You are in [Places] [Combe] [Combe and the Abbey of Bec-Hellouin]

This article was written by Dr Donald Peck and presented to the Virtual Museum February 2022.


Combe (c 2,200 acres including woodland) as it appears from the account rolls of the owner of the manor, the Abbey of Bec-Hellouin, in the Middle Ages:

Sources:

We are very fortunate that, in addition to the Domesday entry, there are four documents entirely about Combe printed from the extensive medieval Latin archives of the Benedictine abbey of Le Bec Hellouin, in the valley of the Risle in Normandy, between Rouen and Lisieux – 

• a Bec custumal from about 1235/40, setting out the basis on which Combe manor’s lands were held and numerous taxes and dues were, or should have been paid.

• two rolls of detailed Bec annual accounts from 1306-7 and 1307-8; and 

• a brief document from between 1086 and 1095 in which either King William I or II acknowledges the transfer to Bec of Combe Manor, which was previously held by Emmelina but was probably initiated by her husband, Ernulf de Hesdin, from Hesdin near St-Omer in Picardy.

The last document is short (see Annex I below), but interesting as it is one of the oldest records of transfers to Bec, and it dates from just the time under William II when Bec became famous in England because of Archbishop Lanfranc and St Anselm, two Bec monks originating from the south of France. The names of the transferors of Combe are Norman, but they do not recur in the later history of Combe. Ernulf was known as a great agricultural entrepreneur who came over with the Conqueror, and in addition to Combe, he held estates, mainly manors, across the south of England. He held over 80 manors as tenant-in-chief (2/3 of those as manorial lord as well), plus some urban property, which included 51 small properties in Newbury. The contemporary chronicle of the abbot of Hyde in Winchester described him as ‘a marvel for his skill in agriculture’ and Orderic Vitalis, the monas-tic chronicler, said the same sort of thing about him. Most of Ernulf’s manors grew in value between the Conquest and Domesday, particularly his large Wiltshire holdings; in addition to Combe, he also held Newbury, Linkenholt and some of Buttermere, all of these having been properties of Eadric, a large Saxon landowner, before him. Eadric was sheriff of Wiltshire until shortly after the Conquest, when he was succeeded by another Anglo-Saxon, Edward of Salisbury.

The Domesday record of Combe:

The Domesday return for Combe shows that Combe was bigger than the surrounding villages, and was assessed at 2 hides and valued at £6 (vs Linkenholt at £4, Buttermere at £2).

Combe’s geography was well-suited to high-medieval sheep-corn farming and its inhabitants were not among the poorest of that era. Combe’s total of 12 actual ploughs in 1086 are particularly striking, as compared with the land which Domesday assessed as being adequate for 9 ploughs, not 12. In addition, as many as 7 out of the 12 ploughs - a very high proportion of the manor’s ploughs compared with all the man-ors in the region – belonged to the villeins and bordars, ie one plough for every 3 of the major unfree tenants of the manor. Perhaps the reason was that the high-altitude thin-soil arable farming of the Iron Age and the Dark Ages was still the dominant factor in this area. It was also the reason that Combe went for additional land in the form of assarts in the 13th c, some of it land purchased or rented by Bec  in the form of additional high-value meadows for its sheep and cattle, north of the downs in the ‘woodmarsh’, or woodhay, of East Woodhay, which extended north to the heathy area of ‘la waesshe’ Wash Common. 

In terms of families, Combe was also quite large, with 28 families recorded at the time of Domesday (see Annex II) and 35 at the time of the Bec custumal of the mid-thirteenth century (see Annex III), and that was before the peak of prosperity around 1300 and the Black Death of 1349. This custumal excludes the manor and its resident servants (or famuli) and presumably most of poorer labourer households. In comparison, 600 years later, in the 1861 census, after the population explosion of the late 18th - 19th c, there were no more than 49 households. 

Medieval Combe:

Medieval Combe was much more focused on arable agriculture than the nearest Bec manor at Monxton, near Andover, which, though smaller in terms of population, had meadow and as a result was valued more highly at the time of Domesday.  In terms of Domesday’s comparison between the value in the time Edward the Confessor and the value in 1086, Combe at least maintained its value (as did Ernulf’s all manors in Wiltshire but not his tiny Linkenholt), whereas most other local manors declined in value, including Monxton. It is worth noting that all the woodland in the downland manor of Combe and its neighbours was valued only for producing fence-poles, not for its greater potential value as wood-pasture for pigs. 

