a large area of salt-marsh but no sandacre and that allows the inference that the south bank of the estuary of the Haven was silting up by the accretion of marsh which would in turn have encouraged the reclamations on both Wainfleet parishes and in Croft from the 1560s onwards. Sea-fishing ‘by hand’ would then have been sent offshore as at Wrangle. Boat-operated enterprises from Skegness and Wainfleet continued fishing; in 1718,

Five named people ... inform the jurors that they have from their youth gone in for fishing on that coast and for 50 years have gone into and out from Wainfleet haven with their fishing boats. They are all very honest people.194

2.2.6 The Involvement of Monasteries

Lincolnshire was a favoured area for monasteries and convents between the Conquest and the Dissolution; most of them were founded by lords favoured by the Norman kings. A few were of Saxon foundation and had mostly been ransacked by the Danes and then re-founded by Norman landlords: Bardney was founded towards the end of the seventh century and Partney was known to Bede. By about 1200, however, a considerable number of these establishments had property in and around the East Fen. However, such was the pattern of tenancies and grants that foundations at some distance also had major presences. Thus Waltham Holy Cross in Essex ran large parts of Wrangle’s coastline, as did Bury St Edmunds in Wainfleet St Mary. Smaller areas were devoted to Dereham and Marham (both in Norfolk). The more local foundations mostly had less land and it was interspersed with other lords rather than being in large blocks; Revesby, Bardney, Kirkstead, Bullington, Greenfield, Louth, Kyme and Stixwold all had interests in the lands around the fen and in some cases within it. Some were well endowed and for example Bardney granted 10 pounds-worth of rent from Bolingbroke wapentake manors to Greenfield in 1398.195

The donors of land, money and service were interested in provision for their souls and those of their predecessors and the recipients were glad to have land which produced income and material goods such as food and wool. Monasteries also owned churches, which were a source of income, and chapels that serviced areas distant from parish centres. They might also regulate private chapels run by ambitious landlords. Immediately in the Wainfleet area, the church of Wainfleet All Saints was owned by Kyme and Wainfleet St Mary by Stixwold, Wainfleet St Thomas by Bardney; Wrangle was in the fief of Waltham Holy Cross and Friskney by Bullington.196 Their impress on the land was mostly indirect in the sense that they were given grants of land or other resources which they might use for income in the form of cash, for necessary goods such as salt or fish, or items for trade such as wool. The outstanding involvement in this region is that of intensive endeavour in the production of salt. Bury St Edmunds had been given much of ‘insula Sailholme’ in Wainfleet St Mary in one block and then had soon acquired neighbouring holdings, though both Revesby and Stixwold established a presence in the same locality; nevertheless, Bury seemsed to have been dominant. That they were inclined to neglect this asset seems deducible from the fact that their chapel on Sailholme was roofless in 1374; presumably some type of general post-BD decline in the status of Wainfleet as a port was reflected in their inability to maintain it.197 Direct evidence of their disposal of land is however lacking until after the Dissolution although in 1498 three Wainfleet men took over from two others a messuage with buildings in Sailholme that had Bury land to east and west, which could be interpreted as Bury land that had been sold off.198 There are however holdings on Sailholme being granted in the mid-thirteenth century of which Bury is neither grantor nor grantee.199 In 1309, abbott Thomas (1302 - 1312) agreed with Gilbert de Tonteby/Touteby [Tothby] that Gilbert should for the whole of his life hold their lands and tenements with all their income, services and customs for an annual rent of four pounds of silver. Gilbert was to recover Bury property and rights that had been lost in the vills of Wainfleet, Friskney and Wrangle and enjoy them as long as he lived. On Gilbert’s death everything, including whatever he recovered, was to go back to the abbott and convent.200

In Wrangle, much of the shoreline was given into the hands of Waltham Holy Cross for saltmaking, along with grazing in the township commons for the oxen used in the salt-making but the supply of fuel from the East Fen is more inferential; in Wainfleet there is one unequivocal record of the supply of peat to fuel the boiling of salt water. Given the ubiquity of peat deposits in Low Grounds just back of the salt-making zone, it is easy to imagine a lot of local purchase rather than formal agreements to supply. Friskney’s documentation suggests a less contiguous presence of monastic salt-making but Bardney’s holdings (see p xxxxxx) were none the less an important part of the landscape.

The establishment and maintenance of churches and chapels was another contribution to the local scene. Apart from their ownership of churches (and hence the necessity of maintaining them), monasteries ran chapels, usually for the exclusive use of their monks and employees when away from base. It is clear that St Edmund’s chapel in Wainfleet St Mary was used by monks when on visits rather than by a permanent staff and they were prevented from undertaking local pastoral duties (St Mary’s church is some 2.5km from Sailholme) except in extremis, and

As for the chapel, the bishop decrees that as often as one or monks come to the chapel on monastic business the chaplain of the mother church shall allow them free access to the chapel so that they may celebrate mass there; but this is not to prejudice the right of the mother church to all offerings, and when mass is over the keys of the chapel should be returned to the chaplain of the parish church or to his servant.201

There is an arguable case for the church (and very small parish) of Wainfleet St Thomas being Bardney’s attempt to gain revenue from the newly established town of Wainfleet All Saints which was also 2.5km from its parish church in ‘High Wainfleet’; likewise there was a chapel of St John in the town (and the eponymous street is still there) but no physical trace nor adequate documentation. Given that Wainfleet All Hallows was a Kime possession then maybe they were trying to minister to this detached population.

