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Christopher Varey's Troublesome Sheep

from The Barwicker No. 86

Barwick-in-Elmet and Scholes Manor Court Leet held 12th October 1748 :
Christopher Varey for turning his sheep on the common having no right so to do: fined 10 shillings.

This crime is listed amongst the Barwick & Scholes Manorial records preserved by the West Yorkshire Archive Service in Leeds.

In the past the Manor would have touched the lives of almost all residents in the village. It provided a legal framework for the management of land within the village through the Manor Court. It would have been formed before the Norman Conquest of 1066 and it survived until Acts of Parliament in the 1920s abolished Manors in almost all respects bar for name.

The owner of the Manor was known as the Lord of the Manor and this title is one of the few elements to survive into the present day. The Gascoigne family held the Lordship for many years and Sir Edward Gascoigne was Lord in October 1748 when Christopher Varey was in trouble.

Manors varied in size from a single village or hamlet to the area covered by a number of parishes. The boundaries of the Manor covering Barwick have changed over the years and at one time included more of the much larger ancient Parish of Barwick-in-Elmet, but by the eighteenth century it roughly comprised the villages of Barwick and Scholes.

d The majority of Manorial land was held under copyholder tenure and referred to the practice of giving the tenant a copy of the Court record that detailed their holdings and served as proof of title.

The Court would retain the original record written on rolls of vellum (hence the term Court Rolls) but in later years on paper bound in large books. The tenants could inherit, sell, buy, sublet or mortgage their copyhold land only under permission from the Manorial Court, a payment (known as a fine) would usually be payable to the Lord for each transaction.

Until the eighteenth century the Courts also had jurisdiction to fine residents for minor offences relating to the management of the Manor. It was run through two Courts. The first called the Court Baron dealt with the transfer of copyhold land from one tenant to another. The second called the Court Leet was concerned with criminal functions. The Court Baron records survive complete between the 1690s and 1920s but only the years 1748 & 1749 appear to survive for the Court Leet in the post 1717 period.

What crime had Christopher actually committed? Some copyhold tenants, as part of their land holding, would also be granted a right to graze animals on Barwick common and be known as a commoner. This area of shared grassland was located between Scholes and Barwick it is shown on the map below) and would be over 100 acres in size. This likely would be a jealously guarded right and I wonder whether it was a commoner who notified the Court of the crime, seeing the last of the season's sweet grass been eaten by Christopher's sheep. It is more likely to have been the bailiff who spotted the animals, as he worked for the Lord dealing with the day to day management of the Manor.

Poor Christopher must have been having a bad time in the autumn of 1748, he was also fined at the same court 3 shillings and 6 pence for a pound breach. The village pound also known as the pinfold was a small enclosure used to house stray animals found in the Parish. It was located almost opposite the entrance to Elmwood Lane on Leeds Road. A fine was payable by the owners to have them released. More seriously a larger fine was payable if the owner broke into the pinfold and removed the animals without paying the standard fine. The pinfold was a vital Manor function, stray animals could easily devastate crops growing in gardens or fields. Maybe the same sheep had caused him both problems?

Christopher was from Scholes, baptised at All Saints Church in Barwick in August 1726 son of John Varey. He married Martha Smith on 21 November 1749, one year after his criminal record. He seems to have prospered in the Parish and worked as a labourer, likely tending some of his own land as well as working for others. He had at least seven children, two who died aged under one year, and his eldest child, Sarah, dying of consumption (TB) aged 30 in 1781. In his later life he moved from Scholes into Barwick, dying in 1795 aged 69 just two months after Martha. We will probably never know whether he became a serial petty criminal, as later records don't appear to survive. I like to think that the 22 year old Christopher learnt his lesson in 1748 and remained on the straight and narrow path afterwards. I hope for the sake of his family he did, the total fine of 13 shillings and 6 pence was nearly double a labourer's weekly wage.

The Barwick Manorial records contain massive amounts of information and are a mostly unexplored source. Whilst they can be difficult to use, I'm sure they have more interesting facts about the history of the district to reveal.


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