You are in [Places] [Combe] [Combe as a manor of Bec in the Middle Ages]

This section of the Virtual Museum gathers together a number of well-researched articles by Dr Donald Peck, and kindly presented to the Virtual Museum in February 2022.


Detailed records of Combe can be found in a thirteenth century custumal (dating from1230-40) from the Abbey Le Bec-Hellouin (or Bec): 

A) Tenants of Combe:

A thirteenth-century custumal gives names of all the tenants holding land in Combe. The custumal was prepared for the Abbé of Bec (or rather for William de Guineville, Bec's Prior or Proctor in England, at Ogbourne, Wiltshire), probably in the 1230s. It shows:-

i) 14 Virgate-holders (virgatarii) were paying 10s pa in rent for about 30 acres each (three of these people 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).

 ii) 17 Half-virgate-holders (semi-virgatarii) were 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 consistently up until the beginning of the eighteenth century):-

iii) There were also 4 cottarii (smallholders), 3 of them women:

  • Alicia Werin with 1 acre (& her son William), 
  • Mabel Frank with 1 acre, 
  • William Parmenter with a house with plot
  • Alvena Ricilda with a house (a ‘messuage’), who owes services with 1 man too.
  • Nicholas Raw also holds 1 virgate at Oxenwood for 4s pa 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 Baggenor, Agnes Sewel, Emma Osgood and Henry Le Smyth are among the 10 taxpayers paying an average 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. Later William Bagenor leased Combe Manor until the year 1454. 

Either one or two people called John atte Putte (de Puteo) was reeve of Combe in the first half of the fourteenth century.

NB - Combe paid over £2 in tax in the 1334 lay subsidy and was worth £3-5 in tax (though the nominal 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. 

Labour Services:

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 services 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 representative, 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 (corredium) 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 (scilicet) as toll. If needed, he will carry wool to Quarley or elsewhere. If anyone sells a horse or ox outside the manor, the seller will owe the lord 1d per horse and ½d per ox, and the sellers will not escape 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 period.

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 2½d 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 usually much less efficient than paid labour. The villan is also thought to have been able usually to get better crops on his own land than on the lord’s.

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 and the Abbey of Bec-Hellouin - 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:

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

Combe gibbet - myth and background.