A Steeple Claydons’ History


In addition to transfers of property and feudal dues the manorial court also concerned itself with the proper working of that open-fields system of farming which the Fins had originally brought to Claydon and which survived with but minor modifications down to the Enclosure Act of 1795. The system was half-way between the primitive stage when all land is common and the modern system of private ownership. In the middle Ages the only purely private holdings in Claydon were a number of closes (small enclosed fields) in or near the village; later private enclosures were also made on the waste land on the outskirts of the parish.The greater part of the parish was only semi-private. All the arable land was in the form of unfenced half-acre strips which were scattered over two large fieldstone to the north of the village (known as the Mill Field, from the windmill on Windmill Hill), the other to the south (known as the Wood Field, from the wood at the southern extremity of the parish). Every year one of these fields lay fallow, when it became common and all the farmers could turn their horses, sheep and pigs (but not their geese or ducks) loose on it. The other field was fenced off and sown with wheat, barley. oats. Peas and beans, and each half-acre strip became the private property of the individual farmer Some of the farmers had a hundred or more strips, which might be miles apart, and the  ploughing,  sowing weeding and harvesting of his strips  was the farmer’s own responsibility entirely. The strops were separated from each other by balks, or ribbons of grass, two feet wide, and the ends were marked by holes in the ground. As soon as the harvest was completed the fences were removed and the strips became common grazing (in the seventeenth century strip-holders were not even allowed to glean their own peas and beans), the strips in the other fields then becoming private.Similarly the meadows by the Brook and the Burn, were divided in May into long narrow strips (each strip just wide enough for a single sweep of the scythe), which were known as the horse commons. Each year every farmer was allotted one or more of these strips, according to the number of acres or tethers his horses on it.

In August the meadows became common again and cattle could be loosed into them.Finally large parts of the parish were common all through the year. A number of fields on Windmill Hill, Herd’s Hill, Blackmore Hill and elsewhere were reserved for the common herd of cows. The cows started on Windmill Hill in the spring and grazed their way round the parish in a regular routine. Many of the cottages carried with them the right to send one cow with the common herd and for every thirty acres held in the arable fields three cows could go with the common herd. The cows were driven out and back every day (except in winter) by the Hayward, an official who was appointed each year at the manorial court. The Green (consisting of the Upper Green round Chaloners Hill and the larger Lower Green stretching from the bottom of the hill to West End), occupying in all some ten or eleven acres, was also common, as were certain tracts of waste tracts at the extremities of the parish. The largest of these waste tracts was Woodfield Common (towards Calvert): others were Bandlands Common (by Whitebridge), Hayne Hill Common (towards Addington), Halstead Way Common (by Kingsbridge),

Claydon Cross Common (towards Twyford?).Apparently any resident could pasture his animals on these Commons, pick rushes, cut turf, and collect gorze and dead wood (but not living trees or branches) for firing. The enclosure in 1795 caused great hardship to the poor.In a system so complicated and so dependent on neighborly good will human selfishness was always breaking in. Its inroads, however,  were checked by the manorial court, which fined offenders (up to as much as 5) and periodically issued elaborate Field Orders that the Hayward and four other officials, called the fieldsmen (also elected annually), had to enforce. Five complete sets of Claydon Field Orders survive the earliest dating from 1635 and the latest from 1792. In 1792 forty-three different orders specified the times of the year when beasts could be left out at night, when the sheep had to be folded, when the brooks were to be scoured, when sheep must be branded and pigs ringed, when rushes could be cut. etc. etc. Offending or straying beasts were taken by the Hayward and locked up in the pound (which stood Where the telephone kiosk is now), and were not released until the appropriate fine had been paid.