Common lands and strays

Pages 498-506

A History of the County of York: the City of York. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1961.

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The Agrarian Interests of the City

Medieval York stands in marked contrast to those towns which were wholly or partially encircled by their extensive open fields: towns like Lincoln with nearly 2,000 acres in the fields, (fn. 1) Leicester with about 2,600 acres of open field, meadow and pasture, (fn. 2) Nottingham with nearly 1,100 acres, (fn. 3) and Cambridge with over 1,100 acres. (fn. 4) York was hemmed in on north and south by neighbouring townships, with but little land between them and the city walls; a greater area lay within the city boundary on the north-east, but a large part of it was prebendal land and long denied to the citizens; (fn. 5) and even on the south-west, where a large acreage of land lay within the city boundary, much was poorly drained rough pasture (fn. 6) and much again was archiepiscopal property. (fn. 7)

York's limited extra-mural land could not contain extensive open fields: it was largely taken up by gardens, orchards, meadows, and arable and pasture closes. Such lands were owned by the York religious houses, (fn. 8) some of whose sites were themselves outside the city walls, (fn. 9) by the inhabitants of the early established 'suburbs' of Bootham, Layerthorpe, and Clementhorpe (fn. 10) and of the houses built outside Micklegate, Walmgate, and Monk Bars, and by a small number of York citizens. While large open fields could not have existed within the boundary of the liberty of the city, the possibility that smaller areas were cultivated in open strips—at least in the early Middle Ages—must not be completely discounted; but there is no certain evidence of openfield cultivation, despite occasional references to selions which apparently lay within the city boundary but which cannot be exactly located. (fn. 11)

While some citizens owned extra-mural closes and others held strips in the open fields of adjoining townships, (fn. 12) most of them had no interest in arable husbandry. In an important commercial town, selfsufficiency in corn production was neither desirable nor necessary; but the lack of open fields might have been sorely felt had it deprived the citizens of pasturage for horses and cows. Even in such open-field towns as Lincoln and Nottingham only a few men may have cultivated land in the fields; but all the citizens, landowners or not, were jealous of their rights of pasturage over the harvest fields and of a share of meadow and permanent pasture. (fn. 13) In York the wet tract of Knavesmire provided some permanent pasture but was by itself inadequate; and in the absence of its own open fields, the city was forced to build up an extensive and complex system of pasturage over extra-mural closes and over the open fields and wastes of neighbouring townships.

It seems likely that York's rights of pasturage were developed at an early date, but conclusive evidence is lacking. By 1250 the citizens were certainly establishing pasturage north of the city within the Forest of Galtres, (fn. 14) an area where they later enjoyed extensive rights; and at the end of the 12th century one York citizen was permitted by St. Leonard's Hospital to feed animals in its pasture in Heslington and to dig turves in Tilmire: (fn. 15) the citizens at large were to enjoy rights in Tilmire by the 15th century. And, when the city's rights were disputed by St. Mary's Abbey, it was claimed that pasturage north and south of York had been enjoyed by the citizens even in pre-Conquest times. (fn. 16)

Rights of Stray and Average

In the Middle Ages the city had varying interests in the extensive grounds over which it enjoyed common of pasture; within York's 'rights of stray and average' three distinct types of pasturage may be recognized.

First, York possessed a large tract of grazing to the south of the city: Knavesmire, lying partly, and Hob Moor, wholly, within the city boundary. These rough and poorly drained pastures were used almost exclusively by the city; limited intercommoning was enjoyed on Knavesmire by the inhabitants of Middlethorpe (fn. 17) and by the lord of Dringhouses manor, (fn. 18) and on Hob Moor by the inhabitants of Holgate. (fn. 19) The citizen's use of this pasture was restricted at least by the 16th century: it was enjoyed by Micklegate Ward and by certain limited parts of the other wards, and stints were imposed on the commoners, who were allowed to graze cows and horses but not sheep. (fn. 20) In 1700 it was stated that the customary stint on Knavesmire for each freeman was either 3 cows or 1 horse (or mare with foal) and 2 cows: there were to be no sheep, swine, or geese. (fn. 21) By the 17th and 18th centuries, payments were being made for each animal, to meet the expenses of maintaining the pasture. (fn. 22) Only one other tract falls into this category of permanent whole-year pasturage: that part of Heworth Moor which lay within the boundary of the liberty of the city. (fn. 23)

Secondly, the city intercommoned on the wastes, moors, or commons of nearby townships, and although not exclusive to the city, such rights were usually enjoyed for the whole year. Again, restrictions had been imposed at least by the 16th century: pasturage was limited to the freemen of the respective wards, who were stinted and were neither to surcharge the commons nor to graze animals for strangers. (fn. 24) Commons of this type were Clifton, Huntington, Rawcliffe, Wigginton, and Stockton moors, and Tilmire.

Thirdly, half-year rights (or rights of 'average') were enjoyed over certain open fields, closes, and meadows both in the suburbs of the city and in adjoining townships. Average usually lasted from October to the end of March, (fn. 25) but arrangements were often flexible: the effective beginning of the period was the harvesting of corn or the mowing of hay. (fn. 26) Average was in most cases not exclusive to the city: open-field average, for example, was shared with the commoners of the township concerned; but the owners and tenants of some inclosed and meadow lands, although obliged to lay them open, did not share the pasturage. (fn. 27)

The establishment and maintenance of its common of pasture involved the city in dispute and settlement with many and varied landowners, among the largest of whom were the York religious houses. The city's pasture may conveniently be considered in four divisions.

