Caldecote: The Development And Desertion Of A Hertfordshire Village

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The manor house, six labourer’s cottages and a church are all that now survive above ground of one of Hertfordshire’s smallest parishes, but plenty of earthworks survived to hint at a much larger Medieval settlement until 1973, when ploughing began to erode the site rapidly and a five year rescue excavation was set in train.

Lack of immediate publication meant that Caldecote became one of the ‘lost’ sites of the 1970s, but, looking on the bright side, post-excavation work carried out in the 21st century has perhaps extracted more from the material than might have been the case in the 1970s, and can set the results into a firmer framework of understanding about Medieval settlement types.

So what does Caldecote add to that framework? The authors stake a claim for Caldecote as significant for understanding the development of Medieval peasant structures. Guy Beresford pleads eloquently for the recognition of simply cob structures with structural post holes that are neither perfectly aligned nor of consistent depth, easily mistaken for byres or outbuildings, as the commonplace dwellings of the rural labourer from the 10th to the 14th centuries. Important too is the evidence that subdivision of Medieval buildings into halls and separate chambers is earlier than many believe and that such structural divisions spread rapidly from high status to peasant housing.

There is also much evidence for the amalgamation of landholdings and the development of more substantial farms and buildings in the later 14th century, which the authors cautiously attribute to the abundance of land available at reasonable terms as a consequence of the population reductions after the Black Death. Who exactly was making this investment, and whether the opportunities and benefits were felt as much by tenants as by the land-owning gentry, is one of several topics that the authors suggest for future research, along with comparisons between the relative prosperity of rural and urban dwellers.


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