The site of St Edmund’s chapel on Sailholme remains elusive. in spite of some quite impressive documentation. Aerial photographs do not reveal any marks that might be interpreted as the chapel. In the SMR for the Groose Lane area of Wainfleet St Mary at TF 497 579 finds were noted of medieval and post-medieval pottery and 'at the same location a possible house site producing much mortar, glazed brick, tile and more pottery was found.202 Moving back in time, a will of 1527 suggests that the chapel is still there and the author of a paper about the will thinks that it lay within 300 yards of the mission church of St Michael in the Lane of that name. He says that ‘Sailholme extended south to Groosland ... the abbey lands abutted on the lane itself. The field in question shows signs of solid foundations in past times, not only in its northern part, where it has always been thought that the Manorhouse stood, but towards its south-eastern side also’.203 Though this is rather vague about locations, and some at least of this land may likely have been Stixwold land, a solid foundation sounds somehow more likely than a brick chapel. A Groose Lane deed of 1493 was endorsed in the early twentieth century by an interpreter to the effect that the property was ‘Groce House in Groce Lane and helps to fix the site of St Edmund’s Chapel. The Abbey land and chapel are EAST of Groce House and Lane’.204 Earlier centuries produce some more references. In the fourteenth century there are grants:

Grant of a placea of land with the buildings on it, lying in Wainfleet in le Holme of St Edmund [Sailholme, says an earlier note with the document] between the common way on the N and the graveyard of the chapel of St Edmund on the S and abutting towards the W on the land of William Magotson and towards the E on the land of the abbot and convent of Bury [1326].205

Grant of a placea of land with the buildings on it, lying in Seyleholme in parish of St Mary Wainfleet between the land of the said Hugh and Henry [grantors] towards the west and the land of Gilbert de Ferriby towards the east, abutting towards the north on the common road and towards the south on the chapel of St Edmund [1351].206

Grant of a placea of land in Sailholm between the land of the abbot and convent of Bury St Edmund and the chapel of St Edmund of Wainfleet on the S, and to the N on the land of Ranulph Leget and of the abbot, towards the W on the land of the said Ranulph Leget and towards the E on the land of Roger Proktour.207 [1344] On dorse old number 176, ‘carta capelle Sancti Edmundi’ (in a medieval hand); ‘and for a place of grolande called the orchard’ (in a C16 hand)

The 1304 rental of Bury lands also mention the chapel. One tenant seems to live very near to it:208

Rogerus Erins modo Walterus Ferby tenet unum mesuagium in Seylholm quod vocatur Halsted in Curia ubi capella fundatur (‘a building plot ... called Halstead in a courtyard below the chapel’)

That the chapel was accompanied by a ‘hall’ (possibly the hall of the above ‘Halsted’) is likely from an entry in the rental document of 1215:209

Et notandum quod dominium in Wainflete est ubi aulasita est cum toto circumclauso et tota terra vacua que circuit capellam Sancti Edmundi (... the headquarters in Wainfleet is sited by the hall and is with all the enclosure and all the empty space around the chapel ...’

This brings the record back in time to the initial grant of the late eleventh century which was of land upon which to build a chapel, in which Hugh son of Pincon, steward of the Bishop of Durham granted:

to the abbot and convent a certain toft and salting so that a chapel may be built thereon ... and is in free alms to the church of St Edmund specifically for the cellarer. The toft and salting were formerly held of Hugh by Ordgarus. The purpose of the grant is that the monks may build a chapel to St Edmund.210

So the original grant was of an estuarine or sea-side plot and the chapel was built within an enclosure;211 by the time of later documents, naturally, that plot might have been succeeded by more seaward grevae and have joined with other such plots in the kind of ‘increase of land’ mentioned in another early grant to Bury St Edmunds. The gains of land seem confirmed by e.g., a 1313 grant of land to the south of William Barrow’s holding which was called ‘Midelthrum’ and had no boundaries to the sea.212 Yet William’s son Roger had by 1200 x 1230 given the monks of Waltham a toft and a saltpan in Wainfleet and so the growth of ‘dry’ land is confirmed.213 Though certainty is elusive, a site near to today’s Wainfleet Hall seems likely, so that the buildings and trees obscure aerial imagery: the 1983 AP cover has a possible rectangular soil mark at TF 4952 5846 which virtually adjoins the eastern creek opposite The Grange.214

The monasteries must have wielded a great deal of influence and it is interesting that the Wainfleet port Custumal though not mentioning Bury St Edmunds at all is faithfully reproduced in the same volume as the foundation documents of the Sailholme estate of the abbey. Was the eastern creek that ran from near Salem Bridge to Key’s Toft House and whose bank is still visible on the western side a key/quay for the export of salt from the Bury holdings? If it was their possession, then they might not have had to pay the dues on salt exported from the harbour.215

It is likely that the influence of the monasteries was declining by the end of the fourteenth century. The region as a whole seems not to have been prosperous and the rising sea-level produced some flooding of turbaries that may well have made peat more expensive or difficult to obtain. It cannot be said whether much of the abbeys’ land was sold to other lords before the Dissolution but that event was of course the end of their major role. Where the estate passed largely into one family, their heritage was to some extent preserved but as saltmaking was declining by 1550 and gone by about 1650, their key role in landscape formation was a past event anyway.

