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Margins of the East Fen: Historic Landscape Evolution

2.4 The Rural Economy Between the Fen and the Sea

No account of the landscape evolution of any part of rural England before the nineteenth century can ignore the role of farming and associated rural production. In the low-lying parts of East Lindsey, mining and quarrying (if peat digging is exempted) were absent, so the produce of the land and the water are the dominant elements. The latter is important even outside the Fen since the raising of flax and hemp had to be followed by soaking in water to free the fibres. The image of the medieval and early modern community as an isolated self-sufficient unit is no doubt false, but it is likely that most cereals were locally produced, with surplus animals, fibre products, salt and fish being traded via sea-transport, inland waterways or road to markets or to lords’ demesnes.

2.4.1 The Regional Setting

The agrarian history of this part of Eastern England forms a setting for the local detail. The fenland had a low density of settlement in medieval times because of the wetlands but there were many new settlements before 1086; thereafter there were (Hallam estimates) 24 between 1087-1189, 22 between 1190-1280 but only two between 1281 - 1350 and only one thereafter until the nineteenth century drainage was complete. Thus after 1087 the rate was one-third that of the time before 1086; new settlements after 1087 were common in Lincoln Marsh but not in the fens. The period after DB was one of growth in population and prosperity. Places that could be described as poor and undeveloped in 1086 (such as Wrangle, Friskney and Wainfleet) were countable as rich settlements by 1200, with population increases between 40 - 100 per cent. So much so that by 1300 there was population pressure on the land, with holdings as low as 1½ acres in size with partible inheritance a factor in the subdivision of land. In Holland in 1287, 80 - 85 per cent of holdings were less than 10 acres. In Ingoldmells, villagers were paying 6s 8d an acre as entry fines in 1314, falling to 2s after the BD. If a family of man, wife and 3 children needed the production of 12 acres to keep them active, then the advent of the BD might well have found an undernourished population. The epidemic was at its height in Lincolnshire in June-September 1349 and the population was reduced by about 45 percent, leading to the shrinkage of villages but the consolidation of holdings by tenants. The overall distribution of population was not however affected.1

The basic use of the dry land depended upon its suitability for cereals or for livestock. The siltlands were the core of the arable farming zones that produced grain though there were definite movements towards pasture even here in the 1300 - 1327 period. Before then, the silts produced mainly oats in the thirteenth century but after that date maslin was dominant. The land was ploughed mostly by oxen in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries though by those times horses were becoming established; mixed teams were common. The land was kept in good heart by rotations within a two-field system, with dunging from stalled cattle and sheep folding; on poor land there might be marling. Access to fen commons encouraged the keeping of cattle rather than sheep, but the reverse was true if salt-marsh formed part of the resource. The productivity of Lincolnshire can be gauged by the scale and distribution of the contributions to the feeding of a Parliament held in Lincoln in 1301, by the references to trade in cereals with Flanders and the wool exports in which Boston held national predominance until about 1300. Though there were changes during later medieval times, most of them were managerial in nature and not technological.2 Other important components of the rural economy are listed in the Nonarum Inquicisiones of 1340 where the majority of the income of the two churches in Wainfleet ‘is in their endowment, the tithes of sea-fishing boats and salt, besides pastures, turbaries, hay, flax, hemp, reeds, offerings, tithes of mills and other small tithes’.3

After 1500, the presence of open fields was much diminished and a pattern of small but individual holdings was established: in Holland about 60 per cent of all the holdings were of six acres or less, with partible inheritance (‘gavelkind’) among the important factors. Any areas of recently reclaimed land were a mixture of new and old pasture and of arable; conversions went both ways so that there was no distinguishable corn ground not grass ground. Where arable land was cultivated then barley was the most important crop, followed by wheat; oats were exceptional with rye a little more frequently grown. In Fishtoft in 1356, the sowing rates were recorded: drage (oat/barley mixture) 5 bushels/acre, barley 6 bushels, pure beans 4 bushels, peas and beans 3.5 bushels.4 Slightly earlier, in 1297, a royal demand produced wheat, beans and peas, barley, and oats and the hire of five small boats to carry the corn to Boston, at 3 shillings per boat. Corn was carried in four sacks made from 16 ells of coarse pieces.5

One in three inventories mention hemp and this was also grown in or near the fen though nobody was allowed to ret it in the fen drains; the same applied to flax.6 (In Scotland, hemp was regarded as a very demanding crop and was especially grown near towns where organic refuse was available or near the sea where it could be fertilized with seaweed).7 Once into the seventeenth century the pressure for the reclamation of the fen grew and attempts were made to set adventurers into the Lindsey and Holland fens. In the East, West and Wildmore Fens, Sir Anthony Thomas was the leader and the first main attempts were made in 1631 - 1634, but in general their efforts were not lasting and the East Fen in particular was back to its earlier condition by 1650. This state was probably one of considerable overgrazing, with its carrying capacity for cattle and horses being exceeded by three times and for sheep twice. The increase in geese (driven on foot to the London market) is well documented from the late seventeenth century and eighteenth century. Cattle and sheep dominated the dry-land pastures, with about three times the number of sheep as cattle. Schemes to reclaim salt marsh rarely resulted in common grazing land. The administrative arrangements were not uniform in this new surge of enclosure; in Wainfleet, the Queen paid for a new sluice on the Haven whereas in Croft, the necessary drain improvements were shared between the Lord and the inhabitants.8

2.4.2 A Sub-Regional Context

This section examines the general nature of the rural economy of the ‘dry’ lands around the edge of the East Fen, the certa terra or ‘definite land’;9 there are a few excursions to the north into the Middle Marsh and some remarks on the lands south of Wrangle. The account does not start from scratch, for earlier scholars have examined the rural economy, and especially the farming, for the medieval period. The most detailed local account is for the medieval period and by H. E. Hallam in the book whose major theme is reclamation.10 His detailed evidence and examples do not permit a simple summary and his focus is always south of the Candleshoe-Skirbeck boundary but there is much to be learned of a regional character. Not least are his explications of terms which turn up in the current work’s database. For example, ‘terra’ usually indicates arable land with rigs and selions as subdivisions of that land, though they might also be meadow or pasture. ‘Placea’ were almost all meadow, says Hallam, though the evidence gathered from south Lindsey suggests that the term may be used for any type of land. ‘Dales’ were portions of meadow and grasslands that were ditched (but not ridged)11 became the regionally characteristic ‘dylings’. These fell within the generally rectangular blocks of land which resulted from the making of embankments; the community would be responsible for major fen and sea banks but within the reclamations, individuals took control in maintenance and e.g., the planting of willow. The impetus to reclaim was often monastic in origin in most English regions and examples can be found in parts of Lindsey.12

These units were present in field systems that were usually two-field systems and the term ‘shift’ implies that these were rotated in Scandinavian solskifte fashion. But the permanence of one land use type was not assured for meadows may have become arable in the thirteenth century in response to population pressure and perhaps also as reclaimed land was dewatered. Hallam also seems to suggest that an open field might have a mixture of land cover types within it13 and that movement into severalty was facilitated by the common practice of making drainage ditches on the boundaries of rigs and selions; the enclosed parcel of land was called a ‘holme’. Ditching was also found around crofts. The results in terms of land use are unreliable since the samples are so small but Hallam calculates that for the whole Lincolnshire fenland in the 1300s the percentages of arable, meadow and pasture were approximately 68/16/6; those for the fen-edge 64/23/13 and for the northern fen-edge 55/18/27. The last-mentioned points towards the known regional importance of sheep, and a smaller proportion of meadow is compensated by the common grazing in the fen. The land used for relatively intensive agriculture might have been dry since late Saxon times in the case of the Tofts or have been reclaimed at virtually any time since, with periods like the late twelfth century seemingly great contributors to the land store. Thus medieval agriculture may have taken place on substrates that were still settling and whose drainage was a pragmatic matter where adjustments from time to time were needed. The dispute and subsequent agreement between Hawise and Phillip of Kime in 1240 may be one example. The apparent demarcation between wet and dry in the case of the Old Fen Bank may be to some extent illusory since attempts were no doubt made to take in piecemeal sectors of the fen where was perhaps dryer than elsewhere (continuous field boundaries extend across the Bank north-east of Friskney at TF 464 562 for instance) and in Elizabethan times (1571) wetland seems to have transgressed into Wainfleet St Mary around the boundary with Friskney,14 probably near TF 464 574 or possibly TF 468 578.

The evidence for field systems is patchy though by no means non-existent. The O.S. maps often label areas as e.g., ‘East Field’, ‘West Field’ and west of the town of Wainfleet All Saints is a ‘Great Field’. A fifteenth century terrier and rental of land in Wainfleet All Saints (Wainfleet Omnium Sanctorum) specified land in the Northfield and in the East Field (De Ricardo Maltby de Thorp iuxta Waynflete Johanne filio eius et Waltero Gunby de Waynflete pro xxv acris pasture adinuicem iacentibus in diuersis parcellis in campo vocato le Northfeld ibidem ac pro iiij acris pasture in le Estfeld ibidem). Another account specifies a North Field as well: Sed idem r[eddit] comp' de xxxviij s de firma xix acr' terre ibidem sic dimissi Johanni Maltby de Thorp hoc anno Et de xiij s / iiij d de firm' vj acr' pasture in campo vocat' Northfeld sic dimisse Willelmo Kytloke hoc anno Et de xiij s iiij d de firma / iiij acr' pasture in le Est feld sic dimisse Ricardo Deynys hoc anno Et de xxvij s de firma ix acr' pasture iac' in / eodem campo sic dimisse Simoni Grene hoc anno. Although fragmentary, these accounts suggest that such fields might be given over to pasture or have pasture rigs within them.15 There seems to be no equivalent land divisions for Wainfleet St Mary and the ‘Great Field’ of Wainfleet All Saints is presumably an renaming of all or parts of the East and North Fields.

Confirmation of the existence of common fields is given in work on the pre-enclosure fields of some parishes in the Horncastle area.16 Although no fenland or fen-edge landscapes are included, it is notable that most of the fields are named after a main compass point, with the possible additions of smaller units like ‘High’ and ‘Toft’. East and West are commonest, followed by North, with South a comparative rarity. Enclosure broke up these landscape units by the eighteenth century, though a retrodictive interpretation of them can be made onto maps that show field boundaries; presumably it was local memory that eventually fed the names to the O.S.

2.4.3 Local Land Tenure

Details of the classes of tenantry present in feudal systems and their immediate successors add little to landscape history in this context, but mention needs to be made of the diversity of land holders. The role of the Soke of Bolingbroke in the management of the East Fen has already been discussed, as has the classes of commoners entitled to the use of its resources. Other major tenants in the region include:

  1. Monasteries of national standing. In this immediate area the outstanding examples are Bury St Edmunds and Waltham Holy Cross. Bury came to dominate the Sailholme area of Wainfleet south of the Haven but does not seem to have had holdings elsewhere in Wainfleet, though it had a few scattered plots in Wrangle. Waltham dominated the Wrangle and Wolmersty coastal zone, with some interest in the fen, though more on the Low Grounds. In both cases the extraction of salt was the main interest. After the Dissolution, lands seem to have been sold or granted wholesale: a grant of 1566 contained ‘all lands in Waynflete once of the Monastery of Bury St Edmunds'.17 These institutions may have been key landscape-formers but may well have been founded in territories that were already fully occupied.
  2. Religious houses of regional importance. There is an long list of regional houses with some holdings but the most interesting are Kime, Revesby and Bardney. Kime attracts attention because of its relation with the Kime family (see below), though they were donors to several other foundations; Revesby had a grange in the East Fen and at Wainfleet (adjacent to the Bury lands and thus very likely a saltern), and Bardney was influential in Friskney, the Steepings and Firsby as well as being owners of the church of St Thomas at Northolme, which is de facto part of Wainfleet All Saints town.18 There was also a chapel of St John in Wainfleet All Saints town, documented to 1340 but not thereafter and its site is unknown except it was probably in the general area of the extant St John’s Street.19 Bardney probably had the most land regionally (in Steeping, Firsby, Croft, Ingoldmells and Wainfleet) but Kime was influential in Wainfleet All Saints and Thorpe St Peter; Bullington had churches or parts of churches in Friskney, Burgh-le-Marsh and Winthorpe.20
  3. Families of high standing. The families which held manors in the local vills at DB seem not to have held on to their lands though the high Middle Ages and instead there are a number of middle-rank families who held a variety of lands and some of whom were ship-owners or in other forms of trade; the Wace family, the Hubberts, the Dandysons, the Maryngs, the Ellercars, the Mewsoms; these are supplemented by the interests of the Earls of Chester21 and Lincoln (especially the Lacys) and the Kimes22 and thereafter by the Tallboys and then once into the seventeenth century a whole raft of the aristocracy become involved in the reclamation of salt-marsh. Throughout the later Middle Ages and Early Modern times the Lords of Dalby held much land in Wainfleet All Saints and from 1282 to 1305 the markets and fairs at Wainfleet were chartered to the Earl of Lincoln, latterly Henry de Lacy. He appears to have taken over from the Kime family in perhaps the late eleventh century or early twelfth century in what may have been an extension of royal power over the growing revenue of the port.23

All might let out land and other resources to tenants from the common folk, who would pay rent and do homage and be part of the frankpledge system. Their lives were determined by the actions of lords, as in 1309 when Abbott Thomas of Bury delivered to Gilbert of Tothby on behalf of the abbey for the whole of his (Gilbert’s) life all their lands and tenements in Wainfleet, Friskney and Wrangle with their tenants, both free and bond with their services and customs and income from all sources. Gilbert was to use his own resources to recover property and rights that had been lost in those three vills. He paid £4 per year for those rights and could enjoy the fruits of anything he recovered until his death, when all of it, including anything he recovered, went back to the abbot and convent.24

The transformation to a more modern pattern of leasing, buying and selling of land was probably accelerated by the BD and in the fifteenth century the Wainfleet documents seem entirely modern in the bargains being struck; by 1610 when Sir Edward Barkham started to compile his book of holdings, (hereafter BHM 1610) it is clear that modern arrangements were in place.25 His books confirm the evidence of preceding centuries, namely that in this region, manors were fragmented and did not correspond very closely to places. In the eighteenth century, for example, Addlethorpe and Ingoldmells made one manor, but the manor of Orby had land in Addlethorpe and Ingoldmells.

2.4.4 System Perturbations

Scattered throughout this account of landscape development, there are references to major disturbances to the systems which underpinned the rural economy. Predominant in this region is flooding, whether from the sea or from exceed fresh water. Their magnitude varied and the great floods of the late thirteenth century (especially that of 1250) were not equalled until 1570 or 1571. In between, there were a number of floods that overtopped the banks, as well as a number brought about by malfeasance. To combat these threats, communities and individuals were made to pay a tax for the maintenance of banks and in the case of sea-banks, lands so assessed were known as the ‘landlawe’; its seventeenth century extents in Wainfleet St Mary are known (see xxxx). In 1395 the Pope took notice of the deterioration of the revenues of Thorpe and Croft and united and appropriated the revenues to the Prior of Kyme, who would only fill vacancies with his own people;26 at the same time lords were giving land in Wainfleet and Thorpe St Peter to Kyme and Stixwold,27 very likely as protection against the divine disfavour of flooding. Floods meant poor crops and the loss of animals and so they interacted with hard winters or parched summers to make famine a distinct possibility. One Wainfleet inhabitant had to send for corn for his household ‘beyond Cambridge’ in 1286, which he brought up by water.28 That other great disturbance, the BD, came after a number of very hard years which may have exacerbated its effects,29 one of which was to slow up reclamation of wetlands. Epidemics of animal diseases were scarcely controllable (the general term ‘murrain’ seems to have covered a number of different plagues of domestic stock) and some no doubt passed to humans. In addition to floods, crops might be affected by fire, birds, rabbits and moles. There might be unaccustomed demands by the monarch: for victualling Parliament at Lincoln in 1301 or for ships to prosecute war with Scotland in the time of Edward III. Capping all perhaps was the famine of 1315-1317, with further bad harvests in 1320 and 1321, and drought in1325 and 1326.30 There are records, too, people in northern England eating famine foods in 1437-1440.31 So while there is a ground bass of a stable rural economy during the High Middle Ages and Early Modern times,32 there could also be the vicious interruption of tolling bells which signified some disaster with local consequences.

