PHYSICAL FABRIC Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval Nottingham services officers supervision livestock pigs pound taxation communal property agriculture pasture rights Colchester Ipswich Coventry Beverley Godmanchester
Subject: Tending of livestock
Original source: Nottinghamshire Archives, Nottingham court roll
Transcription in: W.H. Stevenson, ed. Records of the Borough of Nottingham, (London and Nottingham, 1882), vol.1, 212, 268.
Original language: Latin
Location: Nottingham
Date: late 14th century


[1. Impounding of a cow blamed on the neatherd, 25 May 1379]

John Alcok, plaintiff, appeared against John Netherd in a plea concerning a contract. Whereas a cow of John Alcok was impounded here at Nottingham, through the neglect of John Netherd, on 11 April last, John Netherd consequently begged John Alcok to put up a pledge on his behalf with John Malyn, keeper of the fields of Nottingham, in regard to the impounding of the cow, [assuring] that he would save John Alcok harmless in regard to the pledge put up. Whereupon John Alcok deposited his cloak with John Malyn, as security for the cow being delivered over to him. Subsequently John Alcok frequently requested John Netherd to obtain the return of his cloak, according to the agreement previously made between themselves, but John Netherd refuses to do so and denies [having made] the agreement, to John Alcok's damage in the amount of 10s. John Netherd comes and denies the force [and injury and damages], and states that he broke no agreement with him, and requests that there be an enquiry into it. Therefore the bailiffs are ordered to have 12 jurors [decide] between them at the next court session.

[2. Complaint about the swineherd, 6 October 1395]

Ralph Pollard of Nottingham complains of Nicholas Swynnard concerning a plea of trespass. Whereas Nicholas is the common keeper of pigs of the liberty of the town of Nottingham and has been so from 1390 to 1395, Nicholas ought to have kept those pigs in his custody without them doing any damage to walls or gardens. During the period mentioned above, those pigs dug out and destroyed the walls of his garden in Bar Gate, through Nicholas' negligence, to the detriment of Ralph and he has incurred damages to the value of 20s., and for that reason he has brought this action etc. Nicholas comes in person and denies the force and injury and damages, saying that he, Nicholas gathered the pigs together there, as is customary and has been from time immemorial, and as per the ordinance of the entire community of the town of Nottingham, but that if Ralph suffered any damages it is not through his negligence. And so, he says, he is not guilty of the same; and, that this is the case, he submits himself to a jury. Ralph reiterates that it is through Nicholas' negligence, because he did not keep watch over the pigs as he ought to have done, and he requests an enquiry into the same; and the other [party] likewise. Therefore it is ordered etc. [that an inquisition be held].


Most of the services and amenities dealt with in the Fabric section are those which we can readily recognize as pertinent in the modern city, even if the scale of operations is different. However, there is no demand today, in a time when the urban household has moved so much farther away from self-sufficiency, for government services to provide daycare for private livestock; such livestock are virtually unknown in an urban setting. This was far from the case in medieval England.

Much as been made of the rural character of towns as depicted in the Domesday Book, in terms of the number of inhabitants who owned arable land, or who had a share in the commual fields and meadows, and are presumed to have earned at least part of their livelihood from raising crops and/or livestock. Colchester has been held up as an example, with one historian describing its community as little more than "a clan of ploughmen and shepherds" [J.H. Round, "The Domesday of Colchester", The Antiquary, vol.6 (1879), 255]. As a more recent study of that town has noted:

Even large towns retained pronounced rural features at the end of the thirteenth century, so it is not surprising to find that agrarian pursuits were important in Colchester's economy. The tax assessments of 1295 and 1301 show that the chief single kind of movable wealth in Colchester was agricultural. This is implied by the number of taxpayers assessed on grain and livestock. By this criterion the proportion of taxpayers involved in agriculture (other than those from the villages of the liberty) was 81 per cent in 1295 and about 69 per cent in 1301.
[R.H. Britnell, Growth and Decline in Colchester, 1300-1525, Cambridge, 1986, 16-17]