2.2.7 Ports and Towns

The notion of medieval communities as isolated and self-sufficient is often misleading. While certain essentials had to be produced locally (grain is the major example), other materials could be traded in a preserved form (such as salted or smoked fish) or were traded simply because they were a plentiful source, as with salt in both its sea-water and underground types of source, or wildfowl from salt-marsh and fen. Hence in the high Middle Ages salt, fish and wool were traded from east Lincolnshire. Commerce usually goes through centres since it is the interests of the authorities to see what is being moved and, inevitably, to exact taxes. In early medieval England, there are examples of places along the shoreline where traders gathered at intervals to exchange goods and money even though there were no permanent installations; each was known as a ‘wic’ and some developed into major places, like Southampton (Ham-wic) and Ipswich. (The nearest equivalent in western countries is perhaps the car boot sale but in e.g., Maghreb countries people will know that a particular unoccupied site out in the Sahel is a trading place on a particular day of the month or year.) No ‘wic’ site is known from Lindsey: Boston was a later development.216

There is no direct evidence that Wainfleet had been the site of a ‘wic’ or similar meeting-place but before the 12th century, its location was immediately on a sheltered estuary by the sea with some high ground created by salt waste. That a lord should have tried to channel any trade that developed and to formalise arrangements through the setting up of a port with appropriate controls and officers seems highly feasible. The Conquest had brought an additional impetus in the form of lords whose experience in France included the regulation of trade and the creation of planted towns. Unhappily, no documents have come to light which deal with the foundation of a planned town on the site of Wainfleet All Saints. The inference that it is indeed such a development comes from its plan; the first post-DB reference comes in 1169/70.217 This was a fine for improper toll-taking and so perhaps implies a degree of organisation.

Most new and planned towns in England, Wales and France that were developed in the eleventh and twelfth centuries had a rectangular grid of streets. There may have been a town wall, but that was not always present. Commonly, one of the streets was wider than the others in order to function as a market. There may have been a market place but that again is not always the case. The second street parallel to the market street would be connected by long narrow plots and these plots would run out from any other parallel streets as well. The whole might be modified by attention to topography and in the case of river sites it was common for individual enterprises or landowners to have a private staithe on a short canal or lode.218 In most such towns there was a single parish church whose size and endowments were a visible expression of the prosperity of the town or the status of its lord.

The nineteenth century plan of Wainfleet is a good beginning for making the case for a planned town. There is no parish church of any size since the two churches were some way off to the west on ‘High’ Wainfleet. However, as Fig 2.2.23 shows, there is a core of the common features. This includes the High Street and St John’s Street on the east and west sides, the market place on the north and Church Lane on the south. The long, narrow plots are visible between the two streets and to either side, though not so obvious at this scale compared with a twentieth century map at 1:2500. This map shows the expected pattern south of the Market Place though the east side is truncated, probably due to a former course of the Haven. There appears to be a set of boundaries focussed on the market place which do not fit with those to the south, and to the north-west there is a block of fields and roads on a totally different NNW heading. So while there are the elements of an eleventh-twelfth century new town, there are unique features. It seems as if the market place was grafted on to the original plan; all fairs and markets between the first record in 1199 x 1216 (and probably before 1202) and 1458 (the date of the charter) were ‘at the manor’ and only in 1458 is it stipulated that they were ‘at the town’.219 So the likelihood is that the Market Place was grafted onto the original structure either in a period of great prosperity (in which case probably before ca 1370) or as a revival measure of the type somewhat despairingly recorded in the charter: perhaps in the years after 1400. Alternatively, houses could have been cleared to make it. There was building north of the Market Place by 1443220 but open ground to its west in 1610.221 The angled block to the NNW has no obvious explanation unless there had been a series of rectangular enclosures like those that parallel and straddle the railway west of the station and which seem on pre-building APs to be supplied by a watercourse leading to or from the Lymn to the north of the town. The block north of the Market Place shows all the signs of the nineteenth century changes which resulted in the well-known Barkham Street houses.

