The profane and the sacred: Expressions of belief in the domestic buildings of Southern Fenland, circa 1500 to 1700AD



Historical and cultural geographers have in the recent past argued for a more dynamic and critical geography of architecture and suggested that researchers pay greater attention to domestic architecture and the spaces within the home. My original contribution to knowledge shows how the home was employed as a vehicle for the permanent expression of private and individual belief, following the English Reformation and over and above the employment of traditional, commissioned and yet more transient decoration. There are no studies of an area’s collective spiritual expressions as witnessed over several hundred years, perhaps due in part to the limited primary documentary evidence available. I have furthered research into various motifs, and have forwarded two new theories. I have shown that the salt niche was used for ritual storage rather than simply for foodstuffs, and that a ‘spiritual frequency’ was generated within the home for protection and to enable a closer association with God. The geographical area of study has been chosen not least because of the apparent lack of attention paid to the county by vernacular architectural historians in the recent past which lies in the architectural shadow of Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk. The research looks at a selection of houses from various parishes to the north and east of Cambridge, plus several other East Anglian properties, for contextual purposes. An interdisciplinary approach, the analysis considers elements of architectural history, buildings archaeology, art history and social geography and employs documentary and micro-historical analysis. The investigation concludes at a time when the gathering pace of the Enlightenment meant less religious turmoil, greater levels of urbanity and scientific discovery, and the arguable coeval reduction in the belief, practice and resultant manifestations of village lore.






Duck, Jonathan, “The profane and the sacred: Expressions of belief in the domestic buildings of Southern Fenland, circa 1500 to 1700AD,” Centre for Regional and Local History Theses and Papers, accessed June 13, 2024,