After reading one of our previous blogs on “The rest of Brabant”, you now know what Brabant is and how the provincial borders originated. There is still a certain degree of division – or competition if you like – within Brabant: do you come from “De Peel”, “De Kempen” or “De Meierij”?
Den Bosch is located in De Meierij. This area has traditionally been called De Meierij van ‘s-Hertogenbosch. It is the north-east quarter of the duchy of Brabant. In this duchy where three other quarters: Leuven, Brussels and Antwerp.
The name Meierij refers to an old form of government. In the 11th century the power of the German emperor and the cavalry Taxandria weakened. The power was placed in hands of the local and regional leaders. The duke of Brabant stated for the supra-local administration a so called meier.
Where do I find this Meierij?
De Meierij is located between Eindhoven, Tilburg en Den Bosch. There’s no clear border, both in terms of landscape and boundary. The areas gradually merge.
At the north side of the area you’ll find the river Maas and east there’s the Loonse en Drunense Duinen. The rivers Aa and Dommel flow through the area.
But how do I know I am in De Meierij?
The area De Meierij is characterized by a number of remarkable eye-catchers:
- The agricultural land
- The forests
- The moors and sand drifts
- The marshes and watercourses
- The avenues with poplars
A little history about the origin…
During the Pleistocene, ice ages and warmer periods alternated and there was almost no vegetation in the area that we now know as De Meierij. Sand formed ridges and in the lower areas brook valleys and pant areas arose. Whit a rising temperature, about 10,000 years ago, everything became more humid. Open plains changed into densely forested areas. Marshes and peat areas where created.
The oldest human remains in North Brabant, and also in Den Bosch, originate from
prehistoric times. Old tribes (including Neanderthals) moved across the higher areas to hunt, fish and gather food. Later farmers came to Brabant who had a great influence on the appearance of De Meierij as we know it today.
About 3,000 years ago people thought that De Meierij was a good place for farms and fields. Large pieces of the forest were cut down or burned. Heather fields and shifting sands were created. Romans also settled in the areas around Den Bosch. After De Meierij had been inhabited for a long time, the Romans decided around the year 400 that they would rather live a bit more to the south. The population was drastically reduced and the fields and pastures that were created changed back to forest.
So far so good. After all this, the landscape of De Meierij as we know it now was going to be created…
The agricultural land
In the Middle ages, the area De Meierij became popular again. People settled and once again, the forests and heaths were minded to make agricultural land. The duke of Brabant did not stop this, after all: more farmers = more tax = more for the duke.
The people divided the fields in long strips and when they discovered that manure was more than just a smelly substance, they started to (re)fertilize their plots. By doing this for years, the fields gradually became higher and higher.
The exploitation of forest and heath land went on and on. Only between 1860 and 1930 about 90,000 hectares of land was mined. To compare: the area of the complete province of North Brabant is about 500,000 hectares.
After the Second World War, agriculture got bigger and bigger. The narrow, strip-shaped plots – then so characteristic – were replaced by larger block-shaped plots. Previously, farmers had plots all over the place: by exchanging with other farmers they got one larger plot. New farms were built in places where there were no farms before.
Another characteristic of De Meierij are the forests. About 10,000 years ago, dense forests grew in De Meierij. Although many were burned or cleared to make place for farms and fields, there’s still a lot left.
In the 1930s, large afforestation projects were set up by the government in the context of job creation. Coniferous trees were planted. This wood was used in the mines. When coniferous wood comes under great pressure, it cracks enormously: an imbalance in a mine could be noticed quickly.
The moors and sand drifts
A large part of the bottom of De Meierij consists of sand. Due to agricultural reclamations and the afforestations, major changes took place on the rough terrain. The vegetation changed. In some areas of heathland, trees and shrubs suddenly grew, while in other places a lot of grass began to grow.
Noteworthy are De Loonse en Drunense Duinen. This area originated from heathland in the late Middle Ages. Due to overgrazing and the protruding of grass and heather plants, an increasingly large sand area was created. Also the wars that Brabant suffered from did not have a favorable influence on the fertility of the soil. By cutting down forests and the resulting erosion, more of the sand bottom became visible. The loose sand could be scattered by the wind. Whole settlements were buried under the sand.
In an effort to stop the shifting sands, oaks have been planted from the 14th century and pines and marram grass from the 18th and 19th centuries. Now it is going so well in this area that even trees are cut down to preserve this shifting sand landscape.
Large parts of the wild nature reserves in the Meierij are protected. One part has even been designated by the government as national landscape Het Groene Woud.
The marshes and watercourses
When the land started to warm up, the groundwater level rose. Many marshes were created in de lower areas of De Meierij. Since the south of the area is more than 30 meters higher than the northern part, all the water went north, to the river Maas.
Due to the narrow passage of those rivers at Den Bosch, there was a lot of flooding in the
areas. Low-lying areas in and around Den Bosch often flooded. Although Den Bosch suffered a lot of nuisance from the water, it also worked to its advantage. Horses and weaponry were stuck in the swampy marshlands, which helped Den Bosch several times to defend himself against intruders. She thanks her pet name “De Moerasdraak” to this area.
The flooding in the Meierij was mostly solved (or at least, an attempt was made) by private individuals. Until 1863. The government instituted a water board. Between 1875 and 1886 many improvements were made to rivers and streams. Fewer floods were the result and many marshy areas were mined and used as grassland.
The last striking feature of De Meierij that this blog will pay attention to are the poplars. In the early Middle Ages there were many more of these characteristic trees in the Meierij, because of the so-called ” foresow right’ (voorpootrecht).
This meant that trees could be planted ahead of the land, on the common grounds. This right from the 13th century was later in various places converted into a duty to ensure that there was more wood production. In the first instance, mainly oak, beech and willow trees were planted. Later, the farmers mainly planted poplars because of a number of important advantages:
- Poplars withdraw a lot of water from the land, reducing the flooding on the adjacent plot;
- The cattle stayed better within the parcel boundaries by planting poplar bushes;
- The wood from the trees could be sold, which meant an extra addition to the farmer’s income. The poplar wood was mainly used for making clogs, the most commonly worn shoe in the Netherlands.
After the land consolidation after the Second World War, the municipal land was also bought off. Many of the rows of poplars and poplar groves disappeared. Also the invention of the barbed wire, with which the cattle were kept within the plot boundaries, ensured that the placement of poplars lost its usefulness.
I don’t recognize this landscape… or do I?
Due to all the developments in and around Den Bosch, the Meierij van Den Bosch has been given a completely different appearance over the years. From an ice plain to savage, barren land, to densely forested areas and finally heathland, sand drifts and arable land.
If you want a taste of the old Meierij, visit the surrounding areas of Den Bosch. Go for instance to De Loonse en Drunense Duinen, bike through Het Bossche Broek towards Vught and Halder or visit one of the many forests around Boxtel of Heeswijk Dinther.
Who knows what the Meierij will look like in 200 years!