Clearly, there have been post-medieval changes apart from the normal accretions of housing, industry, and the railway. The most important of these is probably the alteration of the course of the Haven, the early modern stages of which are set out in a later section. At the end of the Middle Ages, for example, the Lymn ran close to the market place and so likely ran into the Haven somewhere at that latitude, since the Haven looped northwards near Magdalen School towards Northolme; subsequently the New Haven cut off some of the loops and no doubt some of the awkward angles in the current course of the Haven were made by these cut-offs. One puzzle is the Chain Bridge (TF 502 587): does that name refer to its construction or was there once a chain there to close the Haven? The 1829 O.S. map has no bridge at all, for example but there is a structure on the early six-inch and 25-inch maps so that it may be a nineteenth century erection and thus likely to be a chained suspension bridge.222 Within the main structure, Carr Lane runs from the High Street to the parallel St John’s St and between these two roads there is only one ‘block’ of linear plots to its south, i.e., away from the main urban area. On the west side of the High Street there are four such blocks. If the term ‘carr’ can indeed sometimes be used as a boundary marker then it might have denoted the Haven end of the town, though an Anglo-Saxon genesis of the feature is highly unlikely.223

Within the town structure, there lay two ecclesiastical buildings. The first was the church of Wainfleet St Thomas, whose site is known and whose parish boundaries persisted into the nineteenth century. It was associated with the manor of Northolme and that label is sometimes attached. It belonged to Bardney Abbey, The second was the chapel of St John, whose site is not known, although there is a hint in an eighteenth century map (Fig 2.2.24) and in 1343 the parishioners of Wainfleet All Saints in the hamlet of Holm ‘may hear divine service in the chapel of St John Baptist in the hamlet’;224 in 1415 William Ellerkar’s will left one mark and his missal to the fabric of the chapel.

Somewhere in this shifted landscape there was a medieval harbour. Clues to its presence fall into two categories: glancing and massive. In the first batch, there is the fact that Hawise, Countess of Lincoln, was worried about the lack of water coming into her port of Wainfleet and so concluded an agreement in 1240 with Phillip of Kyme to make sure that the water of the Lymn mostly came down the Lusdyke to Wainfleet Haven at the White Cross and thence to the sea.225 Likewise there are occasional references to the prosperity of the trade and the Wainfleet Charter of 1458 makes the case for a complete decay of that function. In fact, the trade of this entire coast (including Boston)226 was afflicted badly by the BD and it seems likely that the Haven no longer held a significant trading port by about 1375; at any rate it had to provide two impressed vessels in each of 1337 - 1339 and 1346 but none in 1369.227

The main documentary reference is the Wainfleet Custumal of 1234 which lays out in some detail the rules and regulations of the port, though not unfortunately its exact location.228 (Appendix 2.2.4). From the Custumal, the topographic information can be summarised as follows:

  1. The Inquest was taken at ‘Hidam’.
  2. Any ship coming with merchandise may anchor on either side of the port and if a house prevents the ship tying up then the crew may tie ropes round the posts of the house and if necessary cast the anchor beyond the beyond the house.
  3. The bailiff of the port has jurisdiction over the bounds of the sandacre of anybody between the Lymn and Wolmersty Cross.
  4. If any bank of the sea or marsh has been broken, it must be mended by its owner within two tides.
  5. The lord of the port has the right to be the first to spread his nets in the port to catch eels, followed by the heir of Sir Ranulf of Praeres and then whoever wishes from Wainfleet.
  6. The port ought to be blocked and opened for repair by the common counsel of the two townships

There seems little doubt that the Latin ‘portus’ in this document means ‘port’ or ‘harbour’; in other charters however, the possibility that ‘haven’ is meant leads to ambiguity about supplementary topographical detail. From the Custumal there are questions and possible topographic leads:

  1. ‘Hidam’ was the inquest site. Was this a dam across the Haven or a ‘damme’ which might have been a sea-wall? if the former might there have been a lower dam? In the Burleigh maps of the sixteenth century Salem Bridge uses the same ‘symbol’ as sluices and so maybe it could have been a ‘dam’.
  2. The regulations for tying up ships suggest that buildings (houses not warehouses) come right to the water’s edge and that there was no built wharf since the houses were on posts. A relatively narrow channel seems likely, such as might be created by the use of a stretch of the Haven itself rather than a separately excavated basin.
  3. Lordship extends all the way from the Haven/Lymn confluence to the Wrangle/Friskney boundary and includes jurisdiction over the boundaries of greva. Apart from the possibility that tenants of sand-making frontages quarrelled a great deal, it might be that in places their reclamations interfered with the port channel, though that sounds somewhat of a stretch of interpretation. The extent of control would have included the Bury St Edmunds salterns on Sailholme.
  4. The worry about swift repair of sea or marsh banks allows the inference that land beyond them was low-lying and subject to flood. In this context ‘marsh’ probably means ‘salt-marsh’ rather than the freshwater marsh of the East Fen. Sea-banks would have been placed where the tides came up to defences without an intermediate zone of salt-marsh: upstream from Salem Bridge might have been such a place.
  5. Eels were clearly a profitable catch; Ranulf de Praeres gave land to Bury St Edmunds in the late twelfth century to add to the foundation grant of Sailholme made by Matthew de Praeres in 1165, so this right seems to have been a recompense for his generosity. Was it spatially connected to the land he gave?
  6. Blocking of ports was done in medieval times, often at night. The means included using a chain and there is a Chain Bridge downstream from the town, whose origin is not documented. If there was a Hidam (and perhaps a ‘Lowdam’) they too would have been useful places for blocking a port with the help of gates.