Manors and agriculture as they affected Combe in the period:

By the twelfth century Combe was established as a pretty important part of the network, or rather patchwork, of 24 Bec manors or holdings across southern England. By the early 12th c Bec held a group of manors centred around Tooting Bec and run from its valuable holding at Ruislip. Bec also held a bigger loose grouping of ten manors in Wiltshire, Hampshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire, of which Ogbourne St George (just north of Marlborough) and Wantage were the most important. Wantage was part of what was becoming one of the most important wool-growing and wool-trading areas in Southern England; it was the place where Combe’s wool reached the market.  But not one of Bec’s 24 manors was contiguous with any other and much unnecessary travel must have been required. Indeed there were at Combe three people working permanently as carters and a great deal of expenditure each year on cart repair. 

There was not much interaction between Combe and the Bec holding at Hungerford (the latter being a series of small, mainly rented-out properties), but there was much interaction between Combe and Ogbourne St George, the seat of what one could call Bec’s regional office, and where the chief steward also tended to come from. Combe and Ogbourne also interacted frequently with Bec itself via Southampton. Many Combe landholders had a very onerous carting duty to fulfil annually themselves (or by paying for a carter to do it) – carrying large quantities of small sheep’s cheeses to Southampton for Bec. It is not clear how much (or what) was brought back from Southampton, but we know that a carter on one occasion (at least) did also have to fetch wine, presumably French wine, from Southampton for the lord of the manor. Wool was weighed, processed and put in sacks under the auspices of Combe’s bailiff, Robert of Quarley (who reported to the chief steward in Ogbourne) and the wool-merchant, John of Wantage (Wantage was another Bec manor known for its wool). So it is likely that Combe’s wool may well have been exported, along with high-grade Berk-shire wool, down the Thames valley. 

Woods and forest at Combe?

There is surprisingly little mention of woods or forest at Combe, even though woodland is men-tioned in the Domesday entry and a few centuries later that is what Combe was to become quite fa-mous for. The Domesday reference to wood available for fencing at Combe is unquantified, but amounts are specified in Domesday for woods for fencing in other nearby manors, such as   In Combe as in nearby Quarley, the fact that the wood was described as good for fencing implies that it was not so good for wood-pasture, as herbage or pannage (the right to pasture specified quantities of pigs on beech-mast or cattle or other animals on acorns) is usually mentioned as adding value to woodland – but in fact Combe residents did, in the 13th c, have pannage. Authorities differ as to whether the wording of all these entries about wood for fencing suggests that it was a taxable asset of the manor, or whether there were manorial rights for tenants of the manor to extract wood for fencing. Fencing was important for coppicing (fences on top of wood-banks around divisions in the wood for coppice and wood-pasture) and also for sheep-farming, especially the split hazel wands that were used to make hurdles for sheep-folds, as they still were in the late 19th century. But, apart from one mention of hedging for an enclosed coppice, references to woods all occur in connection with the gabulum (a local tax for the notional use of the woods, on the same principle as the notorious salt gabelle of Ancien Regime France), and pannage, the rather important right (with an accompanying tax) for farmers to put pigs (and other animals) out in the manor’s woods.  

There is also a reference to an expensive gathering of lords and the top servants of lords and the foresters and other ‘ministers of the forest (forest servants)’ convened by the abbot of Bec himself through his Ogbourne chief steward, William Harden, in the large forest of Chute in 1307.  Harden was involved in the forest administration as well as being a farmer himself owned Harding Farm near Bedwyn. So too was a Combe tenant, Walter Pipard, whose base was Oxenwood, where he also built a grange. The Pipard family had long been one of the bailiffs in Savernake Forest, and from 1275 bailiffs nearer to hand of Hippenscombe, below Fosbury on the border between Hampshire and Wiltshire and shared between the forests of Chute and Savernake.

This meeting in 1307 also involved the Abbot of Hyde, Winchester (associated with Chute Forest along with the Abbot of Battle, Sussex). This was soon after the beginning of a new trend for the king and the church to raise frequent tailles and ‘subsidies’ (national taxes), in the latter case sometimes for the defence of the Holy Land. The Chute meeting seems to have been about tax and administra-tion, or, more probably, entertainment to distract and then bribe the notables involved to ensure a lenient tax level. There is no reference at all to hunting in any of these documents. 

The church at Combe?

Equally interestingly, unlike in other manors, apart from the everyday occurrence of tithe deductions from crops, there is no reference to the church’s presence other than this one, which is linked to fiscal depredations. There was no mention in Domesday of a church or its property at Combe and in later centuries there was no land that belonged to the church – glebe land as held by many other vicars – so Combe was always a poor parish, with its tithes almost, but not quite all, absorbed by distant institutions (to be precise Bec, and later King’s College and the Dean and Chapter of Windsor). 

