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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

BEGINNINGS:

The origins of the location and name of the township of Knottingley have been fully described elsewhere and therefore require only brief recapitulation for the purpose of this essay.

The settlement was established early in the seventh century of the Christian era when incoming invaders of Germanic extraction laid territorial claim to the wooded area located on the south side of the river Aire at a point close to a strategically placed river crossing. Despite continuous habitation throughout succeeding centuries little is known of the settlement beyond the evidence presented in the Domesday Survey of 1086 which reveals that by the late Anglo-Saxon period a cohesive settlement existed organized on a manorial pattern under the lordship of a Saxon theng named Barthr (Baret).

The vill, a linear development about half a mile in length, was enclosed by a broad arc of ploughland and pasture, skirted by woodland stretching fully along the south side of the settlement from a point near South Moor Common in the east, to a line somewhere close to that of the present A1 road to the west, the river Aire forming the northern boundary.

The nucleus of the vill was a series of tofts and crofts situated on land laying between the latter day Aire Street and the parallel Back Lane (later designated in part as the Croft). Between the crude dwellings and the river was an area known as the Flatts. Watered by the annual spring floods, this land initially provided an ideal source for cultivation and pasture, running the full length of the river bank from the area known today as the Holes, to Bank Dole Reach near the present Knottingley lock. The date at which the land ceased to be held individually, was organized for common cultivation and was considerably extended in area, is not known but study of the topography of the modern town reveals that by the eleventh century the vill comprised land known as demesne, belonging to the manorial lord, which occupied the area of land lying between the river and the line of the present Hill Top Road, covering an area from slightly to the east of St. Botolphs church and extending as far as the line of the Ferrybridge Road to the west. The peasant community occupied the area to the east of the demesne land extending as far east as Bank Dole salient.

As the population of the vill increased it doubtless became necessary to expand the area of cultivated land. It seems probable that a second phase of development occurred encompassing the land to the south side of the settlement, covering all the land between the south bank of the Aire and a line from Marsh Lane, Sunny Bank and then via Cow Lane and Racca Green before proceeding along the line of the present Weeland Road to Spawd Bone Lane and terminating westward at the present Headlands Lane. The whole land area was utilized as a two field system, one field being under cultivation while the other lay fallow, the headland dividing the two fields probably being the line of the pathway presently running through the middle of the glassworks site.

A possible explanation for the coalescent development of the settlement into a feudal vill may be that although the local population was sparse, the Flatts and Ings had proved to be inadequate for the sustenance of the community necessitating the clearance of the woodland to the south of the settled area to enable its conversion to arable. While of fundamental importance, population growth was not the sole factor in the promotion of assortment of the surrounding woodland. The concomitant demands of seigniorial and ecclesiastical dues and the process of sub-division of individual land holdings through partible inheritance were developmental factors which have been identified as subtle change agents which influenced the rise of communal agriculture. (4) Further suggestions concern the practical aspects of land conversion. The necessity for shared labour in clearance of the woodland was reinforced by the adoption of heavier ploughs as the newly intaken land was heavier and of a coarser texture than the light alluvial soil deposited by the seasonal flux of the Aire. Consequently, the sharing of draught animals became essential for the task of preparing the unbroken land for cultivation. (5)

To facilitate clearance of the tree stubs and the turning of the sod it was necessary to yoke together a plough team of beasts known as an ox-gang. As no individual within such a small community was likely to possess a full ox-gang it was probably necessary to form a composite one with each beast being contributed by a different owner. (6) An ideal ox-gang consisted of eight beasts and each contributor would receive an eighth part of the area converted, the holding being in the form of a strip of land which in size represented a single day’s ploughing. (7) The scattered strip system was adopted to ensure the fair distribution of all types of soil within the intake whilst being a sufficiently flexible system to admit newcomers as the community grew in size. (8) It is of passing interest to note that the individual strips were contained within larger blocks of land variously named as furlongs, shotts or flatts, the two latter being most commonly used to identify such areas at Knottingley. The application of the term ‘Flatts’ with regard to land lying alongside the river in central Aire Street is a clear indication of its original useage in Middle / Late Saxon times. (9)

The collectivisation which appears to have been prerequisite for economic survival of the community was part of a general process of demographic expansion by the tenth century characterised by the social and economic pressures underlining the transformation of the agrarian system of which developments at Knottingley are a mirror image. (10)

The initial assart was probably undertaken within the area immediately to the south of the Back Lane, encompassing the land lying between Chapel Street and Banks Lane (Weeland Road) to the west of the settlement and the line of Cow Lane to the east, with further expansion in either direction at a later date.

Terry Spencer

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


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