THE CHANGING ASPECTS OF SETTLEMENT IN CENTRAL SOMERSET FROM THE ELEVENTH TO THE EARLY SEVENTEENTH CENTURIES

Langdon, Marjorie (1987). THE CHANGING ASPECTS OF SETTLEMENT IN CENTRAL SOMERSET FROM THE ELEVENTH TO THE EARLY SEVENTEENTH CENTURIES. The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000f954

Abstract

The study covers an area in north-west Somerset within the hinterland of Bridgwater, that is, within a radius of approximately fifteen miles of the town. Developments in settlement patterns, economy and social conditions are reviewed between the late eleventh and early seventeenth centuries. The region was largely agricultrual; but the economy was influenced by local industry and markets and by ports on the Severn estuary and on the existence of navigable rivers. Published works dealing with developments are examined in the context of England as a whole and for Somerset in particular. The discussion is summarised under four sections dealing with (1) the historical geography at Domesday; (2) changes to the early fourteenth century; (3) the late fifteenth century, and (4) the situation in the early seventeenth century.
The processes of change move progressively from a feudal economy and social structure to a capitalist society. The themes of changing elements in the space economy consider (1) the control of land use, (2) developing industry and trade, and (3) effects on social conditions. Extensive land reclamation and the woollen textile trade produced considerable wealth but the prosperity was not spread generally throughout the whole area, or amongst all members of the population, Money from wool and cloth, coinciding with the fourteenth century failure of demesne farming, encouraged the ruse of larger independent farming units. The sale of monastic property gave further opportunities to those with capital to acquire estates.
New spatial structures were formed. In northern and eastern areas prosperous farms with mixed produce emerged and these were owned or rented from landowners or merchants. Newly-built houses and churches indicated wealth. In the hilly southern and western districts small holdings continued to exist, with less apparent growth, and large estates were formed from previous monastic land or waste. Trading and industrial centre constituted a third sector of the local economy. Overall, socially and economically, divisions between social classes were increased - especially between those with land and wealth and the landless poor.

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