Alnwick – old town and inner fringe belt in 1921

This plan of the Northumberland town of Alnwick shows the older, central part of the town in 1921 and the development in the built form of Alnwick that had occurred up to that date. It also shows in more detail the types of development, i. e. the land use, in Alnwick. The date of the map and the fact that it is attempting to show changes in the built form of Alnwick over time leads me to believe that the map would be of most interest to Historical Geographers because, “[Historical geography is the study of]… eographies of the past and how they relate to the present” (Clayton, 2001)

The effect of the past development patterns on the present of the example (1921) would make this article of added interest and the attempt to display both spatial and particularly temporal (time-based) data ties in with one of the important aspects of contemporary Historical Geography; recognised by Cloke, Crang and Goodwin as: “… [ensuring] the geographical preoccupation with spatiality is complemented by an attention to temporality” (Cloke, Crang and Goodwin, 2002)

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In addition historical geographers are not merely concerned with the past per se but in Historicity – that is, historical specificity, and historical transformation (Cloke, Crang and Goodwin, 2002). The map is clearly an example of transformation or more appropriately, development, though both terms have similarities as they reflect change. Specifically this example map would be of interest to urban historical geographers as their field is that of the past development of settlements.

Historical geography is linked intrinsically to both social and cultural geography, because the geographies of the past have affected current concepts in both. For example from a recent edition of the Journal of Historical Geography, the concept of social inclusion can be seen in the ‘model village’ of Bournville which: “… was the first model settlement to provide… housing not restricted to factory employees” (Bryson and Lowe, 2001) The historical geographies represented in the map can be linked to cultural geography through the concept of landscape. If landscape could be defined as: “… way of seeing” (Cosgrove,1998), then the map is a landscape as it is clear in what it displays and what it excludes; for example there is an almost complete absence of natural features or their indicators such as contours. The concept of ‘nature’ and what constitutes ‘natural’ is of course another key debate in cultural geography. Concepts at work There are more than 3 concepts that arise from study of the map; these being the Building cycle, the Burgage Cycle/Series, the Morphological Frame, Morphological Period, the Fringe Belt and the concept of Urbs-Suburbium. However three are discussed in full below:

The concept of the Burgage Cycle, developed by Michael R G Conzen partly during his study of Alnwick in the 1950s, and the patterns of which are visible in the map. It describes the cyclical patterns of development of the medieval Burgage. A Burgage is a plot of land, usually long narrow and slightly curving, set out in 11th – 12th century Britain usually around a town market place or other central foci. Owned originally by Burgars who were medieval landowners and from where the term is derived, the Burgage was rented out to burgesses and was large enough to fit dwellings and land for farming.

The Burgage cycle is characterised by development of the Burgage resulting in infilling of the plot, then terminating in clearance and redevelopment, (Whitehand, 2001) and refers specifically to four phases of development; firstly the institutive, where the plot is created and settled on initially; secondly the repletive, characterised by development; thirdly the Climax phase, where the plot is completely filled (in England this was reached typically in the late 19th – early 20th Century) and fourthly the recessive, which is clearance. The concept of the Morphological Frame, again developed largely by Conzen, describes “… n antecedent plan feature, topographical outline or set of outlines exerting a morphological influence on subsequent… plan development” (Conzen, 1969, p127). I take this to mean the fact that natural features such as rivers, (e. g. The Severn at Shrewsbury) and once established, patterns of urban development and form, continue to influence, or even constrain, future development (Larkham, Jones, 1991). Natural features such as contour lines have urban development superimposed on them so would be an influence to development. An example would be the housing patterns of Georgian Bath.

Once established, features such as rights of way, route ways or plot sizes would be difficult to change. This can be seen in the Grid system of Manhattan where the haphazard development of the older Dutch part of the financial district was not reorganised into a proper grid when the rest of Manhattan island became developed. Thirdly the concept of Morphological Period can be said to be present. Morphological Period refers to the fact that a settlement’s morphology and therefore development, especially with regard to plot form, is influenced heavily by the cultural period in which it was created.

Larkham and Jones (1991) state that the resultant morphology will be reflective of the “… socio-economic needs of that society”. For example the dual carriageways roundabouts and expressways in the centre of Birmingham reflect that they were planned and built in the 1960s; an age where the motor vehicle was becoming more prevalent both for businesses and individuals making up society and where the prevailing cultural ideal for city planning was the separation of the motor vehicle from pedestrians.

