Home | Introduction | Download e-book | Conference 2001 | Special thanks | The note of law | Contact
Articles: Poland | Małopolska | Mazowsze | Ziemia Łęczycka | Żuławy | Nizina Sartowicko-Nowska | Ziemia Kwidzyńska | Ziemia Walichnowska | Ziemia Sieradzka | Ziemia Wieluńska
Articles --> Ziemia Sieradzka

The village type and layout

Colonisation of the Sieradzka and Wielunska Lands, including its range and number of villages and settlements established over the centuries, was primarily determined by geographical conditions of that area. Therefore, the process of colonisation as well as its range acquired certain distinguishing features.[1]

The Sieradzka and Wielunska Lands are located on the borderland of Południowowielkopolska Lowland and Śląsko-Krakowska Upland, which is divided into two watersheds, that of Vistula and Oder. The area is abundant in small rivers; the estuaries of Bzura, Prosna, Pilica, and Warta contribute to the marshy character of the entire land. They flow in all directions from a central point towards vast main river valleys.
Such layout of the land caused the oldest administrative centres and agricultural settlements to be concentrated in lowlands, located in the central part of the area, especially around Lodz, and on valley slopes, where soils were richer and easier to cultivate. From the valleys of small rivers: Widawka, Prosna, Ner, and Moszczenica, the settlers were moving towards uninhabited areas located on forested uplands, establishing trading, farming and ancillary settlements within the royal, church, and private estates. However, this medieval colonisation (under the German and Polish laws) did not extend beyond valleys and did not cover vast forested and marshy areas that stretched along rivers and streams.[2]
Starting in the 2nd half of the 16th century, upper sections of river valleys, which bordered on the wilderness areas, were colonised as a result of the feudal system development. These areas were still located near rivers, which were necessary to transport crops, especially grain. However, until the mid-19th century, this movement was slow due to natural disasters and wars that devastated existing villages and impeded normal economic development.[3]
At the end of the 18th century, the Dutch colonisation became important. Owners of previously uncultivated lands were looking for new opportunities to increase their income not only from existing villages, but also through development of fallow grounds. The colonisation under the Dutch law, having been tested in other areas of Poland, reached not only the marshy areas of Leczyca, Zgierz, and Lodz located near large rivers, but also the Sieradzka and Wielunska Lands, where the Dutch cultivated mainly forest areas and, less often, boggy valley bottoms.
A short period of Prussian rule (1795-1806) that followed the partitions of Poland was characterised by favouring not only the Dutch colonisation, but also the Frederician colonisation, which resulted in development of both farming and industrial settlements. It is erroneously believed that neither of these trends played a significant role, but in reality they did contribute to clearing of wilderness areas as well as to development of marshy areas or cultivation of previously inhabited lands that were abandoned as a result of wars and natural disasters (in case of the Dutch colonisation, a total of 11 settlements were either established or developed).
The colonisation under the Dutch law transformed the existing feudal structure of the village into a completely different system of tenant farming, which was not based on serfdom but on attractive tenancy (later freehold), reasonable rents, as well as considerable civic, economic, and religious freedoms, which were unprecedented in the Leczycka Land. As in other regions colonised by the Hollanders, settlers had numerous freedoms; for example, they were allowed to sell and inherit land or waive their right to it, even before the expiry of the contract. They were also able to carry out additional work to obtain extra income (e.g. selling cheese or milk). The freedom of worship was also very important.
The establishment and development of the Dutch settlements in the Sieradzka and Wielunska Lands coincided with the German colonisation, which began after 1816 following a decree issued by the government of the Kingdom of Poland, and with development of textile industry in the economically underdeveloped and scarcely populated area near Lodz. German colonists established both industrial and agricultural settlements and, like Hollanders, colonised wastelands and forests as well as lands devastated during the Napoleonic wars. The aforementioned crisis of the feudal system and intense allotment of private estates also created favourable conditions for colonisation. The majority of German colonists came from the region of Poznan, Silesia, and Germany. They settled primarily in Szadek in the Sieradzka Land and Ostrzeszow in the Wieluńska Land.
In the pre-feudal period, the prevailing type of settlement in the Sieradzka and Wielunska Lands was a dispersed village. Settlements with single-street, oval (with a three-field system), multi-street or other usually self-generated and irregular layouts did not become established until the 13th century. These later types of villages were the result of natural processes of colonisation associated with development and cultivation of the colonised land.
The most typical settlement type during the feudal period was an estate composed of centrally located manor (frequently former farm of a village leader) and small ancillary villages inhabited by manor workers. Those settlements were often former villages transformed into manor estates with peasant acreages decreased as a result of surveying.[4]
The most radical changes in the settlement structure began as early as the second half of the 18th century and intensified at the beginning of the 19th century. This transformation was the result of the village restructuring processes, which preceded property rights granting, or a direct outcome of this last process.
The most common types of settlements in that period were linear villages with buildings on one or both sides of the road and small dispersed settlements. Both forms were introduced to this area by the Dutch colonists. The colonists, founding new villages, settling in villages located on marshy areas near rivers and draining the terrain, designed the settlement according to very specific and traditional guidelines. Each colonist received a narrow strip of land perpendicular to the river; this way, all settlers cultivated the land under the same conditions and were granted the same opportunity for economic success. Homesteads were erected on elevated terrain and were connected by a road that ran across the farmland. Buildings were most frequently located on one side of the road (on the side of the river).
The Dutch colonisation of the Sieradzka and Wielunska Lands is unique due to the fact that settlers did not build artificial hillocks for their homesteads. They usually chose natural rises that ran parallel to the river bank. Such localisation protected homes from flooding when the river flooded.
In areas colonised by the Dutch we can find villages with dispersed homesteads. Those areas were brought into cultivation through extirpation of forests and bushes (dominating on the territory of the Sieradzka and Wielunska Lands). In this case, the homestead was located in the central section of the cleared parcel and was linked to other farms with local roads connecting with larger communication routes.
In case of the Dutch villages, both these forms frequently co-existed in a single settlement, where the outskirts of a linear village had dispersed layout.
Spreading of these settlement layout forms was due both to the Dutch and ant to the German colonisations. Introduction of these forms contributed to a considerable increase in settlement density, which is visible to the present day.
However, we should be aware that linear and dispersed villages were also founded in later periods (2nd half of the 19th century), when old villages were consolidated or separated. In this case, new settlements were also modelled on solutions introduced by the Dutch settlers.
The traditional Dutch villages, in spite of over two centuries that have passed since their foundation, have another essential and visible element that allows distinguishing them from linear villages established in later periods. It is the layout of internal space, which was formed by historical factors related to the very essence of this colonisation system.

