The Manor and The Bishop/Working the land

Chapter II: Working the land

The Black Death reaped its toll over Britain. The country lost over a third of its population. Some villages were abandoned, and cottages remained empty… the countryside began to disintegrate - as the land drainage systems clogged and the tracks became overgrown. The landowners could not maintain their estates - the fields returned to their natural state. The numbers of skilled artisans – that did survive, were sorely needed, which gave them power, which previously had been denied them… The lord of the manor could not continue with the old manorial system - and the tillage system broke down. The only way food could be produced was to entice the remaining men by the promise of land of their own. The onetime cultivated fields now grazed sheep. This alarmed the government who believed this would reduce the number of peasants owing forfeiture – they would lose subjects for the Crown. This the lords and landowners tried to prevent.

There is little doubt that the plague did alter the countryside and its manner of husbandry. Food had to be grown and the bartering system had to be maintained. The land’s management certainly took a blow and most manors reduced their farming areas - productivity fell, but only so far, the reduced population was still fed. The main source of income was the lord’s store-flock of sheep and in this the Bishop of Bath did very nicely – he maintained his position. In all, the ancient enclosures of Chard and its sub-manors did not radically alter. The tillage system evolved with a reduced number of serfs attending to the land.

The first dwellings were the construction of a single room, housing the family and its animals. In the centre the fire. This hall-house gave way to the smoke bay house where part of the end of the hall was given a first floor, reached by a ladder. A space was left over the hearth for the smoke to travel up to the roof. In later times, the hearth made into an inglenook open on both sides – this structure becoming a hollow dividing wall – the fire heating both rooms. It was not long before the cooking was done in a separate room, either partitioned off or built as a lean-to - onto the original structure. The dwellings of the 1600s took the form of a conventional house with two rooms below and a number of bedrooms above. The original rough structures, built before this period were over time, improved, replaced, built onto and refaced… the hovel became the hut, the hut became a cottage and the cottage a farmhouse. A steady improvement over many years made the now quaint farmhouse much sought after - becoming a countryside residence upon the town’s main road.

The hovel had no windows relying upon the open door back and front to give air, light and access for humans and animals. A later improvement, which required very little structural alterations, was to put in window slits - to direct light. The huts that came after, in the 12th century, had windows included with bars and shutters for security, and keep the winter draught out. Horn was also pared down to give a sealed light-penetrating cover but these have not survived. An oiled cloth draped over the hole was another method used – as a light emitting barrier. By the 1500s small paned mullioned windows were glazed having the panes tied to the bars. This was before grooved lead glazing bars were introduced - for the insertion of glass a hundred years later. The glass was blown and cut to fit giving at every blowing what is termed a 'bottle bottom', the rest was cut into very small panes. Later the glass was blown in a tube, removed - unwrapped - opened out, and cut… This latter method continued for decades. All old glass would have distortions created by blowing and are distinct. Whether the bars created a latticed diamond pattern or vertical and horizontal plan was incidental – a design feature.

By the 17th century, most open hall houses were converted to take a staircase and second floor. The buildings structure incorporated a designed series of fireplaces with the flues linked top and bottom – some sharing the same smoke chamber and chimney. It wasn’t long before builders and architects became aware that it was best to add a kink in the flue to drawn air through the fire - to stop smoke being sucked back into the room. It did not take the government long to tax people on the number of hearths – rooms, the building had. This was the hearth tax of 1689. Parrocks Lodge had about twelve chimneys. Those houses where there were more than half a dozen chimneys could be considered the dwelling of minor gentry… below this number were the houses of: yeomen, tradesmen or craftsmen. Those with but one room: husbandmen, shoemakers, labourers, and shepherds, those householders that paid less than 20 shillings for their hearth tax, per annum, were exempt, as long as they did not own another property. This banding applied also to paying church tithes, rents and rates, and to those who were widows, paupers, or bedridden.

Chard Manor came about from its geographic position by sitting on a trade route – the main highway between Plymouth and London. When the Doomsday survey was made, there were fewer than two hundred persons in the borough. By the time Queen Elizabeth I mounted the throne that number had increased to five hundred… A further two hundred years saw over five times that amount… then becoming an assize town, with buildings to match its importance. The lord’s manor court, probably held at Chard Church otherwise known as Manor Church, was the place where disputes between all were deliberated and the results declared the custom. The court was run every three or four weeks by the ‘court baron, whose declarations became local law – no appeal even at the king’s court were countenanced. Other matters were not the business of the lord but for the ‘hundred court to consider, presided over by the sheriff, on behalf of the king. The good behaviour of the citizens maintained by a system of frankpledge. These were groups of ten or so households called tithings, pledged to be responsible for each other’s good behaviour – usually fixed prices of goods and maintained weight and quality. The tithing men and aletasters oversaw the assize of ale.

