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Enclosure and the YeomanThe Agricultural Development of the South Midlands 1450-1850$

Robert C. Allen

Print publication date: 1992

Print ISBN-13: 9780198282969

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198282969.001.0001

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(p.312) Appendix I Regional Patterns of Peasant Land Tenure

(p.312) Appendix I Regional Patterns of Peasant Land Tenure

Enclosure and the Yeoman
Oxford University Press

THE yeomen held their lands by copyholds of inheritance, copyholds for lives, and beneficial leases. While there are probably examples of all forms in all counties, there were distinct regional concentrations in the south midlands. Thus, copyholds of inheritance were most common in the eastern part of the region—in Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, and Bedfordshire, for example. Copyholds for lives tended to be the norm in Warwickshire, Oxfordshire, and Berkshire. In Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, there was a mixture of beneficial leases and copyholds of inheritance. In addition, demesnes tended to be held by beneficial lease throughout the region. Kerridge (1969: 32–64) and Clay (1985: 198–214) provide general overviews on the geographical distribution of tenures. In this Appendix, I report evidence bearing on the south midlands in particular.

Copyholds of inheritance tended to be common in the eastern counties. Thus, Parkinson (1811: 31) observed that ‘rather more than half the county [of Huntingdon] is of a freehold tenure, the remainder, (with the exception of about one thirtieth part of the whole, which is leasehold) is copyhold’. His parish-by-parish returns indicate a mixture of fixed and arbitrary fines (Ibid. 29–31). Gooch wrote of Cambridgeshire that ‘every kind of tenure is in this county’, Batchelor wrote of Bedfordshire that ‘copyhold estates are numerous in some parishes’ (Marshall 1818: iv. 580, 632). Clay (1985: ii. 200) summarized the situation: ‘In the eastern part of the country, and in most of the Midlands, copyhold was normally hereditary.’

The importance of heritable copyhold in the eastern part of the south midlands is corroborated by the evidence of many villages. Thus, Spufford (1974: 75–6, 101, 158) found that copyhold of inheritance was the standard customary tenure in the Cambridgeshire parishes of Chippenham, Orwell, and apparently also in Willingham. Copyholds were heritable in the manors of Ramsey Abbey, which were located mainly in Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire (Raftis 1964: 198–204). The Victoria County History volumes for Cambridgeshire report seven cases of heritable copyhold— Great Abington (vi. 10), Hildersham (vi. 64), Duxford (vi. 210), Ickleton (vi. 239), Sawston (vi. 254), Bassingbourn (viii. 19, 20), and Foxton (viii. 171). The VCH also indicates that Great Abington had copyholds for life in (p.313) the sixteenth century, as did Croxton (v. 40/1). Copyholds for lives were not otherwise noted in Cambridgeshire.

In contrast, copyhold for lives was common in Warwickshire, Oxfordshire, and in the Vale of White Horse, as Clay (1981: 83; 1985: v, pt II, p.200) noticed. Young (1813: 472) wrote of Oxfordshire: ‘Freehold and copyhold leases for lives remain here: and church and college leases, both for lives and years, abound greatly.’ Murray (1813: 26) and Mavor (1813: 52) also noted the existence of copyhold in Warwickshire and Berkshire without describing its form. Copyhold for lives extended into Buckinghamshire as Priest (1813: 24) reported. Middle Claydon, Buckinghamshire, was an example discussed by Broad (1972).

The Victoria County History of Oxfordshire provides many examples of copyholds for lives, in particular: Chesterton (vi. 97), Hampton Poyle (vi. 164), Lower Heyford (vi. 188), Islip (vi. 213), Kirtlington—1 life (vi. 226), Wendlebury (vi. 343), Weston-on-the Green—lifehold (vi. 350), Clifton Hampden (vii. 22), Dorchester (vii. 47), Burcot (vii. 68), Drayton St Leonard (vii. 77)—also life leasehold, South Stoke (vii. 101), Great Milton (vii. 131, 135), Adwell (viii. 5), Pyrton (viii. 164), Shirburn (viii. 188, 190), Stoke Talmage (viii. 204–5), Watlington (viii. 228), Hanwell (ix. 117)—copy and lifeholders, Horley and Hornton (ix. 129), Shenington (ix. 145), Tadmarton (ix. 154), Wroxton (ix. 181), and Neithrop (x. 54). Upper Heyford (iv. 201), Burcot (vii. 68), Thame (vii. 191–2), and Duns Tew (xi. 217) were also probably copyholds for lives, but the text is not clear.

