A History of the County of Essex: Volume 4, Ongar Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1956.
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ANALYSIS OF SOME MEDIEVAL TAX ASSESSMENTS: ONGAR HUNDRED
The tables below bring together certain statistics derived from medieval fiscal records. They aim at showing how the places in Ongar hundred compared in wealth and density of settlement with one another and how the whole hundred compared in those respects with other parts of Essex and of England.
By the last quarter of the 13th century Englishmen had grown accustomed to tax assessments based upon the value of movables, a fraction of the assessed value of each eligible taxpayer being taken in tax. Until 1332 a different fraction was taken whenever Parliament granted a tax and a new assessment was made on the occasion of each grant. In and after 1334, however, it became the rule to take a fifteenth in country villages and a tenth in boroughs and on ancient demesne of the Crown. (fn. 1)
The assessment of 1320 (summarized below, Table 1) shows the form of these assessments up to 1332. In the original roll each place has a boldly written heading beneath which appear the names of the inhabitants who are liable to tax. The assessment of the movables of the inhabitants is given, followed by the sum representing the fifteenth part of this value, the individual's tax liability. A total (summa) for each place is given. Totals for the hundred and for the county also appear. (fn. 2)
In 1334 (see Table 1) the whole appearance of the rolls changes. In place of lists of names there are only lists of villages. This change mirrors the change in the basis of taxation. The Exchequer was now content to collect the tax on the basis of a single payment from the whole vill. So long as this payment reached at least the sum of individual villagers' payments in 1332 the Exchequer did not intervene. The appropriate sum for each vill was left to be fixed by local negotiation between the representatives of vills and the royal officials.
There is no suggestion that Edward III intended this arrangement to become permanent, but in fact the sums allotted to each village in 1334 continued to form the basis of their assessment until the reign of Charles I. If the Commons granted a sum greater than a fifteenth would have brought in, then some additional money was raised from a new form of tax (such as the poll tax of 1377, see below); or else more than one-fifteenth was granted, (fn. 3)so that each village made a payment of two or three times the sum allotted to it in 1334. This sum, for brevity, will be referred to as 'the basic village quota'. The difference between 1332 (fn. 4) and 1334 (fn. 5) may be illustrated from Lambourne. The summa of individual assessments in 1332 was 53s. 10d. The basic village quota fixed in 1334 was 57s. For the whole hundred of Ongar the total in 1332 was £62 17s. 9d. In 1334 it was £66 6s. 3d.
Since they give the names of the principal property-owners the tax-lists up to and including 1332 have long been used by genealogists. Economic historians have also found them interesting as a rough indication of the varying levels of prosperity to be found in different places. A village like Theydon Bois which collected 33s. 5¾d. from 23 taxpayers in 1320 is clearly different from a village like Theydon Mount where approximately the same sum (in fact, 35s. 1¼d.) came from only 7 taxpayers. (fn. 6)In the rather different social and agricultural conditions of the North Riding of Yorkshire, it has been suggested that a vill with one outstandingly large taxpayer probably had a lord working his own demesnes, while a number of roughly equal assessments indicate a vill with a weakened manorial structure and a fair number of tenants occupying part of the demesne. (fn. 7)
Interesting as are the questions they raise, these pre-1334 assessments are only of limited value in redetermining the relative wealth of Essex villages and of little, if any, value in determining their populations. There are several reasons for this. Some types of movable property were not assessable to tax, while some persons were too poor to be taxable at all. There was probably also a good deal of evasion and under-assessment. It is as though we were allowed to inspect the top of an iceberg but debarred from looking under the water. It is not very useful to regard the recorded number of taxpayers as being a fixed proportion of the whole village. A prosperous village would have a much higher proportion of its inhabitants named on the tax-list than a poor village with only one or two names recorded.