Tying in with concept 2, Morphological period will influence the Morphological Frame, which in turn will ensure that morphological period is reflected in the future although “… depending upon the needs of successive societies (Larkham and Jones 1991). For example the tightly packed back-to-back slum housing of Manchester, while deemed entirely adequate for workers in the 1860s, disappeared in the early 1960s as it was deemed unhealthy for inhabitants; there was a need to house people in more sanitary and modern accommodation and the emphasis on housing was shifted to the high rise flat. Interpretation

When first presented with the map it appears to be merely a record of how Alnwick has developed up to 1921. In conjunction with the map the three concepts discussed above allow the individual to begin to understand how it might have developed over time and why, through the use of examples from the map. Firstly the characteristics of the Burgage Cycle can be observed in operation as in 1921 the recessive (clearance) phase had not yet been reached, shown by the fact that most Burgages have some sort of development and most, especially in the vicinity of the market, possess development older than 1897.

With reference to the map in Appendix A, Burgages marked A on the south side of the Market Street are largely fully developed and are of the Commercial and Industrial type. Indeed most of the Burgages towards the market and main roads through the town are all well developed if only as residences. This could be explained due to their proximity to the market place and main roads; a probable growth focus of the pre industrial Alnwick where most business would have occurred. These Burgages, it could be said, are in the climax phase of the cycle.

Contrast this with the Burgages marked B on the north side of Clayport Street, which are at most half – full and predominantly of the Dwelling house type, possibly due to their increased distance from the centre of town and therefore development may have been more sporadic and possibly started later. These could be described as at the repletive phase where development is commencing. Unfortunately what cannot be inferred using the Burgage cycle in this case is development over time as the temporal periods defined in the map are too broad. This is made more difficult by the fact that most Burgages on the map have been developed prior to 1897.

Secondly the physical evidence for the concept of the Morphological Frame is visible, it can be argued. The existence of the castle and of Burgages suggests that the town was founded in medieval times. Indeed the existence of the Burgages, and that they retain their medieval curving shape, implies that the plot has not been changed since even though the buildings making up the plot probably have. The shape of the Burgages appears to have continued to influence building patterns long after the medieval period. This could be reasonably looked at as evidence for the morphological frame concept defined by Conzen in the last section.

In addition the street names near to the castle such as Bailiffgate, Pottergate and Narrowgate are reminiscent of medieval naming and so suggest that route ways and therefore the general morphology of Alnwick had not changed significantly since that time. The same could be said of the market place – the distinct central triangular area remains and appears to have influenced the development of Alnwick in that it is generally triangular in form. Morphological frame can be seen at a lower level too in the possible market concretions marked with a C on the map, where old sites of stalls have developed into buildings.

The morphological frame of the old town of Alnwick, at the plot level and on a larger scale may have been influenced by the society at the time it was created. To me market place, typical of a pre industrial town and society, represents the main economic activity of the town of the period it was created i. e. trade and agriculture. This has links to the concept of Morphological Period. Further evidence lies with the Burgages; again created in the medieval period and reflecting the socio economic needs of the time – a plot of land to live on, and grow food on.

It could be argued that the predominant morphological period that influences the form of the town is the medieval era; although there could be others. For example King Street, marked D on the map, is of the dwelling house type, and built between 1897 and 1921. This could reflect the different socio-economic needs (Larkham and Jones) of that period as the dwellings are built on smaller plots where the requirement would have been to house as many people as cheaply as possible, for work in the local industries – for example the Iron Foundry, marked E on the map also developed in this time period. Further enquiries

A primary method of increasing one’s understanding of the development of Alnwick would be to increase the map / plan set available; i. e. to access more plans or Ordnance Survey maps, from different dates, of Alnwick. The aim of this would be to generally, view development and morphology changes over time and specifically, to evaluate further whether morphological frame has had an influence on Alnwick’s development – has it constrained or merely influenced it? In addition an O. S. map would detail natural features, which are absent from the example map, and could have had contributed to the morphological frame.

Increasing the number of maps at which one looks at would provide the researcher with more data to work with when understanding the development of Alnwick. To establish the uses of buildings within plots it would be useful to investigate council archives – this could then be collated with the information gathered from the maps to manufacture a series of dated maps similar to the example. Fieldwork would allow the researcher to view plots firsthand and gauge the point in the Burgage cycle that plots of land had reached.

While maps would allow the researcher to do the same, the map may not document derelict buildings for example, so giving misleading data. If redevelopment were observed then the Burgage cycle could be said to be at work in Alnwick, as all stages of the cycle would have been observed. Fieldwork would also, in conjunction with council or the castle’s archives, allow further insight into the development of the town in response to society. This would provide more data to allow the researcher to apply the concept of Morphological period to Alnwick.

In particular gathering data on, and analysing the dates of, the buildings of Alnwick would give useful information on the time period when the most development occurred. The example map is not sufficient in this respect as it only shows a plan view of a limited time period and only displays morphology. For example although built on medieval burgage plots many of the buildings are unlikely to date back to medieval times. Only fieldwork, through the use of semiotics, would allow accurate definition of the predominant Morphological period in Alnwick.