A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 4, Agriculture. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1989.
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DOMESDAY BOOK TO 1300
The two and a half centuries extending from Edward the Confessor's reign to the last years of Edward I form a period of growth: of population, of food production, and of the area under cultivation. (fn. 1) Most modern commentators regard the last two phenomena as responses to the increase in the country's population, from perhaps c. 2 million in 1086 to 5 or 6 million in 1347. (fn. 2) Those responses, and indeed the ability to respond in terms of the available resources, varied greatly across England. In some parts of the country agriculture, particularly arable farming, was already intensive by the time of the Norman Conquest, and there opportunities for expansion, as opposed to further intensification, were few. Elsewhere large tracts of lightly populated land survived in the late 11th century where the characteristic agriculture was pastoral and widely dispersed: by and large they were in the areas with poorer soils and less immediate agricultural potential. Shropshire was such an area except for a few fairly small and discrete areas, particularly on the lighter and well drained soils associated with the county's main watercourses. In the two centuries up to 1300 the agriculture of the county changed considerably. The county never had great areas with prairie-like expanses of open field land surrounding large nucleated villages, but by the early 14th century more of it was under arable cultivation than ever before. Moreover the land not under the plough comprising the woods, moors, and pastures, often on the uplands, was more widely grazed, and more closely managed and regulated, than at any stage in the past. It was a full and busy landscape, of hamlets and villages each with its own small open fields and a patchwork of closes; of woods full of grazing animals as well as people collecting and cutting wood; of heaths and uplands walked by flocks of sheep several hundred strong; and of rivers and ponds yielding heavy catches. For those with an adequate share in the resources—the lords, and a few of the richer freeholders and peasants—those were by and large good centuries, providing opportunity and profit. For the mass of the peasantry there was no hope of any economic advance beyond subsistence, and hunger and hardship were never far away.
The sources which reveal that story, as for the rest of the country, are relatively few before the mid 13th century, and even in the later 13th century no substantial archive has survived from a single estate or institution in the county. The account which follows is therefore based largely on impression and inference rather than on a statistically reliable body of data.
Lords and tenants
The first systematic account of the landowning class is given by Domesday Book. In the later 11th century several national magnates are recorded as owning Shropshire estates: King Edward and Queen Edith, Earl Leofric (d. 1057) and his wife Godiva (fl. 1080), King Edward's brother-in-law (and successor) Earl Harold, and Earls Edwin (d. 1071) and Morcar (d. after 1087). The bishops of Hereford and of Chester also held important estates in the county and the church of Wenlock claimed an ancient endowment. In 1066 two outstandingly rich thegns among the Shropshire landowners (fn. 3) were Edric the wild, nephew of Eadric Streona, ealdorman of Mercia, and Edric's distant kinsman Siward, a son of King Edward's kinsman Aethelgar. Siward's brother Ealdred was also a Shropshire landowner. Edric and Siward were probably sufficiently important to be independent of the Mercian earls, but the many second-rank thegns of Shropshire and the smaller landowners were probably all the earl's men.
By 1086 there was virtually no terra regis, and the predominance of Roger of Montgomery, earl of Shrewsbury, was the main feature of Shropshire landed society. Apart from Earl Roger, the bishops of Hereford and Chester, and the abbot of St.-Remi, there were only five other tenants in chief in the county, most of whose lands held in chief lay in south Shropshire. Earl Roger's leading position was forfeited by his son in 1102, (fn. 4) and thereafter there was no earl with a title from the county until 1442. The families who emerged as leading Shropshire landowners in the 12th and 13th centuries were the FitzAlans, their tenants the Stranges, and the Chetwynds, Corbets, FitzWarins, Mortimers, and Pantulfs. Some of those families founded cadet lines (the Eytons of Eyton upon the Weald Moors, for example, were probably cadets of the Pantulfs), some eventually died out in the male line but transmitted their lands to heiresses, and some—notably the FitzAlans from their acquisition of Arundel in 1243—became families of national standing. By the end of the 12th century the ranks of the leading Shropshire landowners had been joined by half a dozen monasteries: Buildwas, Combermere (Ches.), Haughmond, Lilleshall, and Shrewsbury abbeys and the priory of Wenlock. Beneath the leading landowners were the ranks of the gentry, lords of one or two manors, whose family fortunes and vicissitudes have been amply chronicled for the period. (fn. 5) Many of them—the Eytons, Ercalls, Foresters, Gatacres, Hodnets, Plowdens, and Sandfords for example—transmitted their estates to heirs who held them for many generations after the close of the period. Nevertheless landowning society was by no means static. In the 13th century families such as the Audleys, the Burnells, the Charltons, the Erdingtons, and the Ludlows joined the ranks of Shropshire landowners as a result of successful years spent in royal service or in trade. There is little evidence that such newcomers had any impact on agricultural practices—any more than the 11th-century Norman conquerors had. It is, however, the record of their landholdings that provides much of the documentary history of agriculture during the two centuries or more that followed the Norman Conquest.
A fairly consistent picture emerges from the Domesday survey about regional variations in the evolution of agriculture within the county in the late 11th century. As revealing as any of the more widely used figures are those of 'land value', which were not plotted in the Domesday Geography series (fn. 6) but which, as recent work suggests, do record in a reasonably consistent fashion the income which the lord could expect to receive from his manor, whether as rent if the manor was leased or in revenue if exploited directly. (fn. 7) That value was required, if possible, to be recorded in triplicate: for 1066, 1070, and 1086. The Conqueror's devastation of eastern Shropshire in 1070 left economic production disrupted and manorial values depressed both in 1070 (as can be seen in the relatively few cases where precise figures for that year were recorded) and 16 years later. The Shropshire estates described as 'waste' in 1066 lay mainly in the west: those around Chirbury may have been thus understood to be exempt from geld because of their owners' extensive hunting rights, analogous to the later forest laws; the 'waste' estates around Oswestry may have been given reduced geld assessments after the area was regained from the Welsh in the mid 1060s. (fn. 8) In other areas the 1066 values may be taken as representing fairly accurately the wealth of the various parts of the county in the mid 11th century.
The most valuable manors were clearly concentrated east of Shrewsbury, between it, Edgmond, and Albrighton, and to a lesser extent west of Shrewsbury (Figs. 2 and 3). That concentration of highest values is also reflected in the numbers both of ploughteams at work in 1086 and of ploughlands, a new fiscal assessment of 1086–7, (fn. 9) although the relative rankings of the regions differ from one method of assessment to another. The differences are due not least to the fact that the three methods of assessment reflect different things: numbers of ploughteams reflect arable production whereas manorial values, and probably numbers of ploughlands too, reflect total agricultural production. In a county such as Shropshire, where animal husbandry dominated the economy in some areas, the differences may be considerable. The contribution of sheep husbandry may well explain the high value of land in the Clun region in 1066 when it is compared with the small number of ploughteams at work and the low density of recorded population. Another contribution to the value of manors in pastoral areas such as Clun may have been rents paid by minor tenants. As with the rent paying censarii on Burton abbey's estate, such tenants may not have been recorded in 1086. (fn. 10) Land values, ploughteams, and ploughlands all indicate the relative poverty and lack of agricultural development in the northern third of the county.
The numbers of ploughteams in 1086 allow some very broad conclusions to be drawn about how the 500-odd manors in the county were worked, whether solely by demesne teams, or by a mixture of demesne and peasant teams, or by peasant teams alone. Most numerous, comprising a little more than half of those manors, were those with both demesne and peasant teams, apparently the precursors of the typical manor of the 12th and 13th centuries. They lay thickest in some of the best agricultural land, in east Shropshire and especially in the Severn valley below Shrewsbury and the area between the Severn and the Clee Hills. About a tenth of the county's manors had only a home farm, while about twice that number had no ploughs owned by the lord and were apparently worked solely by the peasantry. Manors of those two types lay thickest in, and west of, the Roden valley and in the Severn valley about Shrewsbury, with smaller groups in north-east Shropshire, east of Madeley, and in some of the southern valleys. (fn. 11) About a tenth of the county's manors were still reckoned to be at least partly 'waste' in 1086, and 36 were wholly waste with no recorded population or value. It is clear, however, that the county had undergone a remarkable economic recovery in the 16 years since c. 1070 when c. 120 vills lay 'waste', most as a result of the king's devastation of districts which had supported Edric the wild's revolt, but some probably owing to earlier upheavals, notably the suggested recovery of territory from the Welsh. (fn. 12)
The extent of the arable land of manorial demesnes in the 13th century was frequently recorded in carucates rather than acres. The usual Exchequer reckoning was 120 a. to the carucate, (fn. 13) and that can be taken as a reasonable working figure for Shropshire. It was used, for instance, when Peter Corbet's demesne lands were listed on his death in 1300, (fn. 14) although carucates of 108 a., 104 a. and 100 a. were also recorded. (fn. 15) The size of the carucate was recognized as varying: in a survey of 1301 the demesne at Newcastle, in Clun, was said to comprise two small carucates. (fn. 16) Accepting the carucate as c. 120 a., it is probably a fair estimate that over half of the demesnes in hand in the county in the 13th century comprised between 100 and 250 a. of arable, of which two thirds would have been under cultivation each year. (fn. 17) Few were smaller, while demesnes of 3 or 4 carucates were not unusual. It was rare for more than 4 carucates to be in hand on a single manor: of the six examples noted, three were demesne manors of Wenlock priory, (fn. 18) one was a grange of Buildwas abbey, (fn. 19) and one belonged to the earl of Arundel. (fn. 20) The other was at Pontesbury where 6 carucates, or c. 720 a., were in hand on the lord's death in 1286. (fn. 21)
The lack of Shropshire estate records for the period makes it difficult to assess how far landlords followed national trends of estate management. It is impossible to ascertain whether there was a renewed emphasis on the direct exploitation of demesnes in the early 13th century as commodity prices soared and landlords sought to increase their profits, (fn. 22) although that is suggested by evidence from some of the county's monastic estates: Haughmond abbey, for instance, clearly had a policy of expanding both its demesne lands and its rent roll in the early 13th century. (fn. 23) A century or so later there is slightly more evidence of a reverse trend when landlords began to prefer the security of cash rents as the economic situation became less certain, (fn. 24) and there are many instances of demesnes being leased by the end of the 13th century. In 1301, for instance, on the FitzAlan estates in the county the demesnes at Acton Round (c. 200 a.) were in the villeins' hands, as were 3 virgates (c. 180 a.) of demesne at Acton, in Clun, and c. 100 a. at Westhope, in Diddlebury. (fn. 25) In the lordship of Oswestry the demesne comprised 4 carucates, or up to 480 a., in 1272, 140 a. in 1302, and had been completely leased by 1362– 3. (fn. 26) Wenlock priory ceased to cultivate its Little Wenlock demesne c. 1300 and let it in small lots to the customary tenants; that probably marked the beginning of the retreat from the high point of demesne farming which had been reached in the late 13th century. (fn. 27) Shrewsbury abbey too began to move rapidly away from demesne farming soon after 1300, (fn. 28) and Haughmond abbey a little later, the first recorded lease of demesne being dated 1316. (fn. 29)
A profitable appurtenance on many demesnes by the later 11th century was a mill, and Domesday Book records 98 mills in the county. (fn. 30) Although it can be assumed that most, if not all, were water rather than horse mills, (fn. 31) the type can only be guessed. Even in the 13th century, by which time their number had greatly increased, few details are found of the mills themselves, unlike their pools and watercourses which gave rise to frequent complaint from the the owners or occupants of adjoining land. One of the few technical details to have survived concerns Hope Bagot mill, where in 1292 the miller was dragged to his death by the inner of two waterwheels. (fn. 32) Winnowing places adjoined some mills in the 13th century, (fn. 33) and most mills probably had eel and fish traps set in their water channels, some Domesday mills owing their rents wholly or partly in eels. (fn. 34)
Windmills began to appear in England in the late 12th century, (fn. 35) but none is noticed in Shropshire until 1267 when there was one in Shrewsbury, apparently within the town walls and built by the burgesses. (fn. 36) The only other 13th-century windmill known in the county was at Wem; in 1281 it was said to be worth 10s. a year, compared with the two watermills there worth £2 13s. 4d. (fn. 37) Wellington had one by 1315, (fn. 38) and one was destroyed at Wrockwardine by 1349. (fn. 39) Generally it appears that their adoption in a county with ample watercourses was slow.
