The Manor and The Bishop/England's Rural Beginnings

Chapter I: England's Rural Beginnings

In the West Country, close to the town of Chard, is a grassy mound and the remains of a trench - of an Iron Age settlement – a ditch and earthworks, which had its own-hutted encampment. Rough grass now grows within the enclosure giving cover to the rabbit… that never travels far from the warren. Close by, the partridge – neck thrust forward keeping low to the ground, scuttles for cover. Everything of consequence lay at the foot of the hill… those things beyond gives a backdrop to these findings - country life a generation ago.

From the top of the earthworks is a beautiful view… over hill and dale. It is the type of picture which lightens and warms long winter evenings – stirs the memory – reminds one of summer skies and the call of birds – of wind blown sward – waving fronds of fern and nettle. The bees are there making full use of the wild flowers as they return repeatedly to carry the next golden harvest… back to the hive. In the distance a plume of smoke rises from the charcoal burners mound, disappearing in the grey streamers of cloud, interspaced with brilliant blue, that skate by above - toward the darker grey horizon – heralding rain. Scudding lower down a puffy white cloud goes gliding by, as graceful as a swan. The suns rays penetrate the breaks in the clouds to illuminate by turn the fields, the hill, and distant farm buildings.

The grass-decked mound, its past associations with ancient folk recognised and considered, prompt us to seek out their source of fresh water - needed for drinking. There, issuing from numerous springs clear water brooks, streams and watercourses are formed… winding down to the river. The ancient inhabitants of the settlement chose their encampment well.

Not far away, a ribbon of road carries a wagon pulled by a pair of horses enters a field. As your eye travels along the track, you spy a rick that has a bite out of it. It is to this that the wagon draws up for another load to be cut out for carting away. The driver saws out the next series of straw blocks, which make up the next load to make his way back over the bridge to the group of buildings lying in the distance.

The stream that travels under a bridge starts near to where you are standing… is a little lower than the warren. It wends its way down the hill, you can just make it out… to run by field and farm through field and dale to land up, eventually, on either side of the main street of Chard, then divides to become the River Isle that runs north and River Axe that heads south – towards Tatworth. To the east of the town is a ridge, which carries an important Roman road giving ease of access - for the legionnaires to March and chariots to drive… westwards. These old Roman roads built so long ago are discernable today and purposely laid, with their attendant forts, taking the easiest, straightest route. On the uphill side of the paved way is the fosse – the ditch to take away storm water that is now full of weeds and grass. This gives the road its name – Fosse Way.

The object of King William's Great Domesday and Little Domesday was to collect information about the structure of landholding, particularly ecclesiastical. The Land Pleas lasting nearly ten years unearthed encroachment on estates of archiepiscopal see. Land was parcelled up into hides (hidage) for tax purposes - related to fyrd a military quota on Church lands. The Norman Church appointed Archbishop Lanfranc. That same year Chard was in the hands of Giso, Bishop of Wells. About one hundred and fifty years later Bishop Jocelyn owned the Manor. he was granted a Charter setting up a Borough of fifty-two acres.The Bishop of Bath and Wells

The geography of the market town of Chard - that sits upon this main arterial road, which leads to Honiton and London, Bath and Bristol, made it a valuable ‘trade’ link. This geographical reason made Honiton one of England’s main lace production centres - gave the driver of the pack-horse caravan, a route to Somerset and beyond…to Devon villages, that lay in the valleys, particularly those to the south towards Axminster, and Lyme Bay. It is believed, the skill of lace making began in the late 1300s, in Beer, Branscombe, Honiton, Otterton and Sidbury... How seductive doth their names roll from the tongue...

This close relationship is typical of trade routes – from outworking ‘cottage industry’ to make-up centres in towns. Horse and wagon, pack animals, and walking trader, made their way to outlying town and port. Ships carried the finished products across the channel to the continent and beyond.

The discovery or invention of any industrial product leads to the construction of a factory. This industrial centre requires power, a delivery of material, and a pool of skilled labour. This in turn leads to associated trades developing close by. When one product is overtaken by fashion, or new technology, the former adapts. This occurs particularly when a product or technology is found in large towns or cities where local wealth relies upon maintaining full employment. This cycle occurred in Chard, each industry using the same source of power – the river, and later, the mills.

