4:1 Too early for proper tests.
Until all the material has been collected and fully indexed, it is impossible to give an accurate assessment of how good the data is. Yet it would clearly be unwise to attempt a project which could take a number of years without being certain that the records are of a suitable quality. We have already seen that in terms of sheer bulk, there is a great deal of information. Two of the major queries which remain are, firstly, whether this material only relates to a limited section of the population under observation, for example omitting the poorer and more mobile, and, secondly, whether there are enough clues bearing on specific individuals, properties, or subjects, to make it possible to undertake a really worthwhile analysis. If the records are spread too thinly or are too difficult to link together, then we may still end up with an impoverished picture. A more technical doubt will also trouble historians, namely, what can we deduce from certain documents; in other words, what do the documents really mean? The problem is familiar in the context of parish registers where there are difficulties when inferring birth dates from baptisms, but it occurs in every form of record. For example, can we infer residence in a certain place from certain types of documents, or can we infer guilt from certain types of accusation in court records? The pages below can only give a preliminary and impressionistic answer to these doubts, based on our progress up to the present. It is hoped that it will be possible to devote a later volume to carrying these tests further.
4:2 The quality of specific sources: an example.
One of the major technical problems is that even before asking complex questions, a considerable amount of work needs to be done checking what exactly the various sources mean. During the stage of locating and transcribing documents it will have been necessary to learn a good deal about the way in which the sources came into existence. The history and nature of parish registers, procedure in a manor court, methods of trial in the ecclesiastical and other courts, these and other topics will have been absorbed. As indicated above, there are many descriptions of such records and how to use them. Yet it is not until all the records for a particular area have been collected together that we can begin to obtain an idea of the particular biases and gaps in our knowledge. The proportion of the total population of a given area which appears in a certain type of record, in other words the criteria upon which a sample has been taken from the total universe, cannot be established on the basis of one, or even two, records. The degree of accuracy of each source, and also the degree to which we can use its information as a measure of other things, cannot be estimated by the use of one document. Only when several sources have been indexed in the manner suggested in the previous chapter can the biases and implications be established. For example, by comparing parish registers with a listing of inhabitants or a census, it is possible to discover to what extent each source is selective (in omitting certain sections of the population) or inaccurate (in giving incorrect information even when people are included) or misleading (in appearing to give information on a topic which is not really dependable). Or again, we could compare probate inventories with Hearth Taxes, to see the biases in both these conventionally used indexes of wealth. A simple example may be given to show how the addition of several sources makes clear the bias or inadequacy of any one source: see figure 4:1.
Figure 4:1. The superimposition of records.
The starting point is the 1695 listing for Lupton which gives the entry 'Joseph Tomlinson husbandman and his wife'. One might have thought that he was newly married or child less and one would not have known his wife's name. In the following year Joseph made a will which mentions six children and other relatives. If we look at the parish register for the parish of Kirby Lonsdale within which Lupton was situated, four of the six children in the will are mentioned; but we also discover two other children who are not mentioned in the will, either because they died before it was made, or were born after its making. Even after using these sources there are still numerous gaps, for instance the baptisms of the later children and Joseph's parents deaths. These are partially filled in by the parish register for Sedbergh, a town six miles to the north-east of Lupton.
Another way of illustrating these general points is to take one specific document, representative of a class, in order to see how much we can learn about its composition and meaning from placing it alongside other material. Let us consider the views of frankpledge. A great deal has been written about these views in general, but very little indeed is known about how they worked in practice. This is a serious deficiency for, as stated earlier, they appear to provide long lists of inhabitants and owners of property in a number of English villages from the thirteenth century onwards. If we were absolutely certain of the universe of persons from which these documents selected and the various biases they contain, they could provide the basis for a great deal of social and demographic work. One of the hardest facts to establish in historical parishes is whether a person is alive or dead and whether he is still thought to be resident in a certain place. These annual lists could go a considerable way towards solving some of these difficulties.
