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From A Short History of English Rural Life, by Montague Fordham, Charles Scribner’s Sons; New York; 1916; pp. 163-164.

[Elf. Ed.: To illustrate some of these terms, see the Frontispiece showing a Plan of a 12th Century Manor.]



A. The Tùn, the Vill and the Parish

ENGLISH country people have, from very early times, been grouped into small communities, living in definite areas. Before the Norman Conquest the area was called the ‘tùn’; this word means a wall or boundary and was in the first instance applied to the fenced-in settlements. After the Conquest the word ‘tùn,’ modified into ‘town,’ continued for centuries to be applied to the village and the area of land that went with it, and the word is employed in the old sense in New England to-day. At the same time a new title, the ‘vill,’ came into use.

Later, in the XVIth century, and perhaps before that time, the civil parish is the unit. The ‘vill’ may be described as the direct descendant of the ‘tùn,’ but the parish is, of course, a very old division, created by the Church, into which the vill seems to have merged, giving the parish a double character, civil and ecclesiastical.

The words ‘tùn’ and ‘vill,’ like ‘parish,’ are also often applied to the community itself.

The powers and duties of the communities varied from time to time, but the characteristic features were these: —

1. The democratic transaction of business in open meeting, the tùn-moot of Saxon times, the town’s meeting of a later period, then the vestry, and finally the parish meeting of to-day.

2. The election of special officers for the management of such affairs as the community had to deal with.

3. A right to levy rates and taxes either for local expenses, or to provide an amount levied on the community by a superior authority.

B. Socage Tenants

From the XIIIth century onwards free tenants, other than those who held by military tenure, were known as ‘socage tenants’ or ‘tenants in socage.’ On estates that were or had 164 formerly been the king’s property, ‘royal demesne’ or ‘ancient demesne’ as it was sometimes called, there were also to be found bondsmen holding by a special tenure called ‘villein socage.’ Such tenants were in a securer position than ordinary bondsmen, and certainly could not be disturbed so long as they performed their customary services.

C. Names of the various Features of
Common, Arable and Meadow Land

Whilst the system of common fields formerly prevailed throughout England, the names of the features varied greatly.

The arable strips sometimes called ‘acres’ were also (as mentioned in the text) called ‘lands,’ and in other places the names given were ‘shots,’ ‘sellions,’ ‘lawns,’ ‘loons,’ ‘dales,’ ‘raps,’ ‘pauls,’ and perhaps ‘ridges,’ ‘rigs’ and ‘doles,’

A strip taking the form of a terrace on a hill-side was called a ‘linch.’

Three-cornered pieces of arable land were called ‘gores,’ ‘pikes,’ pightels’ or ‘fothers.’

The dividing belts in the arable fields were generally called ‘baulks,’ but also sometimes ‘meres,’ ‘reans,’ ‘walls’ and ‘edges.’

The groups of strips which were surrounded by broad grass belts so as to form fields were called not only ‘furlongs’ but ‘shots,’ a name that had a different meaning in different districts. The grass belts themselves were, like the narrower belts, called ‘baulks’; of these baulks, those running parallel to the furrows were called ‘side-baulks’ or ‘way-baulks,’ those running across the end of the furrows, on which the ploughs would turn, being called ‘headland baulks’ or ‘headlands.’

The common meadowland was sometimes known as the ‘lot meadows,’ ‘carrs,’ ‘leazes,’ or ‘the ings’ or ‘the doles.’ The word ‘doles,’ indicating the ‘dealt-out land,’ being probably confined in its use to grass land; when found employed in modern times in relation to arable, it was possibly inherited in its use from a time when the land was meadow.

[To illustrate some of these terms, see the Frontispiece showing a Plan of a 12th Century Manor.]

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