Chard’s industry grew in the fifteenth century from tanning leather. A hundred years later wool production took over as the major trading product. It would also be natural and convenient to expect wool to be used locally to weave. The cloth trade gave much employment in the town – spinners, carders, sheremen, fullers and dyers all were needed; so too, shuttle-makers, tearers, weavers and loom-makers… all giving industry to the area. The manufacture of woollen cloth was his town’s only industry in the 1550s. It was indeed fortunate for the town and its citizens that the materials and skills needed for weaving and lace making were interchangeable… not forgetting Chard’s geological position - close to two rivers, on a trade route – from coast to London. Three-quarters of the male population and ninety percent of women could neither read nor write… and most goods were manufactured in the home. In the late sixteenth century silk weaving and the knitting of silk stockings complimented the wool trade each using similar crafts… both offered skills to the lace-maker. Bone lace received its title by the use of sheep’s trotters for bobbins. Fish and bird bones provided the pins.

The weaving of silk on handlooms still operated in 1870. It began in England during the reign of James I who promoted the skill of knitting silk stockings. Mulberry-trees were planted to feed the silkworms and there were many gardens that catered for this industry. Another village industry was cheese making, producing cream and butter – the village of South Chard, within walking distance of Tatworth, had the butter factory where many village folk worked, just before and during, The Second World War. The factory was modelled on cleanliness, an important factor for butter making.

About the same time as weaving silk stockings introduced lace making was encouraged. In about 1570, Flemish refugees, who fled to England, settled in Hertfordshire, and later to Buckinghamshire. King William III's annual bill for lace amounted to £2459.19s., and his wife, Queen Mary, £1918. These were considerable sums of money - demonstrate the importance of the trade. By the 1700s, lace making was a skill very much based in Honiton served by outlying villages as a cottage industry. The wold gave up its brush - to become cultivated to grow woad for the dyers. The workers, with other woodlanders, lived off the woods and forests… the summer work went on… growing the crop, cutting the leaves, grinding them into a paste… then shaped into balls, to dry in the sun…

In England, the wool industry was linked to rural life - using cottage craftsmen. There was no production line, excess was bartered, and interest lead to skills being perfected. Later, the need for mass production, prompted the workers to join forces - to form communes - relying upon each other. This voluntary act prompted by an obvious need became a necessity… finally, an important part of the areas economy - a relied on source of trade for local and national exchequer. Many trades’ people hired out manufacturing equipment and raw materials – particularly cloth. Whole families would turn their hand to help spin and weave. Cloth was England’s largest export. The major agricultural improvement came with the invention of a modern plough that considerably increased output. The Enclosure Acts replaced the old open field system. A system that helped achieve proper drainage, crop rotation and hedging.

The enclosing of land by hedges, ditches and fencing, was put into being in the 15th century. It was initially done by consent when workers were compensated. Later on landowners sized land where they could to build up greater holdings. For two years, starting in 1517 and then starting again in 1548, nationwide commissions were given the task to sort out the many complaints.

In the 1648, the Manor of Chard was taken away from the church and king's steward and given to Col Nathaniel Whetham, as part payment for services rendered. The manor was land granted by the king as an inheritance subject to the performance of such services and yearly rents - as were specified. A cottage, according to a statute of law – proclaimed by Edward I, is a house with land attached to it. An even earlier definition was, ‘those who dwelt in cots or cottages, were bound freemen - to provide a fixed service for the lord of the manor and not work for anyone else.

Pre-history Iron Age was a period in England of forest clearance and a settled population. The countryside was dotted with settlements made up in the main of extended family units. It is highly likely that Tatworth had a few homesteads for it was surrounded by a rich countryside with ample water. This period lasted from about the middle of the first millennium BC until the time the Romans invaded. Celtic people populated the West Country originally from Ireland and Gaul of the Durotriges Tribe. During the Roman occupation of Central and Eastern Britain, there was a great deal of trade. The Romans left the West Country alone not fearing any attack. The relative isolation of the West Country, other than coastal trade, continued until after The Dark Ages – almost up to The Hundred Years War, and the building of Exeter Cathedral.