The national tax assessment for Ipswich in 1283 similarly shows many of the townsmen owning livestock, although it ignores any land and herds they had in the hamlets neighbouring the town. To take a few examples from the leading townsmen, who could afford more animals, Hugh Golding (Ipswich's wealthiest citizen at that period) was assessed on 3 horses, 2 bulls, 4 cows, and an unspecified number young cattle, although these represented only a small fraction of his total wealth valued at £163, which was mainly in mercantile goods of cloth, mill-stones, and malt. William Faber's surname probably accurately connotes the occupation of smith, for the first listed item on which he was assessed was iron, but many of the remaining items suggest agricultural interests: 15 loads of malt, barley seed, 4 qt. of rye, 4 bushels of wheat, butchered carcasses, 4 horses and a cart, 2 bulls and a cow. Golding le Mayden had 8 horses, to power his 2 carts. Richard le Tollere, whose principal possession was a ship, also had an unspecified number of pigs, cows and horses. Alexander de Stoke had 4 horses, 5 bulls, and an unstated number of cows and pigs. Further down the social scale, Augustine Cutewyne, a cap-maker, was assessed exclusively on 30 sheep (which he doubtless kept to supply his business with wool) and 2 cattle. These are not isolated instances; 92 of the 275 individuals listed (33%) in the Public Records Office document E179/242/42 had livestock that would have had to have been accommodated within the town, and this is a low estimate, given that a number of assessments did not differentiate the possessions assessed.

At Lynn, whose society is generally considered to have been more commercial and less rural in character, another taxation list – undated but probably ca.1292, and covering only one of the borough wards – shows that here too the townspeople kept numerous animals that we normally associate with the barnyard. For example, William de Cranewyz owned a heifer and 12 piglets, while Robert de London had 23 pigs and piglets. Of the 45 residents assessed, 18 (40%) had livestock; cattle, sheep, horses, and especially pigs are all in evidence. The presence of the last is confirmed by the numerous roaming offences for which their owners were fined each year. Again, a tax list from Reading (1297) shows 42% of those assessed to have owned one or more animals – mostly pigs or cows, but not large numbers – and this figure is likely a little low, due to loss of parts of the assessment through damage to the tax roll. Here too the fines for roaming pigs were a small but regular part of the borough income.

Some of such townspeople were probably living off the sale of what they raised, beyond what their own household consumed, while others were processing the raw products into other saleable goods, e.g. grain into ale, wool into yarn, hides into leatherware. Victualling, the leather industries, and the wool trade were the three principal areas of mercantile activity for many towns, and were supplied primarily from the town and its hinterland; the more successful traders or craftsmen tended to be not simply middlemen but also producers of raw materials. Given that the more successful burgesses tended to be entrepreneurs who had fingers in several pies, a good example being Ipswich's Thomas le Rente, and employed others to tend to their fields and flocks, probably only a minority of townsmen at this period were entirely divorced from agricultural pursuits. This does not diminish the urban nature of their communities.

Even at the close of the Middle Ages boroughs continued to have to deal with issues relating to burgess ownership of livestock. Thus, for example, we find the following ordinances during the reign of Edward IV from Godmanchester, a small town in a rural county (Huntingdonshire) that produced no towns of great prominence, in the Middle Ages:

Item That no one shall retain Beasts Driven away or other profits happening to the said Commonalty except the principal Bailiffs and they shall be forthwith appraised by the said Jurors.
Item That no one shall let his Sheepfold to any Foreigner under the pain of 20s. a day for every Acre to be paid to the Commonalty to be levied by the said Bailiffs.
That from the Feast of Saint Michael the Archangel until Autumn is ended no one shall put any Beasts of Cattle in the Tilth Fields under the pain of four pence for every Beasts or Cattle to be forfeited to the use of [blank]
Item That no Foreigner shall have any Beasts in Pasture within the Liberty and if any such shall be found there shall be due for every Horse pasturing 2s. for every Ox or Cow 2s. for every Sheep or Pig 6d. by the year And if any person shall be found maintaining such Beasts he shall undergo the pain aforesaid.
[J.A. Raftis, A Small Town in Late Medieval England: Godmanchester 1278-1400, Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, Studies and Texts no.53 (1982), 435, 437, 438]