The most telling documentation of problems is perhaps in the Wainfleet charter of incorporation of 1457, granted by Henry VI,33 This refers to the decay of the port and ‘... our aforesaid town being already in great ruin and as it were deserted by the inhabitants seems to becoming to a complete destruction and perpetual desolation ...’. Since the charter was granted following a petition of the people, some exaggeration on their part might have been present, though clearly William of Wainfleet was involved. There is an echo of the situation in the accounts of MCO in 1480-81 which has a heading for ‘Decayed’ rents.34 There is, for example, land which returns a reduced rent since it is ‘waste through digging’, a messuage unrented (i.e., a decayed farm) that ‘on account of want of someone to take it on and repair’, and several plots of land, both arable and pasture. Included was the farm of a moss in Wainfleet All Saints let for 8d instead of 12d, and a saltern in Wainfleet St Mary decayed ‘for want of someone to hire it’, having formerly rendered 3s 4d. This heading totalled 25s 4½d. Earlier, in 1375, for 4/- the widow Petronilla granted a piece of land in Friskney called Burryriges in which the grantees (of which there were five) might make waste and do whatever they wished with that piece of land. The name sounds like a part of a common field once possessed by Bury St Edmunds but ther is no obvious reason for the possible descent into waste.

2.4.5 Land Use, Land Cover and Landscape

This major section will take the major rural land uses one by one and see what can be deduced from the data sources available. For all of them, the present landscape is not usually informative, for the intensification of the last 30-40 years has removed many of the traces of former times. The maps from the nineteenth century are a little more instructive in so far as land use can be deduced from field patterns but in an environment where arable and pasture lands were interchangeable, the yield from their scrutiny is thin. Thus the documentary database is the only credible source, even with all its drawbacks, including those of time and space, and of survival. There are, for example, a few documents in the LAO and NAO which cannot be consulted because they are too fragile. However, for the years included in this section and for the parishes marginal to the East Fen there are enough allusions and inclusions of land uses like arable, pasture and meadow, together with the lands pertaining to salterns, to turbary and ‘mossground’ and occasionally to ‘thackground’, as well as the common ways and gaterooms that linked the holdings, to give an idea of the look of the land thorugh the medieval period and on into the early modern centuries.35 The section ends with the information provided in the early seventeenth century overview of Sir Edward Barkham’s estates in Wainfleet, amplified by some other extents of about the same time. Some of its data finds its way into earlier discussions, too. Arable Land

This is the core of the rural economy. The documents often specify arable land as arabilis but the terms ‘selions’ and ‘rigs’ are indicative.36 The documents in Table 2.4.1 extract information from Wainfleet and nearby parishes and some of these data are set out in Fig 2.4.1. Only those instances (from the middle ages and early modern periods) where a location to within about 500 m can be plotted appear on the map. It seems clear that the toft lands carry one set of cultivated fields and that the West End of Wainfleet All Saints is another area of concentration. In the first case, well-drained and slightly raised silts are an obvious source of arable terrain, though the coincidence with pasture allows the suggestion that a period of pasture may precede the movement into cropland. Two instances of arable occur to the north of Wainfleet All Saints town on the northward extension of toftland which underlines Northolme and then dies out northwards. One is in Bamburgh Field (still named on the 1:25,000 O.S. maps until the 1960s) which was in existence by the early fourteenth century and which was flanked to the north by a sea-dyke.37 Another Croft document (1445) puts 5 acres of arable land to the west of the sea-dyke and east of land of John Edlington, who was, incidentally, a Fen Approver and also Porter at Bolingbroke Castle. The West End distribution includes the edge of the East Fen near the Lusdyke, and together with the references which mention the Wardyke (now the line of the Bellwater Drain) date possibly from reclamation surges which took place northwards from Wainfleet Bank and into the Fen from the Old Fen Bank. The arable locations to the west of the Old Fen Bank all date from 1395 to 1412 and could thus be indicators of a move into the fen at that time. The Wardyke set are 1392-1458 which seems very late for reclamation in that place and so some other explanation must be sought.

The number of documents in the Table is not high enough away from the Wainfleet area to make plots at all significant, though a few make (usually tantalizing) references to location and land condition. The grant by Simon son of Walter of Steeping to Bardney Abbey of all his land and whatever is between the road over Westdam (totam terram et quicquid est inter viam super Westdam) to be diked or enclosed if the abbey so pleases (ad fossand’ si eis placuerit vel claudendum) points to a frontier location in the twelfth century; there is also a new mill and another twelfth century grant contains arable land on the south side of Little Steeping abutting on the marsh and more arable west on the Neudycke. The Bardney chartulary contains many more references to arable land than to meadow and pasture but both land and meadow are given ‘in the fields of Steeping’ which implies that the higher ground to the north of the vill was extensively managed, perhaps in contrast to the interface with the Fen where Little Steeping was simply a ‘territorium’.38 The 1890s six-inch map gives Great Steeping both East and West Fields but indicates nothing in Little Steeping, bordering the Fen; one selion is granted at Hungerberth, a name that persists at Hunger Hill (TF 459 653). Some 10km to the south, in the thirteenth century a Wainfleet man disclaimed right to any land or common west of ‘Aungestrete’ in Friskney. This suggests that toft land was by then in cultivation; the same disclaimer mentions a saltern in the same township. If the name is a version of High Street then this places solid ground behind that sea-bank but also implies that there was ‘common’ not far away; in the local context, ‘common’ is usually the drier edge of the fen, so the location is probably west of Friskney Eaudykes, possibly where the field pattern ran from the inland edge of the tofts through into the East Fen across the Old Fen Bank (centred on TF 468 559). One puzzle comes in the will of John Dandyson in 1534: his principal bequest was Pepperthorpe Hall in Wainfleet St Mary (TF 483 573) but he also left 7 acres of land in Wainfleet All Saints, ‘called Key Landes’. This is the only mention in nearly 600 records of Key/Keys in Wainfleet All Saints, rather than Wainfleet St Mary and all his other gifts of land and property are either in Wainfleet St Mary or yet other parishes. If not an error, then this is an indication of a ‘key’ (i.e., a quay) in Wainfleet All Saints. The preceding legacy is 1½ acres of ‘land arable called Schypyn Toft’: could that be read as ‘Shipping’?39 The family seem to have been farmers of the yeoman class and there is no indication of them being involved with maritime trade.

Some of the entries in Table 2.4.1 have amounts and if all are expressed in acres (the most common measurement), then sizes of 1-2 ac are the commonest (18/42) and 3-5 ac the next most frequent (10/42). Thus 28/42 (66 per cent) are between 1-5 acres in size. Some 6/42 (14 per cent) are above 20 acres and these are dominated by gifts to religious houses as alienations in mortmain. Some of the plots are measured in selions. These dimensions are all prone to flexibility: selions are sometimes called acres, but the customary acre is smaller than the statute acre, and the actual size of any of these may vary with soil type or local custom. Hence a straightforward analysis of numbers is likely to be misleading: since the basic unit of plough land was a strip then how many strips in a selion? Dimensions of a plot 5ft wide by 15ft long are nearer some estimates that a strip is conveniently about 5½ yards wide; another plot is 84ft x 6ft but another is 90ft in width (5 perches of 16ft). If these land transfers are in open fields then it seems likely that a number of strips are involved and if the estimate by Hallam of holding size in the late thirteenth century is correct (that 80-85 per cent were less than 10 acres) then clearly a large part of, or even all, a man’s land access was changing hands. The exceptions came when lords gave large areas to charities: Magdalen College Oxford was granted a 20 acre plot of land as well as 30 acres of pasture. Since land transfers of e.g., 2 or 3 acres (assuming that ‘acres’ are distinct from ‘selions’) exceed the common size of strips of ¼ - ⅓ acres then a bundle of strips is being bespoken. There are hints of this in entries like a fifteenth century account from Firsby of ‘ij selions of land lying scattered in the west fields of Firsby in a place called Underhowe’, ‘in St Mary’s felde’ (1533), ’in Croft in Bawmburgh’felde’ (1420/1), and in the same field in 1362, with three named men as bounders plus rights of entry and exit as far as the common way, two plots of land ‘lying together’ (1392)’.

In 1602, pasture rents in Wainfleet St Mary were paid for 17 acres in each of the Aidefelde and the Outfelde, and for a pasture of 17 acres in the ‘outfelde’ of Friskney,40 which on a naive interpretation suggests at least the memory of an infield-outfield system, not hitherto suggested for this region. In the Barkham acquisitions of 1610, a rood of pasture lies ‘between the outtoft half-acre and the Intoft half-acre’.41 Rippon suggests an early medieval phase of infield-outfield agriculture in areas of marshland cultivation and cites examples of its persistence into the high middle ages in marginal uplands like the Yorkshire Wolds. A landscape clue to its one-time existence is the presence of oval enclosures at the core areas, with roads and droveways which approach but are deflected around the oval and farms that lie outside the edge of the oval.42 The patterns in Wainfleet St Mary do not seem to fit such a model43 but those in Friskney might be interpreted in that way (Fig 2.4.2). There is however no indication of what might have been infield and outfield as late as the seventeenth century.

Given the named fields at Great Steeping, a North Field at Burgh and a Great Field west of Wainfleet All Saints town, the likelihood of most of these holdings being portions of open fields is high. Nonetheless, examples of ‘closes’ of arable occur in the records: a ‘close of land’ existed in Wrangle in 1242 x 125244 and in 1321 x 1324 men broke into ‘his close’ (that of John son of Simon of Wainfleet) and cut corn there by night.45 The possibility that much of some landscapes was being cultivated comes from Firsby and Steeping in 1256, when a lease was made that conveyed:46

4 selions on the Northwong, the road to Gunby west.
3 selions in Steeping in the same cultura and the three headlands at their head.
1 selion at Spilel daile.
2 selions in Firsby on the east side of Asegertoft Hill.
2 selions in Steeping on the west side of Asegartoft Hill.
1 selion in Steeping called Lamaker on Eltrethwang.

It sounds in particular as if Asegartoft Hill was covered with fields; Steeping East Field is on the boundary with Firsby and a section is above the 25ft contour line, which may have been the hill specified. Seventeenth century surveys at Steeping confirm the existence of a Hall in Great Steeping (where there is a Hall Farm at TF 445 637) and also the presence of leas (meadows) and arable inclosed and open. The holdings in the open East Field were called furlongs, which were named. In Firsby there was ‘Fursbie outfield’ as well as ‘Fursby field’. Incidental but interesting names included ‘preching cross furlong’ and ‘Snyperoding end’.47

The technological corollary of cereal production is the mill, and several are mentioned in medieval sources. The mill at Steeping is found illustrated on a sixteenth century map of the Wainfleet Haven system and the wheel makes it clear that it is a water-mill.48 Occasionally a mill type is specified as in a molendino a ventrico or a ‘horse milne’ but watermills are not designated as such.49 In landscape terms, it is probably a mistake to equate the sites of nineteenth century mills with their earlier predecessors since there has been an intermediate stage of windmills erected for drainage, known as ‘engines’. In Wainfleet, there was a windmill in 1304.50 In Wrangle there was a mill next to the bridge in ca 1205 and a mill with a saltern next to it and all its sandacre (unam salinam iuxta molendinum cum tota greva) which might well be the site of today’s Toft Mill at Wrangle (TF 440 514).51 Also early in the thirteenth century another toft-land-mill association is found in Friskney when Gilbert of Benniworth gave to Ormsby Priory a toft and saltern in Friskney,

and my windmill with the site of the aforesaid mill and all its appurtenances and all the land I had on either side of the aforesaid mill as well in sand as in high ground.52

Though ‘toft’ is not mentioned, the picture of a mill on the seaward side of a line of higher and drier land (as at Toft Mill in Wrangle) is quite explicit. Pasture

The dataset is laid out in Table 2.4.2 and plots placed with confidence (as above for arable) on Fig 2.4.1. Their distribution seems to have two groups:

  1. In the same places as the arable lands, especially around the Haven estuary, where it is likely that the pastures were once salt waste and not yet ready for the plough; and also in Wainfleet All Saints west of Leveson Gate, including the Thowes, with Lusdyke Gate (its only mention) on the west. This might also point to an interchangeability of arable and pasture, as noted regionally by Hallam.
  2. In the Low Grounds of Wainfleet St Mary and Friskney, in a zone where references to arable are sparse. A number of these instances refer to the location as ‘in Peller/Poller’ and from the maps by Dugdale and Stukeley and a fragment of ‘Polar Bank’ on the early six-inch map this can be reconstructed and is placed on the map. The assumption is then made that ‘in Poller’ means that the location is between the two fen banks, especially since the land loses altitude towards the Fen and so was presumably harder to drain. (It complicates the interpretation of some documentary references since ‘fendyke to west’ might be either of two banks).

The status of units of pasture is mixed in the sense that although a great number of the relevant references refer to a ‘close of pasture’53 there are some, as in 1602 in Friskney, in the ‘Aidefelde’ and the ‘Outfield’ which are terms normally given to common fields. Sir Valentine Browne’s rental of 1602 contains 41 references to pasture in Friskney; none of these specify a ‘close’. One says ‘2 acres in a pasture called Breakebacke between 1 acre of Mrs Armyn ... and Wm Cut’, so it is open as to whether all are individual enclosures or rigs within common fields. Perhaps by 1602, the former is more likely. That the drainage factor may be significant in pasture locations is signalled by entries such as ‘a parcel of low ground called Cut Rigg and Remmanland’ which suggest turbary (turves were assigned in remanante in the fens; see p xxx) and plots in ‘low grounds’, ‘in mixture with cut lande’, ‘Reedlande’ and ‘Rushe Plat’. The impression is of areas of intermixture of dry land with peaty patches and might be found either in the Low Grounds between the Old Fen Bank and the Tofts or on the western fringes of the East Fen. A last category is that of pasture associated with ‘toft ground’ and the saltmarshes that were appurtenant, with only one such designation, though other tenants owe rent in salt.

Of Friskney’s 39 mentions of pasture that have sizes, 21 are 1-4 acres in area and 10 are 5-9 acres. Thus 31/39 (80 per cent) are between 1 and 9 acres in size, with none over 20 acres and only one smaller than one acre. Most of the larger plots belong to freeholders and the smaller to tenants of the demesne lands of the manor. (Browne’s lands extended to the Wainfleet parishes but the number of entries and the detail do not allow comparison with Friskney.) Once again there is a pointer to small holdings though by the seventeenth century there might have been considerable changes from the estimates for medieval times made by Hallam.

In Browne’s considerable holdings in Croft, pasture dominates and in the demesne rentals there are 17 ‘closes of pasture’ and only one ‘parcel’, The largest is a collection: ‘all the closes of pasture called the Ewe Marshes; 207 acres by estimation, with a saltmarsh thereto belonging’ which suggests the recent inning of saltmarsh. Five of the 17 are over 20 acres but close reading shows that one is four closes for a total of 25 acres, though ‘Mollecroft’ has 24 acres in a ‘close’. So calculation of size distribution is difficult but overall, there are more large units than at Friskney, and it is known that renting to upland farmers was practised at Croft, though in decline about 100 years later than Browne’s rental list.54 The closes of Croft in 1610 would very likely have given off the sound of many sheep being fattened. Meadow and Daila

Scholars of medieval agriculture tend to stress the importance of meadow since it is the resource that provides the winter feed for cattle and horses. It requires careful management since the beasts must not be allowed to crop the grass before any hay crop is taken. Mowing of long grass is a tiring occupation and so community cooperation is vital; storage must be of grass dry enough not to catch fire spontaneously. Although in this region it can be a way of employing poorly drained ground, nevertheless enough runoff must be present so as to favour palatable grasses rather then the reed and rush flora of true wetland.

