English Society

Social Changes & Developments

The University

In the early years of the c13th, scholars are gathering in Oxford and Cambridge, primarily Oxford, where they find teachers, mostly amongst the clergy. As students begin to seek lodgings around the town, so discussion on formal colleges begins until in 1264, Merton College Oxford is founded, beginning the development of Oxford University as we know it, today. Twenty years later, Peterhouse becomes the first Cambridge college.

Language & Literature

 In 1205, the first book in English appears since the Norman Conquest. Forty three years later, in 1258, the first ever proclamation is published in English. In 1283 Libros del Axedrez dados y tablas (Book of Chess and other games) was written for King Alfonso X (1221-1284), King of Castile. It was the first encyclopedia of games in European literature. (The first of the 7 parts of the Alfonso manuscript is devoted wholly to chess, and contains 103 problems). This is likely to find its way into our library sometime around the turn of the 14th century.  By about 1300, nobles refer to themselves as English and have begun to have their children educated in the language. In 1362, English becomes the official language of the court of law. By this stage, the evidence is that many authors are writing in the language with Chaucer writing The Cantebury Tales using "middle english" in 1380. Nearly a hundred years pass before, in 1474, Caxton brings the printing press from continental Europe and home printed books first appear.  His third book was the first to use woodcuts for illustrations in a printed text and was a history and rules of Chess, proving the popularity of games as a subject.. It is to be some centuries before standard spelling of all common words has been accepted.  Our library is likely to be based almost wholly on Latin texts, therefore. In later years, this will start to chaneg as books in many languages become more widely available.

Trade & Industry

Coal: England had already begun its love affair with one of the resources that was to drive its industrial future. Coal was exported to France in this period and its qualities had been discovered so it was in use for brewing, dyeing, smelting and smithing. Newcastle, a source of early coal mining was so exploited that it had become surrounded by a maze of open cuts over thirty feet deep and filled with water. By 1257, we know that the bitumen and sulphur heavy sea-coal was being burned in such quantity that Queen Eleanor refused to stay in Nottingham castle because of the stink and smoke. Only the Black Death halted the march forward, for a time as coal mining picked up momentum to feed the fires of a nation.

Timber: With waterwheels in demand by millwrights and wood required for smelting, forests were being depleted, rapidly. To smelt just a pound of iron required eight cubic feet of wood, turned, first, into charcoal. Charcoal burners were a common site in Cumbria and continued to be for centuries. By 1230, England had begun to import timber from Scandinavia to feed its industrial growth.

Mills: Mills and windmills were being established in numbers during this period. The early beginnings of the woolen industry are centred around Kendal. It is likely that some new money starts to influence the area during the late middle ages. Certainly, we should not think of the period as devoid of modern methods or technologies. The industrial revolution was a long way off but its seeds were sewn in this period. We know that in 1156, a fulling mill was established in Cockermouth.

Wool: The c13th sees the beginning of the wool trade boom and the growth of Kendal as a prosperous town. A three hundred year transition is in its infancy, a shift in demographics as the power and wealth of the nation polarise on the towns and cities so that rural prosperity becomes tied to the success of the local towns. This is notable as early as 1300. The wool and grain trades drive this, initially. Cumbria is one of the large wool producing areas but soon, York and other cities draw the manafacture of goods away from the smaller settlements, leaving only the supply of the raw material to Cumbria. The east coast ports flourish and then fluctuate as they take trade to the continent while the north-west coastal towns fall behind.


At the ouset of our campaign, most travel was conducted by folowing ancient trackways and drovers trails. There was a network of known trackways, for example between Shap Abbey and the lakeland villages, from Furness Abbey to the farms of Borrowdale (over Esk Hause and Sty Head) and from the abbey to their landing stages at Walney Channel. There were also "corpse roads", tracks cleared to move bodies to burial. Trade routes to Kendal and to the mines at Alston (silver) and Goldscope (copper) were cut out by packhorse trains. The driving of Scottish and Cumbrian cattle and sheep established routes that converged on the main market towns such as Penrith and Carlisle but carried on southwards, taking in Brough, Kirby Stephen and Kirby Lonsdale. The Hardknott and Wrynose passes were used to access the coastal plain. Old Roman ways were also re-used but it wasn't until the c18th that roads for wheeled vehicles would be properly established. We know that packhorse trains took slate from Honister, peat to and from Keswick and brought in foreign imports through Ravenglass and Whitehaven to Penrith and Kendal.  There was also an "Oversands" route from Furness to Cartmel and on to Ravenglass. This was probably established long before the medieval times but was subject to tide and local weather conditions. Wihout formal roads and sign posts, area lore becomes an important skill for those wishing to travel outside the places that are well known to them..

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