On the north-west of the city, in the wedge of land between the rivers Ouse and Foss, the township of Clifton lay within the Liberty of St. Mary and it was with the abbot that the city negotiated its boundaries and its pasturage. By a settlement between city and abbey in 1484 (fn. 28) average was to be enjoyed over extensive open fields and meadows between Clifton highway and the Foss with the exception of Paynlathes Croft and certain adjacent closes. Access ways were provided to the Ouse for watering, and into the Forest of Galtres. The forest indeed extended to the walls of the city, (fn. 29) and after the dissolution of St. Mary's Abbey the city was at pains to maintain its rights within the forest. A claim made by the city in 1570 (which was upheld) (fn. 30) reveals that pasturage was still enjoyed over open fields, meadows, and closes in Clifton and the city suburbs; that the city had added Paynlathes Croft to its average, although still having no claim to the abbey site and Almery Garth; and that the moors of Clifton, Huntington, Rawcliffe, and Wigginton were still enjoyed at all times of the year. Use of these distant moors explains the access ways into the forest mentioned in 1484. The extent of average enjoyed in inclosed grounds is also revealed by a suggestion made in 1546 that the city should let the winter eatage of nineteen closes (including Paynlathes Croft) lying between the Ouse and the Foss. (fn. 31)

On the south-east of the city the agreement reached with St. Mary's in 1484 also reveals the extent of the city's interest in Fulford where the abbot was again an extensive landowner. (fn. 32) Average was to be enjoyed over open fields and meadows within certain bounds (fn. 33) and ways were provided for access to watering in the Ouse, and to Tilmire. (fn. 34) The moor of Tilmire, in the south of Fulford, extended into several other townships and was (in part at least) long established as commonable by the city: its use was confirmed to the city after a dispute in 1401 with another York religious house, St. Leonard's Hospital. (fn. 35) Also in this south-eastern quarter of the environs of York, a large acreage of closes and grounds within the city boundary was subject to average: four such grounds were listed in a survey of 1546, (fn. 36) among them North Field, a close belonging to St. Nicholas's Hospital, the winter eatage of which the city had agreed to forgo in 1484 (fn. 37) after a violent dispute with the citizens. (fn. 38)

On the north-east, in Heworth township, the city enjoyed average over the archbishop's Grange Field; (fn. 39) and within the city bounds here were other half-year grounds, including Hall Field, (fn. 40) whose average was maintained against the claims of Sir James Danby in the late 15th century. (fn. 41) The city's claims to the average of the adjacent Vicars Leas was withdrawn in 1495 after a lengthy dispute with the vicars choral. (fn. 42) The survey of winter eatage made in 1546 included Hall Field, Grange Field, and three smaller closes. (fn. 43) In addition to that part of Heworth Moor lying within the liberty of the city, (fn. 44) whole-year pasturage was provided by Stockton Moor. (fn. 45)

Finally, to the south-west of the city, the extensive whole-year pastures of Knavesmire and Hob Moor were flanked by closes and meadows over which half-year rights were enjoyed during the 16th century. It seems likely that claims for average had not previously been pressed in view of the availability of extensive whole-year pasturage. By 1546, however, thirteen closes were listed as available to be let for winter eatage. (fn. 46) Nun Ings and Nun Field, probably part of the possessions of St. Clement's Priory, were later to become subject to half-year rights. (fn. 47) Little claim was made upon the lands of adjacent townships, but in 1536 certain closes in Dringhouses were said to have been subject to the city's right of average. (fn. 48) Knavesmire included a tract of moor which until at least 1484 was described as part of the manor of Bustardthorpe; (fn. 49) other lands in that manor were subsequently merged in Dringhouses and Middlethorpe townships (fn. 50) and although 'Bustard Hall' and nearby closes were bought by the corporation in 1564 and leased out in the late 16th and the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, (fn. 51) these lands were not subject to the city's right of average.

The Common Lands up to the Inclosure Acts

In the late 15th and early 16th centuries continual efforts were made to maintain the city's rights of average and to preserve an asset which could help to alleviate the city's financial difficulties. Closes liable to average were ordered to be opened at Michaelmas (fn. 52) and not to be sown with winter corn, (fn. 53) and freemen were instructed not to occupy 'grass ground' during average time. (fn. 54) But side by side with such orders the corporation issued others which denied the freemen their pasturage, while raising money for the common chamber. Owners of closes might depasture them during average time if licensed by the mayor; sufferance of average might be avoided by the payment of an annual rent. (fn. 55) In 1546 it was recommended that the eatage of 41 closes and grounds might profitably be let. (fn. 56) The deprivation of their average was resented by the commons, who in 1548 successfully petitioned the corporation that all closes should be laid open at Michaelmas (fn. 57) and at the same time opposed the letting of Grange Field to a servant of the archbishop. (fn. 58)

Either to appease the commons or to augment a rentable asset, efforts were made during this period to gain additional pasturage within the city bounds. Between 1533 and 1535 an attempt was made to persuade the archbishop to recognize the city's claim to average over Bishop's Fields. (fn. 59) The city was apparently unsuccessful: only three grounds (Lathe Flat, Haver Closes, and Brecken Hill) within the fields occur in later references to pasturage, (fn. 60) and Bishop's Fields were not part of the city's 18thcentury average. (fn. 61) The Dissolution brought into the market a number of closes where the city's average was either refused or disputed: two such closes were among those which the York M.P.'s were instructed to seek for the city by either lease or purchase in 1553: (fn. 62) North Field, lately belonging to St. Nicholas's Hospital, (fn. 63) and Paynlathes Croft, lately of St. Mary's Abbey. (fn. 64) They were also to seek Grange Field which had been in the possession of the archbishop. (fn. 65)