None of this is to suggest that the towns of post-Conquest England were self-sufficient. But the presence of relatively sizable arable and pasture within the walls and/or just outside them was a common feature of the medieval town, if not ubiquitous – yet even a settlement founded on a sandbank, at Yarmouth, did not prevent townsmen from keeping animals and letting them roam on the wide beach. The right to communal pasturage was one of the fundamentals of early urban society, often so early a custom as not to have been recorded, although a number of royal charters made the right explicit; William de Newburgh's charter to Swansea (ca.1158-84) is one of the more detailed:

Be it known that I have granted to each burgess pasture as far as Hackdeweye, and Lyu and St. David's ditch,so that no one has any easement there but me and my aforesaid burgesses; and the woods on all side around my borough for feeding their herds as far as they can go in the day and return to their homes the same night, and they may have their pigs in my wood freely and quietly without any custom.
[A. Ballard, ed. British Borough Charters 1042-1216, Cambridge, 1913, 58]

In most towns such rights are believed to have been more ancient than the first charters of liberties, and acknowledged as part and parcel of the "free customs" of the urban community. Yet the matter continued to demand periodic attention from the authorities into the fifteenth century. At Reading, for example, in 1443 and again in 1444 and 1445 they reminded the townspeople that each burgess was entitled to pasture only one milch-cow in Portmansbroke (the name itself indicative of ancient communal ownership, just as Portmans Meadow at Ipswich, Portman Marsh at Maldon, and possibly Portman Croft at Norwich). Similarly, at Leicester an ordinance of ca.1382 specified that only those with burgess status could have their livestock in the Cowhay, and even they could not pasture more than two animals there. Overburdening of the common meadows and pastures at Northampton, with the finger of blame pointed particularly but not exclusively at butchers, prompted an ordinance (undated but probably ca.1400) allowing freemen to graze two animals there as their right, unless prepared to pay an annual fee for additional beasts.

At Beverley, where Swinemoor was the designated communal pasture for "oxen for the larder and beasts of burden" [A. Leach, Beverley Town Documents, Selden Society, vol.14 (1900), 19] – that is livestock for domestic and personal use – and up to a maximum of 40 adult sheep belonging to butchers were also allowed to be there, but there was a concern with overburdening the resources, and so it was permitted for sheep to be kept in the streets near the town gates. Cows had their own dedicated pasture at Figham where other livestock were not permitted, and it was forbidden that "no one have any right of common in it but a burgess living in the town, peer and partner in lot and scot and contributing to the business of the community," [ibid., 16] and then only animals being raised to feed the household. In fact, the concern over this matter was so great that a clause was put into the new burgess' oath that he would not put onto communal pasture any animal not his own.

A similar situation is seen at Coventry where, in 1425, fines (or possibly fees) were set for anyone overburdening the common land with livestock. Pigs were relative undesirables; the swineherd was instructed in 1421 to drive pigs only to wasteland or marshy areas around the city, and not into meadows or fields or anywhere else they might cause damage. However, these controls were either not enforced or perhaps, during the confusion of the civil wars, enforcement fell by the wayside, for in 1469 the leet jury complained that due to lack of supervision the common lands had been damaged by pigs, "which according to law, have no [right of] common" [M.D. Harris, ed. The Coventry Leet Book or Mayor's Register, Early English Text Society, old series, vol.135 (1908), 348]. Consequently a fine of 100s. was set for anyone putting on the common land any pigs or other non-commonable animals. The following year restrictions were put on goats, again because of the damage they did; it was prohibited that they be committed to the care of the city cowherd, but instead be kept tied up at the owners' houses, or in fields.

The quantity of livestock within a town was clearly sufficient for there to be a need for regulations and even supervision. Thus we find in some towns the appointment of cowherds, shepherds, or swineherds, to congregate in designated places the townspeople's livestock and supervise them during the day, to ensure they did not wander where they were not wanted, such as on the streets, in the fields where the townsmen had their crops, or beside the town ditches.

