Carrie Willis

Dynamic Landscapes

The Spatiality of Social Relations at Ightham Mote

  • Faculty Advisor

    Mark Hauser

Published On

May 2016

Originally Published

NURJ 2015-16


We use space to describe and make sense of the world around us, but also to categorize and understand others. Social identity is spatially rooted – this is why the terms suburban, urban, and rural index ideas of life in these places. If we ascribe meaning to people’s position in the landscape, can the landscape itself ascribe meaning onto us by controlling our movements? Using the work of Pierre Bourdieu and borrowing from spatial theory, I will provide a framework with which to explore the way that barriers and constraints on movement in physical space reflect boundaries in social space. Through geospatial modeling and topographical analysis of the landscape at Ightham Mote, a moated manor house in Sevenoaks, Kent, England, I illustrate how the topography of the landscape constrains movement and facilitates the formation of public and private space. Using this approach, I illustrate how the natural topography of the landscape at Ightham Mote reinforces social identities within the framework of a social hierarchy. This allows us to identify the dynamism of landscapes and the role of embodied daily practice in the formation and reinforcement of social relations.


Landscapes act as stages upon which social processes take place. Buildings, boundaries, roads, centers of industry, ritual spaces, and residential areas all create an intelligible pattern of society written on the land.[1] Terms like urban, suburban, and village, not to mention gated community, projects, and ghetto, reflect in our language an understanding of the way social identity is spatially rooted. The existence of these terms illustrate how “[in] everyday life and language … the experiences of spatial formations is an intrinsic, if unconscious dimension of the way in which we experience society itself. We read space, and anticipate a lifestyle.”[2]

I will argue that landscapes can also be catalysts for social processes, not only reflecting social identity, but creating and reinforcing it. In August of 2014, I participated in fieldwork on-site at Ightham Mote, a moated manor house in Kent, England. Set within a valley on a downward north/south slope, movement throughout the landscape and routes of approach to the house are complex. Ightham Mote’s landscape offers an opportunity to investigate the way the natural topography of the landscape constrains movement and contributes to embodied daily practices.

1. Hillier and Hanson 1984
2. Hillier and Hanson 1984, 27

Using Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of relational social space[3], I will investigate the ways in which barriers and constraints on movement in physical space reflect and create boundaries in social space. Through geospatial modeling and topographical analysis of the landscape at Ightham Mote, I will illustrate how the existence of both a public and private road renders Ightham Mote a privileged social space. Through this analysis, I will illustrate how we can use topography to investigate how constraints on movement, created by natural elements in the environment, can have profound implications for social relations among those who move throughout the landscape.

3. Bourdieu 1977; 1998

Relational Theory

As Hillier and Hanson explain, “[Experience] of space is the foundation and framework of all our knowledge of the spatio-temporal world.”[4] Bourdieu describes space as a set of “distinct, coexisting positions that are exterior to one another and … defined in relation to one another.”[5] In physical space, these “coexisting positions” are made up of objects, features, and points that can be plotted and assigned physical coordinates. But physical space is also composed of individuals with agency and physical mobility, moving throughout the landscape, each defined in relation (behind, near, above, below) the others.

4. Hillier and Hanson 1984, 29
5. Bourdieu 1998, 6, emphasis in original

According to Bourdieu[6], just as individuals operate in relation to one another in physical space, social identities and classes operate in relation to one another in social space. Bourdieu explains that individuals and groups define themselves in relation to others; understanding of what it means to be “low class” is impossible without an understanding of the “high class” way of life. Social classes are constituted by a series of “position takings”[7] based on shared experiences, understandings of the world, practices, and beliefs socialized into the individual. Bourdieu refers to these shared experiences as habitus.

