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Village Byelaws from Northern England

Project: Non-funded ProjectProjects

1/01/09 → …

The specific focus of this project is to create a corpus of village byelaws from manors across northern England for the purpose of comparison and analysis. The objective is to publish a collection of 'pains' from the region to complement Warren Ault's corpus of byelaws from Midland open field villages (W. Ault, Open Field Husbandry and the Village Community: a study of agrarian by-laws in medieval England, Philadelphia, 1965). Although several statements of byelaw from individual manors have been published over the years, Ault's remains the only attempt to gather together a substantial body of byelaws from which to draw conclusions about agrarian organisation - as such, it has been used and cited extensively. There would be considerable benefits to scholarship if a collection of byelaws from a region other than open-field England were to be made available - both the wealth of material from the northern counties and the range of environments and agrarian systems from which they come suggest that a collection from the region would be valuable. The project builds on my work on the agrarian history of upland areas in northern England, during which I have gathered byelaws from the six northern counties (and some from southern Scotland) - and published a handful of byelaws as an appendix to The Harvest of the Hills (Edinburgh, 2000). Numerous other lists of 'pains' survive from manors across northern England.

The scope of the proposed collection of texts is still to be finalized but it is envisaged that it will include the following:

•examples of the 'charge' to a manor court jury, identifying the court's scope of enquiry. These documents, some of which date from the fifteenth century, shed light on local law and manorial custom in general, extending well beyond specifically agrarian concerns.
•'pain lists', which laid out the byelaws ('pains') governing affairs within the manor. Late-medieval manor court records imply the existence of a body of local law but contain few explicit statements of byelaws, but there is a surge in both the recording of individual pains in manor court rolls and the number of lists of pains in the sixteenth and, particularly, seventeenth centuries, coinciding with the revival of manor courts in the period c.1540-c.1660. One aim would be to trace the evolution of local agrarian rules, so changes to the 'pain' list of a particular manor over time would be included, as might individual orders varying or clarifying 'pains'.
•examples of manor court presentments, illustrating the policing of byelaws and the penalties imposed on those who infringed them;
•and (possibly) examples of rules drawn up by post-manorial bodies (such as commoners' associations) in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in areas where communal resource management survived.
A wider aim of the project is to enable comparisons with village byelaws, particularly those governing the use of communal resources, from elsewhere in Europe. Discussions have been initiated with scholars in Spain and the Netherlands with a view to developing this further.