The lord of the manor's own land:

The extent of the lord of the manor’s own land at Combe is unknown, except that it can be estimated that, around 1300, half of the manor’s revenue at Combe came from demesne farming, which involved using a mixture of the manor’s own hired labour and its tenants’ labour services, with the other half coming from rents and manorial perquisites. In addition Combe had 14 farmers each holding a virgate of land, about 30 acres, 17 farmers each holding half a virgate, and 3 other small land-holders.  A virgate was about 30 acres, but half a virgate was, according to some estimates, barely enough to cater for the subsistence of a normal family. That makes over 575-650 acres of small farmer land, probably almost all of it croppable on the two or three-field rotation system of the time. That figure does not include whatever demesne land which Bec itself held; for comparison, in 1840 at the time of the tithe mapping exercise, the manor held 800 acres out of the parish’s 2,070 acres, of which 1,100 were arable (1,233 in 1740), and in today’s parish of Combe the whole of the estates of the Astors and the Russells combined is over 1,500 acres. 

What about the virgate-holders?

The 14 virgate-holders had a degree of status, possibly freeing them from almost all labour services (except the expensive one of carrying cheeses to Southampton, a recurrent point of reference in the Bec documents). Four of the virgate-holders have the surname de Estwyk, and the upper Eastwick was very much part of Combe. Women do not make an appearance at all, except on two occasions specifically in connection with gleaning grain from the straw left behind after harvest (a practice that continued until the 19th century). There are no references to Faccombe or Netherton, but one to one Richard de Lynkenholte and one William de Bulkeputte (ie Bulpitt) receiving a large gift of barley from the manor at the time of the above 1307 forest meeting, along with a group of other people who are not on the land custumal (register) of Combe itself. The Bulpitt family lived on in Combe and Netherton until the twentieth century, ending as woodcutters in the now remotely-sited cottage of which only some piles of bricks remain among the yews at the top of Granny (Bulpitt)’s Lane. The only place-names referred to as being within the bounds covered by Combe are the meadow of Wydemarsh, the park of Wydehaeze (very good for fattening pigs – on acorns, presumably) and the horse pasture of Wydeness. There is also a reference to a piece of woodland or an enclosure called Nywelonde, which presumably relates to an actual assart (a clearance of new land), quite common elsewhere, as population pressure increased at least in some places in the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries.

The abbey of Bec's management of Combe:

The abbey of Bec, as a big but efficient absentee landowner, was on paper meticulous about the obligations of its tenants, and in the 1260s and 1320s Bec had legal disputes with a number of them at the big manor of Ogbourne nearby. The Combe account rolls of 1306-8 try carefully to record the 1,600 odd days of services which were supposed to be performed annually by all the half-virgate holders and the 100-odd performed by the carucarii (ploughmen). About 10% of these service days were then let off because of holidays. A rather high proportion of the rest seem to have been used for the threshing and winnowing of grain and for weeding activities.  Such labour services do not appear at all in the other account roll in the Bec archive, which is in other respects just like Combe’s rolls, and such services were clearly slowly falling into disuse. The fact that, by 1307-8 no services at all except at the peak of harvest are recorded as being performed by the 8 virgate-holders or their men/women (although this was not so at all for the hard-pressed half-virgate-holders), suggests that the economic power of the larger farmers was such that they could make their cash payments to the lord of the manor count instead of services. Equally it could or did mean that the lord of the manor found most labour services more trouble than they were worth, sometimes even more costing more than they could get for compensation or than they could get for work by labourers); the large tenants might still have had to do some onerous ‘boon-works’ for the manor, such as paying for transporting cheeses to Southampton.  Perhaps it was the half-virgate-holders’ womenfolk or, perhaps more likely, their house servants who did some of the labour services by this stage, hence the fixation with threshing and winnowing among the recorded services. Malting and the making of beer was very important as nutrition and a lot of the manor’s beer was consumed at harvest time and by visitors, as well as for regular labour services by some larger tenants; across England this was a service which women often did – and they also made beer and sometimes perhaps sold it on their own account from their homes. 

