Book Chapter

Parishes and Churches



Oram R (2017) Parishes and Churches. In: Stringer KJ & Winchester AJL (eds.) Northern England and Southern Scotland in the Central Middle Ages. Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, pp. 197-218.

Studies of parishes within the territories of the former Northumbrian kingdom that were divided by the Anglo-Scottish borderline as it crystallised in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries have been approached traditionally from either English or Scottish perspectives rather than by viewing those lands as a unit. Geographically and topographically, the region from the Humber to the Forth can be treated as a block, united by the spine of the Pennine and Cheviot Hills that merge into the massif of the Scottish Southern Uplands. Edged by low-lying coastal fringes and penetrated by long and often deeply cut river valleys, this zone had historically long-established settlement patterns where population was concentrated most densely on the coastal plains and in the lower reaches of the valleys and more thinly – in both permanently and seasonally occupied sites – through the upland areas. In the early centuries AD, during long periods of relatively benign environmental conditions, many parts of the uplands supported more substantial settled populations, which were exploiting for pasture the grasslands covering much of this region and were cultivating the scattered patches of better soils. But deteriorating climate, epidemic and political disturbance in the fifth and sixth centuries led to the emptying of much of the upland zone of all but a thin scattering of settlements and a shift towards its short-range, seasonal exploitation by communities in its lowland fringes. Towards the end of the ninth and through the tenth centuries this situation began to change as ameliorating climate conditions encouraged the permanent recolonisation of upland. That recolonisation process intensified as an upswing in the northern European economy in the eleventh century stimulated trade and encouraged population growth. Throughout the former Northumbria, between the 1090s and the middle of the thirteenth century, record evidence reveals a landscape busy with woodland clearance, expanding agriculture, new settlement and an overall rise in population levels, and the attendant growth of structures and systems of exploitation and control which these new settlements entailed. Amongst those structures and systems were the institutions of organised religion, principally the dioceses and their administrative subdivisions of archdeaconries and rural deaneries and, at local level, the parish.

Publication date30/11/2017
PublisherBoydell and Brewer
Place of publicationWoodbridge

People (1)


Professor Richard Oram
Professor Richard Oram

Professor, History