By 1267 in addition to their windmill, the burgesses of Shrewsbury had also built three horsemills in the town and three in the suburbs. (fn. 40) As with the windmill, the intention was clearly to circumvent the abbey, which owned three watermills in Shrewsbury and since 1121 had had the right to the multure of the whole town. (fn. 41) Another horsemill was recorded at Buildwas abbey's grange at Monkmeole in 1279. (fn. 42)
Of the various classes under which Domesday Book groups the rural population the largest was villeins, 1,985 of whom were recorded in Shropshire, that is 37 per cent of its total population. (fn. 43) They were unfree tenants who owed rents and services for their share of the manor's lands. On two of Roger de Lacy's manors, Stanton Lacy and Onibury, nine 'half villeins' were noted, an indication that in 1086, as later, villein holdings might be divided. (fn. 44) The next largest Domesday group, totalling 1,198, comprised the bordars. (fn. 45) Their status has been much debated, although it seems that they were smallholders, some of whom were freed slaves settled on parcels of demesne. (fn. 46) Their holdings were probably smaller than the villeins'. Bordars probably also had different obligations to their lords, and in Shropshire bordars occur much more frequently than villeins on manors where the only ploughteams were on the lord's home farm. (fn. 47)
The lowest group of the population in 1086 was the servi, serfs or slaves, and Shropshire, particularly the south-eastern part of the modern county (largely in Staffordshire in 1086), had one of the highest proportions of slaves (c. 19 per cent of the population) (fn. 48) of any county in England. (fn. 49) They probably worked on the demesne for their keep but had no other remuneration or any land of their own. Oxmen (bovarii), of whom there were 361 (7.5 per cent of the population) in the county, (fn. 50) were confined to the counties along the Welsh border. Employed in looking after and driving the demesne plough beasts, their legal status was probably similar to that of the servi. (fn. 51) In most parts of England the number of servi was already in decline in the late 11th century, and in the following century or so they were to disappear altogether, merging with the bordars and cottars into the class of unfree smallholder or becoming famuli or wage labourers. (fn. 52)
Apart from those four classes Domesday Book records 440 tenants in Shropshire. Of them 171 were radmen, tenants who, anciently at least, owed riding services for their lands, acting as messengers and officials around a lord's estates. Again, the class is little heard of after 1086 and it is difficult to define either their legal or economic position. Generally, as in Cheshire, it seems likely that they occupied a position above the villeins and that they occupied separate agricultural holdings and owned their own plough beasts. In that respect their position was analogous to that of freemen, 20 of whom were noted in the county. Among the 15 or so other broad classes in which Shropshire's men and women were described in 1086 the two largest were ethnic: Welshmen (64), and Frenchmen (34). Most of the remaining groups were occupational and included 55 priests, 8 smiths, 7 reeves, a beekeeper, and a miller. (fn. 53)
In the 12th and 13th centuries the usual customary tenant holding in Shropshire was the virgate or a fraction thereof. Virgate size differed considerably between counties and areas, (fn. 54) not least because a virgate was a share in the resources rather than a set acreage. Moreover the possibility of calculating virgate size in terms of statute acres is limited by the likely use in the 12th century of field acres as a measure. Nevertheless, in the few instances where virgate size seems to be reliably given, a surprisingly high figure of 50–60 a. is consistently found. (fn. 55) In addition to that 50 or 60 a. of arable, possibly originally held entirely in the open fields, each virgate had other rights or shares in the vill's woods and commons, which provided the essential grazing beyond that in the fallow field and the peasant's own croft. Thus a late 13th-century extent of Claverley noted that there were 22 virgates in villeinage, each worth 8s. a year with its pasture and other rights. (fn. 56) Meadow was scarce and valuable in most Shropshire vills, (fn. 57) and there is little evidence about how much, if any, it was usual for a virgate to have, or whether doles were fixed or regularly realloted. That virgate holdings could include set amounts of meadow, and also of woodland, is indicated both by a survey of Prees in 1298, where a regular 1 a. of meadow to each 17 a. of arable bond land in Prees and ½ a. to every 11½ a. at Darliston is suggested, (fn. 58) and by a case of 1319 concerning '4 virgates [of arable land], 4 a. of meadow, 4 a. of wood and 4s. rent' in Ellesmere, apparently a division of a hide of land granted to Haughmond abbey in the mid 12th century. (fn. 59) Furthermore where assarting was continuing it was usual for virgaters to hold a few acres of such land, normally as small parcels of enclosed arable, meadow, or pasture accounted for separately from their main holding. (fn. 60)
There are many indications of the division of a settlement's arable land into equal-sized virgates in a single operation. (fn. 61) It is notable that in almost every case where virgates were divided it was into halves or quarters. The one clear exception was at Barlow, in Hopesay, where in 1301 all 13 holdings were of either ⅓ or 1/6 virgate, (fn. 62) but even that reinforces the clearly discernible regularity with which old arable lands were allocated among a vill's tenants.
Nowhere, however, is the division into virgates actually documented, and it seems generally, or perhaps always, to have been made in the county by the end of the 12th century. In Cardington parish in 1185, for instance, the Templars' tenants held 17¾ virgates: 16½ in ½-virgates and the remainder as ¼-virgates. There were 10 virgates in Cardington township, 3½ in Enchmarsh, 2¼ in Chatwall, and 2 in 'Botelegee'. The rental value of each ½ virgate varied from place to place: 60d. in 'Botelegee', 48d. in Enchmarch, 27½d. in Chatwall, and either 40d., 36d., or 24d. in Cardington. The general uniformity of value within a township combined with the variation between townships suggests that the division into virgates was made at different times from place to place and perhaps before the estates came under a single lord, which was before 1066. (fn. 63)
In the 13th century about half of the county's landed peasants had ½ virgate or its equivalent, that is 30 a. or a little less. (fn. 64) Only c. 15 per cent of the landed peasants held a full virgate, while the rest held ¼ virgate (a nook) or less. It is difficult to subdivide the last group and to reckon how many were cottagers with just a few acres. On the earl of Arundel's manors in the county in 1301 c. 19 per cent of the tenantry held a nook and c. 20 per cent were cottagers, some of the cottagers being on manors in welshries where the law of partible inheritance tended to decrease the size of holdings. (fn. 65) Even on manors unaffected by Welsh custom there could be as many cottagers, with just a garden and a few acres of assart land, as there were men who had a share of the open fields. That seems to be implied, for instance, by surveys of Cheswardine and Child's Ercall in 1280 (fn. 66) and of Hope and Shrawardine in 1301. (fn. 67) The bishop of Coventry and Lichfield's estate at Prees, in north-east Shropshire, was described in some detail in a survey of 1298. (fn. 68) In Prees township there were 19 neifs who held c. 126 a. altogether, most holdings including a tenement, arable, and meadow held by 'old tenure', and a little 'new' land assarted from the extensive common heaths, moors, and woods around the village. At Darliston, about 3 miles east, there were seven neifs with holdings of a similar size, four of the better endowed holding 11½ a. 'old' arable and ½ a. 'old' meadow each. Prees had 25 cottagers, Darliston three. Most had a cottage and ½-a. croft, and about half also had an acre or two of either 'old' or assart land. To the cottagers can perhaps be added five conventionarii at Prees, four of whom held 1½ a. or less and one 6 a., and 13 holders of small parcels of new land who do not appear to be listed elsewhere. Generally, of the bishop's 72 or so customary tenants, about two thirds held 5 a. or less, about a dozen 5–10 a., and 7 or so 10–20 a. The reckoning by virgates makes assessment of the size of the 13 freeholds in Prees and Darliston difficult, although clearly they varied greatly, between ¼ and 2 virgates; most freeholders in Prees probably held about as much land as the wealthier customary tenants. Small holdings were especially a feature of those areas of western Shropshire where land was held by Welsh tenure. (fn. 69) Thus in 1301 at Newcastle, in Clun, where, perhaps significantly, the 2 carucates of demesne were described as small, the 21 tenants held a total of just 75 a. and one meadow. In the same year in Llanhedric, in Clun, the six tenants held a total of 75 a., while 37 a. and an assart, previously held by five men, were listed as vacant. (fn. 70) The inference is that in such communities agriculture was principally pastoral on the upland commons.
The foregoing observations are based almost exclusively on manorial records which because of their limited purpose make no mention of three matters fundamental to the size of peasant holdings and the quality of peasant life. First, the landless, who might include younger sons, widows, and famuli, were not enumerated. Secondly, such records largely ignore the workings of the peasant land market, particularly subletting for terms that varied from a year to life, which is known to have been widely practised in the 13th century. (fn. 71) The old or infirm, to take an obvious example, might let all or part of their holding to another peasant for a term, either for cash or for food, clothing, and housing. (fn. 72) Such land might be taken up by the opportunistic rich peasant, who in turn might employ 'undersettles' to work it. Thirdly, the records are invariably silent on the size and composition of the household on any holding. A man with only a wife to support or with several working children was obviously far better off than one with unproductive young children or old relatives living in his household. Thus to some extent manorial surveys and extents give an artificially regular picture of peasant life, and a village such as Wattlesborough, composed entirely of ½-virgate holdings, (fn. 73) would probably have had a highly stratified peasant society in both economic and social terms.
When attempting to identify and define social classes in the 12th and 13th centuries contemporaries and later writers concur that there are no clear dividing lines or nomenclature. The main division among the peasantry was between those of servile status who held their land of the lord in return for specified rents, obligations, and, most crucially, labour services on the demesne, and freemen who held their land free of all exactions but a money rent. (fn. 74) Many instances can be cited where custom and practice differed from lawyers' theory. In Much Wenlock township in 1247 the prior's free tenants were subject to exactions that included terciary, that is the payment of one third of chattels on death, and one owed ploughing and mowing services. (fn. 75) In Shropshire, as in the rest of the west midlands, it seems that it was normal for free tenants to owe heriot, and on High Ercall and Whittington manors it was only the free tenants who owed such dues. (fn. 76)
Servile tenants appear variously as customary tenants, neifs and, most commonly, villeins. Most manors also had a number of cottagers who held and usually lived on an acre or two of what was often former waste land and owed only a money rent to the lord of the manor. In Prees and perhaps elsewhere there were also conventionarii, conventionary tenants, who held their few acres 'at the bishop's will' for money rents. (fn. 77) Nothing else is known of the nature of that tenure at Prees, but in other counties it involved a seven-year lease for which a money rent and perhaps an entry fine and heriot were due but no labour service. (fn. 78) Technically villeins were the lord's property and could be bought or sold together with their goods, chattels, and family (but not a man's wife if she were free born) and either with or without the land they held. About 1240 Robert de Girros, lord of Fitz manor, granted one of his villeins to Haughmond abbey with all his goods and chattels (fn. 79) and in 1300 Simon of Alveley gave to his daughter and son-in-law ½ virgate of land together with its tenant, his chattels, his brother, sister, nephew, and the rest of his family (sequela). (fn. 80) A villein might not leave his land without his lord's permission. About 1250 Robert de Rollisword quitted his holding on the earl of Warwick's land; when caught and presented to the justices in eyre in 1256 Robert admitted that he was the earl's villein and the justices ordered that he and his chattels be returned to the earl. (fn. 81) When the abbot of Halesowen was faced with 'rebel villeins' at Oldbury in 1284 he did what he argued he was entitled to do in seizing the men's goods and chattels and imprisoning the men at the abbey. (fn. 82) Servile tenants were subject to various other disabilities, restrictions, and obligations. Most burdensome, and indeed recognized by the courts as an indication of servile status, was the liability to perform regular labour services for the lord. (fn. 83) Other burdens might include the payment of heriot, tallage, lairwite, and merchet, (fn. 84) the last mentioned, paid by a man when his daughter married, becoming increasingly significant to lawyers as a test of whether he was villein or free. (fn. 85) In the welshries bond tenants faced burdens and exactions peculiar to Welsh law. (fn. 86)
A villein might become free in several ways. His lord might grant a charter of freedom or he himself might flee to a privileged town and remain undetected there for a year and a day. Perhaps the most usual way was buying manumission. As in law the villein's goods and chattels were the lord's property the purchase money had, technically, to be provided by a third party, the recognizer. (fn. 87) By granting a man his freedom a lord might be surrendering considerable future income from the man's works, tallages, and so forth, and it was no doubt those losses that were reflected in the sums paid for manumission by five villeins or their representatives at Hodnet in 1240. Two brothers rendered £1 6s. 8d. together, another two men £4 each, and the fifth man £1. (fn. 88) In another case, at Wem in 1272, the price was 6s. 8d. to the lord and a sore hawk to the recognizers. (fn. 89) On the whole, instances of manumission are rare, probably not least because a villein gained so little by what was a fairly expensive process when commutation of labour services for a relatively small sum was commonly available. Moreover a lord might be unwilling to contemplate manumission, and indeed there was a general tightening of servile ties and a closer definition of servile status c. 1200. (fn. 90)
It was in no one's interest for a holding to be in the hands of an old or infirm tenant, perhaps a widow, not properly self-supporting or unable to fulfil communal obligations and perform labour services. (fn. 91) A few maintenance agreements and champart leases survive as evidence of what may well have been usual practice, with tenants retiring and passing on their holdings in return for being fed, housed, and clothed. In the late 13th century Robert of Bold (Bold was a freehold and hamlet in Willey), granted all his land to William of Willey and Margery his wife. In return they were to supply him for the rest of his life with food and drink of the standard they provided in their own household, and 4 ells of russet cloth, 2 pairs (paria, possibly undergarments rather than sheets) (fn. 92) of linen cloth, and 3s. shoe money a year. In addition they were also to pay £1 6s. 8d. dower when Robert's daughter married. (fn. 93) About 1295 Adam, a man from Rossall, near Shrewsbury, gave a champart lease of all his land, except 13 a. otherwise leased, to two men, probably brothers, also of Rossall. They were to plough and prepare the land; if Adam supplied half of the seedcorn he would receive half of the threshed crop, whereas if he failed to supply any seedcorn he would receive only a third of it. (fn. 94) A similar lease was made in 1269 when a Brockton woman surrendered her land there to Wombridge priory. The priory was to give her a third of the grain it grew on the land after the tithe had been taken, and a quarter of rye if it did not till her garden croft. (fn. 95)
In general the labour services owed by bondmen were apt to be heaviest on large and ancient manors. (fn. 96) Thus on the royal manor of Condover, probably c. 1267, the tenants of each 60-a. virgate owed an annual rent of 14d., four days' week work throughout the year, four days' ploughing, and the harrowing of the land ploughed. Such services may have been exceptionally heavy for the bailiff there seems to have allowed 17 of the virgaters to do less service than was supposedly due. (fn. 97)
Labour services on monastic estates also tended to be relatively heavy, (fn. 98) and it may have been that which in 1163 caused the villein tenants of Wenlock priory to 'throw down their ploughshares' and to cease tilling the priory's lands. (fn. 99) By the 13th century labour services on the priory's manors were moderate: each year in Little Wenlock, for instance, half-virgaters owed three days' ploughing, four days' reaping and a day's mowing, carriage services, and pool work. Nevertheless the tenants also owed rents in kind, while at death both terciary and a heriot were payable. Terciary, but no other service, was also owed in Shropshire on the Templars' manor of Lydley, in Cardington. (fn. 100)
Heavy services, often laid on the whole township rather than on specific holdings, had come to be demanded by the 13th century in some townships in the lordship of Oswestry, though the reasons for that are obscure. (fn. 101) Before commutation the four nook-holders at Cotton owed an improbable (fn. 102) 928 works between Michaelmas and Lammas and 218 works in the autumn, while at Maesbury and Treflach nine villeins owed 478 works between Lammas and Michaelmas. Such heavy services were not unusual in Oswestry: in 1301 the holders of the five bondlands at Weston nominally owed a man each to work on the demesne for each working day throughout the year, although by then such services were probably commuted throughout the lordship. Additionally they owed, apparently collectively, two days' ploughing 'at the two seasons if they have a plough'. Similarly Middleton's bondmen had to supply eight men a day throughout the year to work on the demesne and a man every other day, each tenant with a plough owing in addition four days' ploughing.