The Bec rolls show a quite high average size of landholding (at an average of 20.5 acres per farmer), but, perhaps oddly, are empty of references to cottars who presumably had other arrangements for small pieces of land.  At Combe after Domesday, unlike most other Bec manors, there is no mention at all of cottars (holding 5 acres of less) or croftholders, as there is in particular at Monxton Anna near Andover (see Annex V). The rolls also do not enumerate labourers or other people who worked at the manor (except the key tradesmen, such as carters, the builder and the carpenter), People who ranked as quite important in each large manor were blacksmiths (such as Wilfred Pain, who held two virgates, more land than anyone else at Ogbourne) and roofers or builders, who seemed to be required to mend many things in addition to roofs, such as wells and, in 1307, the walls of the Combe parish cemetery. At Combe the smith/carpenter was in fact one of the virgate-holders at some points in time and he sometimes then get different treatment from other virgate-holders as regards work service obligations. Blakenham in Bucks, a similar-sized Bec manor, had 12 important manor farm workers (famuli) around probably all year and on the payroll at -time, each of them with determined roles, four of them being ploughmen, but the others all concerned with animals and other services such as dairying (and including woodmen). Combe had around 10 such famuli at the time of harvest, including a man to check the bagging and the yields (and another man to take the tithe (which was extracted for the titheholders at the field edge). As in other manors it was not the famuli but the key people among the unfree farmers, the virgate-holders, who played key roles in running the manor as the reeve and the hayward; for these roles they were remitted rent for their own land to farm. Throughout the year minding sheep (with an extra guard against birds of prey dur-ing lambing), cattle and pigs, as well as crops (against crows) was a major labour requirement. At harvest time in Combe, no fewer than eleven such servants who had to be paid daily for 6 weeks (some of them for collecting money, such as fines for commutation of labour services), and there were also the costs of the bailiff himself during his visits. In practice the virgate-holders will have had men for their own fields and for doing services for the manor. The Bec authorities took some care to get the harvest to work well and for the 1308 harvest some 65-70 men (and no women??) were actually assembled to perform their labour services on the three most important days; the 13 virgate-holders had also to be paid for a day’s work each getting the crop under cover. At considera-ble expense to the manor, meat, pilchards, beer and candles (perhaps for late-night post-harvest carousing) were also supplied for all these workers.

Overall, I strongly suspect that the manor was pretty populous, even by nineteenth-century standards - because, in addition to the extensive demesne fields and woods (which employed the lord’s woodmen), most of the 30-acre holdings of the virgate-holders and some at least of the 15-acre holdings half-virgate-holders were probably intensively farmed enough to need quite a lot of labour to maintain them.  That could mean well a population well in excess of the 175-odd which would result if we used an estimate of 5 members for each of the 35 landowning households. That would add up in fact to probably not far from the 250 at which Combe’s population peaked in the mid-nineteenth century (228 at the 1851 census in a total of about 45 households).  This is keeping with most mod-ern estimates of the population of the whole of England, particularly dense in rural southern England, in the ‘high’ middle ages of between 4.5 and 6 million, which was not reached again after the Black Death until well into the seventeenth century.

Production at Combe:

Combe was also quite a prosperous place at this economic high point for population and agricultural expansion in the ‘high’ middle ages – which is normally thought to be somewhere in the thirteenth century. To feed its substantial population the land under cultivation in open fields was probably in excess of 1,200 acres (ie –possibly – substantially more than 20 acres per family), excluding any sheep downs, and assuming the same ratio of villein land to demesne land as in Domesday of 5 de-mesne land: 7 villein land – the latter being a conservative assumption as the Abbey had more re-sources to cultivate more.  In addition to the Abbey of Bec’s favourite sheep cheeses, Combe produced quite a lot of wool and hides as sheep products (and some bacon and ham) and a good quantity of various types of grain, specializing in wheat, bear or bere (an old form of barley), ordeum (another more marketable kind of barley, in fact modern barley) and oats (with a lot of carters’ and administrators’ horses to feed) – but not, apparently, rye. It is sadly not possible to work out the number of sheep involved in the farm system at Combe but we know from elsewhere that sheep tended to be owned, in their great majority, by a few of the richest villeins. Minor crops were dredge (oats + barley), spineta (probably a similar of grains, possibly spelt), peas, and vetch. 

This all makes up the classic picture of an upland farm where a large quantity of sheep is need to help fertilise the thin chalk or clay-with-flints soils to a high level of productivity (relative to other less intensively-manured parts of England with better soils, many of which, however, needed frequent marling). There are references to the crucial and reasonably novel importance of keeping the sheepfold (falda) in good working order for this purpose. 