What then is at first surprising in the database (Table 2.4.3) is that there are only 16 references to meadow (pratum) but this becomes more comprehensible if the East Fen is considered as part of the resource base of this area. It provides summer grazing for livestock and the Fen Laws of Common make it clear that mowing took place. Thus the vills peripheral to the fen had their need for meadow reduced. Some parishes had areas of meadow, nonetheless: there is a singular field pattern from the Wainfleet All Saints-Thorpe St Peter boundary north into Bratoft, Irby and Firsby, encompassing Thorpe Dales and Bratoft Ings, for example, and these are most likely the sites of former meadows: in both Bratoft and Irby in the sixteenth century the Ings were the site of meadow. In Thorpe St Peter the meadow seems to lie close to the arable for in 1239 there was:

a toft and a croft ... next to the road of Wainfleet towards the east and 2 acres of meadow which lie in the meadow of Thorpe next the arable land to the east55

which was likely close to a 1202 holding of

half a toft in Thorpe, next the church, towards the south and half an acre of land towards the snorth, next the church.56

That low lands were involved is shown by the use of ‘Ings’ to denote areas with a very high density of drainage ditches and in 1347 an area of 10 acres of meadow in Thorpe St Peter was worth only 6d per acre per year since it was so often wet and flooded. Examples are therefore found of fields enclosed with a ditch and possibly having longitudinal ditches as well: these are called daila, and two instances are found in Friskney in the twelfth-thirteenth centuries. One of them apparently has a mill (cum mola) and there is indeed a so-called mill mound in Friskney (452 555) though the mound is very small and accompanied by a longitudinal mound not characteristic of mills.57 The best example is the field in Wrangle at the junction of Gateroom Lane and Gold Fen Dike Bank, centred on TF 438 525 of which the HER, using the local word ‘dyling’ for strips of drained pasture, says:

The dylings consist of parallel field strips aligned north-west to south-east, separated by narrow ditches up to 0.5m deep. The strips are circa 100m in length, varying in width between 20m and 50m, and cover an area 200m in width. Some of the strips have shallow depressions, which mark the sites of former ponds, and near the centre of the monument is a water-filled pond of later date. The rectangular area occupied by the strips is bounded on each long side by a linear bank between 3m and 5m wide, running at right angles to the strips, and the entire field system is surrounded by a ditch 2m in width.58

These features can be seen in Fig 2.4.3 and Fig 2.4.4, both of rather low quality. A payment for keeping the pastures dry can be found for Wainfleet All Saints in 1480 - 81 when the tasks of maintaining ditches and drains was accompanied by a payment of 3d for 'digging around the pasture'.59 In fact, Wrangle has a higher density of medieval grants of meadow than the other vills and the influence of Waltham Abbey may be suspected. Grants to them usually specified pasture for oxen, though a 3 acre secular grant not far from a saltern belonging to Dereham Abbey was of meadow.60 Another grant suggests that the meadow lies between other such lands.61 Wrangle Low Grounds seems the most likely location for all these areas of meadow. Tofts and Salterns

Although a special section has been devoted to salt-making, a secondary effect is discussed here. A number of records recall tofts with pasture in places not far from the sea and it seems likely that these are abandoned salterns. As salt-marsh accumulated the working zone progressed seaward and so the areas of waste were left behind. It looks as if the buildings used by the salters (‘salt cotes’) were replaced by more permanent structures since some of the tofts mention buildings as part of the grant or charter.

In Friskney in the twelfth century Thomas de Banbury’ acknowledges that he held of Bardney Abbey the land which ... [he] held in Friskney with all its buildings and appurtenances and the whole of its sandacre.62 In Wainfleet St Mary, on Sailholme, in 1351 a grant specified a placea of land with the buildings on it, towards the chapel of St Edmund, which is known to have been built on saltern land.63 The connection with salt may be indirect as when a sea-bank is part of the bounds:

Grant of one toft with buildings on it lying in Wainfleet St Mary called Ellerkertoft, between the land of the heirs of John of Wainfleet on the S and the land formerly of Laurence Ottewar on the N, abutting on Normandepe towards the E and on les Sedykes towards the W.64 (1424/5)


Grant of one toft with buildings on it called Ellerkartofte lying in Wainfleet in the parish of St Mary between the land of Thomas Kyme called le halletofte on the S and the land of John Lawson on the N, and abutting on Normandepe towards the E and on le Sedykstyght towards the W.65 (1472)

Another example is found in 1460, when the Wainfleet St Mary late-medieval saltworks were probably at their apogee before declining:

Grant of one placea of land with buildings on it and with one sandacre, lying in the parish of Wainfleet St Mary between the land of the prioress and convent of Stixwold on the N and the land of William Gysall' and the heirs of Simon Fypson' on the S, abutting on the land of the heirs of Simon Mylle towards the W and on Normandepe towards the E.66

On the early one-inch O.S. maps, there is a line of farms and cottages in Wainfleet St Mary which coincides with the symbol for salt waste, and this relationship persists as far south-west as Wrangle. In Wrangle Tofts, Hall Lane and Mill Lane connect a series of buildings which on a map of the foreshore in 160667 are the most seaward constructions except for three small ‘cotes’ beyond the road towards the sea at the extremities of their plots. The map has no indications of salt-making and so these may be the remnants of the industry in its last phase. APs show that waste mounds extended well beyond the outer buildings in Wrangle (Fig 2.4.5) but less so in Wainfleet so that there were perhaps differences in the methods used as the industry declined. The salt waste and possible salt-cotes on the O.S. map are very likely the descendants of the final phase of the salt industry recorded almost incidentally in Edward Barkham’s Book of Survey of 1610.68 There are several entries for ‘toft’ and these nearly all are accompanied by a piece of arable or pasture, a salt marsh and often a fishery. Several note the presence of a house. One of the most detailed relates:69

1 piece of Toft with a dwelling house upon that, the same lying between the lands of late Richard Holland, now John Clark, of the N, and of late Robert Dalby, [now] of the Lord of the S, butting on the lands of late Sir Wm Brereton knight of the W and Normandeepe towards the E, containing by estimation 2 acres.
 1 marsh to the same toft, reaching in lenth to Normandeepe alias the sea, containing in bredth the breadth of the said Toft ground being 4 acres by estimate.
 A fishing in the sea thereto belonging.

More terse references are of the form:70

 1 Toft with the salt marshes and 2.5 acres of arable all in Wainfleet St Mary, bought from Thos Waltham of Wainfleet for £22.

Were it not for the fact that it is clear from other documents that Barkham was not the sole owner of tofts in (mainly) Wainfleet St Mary at that time, it might be possible to map the stretch of toftland next to the sea that he acquired, but there are certainly gaps in his possessions. He had 15 tofts according to the Book, of which 13 are certainly or probably in Wainfleet St Mary. Four had salt-marsh appertaining and less than four acres of other ground; two had buildings and one had not only salt-marsh but ‘fouling’. However, no rentals nor sums for purchase mention salt and it is therefore open as to whether these tofts are active in extracting salt from the Wash. Given the date, and the absence of the industry from the 1606 map at Wrangle, the balance seems to fall against them.

The land use near the coast is complicated by the appearance in BHM of the term ‘toffett/tuffet’ which has appeared nowhere else in any of the documents searched. There are nine entries relating to twelve tuffets, all of which are in Wainfleet St Mary and are accompanied in every case by salt-marsh and in three instances by pasture; most holdings are less than 10 acres. Common forms are:

1 tenement and a toffett containing 4 acres with the salt marshes thereto belonging ... [and other lands elsewhere].71
1 Toffet containing 11 acres with the salt marshes thereto belonging with 10 acres pasture grounds and 1.5 acres of arable, bought from Robert Lowes of Wainfleet for £160.72

Two questions immediately arise: (a) what are ‘toffets’ and (b) how are they different from tofts? There seems to be a high probability that the alternative ‘tuffet’ is the key, with its meaning of a small hill or tussock. In this context the obvious association is with the arcuate mounds of salt waste of the type preserved as Ancient Monuments by the A52 in Wainfleet St Mary. APs show that there was once a slightly wider distribution of this type of waste mound (Fig 2.4.6), with some areas having been flattened. This leads to the likelihood that Tofts (in this document) are the next stage in the use of this land, where the tenant or owner has removed all or some of the unevenness so that ploughing becomes a prospect. Note that all the toffets have salt-marsh attached whereas only 4/15 of the tofts are so equipped; only one toffet certainly has a building, another is in an ambiguously worded entry. In total, the two types of holding come to 27 units. If all were present at the same time then in 2.5km of coastline (supposing unrealistically that nobody else had such holdings) the average width of a unit would be 92.5m , which is about 2 acres, if it were square - again unlikely. No dimensions for breadth are given but it is very likely that the shape was elongate towards the salt-marsh and at least x2 as long as broad. Thus there is space for many more units that the 27 recorded here. But once again, the rentals and purchases do not mention salt production: either it is assumed or it is absent. Three local surveys and Inquisitions from 1609-1627 have no reference to salt; Valentine Browne’s survey of 1602 has some rentals in which salt is an item in Wainfleet St Mary.73 It is then perhaps the case that the industry in Wainfleet St Mary and possibly Friskney as well died out in the first decade of the seventeenth century; Wrangle may have been a little earlier. All attention then became focussed on salt-marsh as a candidate for reclamation in large chunks for large landowners.

A possible minor pointer to land derived from salterns is the use of the adjective ‘red’. Workers in Essex noted the local use of the term ‘red hills’ for salt waste74 and although not common in south Lindsey, there is an instance in 1532 when John Alcockson of Friskney left to his wife Catherine ‘a piece of red grounde late purchased of John Bodde’75 and there was a Red Lane in Wrangle, which was close to one of the ‘fenland tumuli’ which Miller and Skertchley associated with lookouts on saltings; Dugdale noted ‘Redelands’ in Skegness, which might have been ‘reedlands’.76 Also, Grundy‘s 1774 report77 talks of the lane by Friskney church leading to a windmill and then to Wrangle Floors Road. ‘Floors’ is a term associated with salt-making and might be pans in which salt water was stored for preliminary evaporation, or flat areas where sand was accumulated or clay floors of peat stacks.78 A possible insight comes from one of the foundation grants on Sailholme to Bury St Edmunds where the grant excepted the salterns of Reingotus and his two brothers and ‘the spaces which they have had up to the present for the keeping of their sand'.79 In an entry dealing with Firsby and Great Steeping in 1148 x 1166 Bardney Abbey took possession of a church and land beyond ‘Saltfleet’, although that could have been the Marshland coastal vill of that name, rather than a local feature. Moss, Turbary, Swans and Parks

The main sources of peat were located in the East Fen but it is known from recent stratigraphic work (see 2.1 XXX) that there was at least one layer of peat at no great depth, found in Thorpe St Peter, Wainfleet All Saints, Wrangle and Friskney. Thus a number of records of peatlands (usually recorded as ‘moss/mossground/mosa’ are located outside the fen. At another extreme of reliability is a placea of land in Bratoft which abuts on Mosscroft to the north and is granted with free access to it. Other records seem more certain in location. In Friskney and Wainfleet St Mary in 1471/2:

Grant of three mosses and one gaterowme; two of the mosses lie together in parish of St Mary of Wainfleet between the mosses of Peter Gylman, John Bugh' [sic], Walter Flayne, John Reede and John Wells on the S and the moss of the prioress of Stixwold on the N, abutting on South' Pole towards the W and on the common road towards the E. And the said le gaterowme, belonging to the two mosses, lies in Friskney between the moss of the said Peter Gylman' on the S and W, abutting on the common road towards the E and on the moss of the said Walter Flayne, recently owned by John Godrykson' towards the N. The third moss lies between the moss of Robert Begge on the S and the moss of Richard Turtell' on the N, abutting on the moss of William Symson' towards the W and on the common road towards the W.80

This looks very much as if the Low Grounds are involved, if the Poller fendyke is to the west and the common road (probably the Low Road/Friskney Head Dyke) to the east. (‘Gaterowmes’ are discussed in a later section). It further suggests that areas of peat were closely subdivided though this grant gives no sizes. The dryland surroundings of some of these mosses is confirmed by a bequest of 1530 in which William Stevenson of Friskney left:

my sonnys on ferme lying at the Cotesydes that I have by copy with the mosys and dalys thereto belongyng callyd Pynder toftes paying to my lady Taylboys xs81

Though the mosses and meadows are not certainly at the Cotesydes (which suggests a former saltern), there is the possibility that they are outside the fen. Abutments to dry ground are suggested by a 1579 lease of:

is a close of pasture called Turfelande [in Wainfleet All Saints] containing by estimation ten acres, between the lands of the said William Brereton and of Robert Welbye and Hammond Baker on the N and the lands of the said William Brereton and of Thomas Wright on the S, abutting on the lands of Jane Dover on the W and on levesegate on the E, ... another piece of mossground, containing by estimation two acres, in Wainfleet St Mary, between the lands of John Copledike esquire on the W and the common way on the E and S and the lands of Sir Valentine Browne knight on the N, and one parcel of mossground, containing by estimation half an acre, in Wainfleet St Mary, between the lands of the said William Brereton on the N and the lands of John Hill on the S, abutting on the high way on both E and W.82

There is clearly a variety of sizes, from a half acre to two acres, with one piece of land within the area of Wainfleet All Saints known as the West End and another in the land cover of the Low Grounds of Wainfleet St Mary. The pasture called Turfelande suggests that a shallow peat digging could be easily converted to pasture when its fuel yield became difficult to access. ‘Levesgate’ is probably the road from Wainfleet Bank to Thorpe St Peter known to the O.S. in part as Leveson Gate. Other turbaries outside the fen were deep enough to convert for fishing, as with today’s recreational conversions and ad hoc pits:

To Melcher my sonne a tenement, a mose grounde with a fyshying thereto belongyng which I purchesyd of Bulloke lying in Waynflet ... 83

Thus Richard Hyckes, a well–off ‘marcer’ of Boston in 1533. In 1602, there were at least two other Wainfleet St Mary mosses with fishing though extra-fen locations cannot be certain.84

These references confirm the earlier, slightly convoluted, phraseology that

... also the lands and tenements, meadows, common pastures and fisheries and diggings of peat around the said marsh in the low places adjacent to the marsh, and also the common pastures and fisheries and diggings in the said marsh ... 85

which distinguishes between digging in the marsh (= fen) and in ‘low places’ adjacent to it.

Aerial photographs of the southern fenland have been interpreted to suggest that peat diggings are recognisable from a series of parallel light and dark strips, with the lighter zones corresponding to the dug-out areas. The quality of the APs from Wainfleet St Mary and Wainfleet All Saints is not generally good enough to be sure of such signatures, but there is for instance an area in the West End of Wainfleet All Saints (Fig 2.4.7) where some NNW - SSE pale strips seem to be connected via a meandering watercourse towards the Old Fen Bank (TF 459 596); however the 1946 and 1968 images of the Wainfleet St Mary-Friskney Low Grounds zone seem to be devoid of this type of marking. An area in Friskney (TF454 553, just north of Rush Grounds Farm; RAF 106G/UK/1730 of 12 Sept 1947, frame 4203) (Fig 2.4.8) seems to have some of the necessary characteristics, though the right angles and curved lines do not conform to the expected pattern. A more convincing example is seen south-west of Firsby Clough on LiDAR imagery. A group of parallel channels is connected to both the Lymn (in its old course before the nineteenth century New Cut) and to the East Fen across the Old Fen Bank.86 (Fig 2.4.9; TF 459 613). The implications for the transport of peat are obvious. It is interesting that two examples of apparent turbary fall less than 1km outside the Old Fen Bank and it might be argued from this that the bank was moved westwards at some stage in its history to take land from a purely wetland condition to one in which there was more dry terrain. In that case Poller Fendyke (and any equivalents that there might have been north of Wainfleet St Mary) would have been older than the Old Fen Bank.87

In a landscape often defined by water, with perhaps only the Tofts having dry field boundaries, it not a great surprise to find that the keeping of swans was present, though not perhaps ubiquitous. This practice has for centuries been closely regulated, with permissions being granted from the monarch and each flock (known as a ‘game’) having to be registered with a royal official, the Master of Swans; further, all swans have to have a unique mark on the bill to designate their owners.88 Given that it is a mark of class, bequests of swans are found in the wills of people of substance and usually these are left to a close relative. Thus Henry Weste of Sibsey in 1532/3:89

Bedlem House with the mylne; swan marks: 'V V' and 'the Crescent' [and] 'the resydue of all my swanne markes ungeven and unbequethyd and he [his son] to gyff Margaret my wyff yerely two swanne burdes.'

and Nicholas Upton of Northolme:90

My swan mark with the 'half barrys' to my son Nicholas

who also talks of his other marks, ‘the barre and iij nyks’ and the’ij half mounes’

The distribution around the East Fen is shown in Fig 2.4.10 but more detailed work by others increases the number in the Witham valley and on Lincolnshire Marsh north of Skegness.91 The map also shows two place-names which include the element ‘Swan’ so that open water is to be inferred; it was also the custom to keep a pond for the cygnets.92 Though not a major economic activity nor yet an essential food supply, the games must have added dignity to the landscape; a bargain in Croft in 1655 included ‘the swan houses’ (sic)93 and a messuage with a swan house which appears to have been transferred in Elizabeth’s time.94 It is curious that theft does not show up in the Assize Rolls, though the Commissioners of Spalding Sewers ordered a Sutton St Edmund man to desist from using fine nets in order to preserve swans and fish.95

One minor but unusual (for this area) land use shows up in the term ‘park’. Normally, this refers to an enclosure in which deer and timber trees are kept, for pleasure, meat and profit, but which seem in the fenland margins not to have left any landscape traces; the surroundings of Gunby Hall are the most obvious local examples, though the grounds of Wainfleet Hall and the area of Sailholme immediately to its south are perhaps candidates as well. In 1609, a survey of the manor of Wainfleet certified that there were no parks or chases, which is no surprise.96 Yet as early as 1221 in Wrangle one document contains a grant of unam acram terre in Perkes and a reference to Magnus le Parkur; about the same time another mentions unum parcum part of whose rent was paid by Magni Parcur, and Simon le Bret regained his ‘Northpark’.97 In 1240 x 1250 Matilda of Steeping held two selions of land abutting the park of lord Henry of Steeping (duas seliones ... jacentes ... et abuttantes versus Orientem super ... et versus Occidentem versus super parcum eiusdem domini Henrici).98 The income records for the East Fen in1362 record the receipts from the emparked area at Sedgedyke (receptis de imparcamento apud grangiam de Segdyke in le Estfen). Later records include Addlethorpe in 1404, with one placea of land and pasture of 2 acres called ‘le parke’;99 in Croft in 1602 and 1576, there were two closes of pasture (13 acres) called ‘The Parkes’, two acres and one rood called Milkeparke, and nine acres of pasture in a close called Great Parke.100 The 1610 BHM book records

2 acres, late Wattson's, lying in the parkes, having Parkes dyke on the E and little lusdyke on the W.