Generally, however, where they existed at all by the 13th century, customary services and obligations in the county were relatively light, as in much of west and north England. (fn. 103) On the Corbet manor of Wattlesborough (including Cardeston and Loton) in 1300 the holders of ½-virgate tenancies each owed 3 days' ploughing, a day's reaping, and a day's weeding, (fn. 104) and very similar services were owed, for instance, nominally at least, at Corfham, Culmington, and Siefton, (fn. 105) at Meole Brace, (fn. 106) and at Child's Ercall. (fn. 107) At Westbury in 1267 the only service owed by each of the 14 half-virgaters was one day in autumn. (fn. 108) It is impossible to assess whether there was any general move in the county in the 13th century to reimpose labour services; (fn. 109) by and large it seems (fn. 110) that the commutation of labour services for cash was then usual. At Wotherton, in Chirbury, in the late 13th century, for instance, the tenants paid the lord a total of 18s. 9d. at Christmas in lieu of ploughing, reaping, mowing, weeding, and carting services. (fn. 111)
Another potentially burdensome obligation which the bondman faced was that of acting as one of the lord's agents or officers: in particular the more prominent villagers had to undertake the duties of reeve, woodward, hayward, and the like from time to time. For many reasons such duties were usually unpopular, and in 1248 the refusal of Herbert of Corfton to act as reeve for William FitzJohn, lord of the manor of Heath, clearly had something to do with a dispute between the two men. (fn. 112) The only benefit customarily attached to the reeve's office was relief from labour services during the period of duty. (fn. 113)
Far less well documented than men's obligations to their lords are, as has already been seen, the relationships, contracts, and bonds between peasants. It is clear, though little documented in Shropshire, that labour services might be undertaken by someone other than the customary tenant himself. Indeed when labour services are set down it is often in the form that each holding owes a man for so many days. Thus in 1239 Henry the smith, of Rushbury, held a nook and 3 a. in Hope Bowdler for 2s. a year and for finding two men for a day's harvesting. (fn. 114) If a holding supported a family the tenant's sons might undertake the services due, or else a wage labourer might be hired.
In the early Middle Ages western Shropshire was very much a border zone. (fn. 115) The boundary between England and Wales, traditional and often violent enemies, remained uncertain and fluctuating, albeit approximately on the line established in the later 8th century by Offa. (fn. 116) To some extent, however, the precise border was an irrelevance, given the existence of such semi-autonomous marcher lordships as Oswestry, Caus, Montgomery, and Clun. (fn. 117) It was in that area that the two separate cultures, with different languages, customs, mores, and laws met but rarely mixed.
The separation was recognized by contemporaries, and in the marches an area was deemed either an englishry or a welshry. In Shropshire there were welshries in Caus, (fn. 118) Clun, (fn. 119) Knockin, (fn. 120) and Oswestry. (fn. 121) The Welsh written sources define a hierarchy of settlements and obligations, clear indications of which remained in the welshries at the end of the 13th century although by then some of the old distinctions, perhaps always partly theoretical, had become blurred. According to those sources (fn. 122) the four ancient provinces of Wales were divided in cantrefi, each of which was supposed to comprise 100 trefi, or townships. In time commotes superseded cantrefi, of which they were divisions, as units of organization and jurisdiction. In each commote two trefi were allocated to the lord, one for his hafod dir, or summer pasture, the other for the maerdref or demesne, occupied and cultivated by bondmen relieved of most of the burdens suffered by other unfree tenants. The remaining trefi were either free or unfree. In the unfree the inhabitants paid food renders and supported the ruler's servants, horses, and hounds. Those trefi would be subject to a yearly circuit by the commote's court and officers. Most of the trefi, however, were free, with the land being held in gwelyau, family holdings. Those holdings were partible amongst male heirs, including paternally acknowledged bastards, but female descent was generally prohibited. (fn. 123) Thus in time the original holding came to be split between a group or clan of related families, a gwelygordd. Each tref owed a fixed food render to the ruler; later that was commuted to a payment called tunc. Unlike English custom which permitted the alienation of free land, Welsh custom permitted only its mortgaging for fixed terms under licence from the lord. (fn. 124)
The various surveys and extents of the later 13th and 14th century which are the main sources for the practice, as opposed to the theory, of Welsh tenure in the Middle Ages, show that by 1300 much of the clarity had been lost. One contributory factor was undoubtedly that not all the welshries in Shropshire were of the same antiquity; gwelyau are not found in the eastern part of the lordship of Oswestry in 1086, and it seems possible that they were founded there in the mid 12th century during the Welsh resurgence under Madog ap Maredudd. (fn. 125) During the period various townships were annexed to or withdrawn from the welshry of Caus. (fn. 126) Only occasionally in the late 13th or 14th century can the Welsh townships be identified as anciently free or unfree: the obligation, for instance, of Trefonen township, in Oswestry, in 1272 to keep the lord's hounds (fn. 127) and the payment of a similar render by men in Obley, near Clun, (fn. 128) indicate unfree status.
In Oswestry lordship by the late 13th century Welsh tenants owed three customary payments: tunc; kant morkie, a payment in lieu of military service; and kant tydion (etymologically '100 cows'), a biennial autumn cattle render. As in Clun they also owed amobyr, a marriage payment. In other Welsh areas additional customary payments were owed. (fn. 129)
There were cases where arbitrary changes of lordship transferred a whole township from an englishry to a welshry or vice versa; (fn. 130) on the whole, however, lords, both English and Welsh, sought to ensure that Welshmen, that is Welsh speakers of Welsh blood, should hold their land by Welsh tenure and Englishmen by English tenure. (fn. 131) Although there were few intrinsic differences between English and Welsh townships in their agricultural arrangements, both having open fields, meadows, and commons, inevitably the variations of law and custom produced distinctions. Especially notable was the influence of partible inheritance which fragmented Welsh holdings and inevitably led to an emphasis on subsistence rather than the production of a surplus for sale. Thus in those western parts of the county where English and Welsh townships, or even individual tenancies, lay adjacent, the superficially homogeneous agricultural landscape in fact concealed the considerable differences between the two cultures which extended to agricultural life.
Woodland, assarting, and commons
Woodland was usually recorded in Shropshire in 1086, though less systematically than in some counties. (fn. 132) Moreover, detail given is not easy to interpret and comparisons within the county are made difficult by the differing methods of reckoning the extent of woodland. (fn. 133) In nine of the hundreds each wood was described in terms of a number of swine that could be fattened on its acorns and beech nuts, though whether that number was then, or ever had been, a realistic estimate is uncertain. On the other hand, in four hundreds the length and breadth of each wood were given, or at least one of its dimensions. Woodland on Earl Roger's demesne manors, which were perhaps exempt from ordinary hundredal jurisdiction, was invariably recorded by the second method. (fn. 134) Where the later extent of a wood mentioned in Domesday Book is known, a single linear measurement in Domesday seems to represent maximum length. (fn. 135) Relating number of swine to woodland area is impossible.
The location of the woodlands mentioned in Domesday Book is less straightforward than records suggest. Many woods were detached, often at some distance from the vill that owned them. As in other parts of the country, (fn. 136) blocks of woodland might be common to a number of surrounding vills. In some cases pressure on resources had already led to the partition of a wood between communities that had previously intercommoned it, a tendency that was to become more pronounced in the 12th and 13th centuries. (fn. 137) Already by 1086, for example, the large tract of woodland, c. 5 km. by 2 km., east of Wellington had been divided between the vills with rights in it, including Wrockwardine, 7 km. to the west. (fn. 138)
Apart from its recitation of the swine pasture of certain woods Domesday Book reveals little of woods' use, though an entry for Eaton Constantine, that 'the underwood renders 5d.', (fn. 139) acts as a reminder that three types of vegetation were to be found in woods: grass and other growth which animals could graze and browse; underwood, usually coppiced and the source of most material for building, fencing, and fuel; and a relatively few mature standards, most usefully oak, reserved to the lord of the soil who would use, sell, or grant them for use as major structural timbers.
Extensive woodland clearance was a feature of the early Middle Ages. (fn. 140) By the 13th century some woods were very small; on the three demesne manors of John FitzAer (d. 1293) there were three woods, of just 3 a., 2 a., and 1 a., the last also being detached from its manor. (fn. 141) The pressures on an increasingly scarce resource produced clearer definitions of rights. Not all woods, for instance, were of the same status. Some were private, usually to the lord of the manor, whereas others were common for specific communities. (fn. 142) Nevertheless even in private woods commoners might enjoy certain rights. (fn. 143) Frodesley, a fairly typical example of a well wooded manor, had three inclosed woods: the lord's wood, a park, and a common wood. (fn. 144)
The physical character of the county's early medieval woods is difficult to assess, though oak-dominated pasture woods seem to have been most prevalent. In some places enclosed coppice woods were found, (fn. 145) while 'Timber wood' in Little Wenlock and Madeley suggests a different specialization. (fn. 146) Between 1246 and 1254 James de Audley permitted Richard Pride of Shrewsbury to fell 1,000 oaks in Ford, (fn. 147) which hints not only at the dominance of oak in the medieval timber trade but also at the existence of specialist timber merchants. In a few cases a species other than oak was dominant: c. 1250 Robert Corbet inclosed a 5-a. birch wood, probably in Moreton Corbet; (fn. 148) in the wooded area of north-west Shifnal was a holly wood; (fn. 149) and at Longnor there was an alder grove. (fn. 150) The capital reserve represented by mature trees and underwood was fully appreciated by their owners, and occasionally that value is recorded in inquisitions post mortem. In 1274 an 8-a. wood called Haywood in Meole Brace was valued at 20d. an acre, (fn. 151) and a 4-a. wood at Faintree at 10s. an acre. (fn. 152) Such a valuable asset was liable to be stripped if a manor came temporarily into a custodian's hands, and 1,700 oaks were said in 1235 to have been sold from Worfield wood in the troubles of Henry III's minority. (fn. 153) Similarly the depredations of lessees had to be guarded against; about 1290, for instance, the lessee of a 100-a. wood at Great Berwick was accused by its owner of having felled 100 oaks. (fn. 154)
As with swine and other pasture, the rights of commoners to take underwood, deadwood, and timber varied widely. By and large the usual entitlements to housebote, firebote, hedgebote, and ploughbote were permitted, often in return for customary annual payments. Such payments could be in cash, although renders in kind, particularly of poultry, were probably more usual. In the late 13th century Clive village paid 8 qr. of oats a year for entry into Wem's woods, besides 300 hens probably as part of the same payment, and 29 ploughshares for pasture rights. (fn. 155) Those without common rights had to buy wood, ensuring a ready market for sellers like the lord of Wem, who in 1290 sold 46s. worth of wood without making waste. (fn. 156) Occasionally lords made gifts of firewood and timber to religious communities, such as the lepers of St. Giles in Shrewsbury, who in 1232 were granted a daily horseload of firewood from Buriwood in Condover. (fn. 157)
Wood, timber, and grazing were only the main products of woodland. Others included leaved branches, especially of holly, for winter browse; (fn. 158) birds and other minor game, fungi, berries, and nuts. Again the right to take such things was limited to certain communities or even households. In 1281, for instance, Lawrence of Ludlow granted Haughmond abbey's tenants in Newton, in Stokesay, the right to have common and to collect nuts in Newton wood according to the size of their tenements. (fn. 159) Charcoal was manufactured, for burning in more well-to-do households. (fn. 160) Large quantities of oak bark were taken to the tanning industries in towns like Shrewsbury (fn. 161) and Ludlow, where in 1290 it was apparently brought into town on horse back. (fn. 162) Another product was often honey, important as the only locally produced sweetener and the main ingredient in mead, while beeswax was used to make fine candles. (fn. 163) Some was gathered from the nests of wild swarms, and some from purpose-built hives; 32 'bee stalls' were among the deficiencies of stock listed at Worfield in 1202 (Table I). (fn. 164) At Ludlow tolls were payable from 1290 on each horse load (1d.) and cask (3d.) of honey and on each cart load (¼d. or ½d. according to size) and horse load (¼d.) of honeycomb sold. (fn. 165) Further potential income came from the capture and sale of sparrowhawks and other birds of prey, and three hawks' nests were noted in Shropshire in 1086. (fn. 166) Many later examples are known; c. 1250 the lord of Donington wood, near Brewood, had a sparrowhawk eyrie, (fn. 167) while sparrowhawks and honey worth 20s. came from Wem's woods in 1290. (fn. 168)
|ox teams||cows||sheep||sows||bee skeps|
Source: Pipe R. 1202 (P.R.S. N.S. xv), 47.
Domesday Book records 36 hays in Shropshire, apparently enclosures in or close to woodland where deer would be bred or gathered before their release for hunting; (fn. 169) that at Corfton was actually described as being for the catching of roe deer. (fn. 170) As after the Conquest, deer hunting in late Saxon England was essentially the preserve of the Crown and the aristocracy, and Domesday Book records that, in King Edward's time, the sheriff had to find 36 men for eight days, presumably to beat, whenever the king was at 'Marsetelie', probably Marsley in Habberley. (fn. 171) Under the Norman kings the Crown's prerogative to hunt deer was greatly extended by the imposition of forest law across large parts of the countryside. In Shropshire, as in other counties, both the names and the bounds of forests altered with time, but the main Norman forests were Brewood, the Long Forest, Morfe, Mount Gilbert or the Wrekin, and Shirlett. (fn. 172) Also probably under forest law in early times were the various chases in the county such as Clee and Wyre. (fn. 173) No part of north Shropshire was under forest law. Another Norman introduction was the fallow deer which, not least because it will graze alongside cattle, is well suited to park life and may fatten better on poor land than the red deer. (fn. 174)
Lesser lords who wished to keep deer for the hunt and for the table generally did so by creating parks, enclosing woodland and pasture with a high pale or fence to prevent the deer's escape. Little is known of the county's earliest parks, which were perhaps few in number. Ruyton park was enlarged by John le Strange (II) in 1195, (fn. 175) while on the county boundary the bishop of Coventry was permitted to make a deer-leap into his new park at Brewood by the king in 1206. (fn. 176)
In the later 13th century, and especially from the 1270s, many new parks were created throughout England, and at least 26 in Shropshire between 1270 and 1310. (fn. 177) Most were of 50–100 a.: Acton Burnell park was enlarged from 40 a. to 80 a. in 1280, (fn. 178) and Yockleton was said in 1300 to comprise 70 a. (fn. 179) Of larger parks Minsterley was estimated in 1300 at 300 a. (fn. 180) In some respects the imparkment of demesne woodland caused little change; grazing (fn. 181) and other common rights might continue to exist in them and the wood was probably managed as before. The lord himself might continue to put in his oxen or pigs to feed, while in Condover park in 1298 there were wild pigs (porcos silvestres). (fn. 182) Nevertheless imparkment was a heavy undertaking. A licence might have to be bought from the king and, particularly in retrospective cases, that could prove expensive: the prior of Wenlock in 1251 paid 300 marks to retain his previously unlicensed park at Oxenbold. (fn. 183) Other expenses might be required for the extinction of common rights in the park through legal action and compensation awards, for constructing a bank, ditch, and pale, and for obtaining stock. Once a park had been created its owner was likely to find that maintenance of its pale and stock was a constant burden. (fn. 184) Even on large and relatively wealthy manors maintenance was at times neglected. At Wem in 1281 there were two parks: the uninclosed park, not surprisingly, contained no beasts of the chase, and the inclosed park just eleven. (fn. 185) Many of the minor lords who made parks probably did so in direct emulation of their betters, but whatever the motive for imparkment, the result was the same: a greater emphasis in the demesne economy on rearing deer.