Remarkably, in the year 1306-7, no fewer than seventeen trips (at a cost to the manor of only a penny halfpenny each) were made by the reeve of Combe in order to take grain to Andover or Newbury. Bec’s officials came to Combe many times a year from Ogbourne for other reasons too. Combe’s revenues to Bec were not as high as those from Wantage or Ogbourne St George or from Ruislip or Bledlow in Bucks, but were higher than those of all the other Bec manors, with Weedon in Northants and Quarley in Hants producing about the same amount of revenue from grain as Combe, but quite a bit less revenue altogether.  At Ogbourne, Bec had a large demesne holding which could pasture thousands of sheep  (1,000 sheep of all kinds at Ogbourne St Andrew alone), plus a lucrative windmill and also a much smaller watermill.  Being a grain-producing manor for Bec until the late thirteenth or fourteenth century, Combe also had a windmill (worth the significant sum of £2 12s per year) and its demesne pastures would probably have been of nearly the same size.

Combe in 1290 produced £54 2s 7 3/4d in revenue, including £21 12s 6d from grain, £14 from wool and mutton, and £9 5s 7d from straight rents, £2 from its windmill and £2 4s from miscellaneous taxes and dues, including gabulum and tallage + ? pannage.  Land rents and taxes were quite high at Combe, proportionally, relative to the other Bec manors. 

In 1307-8 John of Wantage was buying 750 or 850 sheep fleeces and over 200 lamb fleeces a year from Combe. The price of a fleece seems to be 4d for that of a sheep and 2d for that of a hogget or lamb. This was nearly at the very peak period of English wool production and prestige, when prices for the top wool were very attractive.  Wantage was a major centre for Berkshire wool, which later in the Middle Ages became as prized as Cotswold wool and led to the fortunes of big wool-focussed families. Examples are the Fettiplaces of Berkshire and Oxfordshire and John Winchcombe of Newbury, a full-scale cloth manufacturer who made the fame of Newbury and its clothworkers. Winchcombe and his sons became the country’s biggest seller of high-quality thick kersey cloth in the mid-sixteenth century, and also almost certainly the biggest suppliers of Sir Thomas Gresham, the dominant English merchant at the crucial staple of Antwerp until 1564. 

In addition, 254 cheeses each weighing nearly a pound were sold by Combe in 1307 at 2½d each, plus some fifty pounds of pork in various forms, together with hundreds of pigeons and several hundred hens’ eggs. But the highest source of income to the manor was from the sale of grain - wheat and barley - followed by live sheep and then fleeces. 

In short Bec was a diversified agricultural business, with sheep manure supporting the cropping. There was at Combe a major shift towards diversified livestock production in the early fourteenth century with careful accounting for the realizations of all forms of livestock sub-products, as such manors were entirely capable of shifting emphasis from corn to sheep and back again in the typical mode of ‘sheep-corn husbandry’. Combe was always among the top four of five manors that Bec owned across southern England. Combe was visited probably from time to time by the abbot from Normandy (as it definitely was in 1288, at considerable expense to the manor), as he went about the business of checking up that his accounts were solidly under control and profitably producing revenues which could be used for the benefit of the care of souls. 

See also:

- Combe

- Manors and Combe


Annex I:

Here is the text of the original writ of William I or II regarding Combe confirming Bec’s title:-

‘William, King of England, salutes the bishop, his counts’ followers (viscounts) and all his faithful subjects in Hampshire. Be it known hereby that I grant to the church of Mary, the Holy Mother of God at Bec, the manor known as Cumba, which Emmelina, the wife of Ernulf of Hesding, is giving to it in Hampshire, at the request of the said Ernulf, the said manor being held freely and quietly by the said Ernulf. ‘ 

Date: 1086-90 from transcript into the Bec charter roll.

Annex II:

Here are the entries from Domesday Book for Combe and some surrounding villages. 

Domesday Book was compiled in 1086 – not long before Ernulf went on the First Crusade and trans-ferred Combe to Bec. Did the compiling of Domesday Book itself make him feel guilty for owning so much land?

Combe:

E de Hesdin holds Combe from the king. Eadric held it under Edward the Confessor. It was then as-sessed at 3 hides, now at 2.

Land for 9 ploughs. The demesne has 5 ploughs, and 10 villans + 12 bordars with 7 ploughs.

A church and 6 slaves and ? acres of woodland for fencing. Both in the time Edward the Confessor and now Combe is valued @ £6.

Linkenholt:

E de Hesdin gave it to St Peter’s Abbey, Gloucester under William. Eadric held it under Edward the Confessor. Then valued at 5 hides, now 1 hide – with the rest in demesne.

Land for 5 ploughs. 1 plough in demesne, and 4 villans and 8 bordars with 2 ploughs.