Taking Ongar hundred as a whole, these early assessments enable one standard to be applied which may yield interesting results when all the hundreds have been compared. Thus, in the earliest extant roll, that for 1237–8, Ongar hundred (fn. 8) paid £36 11s. 11d. out of the Essex total of £710 7s. 1d., or about 5 per cent. of the whole. In 1320 it paid £68 1s. 6d. out of £1,333 12s., or about 5 per cent. of the whole, while in 1332 it paid £62 17s. 9d. out of £1,178 11s. 6d., or again a share of just over 5 per cent. In 1334 the share of this area was £66 6s. 3d. out of £1,234 14s. 7d., or a share of just under 5 per cent.
The various local assessments are set out in Table 1 for the 25 units of collection, or 29 named places. In studying the table the first matter to be considered is the range of size exhibited in the village quotas of 1334. In Ongar hundred most villages paid between 20s. and 60s. Only two, Shelley and Stondon Massey, paid less then 20s., and only 5 paid more than 60s. The average of the 25 sums is 53s., 4 of these sums representing a payment for 2 places. In 1334 the corresponding average for Essex as a whole is 68s. 7d.
Although the basic village quotas of 1334 remained unaltered there were occasions when they were temporarily modified, abatements or reliefs being allowed in view of the impoverishment of a particular vill. Such occasions were the three collections of a tenth and a fifteenth granted in 1351 when impoverished vills were reimbursed out of a fund provided by fines collected under the Statute of Labourers. Thus one effect of the Black Death was mitigated by applying moneys drawn from those who were attempting to profit from the general shortage of labour. The amount which the Justices of Labourers had to distribute in relief to the villages depended, of course, on the fines imposed. The total in Essex was large. In 1352 £710 10s. was so collected, of which, after expenses, £675 11s. was allotted among the impoverished vills. Since the total tax obligation was only £1,234, more than half the year's assessment on Essex was made up from the pool of fines. (fn. 9)
Some villages received an allowance equal to the whole of the tax due: Thorpe-le-Soken, 51s. 4d.; Bocking 103s. 11d. Comparison with the list of fines paid, which has also survived for this year, shows that Thorpe had lost on the deal, £4 11s. 4d. having been collected there in fines for breach of the Statute. No place in Ongar hundred received such munificent relief, and only two places received any relief at all: High Laver was given 40s. (55 per cent. of the tax due) and Magdalen Laver 20s. (48 per cent.). It is difficult to resist the conclusion that local opinion considered these two vills to have been especially badly hit by the plague, but, as the poll-tax figures for 1377 show, they were certainly far from being depopulated. (fn. 10)
No record of reliefs allowed in 1353 and 1354 has survived, apart from county totals. (fn. 11) In 1358–60 the confiscated goods of fugitives and felons were applied to the same use but no record from Ongar hundred has yet been found. (fn. 12)
In 1433 there began a long series of abatements whereby a sum of £4,000 and later £6,000 was distributed among the over-taxed and impoverished villages of the kingdom. For at least the first 30 years of the abatements the evidence indicates that a genuine reassessment of need was made at each new collection of a subsidy; the Devonshire figures show quite wide differences in the sums allowed to each borough from one collection to the next. Unfortunately there are only two surviving rolls for Essex in this period, dated 1433 and 1436, and in these rolls the rate of allowances in Ongar hundred is the same in each year; the county was relieved of its obligation to pay £123 7s. 5d. (or about 10 per cent. of the sum due) and in its turn the hundred of Ongar was relieved in the same proportion, £6 12s. 6¾d. being allowed. (fn. 13) In addition to the general abatements granted by statute, some villages in Essex seem to have been allowed a second sum for losses suffered per inundacionem aquarum et alia infortuna [sic] pericula. Thus Langham received 10s. for flood damage. No flood relief was given in Ongar, but Chipping Ongar obtained 3s. 4d. extra relief in 1436 for pericula infortuna which were not specified. The abatements were assessed by the Abbot of Colchester and the two knights of the shire in the current Parliament: in 1436 Edward Tyrell and Thomas Torell. A document from Totnes suggests that at the end of the Parliament the knights actually brought the relief back with them for distribution, but the procedure in Essex is not specifically known. (fn. 14)
The size of the abatement allowed in 1433 and 1436 for each of the places in Ongar hundred is set out in Table 2. It will be seen that the rate of abatement was everywhere the same, apart from the one extra allowance to Chipping Ongar.