4 acres in the parkes in 2 several parcels, in the lord's hands: 1 pece bounds on Mr Upton on S, on John Johnson on N, on Little Lusdyke on W, and on Pasdyke on E. The other piece bounds on the lands of Richard Bruister on S, the lord, late Lyon Emlyn, on N, on Pasdyke on E and on Little Lusdyke on W.101

Put together, these references do not sound like the conventional idea of a park with trees and deer though enclosure is likely: Ransford reproduces the verb emparabuntur which Hallam had transcribed (from the same document) as in parcabuntur, both in the context of enclosed meadows; it points more to the use of emparking and employing parkers for enclosing wetland (either fen or salt-marsh) for pasture, followed by management which shut off the common use of a resource.102 Nevertheless, the area around Wainfleet Hall is shown on Mitchells’ 1765 sea chart as ‘Wainfleet Wood’ and on the 1606 map of Wrangle, the Hall has a park-like surrounding of tree symbols. There is no reason, of course, why the usage of the word must have remained constant. Thackeground, Flax and Hemp

All through medieval and early modern times, thatch was one of the main roofing materials for most types of buildings. ‘Reed’ was a generic term for several species, which were plentiful in the East Fen. To these might be added flax, which was used until after the early nineteenth century and the salt-marsh plant Juncus maritimus, which is capable of growing to a height of 1 metre. The upper end of the salt-marsh is also a suitable habitat for the common reed Phragmites.103 The late use of thatch even for important buildings is shown in 1768 when the ‘mansion house’ of Wainfleet St Mary, with its outbuildings was thatched with reed.104 The presence of wet areas growing reeds (sensu lato) outside the fen is usually signified by the term ‘thackeground’ but in 1602, Valentine Browne’s estate in Friskney had a presumably marginal or recently drained pasture of 2 acres and 1 rood ‘called Reedlande, by Rushe Plat’.105 In Wainfleet St Mary, the 1610 BHM volume records nine instances of ‘Thackground’, four of which are clearly situated well east of the fen banks:106

2. 1 parcel of Thackground containing 5 acres, bounding on preestgate on the S, on the king and on the Lord's, late Stixwould, on the N, on the vicarage garth on the W, and on the Lord's, late Stixwould's, on the E.
3. 1 [word omitted] of Thackground containing 5 acres, bounding on the Lord's, late Sir Valentyne Browne, on the W, and on the Church way on the E, on Thos Daulbye on the N and the highway next to the church on the S.
4. 1 parcel of Thackground containing 2 acres bounding on preestgate on the S and E, and on the Lord's, late Callow, on the N, and on Mr Kyme on the W.
5. 1 parcel of Thackground containing 1 acre, bounding on Stoulegate [= Scaldgate?] on the S, and on the Lord's, late Wolbies, and Thos Daulbye on the N, E and W.

The other citations are also well clear of the fen; that distinction was sometimes less clear on the ground where, as Dugdale relays from 1571, the justices of sewers ordered that the commoners of Wainfleet St Mary should repair the Fen Dyke in that parish, ‘for that said commoners got reed, and did fish in two fens adjoining to both sides of the bank; and ... had bite for their cattle in the said two fens’.107 What BHM 1610 makes clear is that the area of poorly drained land between the church in Wainfleet St Mary and the higher ground of Sailholme and the Tofts was not at all negligible: 13 acres in total would be a plot of about 230 x 230 metres. The citations of such land are all relatively late: are they a reflection of an increased tendency to poor drainage or is it simply a function of the preservation of records? The gathering of reeds was an active issue in the arguments over fen drainage and given its apparent profitability, there may have been no great pressure to get rid of these wet areas.108

Flax has few mentions. As with hemp, the retting lowers water quality and strict control was exercised in the East Fen. That it was produced at all rests on the mention in the 1340 Nonarum Inquisiciones which deals with both main Wainfleet parishes, and whose inquest relayed that:

the majority of the value of the said churches is in their endowment, the tithes of sea-fishing boats and salt, besides pastures, turbaries, hay, flax, hemp, reeds, offerings, tithes of mills and other small tithes109

There was a flax-chapman at Burgh-le-Marsh in 1504 x 1515110 and in 1544 x 1551 the parsonage and glebe of Stickney included a flax-mill.111 It may be the case that few of the local farms were large enough to fall under the compulsion of the Act of 24 Henry VIII which enjoined anybody farming more than 60 acres of arable to sow at least 1 acre of flax or hemp. Hemp was used to make canvas and so there might have been a demand when Wainfleet was an important port, as in the 1298 Assize roll when Wainfleet provided sacks for the coastal trade in pulses and cereals.112 There remains the suspicion that the Mat Pits to the west of Wainfleet’s Great Field might have been hemp-retting pits since access to enriched soils (from e.g., town wastes or seaweed) is needed; in south Lincolnshire it seems that retting hemp in the rivers killed fish and so it was usually forbidden.113 Communications

The notion of an enclosed medieval society where nobody much moved around is false. The fields had to be cultivated and the animals tended; people had obligations to the lord in his head messuage and in his courts, salt had to be moved to its points of use or sale, justices and revenue collectors needed access, and orders might come from Lincoln to furnish meat and grain for the Earl or for a visit from the King. Movement in Saxon times was to some extent risky: people who strayed from the main roads were liable to be killed as outlaws and even bona fide travellers were advised to make plenty of noise. Throughout the middle ages travel through fenland areas remained more hazardous than drier areas (and impossible in winter) though in the case of the East, West and Wildmore Fens, firmer routes to either side were available as well as an island-hopping (with causeways) road from East Keale to Boston via Stickford, Stickney and Sibsey. The context of all this travel was that goods were better moved by water if at all possible. In 1480-81, some 7.5 tons of iron were moved from Boston to Wainfleet to make a surround for the tomb of William of Wainfleet’s father. The route was from Skirbeck to the Newgote (William Bilton, mariner, was paid 12d) and from the Newgote through the Hildyke to Wainfleet (John Beldon was paid 2s).114

In the high Middle Ages the most important road was the Via Regalis or King’s Highway. The Gough Map of 1360 (England’s first road map) shows quite clearly that Boston and Wainfleet were linked and this must be the King’s Highway out of Wainfleet which at one point passes Pepperthorpe Hall115 and so can be traced from the southern outskirts of Sailholme towards Friskney, following today’s Low Road. Its course through Friskney is not certain but it probably emerges as the Low Road again where the A52 takes a sudden bend across the Tofts. Another candidate for high status is the presumed former Roman Road inland from Burgh-le-Marsh, which may have extended seawards to the vicinity of Skegness: perhaps to the now-lost harbour of Tric. This road, however; lacks the imprimatur of featuring in medieval sources. The BHM book has several entries for a King’s Highway in Wainfleet All Saints and one of these is near Collynson Gate,116 a version of which is today contiguous with King Street northwards from Wainfleet Bank towards Thorpe St Peter. Thus it seems probable that the Burgh Rd from Friskney to Burgh-le-Marsh was also a royal road. A similar status is likely for the dryland highway between Spilsby and Toynton, temp Henry II (r. 1154-89), the magnam stratam qui venit deversus Totintune et vadit Spillesbi.117

Far more frequent are the references to ‘the common way’ or ‘the common highway’. This term is often used as a bounder for plots which are the subject of charters and inquests. The density cannot be calculated but the form of one grant in 1431 is typical:

Grant of one messuage with the buildings on it lying in the parish of St Mary Wainfleet between the land of Thomas Allotson' on the south side and the common road on the north, and abutting towards the west on the land formerly of Walter Baxster and towards the east on the common road.118

What can perhaps be extracted is the quantity of grants in Wainfleet St Mary, and especially in Sailholme, which are bounded by a common road on two sides and sometimes on north and south, so that an unusual density of these roads is implied. The royal road presumably came in towards Salem Bridge and was joined either by a road along High Street or by the ancestor of today’s B1190 along one side of the creek which that road now follows. There is one grant (of 1488) that might be germane:

The second placea [of arable land] is called crykeplatte and lies between a ditch called Stykkyswoldecryke on the S, the land recently belonging to Robert Basylson on the N, and abutting on the common road towards the W and on the common footpath towards the E.119

If by this time the High Street was indeed a footpath then this grant lies between it and the Low Road but with a creek on the south, none of which fits easily into Sailholme (which is not actually specified in the grant, only Wainfleet St Mary) unless perhaps the western creek of the insula is Stikswold Creek, named after their holding just south of the present site of the Hall (Fig 2.4.11). The grant above can be quite neatly located if Bury lands do not occupy all the Wainfleet Hall grounds or if Basylson was tenant of part of them. The ambiguity of the nature of High Street suggests that in this terrain the footpaths that remained on the nineteenth century maps were probably all relicts of common ways and need to be mapped. The recognition of footpaths (most of which have now vanished) leads to the possibility that they, like roads, are fossil traces of banks which were part of reclamation systems or at the least of water-control compartments. This is most evident in Wainfleet All Saints, where a map of roads and paths (Fig 2.4.12) shows a series of rectangular compartments which conform to the model of large compartments being a communal responsibility and subdivisions being kept up by individual tenants.120 Of themselves, they do not indicate dates. An inspection of Wainfleet St Mary and northern Friskney shows an analogous pattern though here constrained by the Old Fen Bank on the west and the Tofts on the east. But the road-track-footpath network shows a credible series of enclosures (though whether from north to south or vice-versa is impossible to judge) but with few landscape lines extending east to the Tofts, suggesting that the reclamation was not a simple prolongation of holdings westwards. The block between the Low Road and Poller Fendyke has a field pattern more open than that to its west and perhaps suggests a different time of intaking from salt-marsh. At least one LiDAR image shows a distinct break of height at about the position of Poller Fendyke, analogous to that at the Old Fen Bank (Fig 2.4.13).

A complication of road type comes in the Lawes for the Lytell Lymme

And the Jurie say also that there is a sewer in Braitoft from a place called hill brigg and so to somergate brig dowsing gote the Canche in skrempthorpegate to the corner of hall tofts, from there to the north corner of wyllodyke and so all those lands lying on the west parte dykes, ij partes, and those lands of the east parte and north gois afore with the third parte, And from digate briggs has been repared by dyvers mens charytie, And dowsing gote ought to be repared by the parson of braitoft, And the brigg at the Canche ought to be repared by them that has their way that waye.121

According to Wright,122 ‘canche’ can be, among other things,

a rise like a step eg a projection in a coal pit; a sloping trench: a water-channel cut on a road; a breadth of digging land

Of these, the water channel cut in a road sounds the most likely, since it has to be bridged by its users. So not only do roads signify the former presence of banks but they may have a channel (to one side or in the middle?) contiguous with them. There are no other references to a canche in this area and a search of A2A has more surnames than place-names but there is a Canch Pond with its garth in Yorks ER in 1681 and a property lease of the Great Canch near Worksop in 1693.

The injunction to repair ‘the brigg at the canch’ is a reminder of the need for bridges in this terrain. Fords are cheaper to maintain but if sewers and rivers were embanked then a bridge is necessary. The name ‘wath’ usually indicates a ford: there is a ‘Warth House’ on Wath Lane over the Burgh Drain (now much modified in its course) west of Skegness (TF 548 636) and Lady Wath’s Beck in Great Steeping is a mis-reading of ‘[Our] Lady's Wath’ at Monskthorpe123 (TF 442 658). But bridges were an essential aid to communications, with Salem Bridge at Wainfleet a key crossing point of the lower Haven between the development of salt-making on Sailholme and the new town on the north side. There is no mention of such a feature in the grants of land to Bury St Edmunds in the twelfth century but in 1304 the Bury extent of Sailholme records:124

Symon de ecclesia modo Willelmus Attewelle tenet unum messuagium in Seylholm quod fuit Ranulphi Attebriggehende ex parte orientali messuagii predicti Thome quod fuit Eliotgar[th?] et reddit per annum 7d.


Alicia Attebriggehende modo heredes Walteri Baxtere tenet unam tuftam in Seylholm que fuit Ranulphi ad caput pontis ex parte orientali tufti predicti Thome de Frampton et Gode uxoris eius et reddit per annum 6d.

So Alice ‘at the bridge end’ has a toft in Sailholme which used to belong to Ranulph ‘at the head of the bridge on the east of the aforesaid toft ...’ but in neither record does a holding abut on a road, which must have swung away from these tofts. The next positive mention is permission from the King in 1410 to three Wainfleet men to take pontage for two years in aid of the bridge of Wainfleet called Sailholmbrygge, i.e., to extract a toll from users.125 It is also known that the bridge had a strategic importance in the Civil War. Nothing is known, however, about the bridge itself, though presumably of wood. The straight stretch of road into the town over what would have been the estuary of the Haven in 1301 may indicate that there was a causeway at its northern end to carry users over the tidal flats into the lower end of the town. Salem Bridge (called Solemn Bridge by John Grundy in the eighteenth century) was not the only bridge on the Haven: a late sixteenth century map (discussed later) of the Haven shows not only Salem Bridge but that the river could be crossed at ‘The Gote’ downstream (i.e., at the Queen’s Gote of the 1560s) and at a ‘Horse Bridge’ somewhere upstream from Chop Hills. This could have been the bridge by Wainfleet All Saints church on a 1792 map126 and called a ‘horse bridge’ by Grundy.127 Another type of bridge is specified for the King’s Highway in Wainfleet St Mary, when an Inquest at Partney in 1560 decreed that at Pepperthorpe there must be a ‘Wain Bridge’ i.e., a bridge for wagons, for which that parish would be responsible.128 The bridges in Wrangle are to some extent analogous with Wainfleet in the sense that there was a medieval bridge (ca 1205) which seems to have been Wrangle Bridge (pontem de Wrengle)129 rather like Salem Bridge might have been called Wainfleet Bridge. In the sixteenth century a Pynder Bridge is recorded which spans a drain from the fen to the sea;130 it is still there at TF 418 533. Bridges were also built with conditions attached: the monks of Waltham Holy Cross were granted the right to build a bridge over the ‘Estea’ to some pasture but it had to be high enough not to obstruct boats carrying peat from passing beneath it (faciendi pontem ultra predictam essewiam ad prefatam pasturam ita ut navicule que turban portant subtus pontem transpire possint).131 Thus there were two kinds of bridges in Wrangle: those which were central to the main road that came from Wainfleet towards Boston, and those that gave access to land which was surrounded by ditches. There is a glimpse of an actual bridge at Leake, ‘being John Busshey's in the right of his wief and his wives ... is to be heightened and the roof new turned by them’; this is perhaps a covered bridge.132

The watercourse for which there is the most complete list of bridges is the Little Lymn from Halton to its confluence with Wainfleet Haven, following the northern route via Croft Manor. The Laws for the Little Lymn (Ordinacio facta pro parva Lemma tempore Henrici Sexti) repeat a list of Halton Bridge, Thorpe Mill Bridge and Oke Bridge in Croft; from other sources can be added Bishop’s Bridge in Firsby, Steeping Mill and Weere/Weare Bridge at the present site of the bridge at Firsby Clough133 (Fig 2.4.14). No more is known about these bridges except that ‘Oke Brigg’ should be repaired by the Lord of Croft and the Prior of Kyme; which Bishop was responsible for the bridge at Firsby is unknown.

