Ring-fenced farms begin to emerge

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We have looked previously at the enclosure of the open fields and common lands in Howick and Longhorsley, drawing heavily in each case on Assembling Enclosure by Ronan O’Donnell.

At Howick, the enclosure was begun by Sir Edward Grey in 1593. In 1607 he gained control of the mill and manorial rights by exchanging lands with his neighbour, John Craster.

By 1623 he had bought out the remaining freeholders. The division of the open fields into closes followed soon after, and they were assembled into ‘ring-fenced’ farms by 1759.

At Longhorsley, the village lands were enclosed by agreement in 1664 between the Earl of Carlisle, Sir Thomas Horsley and five other freeholders. Dr O’Donnell believes, however, that piecemeal enclosure had been going on long before.

Bigge’s Quarter was owned by the Earls of Carlisle.

Farm leases from 1677 show increasing pressure on tenants to adopt good farming practices.

In the 1740s the estate invested heavily in new farm buildings, and this is probably when the previously fragmented holdings were recombined into ring-fenced farms.

Speaking of Northumberland in the Middle Ages, Dr O’Donnell finds “evidence of two-and three-field systems, but with some common waste at the margins”, creating what he calls the “arable core” or “ancient land”, and a “pastoral periphery”.

In Morpeth, only two fields are ever mentioned: the Field of Morpeth and the North Field. Haiwarde’s map of Morpeth, 1604, gives us a glimpse of the situation at the very end of the Middle Ages. Although north is not at the top, you can easily identify the main streets, together with Dark Lane, Cottingwood Lane, and what is now Howard Road.

It shows the North Field, but not the Field of Morpeth. Stobhill, in the top right-hand corner of this map, might originally have been the Field of Morpeth. Or it could have been Morpeth Common. We simply don’t know.

Haiwarde shows two large parks, these being areas set aside for the lord to hunt in.

Our extract includes the East Park, its southern boundary shown as a paling fence. All other boundaries are marked with little links, probably representing hedges.

The West Park is off the map to the right. It equates more or less to the Kirkhill housing estate. ‘Babonies Close’ was part of it.

In 1938 Madeleine Hope Dodds gave a paper on Haiwarde’s map to the Newcastle Society of Antiquaries.

She noted that the baronial lands are marked with a “cross fitchee”, i.e. like a dagger. Some other lands are marked ‘lib’, short for ‘liberum tenementum’, or freehold.

Two such are shown in the area we now call High Stanners: Tho Adam lib. Voc Uterfarnale, and Jo Pye lib. Voc Nitherfarnale, meaning ‘Thomas Adam’s freehold called Outerfarnale’, and ‘John Pye’s freehold called Lowerfarnale’.

There are a further six off the map to the right. Four are marked Tho Gray lib quand Barkers, i.e. ‘Thomas Gray’s freehold, formerly (quondam) Barker’s’. The other two, also formerly Barker’s, belonged to Thomas Wamlesse and William Reade.

Lands owned by the borough are so marked, as are church properties, these being again off to the right.

Some of the baronial lands are in large tracts, others in small fields. Just to the right of Adam’s and Pye’s closes, for instance, is one called Foxhills. The four small closes beside the North Field are where Tommy’s Field and Morrison’s are now, and other small parcels are easily visible.

Although not so marked, most of the ground within the great bend of the Wansbeck was laid out in long burgage plots, having originally been the lord’s demesne farm.

Unlike Howick and Longhorsley, Morpeth was a fully fledged town. But we can still see evidence of an arable core, while Cottingwood, the two parks, and the largest closes in Stobhill represent the pastoral periphery.

The area above the bend in the river, represented now by Allery Banks, Bennett’s Walk and the Greens, is particularly interesting. The words ‘The Borough’, ‘Common’ and ‘Oppidum’ (town, or possibly fort) are just visible.

‘Oppidum’ is followed by something indecipherable, and by a cross fitchee. There is another just above, so it looks as if the borough was the main owner, but small parts still belonged to the barony.

We might assume that the North Field was divided into strips in the usual way. But on all sides, we see short spurs of hedge, if that’s what they were. Were they really so short? Or was the field divided into smaller parcels, of which Haiwarde sketched only the first few yards of hedgerow?

Spurs like this appear in only two other places on the map: on the south side of Howard Road, and along the river bank at Bennett’s Walk.

Haiwarde was clearly drawing our attention to something that was real and visible. It is tempting to speculate if spurs like this represent the beginning of the enclosure of these three open grounds.

Turning now to our second map, this is an extract from Wood’s Town Map of 1826. By that date, the North Field had been divided into separate fields, and I have picked out the boundaries in red.

It is no surprise that the North Field had been enclosed by 1826. The question remains, had this already happened in 1604?

What conclusions can we draw? First, that there was still a huge amount of unenclosed land in and around Morpeth in the early 17th century. The East Park was totally unenclosed, as was the Common, though the West Park was divided into three sections called Kirkhill, Babonies Close and Peterslande.

Stobhill was similarly divided into closes, some of which, including ‘A Pasture pte of Stobhill’, were considerably larger than the North Field, while others were small.

We have seen in Howick and Longhorsley how long it took to convert the open fields into ring-fenced farms.

Although we cannot be certain of all the details, this is clearly what was beginning to happen in Morpeth in 1604.