- BINGHAM: AN OVERVIEW
- HISTORY OF BINGHAM
- STUDY OF OLD MAPS
- BUILT HERITAGE
- CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
- FARMING IN BINGHAM
- BINGHAM AT WAR
- BINGHAM'S RAILWAYS
- ORAL HISTORY
- NATURAL HISTORY
BINGHAM OPEN FIELDS AND
Valerie and Adrian Henstock
Historically, most farmland in Nottinghamshire villages was farmed in common ‘open’ fields, ie. vast, unhedged arable fields for growing corn, usually three or four per parish, each subdivided into smaller units called furlongs, which in turn were divided into strips. Each farmer would have numerous strips scattered all over the fields, in theory to allow everyone a fair distribution of good and poor land. In addition there was common pasture and meadow, and some land already enclosed into closes (what we today would call ‘fields’). The whole system depended on mutual co-operation, as different crops were grown in each field every year and the fields all had to be ploughed and harvested etc., at the same period. No farmer could opt out of the system and turn his land over to livestock or another use without general agreement. This system, although in a much attenuated form, still survives uniquely today at Laxton near Newark.
Two notable documents, which provide evidence of the workings and layout of a local open-field system, are estate maps of East Bridgford of 1612 and 1614 (Nottinghamshire Archives reference number EB 2/1-2 L). These are discussed by K. Ashikaga and A. Henstock in ‘A Nottinghamshire Village in the Jacobean Period: The East Bridgford Estate Maps of 1612-14’, Transactions of the Thoroton Society, 100, 1996.
From the Middle Ages Bingham possessed an open field system, which is described in detail in a manorial survey of the town carried out 1586 (Nottinghamshire Archives DD.TS 14/23). At this period four arable fields were in operation called Chapel or North Field, South Field, Starnhill or East Field, and Brackendale or West Field. Each of these contained a varying number of furlongs – 33 in both South and Chapel fields and 34 in Starnhill but only 17 in Brackendale. Each furlong had a name, eg. Toothill Furlong and Cropwell Gate Furlong in Brackendale Field, and contained between about 20 to 60 individual arable strips. The total number of strips within the parish thus ran into thousands. Each autumn after the crops had been safely harvested all four fields would be thrown open as pasture for up to 2400 sheep until the time came to plough them again for the next year’s crop.
In addition to the arable land there were meadows similarly divided into strips called doles. Most of these were in the north east of the parish in the East Ings, the West Ings, Camberlands and Quakefenne, with more in the east at Starnhill. There was also common pasture for animals, again mainly in the north of the parish, called East Moor, West Moor, and Flatholme Leas, as well as the Ox Pasture set aside for the oxen who pulled the ploughs. The Moors pastures had a maximum capacity of 652 beasts, and the Ox Pasture 180 oxen.
Some land was already enclosed into closes, mainly that farmed by the Lord of the Manor’s tenant, which were nearly all used as pasture for animals, for example Oldwark Close at the far northern tip of the parish (near the modern Margidunum roundabout), and the marshy Sawsey Close (the site of the modern industrial estate). Near the Holmes was a ‘Conygarth’ or rabbit warren with an old house or lodge, formerly occupied by a full-time ‘warrener’ who farmed rabbits for food.
In those areas of the country or in periods when livestock farming was more profitable than arable, there was often considerable pressure from the larger landowners to ‘enclose’ the fields into privately-owned closes so that owners had the flexibility to do what they liked with them. This could only be done with the consent of all the landowners in the parish, and by the 17th century it was sometimes ratified by a decree in the Courts of Chancery. However, from about 1750 onwards it became normal for enclosure to be achieved through individual private Acts of Parliament, and numerous parishes in Nottinghamshire were enclosed under this system. Enclosure was a massive undertaking, involving all the strips being confiscated and then landowners being reallocated new land in large compact blocks in proportion in size to their original holdings but reduced in area to cover the costs of the process. It would have been carried out by professional land surveyors and often took several years to complete.
In the Vale of Belvoir around Bingham some parishes were enclosed privately in the Tudor and Stuart periods, but the majority were by Parliamentary Acts after 1780. Most if not all of Car Colston and Screveton was enclosed in c.1598, and in East Bridgford a single open field - Burrow Field, which is in the angle between the Fosse Way (North) and the Gunthorpe road - was enclosed in 1605, although the remaining fields were not enclosed until after 1796. Langar underwent a private enclosure by Chancery decree in 1681 (NA, glebe terriers), and Dr Thoroton wrote in 1677 that Saxondale ‘is lately inclosed’. Those parishes enclosed under separate Acts of Parliament included Scarrington with Aslockton (1780) Cropwell Butler, Radcliffe-on-Trent (both 1787), Whatton (1789), Granby with Sutton, Orston with Thoroton (both 1793), and East Bridgford (1796).
In Bingham unfortunately no definite evidence has yet been found of when the fields were enclosed. The process obviously took place between 1586 – the date of the manorial survey mentioned above – and another survey of the Earl of Chesterfield’s estates drawn up in 1776 (Nottinghamshire Archives, M 1874), which is accompanied by a series of maps. These clearly show that all the farmland was divided into a system of closes that largely survives today (although minor changes to the pattern of field boundaries have occurred since that date). As the Earl of Chesterfield was the dominant landowner in the parish (owning 85% in 1776) he was presumably able to persuade the very small owners to join in.
However, circumstantial evidence suggests that enclosure probably took place in about 1680-90. John Throsby in his History of Nottinghamshire published in 1797 stated that Bingham had been enclosed ‘upwards of 100 years’. Although he was writing of a period beyond living memory he was probably not far out. Both the 1776 map and the Bingham Tithe Map of 1846 show many closes with the name ‘plotts’, eg. Toothill Plotts, which is a 17th Century name for an allotment or enclosure and which does not appear in the 1586 survey; the probate inventory of Thomas Maching, chapman, of Bingham in 1705 (Nottinghamshire Archives, PRNW) mentions livestock in the ‘Flash-plott’ and the ‘Cheese plott alias Marly-pit plott’, suggesting that enclosure had taken place by this date. The Cheese Plott may well have been an allocation of pasture set aside on enclosure for the cottagers to graze their cows in order to make cheese; similar ‘cheese plots’ or ‘cottage plots’ are found in other Nottinghamshire villages. It was situated to the south of the Grantham Road just beyond the junction with The Banks.
The earliest church glebe ‘terriers’ (surveys of church-owned land) for 1687 and 1693 list two closes – the Butt Close and the High Close – which are described as ‘well and distinctly fenced with ditches, pales, or hedges and stoops [posts] with rails’, although both of these appear to have been already enclosed at the time of the 1586 survey (Nottinghamshire Archives, DR glebe terriers).
Further circumstantial evidence derives from the fact that one of the known enclosure surveyors for the private enclosure of Balderton parish near Newark in 1692, Thomas Secker, was living at Bingham in at least 1690-2 (Nottinghamshire Archives, DD.H 3/1), which may imply that he had been employed on a similar task at Bingham. In addition, the evidence of the dated gravestones in the southern section of Bingham churchyard implies that it was extended over the roadway effectively to cut Church Street/East Street in two before 1696, which may well point to a wholesale reorganisation of the parish topography at the same time. However, more definitive date for the enclosure will have to wait for the results of more detailed research or the discovery of further documentation.
The History of settlement of Bingham Parish project brought to light some new information about enclosure in Bingham, which can be read by clicking on Enclosure.