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Common Land

At one point in time the great forests and rivers were open to everyone and the small population of Britain meant there was little pressure on the land. The Norman conquest of 1066 saw the introduction of the manorial system in which common land and common rights have their origins. The powerful lords were granted land by the King and these great estates (or manors as they were called) formed the basis of the rural economy. Under the feudal system the serfs and villeins who worked the land enjoyed the protection of the Lord in return for their labours.  After the harvests had been gathered in each year from the cultivated land of the manor, the open field strips and hay meadows were made available for common grazing by the sheep, oxen, geese and other animals owned by all those who lived and worked on the estate. Often there was poorer quality land which was not cultivated but might be available for occasional grazing by livestock (called the waste of the manor).

In addition to grazing, there was access for those who worked on the estate to other resources, such as coal, peat or brushwood for their hearths, turf for their roofs or fish for their tables. Many of these rights owed their existence to and were attached to the homes and land (if any) of the commoners.  As time passed rights of common became recognised at law and the Statute of Merton in 1235 made provision for land to be provided for commoners to exercise their rights. Around this time special courts of law called Courts Leet were also established to deal with disputes between the commoners and their lords. Much of the common land of England was inclosed by the nineteenth century

In parishes with a high percentage of arable land such as in Rushden, grazing, or common land was always in short supply.  The pasture areas were situated in the Moors for the north end of the town and in Bencroft for the south end. However as Rushden lies on one of the main routes from the North to London there would have been a constant stream of drovers taking animals which would need rest and replenishment. Bencroft, laying near the road was convenient to the drovers’ herds to the great damage of the local herds and farmers.

From the Rushden open-field orders of 1576 showing maintenance required on the two grazing areas
First it is agreed that evere housholder in the southe end of the Town there shall fynd on laborer on day from 8 of the clock until 4 to mend the dyche in bencraft before hoxe tuesday next upon payne of everone to be awaye to forfet
3s 4d
Item that every housholder in the northe end of the towne shall fynd one laborer to scoure the moores before hoxe tuesday next upon payne of every on that ys away to forfet
3s 4d

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