A name applied to a number of roads and tracks in this area is ‘Gateroom; ‘Gatherum’ or ‘Gaterome’. It can be seen on today’s maps as in Gateroom Lane, Wrangle or in Gutheram Drove in Croft. In the first example, it leads to a fen bank and a daila; in the second, apparently to nowhere. In documents from Wainfleet St Mary, their historical presence is testified:

Grant of an area [placea] of pasture lying in parish of St Mary Wainfleet in Poller' between the land of Simon Flayne on the south side and the land of Walter Myllia chaplain on the north, abutting on the land of the said Walter M towards the west and on le Gatrome towards the east.134 (1424)

Grant of three mosses and one gaterowme; two of the mosses lie together in parish of St Mary of Wainfleet between the mosses of Peter Gylman, John Bugh' [sic], Walter Flayne, John Reede and John at Wells on the S and the moss of the prioress of Stixwold on the N, abutting on South' Pole towards the W and on the common road towards the E. And the said le gaterowme, belonging to the two mosses, lies in Friskney between the moss of the said Peter Gylman' on the S and W, abutting on the common road towards the E and on the moss of the said Walter Flayne, recently owned by John Godrykson', towards the N.135 (1471/2)

Grant of one placea of pasture lying in parish of St Mary of Wainfleet in the field called Peller' between the land of John Flayne on the S and the land recently of Walter Mylya chaplain on the N, abutting on the land recently of the said Walter Myllia towards the W and on le gatrwm towards the E.136 (1497)

In more recent times, the Barkham estate book has a number of such terms, of which the following are examples:137

and upon the common way called the gatherome.
1 pasture containing by estimation 3 acres, bounding on the wardyke on the N and on a little gatherome on the S and on the lands of Wm Clarkson on the E and W.
2 acres of pasture bounding on a little gatherum going before acregate to poule ferndyke on the E, and on the lands of Reighton on the S.

The last of these is in the vicinity of Acregate in Wainfleet St Mary (which forms the boundary with Friskney) and has ‘Polar Bank’ on the south, before it turns north-east. If the un-named track called Polar Bank is the gateroom then its connections are with the Low Road, since it leads only to an isolated farm (Fig 2.4.15). It echoes the fifteenth century occurrences, which are all ‘in Poller’ which might (unhappily) lie either side of the Poller Fendyke. But since mosses are involved then (as argued in the probabilities are that they lay on the Fen side of the bank. While the word therefore seems to indicate a road, possibly a narrow lane, a connection with wet places is common; that the Croft example led into salt-marsh is visible from traces on APs. In the Low Grounds, both LiDAR and GE show an area of parallel ditches at TF 472 576, south-east of Border Farm, which might be the marks of turbary. ‘Gateroom’ is said by Wright138 to be a Lincolnshire dialect word: he uses the form ‘gatrum (gaterram, gattram)’ and derives it from the ON ‘gate’ (road) and ‘rum’ (room), in the sense of ‘a rough by-road or lane, a narrow road leading from one field to another’. This seems to fit the implication of a right of way to a parcel of land, though an analysis of all occurrences to establish their relation at one time to wet areas might be a profitable investigation.139

The conditions laid down for the abbey of Waltham’s bridges is a reminder of the presence of waterways in the region: important not only as drainage but to carry most goods far more cheaply than on land.140 The instances so far examined are from the East Fen, though Redding has postulated monastic canals in marginal areas as well. The persistence of the Deeps of the East Fen, even when shrinking in size, must have been a boon for local travel not least for the transport of fen products to market and to commoners’ dwellings on the margin. An eighteenth century map of Wainfleet Haven has an annotation to the effect that boats could get up the Haven/Steeping system as far as Halton Bridge, though it does not say whether they went up the Little Lymn or up the Haven and then the Lusdyke; the latter is the most likely, though it was often blocked by weirs and its banks poorly maintained. But the statement is clear: just below Halton Bridge (bracketed) it says ‘Here it is called the Greate Lim & hither Boates come up from Waynflett Haven constantly’; at the same time the Haven in summer is ‘constantly dry’.141

Although the evidence for water transport in the area is fragmentary once Wainfleet had ceased to be a significant port (by about 1400), it is impossible to imagine that small–sized boats, including punts, were not an important part of the regional economy. It was an offence to boat cattle, according to the Fen Laws of Common but no other prohibitions were made. In general, it is likely that small towns such as Wainfleet had a number of private lodes or hythes that branched form major waterways and made water transport available to merchants and individuals.142 The probability that the two creeks off the Haven in Wainfleet functioned in that fashion is high: that one was called Stixwold Creek suggests that it was owned by that convent; if so, then it is highly likely that Bury had their own staithe (‘Keys’) on the other side of Sailholme. The conversion of ‘natural’ drainage to managed watercourses is confirmed in the Waltham documents for Wrangle, where the Latin term essewiam is used for the river Hestia (in its various spellings) since the word is used to denote a regulated watercourse. The Hestia could be dammed in summer to keep up the level in a mere.143

An unfortunate boat was sunk in 1665 when making a new cut in Wainfleet Haven, for the accounts reads:144

Payd for a boat that I sanke in the bottom of the haven to strengthen the damme £2 5 0. [A note below reads] I would not have bought a boat to have layd in the damme but that I thought It would save youre Honour monyes. Sir Will. Ray's damme which had no boat in it cost six or seaven pounds more than youres did.

In spite of the continued use of Wainfleet Haven as a home for fishermen, this sounds rather like the death knell of inland water transport in all but the major waterways of the region, at least until the construction of major drains. Overview

Given the stretch of time covered in this section, it makes no sense to try and construct a synoptic overview of the whole area, though comparisons between 1100 and 1650 will be made in section 5. What can be taken forward from 2.4.2 is that the terrain around Wainfleet was not uniform and homogeneous. The distinctions between fen, certa terra and coast were distinct at any one moment, though their interfaces changed; within each there were changes and natural and economic circumstances altered. By way of bringing some of the themes together, two time-slices will be attempted. The first is for the high middle ages and looks at the ‘isle’ of Stickney on the western edge of East Fen and is mostly through the eyes of Revesby Abbey, to whom several grants were made in the twelfth century. The second is for Wainfleet and parts of Friskney in the period from about 1550-1630, using especially the land acquisitions book of Edward Barkham, already referred to selectively.

2.4.6 Two Synoptic Views

In this section, an attempt is made to reconstruct the landscape of a small area at a particular time. This time horizon has necessarily to be flexible unless the source is comprehensive. That is not the case for these Lincolnshire examples but medieval Stickney around 1200 benefits from the movement to make over land to Revesby Abbey; likewise, there were two major attempts to encompass the holdings of landowners (Sir Valentine Browne and Sir Edward Barkham) in Wainfleet and Friskney between 1575 and 1615, so these can be used together, especially since some of the Browne lands were purchased by Barkham. Stickney in the Middle Ages

Stickney is an interesting example of an ‘island’ of dry land surrounded by fen but in which there seems to be no question of medieval salt-making. Its development in the Middle Ages is attested by a series of grants made to Revesby Abbey, which had a grange at Stickney and these are complemented by a few other documents. Needless to say there are large gaps in the evidence, some of which is hinted at by the nineteenth century maps but other parts of which remain obscure. But its status as part of the tongue of clay-land extending from the Wolds at East Keal through Stickford, Stickney and Sibsey towards Boston and its small maximum size (5 x 1.5km) means that the landscape consequences of various processes can be located relatively clearly.

The topography of Stickney is best demonstrated by a combination of the nineteenth century six-inch map and LiDAR (Fig 2.4.16). The elongate diamond145 of higher ground has a narrow gap to the north where it abuts Stickford but a wider gap to the south between its southernmost point at ‘Ivy Cottage’ and the higher ground of Sibsey about 1.0km to the south. The village centre is situated on the highest ground, where a 25ft (7.6m) contour encloses the main T-junction. The rest of the land slopes gradually down to a level of about 4m at the enclosing catchwater drains. It is quite likely that this high centre is an artefact of the DSM base of the LiDAR or even of the accumulation of settlement debris over time. The fens beyond the Catchwater Drains are at 1.0 - 2.0m. and their relation to the higher ground of Stickney is affected by the shrinkage of the fens since the nineteenth century. Wheeler gives figures of 2 - 4ft in 80 years, with a gradual lowering of the rate of shrinkage;146 yet in recent times the effectiveness of pumping has been manifest. Hence, an estimate for the difference between medieval times and the present might settle on about 2 metres at least and perhaps as much as 4 metres. This does not necessarily mean that the fen lapped up over much of the island since there were probably fen banks. There appears to be an enclosing set of lanes and footpaths which delineate a ‘dry’ area, within which the even higher zone around the central junction and the church is found (Fig 2.4.17). There are two distinct field types (mostly) within this zone: long narrow fields where the length is at least twice the breadth, and squarer units. Outside the ‘banks’ the shape is mainly a relatively uniform set of rectangles which doubtless date from the allotments after the final drainage. There is something of an exception SSW of Thorndale Row off the southern end of the island, which had a set of very elongate enclosures. There is no clear indication from LiDAR of the pre-drainage course of the Hagnaby Beck, which seems likely to have flowed through the Stickford-Stickney ‘gap’. The parish boundaries look much tidied up by the nineteenth century drainage (which created the parish of Midville, for example) and in particular the Stickney-Stickford boundary may have been different in medieval times though in all likelihood it followed the course of the Hagnaby Beck.

The island nature of Stickney is confirmed by two documented quarrels in the 1500s. The Abbot of Revesby was charged with failure to maintain the causeway on the way to Boston, between Stickney and Sibsey, and also with failure to maintain Nordyke Bridge where presumably a predecessor of the present East Fen catchwater drain came round the south of the island;147 from the altitudes and the course of the road, the causeway looks to have stretched either side of this bridge, still there at TF 351 541.

There seem to have been no arguments over the Stickney-Stickford gap at Bar Green.148 The gap towards Stickford is however higher today than its southerly equivalent by about 4m and so it may have been easier to cross, albeit there was a ‘Fulford’ which might have been a Foul Ford.149 The failure of the Abbot to maintain his civil obligations came after a long involvement of Revesby with land in Stickney. The abbey was founded in 1142/3 by William de Roumara I, who had enough influence to persuade Henry II in 1155 to give Customs exemption at the channel ports to the men, horses and property of the house.150 There is a long gap in its history from about 1380-1530 though it was a poor house in 1322. It was in ruin and decay in 1538 and dissolved in 1539 so that the abbots uninterested in roadworks were among the last of their kind; the manor was appropriated by Ralph Cromwell to support his almshouse at Tattershall.

The acquisition of land and services by Revesby left a number of documents which dealt with landscape matters.151 They held land in other places, too, with some grants suggesting large holdings. In the twelfth century William de Roumara left ‘all his land in Haghenebi and the church founded on the same land (et ipsam ecclesiam que in ipsa terra fundata est) and all that belongs to his fee in the same vill, with waters, mills, tofts, meadows, pastures, marshes, and all other appurtenances, free of all service and claim’;152 and about the same time Gilbert de Bolonia left in perpetuity ‘all ditches (fossas) and fisheries around Barra (circa Barram)153 which was confirmed by William de Roumara, adding ‘and particularly a certain place within the said ditches for placing a dwelling where the brothers can live during the rain (ubi fratres poss’t aliquando per pluvias habitare) and look after their fish’.154

The main landscape interest is the use and character of land on and near the Stickney core. A number of grants show pieces of ground being given to Revesby. The location of many of these is uncertain, not least because there are so few place-names on today’s maps and there seem to be no early modern field-books. The biggest layout is given in §37, which specifies the gate of the grange, the dyke at Thorndale, and an embankment that runs from the grange to the village as well as other (and less certain) markers. The phrase ‘in length from the definite land of Sticken’ to Smalne’ is problematic since that is a distance of some 10km. Three perches (54 or 60ft) x 10km sounds an odd shape for a piece of meadow.155 Yet it seems as if the bounds of Stickney were not strictly within the parish boundaries that have been set down. For example, ‘Brackes’ resembles Bracken, which is a wood now in Woodhall Spa (§26), and Star Inn (preserving Starrhevedland (§20), held by the son of the priest of Sibsey) is well into the parish of Sibsey along the causeway. Both specifically say that they refer to lands in Stickney. Thus documents which have a connection to Stickney do not necessarily fall within the obvious parish boundaries even allowing for the nineteenth century alterations. This may account for the ‘crowding’ of gifts and leases in areas where there do not seem room for them.

That said, the map (Fig 2.4.18) of locatable patches of acreage or selions has some definite patterns: it appears that Revesby acquisitions were concentrated in a few places since presumably the donors’ and lessees’ lands were not evenly scattered. The concentrations are:

  1. At the north end of the ‘island’ typically near Fulford and The Barre/Barra,156 where the marsh was host to managed fisheries (H), and about twice as many locatable instances of arable (Fb, Fi, Ff and Fk) as meadow (Gb and Gg). These seem very crowded into a narrowing land base and might in fact have been the arable further south in the area now called Fen Side, with the meadow on lower ground to the north. This would make the arable contiguous with plots on the east side of the road such as Fc and Fd.
  2. Thorpdale, at the south-west corner of the island and outside the obvious fen bank. This area (which has a distinctive block of field shapes on the nineteenth century map) is predominantly meadow, with one instance of arable (§22). So the impulse to label all such blocks of narrow strips as meadow might not be correct.
  3. The Withage/Wytheage group which is placed somewhat tentatively near the Farm now called Wydal; Padley says that this was a part of Revesby parish and that there was a ‘cell’ here attached to Revesby Abbey.157 Though mostly meadow there are two firm arable citations (§28 and §12, Widhageslectes)158 and all may contain a references to withies. This would reflect the site which has the look of fen rather than higher ground unless the road out to the ENE represents a bank that enclosed ground to its north. (Withies were planted on embankments and as boundary markers).

If the Revesby lands were a typical sample, then some idea of the layout of the Stickney area can be reconstructed for the period around 1200 (Fig 2.4.18). The bounds of the vill’s enclosed lands do not seem to be confined to the obvious embankments since there are dry lands (i.e., arable - meadows could withstand flooding and indeed might benefit from it) at the very edges of the ‘island’, though ditched areas with fisheries seem to be close by rather than well out into the fen. The core of Stickney is connected by causeway to the south and the stream at the south end is bridged though somewhere at the north margin there is the ‘Foul Ford’. The boundary with Sibsey along the southern causeway seems well to the south of the mapped line and was perhaps not required to be very exactly placed since it was all maintained by an Abbot and not by local men. Within the core area it is difficult to tell how much land was arable and how much pasture but the grants which specify selions of arable and small numbers of perches of meadow suggest portions of open fields (confirmed by the presence of narrow ridge-and-furrow on APs) and it seems unlikely that anybody would ditch one perch of meadow on its own. Lastly, there is a lake, of the kind found around the margins of the East Fen (as at Wrangle) called Rawnesmere.159

The later medieval and early modern history of Stickney is not as well documented as its involvement with Revesby Abbey; it must however have been one of the most radically affected landscapes of the entire region when the drainage of both East and West Fens took place. The Barkham Estates in the Early Seventeenth Century

The Bethlem Archive contains a book of acquisitions of land by the Barkham estate, starting in 1610 and adding a series of later holdings in the next 50 years.160 For present purposes, a transcription of about half the entries has been prepared (Appendix 2.4.A) and a map prepared (Fig 2.4.19) of those that can be located with reasonable confidence, though it must be admitted that there are few that fall onto the nineteenth century map base with total certainty. The categories of land which are demarcated are described below; some of them are the same as in earlier attempts to map land cover, others, like a distinction between two types of salt waste or the presence of ‘thackeground’ are new. The emphasis of the Barkham purchases was on Wainfleet St Mary but there is a strong presence in Wainfleet All Saints as well as some land in Thorpe St Peter and Friskney. Each type of land use will be examined before an overall pattern is suggested; more work is under way on the Barkham documents in the Bethlem archive and will be added to the website in due course.