The general theory as to when these 'views' should be held, who should appear, the age and other criteria of those appearing can be summarized as follows. According to Hearnshaw (1907: 17), the view of frankpledge has its origins in the Sheriff's tourn. Basing himself on Maitland's earlier analysis he states that all men of the lower orders were required to place themselves in groups, usually of ten or twelve, who were mutually responsible for one another's good behaviour. In order to see that this system worked, that is to see that youths as they attained the age of twelve were duly enrolled, and to receive a report from the tythingmen concerning the behaviour of the men under their police supervision, the sheriff of the county, from Henry II's time, if not before, twice a year went on tour ... and held a specially full meeting of the hundred court, at which he took the 'view of frankpledge'. At the same time there were many private lords who claimed jurisdiction over their tenants and the right to hold views of frankpledge. To have a curia cum leta was not only to have exemption from attendance at the sheriff's tourn but to hold a co-ordinate court, drawing the same profit in fees and fines for the sole benefit of the lord and not the king.
Suit at court, and thus appearance in the view of frankpledge in person, was required from all called as jurors in the court leet, all village officers among whom chief pledges are often mentioned, and all persons between the ages of twelve and sixty who have lived within the precincts of the leet for a year and a day. Those who failed to appear were amerced (put in mercy) as defaulters, while those who were genuinely unable to attend sent an 'essoiner' with their excuse for absence. In general, women, children, and nobles were not included in this rule though evidence from the rolls suggests that many did attend and were fined for non-appearance. The court leet with the view of frankpledge was held not more than twice a year. The sheriff's tourn was bound to be held at an accustomed spot, but the manorial leets could be held anywhere within their precincts. Personal summons was unnecessary and public proclamation in the market place or church was all that was demanded, with six to fifteen days notice most commonly.
By the sixteenth century, the Sheriff's tourn had been reduced to the status of a communal leet, the tithing systems seem to have almost disappeared, but the manorial court leets remained and may even have been strengthened by the sale of monastic lands and the encouragement from above that they punish certain statutory offences. By then, the view of frankpledge had taken the form of an oath of allegiance to the king, but it seems that the same groups were still bound to appear and to be amerced for nonappearance (Hearnshaw 1907; Maitland 1889).
To see what happened in practice we may look at one particular view in one Essex manor in one year. Part of the view of frankpledge held for the manor of Earls Colne in 1590 is illustrated above (figure 2:6). The full view records the names of some 80 persons of whom we know that 60 were residents in Earls Colne. We know that the total population of the township was between 1,000 and 1,200 and that this particular manor covered a little over half the parish. If we estimate that there were roughly 500 males in the parish, of whom 300 were aged over twelve, it would appear that between one third and a half of the males aged over twelve appeared in this view. As we shall see, the proportion rises considerably if we combine several views together.
We may wonder how much overlap there is between this document and the parish registers for the parish, in other words whether we can work out the proportions of those who appear in the baptism, marriage and burial registers. Unfortunately, the parish register only survives from 1558 and therefore it would only be possible to trace those aged thirty years or younger. This partly explains the fact that only three of the baptisms have been traced for the 60 Earls Colne inhabitants - Henry Abbott junior was twenty-six, as was Thomas Polley, and John Woodward was twenty-eight. By comparing the view with a rental of 1589 for the same manor, it is possible to establish one negative fact, that children under twelve do not appear, even when they are the heirs to property. Only investigation of later views, after a longer run of parish registers, will establish whether a low proportion of baptisms will ever be found because of the high geographical mobility of the period.
The technique of family reconstitution requires that before reconstituting a family it is necessary to find a marriage; all families which do not have a marriage are omitted. There have consequently been serious worries about the unreconstitutable section; is it a minority, is it verydifferent from the reconstituted section? It will be possible to answer these queries by combining parish registers with other documents. For the 60 inhabitants of Earls Colne named in this view, it is possible to discover the marriages of 24; in other words, the reconstitutable portion is a minority, consisting of some two-fifths of the view. Finally, we may wonder how many of the people who are named are mentioned in the burial register. An added problem here is that the burial register is defective and is missing from the very year of the view in 1590 until 1610. Thus any burials in the next 20 years would be missing in any case. Nevertheless, it is possible to discover the names of 23 of the persons in the view in the burial register, which indicates that linking with burials is easier than linking with marriages or baptisms. But what is even more interesting is that it is possible to discover the deaths of 21 of the others from sources other than the parish register, for example from wills, manorial transfers, or testamentary cases in the ecclesiastical courts. These are not only a valuable check on under-registration in the parish register, but help to fill in gaps caused by a defective register. In total, therefore, it is possible to find the deaths or burials of three-quarters of the residents in the view. It is probable that if there had not been a defective register, the proportion would have been even higher.