Over the country as a whole it is clear that the centuries leading up to the agrarian and demographic reverses of the earlier 14th century were ones which saw massive inroads into wood and waste land by agriculturists. (fn. 186) In 1086 bordars formed about a quarter of the recorded population of Shropshire, (fn. 187) and although the equation in individual settlements of Domesday bordars with continuing, rather than past, assarting is unsound, such a large element in the county's population does suggest that the 11th century was a period of considerable clearances. (fn. 188) Nevertheless attribution of a rise in a manor's recorded value between 1066 and 1086 to woodland clearance (fn. 189) is speculative.
In the 13th century it becomes possible to assess the progress of assarting, although accurate quantification is impossible apart from at the very local and usually short-term level. Probably the most crucial influence on the course of clearance was the lord's attitude. Most lords, in a period of rising prices and profits, seem to have been keen to convert as much woodland and waste as possible to arable land, or at least to inclosed pasture, either to add to their demesne or, more usually, to let to tenants. Some lords undertook the clearance themselves. In 1256 the abbot of Lilleshall complained, as a commoner with the right of estovers, of the actions of William de Harcourt, who had cleared 300 a. and disposed of 6,000 oaks from Tong wood. (fn. 190) Alternatively, as especially in Ford and Condover hundreds, the lord allowed or encouraged pioneering settlement. To the settler the main inducement was the free tenure that was offered, as at Oaks in the 12th century and Berrington, Longnor, Smethcott, and Woolstaston in the 13th. (fn. 191) The lord could enlarge his rent roll in the long term. At Great Wytheford in 1293, for instance, 28s. 10d. of annual rent came from newly broken waste. (fn. 192) Many of the holdings in Ford and Condover hundreds were worked from houses built in the woodland itself, as at Frodesley in 1235, (fn. 193) rather than from new houses in existing villages. The more substantial assarted farms were often moated; it is not clear to what extent a moat was intended to be a practical deterrent to malefactors, rather than a visual display of the owner's standing and substance. (fn. 194)
At the same time more intensive cultivation was being introduced on the county's heaths, moors, and wetlands, which like that cleared from woodland was mostly land of poor quality. At Ellesmere 68s. 4½d. was paid in 1250 for the farm of 'new' assarts, probably made in the preceeding 20 or so years and totalling c. 200 a. (fn. 195) At Calverhall 30 a. of heath, formerly common pasture, was cleared in the years before 1256, probably by the tenants of houses built on it by the lord of the manor specifically for that purpose. (fn. 196) On the bishop of Coventry and Lichfield's estate at Prees in 1298 c. 127 a. of tenant land were described as 'new' and there were also c. 90 a. of recently approved demesne land. (fn. 197) Just how important seigneurial initiative could be is evident at High Ercall where, it has been suggested, the Middle Ages saw a constant enlargement of the cultivated area, which at times was striking, with new open fields and townships being created from former heathland. (fn. 198)
Monastic houses played a special role as approvers. Of the Benedictine houses, Shrewsbury abbey seems mainly to have concentrated on the acquisition of urban property, (fn. 199) whereas Wenlock priory actively extended its lands by assarting, not least into Shirlett, Wrekin, and Clee forests. (fn. 200) The later foundations were even more active. In the 1130s and 1140s Buildwas, a Savigniac house, and the Augustinian houses of Haughmond, Lilleshall, and Wombridge were all founded in secluded, undeveloped, and well wooded locations according to the usual preferences of those orders. (fn. 201) They prospered largely because of their expansionist policies: demesne lands were enlarged, granges founded, grazing rights obtained, and rent rolls enlarged. In the 13th and early 14th centuries Haughmond abbey greatly expanded its holdings around the abbey itself, in north Shropshire, and in the pastoral areas between the Long Mynd and Leebotwood and near Bridgnorth. Around Leebotwood, for instance, where the abbey gained the nucleus of an estate 1163–70, it quickly set about enlarging its holding by assarting, for which licences from the Crown were obtained in 1179, 1232, and 1283. Boundaries with adjoining lordships were fixed in the early 13th century, and a grange was established at Mickelwood by 1255. (fn. 202) Wombridge, like Haughmond founded in a wooded, extraparochial area, developed its estates in a similar way and assarted extensively around the priory itself and its granges. (fn. 203) Also active in woodland clearance were the knights Templar, who had a preceptory at Lydley, between the forest of Botwood and Lawley hill. (fn. 204)
A major determinant on the course of the assarting movement was the Crown's attitude to its forest lands, for forest law, administered through special officials and courts, could prohibit or seriously inhibit colonization. The forest reached its maximum extent under Henry II, when perhaps a third of the realm, including about a third of Shropshire, was forest (Fig. 4). By the end of Henry II's reign, however, the king's need for money was greater than his obsession with hunting, (fn. 205) and in Shropshire, as in other counties, the forest began to be reduced. It was probably in Henry II's time that Clee forest passed into private hands to become a chase. (fn. 206) In 1190 the prior of Wenlock paid 20 marks to have his part (c. 900 a.) of Shirlett taken out of the regard, and by 1235 John FitzAlan's part (probably c. 400 a.) was also removed. (fn. 207) In 1209 'the knights and men who live in Brewood' paid 100 marks for it to be disafforested in confirmation of the charter to that effect made by the king in 1204. (fn. 208) Equally important in terms of the total acreage involved were the small assarts and purprestures around forest-edge vills. The fines paid in forest courts for such clearances were in effect licences; by 1129 there were set rates according to the use to which the land was put, and there is little evidence that, by the late 12th century, the Crown objected to such initiatives. (fn. 209) As can be seen from the records of successive forest regards, most assarts were small, of an acre or less, and most were claimed to be growing oats, (fn. 210) for which the fine was 6d. an acre, as opposed to wheat for which the fine was double. (fn. 211)
During Henry III's reign forest resources, temporarily at least, were further reduced as the Crown drew heavily from its demesne woods. Particularly in the mid 13th century deer, wood, and timber were taken in large quantities whether for the Crown's own use, for sale, or for grant to others, especially the religious. (fn. 212) In Shropshire the examples are provided by Lythwood, a royal hay of c. 800 a. in the Long forest 3 miles south of Shrewsbury, (fn. 213) and Shirlett forest, where the Crown's demesne woods probably comprised c. 1,000 a. (Fig. 5). (fn. 214) Although Lythwood seems to have contained few deer, the distribution of timber products in particular, often to destinations many miles away and nearer to other royal forests, indicates that the exploitation of those forests followed the typical pattern of the time. That was to be expected, for to some extent forest administration was on a national scale; in 1281, for instance, 24 roe deer were sent from Hampshire to stock the Long forest. (fn. 215)
Forest law had always been hated, and in the later 1290s a major reduction of the forests was forced on the Crown. (fn. 216) The new perambulations, confirmed in 1301, left little forest in Shropshire beyond the king's demesne woods, and only Morfe survived at anything like its previous extent. (fn. 217)
One of the clearest indications of the growing pressure on land is the number of disputes over, and divisions of, commons. As more and more land was approved the amount of common grazing and of land from which such materials as brushwood, bracken, turf, and peat might be taken (fn. 218) was reduced. At Hisland, near Oswestry, for instance, by 1314 only a part of the vill's moors and pastures remained uninclosed and common. (fn. 219) Nationally the problem was so serious and recurrent by the mid 13th century that legislation (fn. 220) was necessary to confirm lords' rights over the waste provided that their inclosures left sufficient pasture for freeholders' use. (fn. 221)
In Shropshire that pressure on the land is most frequently detected by agreements between lords which divided commons previously intercommoned. Most cases involved woodland. In 1190, in one of the earliest recorded instances, Shrewsbury abbey and Wenlock priory divided the woods on the Wrekin which their tenants had previously intercommoned. (fn. 222) Such boundaries often took the form of trenches, or linear clearances, and in 1234 Little Wenlock's common rights in the Wrekin's woods were redefined by perambulation and the trenches were renewed. (fn. 223) In the Leebotwood area in the 1220s and 1230s there was a series of agreements between parties with interests in the area's extensive woods which led to their subdivision. (fn. 224) Similar examples in the mid 13th century can be cited from the areas around Hortonwood, (fn. 225) Buildwas, (fn. 226) Much Wenlock, (fn. 227) Cound, (fn. 228) Sheinton, (fn. 229) Edgton, (fn. 230) Shawbury, (fn. 231) and Hadnall, (fn. 232) and from the early 14th century from near West Felton. (fn. 233) By the early 14th century landlords clearly preferred, wherever possible, to hold land unencumbered by the rights of other lords and their tenants, and at Smethcott in 1340 the holders of the three portions of the manor partitioned not only the manorial wood but also the arable land and the commons. (fn. 234) Similar pressures presumably also lay behind 13th-century boundary agreements on the Weald Moors. (fn. 235)
There was great variety in the county in the organization and working of arable land. Such differences are to be expected between geophysical regions, and are compounded in Shropshire which not only straddles the highland and lowland zones and contains several distinct regions (fn. 236) but also lies on the border between England and Wales, each of which had not only its own language but also its own system of law, tenure, and agricultural and settlement organization. (fn. 237)
On an estimate of 100 a. (40 ha.) for each recorded Domesday ploughteam (fn. 238) it appears that c. 22 per cent of the county was under arable cultivation, (fn. 239) compared with over 50 per cent of much of the midlands and East Anglia and over 70 per cent of the most intensively cultivated parts of the country such as east Norfolk and north Gloucestershire. (fn. 240) Within Shropshire there was considerable regional differentiation in the number of ploughteams at work. The areas with the highest density of teams, over two to the square mile, lay east and west of Shrewsbury in the Severn lowlands and Ercall—Cound regions and around Bromfield at the southern end of the Scarplands and the Clee Hills platform. The regions with the lowest densities, of less than one plough to the square mile, were in the northern part of the county, and the south-central uplands and the Clun regions in the south-west. (fn. 241)
No mention of open-field land occurs in the few Saxon documents from the county (fn. 242) and by the mid 13th century, when the evidence is more plentiful, the open fields were apparently as fully developed in form, if not always in extent, as they were ever to be. All villages and most hamlets seem to have had some openfield land, evidenced by mention of strip holdings. Where the medieval landscape can be reconstructed, it is clear that what mainly determined how much of a settlement's land lay open in strips was the inherent quality of the land: those places with the best land, affording easily worked soils and level terrain, had far more open-field land than those with poor or heavy soils or extensive areas of upland or waterlogged soils. Thus around Wellington there were wide expanses of open-field land between the southern boundary of the Weald Moors and the heavily wooded higher land which extended south to the Severn, whereas within that wooded area the many open fields attached to individual hamlets were small and discrete. (fn. 243) Survivals of ridge-and-furrow are so few as to suggest that the prominent ridging of arable lands was not practised in the county. (fn. 244)
Documentary sources allow some conclusions to be drawn about the layout of open-field land. Where there was a sufficient area of good land, and possibly where there was a strong lord or active manorial community, three extensive open fields might lie around the settlement. It was usual for them to be named either in terms of the direction in which they lay from the settlement, hence 'North field' or 'South field', or in terms of the neighbouring settlement towards which they extended. Thus in 1298 the three main areas of open-field land in Prees appear to have been called the field towards Willaston, the field towards Darliston, and the Middle field. (fn. 245) In about 30 instances the documents concerning 12th- and 13thcentury open fields are full enough to allow the type of layout to be assessed, and in every certain case it is in three fields, not two. Such a layout is documented more frequently in the eastern part of the county than the west; no evidence of a three-field layout has been found in the Clun area.
Evidence of three open fields, however, does not necessarily mean that all a settlement's open-field land lay within three large and separate fields. Especially where the terrain was irregular or wooded, a village's open-field land might lie in a variety of enclosures: one or more open fields of the classic type, with strips grouped into culturae or furlongs, often lying at right angles to each other, might be combined with any number of hedged, walled, fenced, or ditched closes scattered about, each divided into strips of the usual type and in multiple tenure. Administratively, however, in such cases all the settlement's open-field land, whether in large open fields or small closes, was considered together, and it was divided into three 'seasons' for cropping purposes. Thus as Prees in 1298 (fn. 246) in addition to the three main open fields there were strips in a number of closes whose names, with the elements 'hay', 'stocking', and 'bruches', indicate that they were relatively late products of clearance from wood or waste. (fn. 247) Each 'season' of the demesne included lands in four or five separate fields or closes, and within each of those the demesne was divided into 'divers pieces' or strips, interspersed with the tenants' lands.
