Simplified Geology of Humber Region 23.

Most of the historic villages of Holderness took the form of linear settlements, i.e. building plots straddling a road or lane, or villages around a simple grid-plan, i.e. building plots alongside a routeway with the entrances to the land at the rear of the plot becoming a lane itself. Ottringham is an example of the latter although the short lane shown above runs crossways to the main ‘arms’ of the grid.
Having discussed the development of natural vegetation woodland (s.p.b.) on the post-glacial soils Prof. English (s.p.b.s) states that ‘Few of these wood-lands lasted into the Norman era’ (i.e. 11th -14th centuries) and she goes on to state that ‘Little of the ancient landscape of water, marsh and wood survives in Holderness today (1980s and even less so in the 21st century), and it requires an effort of imagination to reconstruct the appearance of the country before it was drained’. This invites some thought on the process by which this may have happened between, say, 4000B.C. and the 12th century, a timespan of perhaps 200 generations. This, of course, was a very long time but the pace of technological change was slow by later standards. Furthermore, most of the woodland clearance may well have happened pre 6th century as the Anglo-Saxon colonists would have needed large tracts of relatively open land on which to develop the characteristic ‘two-field’ openfield and common system of land allocation. So a follow-up question(s) might be to what extent , and by what means, was the natural vegetation on these fertile claylands reduced by prehistoric settlers – and indeed, to what extent was the forest clearance of, say, the Anglo-Saxons a destruction of seconday colonisation by Nature after some form of earlier ‘slash and burn’ treatment? The deciduous trees native to Holderness would have allowed a relatively thick undergrowth to develop, the beech with its dense leaf-canopy being more suited to calcarious soils.
(to be continued)

Simplified Geology of Humber Region 22.

Hedon is/was the one town of Holderness (Withernsea and Hornsea were certainly villages up until the coming of their railways, now long gone, they remain as small towns with their secondary schools each having a considerable proportion of students from the surrounding rural area). Hedon, like Barton, was a medieval new town created by Lords of Holderness in the early 12th century. In the town centre parallel north-south streets are evidence of its origins as is the majestic parish church, for much of Hedon’s history out of proportion to the town’s population. St. Augustine’s (east end see above) followed close on the heels of the town’s beginning with much of the building dominated by the Early English style of architecture. Although centuries older, Barton exhibited similar features in the form of grid-plan streets running east-west and two fine early medieval churches, St. Peter’s with some surviving late Saxon architecture and St. Mary’s with part of its architecture roughly contemporary with St. Augustine’s. At the time of Hedon’s creation Barton had been the principal Humber port for some centuries.
Hedon’s establishment and the canalisation of an existing small Humber tributary to create Hedon Haven went hand-in-hand. The Lord’s plan was for Hedon to be the port from which agricultural produce grown in Holderness could be shipped and luxury goods and other foodstuffs shipped in. Indeed the port got off to a good start leading to the town gaining a royal charter in the 1170s. However it was to be the the small outport of Beverley, Wyk on Hull and Ravenser Odd that were to flourish by the 14th century (although the ascendancy of the latter was to be short-lived) while the trade of Hedon stagnated.
The coming of the Hull – Hedon turnpike, 1830 – 1881, and the Hull – Withernsea railway, 1850s – 1960s, led to the population of Hedon expanding as a commuter settlement, which it remains.

Simplified Geology of Humber Region 21.

Today’s photo shows the underside of a misericord cleverly carved to show a seasonal scene, such carvings often showed a scene for each season, even a scene for each month of the year. Here an autumnal scene – a man knocking acorns from an oak tree to feed the swine (pigs) grazing on the floor of the woodland. Given that this is a medieval carving the tree would have been an English Oak, a native species, there are a number of varieties of oak tree (three different varieties were recently identified in Pearson Park, Hull), the non-native varieties have been introduced since the time of this carving.
How is this relevant to Holderness? In its primevil state the post-glacial clay soils beyond the meres would have sustained many self-sown oak trees, it would have been one of the flora that colonised the undulating land as the climate warmed after the retreat of the Devensian ice sheets. Moving forward, by the Middle Ages Holderness was almost certainly one of the most densely populated areas of England so any then remaining oak trees would have been ‘harvested’ as above.
Professor English (s.p.b.s) presents a detailed analysis of Holderness at the time of the Norman Conquest by analysing the evidence from the Domesday Survey, 1086 (and credits her sources) but for our purpose the main point is that Holderness has always been a region of villages, with Hedon as the one exception (see later). By the 11th century the villages seen today and more (before some were ‘lost’) were almost all in existance with, on average, scarcely a mile between one and the next. So an intriguing question is; over how long and by what processes did the region transform from it being covered with post-glacial climax flora and fauna and it becoming densely populated by an agrarian human population?
(to be continued).