6. Bourdieu 1977; 1998

7. 1998: 8

Habitus are “generative principles of distinct and distinctive practices … classificatory schemes, principles of classification, principles of vision and division, different tastes. They make distinctions between what is good and what is bad, between what is right and what is wrong ….”[8] Habitus are “engrained in the body;”[9] As Matthew Johnson explains, “[an] eighteenth-century gent who started behaving like a yeoman, adopting a certain lifestyle, behaviour, set of attitudes, eating and acting towards social superiors, equals, or inferiors in a certain way, might cease to be a gent.”[10] Habitus is thus physically expressed as well as internalized. Social class, argues Bourdieu, exists “not as something given, but as something to be done.”[11]

8. Bourdieu 1998, 8
9. Bourdieu 1998, vii
10. Johnson 2002, 12
11. Bourdieu 1998, 12, emphasis in original

Space operates not only as a site of human interaction, but a tableau onto which “social and mental processes” are projected.[12] In other words, when humans shape their environment through design, by diverting a river or building a castle, the style, technology of construction, and placement of these modifications all reflect habitus. Thus, “[socially] understood beliefs and values are therefore embedded in physical structures … and can be communicated (implicitly or explicitly) to humans experiencing their spatial layout.”[13]

12. Hillier and Hanson 1984, 5
13. Johnson 2013, 12

Smith argues that landscapes are necessarily and fundamentally political, the site and catalyst of “spatial practices critical to the formation, operation, and overthrow of geopolitical orders, of regimes, of institutions.”[14] Smith argues that the ordering of the environment reflects a larger struggle to preserve relational class hierarchies and the authority of political regimes. If our embodied daily practices – our expression of habitus – can reinforce (or counteract) our social identities, can landscapes manipulate our embodied daily practices to keep us confined to a particular social space?

14. Smith 2003, 5

It is impossible to truly understand the mentality of the medieval individual, but we can learn a lot about their habitus – their perceptions of themselves and others – by studying their embodied daily practices. Through the examination of the topography of the landscapes in which people operated, we can identify the way individuals were constrained by or overcame their environments and investigate the ways that the landscape works to “condition and guide reaction to and behavior in space.” By applying the relational perspective to the study of landscape archaeology at Ightham Mote, we can explore not only how the landscape reflects social categories and status, but how it manipulates the movement of individuals in social space to challenge or maintain relational hierarchies.

15. Hillier and Hanson 1984, 7

Igtham Mote

Data provided by Tim Sly (University of Southampton) and Kathryn Catlin (Northwestern University).

Figure 1: A map of Ightham Mote with features outlined. The thick grey line represents the house. The brown rectangle with a semicircular cut in its eastern side, located to the immediate west of the house, is the lawn of the outer court. The northern ponds are outlined in blue, while the southern pond, immediately south of the house, is represented by the brown lines (paths) surrounding it.

Ightham Mote is a moated manor house owned and managed by the National Trust. The site is located in southern Kent, 8 kilometers (about 5 miles) east of the town of Sevenoaks. The estate currently includes the two story house, its outer courtyard and stables, an orchard, gardens, and surrounding woodland (see Figure 1). The house is now oriented with its main entrance facing west, pointed directly at the outer court, which faces east.

The estate is composed of 208.42 hectares (515 acres), including 149.74 hectares (370 acres) of farmland and 58.68 hectares (145 acres) of woodland.[16] The property contains multiple springheads stemming from a stream which runs through the property on a north-south axis. Water features include one large and two small ponds toward the north of the house and one large pond toward the southern extent.

16. Bannister 1999

Dendochronological analysis performed on roof timbers in the solar, hall, and chapel of the house date these areas to 1340, 1344, and 1347, respectively.[17] The stables at Ightham Mote are dated much later, in the 19th century. The surrounding copses of trees immediately adjacent to the valley are primarily composed of mature trees planted between the 16th and 19th centuries, with some old growth scattered throughout.[18]

17. Bannister 1999
18. Bannister 1999; Rumley 2007

It is difficult to consider which aspects of the landscape may have existed when Ightham Mote was first erected. Historic maps only reach as far back as the late 17th century. According to Matthew Johnson, the woods surrounding Ightham Mote have been managed by humans since the Neolithic period.[19] If the existing field and forest boundaries are similar to ancient ones, we can use 17th through 19th century Tithe maps, Ordinance Survey maps, and other documentary evidence to approximate land holdings in the first few years after Ightham Mote was erected.

19. Matthew Johnson pers. comm.

Rumley argues for the existence of a north pond, middle pond, moat, and southern pond during the Middle Ages, each fed by the Mote Stream that runs down the length of the valley (see Figure 2). Archaeological evidence has revealed that a series of dams or “bunds” could have manipulated the Mote Stream into creating these bodies of water, although it is impossible to date them.[20]

20. Bannister 1999, 21

Figure 2: The layout of the landscape and water features surrounding the house in the 14th century suggested by Peter Rumley. The first, northernmost dam would have created the south pond, a second would have created the moat, a third would fill what is now the north lawn, and the fourth would create the north pond. Diagram by Kayley McPhee (Northwestern University).

