Suffolk settlement - A study in continuity.
thesisposted on 19.11.2015, 09:12 by P. G. (Peter G) Bigmore
Much of the East Anglian landscape can still be regarded by the historical geographer as an unknown palimpsest. Its medieval field pattern, for example, still awaits adequate explanation and the whole fascinating development of the roads and tracks that surround those fields has yet to be approached in any systematic way. One important aspect that has also remained a part of that palimpsest has concerned the settlement of the region, its origins and the development of the pattern as it is seen today. How much of the pattern does belong to a beginning in the Saxon Period, as historians working on that period would still have us believe? One of the tasks, therefore, of this thesis is to investigate the origins of a large number of the 'early' Anglo-Saxon settlements in one part of East Anglia, the county of Suffolk, in order to provide a more accurate picture of settlement development and the origins of those patterns that can now be recognised. The other main task is to clarify a number of rather confusing definitions of the term 'continuity', much used in recent years by historians, archaeologists and geographers when they have been working on the Roman or Saxon periods. How much do such ideas contribute to an explanation of settlement patterns, or how much are they concerned with more particular aspects such as the continuous use of a precise site or a particular style of pottery manufacture? The choice of Suffolk is to some extent arbitrary. The county does not constitute a separate region within East Anglia, although it had a certain political autonomy in the 7th and 8th Century. But, apart from the convenience afforded by the county boundary for the purposes of such research, it does have certain advantages over its neighbours on the eastern seaboard. Norfolk has the complicating factor of a far more intensive settlement by the Danes, which may have led to the obscuring of the earlier Anglo-Saxon pattern by Danish place-names. In the south, a large part of southern Essex has now become part of the metropolitan Sprawl of London, which again provides difficulties for any research method that seeks to make use of ancient features that may still be recognised in the landscape (field patterns are of particular importance here). In terms of its suitability as an area for research into the origins of settlement and of settlement pattern Suffolk represents the one area of early and intensive Anglo-Saxon settlement in Eastern England where later developments have done the least to obscure those features.