6 slaves and 7 acres of meadow + woodland for fencing.  In the time of Edward the Confessor the manor was valued at 100s, now £4.

Buttermere:

Valued at £2, and mostly owned by E de Hesdin along with his 25-30 holdings elsewhere in Wilt-shire (no others in Hants).

Kingsclere:

Under St Peter’s Abbey, Gloucester.

It used to be valued at 4 hides and 1 virgate, now at zero. Queen Edith held it and it had a hall.

Land for 4 ploughs. Demesne has 1 plough and 5 villans and 14 cottars with 5 ploughs. 

2 slaves, a mill worth 5s + 2 acres of meadow. Herbage (pasture in the woods) valued at 8d. In the time of Edward the Confessor the whole manor was valued at £7, now at £6. 

Monxton:

Held by king in demesne. Under Edward the Confessor, Wulfgifu held it in alod.

Land for 5 ploughs. Demesne has 2 ploughs and there are 3 villans and 5 bordars with 2 ploughs. 

There are 5 slaves and a mill giving 7s 6d and 2 acres of meadow and a small wood. In the time of Edward the Confessor the whole manor was valued at 100s, now £8. 

Quarley:

Under King. Earl Harold paid geld for 5 hides, now 0.

Land  = 4 pls. Demesne = 1 ploughs and 4 villans and 11 bordars and 5 ploughs. 

Church, 12 slaves and woodland with no pannage. In the time of Edward the Confessor the whole manor was valued at £12, now £8.

Hurstbourne Tarrant:

Held by the king in demesne. Was part of King Edward’s farm. Number of hides not known. 

Land for 16 ploughs. In demesne 2 ploughs and 24 villans and 12 bordars with 15 ploughs. 10 ac of meadow and woodland for 20 pigs; for the herbage 20s.

Ogbourne St George:

Under the King. TRE it paid geld for 30 hies.

Land for 25 ploughs. In demesne are 18 hides and there are 4 ploughs and 6 slaves. 

24 villans and 14 bordars have 10 ploughs. 6 ac of meadow and pasture ½ league long and 4 fur-longs broad, and as much woodland. Now worth £25.

Annex III:

Here are the names of all the landowners in the Combe custumal for 1230-40.

14 Virgate-holders (virgatarii) paying 10s pa in rent for about 30 acres each (note 3 names are identified as being from Eastwick, over the hill towards Faccombe, where later there were three or sometimes four copyholds):-

William White (Albus) Hugo de Estwic

William, son of Christine Roger (later Hugo) Sewald – 10s + 9d for new land

Osegod Richard de Wolecumbe – 8s + 2ac new land for 6d     (on R Wolecumbe, see also below under Robert of the Ash) 

Stephen de Estwic ?? + 2 ac of new land for 6d John de Bagener 

Edith widow of Martin Baril Osebert de Estwic

Nigel de Estwic Thomas Bard

Robert the Smith (Faber) Radulf de Puteo (of the well)

NB - 5s less rent for Robert for his smithing duties (or for finding a substitute smith).

17 Half-virgate-holders (semi-virgatarii) paying 4s pa for about 15 acres each:-

Osbert Oppere Robert Sewal

Roger Capellanus (the Chaplain) Lucy the widow

Eunisia the widow Walter Shepherd (Pastor)

Wilfred Akerman Adam Akerman

Edith the widow of the carter William Kempe

Robert Bibo Nicholas Shepherd (Pastor)

Peter White (Albus) Nicholas, son of Hugo

Richard Shepherd (Pastor)

Robert of the Ash (de Fraxino), some of whose land has passed to Richard de Wolecumbe, who pays the manor for it 4s pa ad tempus domini and 

William Fulatus with lower rent, 2s 6d, but additional labour services, 3 tasks one week and 2 tasks the next.

Many Kemps, who included the Kemps de Fraxino (of the Ash) at what is now Wright’s Farm, were named as living in the manor consist-ently up until the beginning of the eighteenth century):-

 And also 4 smallholders, 3 of them women:

Alicia Werin with 1 acre (plus her son William), Mabel Frank with 1 acre, William Parmenter with 1 house with plot (messuage), and Alvena Ricilda with 1 messuage, who owes services with 1 man too.

Nicholas Raw holds 1 virgate for 4s pa at Oxenwood and pays suit to the court at Combe.