The port is mentioned as well in the Hundred Rolls (Rotuli Hundredorum) of the period 1255 - 1284. The text is hard to decipher and translate but the applicable parts seem to run:

The same men say that the same earl [of Lincoln] has a court for the harbour of Wainfleet, but it is not known by what warrant; the court ... made in the harbour and through/over 15 feet above the harbour now Robert son of Ernis' bailiff of the earl ... from Walmersty as far as the Limme, and anyone wishing to put in a plea about these [has to] come to this court ... and this without warrant, and Simon de Fryseby formerly bailiff of the earl, before Robert's time, acted in the same way.229

This echoes the Custumal in the assignation of authority to the lord of the port (apparently Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln, d. 1312) and names a bailiff.230 But the phrase about a court which ‘made in the harbour and through [or over] 15 feet above the harbour’ makes no obvious sense. In 1313 Wainfleet’s port was trading with the Netherlands at Holland and Zeeland (oats were one commodity) and the servants of Wainfleet men were in Norway at ‘Northern’, probably Trondheim; all through the 1330s and 1340s the port bailiff was getting instructions about the import of forbidden items and in 1344 John de Kyme was before the King for contempt and disobedience. In the fourteenth century, Wainfleet was well represented in the wool trade, with exports of 204 sacks in 1378, which declined to zero by 1515, with one or two ships engaged in the trade with Calais via Boston. In the 1330s a typical Wainfleet ship was John Mawson’s The Preste of perhaps 100 tons with 37 men and two boys; in 1373 and 1337 - 1338 there were the Mariole of 70 tons and 18 crew and the Trinitie with 29 crew. By the second half of the sixteenth century, the three ships recorded were of 18 - 20 tons only. Indeed, whereas Wainfleet provided two impressed vessels for the King in 1337 - 1339 and in 1346, in 1369 there were none.231 The importance of the harbour is underlined by the appearance of Wainfleet as 62nd in the ranking list of English towns in 1334 (between Sleaford and Louth) and at the same rank in the number of taxpayers in the 1377 Poll Tax (678 of them, between Carlisle and Thaxted) but by 1524 - 1525 the town had fallen off all such lists.232

The general view that by the 1370s the port was no longer an important place may account for the lack of reference to it on the first maps that appear in the sixteenth century and those that come thereafter. The few fishermen left probably did not need harbour installations and in any case if the harbour had been a purpose-built basin then some trace of it might have been mapped, unless it had been built over. There might be a clue in a tangential remark of John Grundy in 1774:

From the Q’s Clow [Wainfleet Haven] is ... crooked to Solemn (sic) Bridge, particularly a little below the said bridge occasioned by Mr Chapman’s Coal Yard which is built even in the site of the Haven.233

These fragmentary clues and inferences lead to the main probability: that the harbour was a stretch of the Haven which could be closed off by one or more dams and that there had been ordinary urban building on the banks.

Any search for possible sites has to recognise that the course of the Haven has changed. Most changes involved taking out bends, and maps from the eighteenth century show that the Haven looped northwards from the foot of the town close to the School towards Northolme and then to the sea or perhaps south to the site of Chain Bridge. LiDAR indicates that there were arms of the Haven to north and south, on one of which the Sailholme declivity is still visible. Bluesky high-resolution colour imagery yields no markings of relevance. Even though the Lymn came down into the town, the concern of Hawise about water down the Haven suggests the Lymn was not the site of a harbour. The possible sites are shown on 2.2.25. Each possible site needs more scrutiny of maps and APs to see if any of the criteria delineated above are satisfied.

The likely sites are:

1 Sailholme East.

This includes the declivity on the east side of the ‘island’ and for it to be two-banked would have to have buildings across the B1195 to the east.

1947 - 3341: rectangular platform at extreme SE end; no indications of buildings to W and SW; corresponding lighter soil area opposite side of B1195. 1968 - 030: no buildings. Microsoft Virtual Earth (MVE): rectangular area is very clear and extends landward of the declivity line; possible trace of declivity on opposite side of B1195 and may be traces of rectangles on NE side of road but indistinct. 1970 - xxxx: only the northern section is visible ; there seems to be a rectangle below the declivity; opposite side has no markings. 1978 - CBR064: little extra information except that ‘floor’ below declivity has some small creek marks; E of B1195 a bank-and-ditch follows the road about 10m in from the present hedge. 1971 - HSL71 - 166: a pixilated image but suggests small rectangles all over E side of B1195 with axis parallel to road only in lower section. 1983 - 83 - 150 - 030 no extra information.

2 Haven Central

At the foot of the ‘new town’, with no obvious difference within this stretch of the Haven. Mr Chapman’s coal yard might be on the north bank hereabouts. 1947 - 3341: no suggestions of buildings except current cover at Haven side. 1968 - 030: no buildings. MVE: Haven Side field is all covered in irregular rectangular enclosures but not on axis to river; nothing on opposite side of Haven. 1978 - CBR064: there are some small rectangles opposite to the Haven Side buildings but they seem to extend all over that field. 1971 - HSL71 - 166: no indications. 1983 - 83 - 150 - 030 no extra information.

3 Haven North

Sited where the Haven looped north towards Northolme, a bend taken out in the nineteenth century. 1947 - 3341: no traces of buildings on east side: west is built up. 1968 - 030: resolution poor. MVE: no relevant markings. 1978 - CBR064: no markings. 1971 - HSL71 - 166: no indications. 1983 - 83 - 150 - 030 no extra information.

