Living Standards and Material Culture in English Rural Households 1300-1600

In collaboration with Dr Chris Briggs (University of Cambridge) this project seeks to explore the material conditions of rural life in medieval England, using evidence recovered from archaeological excavations and inventories, drawn from manorial records held in the National Archives.

A pilot project (funded by the Newton Trust and the Economic History Society), focussed on counties in the south midlands of England, sought to problematise the relationship between historical and archaeological data, in order to attempt to develop an understanding of medieval value systems. Our pilot project identified that different types of objects enter the archaeological record, and are recorded in documents, in different ways and that these patterns of inclusion and exclusion hold great potential for understanding how objects were valued and perceived in the past. We suggest, for example, that specialist tools were considered to be of particular value and that metal vessels, common in inventories but largely absent from archaeological assemblages, may have been valued for their recyclable value. We also identified tentative evidence for differences in the expenditure of disposable income and differences in consumption patterns between town and country. A summary of the results of the pilot project was published in Medieval Archaeology in 2015.

In 2016 a grant was received from the Leverhulme Trust to undertake a 3 year collaborative, interdisciplinary project to apply the methodology developed through the pilot project at the national scale. The project is due to begin in November 2016 and will have a dedicated website and social media presence. You can follow the project on the project blog.

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