Some conclusions can also be drawn about the internal organization of open fields, especially about the regularity with which holdings were divided between the three fields or 'seasons'. More often than not a fairly close tripartite division can be seen. (fn. 248) Among the lords Adam of Faintree held 90 a. in his vill's three fields at his death in 1274, 34 a. in one, 30 a. in another, and 26 a. in the third, (fn. 249) while in the same year in Meole Brace the demesne holdings in the three fields totalled 42½ a., 40½ a., and 30 a. (fn. 250) Virgate holdings exhibit some of the most precise divisions: in 1199–1200 the greater part of ⅓ virgate at Darliston comprised 6 a. in each of the three fields, and a ¼ virgate at Romsley had 8 a. in each of two fields and 6 a. in the third. (fn. 251) The concept of regular apportionment can also be seen in the way in which a virgate at Woofferton was split in 1221 into holdings of 2/3 and ⅓ of a virgate, 2 a. in every 3 being allotted to the former holding; the 2 a. in every 3 were those which lay 'towards the sun'. (fn. 252) Although such phraseology is reminiscent of the solskifte or 'sun division' system of strip allocation, it cannot be taken as evidence of its presence at Woofferton. (fn. 253) The preference for an equal tripartite division of a holding between the open fields can also be seen in grants to the religious: in the 13th century, for instance, John of Balderton granted 2 a. in each of the village's three fields to Haughmond abbey. (fn. 254)
The second major characteristic of open-field agriculture, along with the equal division of strip holdings, was the annual allotment of one of the fields as fallow grazing for all the commoners. The need or desire to ensure grazing land in that way has been shown as the essential reason behind the adoption of open-field agriculture. (fn. 255) Specific mention of regular fallows in the county are rare, though the usual tripartite division of lands, discussed above, is in itself strongly indicative of their use. One mention is at Charlton, in Shawbury, where it was agreed in 1249 that the abbot of Lilleshall's men were not to have common before Michaelmas except in the arable land during fallow. (fn. 256) Another mention is at Nash, close to the southern border of the county. There in 1256 a man complained that he had been prevented from commoning in a field of c. 34 a. as he used to, all the year round every third year when the field lay fallow, and after the hay and corn harvests in the other two years when it was sown. (fn. 257)
Medieval farmers were well aware of the need to retain soil fertility both by fallowing and by the application of what may broadly be termed fertilizers. (fn. 258) Occasionally 'weak' or 'worn out' land (terra debilitata) is noted: 2 carucates of demesne at Great Wytheford, in Shawbury, were so described in 1292–3, (fn. 259) as was ½ carucate of demesne at Woolstaston in 1292; in the latter case that condition was reflected in the very low valuation of the land at 6s. 8d. (fn. 260) Soil exhaustion was a particular problem where assarting brought land of inherently poor quality into cultivation, and in Linley, in More, assarts lay fallow in the years before 1309, presumably to allow the soil to recover. (fn. 261) In the welshries the combination of partible inheritance and often limited amounts of good quality arable land produced very small holdings in the townships' open fields. (fn. 262) Those were supplemented by plots of waste which were ploughed and had two or three crops taken from them before soil exhaustion led to their abandonment. (fn. 263) While it can be assumed that as much manure, both human and animal, as was available was spread on the land, (fn. 264) only rarely, as at Walford, in Baschurch, where an overflowing fishpond washed manure from the land in 1256, is the practice actually noted. (fn. 265) Manure was gathered from middens, from pens, or from animal houses such as the new byre (bostarium), 80 ft. by 40 ft., built at Chirbury c. 1250. (fn. 266) It was also deposited directly on fallows by animals, especially sheep, deliberately run there for that purpose. Indeed tenants were often compelled to fold their animals on the lord's demesne rather than their own land. Those animals would either feed on the fallow field itself, or else on nearby commons, being driven back to the field at the end of the day to dung it. (fn. 267) At night sheep seem usually to have been kept in a fold, either a temporary one which could be moved about the field, or a permanent one, such as Wombridge priory had at Brockton, (fn. 268) where straw was regularly spread to build up a layer of manure. Thus in 1236 Roger of Onslow granted Buildwas abbey common grazing on Onslow heath, west of Shrewsbury. In return 120 of his sheep were to be cared for by the abbey's shepherd there and folded in its sheepfold; Roger was to supply hay and straw for his sheep, but was to receive back their dung. (fn. 269)
In the 13th century marl came to be widely applied to arable land in Shropshire, presumably to improve soil texture. Marl was believed to be beneficial to the soil for a longer period than dung, and it was probably for that reason that it was added to dung before manuring took place. (fn. 270) Marl is a type of subsoil consisting primarily of clay with lime carbonate, the argillaceous (clayey) and calcareous ingredients being found in varying proportions appropriate to the lightening of clay soils or the strengthening of sandy soils to improve their fertility. Historically a wide range of subsoils was used to dress land. (fn. 271) Of the two dozen early medieval, mostly mid 13th-century marlpits of which mention has been found, two thirds lay in the northern half of the county. Too few are located precisely enough to enable assessment of the soil type, but it is clear that certain local subsoils were favoured. About 1250, for instance, Haughmond abbey was granted an acre in the field land of Preston Boats and access to it to get marl for its land in Uffington and elsewhere. (fn. 272) The marl pits at Whitchurch were so extensive that by the mid 16th century they were flooded and a notable topographic feature. (fn. 273) Some marl pits were common rather than private, as at Edgton, (fn. 274) Hisland, (fn. 275) and apparently Roden where a 'great marl pit' lay in or close to open-field land. (fn. 276) The amount of land, whether demesne or tenant, that was regularly marled was probably limited by the considerable effort or expense involved: invariably marling cost over 1s. and sometimes, in the late 13th century, 3s. 6d. an acre. (fn. 277) It was also dangerous: eleven deaths in the county caused by collapses and drowning in marl pits were reported to the justices in eyre in 1256; (fn. 278) they had presumably occurred since the previous eyre of 1248. (fn. 279)
Liming too may have been undertaken where calcareous rock and fuel to burn it were readily available. In the mid 13th century limekilns were noted at Cound, (fn. 280) at Bullhill hear Harnage Grange, (fn. 281) under the Wrekin, and in Wellington hay, (fn. 282) although the lime they produced may, at least in part, have been for building work rather than agriculture.
Ploughing was the main task in the agricultural round. The 13th-century treatises recommended that, in addition to the ploughing of land for sowing crops in winter and spring, the fallow should be ploughed twice to reduce weed infestation. As a single team would do well to plough as much as an acre a day and might manage only ½ a., it has been argued that in the west midlands, given the resources available, fallow ploughing was done hurriedly, if at all. (fn. 283) The only detailed notice found of the type of plough used in Shropshire in the period occurs in a bailiff's account of 1280–1 for Aston, in Oswestry. (fn. 284) There the cost of making several pairs or sets of plough wheels (paria rotarum pro carrucis) shows that it was the wheeled plough that was used, as was often the case in the county in the later Middle Ages. (fn. 285) The account also notes the costs of making and sharpening ploughshares, of making iron fittings for the plough feet, and of supplying new timbers for harrows. In many manors rents owed in kind included ploughshares, an exceptional case being that of William the smith, who in 1301 held his freehold in Upton Magna by providing the lord with ironwork for the demesne ploughs, namely ploughshares, coulters, and iron swingletrees, the trace holders and associated furniture on the cross bars of the plough yoke. (fn. 286)
The cereal crops grown in the Middle Ages can be divided into those sown in the autumn (winter corn) and those in the spring. The former comprised wheat, the chief bread corn, and rye, occasionally used alone for bread but more often mixed with other grains. The spring corns were barley, used mainly for malting but also for bread and fodder, and oats, used to feed horses and as porridge. Oats could be grown on relatively poor land, and frequently occur in the lists of forest assarts made in the 13th century. (fn. 287) Mixed corns were also sown: maslin (wheat and rye) and dredge (barley and oats). (fn. 288) Peas and beans were also grown in the open fields; they are quick growing, food for men and animals, and good for the soil as they are nitrogen-fixing. Only one detailed account roll which included grainstuffs has been located, from Haughmond abbey's grange of Aston, in Oswestry, for 1280–1. There the emphasis was on winter corn, especially wheat: twice as much wheat was grown as either rye or oats. The other crops comprised relatively small amounts of barley, peas, and beans. (fn. 289) Otherwise references are fleeting, as in the case of Maud Gnat, 'an evil doer and thief', who c. 1256 was killed by a watchman sleeping in the barn from which she fled after stealing a quarter of wheat. (fn. 290)
Besides cereals, (fn. 291) crops such as flax, hemp, (fn. 292) mustard, (fn. 293) and particularly household vegetables, were also grown in crofts and gardens attached to houses. For everyone the vegetables and fruit—brassica, broad beans, onions, leeks, garlic, herbs, apples, and pears—represented a welcome variety to the diet. More importantly, vegetables and herbs were the main ingredients of pottage, a mess that was a staple element in the medieval diet, especially for the peasantry. (fn. 294) There was also the prospect of a little cash from the sale of any surplus, (fn. 295) very necessary for the peasantry in an age when ever-increasing numbers of cash fines and dues were demanded by the king, the church, and the lord of the manor. (fn. 296) The importance of gardens is shown by the tithe income they provided to the vicar of Stokesay in 1252—10s., the same amount as the parish's wool tithe. (fn. 297) The gardens attached to manor houses are frequently mentioned in contemporary documents. At Stirchley in 1247, for instance, there were apparently two distinct manorial gardens: a 'great garden', at least partly taken up with an orchard, and a second outside the curia. (fn. 298) Apples and pears were particularly important as they could be kept through the winter, and the apples used to make cider. (fn. 299) Until the later 13th century, when climatic change including a lowering of the mean temperature occurred, (fn. 300) the gardens of the county's richer inhabitants may also have included vines, whose grapes were used to make wine, or more probably verjuice, a kind of vinegar. (fn. 301) No vineyards were recorded as far north as Shropshire in Domesday Book, (fn. 302) but in the 13th century there may have been a vineyard belonging to Shrewsbury abbey on the banks of the Severn at Shrewsbury. (fn. 303)
Livestock and pastoral farming
Any evidence collected by the Domesday inquiry of meadow land in Shropshire was omitted from the final record, although at six of the places later in the county but then in Staffordshire and (if Domesday Book is to be believed) Warwickshire, meadow land in amounts of between 1 and 16 a. was recorded. (fn. 304) As so often, no record was preserved of other permanent grassland. (fn. 305)
In the 13th century in most parts of the county the demesne plough beasts and other hay-eating stock were supported by quite small amounts of meadow. Only about 6 per cent of manors had more than 10 a. of meadow to each carucate (120 a.) of arable. It was exceptional for a manor to be as well supplied as Prees, where in 1298, in addition to 342½ a. of arable land, the demesne included 75 a. of meadow and 46 a. of pasture, 30 a. of which had recently been approved from the waste. (fn. 306) About 31 per cent of manors had between 5 and 10 a. of meadow to each carucate, while 63 per cent had under 5 a. In the last group by far the largest number of manors had 2 a. or less of meadow for every carucate of arable. (fn. 307)
That disparity, approached only in a few other parts of the country, (fn. 308) was reflected in the relative values attached to arable and meadow land. In Shropshire in the 13th century arable was usually estimated to be worth 2d. to 4d. an acre (fn. 309) whereas meadow was rarely reckoned at less than 1s. an acre, and was often valued at 2s. or 3s. An extreme case was the manor of Ellesmere in 1280, where the demesne comprised 324 a. arable and just 3½ a. meadow, valued at 4d. and 7s. 7d. an acre respectively. (fn. 310) Those figures should not necessarily be taken as accurate reflections of the rates that could be obtained for land on the open market, and the rents paid were often much higher. (fn. 311) Occasionally work on demesne meadows was mentioned as a labour service, and in 1276 in Oswestry the demesne servants included a reaper and a watchman. (fn. 312) At Upton Magna in 1301 meadow was left fallow one year in three. (fn. 313) Virtually nothing else is revealed by the sources for the period about the management of meadows in Shropshire.
It was the county's extensive permanent grassland, moorland, and woodland pastures that enabled relatively large numbers of animals to be kept. In south and west Shropshire upland grazing was the predominant type of common, and townships sometimes had pasture rights on hills some distance from the settlement. In the lordship of Oswestry, for instance, the lowland townships of Crickheath and Maesbury had upland pastures on the other side of the lordship, respectively at Cynynion and Cefn-y-maes (probably 'hill of Maesbury'). There transhumance clearly played a part in the local economy. (fn. 314) In much of central and south-east Shropshire grazing was in woodland (fn. 315) and in the north and north-east on moorland or heath, often waterlogged. Prees is an example of a manor in the north-east that still retained extensive commons in the late 13th century despite a vigorous assarting movement and apparently a considerable population growth. (fn. 316) In 1298 the 95 or so households on the bishop of Coventry and Lichfield's estate there farmed c. 1,300 a. of open arable land and inclosed fields, most of the households being those of peasant farmers with an acre or less of several grassland; they also had access to c. 1,180 a. common heath and moorland (on which the villagers of Hawkstone, Kenstone, Marchamley, Sandford, and Weston-under-Redcastle also had rights) and c. 920 a. woodland.
Broad conclusions can be drawn about the types of animals kept, their numbers and proportions on farms of different types, and their use. The most important animal in the farming economy was the ox, the main draught beast. Generally, medieval cattle were of a fairly primitive short-horned variety, with an average withers height of no more than 1.10 m. (fn. 317) Although on light soils a team of oxen could work only half as fast as a team of horses, it coped much better with wet and heavy soils and slow pulling. (fn. 318) In the 12th and 13th centuries horse teams or mixed horse and ox teams began to be used for ploughing on some farms in eastern England; otherwise, and especially in western England and Wales, all ploughing and most heavy haulage in the early Middle Ages was done by oxen. (fn. 319) In the early 13th century when the royal manors in Shropshire were restocked, the incoming stock included 120 oxen but no horses (Table I). (fn. 320) Forty of those oxen were for Ford manor; the oxen there seem to have been the main target of a Welsh band which raided in 1260, killing, wounding, or taking prisoner 28 men and carrying off from the neighbourhood 260 oxen, 80 sheep, and 57 horses. (fn. 321)
The optimum size of ploughteam seems consistently to have been regarded as eight beasts (fn. 322) and, nominally at least, that was the composition of each of the 1,8333/8 ploughteams recorded in the area of the modern county in 1086. (fn. 323) Certainly eight was the number in the few later references which specify or suggest ploughteam size, as when the royal manors in the county were restocked between 1202 and 1209 (Table I), (fn. 324) and in the mid 13th century at Corfton, (fn. 325) at Adstone, in Wentnor, and at Hopton, in Hodnet. (fn. 326) In the early 13th century a grant of ½ virgate in Stanton Lacy carried with it the right to pasture four oxen and one heifer, (fn. 327) which may hint at a local theoretical relationship between the virgate as a land unit and the eight-ox team as the means of working it. In 1086 by far the largest number of ploughteams, well over 100 in all, was owned by Roger of Montgomery, earl of Shrewsbury. Ford was exceptional in having ten teams; the rest of his demesne manors had between one and six teams, with four being the most common. (fn. 328) Generally on Earl Roger's estates there is considerable evidence of his interest in profitable demesne farming, and one important facet of that seems to be the generous provision of ox teams. (fn. 329) The second largest landowner in the county in 1086, Reynold the sheriff, had fewer than 40 teams; the best-endowed monastery, Wenlock priory, had under 20; and on the home farms of the lesser lay lords there were usually at most ten teams. (fn. 330) Comparison of the recorded numbers of Domesday peasants and their teams makes it clear that few peasants owned a full ox team, (fn. 331) and suggests that the compilation of full teams for ploughing involved either hiring animals or co-operation. (fn. 332) That kind of arrangement is indicated at Moreton Corbet c. 1250, where tenants who did not own enough beasts to plough their lands were permitted to receive 'foreign' beasts according to the size of their tenements. (fn. 333) The peasant might perforce put cows or heifers into his team, while the smallholder, whose lands might lie outside the open fields, may have struggled to plough his lands with perhaps as few as two beasts. (fn. 334)
The numbers of cows recorded as stocked and stinted suggest that manors had, at most, sufficient to provide the demesne with ox calves and the household with dairy products. In the early 13th century a herd of 24 or 30 cows was apparently usual at four of the five royal manors in the county then being restocked. The exception was Ford, where 72 were reported as lacking in 1202 and 67 were sent in 1208–9. (fn. 335) Relatively small herds were also recorded on the manors of the county's larger monastic houses in 1291 (Table II). Early in the 13th century Haughmond abbey had developed a farm near Cothercott called Boveria to which animals were brought from Oswestry and Wales by the abbey's two drovers. Despite its name, however, the surviving records suggest that cattle played only a minor role in its economy; those there were primarily young oxen. (fn. 336) The minor place that dairying had is also suggested by records of stints. About 1268 the Condover demesne had common for only 6 cows compared with 12 oxen, 30 pigs, and 120 sheep; the cow pasture was valued, per beast, at twice that of the oxen, (fn. 337) perhaps because the oxen would usually be taken out to work during the day. About 1245 at Worfield the animals pastured in Soudley wood were 12 cows, 18 oxen, 15 pigs and their litters, and 500 sheep; again, it cost twice as much to pasture a cow as an ox. (fn. 338)
Source: Tax. Eccl. (Rec. Com.), 163–5, covering those parts of Shropshire in Hereford diocese. There is no comparable information for the parts of Shropshire in Lichfield and St. Asaph dioceses.
a Besides 10 goats and their young.
