The South Oxfordshire Project: perceptions of landscape, settlement and society, c.500-1650

This Project is now complete

The South Oxfordshire Project: perceptions of landscape, settlement and society, c.500-1650

How did ordinary medieval people understand the world around them? To what extent did the landscape in which they lived shape their sense of identity?

The South Oxfordshire Project is an ambitious programme of research on the south Oxfordshire vale and Chilterns covering the early Middle Ages to the seventeenth century. Its objective is to investigate how inhabitants shaped their social world and identity in relation to the places in which they lived. Much has been said about perceptions, but this is the first study to attempt to develop a methodology to tackle the subject in regional landscape history. The research draws on concepts from anthropology and sociology in order to understand contemporaries’ sensory and cognitive engagement with the medieval and early modern environment and the implications of this engagement for the formation of individual and group identities.


The South Oxfordshire Project
Research Aims

The study area comprises over 10,000 hectares of mixed landscape in the former hundred of Ewelme. The hundred’s 14 parishes included dispersed settlements and early enclosed wood-pasture landscapes as well as nucleated villages and large open fields. The area has an exceptionally rich collection of documents and early estate maps, a substantial set of vernacular buildings, and strong archaeological potential. Amongst the key sources for the study are the thousands of early field-names and peasant bynames which, when plotted and analysed thematically, yield valuable insights into the interaction between the material environment and social relationships.

The project started in 2011 as a pilot study organised jointly by VCH Oxfordshire and the University of Oxford, and funded by the John Fell Fund. Under the leadership of Dr Stephen Mileson, and thanks to Leverhulme funding, it was expanded to a three-year programme of research which ran until September 2015. The project research is now finished and the team is completing the main output, a substantial and richly illustrated monograph, provisionally entitledMedieval Perceptions of Landscape: South Oxfordshire 500-1650.



  • An early article in Landscape History explaining the approach to popular perceptions adopted by the project is availablehere.
  • A piece in Oxoniensia dealing with the Anglo-Saxon cemetery, 'productive' site and hundred meeting place in Ewelme can be accessed here.
  • A pioneering analysis of the connection between house layout, location and orientation and village social space was summarised in S. Mileson, ‘People and Houses in South Oxfordshire, 1300-1650’, Vernacular Architecture, 46 (2015), pp. 8-25.
  • A broader article on the implications of the material setting for rural social relations will appear as S. Mileson, with a contribution by S. Brookes, ‘Openness and Closure in the Later-Medieval Village’, Past & Present (2016/17)
  • Findings on the role of church bells in creating a sense of community in the medieval countryside are summarised in S. Mileson, ‘Sound and Landscape’, in C. Gerrard and A. Gutiérrez (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of the Later Medieval Archaeology in Britain (2016)
  • Initial analysis of bynames and field-names is presented in ‘Beyond the Dots: Mapping Meaning in the Later-Medieval Landscape’, in M. Hicks (ed.), The Later-Medieval Inquisitions Post Mortem: Mapping the Medieval Countryside and Rural Society (2016)
  • Stephen Mileson
  • Chris Wickham
  • Stuart Brookes