COMMUNAL FARMING

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COMMUNAL FARMING

He could not breed selectively; flocks and herds ran together. In fact the whole system, though it allowed the individual household to keep the produce of its particular holding, and was therefore not communist in the modern sense, subordinated individual wishes and convenience to those of the village as a whole. It was a conservative and stable arrangement in which changes could be made only by common consent - unless they were imposed forcibly from outside. As such, it suited most people and was accordingly long-lived; remarkably so to us, accustomed as we are to continual economic change in our own lifetime. In all its major characteristics and broad outlines it persisted right up to the eighteenth century. Such modifications as occurred in the course of time we shall describe in their place.

Other Areas. We really know very little about the alter-native arrangements which flourished in the rest of England - the Danelaw, Kent, East Anglia, and the western, still Celtic, areas. Here, as in the North, the typical settlement is scattered; there, as in East Anglia, both kinds of settlement are found side by side, working on a different and as yet imperfectly explained system which did not include a complete fallow field. Money was probably better known in the East and South than in the Midlands, land was more frequently bought and sold, and this process of buying and selling, coupled with the custom of gavelkind in some districts, meant a far greater inequality of holdings than in the more stable Midland areas. In the Midlands it is possible to speak of a typical peasant holding - the virgaJe as it was called; not so elsewhere. Whatever equality there may have been in the original allotment of land, it had gone by the eleventh century. Again, people appear to have been better off in the South and East than elsewhere at the time of the Conquest. Though here, as everywhere else, there were tracts of barren land, such as the Norfolk Broads or the thickly forested Sussex Weald, yet the population was denser and the settlement closer together.

These, then, are the main outlines of the technical and social structure of the greater part of England at the time of the Conquest; the village serves as social and economic unit, with its strong internal solidarity, its intense traditionalism, its deeply rooted habit of collective action on local business - whether expressed through formal institutions which can be traced to-day or through the automatic processes of immemorial custom; while institutions and customs, the division of land and the methods of farming, vary from region to region and from tribal group to group, all generalizations having to be corrected in the light of local differences.


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The Waste

But it was not only its cultivated land which was important to the village economy, whether in the Midlands or elsewhere.

The waste or uncultivated land provided essential benefits too.

It must be remembered that this waste included most of the area of the country; each village lay amongst its heaths or woods or marshes like an oasis in the wilderness, though on the more fertile and easily worked soils they were closer together than elsewhere.

Part of the waste, remote or of little value, was a virtual no-man's-land; the parts immediately surrounding each village, and any other areas... see: The Waste


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