Had more documents survived one could have watched the rise and fall of abatements at each of the subsequent Parliamentary grants until the abatements themselves became conventionalized and inflexible, so that Elizabethan villages were receiving the abatement fixed under Edward IV or Henry VII. The arrival of the new 'subsidy' (fn. 15)of Henry VIII, assessed on goods, wages, or land, brings the wheel full circle: the Exchequer is again attempting what had been done before 1334, a realistic assessment not on a whole village but on individuals with more than a minimum amount of property or income.
The medieval evidence examined so far has dealt only with sums of money, the relative wealth of villages. It has had very little to say about numbers, and the only effective contribution to population history which the tax lists before 1334 can make is to provide a minimum number of taxpayers.
The parish tax of 1428 was of a nature quite different from the fifteenths and tenths so far considered. (fn. 16) It was in proportion to the sum at which the parish was taxed for the ecclesiastical tenths, but a special exemption was provided for those parishes with fewer than ten householders. The names of such parishes were enrolled and have been printed in Feudal Aids. Five such tiny parish populations were recorded in Ongar hundred: Theydon Bois, Theydon Mount, Little Laver, Shelley, and Norton Mandeville. Only Shelley had been among the bottom five places in the 1334 assessment, although three other places of those exempted in 1428 were in the bottom ten in 1334. None of the five exempt in 1428 had obtained tax relief in 1352.
The final set of tax documents here considered is unequivocally concerned with heads as well as with pockets. The poll tax was levied on three occasions, 1377, 1379, and 1381; but only the first collection is useful to demographers. The poll taxes of 1379 and 1381 were extensively evaded, and indeed the attempt to check the evasion in an Essex village is usually reckoned the immediate cause of the Peasants' Revolt. The lists of names and occupations in the surviving documents of 1379 and 1381 are interesting to the genealogist and indicate the 'spread' of occupations, but they can only be regarded as minimal lists, so great was the evasion. Table 3 shows in column 1 the actual number of taxpayers in 1377. (fn. 17)Column 2 is compiled from a nominal list which, though undated, is certainly either of 1379 or 1381. (fn. 18) The extent of the evasion is made clear if columns 1 and 2 are compared together. Chigwell has lost 67 taxpayers, Beauchamp Roding 12, and Navestock 77. Even the tax of 1377 did not fall on all heads: the groat was only exacted from those over 14, and if the total number of persons in a village is to be estimated, it is necessary to invoke some such assumption as that of Professor Russell, (fn. 19) that one-third of a village was under 14 years of age. If this assumption is accepted, another 50 per cent. must be added to the numbers recorded on the tax receipts of 1377. But there is no reason why one should not add 40 or 60 per cent. In Ongar hundred the average number on each receipt is 85, perhaps 130 persons. (fn. 20)
The arbitrariness of such assumptions limits the utility of the poll-tax returns for demographers. The returns, however, are a useful guide to the relative size of villages in 1377. So long as the proportion of boys and girls to adults was roughly the same in each village then the numbers on the poll tax receipts will be in proportion to the size of the village. We can say without too many qualifications that Stanford Rivers, with 180 taxpayers, was about six times the size of Theydon Bois with its 30 taxpayers. We can also arrange the villages in order of size, as has been done in Table 5, and say that Chigwell, with 203 taxpayers, heads the list, with Little Laver and Morrell Roding bringing up the rear with 24 and 19 taxpayers. All these statements can be made without knowing exactly how many persons there were in each village when (or before) the tax collector called.