D School Field

A shallow basin of largely circular outline with a channel connecting it to the Haven to the south. 1947 - 3341: no indication of buildings. 1968 - 030: seems to be within rectangular enclosures extending from burgage plots. MVE: colour demarcates the area to the south of the school but is about the rectangular areas. 1970 irregular dark patch immediately west of school but only elongated rectangular structures. 1971 - HSL71 - 166 has many circular features plus the usual extended rectangles for this patch. 1983 - 83 - 150 - 030 has no extra information.

E Sailholme West

An arm of the Haven seen on LiDAR, which curves round to end of Sailholme itself, west of the other creek at F, G, 1. 1947 - 3341: no buildings, just old field boundaries. Not visible on 1968 - 030. MVE: parts now covered with houses but Sailholme has a few rectangles but these could be part of the ‘field’ system. No other APs have suggestions of buildings.

Taken together, these images are disappointing. There are no obvious indications of where a harbour might be except that Sailholme west seems to be ruled out, and the School field is taken up with other structures. The other sites are possible but not strongly probable on this evidence. That there was some form of facility at Sailholme east is likely (given also the name Key’s Toft) but it seems to lack the qualities of the harbour as described in 1242: a private landing for Bury St Edmunds seems the most likely attribution. The only other documentary reference found is in the 1534 will of John Dandyson of Wainfleet St Mary whose varied bequests of land included ‘vij acres land lying in the parich of Al Halois, called Key Landes’, which entry follows some land called ‘Schypyn Toft’ which might however be in Fishoft, near Boston.234 In 2014 a house on the Market Place was marketed as the old Custom House, in which case the land to its west (towards the present school field) must be considered, but additional evidence is needed.

A tangential insight is given by the analogy of a small town in East Yorkshire which was also a medieval planted town with a port. Hedon is just east of Kingston-upon-Hull and was once connected to the Humber by a dyked Haven (Fig 2.2.26). It differs from Wainfleet in having a central dominant parish church but otherwise there are similarities in plan, especially if the plan is reversed to show the harbour outlet to the east (Fig 2.2.27). There is a Harbour Chain at the downstream end and even a Lighthouse Lane - a function often attributed to the mound on Northolme and rejected earlier in the present piece. There are boundary crosses, of which two are known for Wainfleet (the South Cross and the White Cross) and one as the boundary of the jurisdiction of the lord of the port (as at Wolmersty Cross). A fleet runs into the top end of the harbour and its name of ‘Burstwick New Fleet’ implies a purpose-built origin. To the north-west the Reedmere Sewer is clearly diverted into the Far Bank arm of the Haven, probably with the aim of helping to flush the lower Haven.235 The same might be true of Wainfleet (Fig 2.2.28) though it has to be emphasised that these possible watercourses (for which there is good field and cartographic evidence) might be for drainage and protection rather than water supply, and they are not dated.

That harbours can migrate is shown by work from Køge in Denmark where the harbour wharfage from the first planned town of 1288 was superseded by later downstream developments from 1411 onwards. Wharves seem to have been on one bank only of the river. The planned town was downstream from an earlier settlement on both sides of the river, with a church. At Kołobrzeg in Poland, there was a salt-producing area downstream from a chartered town of 1255 and the main harbour was attached to the salt-works with (it is presumed) water connection between the harbour and the town. Here, silting up starts in the first half of the fourteenth century.236

Perhaps paradoxically, the effect of looking at the Hedon and other plans is to make a better case for the Haven north possibility, even though traces on the ground seem absent. Hedon also makes the case for not ignoring the usefulness of branches off a main haven though in the Wainfleet case the documentary evidence makes this less likely unless there was a ‘Hidam’ across its inner end. But if it was a kind of blind-ended channel, would Hawise have been so worried about getting water from Firsby Clough down into the Haven? She would then have wanted it to flush the Haven below the harbour, but in medieval times there could not have been much of that and in any case it was tidal, as indeed might have been the harbour, if disputes had to be settled within three tides,237 with closing-off restricted to perios of maintenance. It sounds more as if Hidam was across the Haven but at the head of tidal waters. If only its location could be firmly fixed; though yet again, it could have been an embankment somewhere near the harbour, a ‘high damme’ that was nothing to do with active water management but a convenient location for an Inquest.

The best way to find the harbour’s location would be a series of trial excavations. There is one intermediate stage, which would be some sampling of sites with non-invasive technologies. Failing those, there is always the hope that as yet unsampled APs may just show enough detail of some diagnostic characteristic to point to this elusive feature.

The other port in this immediate region is Skegness. Its records are few in number and any speculation is complicated by the likelihood of shifting topography. It is almost certain that the feature of Gibraltar Point migrated southwards but its progress is not chronicled - there is a discussion on p 10. If a guess is permissible then a southward-growing complex of foreshore and dunes might have been about the present latitude of central Skegness around the second half of the sixteenth century; the ‘ness’ that belonged to Skeggi in Danish times is likely to have been some other landform. The other complications are firstly the retreat of the shoreline that resulted in the loss of land along the coast north of Skegness and indeed of the so-called castle of the town itself, probably in the sixteenth century, and the position of the estuary of the Lymn, which all the printed maps until about 1800 show as being separate from that of Wainfleet Haven. Was, therefore, the port of Skegness at or near the mouth of the Lymn or of Wainfleet Haven? If the former, where exactly was that estuary? It seems to run immediately south of Croft church on an east-west bearing to the sea; the depictions seem very conventional and probably copied each other.238 The Burleigh map gives no indication of a port near ‘Skeynes’ but then it does not do so for Wainfleet Haven either.

