Manor, Lammas And Commons
In 1950 an Eton College master wrote an article for a village magazine stating that ten years earlier The Eton Urban Planning Officer asked two local men to mark a local map with all the land that they deemed to be lammas land. The men were Mr. H. Bunce a dairy farmer, and Mr. G. Gosling an Eton road sweeper. Apparently, the authorities had no map of this great institution that had existed here for over 1,000 years.
I trust the men were knowledgeable and unbiased, but the point I am making is that my lack of sure facts puts me in good company. I have long believed that there is no confident authority on this subject. We have one certainly in that the green open spaces around Eton Wick are entirely due to the vigilance of many earlier generations and owe little to present day apathy. If you doubt me. please walk along the rail viaduct, adjacent to the Great Common and observe all the rubbish in the stream and the odd fridge, stove etc., dumped on the common. This could not have happened in the yesteryears because clearing the ditches was just one of the responsibilities shared by all users of the commons.
Manor - The fact of being in a Manor: of having commons and lammas rights, are indicative of Eton's Anglo-Saxon origins. It was customary for Monarchs to reward for a special service, military; political; or perhaps even as bribery, some areas of his kingdom. The recipient became the Thegn (Thane) now known as Lord of the Manor. Locally we read that Edward the Confessor was living in a Saxon Palace at Old Windsor: (at that time there was no 'New' Windsor) In 1050 AD: he gave the Manor of Eton to his wife, Queen Edith. In 1075 the Queen died and the Manor went back to the Crown. A little later William the Conqueror granted the Manor of Eton to a 'Walter, son of other' in recognition of Walter being a Warden of the Forest and the Governor of the newly erected Castle Keep. The Castle's beginning dates to that time. Briefly. for nearly 1,000 years, the Manor has been handed down, divided and changing its name, is now the 'Manor of Eton cum Stockdales and Colenorton; which since 1941 has had Eton College as the Lord of that Manor. At the time of the Conqueror's Doomsday Book (1086) Eton Wick, as part of Eton. had Hedgerley and Wexham in the Eton Manor.
Certainly there was no overcrowding; the Doomsday census of 1086 recorded only twenty-three families and four serfs in the entire holding. We can only guess at the accuracy of that census. Successive Lords were also the Governor/Constable of Windsor Castle. In 1204 there was no male heir to the Manor so it was divided between two sisters, each now having a separate Manor. In due course one of these was divided yet again, each, of course, having a separate title. It would be too complicated to try and cover all the changes in a short article, but it is sufficient to observe the more noteworthy. In the late 16. century a reference is made to a Manor of Colenorton. A few years later (1700) to a Manor of Eton cum Stockdales and later again to the Manor of Eton cum Stockdale and Colenorton. These dates do not necessarily reflect the starting dates of the respective changes. A Lord of the Manor may hold a. of Manors and yet not live In, or visit them. He is served by Stewards who administer the estate and the Courts Leet (meetings).
The Stewards have a 'Bailiff and in the case of lammas, a 'Hayward'. Both are elected at the Court Leet. The Bailiff being in direct control and applications of the affairs of the Commons and Lammas, and the Hayward, being responsible for the seasonal grazing of lammas lands and the legitimacy of the grazing animals, ensuring only those belonging to local owners and not exceeding the 'stint' (allowance) of those owners. At an Eton Court Leet held after WW2 (1948) it is recorded the Deputy Steward (Mr A. L. Carter) held the meeting. Eight local adults were appointed jurors (Committee), the Eton vicar was appointed foreman. Mr Arthur (Bob) Bond as Bailiff and Mr John Pass the Hayward. Most were farmers, including two of the wives. We will leave Manors and look at the Commons and Lammas.
