chapter  16
20 Pages

BRITAIN FROM AD 1500: Landscape and townscape


This chapter covers the post-medieval period from c. 1500 until the start of the most rapid phase of industrialization around 1830. During this period, the British landscape was transformed dramatically: much of the landscape we see today was the product of this period (Everson and Williamson 1998). The most important background inuences were the sustained growth of population following the post-medieval decline, along with growing prosperity for at least some social groups. Between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, the population of England and Wales trebled and in Scotland more than doubled. In the countryside, this encouraged commercialization of agriculture, with wide-ranging implications for the rural landscape. In the towns, it generated growth and structural changes. Major developments occurred in the technology and scale of many industries, leading to the creation of new industrial landscapes and regions. These changes inuenced, and were in turn affected by, developments in transport. In 1500, society in England was predominantly rural with only c. 5 per cent of the population living in large towns. Wales and Scotland were even more lightly urbanized. By c. 1830, Britain was well on the way to becoming dominated by urban population and industry. The British landscape may be a palimpsest, but it is a palimpsest dominated by post-medieval features. It is impossible to present a comprehensive survey of such a complex period in a single chapter; attention will therefore focus on the main themes in landscape evolution, together with the approaches that have been adopted in studying them.