Sunday 3 August 2014

A short introduction to 'The History of the Louth Region'

'The History of the Louth Region' is intended to offer an illustrated, up-to-date online history of the early Louth region, based in part on my book The Origins of Louth: Archaeology and History in East Lincolnshire, 400,000 BC–AD 1086.

The 'Louth region' as defined here, showing areas lying within 5 and 10 km of the centre of Louth (created by C. R. Green, contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011). The 10 km radius study zone around Louth covers a sizeable area of both the Wolds and the Lincolnshire Marsh. It was chosen not only for this reason, but also in order to pull together enough material for a meaningful analysis and to enable Louth’s development to be placed within its local context.

There are, needless to say, many books, websites, Facebook groups and the like which are devoted to the history of Louth and its surrounding villages. However, most of these are focussed on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with very little often said about earlier periods, especially those before the compilation of Domesday Book in 1086. To a large degree this is understandable, given that so little surviving written documentation survives from before the time of Domesday, less than a thousand years ago, and that so much information is preserved and accessible about the last century or so. Nonetheless, this situation is also problematical.

The Louth entry in the late 11th-century Domesday Book (from Open Domesday, image credit: Professor J.J.N. Palmer and George Slater)

First, humans have been active in the area around Louth for considerably longer than a thousand years. The earliest material yet found in Louth itself dates from the Later Mesolithic and Neolithic periods (7000 BC–2200 BC), and tools found only a little way from the town (at Welton le Wold) were made by humans who lived there hundreds of thousands of years ago. In other words, the documentary record covers only a small fragment of the actual human history of this part of Lincolnshire.

Second, it seems clear that the fundamental origins of the medieval and modern Louth region lie beyond this documentary horizon. Louth was already a market town by the time of Domesday Book and most of the surrounding villages were in existence before this point too. In consequence, if we are interested in how the modern Louth region came into being, then we need to be looking at what happened in the period before written records become common.

All pre-Norman archaeological finds & sites within the Louth region through to 2010, demonstrating the wealth of archaeological evidence available from the region (drawn by C. R. Green). The finds are shown against an outline of the topography of the Wolds, the approximate position of the Late Saxon coastline, the original course of the River Lud and probable early routeways. Maps like this can be read against the main 'Louth region' map, above, to get an idea of the location of the finds (the modern day details are not included on such maps, as they quickly become confusing with it).

These two observations form the starting point for this series of posts. Any reasonable attempt at understanding the true length and complexity of human history and activity in the Louth region, how it changed over time, and how the modern region came into being, has to go beyond the documentary record. And whilst written references are certainly rare before the Norman Conquest, other types of evidence are available and even fairly plentiful. For example, there is a great wealth of archaeological material in this region (see the map above), and this can be supplemented by a significant body of linguistic, environmental, landscape and geological evidence too. Together these sources of evidence can be used to investigate the early history and origins of Louth and its hinterland, despite the lack of significant early written material. 

The aim of the present series is thus simple: to look at all the evidence, piece by piece, and ask what it can tell us about the history of the Louth region from the start of human activity here through into medieval period. In doing so, I hope to not only be able to build up an outline history of the Louth region from the Lower Palaeolithic onwards, but also to be able to draw wider attention to some of the fascinating finds and sites that lie within this region. I hope you enjoy!

Next: The Welton le Wold handaxes & the earliest human activity in the Louth region (#1)

Post Index of  'The History of the Louth Region'

'The History of the Louth Region' is based in part on my book, The Origins of Louth: Archaeology and History in East Lincolnshire, 400,000 BC–AD 1086. The latter offers additional details and analysis, along with suggested further reading, and is available to buy as a paperback book. The content of this page, including any original illustrations, is Copyright © Caitlin R. Green, 2014, All Rights Reserved, and should not be used without permission.