The Changing Landscape and Economy of Wisbech Hundred: 1250-1550


There is the ever-present danger that the study of local history can be seen as parochial and of limited value in understanding the forces that shape the society and economy of a country. This thesis demonstrates the value of local research as a means of challenging established national social, demographic and economic models. By developing an understanding of regional variation it is possible to enhance our comprehension of the central themes in medieval English history.

The thesis uses a wetland region, Wisbech Hundred in Cambridgeshire, as a case study to illustrate the response to environmental and socio-economic change and to compare this with national behaviour. It is in part a study of the historic landscape of the region and in the tradition of landscape study it fundamentally explores the transformational interaction between people and their environment.

The study of wetland regions is particularly informative as they exemplify the struggle between humanity and the landscape to establish viable settlements. These liminal communities living at the extremity of the region had many potential economic advantages that were attractive to the settler but this had to be balanced against the continuous threat of disaster. The case study shows how it was possible for the medieval inhabitants to progressively manage, modify and transform the region.

This was achieved in the period 1250-1550 against the backdrop of great upheaval and profound change in the structure of society and economy in England. It covers the closing stages of the great period of high medieval growth followed by demographic crisis and finally stagnation in the recovery of both population and the economy. This study shows the complex nature of local behaviour that can be easily overlooked by the application of broad concepts that attempt to provide an all embracing explanation of the medieval world.




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Gilbert, Michael Charles, “The Changing Landscape and Economy of Wisbech Hundred: 1250-1550,” Centre for English Local History Theses and Papers, accessed September 28, 2022,