Results of Ightam Survey, 2013-2015

An intensive program of restoration and conservation has taken place at Ightham Mote since its acquisition by the National Trust in 1984. The most recent round of fieldwork was conducted between 2012 and 2014 as an international collaborative effort between the National Trust, the University of Southampton, and Northwestern University.

In the 2013-2014 field season, a team of Southampton and Northwestern students conducted topographic survey of Ightham Mote. Rotating teams of three undergraduates under the direction of Tim Sly (University of Southampton) used a total station to plot latitude, longitude, and elevation of over five hundred points, which I have used to create a model of the landscape in the geospatial analysis software ArcGIS. These topographic data show the interplay between the house and the landscape in which it is situated.

Figure 3: Three-dimensional topographical model of the landscape at Ightham Mote, rendered in ArcGIS. The green arrow points north. Map by Carrie Willis.

Figure 3 shows a three-dimensional model of the landscape at Ightham Mote. The model shows the narrow valley in which the house is located. This valley runs from the elevated Upper Greensand ridge at the north all the way through to the rolling clay hills of the south, where the land is considerably lower. The house is located at the southern end of the valley, where the valley widens out. One can see the higher ridges at the north and east of the valley. Mote Stream, which feeds the ponds at Ightham Mote, begins somewhere over the top of this northern greensand ridge, and follows the slope to the south to fill the northern ponds, then the moat, then the southern pond.

Topographic Analysis: Routes of Approach

The topographic data rendered here give some indication of potential routes of approach to Ightham. The data clearly depict the steep slope of the western and eastern ridges that form the valley; these slopes would be difficult and costly – in terms of energy – to scale. It is unlikely that travelers to and from Ightham Mote would have used paths that scaled these ridges. It is more likely, based on the topographic data, that travelers would have walked down the eastern or western ridges to approach the property from the north, or up the gradual incline from the south.

Figure 4: A section of the 1889 Sale Particulars map of Ightham Mote, depicting the property and surrounding woods and roads.

19th century Ordnance Survey, estate, and Sale Particulars maps can help us approximate popular paths that may have been used to reach the property. Even if these roads did not formally exist in the 14th through 16th centuries, they may have been created over popular footpaths, made from constant use. From the Sale Particulars map, one can see two roads lead directly to Ightham Mote (see Figure 4). Both originate from a main road serving Ightham Village and Ivy Hatch to the north, however one branches off from this major road. I will refer to these roads as the major and minor roads.

Figure 5: The route of approach to Ightham Mote from the major road, superimposed on the 1889 Sale Particulars map.

The 19th century Sale Particulars map indicates that a major road extends south from Ightham Village and branches off to the southeast and southwest (see Figure 5). The western branch of this main road continues southwest, past Ivy Hatch, and cuts through Scathes Wood to the north of Ightham Mote, almost on the outskirts of the wood. The road then continues south along the western ridge of the valley which houses Ightham Mote. The road extends south, past Ightham Moat, past Budd’s Green, and continues south toward Hildenborough.[21] Topographically, the energy cost of using this road is minimal; the land decreases at varying degrees of steepness as one goes south. However, the road appears to be a major artery; although it services Ightham Mote by way of a path (see Figure 5), it is not intended as a route specifically for travelers to Ightham Mote, as evidenced by the fact that it continues south. It serves major foot and horse traffic from wider areas of the region, with Ightham Mote as only one stop along its path.

21. Bannister 1999

Figure 6: The route of approach to Ightham Mote from the minor road, superimposed on the 1889 Sale Particulars map.

The minor road forks from the major road where it meets the northern extent of Scathes Wood, cutting through a more significant area of the wood (see Figure 6). It then moves south through the wood, curves slightly to the west, then comes south along the eastern valley ridge. At the southeast corner of the house, this road then turns westward at an almost perfect right angle, moves west between the south pond and the southern aspect of the house, and turns north to terminate at the space between the outer court and main entrance. Topographically, this route of approach would also have a low energy cost; the eastern ridge of the property, though steep on its western face, is a gentle and manageable descent moving from north to south.