The rural pagani worshiped their native gods speaking in the Celtic tongue – gradually adopting Latin closer to the line that separated Roman Britain and the Celtic West Country. The west of England was consolidated into Saxon England proper towards the end of the first millennium, which encompasses The Dark Ages and Aethelred I. Over a hundred years later King William’s Doomsday survey catalogued in 1086 declared that Chard was owned by the church but would be recorded for the assessment and collection of the geld or land tax. In this there was no exemption from paying royal tributes - included the provision and upkeep of armed men. As the land comprised eight hides, and one man was to be provided per six hides, we will be generous in stating that The Bishop had to provide one armed-man - for the king’s service. The Bishop had to pay towards the upkeep of bridges and highways… he also had to hand over any fines [fees] from legal jurisdiction. He may have been able to levy fines and receive them instead of the king’s sheriff but that privilege was not universal. The first time we come across the name Thatteworhe is about 1320 relating to someone of that name holding land attached to a dwelling house.

Chard’s sub-manor land was arranged as a Three Field System, cultivated in a three-year rotation of: white corn – wheat, rye, and barley; peas and oats, and the third arable… resting as fallow. The two main production fields raised corn crops on the furlongs – ground cultivated in strips. Each farmer had rights over his land that was scattered across the manor. The decision about what was planted, and when, was made communally; all the men worked together sharing the oxen, ploughs and other tools under the direction of the Reeve. The other main activity was looking after the animals – sheep and cattle, on the common grazing land…, one looking after the lord’s oxon, grazing the water meadows.

Each village gave work to a miller, baker and ale-house-keeper - who also sold provisions. They all worked in unison, as did all the other tradesmen. Each farmer gave a percentage of the grain to the miller for grinding his corn - the flour produced, he used for his own household - any extra was sold to the baker… he in turn sold the bread to the tradesmen who did not work the land but needed loaves. Some of the grain went to the brewer to make into ale, who provided all with brew. The craftsmen needed the skills of the smelter and the foundry. The charcoal maker needed his axe and knives forged and sharpened. The blacksmith made up the farming tools, and the wheelwright sought his rims; the carpenter put on the handles and made the yokes. The shoemaker and leather worker shaped the soles and cut the traces; the basket maker and weaver all exchanged their wares for basic materials from the farmer and his field. It was part-bartering system that worked well; the wise Reeve saw to it that no one was given short change. All these trades with their craftsmen had rights too, just as the farmer did. These tradesmen’s sons took over from the father keeping the skills within the family making themselves indispensible. They too had to pay for the privilege of working for the lord even though they were freemen. When there was trouble, they had to turn too and become part of the lord’s conscripted army, and when the harvest needed to be gathered in, they became farm labourers. It is only by long service that they could purchase their freedom from forfeiture.

Up to the late Middle Ages, the power in the land lay with the king, who owned all the land. The king awarded some of his land to relations and those who helped him – his lords. Both the king and lords gave land to the church so that they might be redeemed. A manor is principally a territorial unit, which corresponds to the parish… The manor included settlements referred to as vills, which corresponds to villages, hamlets, and large farms. Most of England and Wales was divided up into manors. All the land in the manor was overseen by the lord or his tenants and was held as principle tenures being freehold and copyhold. The freehold tenants held their land by grant from the lord in return for a definite service. Military service was usually commuted in course of time for a money payment or quit rent – quit of his personal service. The copyhold tenants, whose evidence of title was their copy of the entry in the Court Rolls recording their admittance, owed various services, which usually was particular to the parish. These included heriots, forfeiture, the obligation to do fealty to the lord, and suits and services of many different kinds. A heriot is the best live beast – horse or ox – of which the tenant dies possessed, or sometimes his best chattel – piece of plate, furniture, or garment. The lord was entitled to take this when the tenant died or when the property was alienated to another person. Forfeiture, or obligations, was the liability of the copyholder if he alienated without telling his lord or seeking his consent.