The city's most substantial acquisition was Tang Hall Fields, which by the late 18th century contained about 160 acres. (fn. 66) This land belonged to the prebend of Fridaythorpe but at the end of the 15th century the city succeeded in establishing a right to enjoy average there, (fn. 67) and in 1525 the corporation took a lease of the estate. (fn. 68) The fields were subsequently sub-let by the corporation without reservation of pasture rights, (fn. 69) but at the expiration of one such lease in 1561 it was submitted to the mayor that the grounds should remain in the hands of the corporation for the enjoyment of the commoners. (fn. 70) Thenceforth only a few closes were sub-let: (fn. 71) the bulk of the pasture was used by the animals of freemen (fn. 72) who rendered charges to overseers appointed by the corporation. In 1645 the commoners agreed that Tang Hall Fields should again be sub-let by the corporation, and this was the procedure followed in the later 17th and in the 18th and 19th centuries. (fn. 73) The corporation acquired Tang Hall Fields in 1649 when the chapter's property was confiscated but was obliged to return them in 1661. (fn. 74) The property was still held by a lease from the prebendary until 1836 when it was proposed to sell it 'having in view the disadvantageous tenure on which [it] is held'; the lease was for three lives, each of which had been heavily insured, and when in 1837 James Barber bought Tang Hall for £10,000, he had to buy the policies. (fn. 75) The Tang Hall Estate was repurchased by the corporation for housing development in 1919. (fn. 76)

In addition to letting both old and newly acquired average, the corporation repeatedly considered the inclosure and letting of the city's whole year pasturage. This was agreed upon in the case of Hob Moor (then called York Moor) as early as 1502. (fn. 77) In 1536 it was proposed that Knavesmire should be inclosed and that both stint and charges should be imposed on those using it. After the commoners had taken their disapproval to the extent of rioting, it was suggested that only the eastern half should be inclosed and that Micklegate Ward should have preference in its use. Apparently even this compromise was not acceptable, and later the same year the corporation agreed to let the herbage of Knavesmire for only six years and after that to allow Micklegate Ward (and parts of the other wards) to enjoy it. (fn. 78) In 1546 the inclosure of Knavesmire was again recommended (again with preference for Micklegate Ward) together with that part of Heworth Moor used exclusively by the city. (fn. 79)

Inclosure and letting were less frequently contemplated during the later 16th century: the letting of winter eatage and the inclosure and letting of part of Knavesmire were, however, suggested as one means of raising money for the repair of Ouse Bridge and King's Staith in 1565. (fn. 80) In the early 17th century the inclosure of common grounds and the exemption of closes from average were under consideration to raise money for poor relief, (fn. 81) and in 1636 it was agreed that grounds usually open in winter should be inclosed, and the owners or occupiers should pay the corporation for this privilege. (fn. 82)

After the temporary encroachments made during the 16th and early 17th centuries the freemen subsequently enjoyed their rights of stray and average with little interruption and with corporation support against objecting landowners. (fn. 83) The corporation even attempted, as late as 1756, to claim rights in Almery Garth which had never been commonable, (fn. 84) just as it had asserted in 1720 that Little Ing should be commonable. (fn. 85)

The extensive half-year lands which remained to be dealt with by parliamentary inclosure Acts are well illustrated in John Lund's maps of 1772. (fn. 86) Around Knavesmire, Micklegate Ward enjoyed average in grounds between Knavesmire and the Ouse (including Nun Ings, Scarcroft, Nun or York Field, and Campleshon pasture), outside Micklegate Bar, and in Dringhouses. The Act of 1822, by which this average was extinguished, dealt with about 550 acres of half-year lands. (fn. 87)

The half-year lands of Walmgate Ward, within the city boundary, included Far North and Hither North Fields, Mill Fields, and Chapel Flat. When extinguished in 1824 this average was said to amount to about 140 acres. (fn. 88) The city's rights in Fulford had been extinguished by the Act of 1756; (fn. 89) the city was then said to intercommon on East and West Moors of about 400 acres, and to enjoy average in the open fields, and closes taken in from the open fields, 'within certain bounds'. There had probably been little change in the city's pasturage here since 1484.

In 1772 Monk Ward still enjoyed that part of Heworth Moor within the city boundary, together with average in Grange Closes, Hall Field, and a small area west of the Foss and containing Paynlathes Croft. When extinguished by the Acts of 1817 and 1818 this average was said to cover about 217 acres. (fn. 90) Pasturage on Stockton Moor was probably enjoyed until its inclosure under the Act of 1813; (fn. 91) although the city claimed an allotment in lieu of its rights there, (fn. 92) none appears to have been made. Sandburn Cross, which evidently marked the limit of the city's rights in Stockton, may have been erected by the pasture-masters of 1677 and was certainly repaired by those of 1782; but the city was not responsible for its replacement in 1840. (fn. 93)

The Clifton Act of 1762 (fn. 94) dealt with an unspecified acreage of half-year lands, and provided for the inclosure of about 500 acres in Clifton Common over which Bootham Ward enjoyed pasturage. The former average is shown on the 1772 map and was apparently little changed from that of the 15th and 16th centuries. Beyond Clifton, pasturage was enjoyed on Wigginton Moor (fn. 95) until its inclosure, but pasturage on Huntington Moor (fn. 96) had been exchanged for an allotment in 1632.

In his perambulations the mayor had been accustomed to ride beyond the bounds of the city to view those grounds over which rights of stray and average were enjoyed. In 1819 he did so for the last time; by 1826 the inclosure of fields and commons and the extinction of half-year rights were complete, and in 1830 it was recommended that the former mode of perambulation was obsolete: the mayor was advised simply to perambulate the clearly defined strays which had been allotted to York by the inclosure commissioners. (fn. 97)

The Management of the Commons in the Middle Ages

The management of the commons in the Middle Ages is obscure. By the 16th and 17th centuries, however, it is clear that in each ward pasture-masters were responsible for such duties as driving the commons, impounding animals, making charges on freemen, repairing the common folds, and seeing that ditches were scoured. (fn. 98) In each ward, too, the animals were tended by a common herd. (fn. 99) Offences discovered by pasture-masters and herds (and occasionally committed by them) were presented in the wardmote courts in late 16th century. (fn. 100)


