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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Local History

FIELD SYSTEMS AND PLACE NAMES
OF OLD KNOTTINGLEY


SOME FACTS AND THEORIES

by TERRY SPENCER B.A.(Hons), Ph D.

INTRODUCTION : BEGINNINGS : DOMESDAY : PORT OF KNOTTINGLEY
MANORIAL RE-ORGANISATION : GAZETTEER

INTRODUCTION

The purpose of this study is to consider the topography of modern day Knottingley and by reference to sparse documentary sources and within the context of general historical trends, formulate a theoretical model concerning the development of the settlement during the medieval and post medieval eras as reflected in the field systems adopted.

The appearance of the countryside which surrounds the town today is one of fields, mostly rectangular in shape, with straight line boundaries and of variable size, the area of each being defined by a hedge, fence or wall.

The prevailing system of relatively small enclosures is of quite recent origin being largely created in consequence of the privately sponsored Enclosure Act in the late eighteenth century. Paradoxically, the system inaugurated by the wholesale adoption of enclosures mirrored the initial pattern of cultivation utilised by the earliest settlers on the site of the modern town.

Settlements by the Anglo Saxons in forest clearings such as that which was to develop into the manorial vill of Notinglea (Knottingley) a few centuries later, were dependent on agriculture and thus by use of axe and fire, clearance of the surrounding woodland was necessary to provide land for crop cultivation. The process of clearance, known as assarting, resulted in the piecemeal accumulation of small areas of cultivable soil which, undistinguished by fence or hedge, provided the nucleus for the eventual incorporation of individual clones into the common field pattern known as the open field system of agriculture, widely in use by the tenth century as the basis of manorial land tenure.

Under this system, the inhabitants of a manorial vill held strips of land in various parts of the open fields in return for labour service on the land of the manorial lord, known as the demesne. Each peasant holding was roughly equal in size to that of fellow inhabitants, the individual strips being scattered throughout the area of the open field to ensure fair apportionment of good and inferior soil.

The expansion of the open fields naturally depended upon factors such as the ease of land clearance and preparation for cultivation, the variability and fertility of soil composition and demographic growth. As settlements became well established a two field system was generally developed with one field in a given year used for cropping while the other lay fallow to enable restoration of the natural nutrients within the soil.

The population of the country in general increased rapidly between the eleventh and early fourteenth centuries and by the thirteenth century a majority of manors had, of necessity, adopted the three field method of crop rotation commonly known as the Midland Field System, in an effort to boost agricultural production by more efficient use of the land.

In addition to cultivated strips, each peasant had the customary right to graze a set number of animals on the surrounding common or wasteland and had free access to the timber, stone and turf found there.

The method of open field agriculture lasted about 450 years until a combination of socio economic change largely prompted by the Black Death of 1348-50, undermined the feudal system, promoting the tendency to consolidate and enclose land holdings. The process received a more universal application from the mid-eighteenth century and by the mid-nineteenth century, Knottingley’s fields had been transformed into the pattern seen today.

Whatever the field system, it was necessary to give specific field areas a name in order to distinguish a particular field from the surrounding land in order to avoid operational chaos. Initially, names were transmitted orally but from the sixteenth century they increasingly appeared on maps, estate plans and in legal documents such as land conveyances. With the passage of time, some names were transformed whilst others became obsolete. Today, only the occupying farmers and a handful of local historians know and refer to the field names commonly used by former generations. The general public is, alas, unaware of the rich historical legacy contained in the field and place names of the township in which they now reside or work.

Terry Spencer

INTRODUCTION : BEGINNINGS : DOMESDAY : PORT OF KNOTTINGLEY
MANORIAL RE-ORGANISATION : GAZETTEER


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