The British countryside is on the brink of change. With the withdrawal of EU subsidies, threats of US style factory farming and the promotion of ‘rewilding’ initiatives, never before has so much uncertainty and opportunity surrounded our landscape. How we shape our prospective environment can be informed by bygone practice, as well as through engagement with livestock and landscapes long since vanished.
This study will examine aspects of pastoralism that occurred in part of medieval England. It will suggest how we learn from forgotten management regimes to inform, shape and develop our future countryside. The work concerns a region of southern England the pastoral identity of which has long been synonymous with the economy of sheep pasture and the medieval right of swine pannage. These aspects of medieval pastoralism, made famous by iconic images of the South Downs and the evidence presented by Domesday, mask a pastoral heritage in which a significant part was played by cattle.
This aspect of medieval pastoralism is traceable in the region’s historic landscape, documentary evidence and excavated archaeological remains. Past scholars of the South-East have been so concerned with the importance of medieval sheep, and to a slightly lesser extent pigs, that no systematic examination of the cattle economy has ever been undertaken. This book represents a deep, multidisciplinary study of the cattle economy over the longue durée of the Middle Ages, especially its importance within the evolution of medieval society, settlement and landscape. It explores the nature and presence of vaccaries, a high status form of specialized cattle ranch. They produced beef stock, milk and cheese and the draught oxen necessary for medieval agriculture. While they are most often associated with wild northern uplands they also existed in lowland landscapes and areas of Forest and Chase. Nationally, medieval cattle have been one of the most important and neglected aspects of the agriculture of the medieval period. As part of both a mixed and specialized farming economy they have helped shape the countryside we know today.