Milk yields were poor, especially where there was a shortage of good grazing. Moreover cows' milk, like sheep's, was available for only part of each year, cows that give milk throughout the year being a product of modern breeding. (fn. 339) Over a year a medieval cow produced c. 90 lb. (40 kg.) of milk products compared with 1,000 lb. from a modern animal. (fn. 340) Generally milk production was probably less important than the production of oxen and, for richer households, beef, (fn. 341) with dairy produce forming a much more important component of poor people's diet than rich people's. (fn. 342)
Specialist beef production increased in importance in the later Middle Ages. (fn. 343) There is little evidence of it in the county before 1300, although it is often impossible to tell the age and sex of recorded cattle. Conceivably it was beef animals that the 13th-century villagers of Loughton pastured 2 miles away in the Clee forest, (fn. 344) or that were kept by Buildwas abbey at Ruckley grange and pastured at Donington, (fn. 345) or that were bred by the lords of Pontesbury; (fn. 346) it seems far likelier, however, to have been plough beasts and breeding stock in all those cases. While there is no independent evidence of it from Shropshire, most beef eaten in the Middle Ages came from weak, old, and surplus plough beasts and dairy cattle. 'Ox meat' is frequently mentioned in early 14th-century lay subsidy records for Shrewsbury. Hide and horns too had a market, as perhaps did bones, and in the 13th and 14th centuries Shrewsbury was a renowned tanning centre. (fn. 347) An old or dead cow was thus a marketable commodity, far more than a horse whose flesh was rarely, if ever, eaten. (fn. 348) In certain parts of the county, however, herds of young beef stock were a common sight from the 13th century, as the practice grew of driving Welsh-bred animals to midland pastures before taking them on to London for sale and slaughter. (fn. 349) Commercial breeding is suggested, for instance, by the grant to Chirbury priory of pasture at Montgomery by the king in 1227 for 100 cows and their calves and 50 mares and their foals, the calves and foals being removed when they were three and two years old respectively. (fn. 350)
The horse was probably rarely used to plough in medieval Shropshire. (fn. 351) Nevertheless large numbers of horses were employed in agriculture, for instance for harrowing (fn. 352) and particularly in the distribution of produce. (fn. 353) Some time before 1274 the Templars, lords of Holdgate, sent 6 qr. of oats to Ludlow on horseback. The party was ambushed by men described as bailiffs of the lord of Corfham, who stole the grain and immediately sowed it, and then harrowed it in using the horses which they had also taken. (fn. 354) Horses were ridden by all classes of society from the richer peasantry upwards. (fn. 355) In the late 14th century there were wild horses, presumably a type of hill pony, in the Preston Brockhurst area. (fn. 356) Such animals may have been suitable for some purposes, such as general packing and hauling, but better bloodstock and breeding were required to produce the larger, specialist riding (fn. 357) and war horses required by the aristocracy. (fn. 358) Lay subsidy records of the early 14th century reflect the wide range of horses available. In the valuation of 1306 for Shrewsbury 75 affers, or workhorses, (fn. 359) were listed, usually valued at between 3s. and 6s. 8d. Forty animals were valued as 'horses'; all but three were worth between 7s. and 20s., with the majority (25) being valued at between 10s. and 14s. The three horses whose valuations were exceptional, especially given the tendency for goods to be undervalued by the assessors, (fn. 360) were two owned by the leading wool merchant John of Ludlow (50s. each), and one owned by William of Harley (53s. 4d.). (fn. 361) Most horses were small compared with modern animals, and few stood as high as 1.60 m. (15.75 hands) at the withers. (fn. 362) Large landowners often kept their own studs. In 1175 Henry II granted Haughmond abbey pasture on the Long Mynd for its herds of horses, (fn. 363) and in 1232 Wenlock priory had horses from a stud commoned in Clee forest, presumably under supervision. (fn. 364) Horse breeding seems to have been widely practised in the Welsh marches. The earl of Arundel (d. 1302) had important studs at Bromhurst park (near Oswestry) and at Clun, (fn. 365) while Roger de Mortimer apparently had a stud at Hopton Wafers in south-east Shropshire: mares worth 200 marks that were being sent there from Chirk were seized in 1302 by Wenlock priory as they passed through priory lands. (fn. 366) Horse and fatstock production in general was not confined to lordly households. Where there were sufficient commons it was sometimes undertaken by the peasantry, as on another of the earl of Arundel's manors in west Shropshire, Shrawardine, where horses were bred and sold by the tenantry. (fn. 367) The same activity is indicated by the frequent issue in the early 14th century of licences to sell foals in Halesowen, a large predominantly wood—pasture manor on the borders of Shropshire, Staffordshire, and Worcestershire. (fn. 368)
By far the commonest animal kept in Shropshire in the early Middle Ages was the sheep. Where flocks were large wool production had gained primacy by the 12th century, whereas for peasants with just a few animals milk remained the main product. (fn. 369) If, as seems likely, livestock other than ploughteams was recorded in the hundredal and county returns in 1086, it was omitted from the final Exchequer copy. (fn. 370) Thus almost all the surviving information about sheep husbandry in the county dates from the 13th century onwards, by which time it dominated Shropshire's pastoral economy. Almost certainly, however, that dominance was of long standing, the woods and uplands of much of the county being ideally suited to sheep husbandry, always an attractive farming proposition because of the small amount of labour needed and the sheep's ability to survive on relatively poor land.
The best medieval data concern the flocks of the county's religious houses. At least the larger ones derived a considerable income from wool, though only Buildwas appears in Pegolotti's late 13th-century list of monasteries supplying wool to Italian merchants. He reckoned its annual clip at 20 sacks; to judge from the price it was good quality wool. (fn. 371) Certainly in the 14th century and later Shropshire's wool was reckoned among the best in the country. (fn. 372) Individual medieval fleeces weighed between 1 lb. and 2 lb., a third of the modern figure. (fn. 373) Therefore, at a conservative estimate of 240 fleeces to the sack, (fn. 374) Pegolotti's figure suggests that Buildwas's clip came from c. 4,800 animals. It is possible that Buildwas's own flocks sufficed to provide that clip, (fn. 375) though it is perhaps likelier the abbey was buying wool from other local producers. (fn. 376) When 'good quality' wool is spoken of it is in contemporary terms; analysis of preserved wool fragments has demonstrated a variety of early medieval fleece types, though a 'primitive hairy generalized medium' type predominated. In general modern wool types were not found in the Middle Ages despite the introduction, probably in the 14th century, of longwools. (fn. 377) Buildwas abbey probably had large flocks on most or all of its granges. In 1236 it was granted extensive common pasture on Onslow heath, where it had a sheepfold and shepherd, apparently mainly for sheep from the abbey's grange at Monkmeole, west of Shrewsbury, (fn. 378) and in 1247 it was granted pasture near the adjoining Bicton heath for 300 head. (fn. 379) In 1291 it had 300 sheep on its estates in Hereford diocese, including Wentnor and Kinnerton, and in the early 13th century the abbey was granted the right to take its sheep from its grange at Harnage to wash them in the Severn. (fn. 380)
The house with the largest number of sheep in 1291 in the Shropshire part of Hereford diocese was Wenlock priory: it had 976 sheep, 209 of them breeding ewes (Table II). With such large flocks wethers, ewes, and hogs might be kept separately. (fn. 381) Haughmond abbey was also involved in the commercial production of wool. (fn. 382) In the 1230s pasture for 860 sheep was granted to it at Acton Reynald and Grinshill, and at about the same time for 300 sheep together with pannage for 100 pigs in Hadnall, Haston, Shotton, and Smethcott. Soon afterwards pasture rights for 50 sheep were purchased at Hopton, in Hodnet, which had a grange and sheepfold by the early 14th century. By 1250 Haughmond had a grange at Aston, in Oswestry, which a bailiff's account of 1280–1 suggests was a gathering place for stock, perhaps Welsh animals, purchased at Oswestry market. Stock was sent both to flocks on the abbey's other properties and as meat for the abbey's kitchens: 120 sheep were driven to the Long Mynd and c. 30 each to Sundorne, Caldicott, and Hisland, and 147 sheep and a calf were forwarded for an episcopal visit. Shrewsbury abbey, like Buildwas, had 300 sheep noted in 1291 (Table II), though 847 were washed and sheared in 1333. (fn. 383) At least some of the abbey's sheep were probably pastured in High Ercall and Osbaston, where it had the right to pasture 440 sheep and 2 milch cows. (fn. 384)
Among the other religious houses with notable flocks in the county were Aconbury priory (Herefs.), given pasture c. 1250 for 200 ewes at Great Ness; (fn. 385) Wombridge priory, which apparently had a large flock at Brockton in the early 13th century; (fn. 386) and the Templars' preceptory at Lydley, at the foot of the Lawley hill, which in 1308 got 254 fleeces from its 280 sheep and 96 lambs. (fn. 387)
Evidence from lay estates confirms the general dominance of sheep in the pastoral economy. When the royal manors in Shropshire were restocked in the early 13th century six times as many sheep as cows were supplied and eight times as many sheep as pigs. Especially notable were the deliveries of 600 head to Worfield and 300 to Claverley, neighbouring manors on the south-eastern border of the county. (fn. 388) About 1245 in Worfield 40s. a year came from the beasts pastured in Soudley wood: 12 cows, 18 oxen, 15 pigs with their litters, and 500 sheep. (fn. 389) At Condover, another royal manor, to which no sheep had been sent in the early 13th-century restocking, there was common pasture available to the demesne c. 1268 for 120 sheep, 12 oxen, 6 cows, and 30 pigs. (fn. 390) In 1301 the demesne sheep stints were recorded on some of the earl of Arundel's manors, giving an indication of the importance that sheep were to have on Arundel manors in the county in the 14th century: (fn. 391) in the west of the county, 300 head at both Shrawardine and Bicton, in Clun, and in east-central Shropshire 200 each at Acton Round, Upton Magna, and Wroxeter. (fn. 392) In 1280 each of the 9 neifs and 2 cottars listed in an extent of the manor of Child's Ercall, which included extensive heathlands, owed the service of washing the lord's sheep. (fn. 393) On the nearby manor of High Ercall there may have been as many as 2,100 sheep in the later 13th century. (fn. 394)
A particularly striking example of the sheep's dominance of the pastoral economy, at least in the southern uplands, is provided by an analysis of the vicar of Stokesay's income in 1252. He received 10s. from the tithe of wool and 10s. from that of lambs. By comparison, the tithe of foals, calves, and piglets generated just 2s. 6d., dairy products (to which, again, sheep's milk may have made a considerable contribution) 5s., and hay 8s. 4d. (fn. 395)
There is much less information about the size of separate flocks, some clearly considerable, owned by minor lords or the peasantry. A Callaughton man had 70 sheep stolen in 1274 (fn. 396) and a villein at Tasley owned a flock of 16 ewes (worth 32s.) and 11 wethers (22s.) in 1291–2. (fn. 397) In 1248 Herbert of Corfton, clearly an exceptionally rich villein, claimed to have been robbed of 8 draught animals, 6 rams, 5 wainloads of corn, 6 bu. of wheat flour and 3 of oatmeal, 4 ells of cloth, 9 linen sheets, and 4 napkins. (fn. 398) In 1306 ten of the 251 people from Shrewsbury and its liberties who were assessed to the lay subsidy owned sheep; five had flocks of 5 to 10 head, three of 20–25, and two of c. 40. (fn. 399) Such men were presumably minor wool producers, although they almost certainly were milking the animals. Medieval ewes produced 7 to 12 gallons of milk during a lactation, and according to Walter of Henley 20 lactating ewes gave enough milk to make 4 pints of butter and 250 round flat cheeses a week. (fn. 400)
The importance of sheep in the county's economy is demonstrated by the leading role played by its wool merchants in the international market. In 1271–4 twelve merchants from Shrewsbury and six from Ludlow were among those who obtained export licences for wool. In the earlier 13th century Shrewsbury was undoubtedly the main centre of the wool trade in the western counties and the marches and it retained its trade in the latter part of that century when other centres began to lose theirs to London. (fn. 401) Shrewsbury was, for instance, the base of Nicholas of Ludlow, one of the greatest English merchants of the 1260s (fn. 402) and founder of what was at the time the country's leading dynasty of wool merchants. In 1265, when the goods of Englishmen were seized at Bruges and Damme he lost wool worth £158 13s. 9d., and in 1270 when a similar seizure was made in Flanders he had 330 sacks, valued at £1,828 11s. 5d. taken. (fn. 403) Nicholas's business was carried on after his death by his son Lawrence, the builder of Stokesay castle, whose standing was such that in 1294 he headed the consortium of the country's leading wool merchants that agreed to the king's demand for an extra export duty on wool, the maletot. The levy was heavy and unpopular, and Lawrence's death in 1294 on a Channel crossing was seen, at least by the Dunstable priory annalist as divine retribution: 'and because he sinned against the wool mongers he was drowned in a ship laden with wool'. (fn. 404) His business was carried on into the 14th century by his widow and younger kinsmen, several of whom were wool exporters. (fn. 405) Other leading Shrewsbury wool mongers included Roger Pride, a kinsman of the Burnells, who lost 32 sacks of wool worth £203 8s. 4d. in 1270 and who received an export licence for 120 sacks in 1273, and Richard Stury who exported 61 sacks in 1297–8 and was later the first mayor of the compulsory staple at St.-Omer. (fn. 406)
Two developments in the county in the 13th century indicate that by then a buoyant cloth industry had developed, stimulated and facilitated by the local wool trade. The first was the gaining in 1227 by Shrewsbury's merchants of a countywide monopoly to purchase undressed cloth. Thereafter, nominally at least, control of the dyeing, finishing, and distribution of cloth within the county was in their hands. (fn. 407) The second development was the introduction of the fulling mill. Fulling, the cleansing of surplus oil and grease from wool and the pounding of cloth made from short wools to produce a closer woven, felted cloth, was traditionally done by the fuller or walker, beating, kneading, or walking on the materials. In the late 12th century one or two fulling mills, with water-driven wooden mallets for beating, began to be built in the north of England and the Cotswolds. It took, however, one or two generations before they were spread widely across the country as a whole. (fn. 408) The earliest fulling mill known in Shropshire formed part of the foundation grant in the 1220s to St. John's hospital, Ludlow. It stood close to the town on the Teme, and by 1241 the hospital had the exclusive right to full the cloth produced in Ludlow. (fn. 409) Religious houses seem to have played a significant role in the construction of fulling mills. By the mid 13th century Lilleshall abbey had one on the Severn at Atcham; (fn. 410) Haughmond abbey was granted the right to build one on the Perry at Adcote between 1240 and 1263; (fn. 411) and Combermere abbey (Ches.) had one on the Tern at Ternhill in 1255. (fn. 412) In the later 13th century fulling mills owned by the laity begin to be recorded in the county: at Pitchford (by 1284), (fn. 413) Charlcotte (by 1290), (fn. 414) Longnor (by 1300), (fn. 415) and Clun (by 1301). (fn. 416) There may have been at least one other fulling mill close to Ludlow. (fn. 417)
In the upland, wooded, and often marginal areas of south Shropshire goats probably played an important part in the peasant economy of the early Middle Ages. Goats can subsist on marginal land, and have a remarkable ability to convert underwood and rough and moorland grazing into milk and meat. Their versatile diet enables them to be kept on terrain unsuitable for sheep, although it seems likely that wherever possible the more profitable wool-producing sheep was replacing the goat in the 11th and 12th centuries. Goats were not recorded for Shropshire in the Exchequer version of Domesday Book, but where they were noted, as in East Anglia and south-west England, goats were numerous in 1086. Although Shropshire provides no evidence before the early 13th century it seems likely that in 1086 there were large numbers of goats in the south of the county. (fn. 418) Whether by then sheep had already ousted goats from the farming economy of north Shropshire is unknown; certainly by the 13th century goats are rarely found.