The appointment of pasture-masters also seems to have taken place in the wardmote courts. In 1661 the corporation noted that no pasture-masters had been chosen for Bootham Ward at the last wardmote court and that three men had continued in the office for two years; the corporation then named three new men to take the place of the old. (fn. 101) In the few surviving wardmote records the pasture-masters were sworn to office before each session of the courts: four each in Bootham, Monk, and Walmgate Wards, and six in Micklegate Ward; and in 1575 and 1577 the court decided that the old pasture-masters of Micklegate Ward should stand for a further year. (fn. 102) The appointment may have been made by the corporation when special circumstances arose, as they did in the proceedings of 1661 cited above; in 1536, for example, the corporation appointed a pasture-master for Knavesmire, (fn. 103) no doubt as part of their plan to inclose the area and restrict its use by freemen. (fn. 104)

It was to the wardmote court, too, that the pasturemasters presented accounts of their activities. Such an account was rendered on at least one occasion in the late 16th century; (fn. 105) and in 1657 the corporation ordered that the pasture-masters should submit annual accounts to their wardens and that an account book should be kept in each ward. (fn. 106) In 1668 two aldermen, who were deputed to examine the accounts of the Micklegate pasture-masters, were instructed by the corporation to report their findings at or before the next wardmote court. (fn. 107)

Appointed in, and responsible to, the wardmote courts, the pasture-masters were nevertheless under the ultimate supervision of the corporation. It was the corporation which in 1620 gave 10s. to the pasture-masters for the repair of a house in The Horsefair—previously erected by the corporation, apparently to house plague victims—so that it might be occupied by Bootham Ward's common herd; (fn. 108) it was the corporation who, again in 1620, ordered the wardens of Micklegate Ward to call the pasture-masters before them to settle compensation for damage wrought by the ward's common bull. (fn. 109) Matters connected with the common lands were, furthermore, frequently referred for settlement to small groups of aldermen: in 1579 such a body appointed the days when Knavesmire should be 'broken', i.e. prepared for the admission of animals, by the pasture-masters; (fn. 110) in 1618 two aldermen were deputed to settle a dispute between the pasturemasters and the owner of certain horses fed on Knavesmire; (fn. 111) and it was the mayor with the aldermen acting as wardens of Bootham Ward who in 1621 were to settle with the lord of the manor of Clifton the question of the city's enjoyment of average in certain closes. (fn. 112) On some occasions the corporation ordered that other officials should assist the pasture-masters: in 1536, for example, the chamberlains and four common serjeants were instructed to help the pasture-masters and the common herd to drive Knavesmire; (fn. 113) and in 1533 the chamberlains were ordered to ensure that adequate fines were imposed on the owners of sheep impounded by the pasture-masters. (fn. 114)

The Modern Strays

The inclosure allotments made to the city created the strays in their modern form; they were vested in the corporation to be held in trust for the use of the freemen of each ward. The allotments account for the whole of Bootham, Monk, and Walmgate strays; in the case of Micklegate Stray the allotments were added to the freemen's already extensive pastures of Knavesmire and Hob Moor.

The inclosure awards produced a Bootham Stray of about 180 acres. After the inclosure of waste land and the extinction of half-year rights in Clifton in 1762, (fn. 115) an allotment of about 120 acres was made to Bootham Ward; of this, 21 acres was a roadway giving access to Yearsley Bridge on the Foss for watering, and 8 acres was ground from which the expenses of repairing a road over the stray were to be met. The remaining 91 acres were set out adjoining the Intack, a 60-acre pasture which had been allotted to the freemen in 1632 in lieu of their right of common over waste land in Huntington which was then being inclosed. (fn. 116) An allotment of 1 acre of waste ground was made to the freemen at the inclosure of lands at Wigginton in 1769 and this is presumably included in the stray. (fn. 117) The freemen received no allotment when Rawcliffe Common was inclosed in 1808, but £100 was given as compensation for their right of stray there. (fn. 118)

Allotments to Monk Ward formed a stray of about 131 acres. As the result of the inclosure of Heworth Moor and the extinction of half-year rights in the suburbs of the city by the Act of 1817, (fn. 119) an allotment of about 118 acres was made to the freemen; this was supplemented by a further 8 acres bought with the compensation for half-year rights extinguished on other ground, (fn. 120) and profits from leasing part of the stray enabled another 5 acres to be added in 1826. (fn. 121)

Allotments to Walmgate Ward produced a stray of about 77 acres. As the result of the inclosure of open fields, meadows, and wastes and the extinction of half-year rights in Fulford, about 52 acres of Low Moor were awarded to the freemen in 1759. (fn. 122) After the extinction of half-year rights over grounds in the city suburbs outside Walmgate Bar by the Act of 1824, an allotment to the freemen was sold and the proceeds expended in 1826 on about 25 acres of ground adjacent to Low Moor. (fn. 123)

The 'ancient' pastures of Knavesmire and Hob Moor, which are said to have contained about 250 and 70 acres respectively, formed the nucleus of the modern Micklegate Stray. Following the inclosure of waste and other lands and the extinction of halfyear rights in Dringhouses, Middlethorpe, and Clementhorpe by the Act of 1822, an allotment of about 66 acres was added to that nucleus and a further 17 acres were bought with proceeds from the sale of allotments which were not adjacent to either Knavesmire or Hob Moor. (fn. 124) Several small pieces of land adjoining the stray were later bought and added to it. (fn. 125)

The Management of the Strays

Thus established, the strays were vested in the mayor and commonalty as trustees for the freemen; in Bootham and Walmgate wards the beneficiaries were to be those freemen who occupied 'ancient messuages', in Monk Ward those who 'occupied houses', and in Micklegate Ward those who were simply 'inhabitants'. (fn. 126) In restricting pasturage to freemen occupying ancient messuages, the Acts for Clifton and Fulford were merely adhering to previous limitations on the enjoyment of average; (fn. 127) but such restriction was bound to cause friction, and in 1837 the freemen of Bootham decided to open the stray to all of their number living in the ward. (fn. 128) Similar action must have been taken in Walmgate, and by the mid-19th century the strays were enjoyed by all freemen in the city.