The church was an important part in village life. Many sermons proclaimed the hope of salvation, which had the result of making attendances regular. For the majority this became a habit, celebrating and proclaiming the rites of baptism, marriage, and death… celebrating too the Saint’s day, Christmas, Easter, Lent and Whitsun, all helped separate the seasons… the peasant’s work on the land: the tilling, sowing, reaping and harvest, given a rightful place in the order of service. All these special occasions drew the congregation together.

Saint Mary’s Church, built c1440, in flint and dressings of local Chard stone was given castlations on wall and tower as decoration, was the centrepiece of the local community and provided a meeting place for the village. Bishop Jocelyn’s courtroom of c1235, now part of the church structure, suggests that before the church was built the Bishop’s Courthouse was part of the Bishop’s farmhouse, which is a good deal older than the church. Chard Church has its own cemetery, which was a privilege not a right.

St Margaret’s Chapel at South Chard was built in the 1500s served as one of St Mary’s chantries – whose priest was given an endowment by the mother church to sing masses for the founder’s soul. The chapel made oblations and donations for pious uses to St Mary’s Priest. It was also used as neutral ground for local hearings particularly between the various religious bodies.

A manor was a certain amount of land granted by the king to some baron or lord; the king also granted land to the church for absolution. Locally it was in two parts. There was the demesne, which the lord retained for his own use and the rest, which was parcelled out to the tenant’s freemen or villeins - held in villeinage, virgate or half-virgate land [A virgate is thirty acres] - in return for services. The land was allotted in hides or carucate, which was an area of land, which could be ploughed by one team in one year...

Each manor was a kingdom within itself… with its own customs… wholly at the mercy of the lord, who held the largest share of common pasture and wasteland. The tenants had certain liabilities besides supplying eggs and chickens… they had to perform boom-works at harvest and ploughing time… these duties were not linked to him but to the land he held… he however, was expected to provide aids.

The legal possessor of the land – who occupies it - as ‘something passed down from generation to generation’, holds it as his demesne [di΄meen]. In the English village the lord of the manor owns, more often than not, home farm. He also owns a number of strips in each field and sundry other parcels of land.

The lord charged rent for the use of his land that was collected by his steward or bailiff – who also had the task of allocating the land. The Bishop of Bath, being the district governor of the church, received a tithe - a tax of one tenth of annual proceeds of the land worked… collected by the Bishop’s bailiff for the church commissioner.

Sir William Petre and his successors – the Barons Petre, were granted the sub-manor… and received, as a due, rent from each villager… This could be cash, produce or service. This ‘right’ depended on any number of circumstances - good or bad harvest, what work was necessary in the manor and war. Sir William also had to pay rent to the Bishop who was Lord of Chard Manor.

When first marked out the greater part of the manor was divided up into strips or balks. These strips were separated from each other by unploughed turf. The strips were not all the same size but measured about an acre… the length being a furlong - 40 poles, and the width, 4 poles. A furlong taken as being a suitable length to drive a plough pulled by oxen to make a furrow. A pole, rod and perch being the same length, the language difference being a purely local patois. Some strips were half-acres having the same length as an acre strip but half the number of rods wide. The strips lay side by side – separated by unploughed furrows, to make a number of separated strips – about a square acre. Each acre square separated by wider balks, which became over time overgrown, making a rough hedge. There was an important downside to this system of land share. The principle was that each year different strips were issued to every villager from the three fields – so that all had an equal chance of receiving the best and worst land. This collective issuing of land meant there was no incentive to treat the land well - knowing that it was to be re-allotted the following year. Another handicap was having to move any tools, hurdles and other farming paraphernalia to the new site wasted time and energy.

