History of common land

The story of common land is an intrinsically interesting and often important part of local history.   Historical evidence and experiences can also provide new perspectives on contemporary land use issues.  However, there is currently something of a black hole in our knowledge of how common land was used and managed across much of the 20th century.  Local communities – especially the older generation of commoners – hold a substantial body of memory for this period in the history of commons, but it has yet to be recorded.

Barrow Common, Norfolk
Second World War Radar Station, Barrow Common, Norfolk (photo, E.A. Straughton)

Our aim in the History section of this website is to provide free advice and resources for commoners, communities, local historians and others, to help them capture the unwritten history of the commons.  Please see directory of resources, below, which are freely available.


History Toolkit

A guide to conducting research into the history of your local common.  It contains information on how to find and use various sources, and includes background chapters such as ‘What is common land?’, Historical Themes, and a Glossary.


History Questionnaire

A simple questionnaire you can use as a framework for recording your own or others’ recollections of your local common, and for organising and reporting on historical findings.


Commons Stories

Short histories, completed questionnaires, personal testimonies, photos and other material relating to individual commons, submitted by commoners, community groups and researchers from across England and Wales.


Historical Bibliography

Historical texts relevant to the study of common land, including general texts on common land use, cultural and agrarian history, and preservation; texts which describe specific regions or commons; and texts which include evidence of manorial
governance and/or byelaws.


Common Land on the Web

A directory of external links to common land websites, organisations and research resources, many of which have historical content.