While the major road covers additional ground by running along the northern and western outskirts of Scathes Wood, the minor road is more efficient, cutting through Scathes Wood on a direct path to the more gentle eastern face of the valley at Ightham Mote. The major road continues from an unknown extent at the north to an unknown extent to the south, whereas the minor road connects the main road directly to Ightham Mote. The major road does provide access to Ightham Mote, but the minor road appears to less heavily trafficked, more private, and with more direct access to Ightham Mote.

While the northerly approach from the major road would have gradually revealed first the north pond, then the middle pond or north lawn, then the house, the high elevation of the northern aspect of the eastern ridge would have made the entire property visible upon exiting Scathes Wood. This would have had the effect of emerging from the wood to be immediately met with a long view of the landscape in its entirety. While the major road leads past the outer court to the southwest corner of the south pond and back up, the placement of the main entrance away from the eastern ridge would have forced the individual using the minor road to come across the southern face of the house, lengthening the travel time and allowing the individual to go straight in.

Because the minor road serves only Ightham Mote, breaking from the major road to arrive more or less directly at the elevated land at the northeast of the property, I suggest that the minor road would have been the probable route of approach from the north. The major road is exactly that: a road that anyone could use. Those attempting to travel to Hildenborough or other southern cities would likely use the main road rather than the more or less private road which cut through the property at Ightham Mote. The approach from the south would have necessitated use of the major road; the fact that there are two approaches from the north and only one from the south is interesting, but I can provide no explanation at this time.


The existence of two approaches, one for general traffic and one for accessing Ightham Mote directly, has implications for differential power dynamics within the landscape. Ightham Mote is isolated, at the southern aspect of the Parish of Ightham and the border of the Parish of Shipbourne. Furthermore, it had its own chapel, which means that those who lived at Ightham Mote would not need to regularly leave the property to attend a local parish church. Those who worked in the house and in its immediate landscape would have lived in the house as servants and domestic workers,[22] while those who worked in the more distant outfields and demesne lands would likely have only approached as far as the fields. Thus, the only individuals who would regularly travel to and from Ightham Mote would be the owners on occasional travel, those invited directly, and those who walked past the property on their way down the main road.

It is not known whether the minor road was created especially for the house or whether it was created by frequent use, but in either case, it is safe to assume that the minor road was used more or less exclusively to access Ightham Mote. The gentle slope of the eastern ridge, procession between the south pond and house, and termination between the inner and outer court as opposed to meeting the major road seem to support this interpretation. If it is the case that the minor road was used as a private drive to access Ightham Mote, then it holds that use of the road would be limited to the homeowners and their guests.

22. Matthew Johnson pers. comm.

Many of the previous owners and residents of Ightham Mote were lords, knights, and even an Archbishop.[23] Their guests will likely have been other minor nobility of the same social class. While it is possible that non-nobles, peasants, or nobility of a lower social class were invited to Ightham Mote, it is likely that the minor road, with its direct access, was limited primarily to landholding members of a higher social class. The main road, however, would have been open to anyone. This road would have been used by higher-class individuals travelling between distant cities as well as lower-class travelers and landless “peasant” workers travelling locally in search of work. Travelling on the main road, one has a view of the house and its landscape, but the steep grade of the western ridge and the placement of the outer court would block direct access to the house. Rather, one would need to continue south along the western slope and turn sharply to the north, proceeding to the main entrance between the house and the stable court. The effect, moving down the main road, would have been to display the house without inviting access; the house would have been relegated to scenery, something to be observed but not directly interacted with, with the implication that users of the main road were not invited.

23. Bannister 1999: i-ii

The integration of a private road – either formally or through frequent use – intended primarily for members of the upper class reflects an ideological and social separation through the use of physical separation. However, as Smith explains, “space not only expresses but also argues.”[24] Smith claims that when practices are limited to certain spaces, these practices both legitimize the spaces and the social and political institutions that the creation of these spaces directly benefit. The designation of a road for “procession” or “approach” and a road for simply passing by designates the landscape as private, not fit for public consumption, but rather for a privileged class. Those lower-class individuals accessing the landscape by either road, whether invited or not, would have been aware of this distinction as they entered the property. This creates a very tangible social space around the immediate landscape of Ightham Mote.

