For all the growing scholarly interest in the daily life and perceptions of ordinary medieval people, there has been little attempt to conceptualize the social space of the rural settlements in which the great majority of the population lived in the Middle Ages. This article examines how villages and hamlets in England may have been used and perceived in the later Middle Ages (c. 1200 to 1500), especially in terms of access and permeability — in other words how ‘open’ or ‘closed’ (or, more crudely, ‘public’ or ‘private’) the components of a settlement were, and how the spatial relationships between these components affected their use and social significance. For both buildings and open spaces, permeability can be understood in relation to ease of entry and freedom of use, factors that were shaped by social norms and regulations, and delineated by...

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