In 1255 both Peter of Minton, the keeper of forest hays near Stretton, and the poor people of Stretton kept goats on the manor's hills and in its woods. Goats were said to be the poor's sole means of livelihood, and it seems likely that they herded goats on the hills and produced cheese and meat. (fn. 419) In 1255 in the adjacent walk of the Long forest on Wenlock Edge the forester, although he kept no goats himself, permitted lords to keep goats in their own woods except during the fence month, (fn. 420) the period in midsummer when the deer were fawning. (fn. 421) At Westhope pannage of goats comprised part of the manor's profits in 1301. (fn. 422)
On the northern limits of the Long forest it was assumed c. 1268 in the customs of Condover that the villeins there would own goats, (fn. 423) and in 1292 when it was proposed to inclose 200 a. in the forest there it was alleged that the lord would lose the profit from impounding goats in the fence month. (fn. 424) At the north end of Wenlock Edge in the manor of Kenley the lord impounded the goats belonging to the men of the neighbouring manor of Hughley in 1231 during a dispute over common rights, kept them until they died, and then sold their meat and hides. (fn. 425)
Goats were probably singled out in the last case because of the damage which they caused to the vert, and that was presumably also the reason why the foresters of Clee sought to exclude the goats of the prior of Wenlock's tenants from the woods in Ditton Priors and Stoke St. Milborough in 1232. (fn. 426) At much the same time the abbot of Shrewsbury obtained specific confirmation of his right to pasture goats in the same forest for his manor of Loughton. (fn. 427) It is likely that transhumance, or straking, was practised on the Clee hills at that time although it is not expressly documented until the 17th century. (fn. 428)
Evidently as late as c. 1280 some goat herds in south-west Shropshire were large; about then the lord of Whitcot granted Walter of Minton the right to pasture 50 goats and their followers in Whitcot. (fn. 429) On the southern border of the Stiperstones forest Gatten, where the Corbets had a hay first mentioned in 1226, (fn. 430) means 'the clearing for goats in the long valley'. (fn. 431) North of that forest at Aston Rogers a man had a herd of 24 goats in 1273, (fn. 432) and to the south at Little Rhadley the men of Mucklewick were granted common except for their goats in 1291. (fn. 433)
Away from the southern uplands, in Morfe forest the underwood of Claverley wood was said to be much damaged by goats in 1235. (fn. 434) The exclusion of goats was increasingly usual as common rights were formalized.
A notable element of the county's economy, expecially in those better wooded parishes where there was extensive pannage or mast available for autumn fattening, was pig rearing. Pigs need little supervision, are extremely efficient converters to meat of a wide range of organic matter (some like acorns or beech nuts otherwise inedible or poisonous), are relatively prolific, and produce meat that can be readily preserved to last the winter. (fn. 435) The records reveal virtually nothing about the physical appearance of the animal, probably thin legged and a fraction of the size of the modern one; (fn. 436) the record of William Tuppe's stabbing in Sandford wood, in Prees, in 1254 by a thief who stole his seven black pigs is unusually revealing. (fn. 437) Pigs, like sheep, probably only reached maturity after two years. (fn. 438)
In 1086 much of the county's woodland was described in terms of the number of pigs that it was said could be fattened there, the largest total, of 600, being at Longnor. (fn. 439) In the 13th century pannage payments, sometimes called wormtack, (fn. 440) were either in cash, as at Condover c. 1268 where pigs, like sheep, were charged at ½d. each a year, (fn. 441) or in kind. At Edgton in the late 13th century a nook carried the right to pasture 10 swine free of pannage, although c. 1275 those who fattened eight beasts or more in the lord's wood owed the third best beast, and those with fewer than eight 2d. for each mature pig and 1d. for younger swine. (fn. 442) In 1282 one pig in every 10 was due from those fattened in Linley wood, in More. (fn. 443) About 1230 a virgate at Webscott near Myddle carried the right to pasture 24 pigs, (fn. 444) and at Aston Rogers in 1273 a man had 20 pigs. (fn. 445) While peasant herds of that size may have been slightly larger than usual, in well wooded areas a lord's income from pannage payments could be considerable. At Wem in 1290 it was £8, equal to the combined income from agistment, herbage, and wood sales, and probably represented payments for at least 1,000 pigs. (fn. 446) Pigs were often fattened in woods, like those on the Wrekin, (fn. 447) several miles from the owner's home. In such cases a sty or piggery might be provided, such as Buildwas abbey had in Brewood wood on the Staffordshire border in 1247. (fn. 448) All the evidence from Shropshire contradicts the view that the woodland pasturing of pigs had been replaced either by more intensive methods of production or by open-country pig keeping well before the 13th century. (fn. 449) In Shropshire considerable amounts of wood pasture survived, and pig husbandry remained woodland based and an important element in the peasant economy throughout the Middle Ages.
Two types of animal were reared exclusively by lords of manors: deer and rabbits. As forests and woodland were reduced in the Middle Ages deer seem to have been increasingly kept in parks; (fn. 450) accordingly they were more subject than previously to management and selective breeding. Rabbits, introduced into the British Isles in the later 12th century, were kept in specially constructed enclosed warrens consisting of artificial mounds of usually sandy soil, sometimes containing man-made stone burrows. (fn. 451) In 1274 a warren at Weston-under-Redcastle was worth 13s. 4d., (fn. 452) and in 1301 the earl of Arundel had warrens at Oswestry and Shrawardine, each worth 5s. a year. (fn. 453) Nevertheless such early references to warrens are rare in Shropshire.
Many aristocratic households also kept birds of prey to take small birds and game, while swans and the produce of heronries might be among the perquisites of the lord of the manor. (fn. 454) Many manors had a cockshoot (volatus) in their woods where birds such as woodcock would be taken. (fn. 455) Surprisingly cockshoots were not solely manorial properties, and c. 1225 a property in Haston, in Myddle, comprised a messuage with virgate, selion, 22 a. of land, and a cockshoot. (fn. 456) One species of bird kept exclusively by lords of manors and churchmen was the domesticated rock dove (Columba livia). Doves can be kept in holes in domestic or agricultural buildings, but most characteristic are freestanding dovecots or pigeon houses. (fn. 457) In Shropshire they were recorded from the later 13th century, not surprisingly mainly on large manors such as Acton Burnell, (fn. 458) Caus, (fn. 459) Holdgate, (fn. 460) and Tong. (fn. 461) They are also found at monastic houses, (fn. 462) and at a few smaller lay manors such as Chetton (fn. 463) and Nordley, in Astley Abbots. (fn. 464)
Even the most modest peasant holding probably included some poultry, particularly chickens. Archaeological evidence suggests that backyard fowl were kept primarily for their eggs and were eaten only when old. (fn. 465) That hens were commonly kept is shown by their frequent mention as rents, especially in return for woodland rights. In the late 13th century the villagers of Clive paid a total of 300 hens each Christmas to the lord of Wem, (fn. 466) and the lord of Corfham received 84 hens a year worth 7s. in rents and renders. (fn. 467) In 1301 the lord of Upton Magna received at least 33 hens and 170 eggs (or their cash equivalents) from his tenants at Upton Magna and Haughton in return for woodland and grazing rights. (fn. 468) In 1252 the vicar of Stokesay's income included 9d. from eggs at Easter and 9d. from geese. (fn. 469) Millers, whose premises contained grain that had been spoilt or spilled, were particularly well placed to keep poultry, perhaps on a semi-commercial basis. About 1280 the miller at Ryton was permitted to keep cocks, hens, capons, geese, ganders, chickens, and ducks around the mill. (fn. 470) Peasants, however, were not the only ones to keep poultry, and in 1280–1 a house (cottagium) for hens and geese was made at Haughmond abbey's grange at Aston at a cost of 7d. (fn. 471)
Fish were important in the medieval diet both nutritionally and increasingly as a means of mitigating the religious prohibition of meat-eating during days and seasons of fast. By the 13th century many of the clergy and well-to-do laity avoided meat by eating fish every Friday and Saturday, for the season of Lent, and on the vigils of the main feasts. Additionally many households also observed Wednesday as a fish day. (fn. 472) The late 13th-century stallage receipts from Shrewsbury market regularly rose to a peak during Lent, a reflection, it has been argued, of the copious fish sales. (fn. 473) Some of the fish sold were presumably freshwater, taken mainly from within the county. Richer households had access to a very wide range of fish, the more usual freshwater varieties being, in order of preference, eel, bream, perch, pike, roach, and tench, (fn. 474) and the quantities consumed in the larger households were often enormous. (fn. 475) Carp were a later introduction, of the 14th or 15th century. (fn. 476)
There were three types of freshwater fisheries: in rivers, in open water, and in ponds that were usually constructed specially for pisciculture. At least 18 separate fisheries were recorded in Shropshire in 1086. Most were on rivers, distributed across the centre of the county on the Perry, Roden, Severn, and Tern and their tributaries. (fn. 477) Those rivers drained several wet, peaty, basins which provided an ideal habitat for fish. The notices of eel renders in 1086, such as 1,502 great eels from Ercall Magna, 1,600 eels from Chetwynd, and 1,000 from Crudgington, (fn. 478) indicate the importance of that fish, and the Tern especially, draining the Weald Moors, was an ideal eel river. Most fisheries probably comprised some form of weir with openings in which nets, baskets, and traps could be suspended. The evidence suggests, as later, that river traffic was able to pass the weir by means of a bylet or bypass channel, either natural or artificial. On the tributaries of the main rivers many fisheries were associated with mills, whose narrow channels facilitated the placing of traps, as at Duncot mill, in Atcham, c. 1180. (fn. 479) While eel were apparently the staple catch many other species were present. Salmon were almost certainly taken from the Severn and were among the fish eaten by Bishop Swinfield and his household when they were in south Shropshire in 1290. They also ate lampreys, which could perhaps be bought in Shrewsbury and Ludlow markets in the late 13th century. (fn. 480)
There were several major open-water fisheries in the county. The meres and lakes around Ellesmere and between Baschurch and Myddle were intensively fished, and in the early Middle Ages the burgesses of Newport owed carriage of fish from the king's vivary there to the royal court, wherever in the country it was. (fn. 481) Besides fish for immediate consumption or preservation the lakes supplied livestock for transfer to other ponds, a surprisingly commonplace practice in the Middle Ages, the fish being packed in wet grass in canvas-lined barrels to keep them alive for a day or more. (fn. 482) In 1275, for instance, the sheriff was ordered to have 100 live female bream carried c. 30 miles from Ellesmere to the king's fishponds at Brockhurst castle, Church Stretton. (fn. 483) The construction of fishponds seems to have begun in England in the mid 12th century, (fn. 484) and by 1300 most lords of manors and some wealthy freeholders had dug their own or had created one by damming a stream. For security and convenience they were usually sited near the manor house or within an enclosed park. In some cases the moats around houses, an increasingly widespread feature from the later 12th century, (fn. 485) were themselves used as fishponds, as at Sheriffhales in 1294. (fn. 486) It was possible, perhaps even usual, for ponds to be stocked with young fish for fattening either from the large fisheries in rivers and open water or from special hatching and breeding stations; the 13 small fisheries (stankinges) in Worfield parish c. 1240, eight at Burcote and five at Bradney, may have been such stations. (fn. 487)
Incidental profits and benefits accrued from ponds. They could be used to water stock and to keep wildfowl and swans, (fn. 488) while their edges provided lush grazing and hay, or rushes for thatching. (fn. 489) When ponds were drained, as they regularly were for cleaning, a catch crop of cereals could be grown on the rich pond bottom before the mud was dug out and spread on the fields to improve fertility. (fn. 490)
Sea fish were widely available. In the mid 13th century, for example, Haughmond abbey was granted the right to fish the river Dee and to buy 6,000 herrings in Chester free of toll. (fn. 491) Sea fish were normally dried, salted, or smoked to preserve them, and some varieties, like herring, were cheap enough to be enjoyed by at least the richer peasantry. (fn. 492) Sea fish, including herrings, were probably available at Ludlow market in the late 13th century, delivered by cart and packhorse. (fn. 493) In Shrewsbury in the early 14th century there were six or eight merchants who dealt in dried fish and herrings, such as Nicholas of Grimsby and John of Kent. (fn. 494)
A feature of the period is the growth in the number and size of markets and fairs. Domesday Book records no market in the county, not even in either of the two Shropshire boroughs, Shrewsbury and Quatford. (fn. 495) Markets, however, certainly existed. Informal buying and selling of produce is rarely recorded (fn. 496) but local opportunities for trade at times when people gathered for other reasons may be surmised from the frequent location of market places in or near churchyards; such arrangements may first be detected in the 13th century but the topography of individual settlements hints at a much earlier connexion between churchgoing and trade. At Much Wenlock the Sunday market was probably in the churchyard (fn. 497) and at Wellington an area (later the Green) immediately north of the churchyard was probably the early market place. (fn. 498) Shrewsbury's earliest market place was almost certainly the area between the churchyards of St. Julian's, St. Alkmund's, and St. Mary's. (fn. 499) Such links suggest that some of the Saxon minsters, and perhaps some manors serving as administrative centres for wider areas, attracted market business. (fn. 500)
Markets almost certainly increased in number as new towns were founded in the late 11th and the 12th centuries: Bishop's Castle, Bridgnorth, Caus, Ludlow, Newport, and Oswestry. (fn. 501) Not until the 13th century, however, does the foundation of markets appear to have been sufficiently formalized to leave a written record.
