The Anglo-Saxon Fenland, c.400 – c.1000 AD.
with Dr Susan Oosthuizen (University of Cambridge)
at Sutton Hoo, Saturday, 19th November 2016.


The Anglo-Saxon fenland was colourfully described by the great Clifford Darby as ‘a frontier region … the resort of brigands and bandits’ in whose empty wilderness saints like Æthelthryth of Ely and Guthlac of Crowland established their new monasteries. The Study Day critically examines these assumptions in the light of recent research which suggests fenland history was more complicated and more interesting in this period.

The first session introduces the physical geography of the fenland, before moving on to investigate the degree of abandonment or otherwise of the fen basin in the post-Roman centuries. The second session uses place-names and other evidence for the languages spoken in the fenland to explore the cultural identity of the people who lived there. The third session discusses the stability or otherwise of political organisation in the region between about 400 and 800. The final session surveys the evidence for environmental management by those who made their living from the early medieval fen wetlands.

Provisional Programme

09.50 – 10.15:          Coffee on arrival

10.15 – 11.15:          The early Anglo-Saxon fenland: An abandoned wilderness?

11.15 – 11.40:          Coffee break

11.40 – 12.40:          Britons and Anglo-Saxons in the fen basin, c.400-1000 AD.

12.40 – 14.00:          Lunch break

14.00 – 14.50:          Political organisation in the early and middle Anglo-Saxon fenland.

14.50 – 15.10:          Tea break

15.10 – 16.00:          Making a living in the early medieval fen wetlands.

c.16.00:                   Thanks and Close

About Dr Susan Oosthuizen

Susan Oosthuizen is Reader in Medieval Archaeology at the University of Cambridge Institute of Continuing Education and a member of the University’s Department of Archaeology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London, of the Royal Historical Society, and of Wolfson College, Cambridge. She is the author of several books and numerous papers on the origins and development of early medieval agricultural landscapes and settlement, and her next book on the Anglo-Saxon Fenland will be published by Windgather in spring 2017.

Some Suggestions for Optional Background Reading

Darby, H. C. (1974). The Anglo-Saxon Fenland. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Hall, David (1987; 1992; 1996) The Fenland Project reports Nos. 2, 6 and 10, published in East Anglian Archaeology and downloadable from

Hall, D. & Coles, J. (1994). The Fenland Survey: An essay in landscape and persistence. English Heritage, Swindon.

Oosthuizen, S. (forthcoming, spring 2017). The Anglo-Saxon Fenland. Oxford,Windgather.

Oosthuizen, S. (2015). ‘Managing water in and through the peat fenland, c900-1300AD’, OWLP Conference, November 2015. 20-minute video on

Oosthuizen, S. (2014). ‘Re-evaluating maps of Domesday population densities: A case study from the Cambridgeshire fenland’, Medieval Settlement Research 29: 1-10.

Silvester, R. J. (1988). The Fenland Project No. 3: Norfolk Survey, Marshland and the Nar Valley. East Anglian Archaeology 45.

Willmoth, F. & Oosthuizen, S., eds. (2015). The Ely Coucher Book 1249-50. The Bishop of Ely’s Manors in the Cambridgeshire Fenland. Cambridge, Cambridgeshire Records Society.