Tuffets and tofts. The basic data and interpretation of the terms ‘toffet ground’ and ‘toft’ in the BHM book are given in and Table 2.4.4 It remains try and place them on a map. They are almost certainly in Wainfleet St Mary and, being connected with the later phases of the salt industry, along the coastal edge of the parish. The tuffets/toffets seem to be at the north-east end of the Wainfleet St Mary tofts and extend on the APs into the area along Strait Bargate towards Salter’s Gate, though not beyond that road. Simple tofts may be placed anywhere along the line of raised land towards Friskney though at this late date they must all be outside the High Street footpath or former sea-bank and possibly also the Fore-path, though at one point on the nineteenth century six-inch maps the Fore-path goes through the elongated toffet-type of waste mound. This allows the inference that the saltworks producing toffet ground were sited on and around a sea-bank in the late fourteenth century and after; possibly even before although less likely or frequently so. The simple tofts include the line of farms and cottages on the nineteenth century maps which are mostly between the Fore-path and High Street and so are interpreted as earlier salt-making wastes that had been cultivated into flat-topped and smoothed-over enclosures known simply as ‘tofts’. Yet there are a few tofts (see Table 2.4.4) which have a ‘salt-marsh’ and a ‘fishery’ and one with ‘foulings’ so these are likely to be in front of the Fore-path in the late fifteenth century. If so, they have left no obvious descendant holdings nor buildings in the Wainfleet St Mary landscape; in Friskney there are some contenders. The Barkham document does not tell us if these are active salterns but salt rents were still being paid in Friskney in 1602.161 The overall conclusion might be that the toffet mounds are younger than simple tofts, though this does not obviously concur with the idea of Friskney tofts producing salt around 1600 and the Wainfleet St Mary mound areas failing around 1500. So that has to remain open for the time being, though there is the possibility that these tofts were in Wainfleet All Saints since one of them abuts Brereton land, which was mainly in the northern parish. The map (Fig 2.4.20) shows the relationships of these land types and features. One entry shows how the layout might develop:

1 toft with a cottage containing by estimation 10 acres, with the saltmarshes, sands and fishings thereto belonging, and 6 acres at the W end of the toft, late arable now pasture accounted at [sic] part of the toft; in all 16 acres, bounding on the lord, late Callow, on S, on the lord, late Wolbye, and William Clarkson on N, on Normandeepe on E, and on the lord, late Callow, on W [280]

What is perhaps surprising is that the inland six acres had been arable but were then pasture, whereas the expected sequence would be pasture first. But the topography conforms to the conventional picture:
a cottage (sometimes giving rise to the term ‘cote’) with the sea on one side and reclaimed land on the landward side.162

It must be added that in her detailed analyses of Barkham documents, Dr Meryl Foster thinks there is no difference between tofts and tuffets: both are dry land produced from salt waste. 

Thackeground and tile land. The map (Fig 2.4.21) suggests one area of obvious distribution, namely the locations to the west of the Old Fen Bank and either side of the Lusdyke. Such areas would either be part of the ecology of the East Fen or at any rate have been part of it in the past and thus show a tendency towards wetland environments. Knowing from the LiDAR that there was a division of the Lusdyke in this area makes for a suggestion that the area between its branches was not well drained. Elsewhere there are occurrences in the Low Grounds of Wainfleet St Mary and on Wainfleet Common and it might well be the case, looking also at the map of moss lands (Fig 2.4.22) that some or all of these represent dried-out or abandoned turbaries, just as one seems to have been converted to pasture. Perhaps the most surprising of these is the patch close to the South Cross in Wainfleet St Mary but this does reinforce the idea that what is now St Michael’s Lane, which appears on nineteenth century maps as ‘Mousegate’, may well have originally been ‘Mossgate’.

That area of reedy ground, plus one which was located near Keyes Toft, looked at in conjunction with LiDAR maps of the branches of the Haven that enclosed Sailholme, suggest that by 1610 these creeks had more or less silted up, to the point where the beds of the former watercourses were occupied by reedbeds. An interesting side-issue is the location of the roads which ran either side of Sailholme and probably followed the shores of the declivity until drainage provided a firm course in the bed of the former tidal creek. Overall, reed beds outside the fen were, by the early seventeenth century, still a common though patchy occurrence; their produce would have still had great value for roofing. As late as 1768, Adlard Thorpe’s ‘capital messuage or mansion house with barn stables and outhouses built of brick and thatched with reed’ suggests that the well-off were using reed in their buildings.163

There is one - and only one - entry which refers to ‘tile land belonging to Friskney chantry’, which is difficult to interpret. A chantry in the 1600s seems anomalous (even though there were medieval chapels in Friskney) and ‘tile land’ has not tuned up before in this study. Personal communications from a number of people have mostly in common the idea that is a deposit of clay which was used for brick-making, with tile being synonymous with brick in this area. Apart from being in Friskney parish, there are no clues to its location and areas of clay are quite well spread. (There was a brick pit in Friskney in the nineteenth century, at TF 467 557).

Moss ground. Twenty-six references to pieces of moss ground (usually spelt ‘mosse’) have been extracted from the BHM book, ten of which can be give firm locations (Fig 2.4.22). Their distribution, where locatable, accords with expectations since many of them are in the East Fen. Other sources confirm that there was a large area of peat in Wainfleet St Mary and Friskney as late as the final drainage of the East Fen. So areas of peat stretching down the line of Theve’s Creek and the South Stream towards Friskney are to be expected. Less predictable are the areas in the West End of Wainfleet All Saints, where they coincide with some of the ‘thackeground’ locations. The conclusion might be that the West End was very like the Low Grounds of Wainfleet St Mary in its environmental history (and in the seventeenth century that zone retains a few pieces of moss ground though the impression is of less moss ground than in the Middle Ages) and when the Old Fen Bank was constructed, areas of a mixed wetland-drier patches-former salterns pattern were deemed to be reclaimable (compare the situation in Wrangle) whereas beyond the Bank, the winter flooding was too pervasive.

Of the 26 references, 22 have sizes specified. The average size is 5 acres but this is skewed by two large areas of 30 and 16 acres; the modal size is 3 acres, closely followed by 2 acres. This is of course the size of the holding and some may be aggregated into larger blocks: in the fen this is certainly so but gaps in the transcription make it uncertain for the extra-fen zones. In general, the small size of holding suggests that the peat was a small-scale fuel, probably for domestic and farmyard use and was not by this time supporting industries such as salt-making except perhaps from the largest turbaries.

Arable land. A plot of arable land parcels where a reasonable estimate of location can be made is given in Fig 2.4.19 (There are 41 entries for arable). The distribution is unremarkable and reflects ownership patterns: Brewster (of today’s Brewster’s Lane, presumably)164 had a block of land near the Wardyke with Thorpe St Peter, there is another block of located land in the core area of Wainfleet All Saints near the church, and there is no sign of arable cultivation west of the Old Fen Bank. In Wainfleet St Mary three former tofts are clearly enclosed, implying that salterns passed straight into ‘several’ ownership and were never part of any common system of land holding. Large areas of arable were also enclosed and this suggests that some lords were in the process of aggregating large holdings. The BHM 1610 book obviously shows the Barkham estate in that light but the numerous mention of the Brereton family, together with the Hubbard and Callow owners, allows the inference of a well-established process. At the same time, some mentions of ‘riggs’ points towards the persistence of common fields, especially since 3/6 of the mentions are of half-acre plots and none exceeds three acres. Yet there is as well ‘a close called Long Riggs’ which seems to be contradictory; however there is the possibility that this was not a conventional piece of land.165

Pasture. There are 68 entries for pasture, plus a few of an ambiguous nature that might be assigned to that category (Compared with 41 for arable). Fig 2.4.19 contains the distribution of those with locatable features. There are no striking anomalies to the dispersion except perhaps the apparent avoidance of the core area of arable in the High Wainfleet area of Wainfleet All Saints. Elsewhere the impression is of interchangeability with arable, with perhaps more pasture than arable in the Wainfleet St Mary Low Grounds and the block between Brewster Lane and the Wardyke boundary with Thorpe St Peter. One of the toft holdings has 6 acres, ‘late arable now pasture’ which suggests versatility of land capability. The map omits these pastures, which are attached to most of the tuffets and tofts, and which would add a strip of pastures between Keys Toft and the boundary with Friskney. Where it is clear that a discrete plot of pasture is described, then a count of sizes reveals that 2-3 acres is the modal size, with 4-5 acres some way behind; only three entries mention amounts of over 10 acres. But there is a distinct fall-off below 2 acres (17 entries) to 7 entries for 1 acre and only 1 entry for ½ acre. There are occasional hints of common fields but the phrase ‘in mixture’ might refer to separate plots in close tessellation:

8 acres of pasture, of which 1 acre is in mixture with Mr Upton, bounding on Magdalen Coll. Oxford lands on the E, on the W bounding on the lord, late Johnson, and Thomas Immingham, and on the N on the common high way. [198]

6 acres of pasture in mixture with the parson and the lord, late Breretons, bounding on the parson and the wardyke on N. [264]

Overall, the picture is one of a deal of pasture, with interspersed arable plots of a smaller size; in winter therefore a largely green landscape spotted with black and brown. The term ‘several’ which occurs in sixteenth century and later contexts suggests a largely privatized pattern of land use, with the possibility that there were remnants of more communal patterns. A certain conservatism of agrarian practice comes from Barkham family wills. In 1660 Sir Robert Barkham (of Wainfleet St Mary) cautioned his tenants to keep the ditches and drains in good repair but his son Sir Edward Barkham’s testament of 1733 allowed tenants to keep their holdings at the current rents provided that pastures and meadows were not broken up for arable. The change might only be made with th express permission of his trustees.166

The land use pattern. The maps of different land use types are brought together as Fig 2.4.19. This also estimates the position of HWM at about 1600. Given that the entries used were a 50% sample and that plotting rates were under 50% as well, the Barkham presence in both parishes is very strong. The family is mostly associated with Wainfleet St Mary (and the Bethlem Archive has mostly documents from that parish) but this map suggests a large holding in the northern area as well. This latter seems to be mostly due to acquisitions from the Brereton family, followed by the Dalbys. In Wainfleet St Mary, there is a highly visible royal presence and it is possible that some of the King’s lands were in fact salt marsh since the Crown laid claim to them:

1 pasture called Barrow tofte and the Inmarsh and the Sheepecote Close, with the saltmarshes thereto belonging, containing by estimation 30 acres, bounding on the E on Normandeepe, on the W on WF Haven and on the highway called Saltergate on the S, and on the king on the N. [137]

Other entries however make it clear that other lands were involved, such as formerly charitable allocations:167

[f.4] 2 farms called Marrham Chantery and Maxxey Charnteye [sic MS], both in WF, bought from Mr [blank] More, who had them from the king, for £320. [20]

1 parcel of Thackground containing 5 acres, bounding on preestgate on the S, on the king and on the Lord's, late Stixwould, on the N, on the vicarage garth on the W, and on the Lord's, late Stixwould's, on the E. [101]

In Friskney, one entry reads ‘Head: A new Bounder of all the lands late Kinges [the King's?] with 1 house called Heillstatt purchased by Edward Barkham Esq. in Friskney’ which confirms that the King held lands in this area. They were possibly formerly monastic possessions which had not been sold off to individuals after the Dissolution. Another question to be asked of the data is whether a skewed picture is given by purchases made only by one individual; there is no definite answer to this but the presence of several types of land use and the acquisition of whole manors (which might have been expected to show a spectrum of land uses) suggest that the picture is typical of the whole area. There is no obvious trace of any effects of the sea-flood of January 1607 which was disastrous further south and might have affected this area.168

That characterisation might perhaps be summed up as ‘drying out’ in the sense that the wetland areas are either small, as in the thackeground near the town, or behind the Old Fen Bank as with most of the mosses. The remnants of mosses still exist outside the Old Fen Bank and are either the residue of bigger areas or well-protected for their resources - or indeed both. The coast is by now sealed off by the tofts and tuffetts, which provide a strong barrier against sea-flood in normal circumstances.169 On the north, the Wardyke helps to keep out water from the low lands south of Thorpe St Peter church (which seems to be just north of a conspicuous bank) but north-east Wainfleet All Saints is dominated by pasture. Here too there is mention of pasture bounding on ‘Allhallowe highfield’ to the east. There is as well a Long Field which by context is in Wainfleet St Mary though no other entry identifies a common field in that parish.

As would be expected, the area around the town is more complex and some of the entries seem to apply to the same site and come from different times of acquisition of adjacent parcels. No doubt more intricate analysis of the data might be made, though the jigsaw is always going to have enough missing parts to militate against seeing the whole pattern.

2.4.7 The Problem of Flooding

The fen flooded regularly and indeed a winter cover of fresh water was generally regarded positively. But there are hints within the documentation that the rural economy outside the fen banks was also flooded from time to time and that the rural economy was disrupted. The floods which came from the sea were in general unpreventable if they were high enough to destroy the sea-banks but flooding caused by the ineffectiveness of the drains in carrying off rainfall were the concerns of the Commissioners of Sewers once these became permanent bodies in the sixteenth century and of particular Commissions before that. The general causes of freshwater floods (FWF) were (a) the impeding of drainage channels by poor maintenance and (b) the shrinkage of lands once the were reclaimed from peat fen or salt-marsh. Occasionally it might be found that there were too few drains but there is a sense in which that was a verdict that avoided confrontation with other difficulties. To all these must be added the deliberate destruction of banks by malefactors and discontents.

The most general worry comes from Dugdale who cites 1629 as a time when there were ‘surrounded grounds’ in the parishes east of the Fen170 and further examples come from 1685. Wheeler identifies 1631 for overflows of fresh water from Wainfleet to Stickney.171 Padley has an example of Holland Fen being drowned by rain in 1763172 with the East Fen flooded beyond use between 1721-1732.173 A number of medieval examples can be added, as in 1347174 and 1395175 as well as some possible examples from the Louth Park Chronicle.176 The Laws for the Little Lymm contain an ordinance of 16 Henry VII (1501) in which flooding is laid directly at the feet of those who fail to maintain the drains and the possibility of natural processes is not mentioned, as it was for the condition of the Fen in 1317. So the inability of the drains to cope is exacerbated by the silting of the watercourses:177

and for the Gayge in lyttell lym ys oftentymes cast on land, and hewed, and broken by certayne yll disposed persons unknowne, the which hath cawsed the said haven to warpe with sande that shepe and other Cattell may go over the haven bothome betwyne the said gote and the see, in dyvers places, the which haven was somtyme sufficient haven for shippes of great burden and valewe that came into the towne of Wanflet with marchandyse and vyttell there to be uttered, and tooke and bowght ageyne other things of great avayle to the said towne and welfare of all the Country next adioyning/ For when it was so that the salt water and the freshe water had their coursse and recoursse [recowrsse?] withowt any suche gotes or slewces, and the bankes well mantened and the water kept in Chanell, ther was within vij. myles of Wanflet viij thowsand akers good pasture and moe, that nowe is but marrys and myer and nether pasture nor good fishing, as may be understood by olde records off dyvers lords and gentilmen, and not only so great ground and profyt lost, but great charges yerely to kepe it as it is nowe, is net yssuis but lyttell, but is lyke to growe to more yerely charge and more, and lessde profyt without en hastier remydie be provyded, for in olde tyme wyse men fownd the meanes to wydden the dreanes and yssuis, and for to make sufficient bankes of hight and bredth on both sydes and then had they a great common profyt by them, and now men have sene the meanes to straten there yssuys to a great common noyance and losse and also yerly charge and cawses the water to seke other yssuys, so by suche meanes the kings stretes and common wayes are drowned in dyvers places that was wont to be sufficient hyewayes for horsse and carte to passe bye with all manner of caryages to mylne and market, that now trobels and vexis the kings peopell sore, for they know not the waye from the dykes nor the dykes from the waye as appears in dyvers townshyps, as in Sybsey, Stikney, braitoft, Irbie, Firsbie, wanflet and freskney, and other moe;

This is interesting in the sense of the widespread nature of the problem for all the parishes surrounding the East Fen except possibly those of the northern edge and at Wrangle, with the loss of eight thousand acres of pasture within seven miles of Wainfleet, which if the East Fen is excluded is indeed a very large area. As well, there are the statements about the flooding of the highways so that the people ‘know not the waye from the dykes nor the dykes from the waye’. Given that many roads and common ways were sited upon banks this represents a very thorough breakdown of both communications and water control. Given that this was not a time of widespread civil unrest or other major perturbation, it is possible that disseminated shrinkage of the land was causing the drainage systems to become inadequate, a situation not radically improved until the advent of water-lifting systems. If it was former salt-marsh and marginal fen that has been reclaimed, as in many of the parishes named in 1501, then de-watering was probably a major element in the dire situation set out in the document.

The spotty nature of the evidence for FWF is a puzzle: more incidences would be expected: the BHM Book for example carries no hint of any difficulty and in the landscape perhaps only the name Washdyke Lane in Wainfleet St Mary and in Croft hint at the limits of relatively recent flooding. Closer inspection of the records of the Commissioners of Sewers might reveal a rewarding set of clues. It is not altogether impossible that land shrinkage in Low Grounds and in the Marsh inland from Ingoldmells and Addlethorpe allowed increased penetration of seawater and so became recorded as one of the many sea-floods experienced in the region rather than a river flood. A lease of 1568 in Burgh-le-Marsh and Winthorpe acknowledged that the lands were in ‘le mershe country’ and in ‘le levell’ and that they were charged for defence against the sea.178 Given the great flood of 1570 this sounds like a poor bargain for one Robert Dover, the lessee. It was less so for the Crown which in approving such leases got a discharge from any obligation to repair the sea-dykes.

By way of a complete contrast, there is the isolated instance of a ‘time of drought’ in 1375 when 30 people speared eels in the common sewers of the manor of Ingoldmells, to the grave damage of the whole community.179 Unless 1375 was an especially dry year then this sounds like a rationalisation of poor water control.