Skegness itself does not appear in DB and it is assumed that the vill of ‘Tric’ was somewhere near the present site of Skegness.239 ‘Tric’ then disappears and references to Skegness are not very common in the documentary record: the church was assessed at £5 in the Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1291 - 1292240 and the TNA catalogue records a church in 1323 and rentals in 1379; in the details of ships being seized offshore, a Richard King of Skegness is described as a mariner ca 1322.241 There were no markets nor fairs in the period to 1516.242 More direct indications of a harbour come from the Ingoldmells Court Rolls243 entries for e.g., 1424244 where a mariner coming into ‘the port at Skegness’ was arraigned for refusing to sell barley ‘and other things’ ‘by the bussell’); a Barton man ‘injured the port at Skenes’ by throwing stones and other ballast into it and a York man pulled down the signals called ‘les Bekyns’ (1429)245 and in 1437, jurors reported that the bekyns were not rightly placed in the port, the farmer of the port being at fault.246 In the 1430s timber for the building of Tattershall Castle came in through Skegness.247 Thereafter, there seems to be silence, though it can be noted that this coast was badly flooded in the later sixteenth century, with especial damage in 1526 when the dunes gave way so that perhaps the harbour disappeared along with the ‘castle’ whose loss was relayed by Leland in 1543. The great flood of 1571 would have discouraged attempts at reconstruction. A muster of fishermen in 1626 recognised small numbers (3 - 9) of men from Wainfleet, Friskney, Croft, Winthorpe, Ingoldmells and Hogsthorpe but none from Skegness. This is not conclusive since they might have been returned under Ingoldmells or Winthorpe and in any case the fishermen might not have needed a harbour. Nevertheless, the simplest explanation is that a harbour labelled as Skegness was present in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries but became redundant thereafter, probably due to the growth of salt-marsh in the lee of an extending Gibraltar Point; whether there was continuity between the DB vill of Tric and the fourteenth century is an open question but overall seems unlikely. An attempt by a lord to imitate Wainfleet’s early success in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries might have been the reason for a development at Skegness.248

The growth of Wainfleet All Saints can be set in broader contexts though none them directly illuminates the unknowns in this case. Innovation in town layout did not necessarily determine the function and status of the settlement, so that it is feasible that the harbour lay at some distance from the town, as has been shown for early King’s Lynn and for sites on the continent. The generalisations that after 1150 many of the new towns were on vacant sites and that the boom between 1160 and 1230 was heavily dominated by lay lords249 fits the exiguous evidence of the Wainfleet case, with a site being found on mounds of existing saltmaking waste and the Kimes or the earls of Lincoln having a foundational role. The growth of the port once established was clearly bound up with wool and with salt and so there is the probability that Wainfleet shared in the general trends and prosperity exemplified by Boston of which it was said that, ‘At the opening of the fourteenth century more salt was probably shipped from Boston than from any other English port ...’250 The Custumal of 1234 confines tolls to corn and salt, so presumably wool was not a major item at that time251 and there is no indication at all that Wainfleet had any share in Boston’s valuable trade in lead.

One outcome of gathering these pieces of information is to show how much salt-marsh would have been present throughout medieval times: this meant that (a) the raw material for salt-making was never far away from already settled areas and (b) as that marsh was reclaimed, Wainfleet Haven got further and further from the sea. As is well known, the town was required to raise two vessels for Edward III’s campaigns in 1337 - 1339, a total kept up in 1346 but dropped entirely in 1369. The fourteenth century was the time of considerable trade from the lower haven: in 1340 - 1343 some 42 ‘ways’ of salt were exported to Great Yarmouth and 14 lasts of herring returned; in the 1340 - 1360 period the total was 28 lasts.252 The Scottish wars provided employment for Thomas Maryng of Louth, for in 1378 he transported to that country wheat and beans from Lincolnshire ports including Wainfleet.253 In the wool trade, Wainfleet had a high representation in 1378 (204 sacks were handled),254 with a sharp drop to 61 in 1466 and to zero by 1515; in 1582 there were no records of vessels whose home was Wainfleet whereas Croft and Ingoldmells had one each and in 1628 Wainfleet mustered six sea fishermen, compared with ten at Friskney, three at Croft and four at Ingoldmells. The trade with Great Yarmouth seems to have been carried in four vessels, that being the number of Wainfleet ships that paid murage in Yarmouth in each of 1342 and 1343.255 In the 1330s Wainfleet had vessels such as the Preste (master: John Mawson)256 crewed by 37 men and two boys, the Trinitie (29 crew) and the Mariole of 70 tons with a crew of 16 and two boys. In 1372 the King ordered ‘barges’ of 30 - 50 tons from some ports but Wainfleet was not included, unlike Saltfleet, Barton, Boston and Grimsby. Instead, Thomas Baxter was part of a team of men ordered to get the material to make a barge at Lincoln.257 In the 1560 - 1603 period, the three ships of which there is record were below 20 tons each.258 This all looks like a decline in the importance of Wainfleet; some of this no doubt due to general trading conditions and some due to the poor condition of the harbour, made worse by any general increase in the size of vessels used even in the coastal trade. The seaward reclamation of salt-marsh must have extended the length of the outer part of the Haven (see section 2.5) and was sinuous in form.