On several occasions it has been stated that 60 out of 80 of those named were residents in Earls Colne. It is interesting that by combining local records it is possible to take a list of names and state confidently which were local inhabitants and which were outsiders who owned property but did not live in the parish. For the 20 who did not, it is usually possible to state where they did live; for example, Christopher Isack, Robert Pearetrey, John Prentice, and William Prentice, were all from Colne Engaine. When a person merely appeared in manorial records, but there are no court leet, ecclesiastical court, parish register or other records relating to him, it is assumed that he is an outsider. The clustering of other references, in other words the fact that people either have none, or if they have one they have several, helps to give confidence in this method and also underlines the quality of the documents. The fact that a quarter of those appearing in the view were outsiders also helps to remind us that we are, to a certain extent, dealing with an artificial population when we examine the business of a manorial court, covering a much wider area than a parish.
Another question which has never really been answered is the extent to which people appear in views by virtue of residence rather than ownership of property. This could be answered if we knew whether any of those appearing did, in fact, hold no property of the manor. By comparing the names with court land transfers and rentals it is possible to show that 15 of the 60 Earls Colne residents in the view, or one quarter, held no property of the manor. This quarter, appeared merely by virtue of the fact that they were residents and, probably, heads of households. Five of them were listed separately as 'deceners and residents' in the list, the rest appeared under 'essoin' or 'homage'. None appeared in the list of 'tenants and deceners for default' nor among the 'customary tenants'. The manorial officials, therefore, were carefully keeping them apart. More generally, it is clearly very important to establish that these lists do not merely give us landholders, but also landless men who are resident. They thus become more like a listing, and less like a rental.
Looking at the view from the other way round, we may wonder what proportion of those who actually held property of Earls Colne manor at the time appeared in the view; in other words, can the view be used as a cross-section of property-holders in a particular year? In the very full rental of 1589 for the manor, there are some 78 persons holding property in the manor. If we look at the views of frankpledge for Earls Colne during the period 1587-92 we find that 52, or two-thirds, appear in one or more of them. If we then examine the 26 who do not appear we find that in every case there is a good reason why they should not have appeared. For instance, in a number of cases they only held property for a few months; in other cases they were represented in the views by other people. It thus seems safe to say that several views of frankpledge combined will give an almost total coverage of the customary tenants of the manor. Of course, the freeholders will not appear, except as residents within the precincts.
The views seldom give occupations, but it is possible by combining them with other records to work out a rough idea of the occupational structure year by year. In the 1590 view, we can establish the occupations of 55 out of 80 of the persons, or 42 out of 60 of the residents. It would thus seem that when all local records are taken into account, it should be possible to establish the occupation/status of about three-quarters of the resident adult males. In this view, we find for example, 14 'yeomen', 6 'husbandmen', 4 'labourers', 4 butchers, 4 bakers/brewers, and a number of other occupations including chapman, tilemaker, shoemaker, carrier, and shearman. Although there is ambiguity and overlap of occupations, and conflict between documents, it is encouraging that so much can be learnt. One interesting finding is that status seems to be given as higher in very localized documents, and to drop as the record moves to a national level. Thus while a Quarter Sessions roll may call a man a labourer, he will often be styled as a husbandman or yeoman in a will or manor court.
The enrolled views were very structured documents and it is intriguing and important to discover whether they followed any particular order. In the township of Lupton in Kirkby Lonsdale, for example, they are known to have followed house order so that it is possible to work out from each list where the-individuals concerned lived.
Figure 4:2. Map of residence of those in the 1590 view.