All tenants of the manor had the same rights on the manorial waste – the unenclosed, uncultivated land – on the common… This did not necessarily mean they were ‘practicing commoners’ for that was generally reserved - as a handed down right - to long serving members of the community. The freeholders : had, as well as their tenure, ‘rights of pasturage’ for their ‘beasts of the plough’ cattle, horses, donkeys, geese and special rights for sheep. The copyholders : had various additional rights. Tillage  : working the land for cultivation: needed ploughs, plough socks, coulters, spades, shovels, sickles and scythes… power was supplied by oxen. All these were the means to produce enough grain and vegetables, to feed the ploughman and his family, and to pay rent for his land. Eventually after more common land had been cleared - for development, there remained sufficient for a cash crop. Pasturage  : the right to graze cattle, horses, donkeys, geese. Pannage  : the right to graze pigs. Turbary  : the right to cut turf. Marl  : the right to dig clay. Estovers  : the right to cut bracken, ferns, heather, gorse. All these were used to provide roofing and bedding. Wood could be cut but only for use in the dwelling… for the right applied to the hearth, that lay in a particular place. The Turbery  : the right to cut turf as a fuel. This also belonged to the chimney and the hearth. There was also a ‘right’ to draw water, and to fish. Housebote  : the repair of cottages. Firebote  : the collection of fuel for the fire. Ploughbote  : the wood needed to make the farm implements. Hedgebote  : the material to construct hedges and fences. Tenant  : Usually described as a smallholder, one who rented land paying dues and a forfeiture to the owner… could also be a Cottager - a villager, [villein or feudal serf], with a smallholding of land measuring one yardland or less. Also described as a husbandman – a common labourer… someone attached to the soil - a slave. The Cottager  : owned very little… other than one or two house-cows, he had no other animals and the minimum of arable strips. His only source of payment was from an excess of the corn he grew and grazing rights. Bad weather, poor harvests, and low grain prices saw him destitute – owing money for his rent…; he had to keep a supply of grain for his next sowing. When enclosure was forced upon him, he lost what little income he could make. When enclosure was enacted it affected all the cottagers until tillage ceased - and all became landless – unattached labourers… Illness and injury saw the family begging. The cottager’s rights were for constructing dwellings, maintaining them, making the tools and carts, and developing the land to produce food. The tenants and copyholders had these rights attached to the property - passed on when the property changes hands. All these went with the property not the person that meant the dweller was secured/attached to rights that kept him firmly controlled and subservient to the holder of the land - the lord. Over time, these rights become unused, disinherited and died out - as tenants moved away. The Reeve  : enforced the local rules and rights, with the aid of his 'Hayward' [Assistant] handled the management of the lord’s estate. The workers of the land voted him into office, which gave him credence - elected him annually giving him the authority to adjudicate… when there were arguments; this gave him standing, especially when discipline was called for. Generations later, the Reeve’s job was superseded by the 'Sheriff', only this time the position was the lord’s to give, and not the people; he was retained in office, in some cases permanently… being an inherited position - able to be passed down from father to son.

The forfeited service – the obligation the tenant had to pay for the privilege of the ‘grant’, was usually military service. The lord was honour bound to provide a similar service to his superior in the hierarchy… and so on. It was a method whereby the king obtained an army, which he did not have, to train or support.

By good work and long service, the tenant could buy his quintal from his obligation to fealty – his quit rent. The lord held his fiefdom devising taxes and laws hiring a steward to look after the day-to-day running of his estate in company with the reeve who was far more knowledgeable about the countryside and the people who dwelt there.

The result of The Black Death – the unprecedented death rate - particularly of the poor, reached Chard in the autumn of 1348/9. For the first time it gave more power to the workers – the serfs, because the plague reduced the population by over a third - making those left worth a great deal more; they could now demand better conditions – which is what they called for… The Bishop’s steward, fifty years later, found that low prices and high wages made demesne farming no longer profitable.