In the 1327 Lay Subsidy, from the family names on the above list, William de Wolecumbe, John Bag-genor, Agnes Sewel, Emma Osgood and Henry Le Smyth are among the 10 taxpayers paying an aver-age of 2s 7d tax in that year (and a lot more, on average 70% more, to Edward II 7 years after that). Wolecumbe was the largest taxpayer in 1327, paying 4s. 

In 1372 Elie Sewal leased Combe Manor. In 14    John Baggenor leased Combe Manor. 

Either one or two John atte Putte (de Puteo) was reeve of Combe in the first half of the 14th c.

NB - Combe paid over £2 in tax in the 1334 lay subsidy and was worth £3-5 in tax (though the nomi-nal tax rates varied) in the 16th century, much lower than the high rate that Combe (and Faccombe but not other neighbouring villages) paid once in 1524. 

Annex IV:

Here, from the 1230-40 Combe custumal, is a list of the complex services that each landowner/farmer on the above list was supposed to perform each year and the licences he was expected to pay the lord of the manor for. 

1. Virgate-holders

‘William White holds one virgate for 10s payable at Michaelmas. He pays 1 penny for each ox he has mature enough for ploughing (and for an immature ox one farthing) payable at Michaelmas, and the same at Hockday (the second Tuesday after Easter, the key day for rents). At the time of winter ser-vices he must plough one acre and shall have food provided (corredium). And he will do one other free boon (service) with food provided. At Quadragesima, at the request of the manor’s representa-tive, he must do harrowing up to the ninth hour without food and, if he goes on beyond that time, he will be entitled to food. He must prepare one quarter of brewmash at Christmas or New Year’s Eve, and to help him dry the mash he will have, in return for the work of his helpers, two boons from the lord’s woodman, with bread for them…  And at Easter he must provide eggs – at least ten of them.  And on the days of St Andrew and St John the Baptist he must pay 10d of wood tax. He must wash and shear sheep with two men and on the final big sheep-shearing day, he must, with the whole community of the manor, get one large cheese and he must involve himself in the shearing to ensure that his family/labourers do it well.  And if it so happens that the lord wants to set aside some part of his pasture for mowing, he must go with one man for a day to make hay and carry it away free of charge. 

He should send two men for two of the autumn harvest days and ensure that they do their work properly (should the lord ask him to do so) and they shall have two meals per day of beer and sandwiches [literally bread and its accompaniment].  And he should also, if required, send one man for the third big harvest day. For one day at harvest he must do carting and shall receive food for doing so. If the lord abbot comes to the manor, he must, if required, provide his own food (corredi-um) go to the markets and give meals. He also owes scot and lot (tax) for all common lands. If he dies, his best beast shall do the work of the lord of the manor, and if he dies intestate all his beasts shall be at the lord’s disposal. He shall not marry off any of his daughters without a licence from the lord, nor shall he sell a horse or male ox. He must be ready to lend his beasts to do the lord’s work if it is convenient to the lord. At the time for sending cheeses to Southampton he must do one carrying duty together with his peers and he must account for their receipt and taxes if any and deal with the transporters and ensure that the lord is made whole for any defects, and any driver shall have his daily stipend and keep. And if he makes beer, he shall pay four gallons more or less optionally (scil-icet) as toll. If needed, he will carry wool to Quarley or elsewhere. If anyone sells a horse or ox out-side the manor, the seller will owe the lord 1d per horse and ½d per ox, and the sellers will not es-cape any services linked to the animal.

These are the payments that the reeve must receive. He shall not have to pay 5s of the annual amount and, for so long as the harvest lasts until all the grain has been stored, he shall have his food (corredium) and as long as land remains to be sown he must sow or find a sower to sow, and shall have food for it. He shall also have food if he goes on the lord’s business to nearby markets or to the county town or to the hundred centre. All the virgate-holders shall do the same customs and works and that shall be a condition for each of them. They must also do all boons for the lord both inside and outside his house (except guard duty). And in the two sowing seasons they shall be entitled to a measure of seed (sellopum) of wheat and barley respectively.’

2. Half-virgate-holders

‘Osbert Opper holds half a virgate for 4s a year if he does not do services; but if he does services he must, for three working days in any week from Michaelmas until John the Baptist (not on the Sabbath), thresh a measure of grain or do whatever other services the lord requires, and after John the Baptist he must plough or harrow on the same basis as the virgate-holders. At Martinmas he shall provide 3 hens and a cock as heriseth and on both St John the Baptist and St Andrew’s days he will pay 2½ d as wood tax (gabulum). And on Michaelmas and Hockday he must pay tax (pannage?) for oxen like the virgate-holders. He must do sheep-droving duty for one day and shall have food, ie bread, when both going and coming. He shall give 8 eggs at Easter. He must wash and shear sheep until the final shearing day and must harrow and weed and make hay. He must bring in the sheep for the whole time after their birth until Michaelmas and for each of the major harvest days he must come with a man and they will have food.  He must prepare rods and hedging for the sheepfold, and make hurdles and wattle and move the sheepfold from one place to another. He owes scot and lot like the rest of the community and all the other services, works, customs, payments and conditions as all the virgate-holders (except the duty to carry cheeses to Southampton).