The 13th century witnessed many attempts in Shropshire by manorial lords to promote the urban and commercial development of existing towns and villages. Often the plan seems to have consisted of a carefully designed addition of streets, burgage plots, and open space to the settlement and the purchase of market rights from the Crown. That happened at Wellington, (fn. 502) Market Drayton, (fn. 503) Madeley, (fn. 504) and Baschurch, (fn. 505) and those places were among the more successful 13th-century promotions; rather less successful, because of its remote situation, was Clun. (fn. 506) By the end of the 13th century promotions were becoming more and more speculative, some standing very little chance of success (Fig. 6). (fn. 507) Among the failures may be noticed Burford and Lydham, granted free borough status in 1266 and 1270 respectively; (fn. 508) New Ruyton, an attempted borough foundation of the first years of the 14th century; (fn. 509) and Atcham (Fig. 7) where, surprisingly, a Severnside village which the abbot of Lilleshall equipped with a bridge, fulling mill, two fairs, and probably burgage plots and a market place, failed to develop into a town. (fn. 510) Such speculations, natural in a period of economic expansion, were encouraged by the fairly small capital outlay involved. The least ambitious promotions, involving no expansion of settlement, required probably no more than the provision of a market place and the cost of buying the market privilege from the Crown. Such may have been the plan at High Ercall, granted a market charter in 1267. (fn. 511) At Wattlesborough where a grant of a Tuesday market was obtained in 1272, Market piece remained the site of a fair until the 19th century although no memory remained of any market (fn. 512) and probably no expansion of settlement had ever been planned. The price of a royal charter was probably not very great and the lord of Holdgate's payment of 5 marks and a palfrey in 1222 (fn. 513) may have been abnormally expensive.
The Crown speculated too but in those cases there was no expenditure on privileges. Hence in 1214 the new Wednesday market and one-day August fair at the royal manor of Stretton were merely advertised by the Crown, whereas in 1251–3 and 1337, when the market and fair days there were altered, charters had to be purchased for by then the manor had passed from the king's hands. (fn. 514)
Lords' incomes from market tolls naturally varied widely. At Oswestry income from tolls and market fees produced £9 13s. 4d. in 1267 (fn. 515) and £20 in 1271, (fn. 516) while in 1276 'tolls of the borough' yielded £27 11s. 11½d. (fn. 517) At Clun, a similar border town with 85 burgesses in 1302, the Saturday market produced £10 in 1272. (fn. 518) Smaller markets are suggested by the toll incomes of £2 in 1285–6 at Albrighton, (fn. 519) 10s. in 1283 at Newport, (fn. 520) and 6s. 8d. in 1284 at Holdgate. (fn. 521) Other markets were worth so little to the lord, or indeed had ceased to be held (if they ever had been), that no account was made of income from them at the lord's death. (fn. 522)
A few incidental references confirm that the main goods sold at market were staple commodities such as corn and salt, (fn. 523) and in the larger towns firewood. Animals were also sold, especially in autumn when farmers were reducing stocks against winter. (fn. 524) Items such as vegetables and eggs were presumably also on offer everywhere from peasant producers. Dearer goods, however, such as cloth and wine, (fn. 525) may have been sold only at the larger markets in towns, such as Ludlow. (fn. 526) From 1290 tolls were payable there on a wide range of goods both raw and manufactured. Animal products came in either on the hoof or as salted meat, hides, pelts, or fleeces. Vegetable products included grain, flour, pulses, onions, and garlic. From the district's woods came boards, charcoal, and bark. Cheese, butter, and honey were other local products, whereas wine, cumin, fish, and salt came from farther afield. Manufactured goods included various types of cloth, metal and earthenware vessels, millstones, nails and horseshoes. Iron and lead were available to local plumbers and smiths. (fn. 527)
From 1200 grants of markets and fairs contained a clause which made them conditional on the new franchise not damaging an existing one. The minimum distance between markets was reckoned at just over 6 miles, a spacing that allowed time to travel to and fro in a day and do business. (fn. 528) A new market could damage an existing one, and John le Strange's foundation of a market and fair at Knockin in 1249 led to prolonged litigation with his overlord, John FitzAlan, who considered them likely to harm his own market and fair at Oswestry, 6 miles away. (fn. 529) In general, however, as in other counties, (fn. 530) the distribution of markets suggests that little notice was taken of the distance between them. For instance Eaton-underHeywood, Rushbury, Nether Stanway, and Holdgate each had the right to hold a Thursday market in the later 13th century, though all lay within 3 or 4 miles of each other. (fn. 531)
In contrast with markets, where mainly local goods were offered for sale on a weekly basis, fairs drew merchants from a whole region, or even more widely, for a once-yearly meeting over several days at which they bought in bulk and sold relatively exotic goods. Shropshire's fairs lay too far west to be regularly visited by foreign merchants, whose presence made the 13th-century fairs of Boston, St. Ives, Stamford, Northampton, and Winchester the greatest in the country. (fn. 532) Many of Shropshire's wool merchants, however, were active in the European market and presumably did much of their buying at the county's fairs. That activity has left no written record, and the only reference to fair business in the period is from Clun, whose fair was visited c. 1300 by Worcester merchants who wished to buy stock. (fn. 533)
No Shropshire fairs were recorded in 1086, (fn. 534) although it may be suspected that wool fairs were already a feature of the annual round in the south of the county. To lords, the attraction of a fair was the profit that might accrue. Although the monks claimed that the right to hold a fair in Shrewsbury had been granted by Earl Roger, it was more probably Henry I who gave the first grant of a three-day fair. (fn. 535) The first formal grant to the burgesses of the right to hold a fair was made in 1205 for 1 to 3 June. (fn. 536) In 1227 Shrewsbury abbey was holding its three-day fair in Abbey Foregate on 1–3 August, extended in that year to include 31 July, (fn. 537) and by 1256 the abbey had a second annual fair on 20–23 September. (fn. 538) When in 1267 the burgesses obtained a grant for a second fair of their own, on 24–7 July, the abbey claimed that it was to the detriment of its August fair. (fn. 539) The parties reached agreement at the end of the century: the abbey was to pay the burgesses 38s., and in return at the time of the Abbey Foregate fair all shops, except those selling wine and ale, were to be closed, murage and pavage were not to be levied, and the abbey's servants were to be allowed to supervise the fair and to take all profits from it. (fn. 540) The influx of goods and traders at fair times was considerable; in 1263, for instance, five times as much was paid in murage on goods coming into the town during fair time as at other times. (fn. 541) Precise figures showing the profits of fairs are rare, and only one Shropshire example is known: £6 in 1272 from the three-day May and November fairs at Clun. (fn. 542)
As with markets, the earliest documented fairs were mainly associated with towns: at Shrewsbury (by 1135), Much Wenlock (1138), (fn. 543) Clun (1204), (fn. 544) Shrewsbury (1205), Church Stretton (1214), (fn. 545) Richard's Castle (1216), (fn. 546) and Bridgnorth (1226). (fn. 547) By the later 13th century the lords of rural manors were seeking the right to hold fairs, as at Nether Stanway in 1271 (fn. 548) and nearby Rushbury, where Hugh Burnell obtained a grant of market and fair soon after buying the manor in 1283. (fn. 549) Unusually both fairs (if they were ever held) were two-day events. Most of the county's fairs lasted three days while a few lasted four or five. None officially lasted longer than six days. As elsewhere, (fn. 550) most fairs were held in August and September when harvested produce, wool, and fatstock were ready. At least two fairs, however, were held in each month between the start of the county's fair cycle at Acton Burnell and Burford, both of which had fairs on 24–6 March from the 1260s, (fn. 551) and its end with Clun's Martinmas (11–13 November) fair, (fn. 552) where it was presumably mainly fattened pigs and surplus stock that were sold for slaughter and salting. Within the general constraints imposed by the agricultural round there are indications that, wherever possible, fair dates were chosen to coincide with the wakes and other activities which marked the local church's patronal feast. (fn. 553)
The distribution of produce was limited by the means of transport available. Most efficient for the long distance carriage of bulk goods was the navigable river and in the early 13th century, as perhaps for long before, barges plied the Severn between Bristol and Shrewsbury. (fn. 554) In 1220 Henry III granted murage to the burgesses of Bridgnorth and Shrewsbury and included the right to tolls on vessels bringing goods for sale into those towns. (fn. 555) Gascon wine was brought up river to Bridgnorth from Bristol in the 13th and 14th centuries for the king, (fn. 556) the bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, (fn. 557) and lesser churchmen like the rector of Pattingham (Staffs.). (fn. 558) The Severn has also been an obstacle to road traffic. In places it is fordable but elsewhere crossing had to be by ferry or one of the few bridges. Below Bridgnorth in the Middle Ages there were only two bridges, at Worcester and Gloucester. (fn. 559) At Bridgnorth a new bridge had been built by the 13th century replacing an earlier crossing at 'Cwatbridge', in Quatford, while in Shrewsbury the bridges later known as the English and Welsh bridges existed by the early 12th century. (fn. 560) A third crossing in the county was provided between 1200 and 1222 at Atcham by the abbot of Lilleshall; it superseded the two ferry boats from which he had previously profited. (fn. 561) A fourth bridge, at Preston Montford, was in use by the 1240s. (fn. 562) Bridge building and urban growth tended to go hand in hand, (fn. 563) and at Ludlow it seems that the first bridge (over the Teme) was built by Joce de Dinan, probably lord and castellan of Ludlow, to promote the success of the newly founded town by bringing travellers and trade into it. (fn. 564)
Bridge building, one of the necessary labours with which the Saxon landowner was burdened, (fn. 565) is the best recorded form of medieval road improvement, (fn. 566) but the roads themselves, whose maintenance went largely unrecorded, (fn. 567) were of great economic importance. Road traffic increased greatly during the 12th and 13th centuries and the economic self-sufficiency of that region of western England which is drained by the Severn may have owed as much to the great road that ran north from Bristol (via Worcester) to Chester (and beyond to Liverpool) as it did to the river itself. In Shropshire the road passed through Bridgnorth, Shrewsbury, and Ellesmere. (fn. 568) About 1102 Henry I levelled and widened it, cutting back trees, probably near Wenlock Edge. (fn. 569) In other parts of the county there were what seem to have been alternative routes between market towns: one that pack horses could tackle, and another which avoided steep gradients and so—in dry weather at least— was more suited to carts. Such perhaps were the alternative routes between Shrewsbury and Newport: the Watling Street with steep gradients at Overley Hill, and the Port Way via Admaston and Shawbirch. (fn. 570) The great importance of Shropshire roads in the cattle droving season is illustrated by the levy of stretward in the 13th century to maintain an elaborate system of road guards. (fn. 571) Another indication of the quality of the roads and the average speed of commercial traffic is provided by the general presuppositions about the spacing of markets and fairs. (fn. 572)
Much long-distance trade, for instance of salt, was by packhorse, mentioned in Shrewsbury's murage grant of 1220. (fn. 573) Packhorses were used about the same time by Haughmond abbey to carry loads in sacks and small wooden kegs, (fn. 574) and at Ludlow in 1290 tolls were levied by the horse load on salt, cloth, fish, cumin, garlic, honey, bark, and charcoal. (fn. 575) Bulkier carriage necessitated the use of horse- or ox-drawn vehicles. (fn. 576) Carts called carectae were drawn by one (fn. 577) or two horses; (fn. 578) hay and wood carts had two horses in the mid 13th century. (fn. 579) The carra was a heavier, ox-drawn vehicle; examples are noted in the 13th century at Glazeley, (fn. 580) Shelderton, (fn. 581) and in the Morville area. (fn. 582) They were probably commoner in the 12th century than carectae, though in the 13th century horse haulage became more widespread, (fn. 583) and in the early 14th century carectae seem to have been ubiquitous in and around Shrewsbury. (fn. 584) The ox-drawn wain called a plaustrum had usually, but not invariably, two wheels. (fn. 585) Heavy or long-distance haulage required large teams. When Abingdon abbey was rebuilt in the early 12th century Welsh timber was brought from Shrewsbury on six plaustra, each drawn by twelve oxen. (fn. 586) The round trip, of c. 226 miles, took six or seven weeks. For short-haul work sledges, without wheels and cheap to produce, were used. (fn. 587)