Laxton view

IN the first four or five centuries after the Norman Conquest there is very little information about the lives of the villagers, though there are a number of documents giving details about the lords of the manor of Laxton. Only occasionally, in the Assize Rolls or other legal documents, a little light is thrown on some of the people, but it is mostly faint and elusive.

The Domesday Survey records that there was 'In Laxintune ... land for 6 ploughs. There Walter, a man of Geoffrey Alselin's, has 1 plough and 22 villeins and 7 bordars having 5 ploughs and 5 serfs and 1 female serf and 40 acres of meadow. Wood for pannage 1 league in length and half a league in breadth . . .'.
By the end of the thirteenth century it appears from a study of Inquisitiones Post Mortem taken on the death of the lords of the manor and sub-manor, which give details of their land and tenants, that the population of the village and the amount of land under cultivation had increased.

There is a little information on the relations of the second Adam de Everingham with his tenants. In 1313 Adam and his wife, Clarice, were summoned to answer William Vesey of Laxton as to why they took and unjustly detained William's cow. In their defence they said that at the View of Frankpledge it was found that William had brewed and sold beer against the assize of ale and was fined 12d., and the cow was taken as the fine. It was the duty of the lord of the manor to supervise the strength and price of the beer sold by the village, and at the View of Frankpledge offences concerning the custom of the manor were tried (De Banco Rolls, No. 201, m. 55). The case was adjourned and it is not known how it was settled, but there are two other cases of the same kind, in which Adam was accused of illegal distress in taking a beast of one of the villagers. The plaintiffs claimed to be tenants not of Adam but of the sub-manor and said that his court had no jurisdiction over them, but Adam denied the right of the sub-lord to hold a court.

There is practically nothing recorded about the people of Laxton in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. How they fared during the Black Death and the subsequent disorganization of agricultural labour is not known, though a note in the Inquisitio Post Mortem of Thomas de Bekering, in 1425, which states that there are '12 messuages, ruinous and worth nothing', seems to indicate that there had been some depopulation. In the seventeenth century a magnificent record was made, for Sir William Courten, of the freeholders and tenants of Laxton, and of the extent and the location of the holdings of each. One Mark Pierce, in 1635, prepared a great map of Laxton and Kneesall, upon which is drawn every house and building, every land and in-closure, and the woodlands, sikes, roads, and paths in the two parishes. Each bears a distinctive number, the numbers having reference to a beautifully written terrier in which is recorded the name of the occupier. Laxton contained about 100 families, of whom some 90 occupied land in holdings ranging from an acre or two up to 80 acres. There was a windmill, and East Park wood extended nearly as far as the Castle. The manor house, a three-gabled building, stood just in front of the Castle mound. The map is vividly illustrated with sporting and agricultural scenes. A stag is breaking from East Park wood pursued by a pack of hounds; there is partridge hawking in Hartshorn and hare hunting on Freer-falls. There are ploughing, sowing, harvesting, and haymaking scenes, and women milking in the fields. All the teams consist of two bullocks and a trace horse.

Nearly all of the land, both arable and meadow, was occupied on the common field system which gives Laxton its unique agricultural interest to-day. The farms were not compact holdings; on the contrary, the ploughland of each consisted of strips, some of them less than a quarter of an acre, scattered irregularly in four great fields. Two of them, the Mill Field and the South Field, were approximately the same size, about 600 acres. The other two, West Field and East Field, together were about the same extent. The practice was for every one to follow the same course of farming in each field, a course which prescribed that one field would be bare fallow, the second sown with winter corn, i.e. wheat, and the third sown with spring corn, in each year, West Field and East Field being treated as one for this purpose. This course of cropping rotated year by year, the fallow field being sown with winter corn, the wheat field with spring corn, and the spring corn field fallowed, and so on. After harvest, the stubbles were grazed in common until the land had to be ploughed for the next crop. The meadow land which lay along the stream was divided in the same way, every farmer having strips in an irregular succession which he mowed for hay, and after the hay was carried the whole was grazed in common. Other grazing was provided by the waste lands of the manor, the principal of which was Cocking Moor, now known as Westwood Common.

