The Isle of Wight in the English Landscape:
Medieval and Post-Medieval Rural Settlement and Land Use

PhD Thesis by Vicky Basford

This thesis was submitted to Bournemouth University in January 2013 and accepted the following month.

The Island's landscape diversity is remarkable and in my thesis I have analysed this varied historic landscape and placed it in a national context with reference to the works of Rackham (1986), Roberts & Wrathmell (2000; 2002) and other scholars. I have also considered the possible effects of insularity in shaping the Island's cultural landscape. A central theme of the thesis is the regional patterning apparent in the English countryside and its settlements. This idea of regional patterning will be familiar to readers of Oliver Rackham's book The History of the English Countryside, which divides much of England into 'Ancient Countryside' and 'Planned Countryside'. In my assessment of the Island's medieval and post-medieval landscape I have drawn on the Historic Landscape Characterisation (HLC) which I prepared for the Isle of Wight Council (Basford 2008). In addition, I have utilised the techniques of HLC to analyse the unpublished Ordnance Survey drawings of the Isle of Wight which were prepared from a field survey of 1793-4. This important source for local landscape history is now available from the British Library Online Gallery:
Other important sources used in the thesis are the royal surveys of the Isle of Wight prepared in 1559-1560 and 1608 and manorial surveys dating from the medieval period to the 19th century (available at the Isle of Wight Record Office).

Key themes examined in the thesis include medieval and post-medieval land use on the Isle of Wight and the nature of settlement during these periods. The early origins of Isle of Wight settlements have also been explored and cultural zones within the Island identified, using archaeological data from the Isle of Wight Historic Environment Record (HER) and the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS). My research has demonstrated how the Island differs from that part of the English mainland identified as the 'Central Province' by Roberts & Wrathmell. In the medieval period the 'Central Province' was dominated by areas with high densities of substantial 'nucleated settlements' and extensive open field systems. In contrast, the Island had a low density of large medieval villages. Settlements were generally fairly small and irregular in form, some falling into the category of 'dispersed settlements', and to this extent they fit well within Roberts & Wrathmell's 'South Eastern Province'. Open fields existed in nearly all parts of the Island but in many areas they did not dominate the landscape to the same extent as did open fields in the 'Central Province'. The process of enclosing the Islandís open fields and common land was substantially different from that which took place in the 'Central Province', with parliamentary enclosure playing a very small role compared with enclosure by agreement. Many questions raised in my thesis were not answered definitively. However, I hope that the thesis will act as a 'research agenda' for future work on the Island's historic landscape.

The thesis is arranged in two volumes:

Volume 1 Text and references
Volume 2 Figures, Tables and Appendices

Basford, V 2008 Isle of Wight Historic Landscape Characterisation Final Report. 2 volumes. Isle of Wight Council and English Heritage. Available from:  [Accessed 31 10 2013]
Rackham, O 1986 The History of the Countryside. London. Dent
Roberts, B K and Wrathmell, S 2000 An Atlas of Rural Settlement in England. English Heritage
Roberts, B K and Wrathmell, S 2002 Region and Place: a study of English Rural Settlement. English Heritage

The four illustrations below give just a flavour of the many maps and diagrams included in Volume 2 of the thesis. Note: Volume 2 is a large digital file (33 MB)

This map by William J Blaeu (1645) hints at, but does not fully reveal, the Islandís diverse landscapes

This estimate of enclosure from open-field, waste, downland and woodland, taken from the Isle of Wight HLC, has been broadly confirmed by research for the thesis although it is not entirely accurate

Enclosed Open Fields to the South-East of Brighstone shown on one of the 1793-4 Ordnance Survey Drawings

Towns, Villages, Hamlets and Dispersed Settlements shown on the 1793-4 Ordnance Survey Drawings (Medieval Parishes Shaded)