The Herstmonceux Project

The project searches for and excavates signs of settlement and land use on the medieval manor of Herstmonceux, from between 900 and 1440 CE, to determine how fluctuations in temperature, rising sea levels, and resultant flooding impacted life on its estate.

Herstmonceux Castle, constructed by Sir Roger Fiennes in the 1440s, currently occupies 600 acres adjacent to the Pevensey Levels, an ecologically sensitive region that was historically prone to routine inundation. Today, the Castle’s estate hides secrets. The original village and manor of Herstmonceux disappeared in the 1440s when their lord ordered his people to resettle elsewhere. His aim was to reclaim the land around his new castle for a deer park. Through land transformation, he successfully converted marshland to park and farmland. Our project, through an analysis of extant archival documentation and new archaeological investigations, assesses the impact of deliberate environmental change on land use and human settlement patterns. It focuses in particular on the period between 1250 and 1450 CE, when local sea levels rose, when natural weather conditions deteriorated, and when significant parts of the estate experienced floods.

Despite abundant material remains at the site, scholars have conducted very limited research into the estate’s premodern history. Archaeological evidence from the estate dates back to the early Neolithic period (c. 3,000 BCE), though there is more significant evidence of Roman (c. 0 – 440 CE) and Medieval occupation (c. 440 – 1540 CE). No research has been done to understand how premodern people structured their habitation patterns to accommodate routine flooding.

Through this project, Canadian undergraduate and graduate students will receive high-quality research training in archaeology, archival history, and public history. The project will also mobilize the knowledge it develops to both academic and non-academic audiences by loaning dig artifacts to Waterloo, thereby creating Ontario’s first public collection of medieval artifacts outside of Toronto. To ensure widespread mobilization, the project’s collaborators and student participants will develop a digital repository of the site and an analysis of its environmental history.


To provide high-quality research training in British archives and archaeology to Canadian undergraduate and graduate students.

To create knowledge and understanding and disseminate findings beyond the academy and into the general public, so as to offer a social-science and humanities-based context to current problems of global warming and rising sea levels.

To excavate the lost village and manor house of Herstmonceux to find evidence of settlement patterns prior to, during, and after the environmentally challenging period of 1250 – 1440 when rising sea levels, coastal inundations, and changing temperatures threatened manor life.

To form a cross-disciplinary collaboration whose research will shine light on historical environmental challenges and resulting human strategies.

To broaden our partnership to include other new members with specialized skills and resources.

To form lasting partnerships bewteen St. Jerome’s University, the University of Waterloo, Queen’s University, and the Bader International Study Centre that will establish a permanent excavation site and archaeology school, produce ongoing, rotating museum collections in Canada, and evolve a perpetually student-run museum collection and website on medieval material culture and historical climate change.