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Colne Engaine: A Medieval English Parish

The usual narrative for the history of the development of the parish structure in England is fairly simple, as in this account by Roy Strong in A Little History of the English Country Church (London: Vintage, 2008):

The basic structure of our present parish system developed in the tenth century. The Anglo-Saxon ecclesiastical system centred on the minster, or monasterium; these were major churches with attendant buildings that housed priests servicing the outlying areas. (Strong, p. 19)

These were followed by smaller churches built by local lords during the ‘Great Rebuilding’ from 1050 to 1150: (more…)

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Walking through Chalkney Wood

The OS map shows the track in a straight line through through wood, heading north-north-east; it is part of a track that ran – almost straight – from Colchester to Cambridge, known as ‘Wool Street’, or maybe, by the Romans, as Via Devana, and also called ‘Worstead Street’. This sounds like a medieval name for a route through the wool producing area to ports for the continent, which was a major market for English wool in the Middle Ages. For a stretch west of Colchester, the track follows the line of the river Colne; it is still visible in Chalkney wood as a hollow way. (more…)

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More reading on woods and forests

Since writing on Seeing the Woods for the Trees, I have read Charles R. Young’s paper on ‘The Royal Forests of Medieval England’, which takes a very different approach from Rackham’s book.  Young’s Introduction, in particular, concentrates on textual approaches to the Forest, and mentions the ‘ancient woods’ and ‘darkness and gloom’ which met the Norman invaders (p. 1). He largely associates forest with areas of woodland, but acknowledges the importance of the imposition of Forest law and mentions the ‘harsh reality of the royal forest law introduced by the Normans’ (p. 1) and quotes from Dorothy Whitelock’s edition of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: ‘Powerful men complained of it and poor men lamented it’ (p. 3; p. 165 in Whitelock ed). Forests were also, however, places of refuge, mentioned even in Beowulf and while Gawain faced perils in the forest (in Gawain and the Green Knight) Chaucer described ‘pleasant forest places’. According to Young, the forest as the refuge of the hero Robin Hood is ‘fully understandable only in reference to the royal forest laws which they daily flouted by killing the King’s deer’ (p. 2).

While forests tended to be established in areas of woodland, they included areas with villages and open spaces.  (more…)

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Seeing the Woods for the Trees

How wooded was Essex in the early thirteenth century? Writers such as W. G. Hoskins, considered the father of landscape archaeology, state that it was ‘heavily wooded’, at least in the eleventh century; Nicholas Crane mentions the ‘continued existence of woodland’ in the south-east to explain the lack of nucleated villages here when elsewhere the open field system developed; villages and the open field system is a topic I shall return to. Most authoritative is the study of woodland in Oliver Rackham’s ‘classic history of Britain’s landscape, flora and fauna’, The History of the Countryside, which uses East Anglia as one of its main areas of study. Rackham uses information in the Domesday Book to calculate that throughout England in the late eleventh century about 35% of land was arable 15% was woodland, 1% was meadow and probably 30% was pasture. He later suggests that this 15% coverage by woodland had reduced to 10% by 1350 (pp. 16 & 88). The period we are interested in lies in between these two dates.

Of course, what is meant by ‘woodland’ is open to interpretation. (more…)

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Lord of the Manor: Some Clarification

A trip to Cambridge University Library unearthed an article by J. H. Round on ‘The Manor of Colne Engaine’ published in the Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society in 1903. Round starts by paying tribute to the work of Morant on the history of Essex but adds, ‘more than a century and a half has elapsed since Morant wrote, and there are naturally cases in which fuller knowledge and easier access to records enable us to correct the earlier descent of Essex manors as given in his work’. This might also reasonably be said of the century since Round wrote, but his account of the acquisition of the manor of Parva Colun by Richard Engaine, and thence Vitalis, is in accord with that of the 2001 account in the History of the County of Essex, (more…)

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A Bibliography Blog

In 1219 the lord of the manor of Parva Colun (Little Colne, soon to be known as Colne Engaine) presented Peter de Feria as the rector of the parish. Peter was the first rector whom we know of by name; the church building is older so there may well have been earlier rectors. Services may have been taken by monks from Colne Priory, but I have not seen any mention of this in the Colne Priory Cartularium.  I intend to write an account of life in the parish of Colne Engaine in 1219 in time for the 800th anniversary of Peter de Feria’s induction.

Here I am going to publish notes on my reading – a sort of ‘Bibliography Blog’. As I keep on insisting, I am not an historian. But I am a medievalist, in so far as I have studied, and written on, medieval literature. To appreciate the literature it is necessary to have some understanding of the period in which it was written, and I have acquired some of the historian’s skills over the past twenty years since I first set myself to the study of a thirteenth-century text.

My first task – which turned into a conundrum – was to sort out how Vitalis (or Viel) Engaine came to be the lord of the manor, the person who presented Peter de Feria to the living.

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Lord of the Manor: A Conundrum and some Confusion


The story of who Vitalis, or Viel, Engaine, the lord of the manor in 1219, was is the first thing to sort out, and there are at least three accounts which differ. It seems difficult to reconcile them:

Vernon Clarke in 1986 wrote ‘Richard de Engaine of Blatherswick, Northants. became connected with Little Colum [or  Parvum Colum, the name of Colne Engaine before the Engaine name was adopted] when he married Sarah, Lady of Colne (d 1222), daughter of Aubrey de Vere, 1st Earl of Oxford. Their son Vitalis (Viel) de Engaine (d 1248) bought 40 acres of land at Little Colum in 1218. The 1974 Colne Engaine: Story of an Essex Village, revised in 1992, starts further back, with Robert Malet who owned Little Colne at the time of the Domesday book. According to this account, his estates were confiscated and handed to Alberic de Vere, from where Little Colne passed to the de Monchensys of Suffolk. (more…)

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Returning home to Ilam

The walk we undertook in June – all 250 miles of it – was circular: while not describing a perfect circle, we ended up in Settle where we had started three weeks previously. In August we joined my brother and his family in Dovedale for a much shorter walk that nevertheless completed a large circle; we were bringing the remains of my mother back to the place where she had been born nearly ninety years before. (more…)

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Our Pennine Journey

A few years ago, when we walked St Giles Way in southern France, we stayed overnight in a Chambres d’hote and the next day our host gave us a lift to the start of the day’s walk. He was keen to improve his English, so when he wished us a ‘good journey’ we tried to explain that we wouldn’t use the word ‘journey’ for a day’s walk. And yet ‘journey’ seems the obvious term for a day’s occupation coming, as it does, from the French ‘jour’ and having the same root as ‘journeyman’, which originally meant someone who was paid by the day. When walking a long distance, the day’s occupation is to walk to that night’s destination: it is a journey in a very simple sense. Yet now ‘journey’ seems to suggest a trip of some length (more…)

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Around Mont Blanc

There is only one good reason for walking the Tour de Mont Blanc – the experience of the walk itself.  We did what we thought we could manage – anti-clockwise from Courmayeur in Italy, through Switzerland, to Chamonix in France over six days (with the help of the wonderful ‘Enlightened Traveller‘ who organised all the hotels and provided excellent walking notes). There may be some who do the whole tour – and especially those who do the ‘haute route’ – for whom it is another challenge to tick off, but we are no longer at the stage of life when we boast about challenges and adventures. We simply want to enjoy each day and the experiences it brings.  (more…)

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