The Coventry swineherd mentioned above was a communal official; although his wages came not from the borough treasury, but from payments for services made by the pig-owners, the common sergeant was in 1434 empowered to force the owners to pay up, if necessary. At Lynn the chamberlains' account of 1331/32 records a fee of 22s.8d paid to one Cholobb', the pig-keeper, and we have another reference to him from the same period; Geoffrey Castelman was in the post in 1333/34, but it is not mentioned consistently thereafter, so the history of the office is uncertain, but we hear of a pig-keeper again late in the reign of Edward III. The function of the pig-keeper may, however, have been that of catcher rather than watcher.

Nottingham's beast-keepers come to our attention only occasionally – sometimes when they ran into trouble. The first reference to a pig-keeper in the service of the community is in March 1352, when a resident of Oxton, a village a few miles north of the town, was appointed for a year. Later that year we see a different instance in the borough government's involvement in the agricultural concerns of its constituents, through negotiations with Sir Avery de Sulney over his claim to a fee of 1d. per each burgess' animal that pastured at Basford (just to the north of Nottingham), whereas the community asserted it had pasture rights associated with burgage tenure. Sir Avery was induced, perhaps by an unrecorded payment, to relinquish his claims and acknowledge the burgesses' position. We again hear of Nottingham's swineherd in 1363, when the king granted the office for life to John de la Chambre, a servant of his daughter Isabel. While it was not uncommon for the king to reward men with life offices, one has to wonder how lowly Chambre was that the post of swineherd would have seemed a reward! The above case in 1395 shows that a swineherd was still in borough employ; by the by, the plaintiff failed to appear to prosecute and Nicholas Swynnard was exonerated. One of the town gates was called Swine Bar, presumably because it marked the route (Goosegate) through which the pig-keeper herded the townspeople's pigs out of the town, before taking them down to Eastcroft and the Coppice, where they could forage.

In July 1356 we have reference to a "servant of the community" to whom burgesses handed over their livestock to look after; he was appropriately named Thomas le Nethird. Richard de Linby complained that the animals he had left in the neatherd's care had not been properly supervised, with the result that they had wandered and been impounded; Thomas denied that he had been negligent. Thomas is first heard of in 1353, when accused of removing planks from a bridge, and may have been in community service at that point. This office was probably occupied by John de Mansfield in 1379, when he was described as having custody of the beasts of the community in the context of a complaint that he had allowed them to pasture on ground belonging to Richard de Grantham; John defended by pointing out that it was untilled land that Richard had failed to mow at the appropriate season, and therefore fair game. Mansfield was presumably also known as John Netherd, as per the first document above. This post may have been held by a John Broxtowe in October 1432, since he was then taken to court by John Barrett, for having sub-contracted with Barrett's wife Isabelle, that she should drive the town cattle out to pasture between late April and late June for the fee of 21d., which money he had failed to pay.

A third official comes to light in 1364, as responsible for impounding stray animals, when complaining of a townsman who broke into the pound to rescue his animals. Whether this pound was the same one referred to in 1385 as the Pinfold, in which untended sheep belonging to a Radford man were impounded, is uncertain. In the Badder and Peat map of 1744, the Pinfold is indicated to have been located beside Eastcroft (east of the bridge over the Leen); but the borough rental of 1435 refers to it as being off Narrow Marsh (now Cliff Road), which would place it west of that bridge, and possibly backing onto the cliff. Its keeper is also mentioned in 1435, and in 1464 we learn that the Pinder's annual salary was 20s., plus an allowance of 5s. for his uniform; by 1494 the pinder's salary had been reduced to 10s, perhaps because the duties were being fulfilled by one of the gate-keepers. Stevenson inferred from the case of Pollard vs. Swynnard, above, that the pig-pound was in the vicinity of Bar Gate, but I find no other evidence to support this. By 1393 there was also a "keeper of the meadow of the town of Nottingham" who had to keep animals out – or at least those animals not belonging to the townsfolk.

