From Domesday to Ballard
The Domesday survey of 1086 gives us something of an idea of Englefield at that time but between 1086 and 1762 we have little or no idea of what the village or the pattern of agriculture looked like. In the latter year, however, Josiah Ballard completed a survey of the lands of Powlet Wrighte that gives us a very good picture.
After the Norman Conquest, all land belonged to the Crown and parcels, or Manors, were given to certain feudal overlords: loyal supporters in return for their service. These "Lords of the Manor" in turn gave or leased parts of their holding to their own supporters or underlords and both gave land to the people, who paid rent either in cash or by working for the lord on specified tasks on certain days. Ultimate ownership if the land, however, remained with the Crown and would revert to it on the overlord's death.
Agriculture was conducted on the open field system, as it had been since the coming of the Saxons 600 years earlier. Large flat areas of land a thousand acres or more in size with few trees (felda in Anglo Saxon, which gives us the word "field") were divided into strips and each strip had an individual owner. It is sometimes believed that these strips were all an acre in size (one furlong by one chain) but in fact as the plans show they were in a variety of sizes, some larger and some smaller, even merely three or only one yard wide rather than 22 yards. There would have been at least two of these fields, usually one on each side of the village, in order to be able to maintain crop rotation and soil fertility and an individual's total holding was spread across a number of individual strips scattered over both fields. The location of one of the fields (the "Great Field") we know because Ballard maps it, but there must have been another and a glance at the landscape and a consideration of the facts suggests that it was in at least part of that area between the modern village street and the River Pang, where the mill was.
There is in the County archives a plan of all the open fields, showing the ownership of the individual allotments and although this plan is undated, it clearly pre-dates Ballard’s survey for the names, and even the arrangement of some of the strips, is slightly different from those shown in 1762. A tentative date of somewhere about 1690 can be attributed to it by comparing the names of the allotment holders with two lists of the inhabitants of Englefield in 1680 and 1695. Perhaps the plan was drawn when the younger Francis succeeded his father in 1696. There is also an undated but apparently contemporaneous set of plans showing the boundaries and dimensions of a number of enclosed fields surrounding Chalkpit Farm so it is possible that this was the time that the farm came into being, created by enclosing the second Great Field that covered this area.
While we know nothing of how Englefield progressed through the Middle Ages, we can assume that it would have been much the same as the rest of the country. The need to feed a steadily growing population and the development of towns caused more and more land to be brought under cultivation but this need was rendered less pressing by the repeated ravages of the Black Death during the period from the first pandemic in 1348 until the last outbreak until 1375. By the end of this time the population of the country had been reduced by between one third and one half and this meant that not only was more cultivated land not needed but some of the more marginal land was abandoned and the area under cultivation actually shrank. The feudal system went into decline at about the same time and land began to be accumulated by individuals in their own right and individual ownership of land was given a boost when Henry VIII sold for cash the land seized from the monasteries after their dissolution in the 1530s. Land was certainly being privately bought and sold in Englefield in the following century for indentures exist for the purchase of land there in 1660 by Richard Horn, a merchant with a shop in the village, and in 1669 and 1679 by his father Robert from North Street and a churchwarden of St Mark's. This was probably the land shown as owned by descendants Thomas and John Horn in 1762.
Even after the major depredations of the Black Death had ceased, recurrences of plague continued to occur until 1665 and it is known that plague was in Englefield in 1593, although the death rate does not seen to have increased at that time. The population generally was slow to recover from the Black Death and great areas of land were left to the wastes. These were vast areas of rough scrub and trees, without people or habitation, and criss-crossed by rough tracks where travellers feared to become benighted. In the year 1500 it is estimated that there were some 60,000 acres of waste in Berkshire alone.
In Tudor times forced enclosure did take place in England from the end of the Black Death and into the 16th century when many lords of the manor sought to enrich themselves from the wool boom and created great sheep pastures so that in the year 1500 it is estimated that there were three sheep for every person. This activity generally diminished by about the beginning of Queen Elizabeth’s reign and by the end of it and up to the Civil War enclosure was largely by agreement of all the freeholders. Englefield is thought to have been about 30% enclosed by 1600 and a Glebe Terrier of 1534 mentions 34 acres of enclosed land. In some places land was also forcibly enclosed in Tudor times to create a park surrounding a fine new house for a noble but this wasn't the case at Englefield for Englefield House was not built until almost the end of Elizabeth's reign and the new deer park was not finally created until well into the 19th century.
© 2021 Richard J Smith