The Peasants’ Revolt in 1381, led by Wat Tyler was mainly the outcome of the massive increase in the poll tax - three times higher than the previous year, taxing both rich and poor, at the same rate. This aggravated the already dissatisfied working population who wished to have their servitude – as serfs and the villeinage system, abolished; they also wished to have free contracts for labouring services and the right to rent land. Parliament legislated to keep the wages of the workers low - prevent their dissatisfaction from seeking new employment - moving to other estates. The lords sought further means to stop the flow of workers from the land by increasing the feudal dues – services rendered, tightening the legal bonds. The rebels attacked any signs of lordship and lordly authority – both secular and civil, including their manorial systems and records they kept.

The Bishop of Bath was the district governor and owner of Chard Manor. He represented the church here and at other manors - in his diocese. He was a member of the king’s council and one of the country’s leading magnates, and often the holder of high offices of state. To oversee all the churches property and land he travelled continually accompanied by his secretaries, servants and guards. At each manor he controlled there would be his steward who ran the estate in his absence. Over time - by beneficent work and prayer, the church had been gifted over forty percent of the land. The ‘lordship’ of land is about its benefit to the lord, hide refers to an area of land of about 120 acres and virgate measures about one quarter of a hide.

The armed man provided by the owner of the land, tenant in chief, to the king’s service was not just a swordsman but also ‘a man at arms’ or knight. The knight also held land which he sublet and lived off the rent, or employed a steward – he usually held the largest free holding in the manor – sometimes he represented his holding as ‘his’ manor. The steward acted as a local administrator to run the demesne of the knight, when he was away serving the king, appointing a reeve [magistrate, organized labour and collected rents] and a beadle [parish officer, enforced law and order] from names put forward by the villagers.

All the inhabitants of Chard – the Manor, and Tatworth Village – the sub-Manor, knew their place in society. It was a feudal society, which meant that it was a society based upon families within a community - where each person relied upon the other. Land was owned by the lord in return for homage and fealty – recognising the power and rights of the king, which the land owner had to defend – in reality both protected each other. The land was held on condition and service – a fiefdom. Homage referred to an acceptance by the knight that he recognised and respected the king’s position – to which he swore an oath of loyalty.

Over a period of about two hundred years, this tenure changed as much by the increase in population as anything else. Land became transferrable from one generation to another – it became one of inheritance. The land then became enfeoffed by common-law owners. The lord was most reliant upon his workers who were the villeins. Their sons had to have a house. Itinerate serfs needed a home too. There was ample land and in most part, individuals built their own home, perhaps bartering help from neighbours… It was wise to tell the bailiff and seek his approval which was easy to do labour was sorely needed - if the lord’s position was to be maintained. There was not a strict plan to be upheld houses were built close to the areas being worked. It was normal to try to build close to housing materials, fresh water, and ease of cartage, near neighbours and close to the church. The bailiff would advise taking a small parcel of land not occupied on waste ground – which would be close to the forest or wood… This ensured that arable land was not lost.

The main upright structural members, which support the beams and roof would be buried into the ground. Large horizontal timbers called plates would be morticed into the posts. These would stop the posts from sinking and distribute the weight of the building. Depending on the surrounding ground, there may be sunken stones or logs providing a foundation – the posts jointed into the plate, or the walls half built of stone. However, we must not get beyond our self for the serf or villein neither had the time, help, tools and expertise, to form such a structure. Their simple structure was a pole house needing no sawing only the splitting of green timber. Lesser posts were the uprights to support partition rails, which together make up a frame or panel. These wall panels were made up of woven split canes, similar to a hurdle. A mud and dung daub filled the gaps. This would soon become a hovel with a compacted earth floor and a fire burnt upon stones set into the centre of the floor area. Smoke would dissipate through the rather rough thatch… such a hovel would soon deteriorate and the roof to sag. Depending on the character of the man that lived there the place would either fall into total disrepair or it would be maintained, improved and part rebuilt.

The improvement upon a simple pole house was a post and beam building with rails, rafters and braces, and a crown-post roof. The wattle and daub walls replaced with shuttered cob… better still a stone and flint infill, using a lime mortar. The single large room partitioned and a floor above with dormer windows… but this was years later after The Black Death when the workers conditions improved - their labours better appreciated.