The majority of Dutch villages established in the Sieradzka and Wielunska Lands were small (up to 15 farms); traditional homesteads with well-spaced buildings were located on one side of the road, on land strips wider than in linear villages founded after the mid-19th. The majority of them are situated on natural rises that run along the river and protect the village farmland from flooding.

Drainage works, such as: canals, ponds collecting excess of water, artificially planted trees and bushes (poplars and willows) that absorb excess of ground water are equally essential elements of the traditional Dutch landscape that occur in the Sieradzka and Wielunska Lands.

[1] AHP, Województwo sieradzkie i województwo łęczyckie w drugiej poł. XVI w., red. H. Rutkowskiego, Warszawa 1998. Cz. II, s. 19-26.
[2] J. Dylik, Łódź i okolice. Przewodnik geograficzny, Łódź, 1939, p. 78.
[3] J. Lech, Tradycyjny dom chłopski i jego użytkowanie na obszarze środkowej Polski, Kultura wsi Polski środkowej w procesie zmian. Vol. 2, Manuscripts and Materials of the Ethnographic Museum in Łódź, Seria Etnograficzna no. 20, Łódź 1979, p. 17.
[4] Ibid. p. 20.

Home | Introduction | Download e-book | Conference 2001 | Special thanks | The note of law | Contact
Articles: Poland | Małopolska | Mazowsze | Ziemia Łęczycka | Żuławy | Nizina Sartowicko-Nowska | Ziemia Kwidzyńska | Ziemia Walichnowska | Ziemia Sieradzka | Ziemia Wieluńska

Copyright 2005 © jerzyszalygin@wp.pl