Until the Municipal Reform Act of 1835 the corporation administered the strays on behalf of the freemen; the aldermen, acting as wardens, were responsible for the work of four pasture-masters in each ward, who were themselves appointed by the mayor and aldermen. The pasture-masters were responsible for maintaining the freemen's rights on the strays, and for reaping the greatest possible profit: it was they who fixed the stint of cattle and the payments made by freemen exercising their pasturage. Money received in this way was used to improve and maintain the strays, e.g. for repairing fences, cleaning ditches, and making folds. (fn. 129) The pasture-masters of each ward appointed a herdsman to tend the animals put out to graze. (fn. 130)

No objection to the corporation's appointment of pasture-masters was made by the freemen before 1835. The Municipal Reform Act made no provision for property held by a council in trust for another body. The corporation, however, appointed pasturemasters in 1835, having first invited the freemen to submit nominations and the latter having denied the corporation's rights in the matter. The attorneygeneral was consulted and suggested that, since further legislation would be needed to cover the administration of the strays, an amicable agreement should be reached, (fn. 131) and from 1836 to 1846 the council allowed the freemen to elect the pasturemasters in the wardmote courts. (fn. 132)

In 1847, in response to representations from various bodies of freemen, the corporation decided to resume the appointment of pasture-masters, and a select committee was appointed to consider the whole question of the administration of the strays. Dissatisfaction with the pasture-masters' conduct of the strays was confined to the Micklegate freemen, 343 of whom signed a petition in which a variety of charges was made. One difficulty which had arisen from the freemen's appointment of pasture-masters was that the herdsmen was no longer an employee of the corporation and so not legally entitled to impound cattle: if the freemen's rights were to be safeguarded and strangers' cattle excluded, then, the committee believed, the corporation must appoint the pasture-masters. It was recommended that the corporation should elect them from freemen's nominations. (fn. 133)

Accordingly in 1848 the corporation instructed the freemen to submit nominations. This the freemen did only under protest and without prejudice to the pasture-masters whom they had already elected. (fn. 134) The corporation's election was frustrated and thenceforth pasture-masters were elected by the freemen without confirmation by the corporation. (fn. 135)

The dispute between the corporation and the freemen was renewed in 1856 when the York Race Committee sought a fresh lease of its grand-stand and other buildings. The unreformed corporation had granted leases in 1757 and 1769, and these had now expired. The corporation of 1856 did not oppose a new lease in principle, but, in view of the freemen's repudiation of the corporation's right to manage the strays, it was hesitant to grant it. Legal opinion was again given that the corporation should appoint pasture-masters and that it held the legal estate of the strays. Concerning the new lease, it was pointed out that the race-course was situated on Knavesmire which was not included within the Dringhouses Act, and was therefore, as always in the past, the freehold of the corporation subject only to a right of pasturage by the freemen; the corporation should therefore grant the lease and the rent from the Race Committee should be divided between corporation and freemen. (fn. 136)

Again, in 1880, an exchange of part of Walmgate Stray for adjoining land belonging to the Society of Friends was bedevilled by the same problem. The corporation held the freehold of the stray but was not entitled to alienate it by sale or exchange. (fn. 137) The problem was eventually to be resolved in the 20th century by the corporation's acquisition of the freemen's rights in the strays.

Like the common lands they replaced, the strays were enjoyed only by those freemen possessing animals, but all freemen were entitled to benefit from them. One of the charges levelled against the Micklegate pasture-masters in 1835 was that they had greatly increased the charges for pasturage in order to raise a surplus to divide among freemen without stock and freemen's widows. In 1846 legal opinion was given that such money payments should not be made by the pasture-masters and that freemen should benefit from the strays by exercising their right of pasturage. (fn. 138) Freemen having no stock were, however, allowed to sell their 'gates' to other freemen. (fn. 139) The gate was normally one, two, or three animals for each freeman and much stock was accordingly grazed: in 1846, for example, there were nearly 700 animals on the four strays (fn. 140) (see Table 1).

From 1850 onwards the principle of making payments to non-pasturing freemen was accepted and many more freemen and widows benefited in this way than by direct use of the strays (fn. 141) (see Table 2). The first payments—5s. in Bootham Ward—were made in 1850; by 1888 the rate there was 15s. per head. (fn. 142) In Monk Ward the rate varied from 3s. to 4s. in the years 1857, 1861, 1862, and 1871. (fn. 143) In Micklegate Ward 500 men and women each received 12s. in 1858 and 716 received 9s. each in 1859. (fn. 144)

Table 1 Stock on the Strays in 1846
Ward Cows Horses Mares Total
Bootham 67 23 90
Monk 97 57 154
Walmgate 84 42 2 128
Micklegate 236 77 313
Total 484 199 2 685

In 1838 one R. H. Anderson (fn. 145) announced his intention of applying to Parliament for an Act to alienate and sell the strays. The freemen immediately offered strong and successful opposition to the proposal: a large and uncertain compensation for the loss of the strays was not to be compared with their assured annual benefit, whether by pasturage or dividend. (fn. 146) These dividends were to be as jealously guarded by the freemen in the 20th as they had been in the 19th century.