The reasons for the foundation of Wainfleet are even more undocumented that its physical presence, but it is worth noticing the scholarly discussions of the presence and roles of small coastal trading settlements from Saxon times onwards.259 Some of these became the important wic settlements that came to dominate regional trade but for each of them there must have been a number of smaller coastal locations, probably without facilities, that were emporia for all kinds of exchange. They need not have been permanent and might in Lincolnshire have been seasonal along with the saltmaking which seems to have provided a physical site at the mouth of Wainfleet Haven for urban development. Marginality may have favoured their trade since a coast well away from the eyes of authority and (in this case) reached only by sea or mostly across unreclaimed fen, with the Burgh-le-Marsh and Keal-Sibsey ‘spines’ as sole dry routes, would have stayed reeve and sheriff free - and hence toll-free - for longer than more conspicuous agglomerations of harbours and buildings. But the impetus to join the trend of establishing towns the better to exert authority and to gather revenue must have gathered pace and it may well be (though there is no direct evidence) that the local magnate or an earl of Lincoln between ca 1150 and 1200 decided that he wanted as it were a piece of the action.260

2.2.8 Coastal Contexts: The Interaction of the Natural and the Cultural

All responses to environmental change are mediated through society and in this region there have been two notable phases of formal recognition of the need for an organised overview and reaction to marine conditions These are the various Commissions of an ad hoc nature whch were appointed by the King or the Earl to look at specific regions and problems. The numerous Commissions de Walliis et Fossatis of the middle ages are examples of these, The second and major step was the inception by Henry VIII in 1531 of permanent Commissioners of Sewers whose remit extended beyond the sea-banks to inland drainage and whose importance in east Lincolnshire became considerable; it was probably more important immediately than the King becoming supreme head of the Church of England in the same year. Though Commissioners before and after 1531 never hesitated to identify corporate bodies as responsible for drainage and embankment (the Soke of Bolingbroke was a frequent target), individuals were more often held accountable for the condition of banks and waterways. They might be named by the manor court as liable for the upkeep of so many poles of bank, for example. The other way in which banks might be paid for was by levy on the lands which benefited from sound protection: the 1345 scheme in Lindsey Marsh and the 1610 Landlawer allocations for Wainfleet St Mary are examples.. (There is a very comprehensive third phase in the current Management Plan work of the Environment Agency).261

In the area bordering the East Fen, the interaction between sea-banks and freshwater banks that regulated rivers and the fen is especially strong since they were inevitably close together: in Friskney, for example, the Old Fen Bank, Friskney Head Dyke and High Street all fell within about 1.75km of each other along the line of Friskney Eaudyke. Since the resources of the fen and freshwater fisheries differed greatly from those of the sea and its havens, the separation of the two was often a matter of concern. Thus the installation and maintenance of sluices (locally called gotes, gowts, clows, cloughs) is a recurrent theme in sewer upkeep. Much of this will also be discussed in the section on the management of the East Fen and its marginal water courses.

A note on the representation of the Tofts. The presence of the ‘hills’ is drawn on some eighteenth century maps (Stukeley and Grundy, for example) but not at the accuracy that allows either precise location nor topography. The first real depiction is on the OSD and the subsequent engraved One-Inch map, when they stop a short distance from the Friskney-Wrangle boundary, near where the A52 abruptly crosses the Tofts in two right-angled bends. Yet of course the elevated terrain of the Tofts continues south-westwards into Wrangle. However, the Wrangle pattern as seen on LiDAR is different from the Friskney and Wainfleet St Mary patterns: the highest areas are much more fragmented and there is a ‘hole’ of lower ground between the main run of toftland immediately south-east of the A52 and the presumably terminal-phase waste deposits seaward of Wrangle Tofts. These tofts must - at any rate in their landward portions - have been the salterns featured in the Waltham Holy Cross documents. As well as the raised areas there is a block of the narrow ‘saltern’ field pattern east of Broad Gate (centered at TF 4327 5216) which might add to the area formerly used for salt production. The temptation to suggest that Skirbeck Wapentake somehow managed its salterns differently from Candleshoe is there but has to be resisted for lack of evidence, unless sea-bank maintenance was a medieval wapentake responsibility and that fact affected the layout or management of salterns.

One last emphasis: the emergence of the Tofts as a major landscape feature is distinctive. Although salt-waste topography is common enough in NE Lincolnshire and in Essex, for example, nowhere else is there a continuous belt of raised silts from this cause. Their presence is without doubt the largest remaining manifestation of the development of the coast of the Wash in medieval times.