Medieval agriculture in Puttenham parish

The day after Bonfire Night 2010 I gave a presentation to the Surrey Archaeological Society’s Medieval Studies Forum in which I pulled together some of the key findings on the agricultural side of my research into the pre-historical and early historical development of the landscape of Puttenham parish, as well as ending with a couple of questions in need of answers I had not been able to determine by myself. It seemed to be well received, and so (finding it on a USB stick a few days ago) I thought there would be no harm in posting the presentation here as an introduction to the topic, and to give some idea of the revisionist nature of my research.

Puttenham medieval agriculture presentation 6th November 2010

I think there’s only one or two bits I’d change based upon what I have read and/or concluded subsequent to giving the presentation. The chapter(s) from which the information is drawn will need substantial revision to take account of the content of those books and articles I have read since, in particular Tom Williamson’s excellent (and dare I say somewhat under-appreciated) 2003 work Shaping Medieval Landscapes. However, that task is fairly low down my current to-do list, so don’t expect to see the fruits of that future labour for some while yet.

For now, the following notes may help to explain some of the content of the respectively-numbered slides:

  1. The background image is the section of the 1816 copy of P. D. Burdett’s 1765 Parish Map of Puttenham covering the village and immediate surroundings (this is held at Surrey History Centre; a modern copy is in the collection of the Puttenham and Wanborough History Society)
  2. Roman-era pottery scatters are mostly postulated on the basis of notes Charles Kerry made in his Journal in the 1870s, although one or two represent the results of more recent fieldwalking activity (latterly under the auspices of the Puttenham Common Area of Special Historic Landscape Value project – volumes one and two of the final report are available via ADS). The place-name and field-name evidence at present provides the only insight into what was going on in the period between the late Roman period and the time of the Domesday Survey, but it is very hard to date with any precision. This is exemplified by Shoelands; the translation I gave in the presentation owes much to Cyril Hart’s article on such names (‘Shoelands’, JEPNS, 4 (1971-72), 6-11), but now I lean towards the interpretation that such landholdings could have a mixed arable and pastoral economy, with the surplus revenue going towards paying for shoes for a particular ecclesiastical community.
  3. At the heart of my Puttenham study is the most rigorous analysis of a Domesday Book entry for an individual property in Surrey ever undertaken, correlating the statements made about Redessolham (such as they have been recorded – the means by which information was gathered by the commissioners and the subsequent scribal transmission left much room for errors to creep in) with the early historic landscape. Given later medieval documentation is so thin on the ground, there are many things which can be posited in only the most tentative manner.
  4. The first half of the twelfth century (give or take a decade or so) was the critical time in the casting of the medieval landscape of Puttenham – although my concept of a “long twelfth century” circa 1090-1220 accommodates more or less all of the major changes and innovations that have left a lasting influence. In my paper on “the seven acres” at Ditton I cited a recently-published article by Susan Oosthuizen, in which she argues the idea that open/common field systems were contemporary with or slightly later than “associated” nucleated villages may not necessarily be the case. However, in Puttenham’s case, the evidence overwhelmingly is in favour of the open fields – which are remote from the centre of the Conquest-era estate – having come into being in concert with the new village (although its original size and morphology at this time is obscure – at present it is no more than a hunch that it was created around the same time as the dateable church and manor pairing).
  5. One of the most important findings of my research to date is that Puttenham parish contained two separate medieval open-field systems: one pertaining to Puttenham, and a second, more irregular set to the hamlet-cum-township of Rodsall (I make a deliberate distinction between it and Domesday-era Redessolham as they most likely represent two distinct episodes of settlement). Rodsall is referred to as a hamlet or township distinct from the manor of Puttenham in 1310, while an indenture dated 25th March 1393 held at the West Sussex Record Office in Chichester refers to four pieces of land in “Raiselffeld” (the online catalogue misattributes it to Puttenham in Hertfordshire) – I hope to make a full transcription of this document sometime this year. The picture is a detail from the 1758 map of the lands of Rodsall Manor (held at Surrey History Centre).
  6. The concept of “subdivided closes” is one I have borrowed from Tom Williamson and his Shaping Medieval Landscapes (specifically in relation to the field systems of much of clayland Essex) – I don’t have the book to hand so can’t provide a page reference.
  7. This is a good indication of just how patchy our knowledge of Puttenham’s open fields is at present – even more so than regarding those of Rodsall. Aside from a couple of indirect thirteenth-century references, there’s nothing concrete until the sixteenth century, meaning inferences have to be made based upon evidence from elsewhere; luckily, the relevant chapter of John Blair’s Early Medieval Surrey is one of that work’s strongest, and as a result I’ve drawn upon it extensively.
  8. Inquisitions post mortem (IPM) have proved to be something of a godsend for shedding light on the medieval demesne of the manor of Puttenham, although those describing the moiety not held by Newark Priory (later the manor of Puttenham Bury) aren’t among the most detailed of such records. Post-medieval records allow us to identify the main block of demesne arable, separating Puttenham’s South and High Fields from Rodsall Field, and stretching from The Flashes valley and Gores Farm almost as far as the present eastern boundary of Puttenham Great Common.