Table 2 Number of Freemen benefiting from Monk Stray
Monk Ward 1857 1861 1862 1871
Freemen exercising pasturage rights 130 99 117 108
Freemen and widows receiving payments 613 651 638 612
Total 743 750 755 720

The Strays in the 20th Century

Micklegate Stray was the first to be brought under the corporation's administration. The corporation apparently first offered to take over the stray in 1903, having refused to sanction a fresh lease to the York Race Committee on the grounds that the city in general, and not the freemen alone, should benefit from the increased rent contained in the new lease. The freemen disputed the corporation's claim to the ownership of the soil and the parties agreed that the matter should be decided by civil action, but this was avoided by the freemen's acceptance of the corporation's offer in 1905. (fn. 147) The corporation were to pay the freemen £1,000 a year to be distributed equally among them; the freemen were to relinquish their rights. (fn. 148)

The plan was eventually embodied in a Bill submitted to Parliament in 1907. A select committee of the House of Commons decided that a charitable trust was, in fact, being created, and the Charity Commissioners were asked to establish a Scheme for the disposal of the £1,000. (fn. 149) The Micklegate Strays Act (fn. 150) was passed later that year, and in 1908 the commissioners announced their Scheme: £50 was allotted as compensation for the freemen's loss of pasturage rights, £450 for pensions to freemen or their dependants, a minimum of £75 for medical supplies or the provision of nursing, and not less than £325 for apprenticing, outfitting, or providing bursaries for freemen's dependants. (fn. 151)

Henceforth the stray was to be maintained as an open space by the corporation who were to grant leases for various temporary uses, for recreation, and for pasturage; the Act also provided that the York Race Committee should be granted a 35-year lease at an annual rent of £1,000. (fn. 152) The Charity Commissioners' Scheme for the disposal of the freemen's compensation was very different from the plan originally submitted to Parliament, but the freemen themselves were satisfied that substantial benefits for a limited number of needy people were preferable to small dividends for all freemen. (fn. 153) Before the Act, 800-900 people had received dividends each year; (fn. 154) under the new scheme the average number of beneficiaries each year from 1908 to 1915 was 159. (fn. 155)

The yearly charge of £1,000 was redeemed by the corporation in 1936 for £33,338 6s. 8d. stock and the principal reinvested in 1947. The trustees found difficulty in spending the annual income as directed by the trust until in 1953 the area benefiting was extended to coincide with the modern boundaries of Micklegate Ward. The income in 1955-6 was £1,089 5s. 4d. (fn. 156)

Not until 1946 did the corporation reach agreements with the freemen of Bootham and Walmgate wards: those two strays were taken over in the following year to be maintained as public open spaces. The corporation agreed to make an annual payment of £1 to each freeman and freeman's widow of Bootham Ward, and to pay £250 annually to be distributed by the pasture-masters of Walmgate Ward. The agreed dividend for Bootham was the sum which had been paid in previous years: for example, in 1947, before the take-over, 235 such dividends had been paid. (fn. 157) In 1957 145 people in Walmgate Ward each received £2—the largest recorded dividend arising from that stray. (fn. 158)

The freemen of Monk Ward refused to participate in the agreement of 1946, fearing that their dividends might be lost as they had been in Micklegate Ward. (fn. 159) In 1957 they again refused a corporation offer, pointing to the honour of possessing pasturage rights, the arrangements made for leasing 42 acres of the stray for attested cattle, and the annual dividend of about 12s. 6d. paid to freemen. (fn. 160) Agreement was finally reached in 1958: the stray was to be preserved by the corporation as a public open space, and freemen and their widows were to receive £1 annually from the corporation. (fn. 161)

Only very minor alterations were made in the stray boundaries between 1850 and 1957. Bootham Stray had been reduced from its original allotment of 180 acres to nearly 164 acres, largely because the roadway to Yearsley Bridge was no longer needed. Monk Stray had been increased from 131 to 138 acres, and Walmgate Stray from 77 to 79 acres. Slight changes to Micklegate Stray had increased its area to 412 acres. (fn. 162)