Table 3 sets out the number of taxpayers in each vill as recorded on the receipts filed in the Exchequer. These receipts, given by the collectors to the constables of each vill, give both the sum paid and the number of heads, 'de capitibus'. No names, other than the constables', appear. Names were unnecessary as long as everyone was paying a flat 4d. When, in 1379 and 1381, the flat rate was supplanted by a graduated tax, varying with social status, nominal and occupational lists had to be compiled.
Ranking by size
It is now possible to bring together the various tax assessments which have been considered. One effective method of comparison is the technique of 'ranking', a simple comparison of the relative position of each place in relation to its neighbour. A ladder may be imagined, with the successive rungs representing the villages, the top rung being the largest tax assessment and so on to the lowest. It will be seen from Table 4 that a village does not always maintain itself on the same rung from one tax collection to the next; nor are the villages with the greatest tax assessments always those with the greatest number of heads recorded on their poll-tax receipts in 1377.
Until comparable figures have been published for other parts of the county and for other counties it is not possible to deduce very much from what is, statistically, a very small batch of figures. Theydon Bois and Little Laver seem to move down the ladder as the years pass while Loughton and Stondon Massey rise. Consideration of the individual parish histories may offer an explanation in terms other than the effects of the Black Death. Remembering that only two vills received reliefs in 1352, and that the ranking of neither of these changes very much, we may hazard that the long-term effect of the Black Death was not serious in this particular hundred. A different story may emerge from those hundreds of Essex where substantial reliefs were granted in 1352.
In the small sample afforded by the 25 sets of data in Ongar hundred only the most striking changes in 'ladder' position are likely to be significant. It will be noticed that in terms of absolute size, whether in 1334 or 1377, the first three places are held by the same three villages, Stanford Rivers, Navestock, and Chigwell with Woolston. Shelley and Kelvedon Hatch occupy consistently low positions, while Stondon Massey and Loughton seem to improve their status over the years. Only Little Laver shows a headlong decline from a middle to a bottom rung.
It is significant that the villages high on the absolute-size 'ladder' are not at the top of the density 'ladder'. The top place is firmly held by Chipping Ongar whose 500 acres were not the sole means of its inhabitants' support. Little Laver, whose fall has been noted above, also shows a fall in terms of density. The improved position of Stondon Massey is also repeated.
In the final column of the Table an attempt is made to indicate the degree of inequality existing in the 1320 assessments, where the average tax paid per taxpayer varies considerably from village to village—from 6s. 10d. at Stapleford Tawney to 1s. 6d. at Theydon Bois. The great differences in ranking between this and the other 'ladders' indicates that there is no simple connexion between the absolute size of a village assessment in 1320 and the number of villagers among whom the assessment was shared.
These preliminary comparisons are intended more as a suggestion for further investigation locally than as a final verdict. In the same way inter-village comparisons of density and size become really significant only when an area wider than a single hundred is available for study. (fn. 21)Comparisons with some other areas of England have been made in Table 6.
The Tables of densities printed below (Tables 5 and 6) have been contrived on the assumption that the fiscal units, which were vills, were equal in area to the parishes of 1801. For this there is no warrant, but it is the nearest approximation that can be reached. No important changes in parish boundaries within the hundred can be traced between about 1300 and 1841.
The consideration of densities may be related to the settlement history of the hundred. Anyone accustomed to the much more clear-cut settlement history of the Midlands and the northern plains must find, Essex, and this part of Essex in particular, a hard county to study. In the Midland areas the work of colonization and clearing was almost complete by the time that Edward III's fifteenths and tenths were being collected. Apart from the villages with some non-agricultural occupations, the population as shown in the poll-tax receipts was maintained by the area of field-land roughly corresponding to the modern parish area. A density figure, obtained by calculating taxpayers per thousand acres, is a useful concept and serves to draw attention to the different agricultural experiences and potentialities of different villages. In the same way, the tax paid per thousand acres in the 1334 village quotas can be calculated, and this will be referred to as a 'tax density'.