  9. The presence of sheep in significant numbers in medieval (and post-medieval) Puttenham is one of the most significant discoveries of my research. It overturns the previous opinion propagated by Ruth Dugmore in her 1972 book Puttenham Under the Hog’s Back that sheep were largely absent from the agricultural economy of the parish. Alongside the IPM references to a demesne sheep pasture that can be positively identified as fields named in later sources as Sheephouse Close, there is just about enough documentary evidence (as well as no shortage of analogies from other parts of the county and country) for the movement of grazing animals between permanent common pastures and areas of fallow arable land. I believe this may be largely a post-Conquest phenomenon in Surrey, accounting for its extensive tracts of heath as Domesday-era woods, or rather wood pastures, opened up to form better sheep grazing. Critically, this implies at least some of the county’s heathland were not survivals from the Bronze Age or even Neolithic, rather medieval creations. Corollary to this, more research needs to be done at both a county and national level into the post-Domesday history of pig farming; did it decline, or just retreat from documentary visibility?
  10. The terminology of veres and acres can probably be found elsewhere in the locality – I haven’t looked. One exception is the description of a number of scattered field strips at Rodsall as “Slips” on the 1758 estate map. This may be a reflection of the date of the survey, or the fact the mapmakers came from Peper Harow. Unusually it may have had a single open field, corresponding to the infield-outfield model which has pre-medieval (if not prehistoric) origins – Oosthuizen’s aforementioned paper gives a range of relevant examples. The reference to the “Parish and Field” of Peper Harow in a conveyance of 1605 echoes more explicit 14th-century IPM references (unfortunately not available online, nor do I have them to hand) – I wonder if it is shown on an estate map pre-dating the creation of “Capability” Brown’s park at Peper Harow in 1762-63 (see the village website for a potted history and much else besides).
  11. Questions of medieval land measurement are perhaps a little too arcane for most, but they’re worth trying to get something of a handle on when studying field systems. The 1960s and 1970s was a golden era for their study, part of a more general interest in medieval historical geography, and the Agricultural History Review was one of the main outlets for research in this area. Most back issues can be freely accessed online via the website of the British Agricultural History Society; here is the link to the available content. Andrew Jones’ 1979 paper ‘Land measurement in England, 1150-1350’  provides an ideal overview of the complexities of identifying and defining acres (though it’s a pity he didn’t extend his scope to grapple with the Domesday evidence); it’s worth reading in combination with Robert S Dilley’s ‘The Customary Acre: an Indeterminate Measure’ from 1975. As for virgates, the evidence seems to be even more diverse thus making classification even harder…
  12. The picture is another portion of the 1816 Parish Map facsimile, showing the western half of the slope of the Hog’s Back ridge which falls within Puttenham and a chunk of the Shoelands estate. One of the most gratifying achievements of my research to date has been the correlation of the boundary description of the Shoelands estate found in an early 13th-century feoffment held at the Surrey History Centre in Woking (SHC 2609/11/5/35) with the boundaries shown on the Parish Map. It proves the estate took in more land than hitherto thought, with many woodland-related field-names, and indicates the Little Common probably originated as an area of wood pasture, not heath.
  13. The mid-14th century is well-known as a time when the Black Death and other factors caused marked population decline, as well as considerable difficulties for those who survived. Estimates of the proportion of the population killed vary according to the settlement or area. Eric Robo, in his pioneering study ‘The Black Death in the Hundred of Farnham’ published in the English Historical Review in 1929, estimated around one-third of the episcopal manor-cum-hundred’s population succumbed to the disease (I once found a free pdf version of the article, but it seems to have been taken down – as luck would have it there is an extensive summary on the BBC History website). The picture in Puttenham is much less clear; comparison of the 1332 Lay Subsidy and 1381 Poll Tax returns shows stability in terms of the numbers of contributors, but significant differences in terms of their surnames (as well as the recurrence of several known from other contemporary sources). It may be that, as in Farnham, new tenants were found to take over the lands and duties of those who died.
  14. Trying to fit the various pieces of the puzzle together is a nightmarish exercise (particularly when you return to the topic over a year after last giving it serious thought). The one factor present in Puttenham but not in the frame in those parts of the Midlands from which the “classic” narrative of post-Black Death settlement decline and abandonment/suppression derives is the existence of a substantial amount of permanent common pasture (perhaps in excess of one-third of the parochial area). Alterations to the agricultural economy and techniques would have caused changes in patterns of land-use, and the postulated transformation of tracts of common pasture on the Hog’s Back and western fringes of Puttenham Heath into areas of open-field cultivation may be intelligible as running alongside the expansion of the demesne arable. It is quite possible this process continued into the post-medieval period.

And, on a completely different note, I’ll finish with a picture of the always excellent Puttenham fireworks taken that evening:

One Response to Medieval agriculture in Puttenham parish

  1. Pingback: Mapping the Medieval Countryside | Surrey Medieval

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