  • 1. J. W. F. Hill, Med. Lincoln, 331.
  • 2. Studies in Social Hist. ed. J. H. Plumb, 40.
  • 3. W. G. Hoskins, Making of Eng. Landscape, 218.
  • 4. F. W. Maitland, Township and Borough, 107.
  • 5. Tang Hall Fields, part of the Prebend of Fridaythorpe; see p. 500.
  • 6. Knavesmire was originally 'Knar's marsh': P.N. Yorks. E.R. (E.P.N.S.), 292.
  • 7. Bishop's Fields, usually supposed to have been King Edwin's original endowment to St. Peter: Y.A.J. xxxviii. 134.
  • 8. Many grants of land in the suburbs to religious houses of York and elsewhere are to be found in both printed and manuscript sources: see, e.g. E. Y. C. i. passim; Yorks. Fines, 1486-1570, 103; Mon. Notes, i. (Y.A.S., Rec. Ser. xvii), 236; Yorks. Deeds, iv. 159; B.M. Cott. MS. Claud. ciii, f. 21b; and see p. 49.
  • 9. See pp. 357-65.
  • 10. These names occur in the 11th and 12th cent.: P.N. Yorks. E.R. (E.P.N.S.), 283-4, 292.
  • 11. Cal. Pat. 1396-9, 574; 1399-1401, 426; Cal. Close, 1389-92, 233.
  • 12. As in Fulford in 1484: York Corp. Rec. E/30, ff. 73-76.
  • 13. Hill, Med. Lincoln, 332, 334-5; Hoskins, Making of Eng. Landscape, 216, 218.
  • 14. Close R. 1247-51, 307.
  • 15. E.Y.C. i. 244 (1180-1200).
  • 16. York Corp. Rec. E/30, ff. 4-5.
  • 17. Ibid. Ho. Bk. 24, f. 73.
  • 18. Ibid. 2/3/4, f. 101; 13, f. 47.
  • 19. Benson, Hist. York, ii. 78; York Pub. Libr., Parson's map of 1629.
  • 20. York Corp. Rec. E/31, passim; Ho. Bk. 12, f. 32; 13, ff. 36, 47, 54.
  • 21. Ibid. D/X4, p. 3.
  • 22. Ibid. D/X5.
  • 23. York Mem. Bk. i. 21-22.
  • 24. York Corp. Rec., Ho. Bk. 9, ff. 93, 97-98; E/30, f. 55; E/31, passim.
  • 25. Michaelmas to the Annunciation; in some cases it ended on 2 Feb., 6 Mar., or 6 Apr., or started on 10 Oct.: ibid. Ho. Bk. 2/3/4, f. 115; E/30, ff. 54-55; D/X4, p. 8.
  • 26. Ibid. Ho. Bk. 2/3/4, f. 4; E/30, f. 55.
  • 27. Ibid. D/X4, f. 3.
  • 28. Ibid. E/30, ff. 73-76.
  • 29. Ibid. Ho. Bk. 2/3/4, f. 68; Drake, Ebor. app. p. xxxviii.
  • 30. York Corp. Rec. E/30, ff. 51-56; these rights were again confirmed in 1618: ibid. G/9.
  • 31. Ibid. Ho. Bk. 18, f. 6.
  • 32. The agreement followed a long dispute over the city's rights in Fulford Fields: ibid. 2/3/4, ff. 4, 67, 83, 129.
  • 33. Agreement as to the limit of the city's average in Fulford Fields was sought with the Receiver of the abbey's possessions in 1567: ibid. 24, f. 86.
  • 34. The use of one such access way was confirmed in 1567 and 1580: ibid. E/30, ff. 76-77.
  • 35. York Mem. Bk. i, pp. lix-lx, 179-80.
  • 36. York Corp. Rec., Ho. Bk. 18, f. 7.
  • 37. Ibid. 5, f. 18.
  • 38. See p. 83.
  • 39. Ibid. 18, ff. 128-9.
  • 40. Hall Field lay around Layerthorpe Hall which in 1333 belonged to Rievaulx Abbey: Cal. Pat. 1330-4, 455
  • 41. York Corp. Rec., Ho. Bk. 6, f. 161; 7, ff. 37, 44, 51, 61.
  • 42. Ibid. 7, ff. 111, 114-15, 119-21, 123, 125, 132, 141; in the 16th cent. the city received anannual rent from the vicars choral in lieu of the eatage of Vicars' Leas: ibid. Chamberlains' Books, passim; see p. 83.
  • 43. Ibid. Ho. Bk. 18, f. 7.
  • 44. York Mem. Bk. i. 21-22.
  • 45. York Corp. Rec., Ho. Bk. 7, f. 51; 25, f. 130.
  • 46. Ibid. 18, f. 5.
  • 47. Ibid. 24, f. 48 (1566); D/X4, f. 3 (1656).
  • 48. Ibid. Ho. Bk. 13, f. 47.
  • 49. Bustardthorpe may at one time have been a village: Y.A.J. xxxviii. 231.
  • 50. York Mem. Bk. ii. 294; York Pub. Libr., Parson's map of 1629.
  • 51. See, e.g. York Corp. Rec., Chamberlains' Bks. 10, 11 and Receivers' Rolls, 66; Ho. Bk. 23, f. 140; E/101, pt. i, f. 88, pt. ii, f. 101.
  • 52. Ibid. Ho. Bk. 6, f. 133; 7, f. 16; 9, ff. 1, 8.
  • 53. Ibid. 11, f. 131.
  • 54. Ibid. 9, f. 1.
  • 55. Ibid. 6, f. 168; 9, f. 1; 13A, f. 2; 19, f. 87.
  • 56. Ibid. 18, ff. 5-7.
  • 57. Ibid. ff. 120-5; 19, f. 31.
  • 58. Ibid. 18, ff. 128-9; 19, f. 51; a Heworth man was licensed to sow part of Grange Field in average time in 1554 and 1559: ibid. Chamberlains' Bks. 1554, f. 96; 1559, f. 26.
  • 59. Ibid. Ho. Bk. 12, f. 35; 13, ff. 5, 20-24; E/40, no. 58; although citizens in general had not previously claimed rights there, the abp. may at times have leased this property, as he did to a York citizen in 1366: Cal. Pat. 1367-70, 365; the lessee's complaint against certain citizens' forced entry to the fields in 1534 is in Yorks. Sta. Cha. Proc. iv (Y.A.S., Rec. Ser. lxx), 103-5.
  • 60. York Corp. Rec., Ho. Bk. 27, f. 84; E/31, f. 20.
  • 61. See below.
  • 62. York Corp. Rec., Ho. Bk. 21, f. E.
  • 63. Ibid. 5, f. 18.
  • 64. See p. 499; it was common to the city in 1559 (ibid. Chamberlains' Bks. 1559, p. 36) and 1570.
  • 65. See p. 499.
  • 66. York Corp. Rec. K/58.
  • 67. Ibid. Ho. Bk. 6, ff. 45 sqq., 133, 157; 7, ff. 87, 124; 8, f. 135; 9, f. 8.
  • 68. Ibid. E/20A, f. 232.