24. Smith 2003, 61

If the experience of space is the framework of our knowledge of the world, as Hillier and Hanson suggest,[25] then the existence of two roads which spatially and socially segregate two separate groups reinforces the dominant ideology of the ruling class versus the ruled. Spatially constrained activities – processing on the minor road versus passing by on the major road – are assigned to particular social identities: those with a certain level of material wealth and those without it, respectively. Through repeated daily practice of taking a non-private road, with the understanding that a private road or processional approach exists, individuals with less access to material wealth are made aware of their exclusion from social space. While passersby may not have felt subjugated or excluded by the fact that they were taking the public road, their taking it would have embodied this relational power structure, contributing to a system of differential social positions with differential power dynamics. This embodied experience, understanding of social position, and understanding of the world contribute to the maintenance of the existing relational, hierarchical social structure which defines social classes in the first place.

25. Hillier and Hanson 1984

This is not to say that individuals are enslaved by their spatial constraints; deer parks, considered almost universally to be “elite” spaces,[26] were commonly broken into by lower-class individuals, particularly when food was scarce and deer within the lord or earl’s private deer park were plenty.[27] However, I argue that entry into what is understood as private space, made private by the distinction between the major and minor roads – or the simultaneously physical and social boundaries of the park pale – would have constituted a challenge to a relational social hierarchy that was embodied and well-understood. The spatial segregation of social identities, as illustrated at Ightham Mote, contributes to a hierarchical structure of social relations which reinforces the knowledge that those with less material wealth are socially distinct from and excluded by those with more material wealth.

26. Johnson 2002; Cantor 1982b; Creighton 2009; Creighton and Barry 2012
27. Platt 2010


In his survey report on the landscape at Ightham Mote, Rumley claims that “there is little doubt that the house was constructed for show and status,”[28] and that the landscape “intimately combines the setting of an intangible expression of social status, lordship, politics, religious ritual and imagery.”[29] The “expression of social status” at Ightham Mote is anything but intangible. The reinforcement of social status is an undoubtedly physical phenomenon in the landscape. Modifications to the landscape reflected and prompted embodied patterns of movement. In this way, the landscape acted upon the bodies of those who moved through it, legitimizing and reinforcing hegemonic power structures and maintaining the relational social structures that defined life in the medieval world.

Since the 1950s, attempts have been made to ascertain “the” meaning of the landscape. I argue that the search for one universal meaning of the landscape masks important social processes which would have been reflected in and facilitated by the landscape. Our goal should not be to find out “for what purpose was this landscape designed,” but rather “how do modifications in the landscape constrain and facilitate human movement?” Topographical analysis of movement through the landscape, as evidenced at Ightham Mote, has the ability to address more complex questions about the way landscape reflects, reinforces, challenges, and embodies differential power dynamics.

28. Rumley 2007, 40
29. Rumley 2007, 24


Carrie Willis graduated from Northwestern University in June 2015 with honors, earning a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology (concentrations in Biological Anthropology and Archaeology). She is currently adapting her senior thesis into a chapter for a volume on southern English archaeology to be released in August 2016.


Tim Sly and Kathryn Catlin provided topographical data for this project. Dr. Matthew Johnson supervised my work during the 2014-2015 field season at Ightham and Knole, and provided supplementary data and valuable feedback consistently throughout this project. I was advised by Dr. Mark Hauser, who provided perspective and clarity. Kathryn Catlin and Ryan Lash have provided feedback, data, and much needed social interaction. Lodging during the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 field seasons were provided by the National Trust. Funding for this project was provided by the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. Finally, I thank Dr. Mark Hauser, Dr. Cynthia Robin, Dr. Helen Schwartzman, and the Weinberg Committee on Academic Excellence for awarding me Departmental Honors for this work.


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Creighton, O 2009, Designs Upon the Land: Elite Landscapes of the Middle Ages, Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer.
Creighton, O and Barry, T 2012, ‘Seigneurial and Elite Sites in the Medieval Landscape’, in N Christie and P Stamper (eds), Medieval Rural Settlement: Britain and Ireland, AD 600-1600, Oxford: Oxbow, 63-80.
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Smith, A 2003, The Political Landscape: Constellations of Authority in Early Complex Polities, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.