Borough and Town: A Study of Urban Origins in England

By Carl Stephenson | Go to book overview

VII
THE GROWTH OF THE BOROUGH

1. TOPOGRAPHICAL STUDY: ROMAN FOUNDATIONS

IN THE foregoing pages the problem of urban development in England has been approached by examining the principal groups of sources in their chronological order. As a result, it may be hoped that various stages in the history of the borough have been pictured with as great an accuracy as the evidence permits. Many gaps stand in the account, because many are left by the documents. To some extent, perhaps, they may be filled in by imaginative reconstruction, but that is a hazardous undertaking to be postponed as long as possible. And in the meantime greater continuity can be brought into the story by supplementing the written records with data of a quite different sort.

On the Continent, as noted above, a striking effect of the mercantile settlement theory has been to stimulate the topographical study of urban expansion.1 Such research has now been carried on for over a quarter of a century, and with splendid results. Thanks to the new approach, the history of Roman cities like Paris and Cologne, of tenth-century burgs like Ghent and Erfurt, and of newer foundations like Etampes and Lübeek has been revealed with a clarity and distinctness otherwise unobtainable. The lack of similar work in England is only too apparent, and the cause for it is equally plain. Boroughs generally have been regarded as towns without regard to the age in which they existed. Whatever difficulty has been encountered in explaining the origin of the borough, none has been felt in describing its subsequent development; it merely continued to be what it had been. With careful re-examination of the sources, however, this alleged continuity tends to disappear; and once the essential newness of the Norman borough is appreciated, the problem of its relationship to the old Anglo-Saxon borough challenges investigation.

Such an enterprise obviously requires the attention of the trained archaeologist. The vestiges of urban growth are not the documentary sources of ordinary historical research. Rather they are the remains of walls, gates, and buildings; traces of ditch and embankment; lines of streets, market places, and parish boundaries. To the skilled observer all these things, combined with information drawn from ancient records

____________________
1
Above, pp. 21, 23 ff.

-186-

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