As for the half-virgate-holders, the lord may make them do services for the harvest, ploughing, and sheep or pig herding. They must perform these services or pay 4s of annual rent to be released from all forms of harvest work. From the day of St Peter ad Vincula until Michaelmas they must guard the crops night and day and pay for any damage they suffer – and shall receive food for that whole peri-od.

As for ploughman (carucarius), for so long as they are ploughing for the manor, they shall be exempt from all the above services except (!) the pannage tax on grass, the wood tax, harrowing, sheep-washing and shearing, and hay collection and the harvest ploughing duties (naturally!) - for which they shall attend all the harvest days like any other. They shall have food at Michaelmas, Christmas and Easter and at Pentecost 2 ½d for the milk for that day. On every other Sabbath they shall plough one acre. 

As for the men in charge of the sheep-sheds (the bercarii), they shall be exempt from the annual cess, and each of the bercarii (one for ewes, one for wethers and one for 1-year old sheep) shall have the same exemptions as the ploughman in other respects and shall be entitled to [at least] one lamb and one fleece and shall have food just like the ploughmen and for the common good they shall receive 1 quarter of barley (or any other grain they like) per year for continually erecting and maintaining the sheepfold.”

NB - In practice, it probably did not work out like this at all.  A lot of detailed negotiation clearly went on around labour services, which have been demonstrated to be less efficient than paid labour. 

In this case a lot of the holders of half or whole virgates were specified as not working fully, or in other cases as not paying rent if they were working fully.

It is not easy to work out, or at least to be sure, which of these services the virgate-holders actually performed for free, and which they performed for payment and food (which presumably helped them outsource the work even more easily). I suspect the half-virgate holders had a much more dif-ficult time, on the basis that the manor would expect them to have more free time as they were look-ing after smaller farms of their own. Historians believe that across the twelfth, thirteenth and four-teenth centuries this area of onerous services (especially the week-work of half-virgate-holders) and payments for commutation of services due was subject to constant change and negotiation, as can be inferred from the text of Annex IV; these changes would sometimes have been in favour of landlords, sometimes in favour of freeholders and villeins. Even the distinction between free (meaning subject only to the king’s courts) and villein was blurred too. 

Payments in lieu of services, and small ones at that, only turn up under very few of these headings in the Combe accounts of 1307 and 1308 as rendered to the Abbot of Bec. As far as we can tell, the actu-al services rendered were recorded and were all performed by half-virgate-holders and almost all turn out to be for threshing and winnowing (as not so much haymaking went on this manor). 

Annex V:

Mid-thirteenth century Bec custumal recording the inhabitants of Monxton, or Monxton Anna, near Andover, with a different social structure, at least on paper:-

One holder of 2 virgates:

William Becco

Ten virgate-holders, each with one virgate:

Thomas de Hale J

Jordan de Gardino

Radulf de Auga

Scholastica the widow

Walter Sturmey

John Pigman (Porcarius)

Young Richard

William de Hulla

Simon Pipard

William Pipard

One holder of a half a 1 virgate: 

Nicholas Bridge (de Ponte)

Five cottars holding 5 acres each:

Gilbert Ash (de Fraxino)

Godwin Gorlec

Simon Sturmey

Robert Ash (de Fraxino)

Matillis the widow

Seven crofters – each holding just a house and garden (for an annual rent of 1s to 1s 6d):

Henry de Becco

Robert de Becco

Helias

Matillis the widow (again)

John Loys

William Pinnock

William King

and also (with just 1 measure of land): 

Wilfred Sutor.

[DP 1st  edition March 2011; 2nd edition 2013; 3rd edition 2020] 

See also:

Manors and Combe - A short background to manorial agriculture in southern England and why manorial farming characterized the whole period from before 1000 to after 1350 and continued to influence life and farming in the following centuries.

Combe as a manor of Bec in the Middle Ages - from the custumal records of Bec-Hellouin.

Combe and its landless cottagers - the Wadsmere Common dispute of 1840-43 and beyond

Combe gibbet - myth and background.