The Copie of the Coucher

The Copie of the Coucher
Barwick-in-Elmet - Year 1425

from The Barwicker No. 11

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The Kingdom was under the rule of a regent; King Henry VI, who came to the throne in 1421, was but four years of age. Described by a historian as "pious, ascetic and politically inept", he nevertheless was instrumental in founding in 1446, the King's College at Cambridge, together with its wonderful Chapel, and a sister foundation at Eton.

Let us try to imagine the appearance of Barwick in the 1400's. It was approached by deep1y-rutted lanes, passable only at the sides where grass had been grazed by the cattle. The village street was wide, made so by the grass verges used as droveways. The long stone wall of the Rectory grounds had not yet been built; a water~fi11ed ditch ran right along this side. On the other side was a scattering of very low, thatched cottages, timber-framed with daub-fi11ed walls. Each had its own plot of land divided from its neighbour by a deep furrow. The doorways were impossibly low by today's standards, but the reason was not far to seek, the people emerging from these hovels were of small stature, the women being little more than four feet in height. Men averaged a foot taller and were stockily built. Their clothing was rough but adequate, but the pallid children were in rags.

More cottages were at the end around a grass plot on which stood a small wooden pole with vestiges of red painted rings. A large block of stone was situated where soon the village cross would be erected, but as yet there was very little use for this building material except for the Church and Rectory. Some stone was being used in crude form for farmsteads, Church Farm perhaps being one example. In addition to the clergy, comprising the Rector and several curates, one might sometimes see a brown-habited monk from the settlement at Potterton.

So much for imagination; what about recorded fact? Life was a grim experience at that time. Food for the people depended entirely on their own husbandry and bad seasons brought near-starvation. Life expectancy was generally less than two thirds of that obtaining in later centuries, but these early Barwickers were tough, labouring long and hard to support their families and for the benefit of the Church and the local lord who was rarely seen in the village.

The Church and old Rectory were the only buildings we would recognise today. In fact in 1425, on both, rebuilding work was in progress. The Church tower was being erected by mason who had recently arrived from working on Kippax Church. Here, they were replacing an ear1ier, probably 12th. century structure, with the now familiar two-coloured tower, using the white limestone from the quarry of Sir Henry Vavasour of Hazlewood, whose benefaction is remembered by the statue of him in the canopied niche on the west face of the tower.

Rector from 1421 was John Scott, who resigning in 1432 was replaced by Richard Burnham, who according to a carved inscription thereon, had the Rectory completed in 1440, again rebuilding on an earlier structure. With walls two feet thick this building is now classified as an Ancient Monument. The Church served a population (taken at the Poll tax of 1379) and assumed not to have varied greatly in the next 45 years, of 500-600 souls. This could mean 150 to 200 dwellings scattered over the whole parish including outlying hamlets.

Very precise information about Barwick at that time is given in the "Coppie of the Coucher" survey of 1425, which was made to evaluate the renta1s and worth of the country as an update of Domesday and later surveys for the Poll Tax of 1379. In previous centuries tenant farmers had worked the lord's land as payment for their holdings but, by 1425, most of them paid money rent. The following is a selection of the entries made in The King's Letter of Warrant dated at Westminster, 17 February. 3 Henry VI (1425).

"The advowson (living) of the Church of Berrewike is worth as of old 100 marks."
"There is a certain orchard containing 2 1/2 acres on either side of the sike (small stream or ditch) of the new demenes, which is farmed (leased) to the Rector of the Church there, formerly at l0s at the terms of Easter and Michaelmas." The demene (demesne) was the lord's estate.
"As there is a certain plot of wood called Le Shaghe where the Rector of the Church has pasture for nine beasts at all times of the year and nevertheless the herbage was formerly worth l8d. beyond (after) the common of the cattle of the Rectory. Also the underwood of the same was formerly worth yearly 3s. Also there is a certain plot of wood called Le Blackfen where the Rector of the Church has common as above."
"There are two water mills of Hillome, sometime worth yearly beyond (after) deductions 50s. 4d and nevertheless were farmed yearly at 60s., all outgoings such as mill wheels and all others to be found at the cost of the Lord."
"There is a certain windmill now demised to William Milner for 28s. 4d. at the terms of Easter and Michaelmas, which used to render 30s."
"Robert Maleverer has utrake in the moor of Potterton this year only, and renders in the same term 2s." (Utrake or outrake is an extensive open place for sheep or free passage for sheep to common lands.)
"Thomas Elis holds an acre of land and half an acre of meadow in Hillome ..."
"William Milner holds the pasture of Milneholme below the garden of Hillome, and renders at Michaelmas 2s.
A small plot of pasture below the mill, nil (no rent) here because it is with the mill."
"Alfred Manston holds an acre of moor from the lord's Waste in Secrofte, in a place called Allershaghsike for enclosing his field ...."
"William Horton holds the road-toll (cheminage) over Wynmore and renders yearly at Michaelmas 5s."

Names appearing in these documents include:

Thomas Somercotes William Blrche John Cocke
Thomas Wombwell John Saner Sybil de Britby
John Wllleson William Kynston Dionisius Balllby
William Saney Robert Ellis Amicia Hankoke
Hugh Spynke Ellen Vessey William Langloo
John Rauson John Harpyn Robert Edlington
Thomas Symson John Grenefeld at Barnboghe John Talllor
Nicholas Gascoigne at Barnboghe

The following is a list of field and place names. (Can any of our farmer friends identify these with their holdings? Ed.)

Midinge Goseacres Angrome
Skolescarre Scoletres Shagh
Swynesyke Le Stank Thomrodesmythe
Milnecroft Littlestank Kidalrode
Thurstonhaghe Osinerflat Ma1rodsmythe
Benthenge Comerflat (Kidale) Mencroftsik
Coluerde Bent Casteldike
Capitelflat Pygrene Bondenge
Casteldike Ketelcrofte Osmerthicke (a burial place)
Godwynrode Le Roundhey Bondinge (meadow)
Okenheade (a certain park) Welleflatte Stockinge
Kringeldikes Osmerflat Tatarode

croft a small piece of arable land rode a road.
stank a ditch, pond or dam carre boggy ground,
shagh (shaw) a small wood dike a ditch or bank.
enge (ing) a meadow , often near a river or stream flatte (flat) a collectlon of strips in an open field.

Labour service had not entirely disappeared. "In Barnboghe, John Marshall holds in right of his wife a messuage and a bovate of land in bondage, and renders yearly at Martinmas and Whitsuntide 8s.2d. for work of cutting released to Robert Roudon and he shall be reeve when elected, neither may he allow his son to be tonsured nor his daughter to marry without leave, and his daughter shall give leirwite, and his holding shall remain (i.e. at his death) in the lord's hand, as above 8s. 2d."

A messuage was a dwelling and adjoinlng land. A bovate was one eighth of a ploughland, which was the area of land cultivated by one eight-ox plough. The reeve was the lord's steward. The lord forbad the son to become a priest or monk, or the daughter to marry outside the manor as this would deprive him of their labour service.

"Each (man) having beast in the vill of Austroppe (Austhorpe) shall plough with the lord at the Lent sowing for a day."

More than three centuries had elapsed since the Normans had fortified Hall Tower Hill. Any signs of this work had already disappeared, their timber palisades used for stakes and firewood. The country had settled down to the even tenour of an agricu1tura1 existence: the devastating Wars of the Roses were yet to come.

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