Figure 4:2 is a map of Earls Colne Street, based on one made in for 1598, which shows where some of the 60 residents in 1590 probably lived. The numbers on the map represent the order in the 1590 view, some of which is reproduced as figure 2:6. The map indicates that a large proportion of the Earls Colne residents appeared in the view for that year. We found that there is no street order in the view. It is possible that the draft lists contained some geographical order, but this had been lost by the time they were copied into the court roll. It seems more likely that each view was copied from the last one, with appropriate emendations, for certain 'blocks' of earlier views appear in later ones almost unchanged. This matter can be investigated further if we turn to the question of overlap between views.
Figure 4:3. Attendance at views of frankpledge.
To take one view of frankpledge in isolation, as we have done above, is to underestimate their value. Not only are there two manors in the parish, which complement each other, but views were sometimes held more than once a year. Furthermore, it is possible that a separate section of tenants and residents were called at each view. If this were the case, and it was accepted that it was a person's duty to appear not at every view but once in a while, in order to estimate what proportion of the adults in a village appeared, it would be necessary to take a set of views as a whole. This has been undertaken for a series of seven views taken for Earls Colne manor from July 1587 to June 1593, in other words the six years which encompass the 1590 view we have been analysing. In these seven views there are 172 persons mentioned in all. Thus the 80 we have been examining represent less than half of those who appeared during these six years. Furthermore, a graph of total attendance at the views shows that these six years saw lower than average attendance: see figure 4:3. During these six years, an average of 65 names was recorded, while in the slightly later period there was an average of 80 names. It can be seen that we have not chosen the best documented period.
Perhaps the most difficult, yet most intriguing, problem is the degree to which the number of persons appearing in these views over a period of years was greater than the 80 suggested for the one sample year. That this is likely to be so is indicated by the fact that in the seven sample views from 1587 to 1593, the mean average number of attendances was 2.5 pet person. Unless we assume that this was the average length of time a person lived in Earls Colne, or held property there, it would seem that people only appeared in some courts. This would suggest that a much larger proportion of the adult population would appear at some point or other. Combined with Colne Priory manor court it would be possible to argue that the record provides a good coverage of a large proportion of adult males. A preliminary estimate of the dimensions of overlap may be given.
There was one very brief and short view in 1589; if we exclude this one, there were 12 persons only who appeared in all of the views for the six years. This is one half of those whom one knows from other sources were resident throughout the period and appeared in one or other view. This indicates the way in which people were dropped from the views, even though resident. Another finding is that of the 58 persons who appeared in the July 1587 view, some 21 also appeared in 1593 view. Although this is a very rough suggestion that about half of those who lived or held property had disappeared in six years, it does fit with what we know of the high geographical mobility of the period and does indicate the way in which these records could help to document such mobility in great detail. With an average list of about 65 per year, it will be seen that between one third and one half were new each year. Whether we take this as an index of land purchase or residence, it suggests an enormous turnover of population, the causes and exact dimensions of which will require further investigation. Of 58 in the first view, 11 did not appear again, none only appeared in the second view, 9 appeared only in the third view, 6 only in the fourth. Thus it would seem that perhaps between one sixth and one-tenth of the frankpledge appeared only once and that this temporary appearance would account for between one-third and one-half of the change from year to year.
Finally, detailed work on reconstituting individual life-histories from all available records has tended to give confidence in these documents. It has indicated that the evidence from the two sets of documents correspond. When other documents show that a person moved into the parish, he starts to appear in the views; when he stops appearing altogether, other records also cease and it is clear that he has either left or died. One example of this may be given: see figure 4:4.
Figure 4:4. Life history of Henry Abbott of Earls Colne.
The importance of this is that it means that we can use these records to establish whether a person is resident in a certain year, or whether he has left. For a number of demographic, social and economic questions it is essential to know the dimensions of the universe of persons one is sampling from, and in the absence of a census this is usually impossible. Although inferior to repetitive listings, the views of frankpledge or other lists of customary tenants, extending in some manors from the fourteenth to eighteenth centuries, provide a unique source for overcoming some of the problems.