The villager who wanted a dwelling either negotiated a plot with the bailiff or squatted. There was an excess of waste ground and the village needed labour. It was a do-it-yourself building although there was usually somebody close to superintends the building – either a family member of a close neighbour who had knowledge of such things. The site would be marked out taking regard for access to the site and availability of wood, gravel, sand, mud and lime. A trench dug out to accommodate the foundations, which was filled with stone cleared from the site. There was no need to consider drains for these would be external. Close to the site, a pit would be dug to mix up the daub, cob, plaster, and lime. If this sound rather slap happy it wasn’t. All these mixtures had similar components and to some extent worked.

The frame of the building was of wood. Quite often the infills were built of cob blocks, stone, flints, or shuttered cob or a selection of all, perhaps the builder could lay his hands on some old Roman bricks, or stone from a disused house, church, or barn… The builder/farmer constructed his workers cottage with what ever was to hand. Once again, this choice relied upon what was on the site - or close to. Cartage was a problem. It was rare for the villager to have his own cart, or the loan of one. Nor did he own a horse. What had to be transported to the site had to be carried? If you had to do this, you made very sure you had enough materials on the site before you began, and the most easily made up compound was a mixture of mud, chalk, flints, stones, straw or chaff and cow dung. If you added stones, sand or flint to the mixture it became hard to mix so that that leaves just a mixture of mud, chalk, clay, dung, chaff and soil. Whether or not you baked the chalk or lime was probably doubtful. The longer the mixture was kept together in the pit with sufficient water to soften it the better - six months, the components had to be fully saturated and rotted to break up into particles. Therefore, the builder had think about the structure a long time before he began to build the walls.

The most common method was probably the easiest, which was to build thick walls of stone. The largest stones were reserved for the base, which saved having to lift them up. The stones were assembled very much like dry-stone walling or building with brick or block - to make the inner and outer surfaces’ interlock to give rigidity. The mixture of chalk, lime, clay, and mud pushed and placed between and about the stones to give a secure base for the next layer and to stop any draughts blowing through.

In an area providing sufficient stone, much of that picked up off the ground by stone-pickers who were paid a contract rate – so much per cubic yard in preparation for planting, building with stone was the obvious answer. Similarly in areas of slate and flint. In deciduous woodland clearings, the land gave the split green wood to make timber-framed houses associated with the Tudor period and in areas planted with pine, the pole houses the simplest construction method. The relative scarcity of wood dictated the use of cob in Tatworth.

The easiest way to use cob was to make blocks using a mould, allowing the cob to dry in the sun – very much like the original way of making clay bricks. This took longer but in the end was more precise. Constructing wooden shuttering either side of the wall then packing, the cob down inside was perhaps the faster method, but took longer to dry out. For some villagers simply piling up the cob into layers allowing each to partially dry out before the next placed on top was the easiest. Making the sides true and square with axe and saw, trimmed it into shape. The quick, but holding the shortest life span, hurdles, or wattle tied against stakes driven into the ground, daub pressed into it from both sides, and smoothed off. All these methods were used allowing a large overhang of the roof to offer protection to the walls. Giving the inside and outside wall a wash of lime gradually built up a hard rainproof surface. Making sure, the rain drained away from the wall base kept the building relatively damp proof. Ultimately, it was continuous maintenance, which secured the longest lasting building, and having a well founded thatch the key to that.

It must not be thought that timber framed or pole houses: using cob as blocks, daub or infill, with flint, stone and slate, were inefficient materials that had a short life span, for they are still able to be seen today - admired and lived in. Nor must one think that the builders in the past were incapable of building attractive long lasting houses with elaborate features that were leak and damp-proof. Research reveals lime and brick kilns were operating in Tatworth whilst cob was extensively used. Lime burnt, crushed and mixed with water, made an excellent protective coating and many of the houses were thatched. A full range of attractive bricks were made, including drainage pipes, and roof tiles. Although this descriptive piece dwells on Chard Manor it represents The History of Manors in England.