A mourning ring for my brother Thomas

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Thomas Worcester had been the largest landowner resident in the parish at the time of the Pro and Con document. In the subsequent scramble of land investment John Walker, the draper had outstripped him by a few acres but he was still left with a substantial farm of nearly 140 acres after Enclosure.

Sadly, he had only three years to enjoy it before he died, but he probably at least set in motion the building of a new house in the village before he died. That house was enjoyed by his sister Esther for almost 20 years as an independent, unmarried woman.mourning ring 2

Thomas left no will, but Esther made up for it with a very long one, in 1783. She left money to relations in Northamptonshire and Leicestershire, and lands in West Haddon, Guilsborough and Hillmorton. She named Charles Heygate as one of her trustees for the sale of the ¬†West Haddon land, and to his sister Catherine she left ‘my brocaded flowered silk gown and one of the mourning rings I had for my brother Thomas’.

She probably drove herself to visit local friends and relatives in the one-horse chaise she left to one of them.Chaise_(PSF)

There were many other bequests, including a couple to non-conformist ministers in both Long Buckby and Kilsby, (which explains why she and her brother have no baptism records at All Saints’.) This echoes an earlier member of the Worcester family who, in the previous century had been Vicar of Olney. His puritan leaningflowered silk gowns led him to resign from the established church and he took his family to America, about ten years after the Mayflower sailed with the Pilgrim Fathers. He became the founding pastor of a church in Massachusetts. What would he have thought of all Esther’s brocades and rings and things?

A fair field, full of folk…

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We have grown up in an era of modern farming, where the countryside appears largely empty, with perhaps a single tractor driver away in the distance (or on the road, right in front of us when we’re in a hurry.) But the past was different. The medieval poet who wrote The Vision of Piers Plowman described ‘a fair field full of folk’, because it used to take a lot of people to feed a community.a fair field full of folk

The old open field system, with arable land arranged in strips, evolved from the co-operation it took from all the farmers in a village to break virgin land to the plough. They pooled resources in terms of tools, muscle, oxen to pull the plough (it took eight), so when that piece of land was ready to be sown, it made sense for each contributor to have a share in the crop from it, before moving on to the next piece.

It seems crazy to us, but the system worked. It was an efficient and fair use of resources – everyone got a bit of the nice, sunny, southerly slope, as well as the windy hilltop that took so long to warm up in spring. So it lasted. For centuries. The ridge and furrow it left behind is still visible in places.

Not West Haddon, but this is a good illustration of ridge and furrow remains
Not West Haddon, but this is a good illustration of ridge and furrow remains

In West Haddon, the Vicar’s glebeland amounted to half a yardland (nearly 20 acres). It was described in detail for the Bishop’s Visitation in 1761. Strip by strip, the list gave the name of the furlong on which the strip lay, and the name of the owner of the neighbouring strip.

So there was a rood (that’s about a quarter acre – some strips were double) on Upwards Furlong, David Cox, West…a rood on Hedge Iron, Jonathan Robins, East…a rood on Wheatborough, Thomas Worster, North… a half-acre on Patty Pool, William Gulliver, East…

In all, the Vicar had 20 neighbours to one side of his lands, and another 20 on the other side. There would have been times when they (or their tenants or labourers) will have been working together on the same furlong. A sociable community enterprise, which fostered a sense of mutual interdependence and co-operation and which was threatened by Enclosure.

Most of these old furlong names have been lost now, but there’s still a modern field, off to the right, past the roundabout on the road to Nortmedieval ploughhampton, called Wheatborough, and the name goes back to at least the year 1250. (Which is even older than Piers Plowman).