Horspath is a village in south Oxfordshire, east of the city of Oxford. The Templars held a manor here, adjoining their more famous manor of Temple Cowley. On 23 September 1308 the king’s official John of Foxley held an inquiry into the extent of the manor: its acreage of arable and meadow land, the names of the tenants, what they rented and what rent and services they paid in return (see the documents attached to this post). The twelve jurors who were sworn in to give this information provided a long list of tenants who held a villein tenancy or were cottars with a cottage and a smallholding; but there was only one free tenant, Robert of Sautre.
There were men and women listed as villeins and cottars, paying rents in cash on two or four dates in the year and performing labour services such as ploughing, hoeing, weeding and mowing, haymaking and carting grain and hay, and digging trenches. The cottars also had to wash sheep and cut grass in the meadow. Some of this work came with ‘the lord’s food’ — presumably the oat porridge that we have seen being fed to the farmworkers at other estates.
Did Gonnild Moyes (a villein holding a messuage and two virgates of land and paying 8 shillings a year in cash rent) really plough two acres of land each year for the winter sowing and harrow the same, harrow for one day at the Lenten sowing, dig trenches in the lord’s fields for one day, and so on and so on? Some jobs specify that she must provide one man, or four men, to do the work — suggesting that she might not be expected to do it herself. As every piece of work is given a monetary value, it’s likely that Gonnild expected to pay cash instead of carrying out all these labour services, so that the bailiff of the manor could hire men to do the work in her place. The work was worth 6 shillings one farthing, so with her cash rent she owed a total of 14 shillings and one farthing a year for her landholding. As the most expensive work she paid for was worth 3 pence a day for one person, she was paying for a minimum of 56 days of work. So, how many days a year do modern tenants work to pay their rent or mortgage?
The sheep-washing that the cottars owed as part of their rent was worth only a halfpenny a day; but at least the workers did receive food while they were doing the washing. We can hope it was good hot porridge, as sheep-washing must be cold, wet work.