Court Books: Housing

This is an extract from The Medieval Peasant House in Midland England by Nat Alcock and Dan Miles (Oxbow Books, forthcoming), reproduced here by kind pemission of the authors.

Books of extracts from the court rolls of the St Albans’ manor of Winslow have survived and been edited for two periods, 1327–1377 and 1423–1460. The court for this small market town between Aylesbury and Buckingham also included two rural villages within its jurisdiction. Entries mentioning buildings mostly relate to the town, but its inhabitants were clearly principally involved in agriculture and there was probably little difference between housing in the town and the villages. The court rolls include a number of admissions with the recipient required to erect a house, most often on empty or subdivided plots. However, in 1327 John le Shoemaker and Amabilia his wife received a cottage lying between the market-place of Wynselowe and the land of John Mayn, and were required to build a solar there. In a particularly interesting entry in 1368, Walter Brasiar was required firstly to maintain a chamber in the holding formerly Thomas William’s (that he had apparently just acquired), and also to construct anew a new house, with 2 pairs of seules and 2 cuttes, before the following Christmas.(1) The seules must surely be siles, i.e. crucks, and the cuttes were perhaps lean-to bays at each end.(2) The text does not make clear if the building was domestic or agricultural, but the maintenance of a chamber only suggests that it represented the rebuilding of the hall and other parts of the house.

More commonly, the entries refer to the reservation of part of a house for the life of the previous tenant. Thus, in 1360, Christina Ward surrendered a substantial holding comprising a messuage and 12 acres on condition that she could have all the buildings from the door of the hall up to the entry-gate of the said messuage for her life (and could keep eight cocks and hens). In 1424, William Evresdon surrendered a messuage and yardland for his son, keeping his lodging within the aforesaid messuage, a high chamber called the Soler in the lower part of the hall, and a brewhouse in the western part of the same messuage. In the following year, John Est surrendered into the lord’s hands a substantial holding including two messuages to William Perkyn, who had to plough and sow 9 acres for John and Agnes. He also had to allow them a high chamber at the end of the hall, the use of the hall with William Perkyn and his wife, and a house called Litulberne [little barn] together with a stable at the end of the great grange. If they quarrelled, then William had to make a respectable hall for them in the Bakhows [bakehouse?], at his own expense. In 1458, in a similar entry the use of two chambers and the path to the latrine was reserved.

(1) Brasiar had received three holdings from one John Burnham in 1367, and the requirement probably have related to one of these; he disposed of numbers of small parcels of land from the holdings over the next few days.
(2) Although cut is not recorded in OED in any building-related meaning, the phrase 'a stable called a cutting' is found in Somerset in 1608 (TNA LR 2/202, ff. 199-253), and this is best interpreted as a lean-to building.

Copyright 1 August, 2015