Reconstructing Everyday Lives in the Mid-13th-Century Fenland Landscape
with Dr Sue Oosthuizen (University of Cambridge)
at the Suffolk Punch Trust, Hollesley
on Saturday, 24th November, 2018.

This study-day introduces us to the Ely Coucher Book, a survey of the Bishop of Ely’s vast fenland estates in 1249-50 so comprehensive that, when complete, it was too fat to stand on the bookshelf and had instead to lie down as if asleep (from the French coucher, ‘to sleep’).

Because the same questions were asked on each manor, and the work of collection, recording and analysis was undertaken in a single phase to similar standards within a consistent framework by a centrally co-ordinated team, the Ely Coucher Book provides a detailed portrait of many aspects of daily life across a large medieval region.

The course reconstructs everyday lives and relationships across that mid-thirteenth-century landscape – including relationships between lords and their tenants, the pattern of settlements, the economies of extended families, their occupations, and their management of the land – to try to understand ‘what really happened in that land of mystery which we call the past’.

Provisional Programme

10.00 – 10.30:  Coffee on arrival

10.30 – 11.30:   The East Anglian fenland – its medieval geography and opportunities

11.30 – 11.50:   Coffee break

11.50 – 12.50:   The agricultural economy and its management

12.50 – 13.50:   Lunch break

13.50 – 14.40:   The manorial landscape

14.40 – 15.00:  Tea break

15.00 – 15.50:   Lordly and peasant trade and commerce

c.15.50:            Thanks and Close

About Dr Susan Oosthuizen

Susan Oosthuizen is Professor of 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. Her research is currently focused on the development of early medieval agricultural landscapes and settlements, and on the origins of Anglo-Saxon England. Her most recent publications are The Anglo-Saxon Fenland (Windgather, 2017) and The Emergence of the English (Arc Humanities Press, forthcoming 2018).


At a previous Study Day by Sue, when asked ‘What was best about the day?‘ people said:

  • She was superb as usual! A comprehensive introduction to the subject. Brilliant handouts – thanks. Very good time keeping.
  • In depth examination of our wonderful heritage of villages, fields, landscape. Wonderful, thank you
  • Handouts. Great job. Susan was an excellent speaker and she brought the subject alive.
    The whole day was packed full of information or issues to contemplate. Very useful and enjoyable
  • Knowledge and enthusiastic delivery of the lecturer, all delivered with humour.
  • Fantastic power point presentation which added to clarity of the information
  • Excellent presentation. Very good visuals
  • The combination of her delightful matter and knowledge for such a huge subject an absolute treat and for the not particularly scholarly so clear. I cannot imagine any one better for the subject


Some Suggestions for Optional Background Reading

  • Bailey, M. A Marginal Economy? East Anglian Breckland in the Later Middle Ages. Cambridge University Press, 1989.
  • Bond, J. Monastic Landscapes. Tempus, 2004.
  • Darby, H. C. The Medieval Fenland. Cambridgeshire University Press, 1940 & later editions.
  • Fairweather, J. ed. Liber Eliensis, A History of the Isle of Ely from the Seventh Century to the Twelfth. Boydell and Brewer, 2005.
  • Hallam, H. E. Settlement and Society. A Study of the Early Agrarian History of South Lincolnshire. Cambridge University Press,1965.
  • Miller, E. The Abbey and Bishopric of Ely. Cambridge University Press, 1951 & later editions.
  • Oosthuizen, S. The Anglo-Saxon Fenland. Windgather, 2017.
  • Ravensdale, J. Liable to Floods. Village Landscapes on the Edge of the Fens AD450-1850. Cambridge University Press, 1974.
  • Reports of the English Heritage Fenland Project (1988-1996), published by East Anglian Archaeology as EAA Volumes 27, 35, 45, 52, 55, 56, 66 and 79; downloadable from
  • Willmoth, F. and Oosthuizen, S. eds. The Ely Coucher Book 1249-50. The Bishop of Ely’s Manors in the Cambridgeshire Fenland. Cambridgeshire Record Society, 2015.