Commons and Lammas - Commons are areas for the restricted use of local people. They are throughout the country but not necessarily only for grazing, as is the case in Eton. Since the 18th century many commons have been enclosed (fenced or hedged) and many have been broken up and shared to the 'favoured'. Not so in Eton which, against the Lord of the Manors wish, petitioned Parliament in 1826 to reject the Enclosure Act being enforced. There was much rejoicing locally. Much earlier, open land had been set aside in Eton/Eton Wick as The Great and the Little Common on which authorised locals could graze their allowance of oxen, cattle, horses, sheep and pigs: but not geese. Throughout the years there have been changes and perhaps for two centuries oxen and sheep have not grazed the commons and latterly neither has dairy cows. The commons season is from May 1st until February 28th. The trees and fencing along Common Road give a wrong impression of the area of Great Common which reaches from the bollards close to Bell Lane and along the village to Eton's Common Lane. It also extends across the stream. behind the Greyhound, along to Common Road and again across that road as far as the stream again. These two smaller areas, bisected by Common Road, have the stream on one side and a wire cum hedge along the north side. Little Common is at the extreme north end of Common Road.
In those distant years any person settling in the Manor would be given a 'strip' (Butt) of land and common grazing rights. He would be told what to grow on his strip. There were narrow grass paths between the many strips of land, known as baulks, which strip holders were obliged to maintain. It was said a strip was equal to what a man could hand plough in a day: the many strips were unfenced. Crops were restricted to that which could be harvested by July 31st after which date the land was 'in lammas' and regardless of ownership was open to all those with a grazing stint (allowance) to use. The lammas lands were closed to general use on October 31st. In practice, until alter WW2, cows etc were fumed on the commons as from May 1st and after August 1st the Hayward exercised the right to take the beasts over the 'strips' and lammas lands (until October 31st) to graze. Over the years the 'strips' have all but vanished, being combined with and, in most cases, absorbed into the farms.
Eton and Eton Wick Recreation Grounds are among the numerous lammas lands. They were purchased with compensation for loss of lammas rights when the rail viaduct was built (mid 19th century). Today it is the practice for lammas rights to be switched from desirable sites to another of equal size not already an established lammas area. Even the Village Hall stands on former lammas land. which was apparently freed of lammas by unanimous approval. We could go on but space rules otherwise.
The allowance to graze was restricted to the old village/town residents and was, at the beginning of the 20th century, restricted to one sheep for each acre of land held; one cattle or horse for every five acres and no cottager or freeholder to tum out more than two hogs or pigs; there was also an allowance of one cow for an odd three acres. Pigs had to be nose-ringed to prevent snouts damage to the turf. As holdings at the homes became smaller, many cottagers gave up their entitlements to graze.
Older villagers will remember the mad stampede of homes every May 1st at 6pm. Mothers kept their children safely behind their garden fences until the horses had calmed down from their wild gallop of freedom after a winter of being stabled at the end of every day's work. Those horses were all work animals of either farmers or local traders. Very few have a right to graze on the commons and other places today. In 1965 it became necessary to register your rights and because so few used the commons at that time. they did not take up their option. It is several years since the seven or eight dairy herds of Eton Wick farms that regularly grazed the commons have gone. Fortunately, Mr Cooley still uses the common for bullocks. Without all the cows and horses lammas has become just a legend; there is of course no Hayward now.
Mr Bill Cooley is now the Bailiff to Eton College 'The Lord of the Manor'. I believe Lord Carrington is the Steward. The Great Common is still used for a November 5th bonfire, which probably dates back to the Guy Fawkes era. In my childhood of late 1920's — 30's there was also a second bonfire close to the Jubilee Oak. The common was home to the Eton Wick Cricket Club between 1889 — 1922 when it moved to Saddocks Farm. In 1878 a steam fair was held on the common and about that time also a Political Rally.
I understand the original football club of the late 19th century also used the common, but this may have been Dorney Common. This Is a very condensed résumé of Manors, Commons and Lammas. written to the best of my knowledge. Of any errors I offer my apology and I thank Mr Cooley for kindly checking this article and for correcting me on the grazing conditions now prevailing.
This article was originally published in the Eton Wick Newsletter - Our Village as is republished with the kind permission of the Eton Wick Village Hall Committee. Click here to go to the Collection page.