The Romans had settled in a country of forests, fens, saltmarshes, scattered farms, and communities living in wooden roundhouses. To this landscape they added stone castles, villas, barracks, roads and a sophisticated international system of trade and administration controlled from distant Rome. Much of the Roman infrastructure deteriorated but with the Anglo-Saxons came manorial estates (fiefdoms) and the monasteries of the new Christian faith that became the keystone of community life. The Norman dynasty was relatively brief, lasting until the accession of the Plantagenet dynasty in 1154, but they would have the greatest impact on the English countryside since the Roman departure.
The Normans (northmen) came from northern France of the early 10th century. They were a mix of recent Viking and northern Germanic stock that had merged with the native Frankish and Gallo-Roman people in the region now known as Normandy.
Like the Romans, the Normans were militarily skilled, eloquent, industrious and highly organised: their Romanesque buildings displayed the hallmarks of power, wealth, and status – the medieval castles and magnificent arched and buttressed churches, often constructed of materials brought from the continent, were a demonstration of their resolve.
Monasteries became the community centres, repositories of learning, and places where the sick could be comforted. To the existing monasteries was added the authority of new and impressive abbeys and cathedrals. Later, new orders of monks would arrive – the Augustinians (est. in England c.1250), Cistercians (est. 1128), Carthusians (1173), Dominicans (est. 1221), Franciscans (est. 1224) and orders associated with the religious Crusades (1095-1291), the Knights of St John of Jerusalem (est. c. 1190) and the Knights Templar (est. 1154). Orders of nun’s also practiced in convents and mixed communities. Hospitals were either independent establishments, generally staffed by nuns and monks, or part of the monasteries themselves, both usually included courtyards and gardens.