4:3 The visibility of ordinary people in the past.
The belief that little can be found out about ordinary people in the past, in other words those below the level of the gentry, still lingers on, enshrined in echoes of the 'short and simple annals of the poor'. R. H. Tawney provided a brilliant analysis of the economic conditions of the English sixteenth-century peasantry in general, but concluded 'What manner of men these were in that personal life of which economics is but the squalid scaffolding we cannot say. Of the hopes and fears and aspirations of the men who tilled the fields which still give us in due season their kindly fruit, we know hardly more than of the Roman plebs, far less than of the democracy of Athens. Yet these men too had their visions. Their silence is the taciturnity of men, not the speechlessness of dumb beasts' (1912: 121) There are two separate questions which need to be answered. The first is, how many people entirely escaped being recorded at all in historical documents and who were they?
The second is implied by Tawney, namely, even if we know about one aspect of a person's life, for example his economic position in a particular tax document, are we likely to be able to piece together other aspects so that we can begin to probe beyond the material world into the social and mental? A further complication is that it may be argued that individuals in the past were so geographically mobile that it is unlikely that we will catch more than a fleeting glimpse of a specific person as he or she passes through a particular place, tantalizing but unrewarding.
The worry about the 'invisible part of the iceberg' must have assailed many historians and they are not usually in a position to overcome it. Bringing together a number of different sources can partly solve the problem. If it is the case that when we have accumulated all possible references to people in the past, it turns out that there are numerous individuals who only appear once, we may well suspect that there are considerable numbers who failed to make even this one chance appearance, although living in a particular community for a number of years. If, however, it turns out to be the case that there is one reference to a person, there tend to be several references, there are some grounds for believing that most people will have been recorded. It appears that a number of sources intersected and if a person was missed by one, he would probably be picked up in another.
One way of approaching the problem is to see how many people who appear in one kind of village document also appear in others. For example, for the 60 people in the view of frankpledge for whom there is no evidence that they lived outside Earls Colne, we can subsequently discover by checking them against the local records that all of them appear to be mentioned in several other types of document. This suggests that the chance that a person will escape altogether is fairly slight.
Yet it is clear that the only way to establish beyond doubt that we are not just observing the historically visible minority, is to obtain a list-of people who are known to have been resident in a community at a point in time, a list which is separate and distinct from the normal types of historical documents which survive. The fairly numerous informal listings of inhabitants for the pre-nineteenth century may be used to check the coverage of other documents in this way, and some attempts have been made to use them for this purpose, for instance in an early article by Styles (1951-2). But even listings are only one, rare, variety of local record. It is very difficult to obtain an independent list of inhabitants. Three such checklists can be constructed for Earls Colne in the seventeenth century, however. The first is based on the Account Book kept by the lord of the manor. During the period 1603-31, Richard Harlakenden noted down the names of over 280 persons in the Account Book. They were mentioned in numerous contexts, from the builder and bricklayer who worked for him to lawyers and informants in court cases. It is clear from the document that about 80 of these were living outside Earls Colne, of the remaining 200, a few are referred to so vaguely that it is impossible to identify them. But we may wonder how many of the rest are never mentioned in any other local record. The answer, is four persons at the most, and even some of these may have not been inhabitants.
The second checklist is provided by the Diary of Ralph Josselin, who was vicar of the parish and resident from 1641 to 1683 (Macfarlane 1976a). In this diary he mentions 195 people who lived for more than a few weeks in Earls Colne while he was vicar. These seem to have been spread right across the social range and to have included the migratory as well as the settled, the very poor as well as the very rich. We may wonder what proportion of these people passed through the community, noted by Josselin, but invisible in other records. At present 14 of those he mentions cannot be definitely identified, either because Josselin gave no forename, or because he gave too few details to make it that forename/surname in the parish at the time. If we include these among the persons for whom we do have references in other documents, albeit ambiguous ones, we are only left with 5 out of 195 persons, or less than 2.5%, who leave no trace in other records. Furthermore, we can specify exactly who they were. They were all Josselin's own hired servants, present in the village for one or two years, and aged between fifteen and twenty-two. On the basis of this sample, it would appear that only a tiny fraction of a seventeenth-century community was invisible, and this portion consisted of young servants. It is of course dangerous to generalize for earlier and later periods, but at the present there are no grounds for believing that the records for the hundred years before Josselin are worse in terms of documentation than the mid seventeenth century. It would seem, therefore, that from the mid sixteenth century we are dealing with an almost universally recorded population.