Some copyholds of inheritance were also found in Oxfordshire. Examples include Ambrosden (v. 21), Launton (vi. 236), Lewknor (viii. 108), Bloxham (ix. 68–9), Drayton (ix. 107), Horley and Hornton (ix. 129), Charlbury (x. 141), South Newington (xi. 152), and Wootton (xi. 276). In addition to the villages with leases for lives noted above, this tenure also was found in Horton (v. 69), Holton (v. 174), Hampton Poyle (vi. 164), Wendlebury (vi. 343), Dorchester (vii. 47), Shirburn (viii. 190), Stoke Talmage (viii. 205), and Great Tew (xi. 237).

Finally, leases for long terms of years were reported in Holton—70 years (v. 174), Piddington—2,000 years (v. 255), Fringford—2,000 years (vi. 129), Hampton Gay—99 years (vi. 157), Mixbury—21, 40 years (vi. 256), Drayton St Leonard—40 years (vii, p. xx), Waterstock—21 years (vii. 224), Bloxham—40 years (ix. 66) Prescote—21 years (x. 209), North Aston—61 years (xi. 13), Glympton—30 years (xi. 127), Duns Tew—21 years (xi. 217).

As the lists indicate, some villages included more than one tenure. The variety reflects differences in policy for demesnes and customary lands and in changes from one form to another.

(p.314) Beneficial leases were common in three circumstances. First, demesnes were often let on beneficial leases. Second, copyholds for lives were sometimes replaced by beneficial leases in the western part of the south midlands; Clay (1985: 203) says this was done after the mid-seventeenth century but the persistence of copyhold of inheritance into the eighteenth century shows that replacement proceeded slowly. Third, beneficial leases were a common way in which customary land was held in the upland pasture district—in Northamptonshire, Leicestershire, and the adjoining portions of Rutland, although copyhold was also important. It was usually of inheritance. Pitt (1809b: 23) wrote of Northamptonshire that ‘The tenures of land, in this country, are, I am informed, mostly freehold; but, there are some copyhold and some leasehold.’ He wrote virtually the same thing about Leicestershire (Marshall 1818: iv. 213). Parkinson (1808: 23–4) reports both freehold and copyhold land in parishes in the upland part of Rutland. In the seventeenth century, most of the freehold land was probably let on beneficial leases.

Studies of landholding reveal a mixture of copyhold of inheritance and beneficial leases in Northamptonshire, Leicestershire, and adjoining parts of Rutland and Warwickshire in the Tudor/Stuart period. Thus, Lennard’s (1916) study of the manors of the Honour of Grafton in the seventeenth century showed that leasehold predominated in eight manors (Grafton, Hartwell, Ashton, Greens Norton, Grimscott, Higham Ferrers (mostly), Holdenby, Stoke Bruerne), copyhold of inheritance in six (Brigstocke, Irchester, Kingscliffe, Raunds, Rushden, Little Welden), and copyhold for lives in two (Moorend and Potters Pury).1 Two others had very little land or mixed arrangements (Pury and Chalveston cum Caldecott). The leases usually ran for three lives during the reign of Elizabeth and 31 years later (Lennard 1916: 32, 120). Finch’s (1956) study of The Wealth of Five Northamptonshire Families, 1540–1640 gives the impression of a predominance of leasehold land but also notes the existence of copyhold land. The estates discussed by Finch include manors in Rutland and Leicestershire as well as Northamptonshire. The apparent importance of beneficial leases may be due to the five families’ being leading enclosers. Hoskins’ (1957: 89–115) study of Wigston Magna, Leicestershire, shows that the customary tenants in the sixteenth century were copyholders who then bought the freeholds of their property from their lords in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. In the case of Oxford Manor, it was sold off to the tenants because they were so successful in litigation against their lord as to render the manor almost valueless. Howell (1983: 63) reports that the (p.315) sixteenth-century tenants of Merton College in Kibworth Harcourt, Leicestershire, were copyholders who came to hold their land officially on 21-year beneficial leases after 1593 since the manor was owned by an Oxford college. Parker’s (1949: 47) study of Cotesbach found that the customary tenants were leaseholders—indeed, leaseholders with expired leases who consequently could not offer a strong defence against enclosure.


(1) There was some leasehold land in both of these manors and the copyhold customs of Potters Pury allowed family members to redeem land after the last life ran out.