2.4.8 Settlement Patterns

An inspection of the settlement pattern of East Lindsey before the fen reclamations confirms that the pattern of Early Medieval times remained. The ring of villages with Anglo-Saxon or Danish names is the dominant element in rural settlement, albeit Wainfleet’s original Saxon site was abandoned in favour of the new town nearer the sea. Less well known is the incidence of individual crofts, though the documents suggest that they were frequent and were probably located along the common ways that are so frequently mentioned in charters and which no doubt ran along banks from the original reclamations.180 In this terrain, they may well have been ditched, as thirteenth and fourteenth century examples from Romney Marsh show.181 Other studies show a clear division between toft and street and between neighbouring plots; dividing banks might have had hedges on top.182 Yet in Lincolnshire the AP evidence for such units seems lacking. Even on Sailholme, where the density of tofts and messuages was high during Bury St Edmunds’ tenure and management, identifiable small enclosures of tenants’ tofts seem to be absent. Also absent is evidence of raised-mound settlements from early medieval times of the kind known as terps, as discussed in 2.1.

There is as well some apparent contradiction in town growth which is as yet unexplained. Although a castle site, a collecting-place for the produce of the Lacy estates and the head of a large soke, Bolingbroke never grew into a town nor had charters for markets or fairs, yet Spilsby gained a market in 1305 and became a market town in about 1600. The influence of the Willoughby family may have been significant, in spite of the fact that they were known as the Willoughby d’Eresby lineage.183 The earlier motte-and-bailey castle at King’s Hill Wrangle seems never to have attracted settlement to it.184 The regional dominance of Boston and Lincoln was never challenged, although important links along the coast with King’s Lynn and Grimsby were kept up by coastal settlements like Wainfleet, Wrangle and Saltfleet.185

There few categories to be added to this model. The first consistes of a well-documented set of small crofts resulted from salt-making along the coast of Wainfleet St Mary and gave the line of cottages (some of which are now farms). Some of these might be the heirs of the holdings in the later Bury rental but they fall outside the usually accepted bounds of Sailholme. The oblique AP at Lady Lane in Wainfleet All Saints is unlikely to be the only example of small enclosures that represent former salt-cotes. The map of the Wrangle shoreline in 1606 has depictions of salt-cotes but they later disappeared, implying that there may have been many more such structures which have left little or no trace. Some no doubt existed on the landward side of the Tofts and have been buried by the spreading of salt waste as the mounds of it became spread out in the conversion of toffet to toft and thence to pasture and arable. A second group centres on the discussion of the status and age of isolated buildings, mainly farms, away from the roads and main tracks. Some of them are rather obviously at the ends of blind lanes. No investigation of their age has been undertaken; some are in the East Fen and so clearly post-date its drainage but there are others where earlier reclamation might have occurred.186 There are examples at Friskney Hall (TF 464 556), an unnamed farm in Great Steeping (TF 445 637) and Burgh Cottage (TF 505 639). The suspicion is that piecemeal de-watering of small plots of wetland at various dates (including Burgh Common, alongside which the Cottage sits) presented the opportunity for an enclosed land holding to be formed. Nevertheless, as pointed out in the discussion of the Great Empty Area (below), large areas of Wainfleet St Mary, Wainfleet All Saints, Croft, Thorpe St Peter and Burgh had until recently no buildings away from the roads and main tracks.

One road with a line of spaced dwellings on it (as distinct from a more or less continuous line of crofts and messuages like those found on Wainfleet Bank) is the Low Road from Wainfleet to Friskney. This has Pepperthorpe Hall, the mill at the junction with Mill Lane, and Ash Farm187 along it. Pepperthorpe Hall is specified as the compulsory site of a Wain (= Wagon) Bridge in the King’s Street188 and in 1610 ‘Peperthorpe Gate’ was one of the boundary markers for the Landlawe, and it abuts the east side of a 3-acre close belonging to Sir Edward Barkham in the mid-seventeenth century189 (BHM 1610 #247) who, it seems, acquired it a little later:

1 house called peperthorp house and the garths adjoining, containing by estimation 2½ acres, bounding on the King's high way on E, on the King and the lord, late Lowis, and Alcockson on W and S, and on Alcockson and Thomas Hollonds, late Clarke, on N.190

This echoes the 1534 Will of John Dandyson who left to his son Martyn ‘the message of Peper Thorpe with the gardens therto belonging with ij arable land called Hobtoft’191 and so altogether implants the idea that Pepperthorpe Hall was a single farm by the sixteenth century.

The opposite process needs discussion: was there settlement loss? The material on tenth century nucleation and village pattern (V.V.X.Y) argued for the hollowing-out of some villages (though not attributing any particular cause) and later manifestations of depopulation or of settlement shift are always possible. It could well have been, for example, that the losses of the BD were not replaced by natural increase and that the area was not sufficiently prosperous to attract an immigrant population. The outstanding loss to the settlement pattern is Wolmersty, on the boundary between Friskney and Wrangle. The contribution of Wolmersty to coastal development is set out in section 2.2. but the only extra detail of its status (since APs and LiDAR say very little about the layout of the settlement except that it was clearly very small) is given in a Bishop’s licence of 1301:192

John [Dalderby] Bp. of Linc. to Sir Peter de Gipthorp knight, greeting. It is clear from an inquest that your manor of Wolmersty is so far from the parish church of Wrangle that in winter you cannot without great difficulty go there and be present at appropriate services. So you have asked to have in the chapel [oratorium] that you have built next to your manor in the parish of Friskney (this chapel being reported to be suitable and decent) divine services celebrated for your free household by a priest paid by you. I grant your request, provided that the arrangement does not prejudice the rights of the mother church of Friskney and of other neighbouring churches, and provided that you don’t build a bell-tower or have processions or other sacraments at your chapel. The prior of St Catherine outside Lincoln and the prior of Bullington and their convents, appropriators of the church of Friskney, and the vicar of Friskney have no objection to this grant. On major festivals, if there is no great impediment, you and your free household are to go to your church of Wrangle to show the respect that you owe thereto. All chaplains who shall serve in your chapel shall, on appointment, swear in the presence of the two priors or their representatives, and in the presence of the vicar, that all offerings received shall go to the mother church.

Is there a clue in the dual status implied by the Bishop’s licence of 1301: that perhaps its status was disputed by the manorial lords of both Wrangle and Friskney and so never allowed to grow to add to the lustre (and income) of the other one, just in case he became the sole tenant-in-chief? The township was important enough in the thirteenth century to be a limit marker of the jurisdiction of the lord of the port of Wainfleet, though it is not known whether Wolmersty Cross was on the northern or southern limits of the vill. To be designated as the wapentake’s name (and presumably the site of the meeting-place of the men of the wapentake) when the actual area stretches away to the south beyond the Witham not only acknowledges the relatively late growth of Boston but the residence of a seat of power in the extreme north. That contradicts the arguments above for an uncertain status. The idea of uncertainty might however be a factor in the decline of the township, if neither manorial lord felt moved to ensure its survival in (for example) the face of environmental change such as the sea-level rises of the late thirteenth–mid fourteenth centuries when it was nearer the sea than now (depending on how wide the Tofts were at that time or even on the former presence of a Haven), in the aftermath of a disaster like the Black Death, or in the demise of its salterns, operative in the thirteenth century.193 Since Wolmersty seems never to have really grown beyond a manor and a few tofts, it is not difficult to imagine (though that is the operative verb) the death of most of its inhabitants.

A few other sites have been labelled as deserted villages. The SMR for Lincolnshire designates the area adjacent to St Thomas’s church in Wainfleet All Saints as a DMV (TF 499 530) and the mounded area is visible on APs such as the CUCAP obliques of Northolme.194 (Fig 2.4.24); a vertical shot shows a pattern of rectangular soil marks (Figs 2.4.25 and 2.4.26), though their clarity is not absolute. The oblique picture is the most informative, with a number of rectangular enclosures on two different axes with one set occurring within the context of irregular mounds. The notion of a DMV is not entirely unreasonable but the alternative possibility of a former salt-making area is equally likely. The northern section of Northolme has a ditch-and-bank formation similar to Sailholme, so its origin as a series of tofts not recently occupied (as on Sailholme) may be reinforced.

There have been suggestions of DMVs at Gunby and possibly near Burgh, and a map (though not a list) is given by Platts. He makes the point however that there was a tendency for villages to shrink e.g., after the BD, rather than wholesale abandonment; he cites ruinous houses at Ingoldmells in the 1340s.195 Hence a change in rural settlement might be seen in the more open nature of village plans rather than widespread desertion, especially if the effects of e.g., the BD were less in areas of lower population density.

There is an area of definite landscape character with relevance to settlement pattern. A transect from Ormsby to Addlethorpe for example (stripped in imagination of the recent leisure-oriented developments) shows that between the landscape of the coastal zone with sand dunes and villages and the village landscape of the foot of the Wolds is an area with practically no settlement except some isolated farms. The main Skegness-Burgh road crosses a southern extension of this landscape and there is more of it until a more closely settled zone intervenes in the Wainfleet-Thorpe area. To the south of Wainfleet Bank there is another, arcuate, tract which narrows between Tofts and Fen near Friskney before widening out westwards to encompass the Low Grounds of Friskney and Wrangle and part of Wrangle Common. For convenience in this discussion it is called the Great Empty Area or GEA.

The impression on the ground is supported by other visual evidence. The O.S. maps are eloquent in their depiction of this zone, especially the feature-rich six-inch maps of the 19th century and the condensation of them onto the Provisional Edition of the 1:25,000 maps of the 1950s. Basically, there are roads, drains and ditches, along with a few farms equally distributed between roadside and isolated locations. The roads often have long straight stretches in an east-west orientation (sometimes continued in the line of a footpath) and towards the east of the zone there are three distinct north-south roads. One or two areas have a collection of public footpaths but there are areas without them. A number of blind-end tracks lead from the roads to farms or apparently to nowhere. The parish boundaries are a mix of long straight stretches with perhaps a single kink like the northern boundary of Burgh-le-Marsh between Faulker’s House (503 666) and east of Firtree Farm (TF 535 671), and intricate interdigitations following field boundaries, as on the Burgh-Addlethorpe boundary between Mill Hill (TF 537 656) and Whitehouse Farm (TF 538 677). Outside the zone there are villages inland from the coast, such as Friskney, Winthorpe and Ingoldmells and again at the interface with The Wolds as at Willoughby and Burgh.196

Inspection of the maps shows that the GEA is not homogenous, particularly with regard to the configurations of field boundaries, and so for closer examination a transect has been taken some 8km from east to west and 4km from north to south, with Burgh in the south-west corner and Ingoldmells Point in the north-east corner. In this area, definite zonal sub-divisions of the GEA can be identified, using the shape, size and axial orientation of the fields as a primary criterion. Proceeding inland from the coast:

A. The coastal zone: east of what is called ‘Roman Bank’ on the maps (but which is certainly an early medieval phenomenon, not Roman in date) which was the earliest site of the holiday industry. This is basically an area of sand dunes; these are presumably recent in origin since this section of coast is erosional, with documented retreat since early modern times involving e.g., the loss of a walled town at Skegness and churches along the coast to its north. Modern aerial photography is not helpful here since most of the land is covered with caravans and other holiday developments.

B. Between the ‘Roman Bank’ and north-south roads is an area of fields on an E - W axis apart from a small zone beyond the South Drain south of Winthorpe. Almost all are regularly rectangular but there are very few farms away from the roads (at TF 565 666, Grange Farm is exceptional) and Winthorpe itself, where the church, a moated site and an aerial trace of a manor-like structure cluster together off the E - W road, rather as does Wainfleet St Mary church away from Wainfleet Bank. Apart from the network around Burgh Common in the west, this zone has the densest mesh of footpaths, which mostly parallel the roads in being on E - W and N - S lines. Northwest of Winthorpe one of the few blind-ended tracks with no terminal farm is found.197 Towards the western edge of the zone, there are a few traces of former salt-marsh, in the shape of circular sediment heaps and of ‘scalds’ in today’s fields whch look like the remnants of shallow pans in upper salt-marsh. About 1.5km north of Winthorpe there is a grassland field with a rectangular set of drains (TF 559 674) that looks like a daila.198

C. There are three separate sub-zones of this type, arrayed in blocks on a N-S axis. The north-eastern unit contains the village of Ingoldmells, the north-west unit would have Addlethorpe but the transect cuts it off; a southern unit bisects sub-zone C with its centre at TF 661 545, north of a Grange Farm which is a different site from the one in zone B. The first and last two have large rectangular fields with pronounced N-S boundaries; any less regular boundaries tend to follow the parish boundaries. The north-western unit is on a distinct E-W axis, with a continuous N–S division along Dudick Bank Drain.199 The southerly unit is almost entirely devoid of buildings and the interior of the north-western unit is likewise empty. On close inspection the north-eastern unit repeats this pattern except for the area immediately around Ingoldmells. A footpath defines the southern edge of the southern unit but overall, there are fewer footpath than in zone B. The western edges of two of the zone C blocks have ‘scald’ salt-marsh features. Outside the transect, west of Addlethorpe, (at TF 539 686) in a northward extension of zone C, there are many ‘scalds’ but also a field where the lighter colours indicate ‘kidney’ and ‘doughnut’ mounds usually associated with salt-making waste. If in fact the roads follow former sea-banks or fen-banks then the road dividing zones C and D from zone E is the westernmost continuous feature of its kind.

D. This zone is divided into two by the southern block of zone C. It is bounded in part by a N - S road but more often by watercourses which have not been totally straightened. There are few buildings in it away from roads, with an exception like Avenue Farm (TF 553 685) deep into the territory and a and a long track into the centre with no structure at its termination. Most characteristic of this zone is a field pattern with many irregularities breaking up conventional rectangular fields and a number of elongate enclosures. Between Ingoldmells and Addlethorpe Mill (TF 551 676) there are footpaths, notably on a N - S axis but elsewhere in zone D they are virtually absent. Like zones C there are some salt-marsh features on aerial imagery but also in the far south of the transect (TF 543 655) an area of tiny rectangular fields, something noted on Wainfleet Bank and in Little Steeping and not explained. A similar area occurs in zone C (TF 544 687)

E. This zone covers the largest portion of the transect and consists almost entirely of rectangular fields with strong E-W axes though their groups. Even the parish boundary between Burgh and Addlethorpe, which is irregular, is subordinated to this pattern. There are some farms away from the roads but no tracks into the middle of nowhere. A footpath south-west from Nettle Hill (TF 524 658) is the sole example within the zone. There seems to be a continuation of these features west of the arcuate interruption of Burgh Common, towards Orby. Along with zones C and D this is truly the ‘empty area’. On recent aerial photos, there is a large area of visible creek systems (assumed to be a relic of salt-marsh) centred on TF 532 665 (west of Marsh Farm), with an area of daila to its north-west (TF 523 669). A number of ‘scalds’ are also visible. Just inside Burgh parish, at TF 531 658, there is a herring-bone system of narrow channels, with two of them leading into apparent ponds.

F. This zone runs the risk of being ‘everything else’; in some ways its main feature is the arc of Burgh Common ad the consequent North Drain, which interrupts any other pattern, as do two tributaries from the north-west. There are four tracks without end-structures and some footpaths; the field pattern is less regular than zone E and much more so than zone D. Zone B is the closest descriptor of this pattern, but parish boundaries follow the water-courses. There is a good lot of terrain of this zone but very few farms away from the roads. Scalds, circular features and creeks all appear in this zone but with no apparently regular pattern.

Put together, the evidence suggest that Zone B is an old-established land surface, since it bears the village of Winthorpe, but that it might have been extended at its western edge by reclamation of salt-marsh. Zone E was almost certainly a major area of salt-marsh but zone D is ambiguous; like zone C there are some indications that the western edge has been part of a salt-marsh, as has zone F. In total, it seems as if there was a coastal dry-land zone (A + B), with an extensive zone of salt-marsh which forms the basis of the GEA. Interestingly, the Old Series O.S. One-Inch maps of 1824 carry the label ‘salt marsh’ across the transect area between (roughly) Orby and Addlethorpe.200 There are no indications of the limit of the terrain to which this applied, and the map clearly indicates that it was not then the land cover type, but it perhaps preserves a relatively recent memory. The zones identified on this transect are never quite so fully developed elsewhere in the GEA. Nevertheless, comparisons can be made. The empty area of Wainfleet St Mary, for instance, with its arcuate elongate fields south of the church closely echoes the central block of zone B and is bounded on the east by ‘Friskney Head Dyke’ on the 1824 map; in Friskney Low Ground there are areas of irregular fields like those of zone D; a section of Wrangle Low Ground south-east from Wrangle Bank looks like the rigid North-south strips of fields in zone D south-west of Ingoldmells. The analogue of zone E seems to be Wrangle Common.