One final checklist is provided by the list of people who signed the oath of loyalty to William and Mary, known as an 'Association Roll' in 1696. This is particularly full for Earls Colne and contains 160 male names. Four names are unreadable but of the 156 other names all but 6 appear in some other document. These other documents suggest that the list contains a cross-section of the parish from rich to poor and from young to old. It is therefore comforting to find less than 5% of those listed go unrecorded in more normal parish documents.
The second doubt raised above was whether, even if people appear at least once, they would tend to generate enough other records to make it possible to piece together a number of facets of their lives. Although based on only preliminary and partial workings, it is possible to give some hints as to the depth of data on the basis of the lists of persons from the sources which have already been discussed. If we take the view of frankpledge first it would appear that of the 60 residents in the parish, we can establish an occupation or status for three-quarters, we can place over half in the exact house in which they were living, we can establish whether they held land, and, if they did, the precise nature of their holdings. Perhaps most impressive of all is the evidence concerning their moral behaviour in the church courts. Of the 60 persons in the view, we only know for certain that 5 did not appear in the archdeaconry or consistory courts at some point in their lives. The other 55 appear in the records and it is possible that 1 or 2 of the remainder will appear when further ecclesiastical records have been searched. Two of those were labourers, and another 2 who did not appear were only in the parish for a short period, Robert Lysse for seven years, Benjamin Handler for four. Further work on court leet and other court records will establish how large a proportion appear in other legal records. It is clear, however, that a good deal can be learnt about the social and economic position of a large proportion of those listed in the view of frankpledge.
Although we have seen that a number of those who appeared in the view of frankpledge were small landless men, it could be argued that there is some bias towards the richer and less mobile in both this record and the Account Book. We may therefore turn to the 195 Earls Colne inhabitants mentioned by Josselin. The very great amount that can be found about most of them is indicated in the biographies and maps appended to the edition of the Diary.
These were constructed on the basis of a partial manual index of some of the local documents. Even so, it is possible to build up a fairly full picture of most of those whom Josselin mentions. The information one can find can be summarized as follows. Taking a rough sample of 50 of the men and 25 of the women Josselin mentioned, it is possible to find the burial date of three-quarters of the men and half the women, the baptism of half of the men and one-third of the women. One-half of the men and one-sixth of the women (who included servants) were both baptized and buried in the parish. Of those people one could identify unambiguously, it was possible to place approximately three-quarters in a specific house in the village by using contemporary maps and making the assumption that if a person owned one house and was known to live in the village, he or she would live in that house rather than elsewhere. When full reconstruction is completed, it does not seem overoptimistic to believe that one will be able to place over 80% of individuals at any point in time in the houses where they were residing. As regards occupation or status, it is possible from various records to obtain explicit statements concerning the position of over half those men mentioned by Josselin, and by implication and inference of a further quarter. Furthermore, there is a vast amount of information in the documents concerning landholding, so that it is possible to say fairly exactly what lands and three-quarters of those who can be identified.
Turning to non-economic variables, we may wonder what we can learn about kinship and marriage. In well over half of the cases of identified individuals, the forename and surname of both parents are recoverable. Kinship diagrams of several generations depth could be drawn for these and some of the other individuals. It is almost always possible to find out whether the individuals were married, though often this fact and the name of the spouse has to be ascertained from sources other than the Earls Colne parish registers. Because of the high rate of geographical mobility between birth and marriage and the custom of marrying (and hence registering) in the bride's parish and then settling in the groom's, the proportion of people for whom one can work out age at marriage is small. In only 6 out of the sample of 50 men, and 6 of the 25 women, do we have both baptism and marriage given in the Earls Colne register. It is made plain that a satisfactory picture can only be obtained by moving outside the parish.
