From the local to the trans national – if not quite the global: some thoughts…

Sometimes microhistory can give startling insights into connections and significances far beyond the individual locality. Sometimes microhistorical research allows one to see glimpses of a bigger picture, which without the focus of the small, the intricacies of the locality would be invisible to us. Therein lies one of the intrinsic values of local historical research. one gets very close to the individual men and women of the one village. We can name them, reconstruct their families, we can smile at their nicknames, whether it is the gentle  ‘Agnes Blossom’, the descriptive ‘John the Red’, perhaps the judgmental or comical, ‘Richard the Pope’ or ‘William the Monk’;  we get to know and become attached to such individuals, and feel humble at being allowed to spy into their lives, their highs and lows, when they got married, when they purchased land, got into debt, stole food during the famine or buried their families in the years of the Black Death. However local history can tell us much more, and throw wide open bigger questions, which otherwise would remain hidden from our view.

At the coastal manor of Heacham in Norfolk peasants grew grain, produced salt, brewed ale and caught fish, mainly herring and cod. Their lord, the Priory and Convent of Lewes in Sussex paid local villagers to ship salt all the way along the coast down to Sussex, to Lewes. Meanwhile  he also used customary labour, that is unfree peasants, to grow and harvest his grain on his own demesne land. At least in some years of the early 14th century half of this harvest workforce was 50% male and 50% female, and they were fed fish at the harvest boons, which the lord had purchased from local fishermen and women at the village market. The lord then loaded ships with these crops to transport elsewhere, in some cases again to Lewes. At the same time local merchants bought local produce from the men and women of Heacham to ship these across the sea to continental Europe, where in the early 14th century they occasionally encountered pirates who raided the ships, and often killed all on board. Where were these goods headed to? Which markets were they destined to? I wonder, where the market stalls were, from whence Heacham’s grain, ale and salt was sold on, to other peasants and towns people far away from the shores of the Norfolk Wash…

Ship - Noa's Arc picture taken at the cloister in Girona Cathedral


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s