All the tenants’ vassals in the manor were allocated a certain number of strips, in several fields, so that the best and worst evenly shared – some probably held land gained by military service. The head tenant was probably the sheriff, who held a virgate and considered himself a yeoman – a much-respected man in the manor. A lesser holding was the cotland holding five acres whose holder did not attend court, paid no rent or relief but provided services. Below the free tenants came the villeins – the baulk of the population – who did the main work. The villeins, customary holdings - tied to the land called copyhold land – copied into the rolls. The waste hold land tenancy held less than an acre in return for a small rent. Sub-tenancies could be granted usually only by the head tenant from his own land, then the rent was due to him. People who owned no land - who rented, did not appear on the rolls. Below them came the cottagers who might be called allottees and lower still the serfs who were really slaves that could be bought and sold in the market at the lord’s pleasure. This became known as the open or common field system of cultivation. The common land, or waste, was shared too; in a similar manner - for grazing and haymaking… when the harvest on the strips gathered in this too put to graze using hurdles to pen-in the flock.

Where the strips touched head to head a gap was left to become the headland – the place where the plough could be turned round, this area of land could be cultivated, but only after all the strips had been ploughed. If the strips were situated upon a hillside, terracing, or lynches would occur. If one or a number of tenants worked thirty scattered acres of land this bundle of land was referred to as a virgate ‘worked by a villein’ therefore he became a villein tenant… the highest grade in the village hierarchy and served as jurors in the Halimot – Court of the Manor. Even though a villein owned the land, he still had to pay rent.

Uncultivated land, bearing beech, oak and scrub, was prepared for future cultivation. The felled wood split for building houses, furniture making and fencing, and the better pieces used in the manufacture of wagons and farming implements. This clearance prepared land for the new generation to occupy it also helped develop the basis for new highways. Clearing land exposed rocky outcrops, gravel beds and chalk hills all to be of use building roads and houses of the future old town.

This manorial and monastical system, exacting rents and tithes for the use of the land, was, if fairly operated, for the good of all. The Lord and Bishop guaranteed security and stewardship… they needed the serfs, or villeins - to work the land productively, and ultimately, profitably, to maintain their position. The freemen in the village were not subject to this tax, they owned their own plot of land or had a trade or skill needed by the lord. Unfortunately, none of the landlords were above taking advantage of their position, interpreting ‘the kings will’ to suit themselves - extracting more and more for their ‘rights’.

This development of the land and the overseeing of best practice in the seasonal production of food was not haphazard. It was about husbandry – cultivation by open-field farming where villagers worked their own strips of land in the company of others all within a large field. The tools, harnesses and heavy equipment shared as were the oxen. After the harvest all, the livestock turned out into the field to manure the land and partake of the feed. All this was done in ‘common’ – with everyone else – as a communeral undertaking. There was no time for disharmony or discussion, the land and weather dictated the course of events. The methods of cultivation and husbandry worked out over the centuries. Everyone had to pull together and make the system work.

The strips of land allotted to each villager were long and thin specially designed for the ox-team to get in and plough. The action of ploughing over the centuries had produced steps, somewhat like terracing, seen today as a series of ridges. The strips grouped together in shots or furlongs and where the heads of the strips touched the unploughed parts were called baulks – over time became paths, tracks and byways.

All villagers held a number of strips in three fields – one of the fields kept in rotation fallow, as pasture for the animals to manure. [Rents were not due for fallow land] The number of strips distributed by rank or standing in the community – allotted by the lord’s steward. His job was to see that this distribution of land was fair - according to age old custom and fertility of the soil – sharing good and difficult land. The three-year system worked tolerably well – one year to grow corn or peas, the next corn and beans and the following to lie fallow.

The villein’s stint – his allotted amount of work or share of the land, was five sheep for every acre of meadow, this also applied to the number of sheep he could turn out into the field-laying fallow. In the late fifteenth century, fees had to be paid to the Reeve for pannage rights – allowing pigs to root among the acorns in Great Chard Wood. Pasturage, conferring the right to graze cattle. Another, entitled the villager to Turbary – cut turf or dig peat, estovers – to gather wood from uprooted trees and wyndfallen, gather wood from branches blown off trees. An amount had to be paid for the enclosure for grazing in Chard meadows and on the common land beyond 'Tatworth Middle Field.' [Chard History Group, 1996, reprint and slight additions 2001. Originally published in the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Proceeding, Volume 133. 1989.]

The pig was the primary source of meat for the villager. Once again, pannage had to be paid for letting the swine feed and a strict watch was paid for how many and for how long the pigs ate. Too much rooting disturbed the growth of young trees and the mud baths created barren earth. Although there was clearage of forest, wood and bracken to form arable land it was appreciated that this would detrimentally affect the numbers of wild animals that could be caught and eaten and eventually strip the land of wood for building.