Signatures or marks on wills and other documents enable us to piece together evidence on the literacy of individuals. From the various sources it is possible to work out the signing ability of nearly one-half of. the adults in the Josselin sample. This is the case, despite the fact that only a quarter of those who appear to have died in the parish seem to have made wills. Evidence from the witnessing of other wills, signatures on the very full late seventeenth-century Association Roll, as well as other sources enable one to fill out the number of signatures. Furthermore, wills and their introductory formulae are an interesting, if deceptive, index of religious affiliation. But even omitting this source, it is possible to find out something about the religious behaviour of one-sixth of the identified sample, without using Josselin's own remarks as evidence. The ecclesiastical records are very poor in comparison to those for the Elizabethan period, so that it may be possible to say something about the religious position of a larger proportion of Elizabethan villagers. This is suggested by the fact, mentioned above, that 55 out of 60 of the sample males in the 1590 view of frankpledge appeared in the ecclesiastical records. Earlier records are also fuller on sexual and other moral offences as well as petty crime.
By correlating the various activities and roles which have been briefly summarized above, for example religion with wealth with literacy with kinship, to carry out work on the overlap of variables, it will be possible. It would seem that there is enough information, from at least the mid sixteenth century in a well documented parish, for it to be possible to undertake complex sociological and historical work.
4:4 The quality of the data: places.
One of the main ways of classifying the extensive data is by spatial distribution. Many of the most interesting questions have not only a temporal but also a spatial dimension. It is partly reason that the various 'Place' indexes which we have described above were created. But their success will obviously depend on the completeness and accuracy of the registration of land ownership and occupation in the original documents. It is difficult to convey an impression of how good the material for Earls Colne is in this respect. Perhaps some hint of the quality may emerge from the fact that it is possible to trace every single field and every house and its ownership from a detailed map of the parish male in 1598 up to 1854 by way of the 1838 tithe award map. Furthermore, it is possible to trace the fields back into the fifteenth century at least. It is therefore possible to know exactly who owned every one of the roughly 650 separate parcels of property, land or housing, at any point during the last four hundred years. The quantity of material bearing on even the smallest plot is quite staggering. If we confine ourselves to just one house, that which is transferred in the manorial document described in the last chapter, namely a tenement in Church Street, the amount of information that can be found out is as follows.
Figure 4:5. Tenement in Church Street.
The situation of the house is illustrated in figure 4:5; the shaded lands were usually transferred with it. In about 1500 a rental mentions that the house was held by Isabel Tedyr at the rent of 16d.; in 1854 a quitrent for this piece was still ls. 4d. It is probably possible to go back to 1380 in the court rolls. Between 1500 and 1841 there, are numerous transfers of the property, many of them more detailed than the sample one quoted above. Among them are descriptions in at least twenty-one separate documents. The property ended up in the hands of Samuel Sadd, whose household is described in the Census of 1851. One can, in these descriptions, fill in the ownership, exact position, size, rent, etc. from year to year. The same is true of most of the property in the parish. It is of course not possible to deduce who was actually residing in the property at all times, for only a small proportion of the documents give the name of the occupant as well as the owner. Yet it is possible to draw up maps of ownership for almost any year from about 1550 to the present.
4:5 The quality of the data: families.
Figure 4:6. Kinship diagram of the Abbott family.
The owners of the tenement in Church Street described above, during the period 1530-1730, were the Abbott family, who were present in the village for a few years on either side of the above dates. We may look at this family in more detail to see how much can be learnt about them. The cards for this familv constitute perhaps one-sixhundreth of the total 50,000 cards in the index March 1977 (the name index will finally be about twice that size). We are therefore dealing with a very small fraction of the total families. The Abbotts were chosen because they were the first reasonably sized family in the first box, starting with the letters AB.