When we hear of a pinfold at Henley-on-Thames, in 1453, it is not for sheep but for impounded pigs, and Coventry's communal pinfold is mainly heard of in connection with pigs. Four Henley townsmen were elected to catch wandering pigs, in return for 25% of the fine imposed on their owners. Again whether this was the same as the pound is uncertain, but probably so as the pound was described as being for pigs; this may have been simply because pigs were the most common culprit. In 1422 work was being carried out on the pound enclosure, including the installation of two lockable doors, and this work is again referred to in 1424 (unless this was for a different pound) when we hear of a hedge enclosure and a door. On the latter occasion we also hear of a hen-field, again hedged, with a lockable gate and stile. At Coventry in 1426, three years after a prohibition of keeping pigs in private property or sties in the city, it was ordered that each warden provide a pinfold in the four city wards, although these may have been primarily intended for livestock brought into the city for sale. In 1494 it was ordered that any stray livestock found within the walls should be impounded in the town pinfold and nowhere else. A pinfold is also heard of at Reading in 1464, when the etymology of the term is suggested by a second reference to it as the "poun[d]f[i]elde"; this is reinforced by the use of "pynne" at Coventry as a verb meaning impound. Doubtless most towns had some kind of pound for stray livestock.

Although I find no reference to a communal pound at Beverly, there was a communal swineherd, whose duty was to take pigs of the townspeople out to pasture and watch over them there. Pigs were allowed on Swinemoor, but the principal place where they were put to forage was Westwood, on which they had long had such a right; but in 1380 the borough authorities thought it advisable (to protect that right) to negotiate possession of the woods from the Archbishop, for a hefty annual rent. Bulls and sheep were not permitted at Westwood. During the reign of Henry VI we find not only appointments of the swineherd, but also:

  • a supervisor of Westwood, whose duties included ensuring its enclosure was without gaps and reporting on burgesses or others who let their animals roam,
  • a pair of supervisors of Figham pasture, and a different pair for Swinemoor, who were to keep a check on misuse of the resources (e.g. non-burgesses putting their animals there, or burgesses putting animals other than they were permitted)
  • a shepherd for Figham, who took oath to take proper care of animals delivered to him by members of the community
  • a shepherd for Swinemoor who, like his Figham colleague, was allowed to charge 2d. per animal, but no more (upon penalty of a 12d. fine)

The impounding of pigs has a modern equivalent in the municipal dog-catcher. To find something comparable to the service of tending townspeople's domestic livestock, given that child care is primarily a privatised service, we have to think outside the box: possibly the provision of municipal car parks offers some analogy?



The equivalent of a shepherd, but for cattle.

"save John Alcok harmless"
I.e. that he would answer to justice in regard to offence committed by the cow, so as to ensure redemption of the item put up as security.

I.e. swineherd.

"Bar Gate"
Now Chapel Bar.

E179/242/40 appears to be a further membrane from the tax list, but is badly damaged and has not been included in my survey. A fairly good transcript of the list can be found in Edgar Powell, "The Taxation of Ipswich for the Welsh War in 1292," Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology, vol.12 (1906), 142-57.

"probably ca.1292"
Norfolk Record Office, KL/C47/1. The Rev. Dashwood ["Remarks on a subsidy roll in the possession of the Corporation of Lynn Regis." Norfolk Archaeology, I (1847), 336] thought it likely to be the tax of 1/10th imposed in 1276, but one of Lynn's archivists dated it to 1291/92, and my own comparison of the names therein with those in a locally-imposed tax of June 1292 would support that dating.

"tax list from Reading"
See B. Dodwell, "Reading Records (3): Taxation Roll 1297," Berkshire Archaeological Journal, vol.60 (1962), 101-06.

"maximum of 40"
This provision was enacted in 1362. It is not clear if this was per burgess, or the sum total for all. I am inclined to think the latter, as a later ordinance (1399) banned sheep entirely from the common pasture. That of 1362 was put back into effect in 1428, but subsequently annulled.

main menu

Created: August 27, 2004. Last update: March 2, 2014 © Stephen Alsford, 2004-2014