A first consideration in working back from the present landscape and its recent representations is to recall the possibility of equifinality, when different processes can lead to the same end-result. In this case, the process which is clearly indicated is that of salt-marsh reclamation. But it must be recalled that (a) salt-marshes raise themselves above the tidal range, sometimes quite quickly in areas of good sediment supply, and (b) that the modification of upper salt-marsh (if not quite full-scale deliberate reclamation) has been present in this region since Saxon times,201 and deliberate embankment and enclosure of salt-marsh is fully documented from the 16th century.

The landscape history of zone A is relevant to the other zones north of Skegness and it has an analogy in the stretch of The Tofts between Wainfleet and Boston. The history of the Tofts has a number of fixed points:

  1. Ignorance about whether there was an early Saxon set of offshore sand-bars which were then colonised by farmers and salt-makers and enlarged by them during the rest of the pre-DB period.
  2. A greater certainty that from DB-15th century there was salt-making along this line and that the essential landscape of the tofts, raised above fen and probably salt-marsh inland and salt-marsh to seaward, was created and stabilised.
  3. That reclamation of both fen and marsh took place from such a base, as villages grew just inland of the toftline or as a town like Wainfleet was ‘planted’ at its northern end. But the history of Wrangle shows that the fen was not colonised in a regular set of bands inland from the Tofts. There were clearly ‘leaps’ to patches which left fen and marsh behind.

Zone A north of Skegness is not so well dated but there was coastal retreat which swallowed up Skegness and inundated churches along this coast, just as happened e.g., along the Suffolk Coast. So before the 15th century, very likely, the coastline here was perhaps 2 - 5km east of its present position. Zone A from Mablethorpe to Gibraltar Point is therefore a post-15th century creation and the Tofts’ seaward edge was probably stable in its present position by 1550. If it is accepted that the ‘anchor’ area of the transect zone is zone B (together perhaps with the northern block of zone C since it contains Ingoldmells village), then in early medieval times (late Saxon, e.g.,) there was a zone of solid land from north to south, with a coastline some way to the east of the present position. This sheltered an inlet open to the south, just as the Tofts harboured some tidal waters to their landward. These ‘bays’ held, at say the time of DB, a zone of salt-marsh which would have graded (certainly in the case of the Wash parishes, less so in the case of the Marsh ones) into fresh-water peats. The historical question then becomes, ‘what happened to the land cover after that?’

In the case of the C and D belts of the transect, and their analogues further south, there seems to be no contest that here we have a zone of medieval reclamation from the high zones of salt-marsh, with enclosures by banks which are fossilized in the maps’ layout of roads and footpaths. In particular, the road from Addlethorpe at the North Drain south through Mill Hill, has every appearance of a sea-bank except in the northern stretch to Whitehouse Farm (TF 538 678) where it is unusually straight for a medieval feature. Before the 1970s period of agricultural intensification and the further spread of the holiday industry, the field pattern too was of medieval origin with normal later modifications from enclosure. The low-lying nature of the land necessitated adaptations like the daila even for pasture.

Zone E is more problematic. In many ways, it can be characterised as a zone of straight lines: the field pattern is regular, as are mostly the east-west roads. The eastern boundary bank is irregular and the western edge of the main block of the zone follows the curved edge of Burgh Common, beyond which regularity is again normal. There are two possible histories that can be considered:

  1. That the basic structure of the zone was emplaced by Roman regularity, and notwithstanding the cover of sediments laid down by post-Roman sea-level rise, this framework has persisted. An extension to the argument would see the earlier landscape to some extent re-exposed by the recent intensive agriculture which has allowed the removal of peat.
  2. That this zone is one of ‘late’ reclamation, when the practice of laying out regular fields and roads was normal. In the case of moorlands and heaths for example, this degree of control was only exercised in the 19th century. The tithe apportionment maps for this region, from the early-mid 19th century already exhibit this field pattern202 and so we deduce that this is a land-organization from the late 18th-early 19th century but probably not before, unless evidence is found for agreed enclosure patterns across parishes before that: Orby and Burgh share the same pattern.
  3. That this zone is of early modern reclamation, of the type carried out from the 1560s onwards in e.g., Croft. This resulted in a highly regular pattern of rectangular fields, though it is nowhere as regular as zone E in the transect.
  4. Any other processes are amplified by the sixteenth century loss of land and settlement near the coast: Thirsk quotes the decline of Anderby, Ingoldmells and Addlethorpe but the growth of Burgh in that century. The marshland peasant was the poorest of all the Lincolnshire regions by the 1630s and remained so until the end of the seventeenth century. This meant that yeoman farmers and manorial lords were increasing their holdings, and at the same time upland farmers were leasing land for fattening pastures; some poor people were doubtless made poorer by general years of shortage like 1629-1631. These processes in turn led to the decaying of farmhouses and the amalgamation (‘engrossing’) of farms. ‘At Ingoldmells, fifteen farmhouses had been depopulated in this way’, says Thirsk, and suggests that one of the two worst areas in the county was between Mablethorpe and Croft.203

Option (1) seems the least likely. There is simply too much of the regular pattern remaining and too few exceptions for it to be an exhumation or a survival of a pattern as old as the Roman period. Option (2) is beset with uncertainties in the sense that a date for such large-scale regularization does not seem to have emerged from local history. Further work on drainage, for example, may allow more accurate inference although it is curious that zone E in the transect does not have an obvious major drain; the Burgh section relies on a drain that outfalls to the South Drain at Mill Hill (TF 538 657). North of the transect, in the Hogsthorpe-Cumberworth-Farlsthorpe-Thurlby area, the 1824 map plots quite a number of mills and ‘water engines’ (using the same symbol for both) but distinctly fewer in the transect: south of Mill Hill (TF 533 646), at ‘Ingoldmells Mill’ (TF 553 677) and an ambiguous symbol204 at Wheel Gout west of Winthorpe (TF 549 655). This pattern has no obvious explanation, though considerations might be:

  1. The northern area (Hogsthorpe etc) is more topographically varied in the sense that there are ‘islands’ of glacial deposits and so more help is needed to shift excess water round these higher areas to the sea.
  2. By 1824, are steam pumps being used, which are not finding their way onto the O.S. map?
    Wheeler says,205 ‘In 1824, steam was applied to the drainage of Deeping Fen, and afterwards became general.’ In fact, Sutton St Edmund (near Littleport) had a steam engine which was shown on its O.S. map of 1825,206 so that any present in Lindsey when the survey was done would have likely been noted.

So although the 1824 map does not give field patterns, the earliest available six-inch maps of the 1890s exhibit more or less the same patterns as the 1:25,000 Provisional Edition and there seems no reason to suppose that this field pattern was not in place in the 1820s.207 Overall, it seems that the GEA is not homogenous except that most of it lacks the ‘normal’ density of medieval settlement. In the transect inspected in detail, zone B which contains Winthorpe is also empty and The Tofts south of Wainfleet have very few actual buildings upon them: the farms and former salt-cotes are mostly marginal on either side. So antiquity of landscape formation does not guarantee settlement. The ‘core’ of GEA terrain is the zone E type of landscape and in the transect area there is a good case for thinking of this as salt-marsh until some ‘late’ date but how late is late is uncertain. To this possibility must be added the economic and demographic processes of the sixteenth century and after, which in the end simply reduced the number of people living there.

One coda to the notion of settlement patterns and their changes: from the twelfth century onwards, Boston dominates. Even though it declined after the mid-fourteenth century it was still a regional power, retaining a Customs house, for example, while Wainfleet, Saltfleet and ‘Wilgrip’ were simply classified as ‘creeks’. If water transport was involved then Boston was involved; only produce taken away by land went without its scrutiny. The manorial and feudal divisions of Wapentake and sokes persisted but the financial reality had to take note of Bostonian pre-eminence.

2.4.9 Landscape at 1650

Just as maps have been constructed for DB and for 1300 a map for about 1650 can be presented (Fig 2.4.27). Its caption gives descriptions of each of the zones and there is no need for repetition here. A few general points can be made:

  1. More zones can be recognised than in earlier times. This may be due to more plentiful evidence but may also been seen as deriving from greater differentiation between land uses as the economy became less localized and more incorporated into wider markets. By 1600, the drier areas were often concentrated upon stock raising with corn production kept at relatively low levels for local consumption. Areas that were prone to flood in the Steeping-Thorpe St Peter area might therefore command very low rents. On the other hand, the East Fen had fought off the first attempts at serious drainage and was still engaged in sending fish and fowl (plus domesticated geese) out of the region, e.g., to London.
  2. Coastal salt production seems to have stopped some time around 1600 and so the relics form the landscape elements. At Wainfleet St Mary, if the northern works were in operation about 1500 then the mounds of waste (toffetts) were still there in 1610 which implies there was no hurry to reclaim them by smoothing them out for arable or pasture.
  3. Although some salt-marsh reclamation had taken place by 1600 (notably the area fronting Wainfleet and Croft that lay behind the ‘Newe Banke’ associated with the Queen’s Gowt on Wainfleet Haven), there was to be a surge in this activity in the period of 1630 onwards: on the map, zone (8a) is the initial area, with the later Wainfleet-Croft intakes in zone (8). The Wash frontage of Wainfleet St Mary and Friskney were soon to follow.
  4. The northern coastline is an approximation but is distinctly to the east of its present position since there is good evidence of the loss of the church and ‘castle’ at Skegness. The compensation for the loss of land north of Skegness was the southward growth of the spit (later to be called Gibraltar Point) which allowed the growth of reclaimable salt-marsh between it and the Toft line south of Wainfleet. At the same time, the likelihood of Wainfleet ever regaining its status as a serious port disappeared into the twisty entrails of the lower Haven’s course across salt-marsh.

By 1650, many landscape elements were in positions that they now occupy and some form of continuity would be recognizable. Notably, however, those with a high water content (fresh or salt) were still to undergo major transformations and that the threat of floods still menaced many of the zones, with each improvement in drainage feeding back into the need for even more effective ways of lifting water from a shrinking land surface.

2.4.10 Overall Context

Even though this part of the kingdom has never been central to its development since Roman times, it could never have stood totally apart. The linkages of trade, family ties and estates, and the reach of royalty and parliament - not least for taxes - have all ensured that wider concerns have ben felt.208 Thus the rural economy has to be viewed within at least two frameworks: that of the regional systems of Lincolnshire as a whole, and then of the national picture. Each has been subjected to extensive scholarly treatment and both are always the subject of new research and continued re-evaluation, so that any discussion is bound to be provisional. It is however fortunate that two syntheses exist: one for medieval times209 and the other for the period from the Tudors to the present210 and their findings can be used as a benchmark for the emerging evidence from the present study.

An agrarian summary for about 1300 includes the suggestion that the Lindsey marshlands had the highest rations of grassland to arable and therefore had some specialization in livestock production, especially compared with the Wolds, which was an important region for arable cultivation. Within the fenland, the silt areas concentrated on grain yield, with the wetter zones having more grazing land. Oats were a main crop on the silty lands, with rye and flax taking over in wetter conditions; peas and beans were also tolerant of damper soils. Oxen were the main plough-beasts and cattle a major feature of the fen and fen-edge; pigs and sheep were also kept in large numbers. Sheep brought the additional expenditure of needing protection against liver-fluke via external ointments (based on butter, pig-fat or bitumen); de facto the fluke was of course ingested. The mortality of sheep increased into the fourteenth century with some deterioration of climate and the whole system was afflicted by a seven-year period of famine which started in 1315. There is a hint of the importance of cattle-raising in the period 1250-1349 in data that show for Lincolnshire (the whole county) that cattle other than oxen were well above average in number and draught animals below.211

Thirsk’s work is not organised in a way which permits overall generalisations (she uses ‘the fenland’ and ‘the marshland’ as ordering concepts) but the continued importance of cereals in fen-edge communities is carried through in wheat and rye crops and the addition of hemp to most crop suites is emphasised. The number of sheep grew considerably and although full drainage was not achieved, there were improvements in the drainage of lands like the Low Grounds, which allowed grazing in particular. The land stock also grew as salt-marsh was reclaimed. Land not suited for wheat might also be used for barley, and pulses were also a common crop. The breakdown of the medieval feudal system and the introduction of more capital had the entirely predictable effect of making some groups richer and in turn making for a ratchet effect, to the point where large units required fewer farms and ‘empty areas’ were found. What does remain from earlier times is the interchangeability of arable and pasture on the drier lands; if cereals were the more attractive regime but interruption by flood always likely, then the ability to switch to grazing income must have been attractive at any rate to those with a choice.

To what extent do the data in this section fit these general pictures? For the medieval period, Platts suggests that there were both smaller enclosed lands as well as large open fields and nothing in contradicts that finding. There is, for example, Wainfleet Great Field (in All Saints), the north, west and east fields in that same parish. The accounts make it clear that pasture was in parcels in the fifteenth century (pasture ... in diversis parcellos in campo vocato le Northfield [Waynflete Omnium Sanctorum]).212 There are also references to arable land in 1533 in ‘St Mary’s felde’.213 Entries in Valentine Browne’s survey of 1576 show that Hammond Upton, John Copledyke, William Hubert and the heirs of Simon Mewson all held a number of ‘acres’ in Bamburgh Field.214 In the eighteenth century Burgh had a South Field and a North Field, each divided into ‘lands’ and the area around Bratoft had many holdings called ‘The Pingle’ of about 1 acre.215 This adds strength to ideas of the small size of holdings. It is very likely that ‘new’ lands from marsh and fen tended to pass into ‘several’ ownership rather than become part of a vill’s common field system. That may have not always been the case, since the Waltham Holy Cross documents specify common pasture in Wrangle for quite large numbers of beasts. Alongside any several holdings, common fields with selions and riggs were a basis for the local production of cereals and pulses. The surprise comes in the ‘memory’ of an infield-outfield system in Wainfleet St Mary and Friskney contained in BHM 1610 and the 1602 survey of Valentine Browne’s lands. (‘Memory’ because the term ‘intoft half-acre’ sounds like a persistent name rather than a working description). Granted that such a system was common in early marshland colonisation, had one persisted here until early modern times? Without intermediate-period references, no firm conclusion can be drawn, though the absence of indications in the list of medieval field- and road-names from Wainfleet St Mary might just tilt the argument in favour of the failure of a small sample of names to pick up the persistence of a name rather than a working practice. If the Rippon model216 of early medieval practice did carry on, then it requires that the outfields rotate around relatively marginal lands such as upper salt-marsh not yet embanked or perhaps in this case relatively dry areas on the margin of the East Fen west of the Old Fen Bank. Such areas would be held in common rather than be ‘several’; the term ‘common’ persists in the BHM 1610 for Wainfleet St Mary though not onto the O.S. maps as it does for Wainfleet All Saints. In Friskney the Common was within the East Fen, next to areas of mossland.217 The Wainfleet Common Enclosure map of 1867 shows linear parcels of common marginal to roads and drains (called e.g., Mat Pits Common, Chop Hills Common, Fen Bank) where it looks as if the bank and its area of borrow pit had become common land but was then being assigned to an owner. The land between the two road-banks of Wainfleet Bank was also common, suggesting that it was used as washland.218

The regional picture is, as so often, dominated by questions of drainage. Whereas in the thirteenth century, Philip of Kyme was negotiating for more water for his animals in Croft, thereafter too much water seems a more common occurrence in all the parishes marginal to the East Fen. Even when the sea-banks are performing at their best, there is the threat of overspill from the fen. Curiously there is no echo of this in the early seventeenth century documents from Valentine Browne, BHM 1610 and the 1608 Royal Survey. BHM records areas of mossland, which were probably formed when their locations were more or less wet fen, and thackeground, which is ill-drained land which in some instances is probably partially silted-up creeks. But no entries which relate directly to ongoing drainage problems or projects of the types described e.g., by Dugdale for the reign of Elizabeth are found. That the Commissioners of Sewers had concerns is known from their records but it seems almost as if they existed in a parallel universe in which their verdicts did not find their way onto the documented agendas of large landowners.

What comes through the documents in a sporadic way is the beginning of a considerable interest in reclaiming salt-marsh. Section 2.5 will deal with the progress of the intaking of the marsh between Skegness and Wrangle (and its consequences for the course of the lower Little Lymn) but the process started in earnest with the construction of the Queens Gowt on Wainfleet Haven (at TF 516 591, now White House Bridge) and the ‘Newe Bank’ that connected it to the Tofts at the south-east end of Key’s Toft (TF 500 578). The agricultural holdings of the area were about to be potentially enlarged many times by landowners who could agree with the Crown who was to benefit from the creation of this new resource zone.