Simplified Geology of Humber Region 20.

Professor English starts her Chapter 5 with some statements about Holderness’ basic geology, as has been done here over the last few blogs. She then goes on to that line of thought which is always so interesting; that being to come to reasonable speculations about the pre-historic flora, fauna and landscape.
Mesolithic Holderness might be divided into two sections – pre-6000B.C., that is before the North Sea filled-in to roughly its present extent, Holderness had no coast but was a western bit of the landmass of Doggerland, the name given to the land of the southern North Sea which was then above sea-level. Of course that far back the post-Devensian melt was still in progress so the flora and fauna of what was to become Holderness was sub-arctic, this explaining the discovery of some mammoth evidence for example. After about 6000B.C. the rising sea level engulfed Doggerland, even its higher ground which was to becomes the Dogger Bank of fishing history. The transition to a maritime climate would have enabled less hardy trees, shrubs and wild plants to migrate north. By about 3000B.C. Holderness would have been characterised by dense deciduous woodland on land above the meres and any homo-sapiens in the area would have still been hunter-gatherers, maintaining a harmony in Nature long-lost today. Professor English reminds us of Bede’s quote (often referred-to in earlier blogs) that when John (by the late 11th century St. John) sought respite from his responsibilities as 4th Archbishop of York he established an Anglo-Saxon monastery ‘in the woods of Deira’ (later Beverley, see above). This is evidence of a wooded environment above water level but whether Beverley can be classed as in Holderness is questionable, however it wasn’t far away.
Professor English then states that ‘few of these wood-lands however, lasted into the Norman era’.
(to be continued).

Simplified Geology of Humber Region 19.

Above is a photo of part of an exhibit about fishing in Holderness taken in the Hull and East Riding Museum.
The Bulletin (s.p.b.s) concludes with what I always think is a good example of not taking place-names at face-value. Skipsea, Hornsea, Withernsea and Kilnsea are by the sea – but when these place-names were evolving they were not by the sea, it’s coastal erosion that has resulted in them now being beside the sea. So what did ‘sea’, or similar arrangements of letters, mean centuries ago? The answer fits-in well with our study because then it was derived from an ancient word for a water body or marsh – so these places were, centuries ago, near/beside a mere, but not the coast – since then their meres, except Hornsea, have been drained or lost to coastal erosion.
The Bulletin ends with, ‘Skipsea Brough provides another interesting example of a Holderness mere, but in this case the mere served as a moat for Skipsea Castle’. I recently received through the post Vol. 42 of ‘Landscape History’, the journal of the Society for Landscape Studies. The second article by Elaine Jamieson is entitled ‘Landscape, Place and Identity: The Castles of the Holderness Plain’. Will hope to write about this when I have read it.
As previously stated I now need to summarise the last chapter of Dr. Barbara English’s book ‘The Lords of Holderness'(1979, Oxford University Press), the last chapter fitting our theme and entitled ‘Land and People’. Although the book is mainly concerned with the doings of successive Lords of Holderness this final chapter is a good summary of many points relating to the historical geography of Holderness.
But lastly for this blog it is interesting to note that the Holderness coastline between Spurn Point and Bridlington constitutes a third of Yorkshire’s coastline, this extending north to Boulby cliffs, south of Redcar and Teeside.
(to be continued)

Simplified Geology of Humber Region 18.

The sketch above is taken from the Bulletin (s.p.b.s) and given the caption ‘Fishing the mere in medieval times’. One point made in the Bulletin (s.p.b.s) is that the meres would have provided a range of resources for local settlers, reeds, wildfowl and fish (potentially). Later fish provided a staple food for ‘In the Church (universal Roman Catholic Church) calendar there were many Abstinence days when people were not supposed to eat meat’. It seems that in a more secular age revising this instruction might be a useful half-way house to vegetarianism. It is clear that, unlike today, eels massed in the meres and were considered a valuable food source. The fish would, of course, have been fresh-water species and would not have included species introduced later.
The Bulletin goes on to state that after the Reformation Abstinence days were less of an issue, but goes on to state that sea fishing had become more important, this an interesting line of thought. Interestingly, for me at least, at the moment I am preparing an article about George Poulson’s History of Holderness with especial focus on Hornsea. One fact which came to light was that one of the resident’s wills of the 14th century refered to a number of fishing boats he willed to relatives along with property and fishing paraphernalia. Clearly then Hornsea had a medieval fishing industry which must have sailed from a point on the Holderness coast east of the village (market town), distant from that village then. For this to be so access to the beach must then have been easier than today, at least in the Hornsea parish area. Indeed early county maps of East Yorkshire (see blogs from way back) all show the Holderness coast as being much more jagged than is the case today. Of course the plundering of a mere by coastal erosion would always have caused a. temporary at least, dent in the coastline.