As Tatworth expanded – mostly by births not by an influx of workers, more trades and skills became available that brought prosperity to the village. The baker, butcher, ale sellers, cobbler, smith, carters, drovers, shepherds, shop keeper, tailor and weaver of baskets, are just a few of the trades that flourished. Whilst they were busy they could not work the land or the land they were allotted... therefore, there was bartering, agreements, and tokens to be exchanged. Each villager had an entitlement to use the wasteland – meadow, pasture, and wood. Mostly all villagers paid rent and tithes, and carried out some service for the community - threshing, winnowing, gathering, carrying, or stacking. The meadowland down by the river was specially set aside for the small herd of oxen owned by the Bishop - kept to do all the heavy work in the village.

During the Reformation, Henry VIII made himself Head of the Church of England in 1534 – this was the pre-industrial age of English history. Henry’s act abolished control of the English Church from Rome, and as the church was very strong - played an important part in English society, Henry assumed total power over all aspects of the society. This was also a dynamic age regarding the economy, which affected both towns and villages. From this book’s point of view, this age set Chard and its satellite villages firmly on the map. As explained, the village of Tatworth functioned using a high degree of democratic control through The Bishops representatives working in conjunction with village-meetings - expressing concerns and electing the populations choice of leaders. The economy was centred on arable farming, the dairy livestock, woodland crafts, and smithy.

The lord of the manor, who may also be the squire and magistrate, exercised justice and good government. The squire, usually the largest landowner, was the senior landed gentleman and managed the day to day running of the manor. It was a handed down, hierarchical existence, based on the gentry. This was not always the case if there was an aristocrat or Bishop in the manor who may have been in a higher class. However, neither of these tended to interfere in the running of the manor. Following on under the squire was the parson, then, the largest tenant farmer running the manor farm: the apothecary, the miller, the bailiff, the wheelwright, the publican, postman and then the smallholders. At the bottom, the shoemaker and below him the agricultural labourer. Each member of the community dressed according to his station.

Research declares that Tatworth was a sub-manor of about five hundred acres producing corn and livestock. The first possessor of the land was Sir William Petre in 1550 as a dependant paying rent to the Bishop of Bath & Welles. He was a tenant of the sub-manor working his service. He had no court for the bishop was the owner. His manor was in effect an agricultural holding.

A butcher of Tatworth, according to the Borough Court records of 1569, overcharged shoppers and was fined… This was not the only case recorded where shop owners tried to extract more for their wares than was acceptable. The manor court or assemblies, called ‘Hallmoots, controlled the actions of the population by the consent of the owner of the land - who had right of title… in effect, the lord of the manor… and to the Bishop, being the representative of the church. In the instance of Chard manor and its sub-manor Tatworth the lord of the manor was the Bishop of Wells who was the district governor of The Church.

Tatworth grew in size - in the number of dwellings erected… the increased population were materially better off than previous generations. The swing away from a purely arable to mixed farming – with an emphasis on sheep rearing improved per-capita wealth. Towards the end of the century, the common land was under pressure to be enclosed. It became essential for good stock breeding to separate animals, carefully manage the production of wool and dairy food… this was a natural and obvious evolution in the production of food and animal products.

The reaction of the small holding poor was one of fright and concern. The peasantry were being forced to give up their rights by the larger tenant farmers. The result was unrest. More commons were turned into pastures and the onetime tilled fields seeded with grass. The wealthy farmers began to take a great interest in better husbandry. Pastures were drained, watercourses diverted and ditches dug. Stones were picked up off the land and used to erect boundary walls. Fences erected and hedges laid. England began to take the shape seen today. In reality, the poor were being exploited by giving up their rights, which they receive little compensation for. Gradually the little hovels and hamlets were flattened and cottages abandoned. The poor drifted towards the towns to work in the mills.

The dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry saw two-thirds of ex-monastic land sold… his original intention was to abolish the whole monastic system. The monastic houses included abbeys, convents, nunneries and friaries… their dissolution lasted four years between 1536 – 1540… in all there were over eight hundred religious houses, the homes to many monks, friars, canons, and nuns.

Initially lands were given to the church by the king and his lords to secure redemption – to be prayed for. By good husbandry, the monks developed the land making it very profitable. Before the dissolution, the bulk of the land was put to wool production, which was very profitable finding a ready market at home, and aboard. This made the various religious bodies’ very wealth. It was after The Black Death, which reaped a heavy toll on the population as well as the monks that the tillage system faltered. The land afterwards could not be maintained properly. To increase profitability the fields were turned into pastureland, which was easier to manage. Clearing the land of stone, building walls, fences and hedges the sheep were corralled… production increased and profits kept pace.