In Essex the same calculations can be made, and the results are set out in Table 5, but the implications of the results are less certain than in the Midlands. In the Essex parishes there was a much greater area of surviving woodland; the nucleated village at the heart of continuous open-field land could only have been found in a very limited area of the county. Of the four largest villages in the medieval tax-lists of Ongar hundred, only Chigwell has any substantial village nucleus; while Stanford Rivers, Theydon Garnon, and Navestock have isolated or semi-isolated churches and very scattered settlement.
The density figures in 1377 show that half the vills in Ongar hundred had densities of between 32 and 44 taxpayers per thousand acres, indicating very similar environmental opportunities. Apart from this group stand Theydon Bois and High Ongar with markedly low densities, and at the other extreme is Chipping Ongar, a market-town with 108 taxpayers in its 500 acres.
If the density for Essex as a whole is calculated, it works out at 47 per thousand acres, about the same as for Somerset, Buckinghamshire, and Nottinghamshire. The average for Ongar hundred is only a little smaller: 38 per thousand acres. If similar calculations of tax density are made in terms of shillings per thousand acres in 1334, Ongar hundred again appears within a few pence of the average density for Essex (23s. 8d. as against 23s. 5d. for the county) and again at about the same average as for Somerset, Buckinghamshire, and Nottinghamshire. (fn. 25)
|Place||Statutory||Reliefs (fn. 22)|
|Chigwell with Woolston||9||8¼|
|Norton Mandeville with Little Norton||3||3|
|Ongar, Chipping||5||0¼ (fn. 23)|
|Ongar, High with Paslow.||5||4½|
|Roding, Abbess with Morrell Roding||3||8¼|
|Weald, North, Bassett||4||3¼|
|Total||£6 12||6¾ (fn. 24)|
|Place||Taxpayers in 1377||Names recorded in 1379 or 1381|
|Chigwell with Woolston||203||136|
|Moreton||114||50 (fn. 27)|
|Norton Mandeville with Little Norton||52||48|
|Ongar, High with Paslow||80||77|
|Roding, Morrell||19||(fn. 26)|
|Weald, North, Bassett||73||49|
|Total||2,117||1,592 (fn. 27)|
|Place||1320 Assessment (Table I)||1334 Assessment (Table I)||1320 Number of taxpayers (Table I)||1377 Number of taxpayers (Table III)||1334 Density (Table V)||1377 Density (Table V)||1320 Average tax per taxpayer (Table I)|
|Chigwell with Woolston||3||3||5||1||16||10||8|
|Laver, Little (fn. 28)||9||11||13||25||2||21||5|
|Norton Mandeville with Little Norton (fn. 29)||20||21||20||16||3||3||14|
|Ongar, High with Paslow||11||9||9||12||24||24||14|
|Roding, Abbess with Morrell Roding||21||17||16||14||22||19||18|
|Shelley (fn. 29)||25||25||5||23||10||4||5|
|Theydon Bois (fn. 29)||17||16||6||24||18||25||25|
|Theydon Mount (fn. 29)||16||19||23||20||14||16||2|
|Weald, North, Bassett||19||14||13||13||23||22||17|
|Place||Area in thousands of acres||Shillings per 1,000 acres||Taxpayers per 1,000 acres|
|Chigwell with Woolston||5||23||19||17||41|
|Norton Mandeville with Little Norton||0.8||With High Ongar||40||35||65|
|Ongar, High with Paslow||4.5||14||12||11||18|
|Roding, Abbess with Morrell Roding||2.4||12||15||14||30 (fn. 29)|
|Weald, North, Bassett||3.4||9||13||11||22|
|Ongar hundred||Total 56.2||24.3||23.7||21.2||38|