Anyone studying common land immediately encounters a host of obscure terms (such as estovers, levancy, appurtenant, beastgate, and so on). The following are some of those you may come across:
Affeeror. The manor court officer who adjusted fines (amercements) levied by the jury according to each offender’s personal circumstances. They usually reduced the level of the fine.
Agistment (also known as Tack). The practice of letting grazing land or common pasture rights out for the use of other people’s animals.
Amercement. The fine imposed by a manor court jury on those caught breaking the court’s byelaws or orders.
Bailiff. The manor bailiff was the officer appointed by the lord to oversee and manage one or more manors.
Beastgate see Stint.
Cattlegate see Stint.
Common in the soil: the right to take products of the soil, such as stone, sand or gravel.
Common pasture: grass land used for common grazing.
Common rights see Common in the soil, Estovers, Pannage, Pasture (Right of), Piscary, Turbary
Common sans nombre: A common pasture right without number but nevertheless usually not unlimited. Pasture rights were often limited by the rule of Levancy and Couchancy (q.v.).
Drift: driving the common to gather together animals grazing there, whether to check them or take them off the common. Also used of a path or routeway for livestock, usually an established route or path from a farm or holding to the common.
Estovers (Right of). the right to take wood and other vegetation (such as bracken, heather, gorse, and rushes) from the common for household needs, repairs and fuel.
Gait/gate see Stint
Grassman see Reeve
Grave/Greave see Reeve
Heaf (also known as: Heft, Lear, Sheepwalk). An area of a common or hill grazing associated with the flock of a specific holding which has become acclimatised to this location. The settled flock is said to be ‘heafed’ or ‘hefted’. The system depends on hill breeds with a strong territorial instinct, as the heaf is unfenced. Typical of upland regions of Northern and South West England, and Wales. In Wales the heaf is known as a ‘sheepwalk’, and in some areas has developed semi-private status.
Levancy and Couchancy, rule of. This provided that commoners could graze as many beasts as they were able to sustain off their own resources over the winter, when grass-growth was too meagre for common grazing.
Pain(e). A byelaw or order imposed by the manor court jury in order to regulate activities within a manor, including the exercise of common rights.
Pannage (Right of). the right to run pigs in woodland, usually to feed on acorns and beech-mast.
Pasture (common of): the right to put livestock on common land. The numbers of animals which could be grazed was usually governed either by the rule of Levancy and Couchancy or by Stint.
Pinder (also known as: Pounder). A manorial or community officer with powers to impound stray or trespassing livestock, shutting them in the village enclosure (the ‘pound’ or ‘pinfold’) and levying a fine for their release. Sometimes also expected to monitor stocking levels and act as a herdsman during the grazing season.
Piscary (Right of): the right to take fish from waters where common rights apply.
Pounder see Pinder
Profit à prendre. A legal term which indicates a right to take some part of, or the produce of, another person’s land. The term defines the legal nature of a common right.
Reeve. A manorial or community officer involved in the managing and policing of agrarian resources and common land. Terms and duties varied between manors. For example, a ‘common reeve’ was usually appointed to manage and police stock on the common; a ‘moss reeve’ would police the cutting of peat for fuel. Some manor courts appointed a number of resource-specific officers known as ‘lookers’: e.g. a ‘hedge looker’ to check that boundaries were maintained, or a ‘peat looker’ to regulate the taking of peat.
Sheepwalk see Heaf
Stint (also known as: Beastgate, Cattlegate, or simply as Gate/Gait). A ‘stint’ or ‘gait’ is a pasture right defined as a fixed number of animals. Thus a common or pasture may be said to be ‘stinted’: each grazier holds a certain number of stints, often expressed in terms of ‘beastgates’ or ‘cattlegates’ (each giving the right to graze one horned beast on the common). A formula was often used to convert ‘beastgates’ into rights for different categories of livestock (one beastgate might give the right to graze one horned beast or 10 sheep or half a horse, for example). The stinting formulae vary between commons and pastures.
Tack see Agistment
Turbary (Right of): the right to dig or cut peat or turves from common land.
Vicinage: the right of commoners on contiguous unfenced commons to allow their animals to stray over the boundary without facing a penalty. Sometimes expressed as a common right ‘pur cause de vicinage’.
(Text by A.J.L. Winchester and E.A. Straughton)