In all essentials the systems of land tenure and farming are the same to-day, although the meadow land has been enclosed and the fields assigned to individual tenants. It may be of interest to record that the 23 small meadows which can be seen to-day bordering the stream were no fewer than 322 little strips of mowing grass before inclosure. These changes were made about 1730. Since then a large part of East Park wood has been grubbed, and some of the woodlands adjoining the Kneesall parish boundary have also been cleared for agricultural land. In the nineteenth century the houses of the village were mostly rebuilt, and the open fields and common of Moorhouse were inclosed in 1860. Westwood Common, unfortunately, has not been stocked for several years. The highway from Laxton to Ollerton runs through it, and thoughtless drivers of motor vehicles would leave the gates open or even throw them off their hinges, and the trouble from straying stock proved more than the grazing was worth. This is to be regretted, for the right to keep cattle on the common has given many Laxton people their first step on the agricultural ladder.

The Court Baron, which secures the due observance of the customs of the manor, is still held. It is summoned by the Bailiff, presided over by the Steward, and it appoints the jury, the pinder, and, until a hundred years ago, the parish constable. The duty of the jury is to see that the ditches of the fields are dug out, that the pegs which act as landmarks are in place and that the customs of open field farming, generally, are observed. It is the duty of the pinder to impound straying beasts in the pinfold and to fine their owners. The Court Rolls containing the records of the proceedings go back to the year 1743, but the Court itself has been held from time out of mind.

Laxton and its institutions survive as an example of the life of the people of England as it was organized in most places from earliest times up to the Industrial Revolution of the eighteenth century, when farming for the first time began to give place as the principal occupation of the people. The lords of the manor and of the sub-manor provide examples of almost every type of English landlord through the centuries. There is Geoffrey Alselin, the great Norman baron; Robert de Caux, the builder of castles and feudal magnate; Robert and John de Lexington, great judges and administrators in close touch with the King; their brother Henry, churchman and Bishop of Lincoln; the second Robert de Everingham and his son, Adam, barons whose fame was not so much national as local, very prominent in the affairs of the county and representing it in Parliament; the third Adam de Everingham and Sir Thomas Rempston, soldiers who were constantly absent on active service at home and abroad; Thomas de Bekering, the sheriff of the county; the Ettons and the Roos's, plain country squires; Augustine Hynde, Master Clothworker and Alderman of the City of London; George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, courtier and statesman; Sir William Courten, the great merchant prince who made a fortune in foreign trade; and so back once more, full cycle, to the Dukes of Kingston and the Earls Manvers, great territorial magnates. There were great men and small men, men good and bad, pious lords who built and adorned the church and founded chantries, entertainers of royalty, soldiers, administrators, bankrupts, traitors and sportsmen, landlords active and improving, and others neglectful and spendthrift. Under the lordship of each and all of them the life of the people has gone on, with little material change, in the village and in the open fields. The Barons' Wars, the French Wars, wars on the Welsh and Scottish borders, the Wars of the Roses and the Civil War, were incidents in national life which affected the lords of the manor greatly, but left no mark upon the life of the people. The great Norman castle gave place to the Tudor manor house, but after the lord of the manor ceased to be resident, this, too, fell into decay and now no trace of it remains, though the site of the keep and bailey of Robert de Caux's castle can still be traced on the north side of the village.

Farming for subsistence has given place to production for the market, but otherwise there have been no material changes in the economic life of the village community. Agriculture is still the only pursuit. There have been inclosures of fields in the remoter parts of the parish, to make compact farms, but the three open fields remain, unique in England, with their scattered holdings, their common grazing, and their manorial court, a living example of the social and economic life which prevailed, in the greater part of the country, back through the centuries to days so remote that its origin is lost in antiquity.