  • 69. Ibid. Chamberlains' Bks. and Rolls, passim.
  • 70. Ibid. Ho. Bk. 23, ff. 2-6.
  • 71. Ibid. Chamberlains' Bks. and Rolls, passim; for leases of closes in Tang Hall Fields, 1630-85, see ibid. I/113-20; ibid. Ho. Bk. 29, f. 185.
  • 72. In 1597, e.g. 115 commoners put in 88 cows and 41 horses, and 8 persons rented winter feed: ibid. Chamberlains' Bks. 9, f. 206.
  • 73. Ibid. Ho. Bk. 37, ff. 58, 64; E/101, passim; Chamberlains' Bks. 25, 25A, passim.
  • 74. Ibid. Chamberlains' Bks. 24, 25, passim.
  • 75. Ibid. Min. Bk. 1835-7, ff. 88-89, 213.
  • 76. Yorks. Gaz. 8 Feb. 1919.
  • 77. York Corp. Rec., Ho. Bk. 8, f. 136.
  • 78. Ibid. 13, ff. 36, 38-41, 47, 54.
  • 79. Ibid. 18, ff. 5-7.
  • 80. Ibid. 24, f. 3.
  • 81. Ibid. 34, ff. 114, 199, 211.
  • 82. Ibid. 35, f. 311.
  • 83. Ibid., 37, f. 59; 38, f. 112; 40, f. 212; 42, ff. 32, 101, 106.
  • 84. York Pub. Libr. Giles MS., 'Almory Garth'.
  • 85. York Corp. Rec., Ho. Bk. 42, f. 38.
  • 86. Ibid. D/Vv.
  • 87. Ibid. D/Bb (printed copy of the Bill); see p. 503.
  • 88. Ibid. D/Oo, 'Draft Case [rel. to an exchange of land] for opinion of counsel.'
  • 89. 30 Geo. II, c. 36 (priv. act).
  • 90. York Corp. Rec. D/Jj, 'Petition of Mayor and Commonalty in Chancery'; 'Objection to Poor Rate Assessment'.
  • 91. 53 Geo. III, c. 147 (local and personal act).
  • 92. York. Corp. Rec., Ho. Bk. 48, ff. 75, 81-82.
  • 93. York Pub. Libr. Giles MS., 'The old Sandburn stone column, &c.'
  • 94. 3 Geo. III, c. 7 (priv. act).
  • 95. See above.
  • 96. See above.
  • 97. For a discussion of the perambulations see pp. 315-18.
  • 98. York Corp. Rec. E/31, passim; Ho. Bk. 12, f. 32; 36, ff. 181, 196.
  • 99. Ibid. Ho. Bk. 13, f. 2; 36, f. 196.
  • 100. Ibid. E/31, passim.
  • 101. Ibid. Ho. Bk. 37, f. 156.
  • 102. Ibid. E/31, passim.
  • 103. Ibid. Ho. Bk. 13, f. 38.
  • 104. See p. 501.
  • 105. York Corp. Rec. E/31, Part I, f. 72.
  • 106. Ibid. Ho. Bk. 37, f. 101.
  • 107. Ibid. 38, f. 44.
  • 108. Ibid. 34, f. 200.
  • 109. Ibid. f. 204.
  • 110. Ibid. E/31, Part I, f. 3.
  • 111. Ibid. Ho. Bk. 34, f. 129.
  • 112. Ibid. f. 236.
  • 113. Ibid. 13, f. 38.
  • 114. Ibid. 12, f. 32.
  • 115. N.R. Reg. of Deeds, Northallerton, AH/23/5; York Corp. Rec. D/Qq, 'Draft case re. management of common pastures . . . for opinion of attorney general.'
  • 116. York Corp. Rec. D/X3.
  • 117. N.R. Reg. of Deeds, AX/152/43.
  • 118. York Corp. Rec., Ho. Bk. 47, ff. 255-6, 258-9, 289-90.
  • 119. N.R. Reg. of Deeds, ES/1/1.
  • 120. York Corp. Rec. D/Jj.
  • 121. Ibid.
  • 122. Given incorrectly in the Act as 80 acres: ibid D/Ll.
  • 123. Ibid.
  • 124. Ibid. D/Qq, 'Draft case &c.'
  • 125. Ibid. D/Hh;/Ss, 'Draft rep. sel. com. re. freemen's strays, 1848'.
  • 126. Freemen living in certain streets in the other 3 wards were also entitled to use Micklegate Stray: ibid. D/Ss, 'Draft rep. sel. com. &c.'
  • 127. Ibid.
  • 128. York Pub. Libr., Giles MS., 'City of York: Freemen and Freedom, Strays and Pasture Masters', pp. 15hh15t.
  • 129. See pasture-masters' accts. in York Corp. Rec. D/X4.
  • 130. Ibid. D/Qq, 'Draft case &c.'
  • 131. Ibid.
  • 132. Ibid. D/Ss, 'Draft rep. sel. com. &c.'
  • 133. Ibid.
  • 134. Ibid. D/Tt (letters, mayor to wardens, wardens' reply, protests from freemen of Micklegate and Monk wards).
  • 135. Ibid. D/Uu, 'Freemen's strays: case for joint opinion of Mr. Welsby and Mr. Warner, 1856.'
  • 136. Ibid.
  • 137. Ibid. D/Oo, 'Draft case &c. 1880.'
  • 138. Ibid. D/Ss, 'Draft rep. sel. com. &c.'
  • 139. Yorks. Gaz. 29 Dec. 1838; 30 Mar. 1839.
  • 140. York Corp. Rec. D/Ss, 'Draft rep. sel. com. &c.'
  • 141. Broadsheets in York Pub. Libr. giving abstracts of receipts and payments of pasture-masters.
  • 142. York Corp. Rec. D/X3, 'Copy judgement Div. Court Queen's Bench, 1891'.
  • 143. Broadsheets in York Pub. Libr.
  • 144. Yorks. Gaz. 7 Jan. 1860.
  • 145. Probably Robert Henry Anderson, a York solicitor in this period: ibid. 12 Feb. 1825; 12 Dec. 1829.
  • 146. Ibid. 24 Nov. and 1 Dec. 1838.
  • 147. Ibid. 14 Oct. 1905.
  • 148. Ibid. 23 Dec. 1905.
  • 149. Ibid. 24 Aug. 1907.
  • 150. 7 Edw. VII, c. 176 (local act).
  • 151. Char. Comm. file.
  • 152. Increased to £2,000 in 1922 with the granting of further facilities to the committee: York Corp., Supplemental Year Bk. 1928, 81.
  • 153. Yorks. Gaz. 1 May 1909.
  • 154. Char. Comm. file.
  • 155. Micklegate Trust, Annual Abstracts of Accts. (priv. print. York).
  • 156. Char. Comm. file.
  • 157. Yorks. Gaz. 11 Oct. 1946; 19 Sept. 1947.
  • 158. Yorks. Eve. Press, 31 May 1957.
  • 159. Yorks. Gaz. 11 Oct. 1946.
  • 160. Yorks. Eve. Press, 31 May 1957.
  • 161. York Corp. Mins. 1958, pp. 747-8.
  • 162. Map of strays, penes City Engineer, York.