In 1538, the Vicar-General decided that the dissolution was not being accomplished fast enough especially on the larger houses. He sent out his secretaries who presented a ready-made deed of surrender to the abbot who in most cases readily signed the property away. Those who did so willingly were granted a pension for life and a lump sum of money. The sized property was granted to landowners or offered for sale, some given to the parish. The stonework demolished and reused, lead and precious metal melted down. There were a number of priories raised to cathedral status with a dean, and a chapter of canons, that saved them from extinction.

The redistribution of land meant a change of ownership not ‘change of use’. The system of paying rents and tithes did not alter - only now there were more owners. However, before the new order was established there was disruption and confusion – rents not paid - land becoming overgrown. Eventually, some of the church lands were returned to their original owners… and order restored…This harmony was soon dashed by tenant eviction. The ‘open field system’ was changed to one of ‘enclosure’. The object was to make the land more productive, especially for the grazing of sheep… this in turn gave an opportunity to advance a new farming technique - controlled dunging of arable land. The village people really affected by closure were the small tenant farmers of mixed farms, smallholders and those with limited rights. They were all paid a minimum amount to move minus that year’s forfeiture fee . In the 1530s, the price of farm produce – labour and grain, increased appreciably. By 1540, there was a series drought, which pushed prices up further. It was thought by some that this was exacerbated by the continuing enclosure of land – that sheep farming reduced the amount of land available for arable crops. Four years later the king sold off more land grants. The rents due on the land included the right to carry on collecting the old Landmole rents - ground rent outside the town walls, rent at a penny an acre – or measure of land, per half year. Thus, the tenants on land had a new property owner not set free from their old duties of forfeiture. Over the next fifty years there was much selling of land, which consolidated holdings and redeveloped larger estates. The Bishop of Bath held onto his estates being a supporter of the king. Edward Seymour promoted himself to Duke of Somerset and by so doing focussed attention on himself. Eventually he was overthrown and replaced as head of the Great Council by the Earl of Warwick.

The effects that came from the dissolution of the monasteries on the citizens of Tatworth were small. Henry’s commissioners found nothing in St Margaret’s chantry or any guild funds to lay their hands on. The Abbey at Forde closed becoming a private home. Those in the village who were staunch Catholics kept a low profile, moved away or emigrated. For the labouring tenants nothing altered their way of life. Having the Chantry and guilds abolished and their plate melted down meant little to them.

In 1546, peace was restored between England and France. Mary I followed by restoring the Catholic faith in England nine years later, then it was the turn of the Protestants to hide. From this time the non-conformists began to form groups lead by dedicated missionaries. The dissenting chapels started being raised over the next three hundred years: The Baptists, Mission Halls, Methodists, and Wesleyans, The Independents and the Congregationalists and others. This move away from the established religious institutions marks out Tatworth and the area around.

The church was not the only institution going through social and economic changes. The expanding population that was ‘on the move’ was undermining the manorial system. It was a time of recession after as period of growth. The government brought about controls through Justices of the Peace who had the authority to impose fund-raising to relieve poverty. The administration ordered the Parish of Chard carry out legislation with a constable of its own. Gradually the manor lost its relevance.

The importance of wool is recorded in 1586 as a commodity, as well as for local bartering and weaving - no longer thought of just as a by-product. Gradually the purely rural cultivation of land promoted ancillary trades which eventually developed more profitable skills – the wagon maker turned his hand to making more practical farming machines, the millwright devised machinery for cutting wood and the blacksmith produced cooking implements and furniture for doors and windows. It wasn’t long before these skilful adaptors became organized by entrepreneurs, adding yet another strata to the society. These new tradesmen maintained their position by organizing themselves into guilds - societies for mutual benefit controlled by a council.

The domination of the underclass, by those who owned the land, was not seriously questioned – it was an accepted fact, and only worked when for most of the time a sort of fairness existed – some individuals changed their class through hard work, opportunism and good fortune. Those who held freehold land were guaranteed the right to vote for Parliament. The yeomen were the baulk of the lesser landowners – they could be tenant farmers if prosperous. They served as: jurors, constables, churchwardens, and bailiffs. In a village such as Tatworth there were but few, perhaps three or four. It was to them that any credit goes if the village was run well. Husbandmen rarely owned land but had smallholdings with long-term leases, which were renewed. They either bought spare land to make theirs more profitable or became wage labourers for others whilst maintaining theirs.