The study of kinship, marriage and the family is one of the central concerns of social anthropology and sociology, and the preliminary is to know who a person's kin were. Is it possible on the basis of local records to reconstruct genealogies? The one we have reconstructed for the Abbott family is shown as figure 4:6. This diagram was constructed by hand, on the basis of an analysis of only part of the data. It is likely that it will be improved in the future. Yet it already illustrates that a very considerable amount can be learnt about our sample family from local records. Among the interesting points to note is the fact that only four of the marriages were found in the local parish register; thus only a small part of the family would have been reconstitutable by family reconstitution. Yet, by combining records, it is possible not only to construct the genealogy, but to work out the date and names in marriages for which we have no direct records. It is also worth remarking that the diagram matches in detail, and exceeds in generational depth, most of the kinship diagrams which it is possible to construct from contemporary anthropological investigation.
4:6 The quality of the data: individuals.
It is probable that an equally good vignette could be built up of any of the male Abbotts in the kinship diagram above, extending over a period of two hundred years. For the purposes of exposition, we may take just one individual, Henry Abbott the second. A shortened literary account of the life and relationships of this one man would read as follows.
Henry Abbott is an atypical inhabitant of Earls Colne in so far as both his baptism and burial are noted in the parish register and that he lived there for most, if not all, of his seventy-three years. For this reason we have more than average information about him and it becomes possible to use him as a 'case study'.
He was baptized, son of Robert Abbott, on 26 March 1564. He was the first child of the marriage. His parents had married the previous September so that he was the product of a bridal pregnancy, though not one noted in the ecclesiastical court. His mother's surname was Turnishe but it is possible that she was a widow and that she was in fact the sister of Robert Pereson of Earls Colne. Pereson is mentioned in Robert Abbott's will as 'brother', a form often used in contemporary wills for brother-in-law. We know that Robert had an unmarried sister Joan, mentioned in his will, and that Robert Pereson's wife was also a Joan. The incidence of siblings having the same name is rare so we conclude that he must have been referring to his wife's kin. Unfortunately the parish register does not survive be 1559 so we have no means of proving this hypothesis. It is an important link in the life of Henry Abbott and would help to explain his marriage to an heiress aged only fifteen who happened to be the granddaughter and ward of the same Robert Pereson.
Robert Abbott died in 1568 leaving his son £6 13s.4d. (he had no land) to be paid to him at the age of twenty-one. He left his younger daughters, Grace and Joan, a similar amount to be divided between them. Robert made his own brother Henry (whom we shall refer to as Henry senior) guardian of his son and trustee of the money, on condition that he put in a sufficient bond to Robert Pereson for the payment of the legacy. His daughters remained in the care of their mother. There is some confusion about whether or whom his wife remarried. Certainly a Joan Abbott married John Layer three months after the death of Robert, but this may well have been his sister rather than his widow as there are no further links between Henry Abbott and the Layers. There is more evidence to suggest that she married a widower, Thomas Smith, much later in 1589, about the same time incidentally as her son married. Henry acted as both a witness to the will of Thomas Smith in 1599 and was left £3 by it. Our experience with wills suggests that money bequests are rarely left to any but kin and there is no hint that this is an unpaid debt. This leads us to believe that Thomas Smith's widow was indeed Henry Abbott's mother. There is a possibility that Henry's sister Joan had married Thomas Smith but we have some evidence that she died unmarried in 1611.
We learn nothing further about Henry Abbott until 1589 when he was twenty-five. Local records are singularly poor at recording much about children, apart from their baptisms or untimely deaths, until the later seventeenth century when the poor appear in apprenticeship indentures and settlement papers. There is no evidence to suggest that he moved from Earls Colne, but whether he lived with his mother or uncle, or in what house he lived, we cannot say. When he reappears he does so as a result of his marriage to Thomasine Culverton. There is no record of this in the Earls Colne register, and we have not been able to trace it to any of the surrounding parishes, but it must have occurred about 1589. In that year he is presented on three separate occasions for ditch offences in the manor court. We know that he held no land, neither did he inherit any until many years later, but he appears in the right of his wife who did hold land. She was the daughter of Thomas Culverton who died when she was only six years old. He left her and her younger sister Joan in the custody of his father-in-law, the same Robert Pereson. Each inherited quite sizeable portions of land, as well as goods, which they were to have at the age of twenty-one or, as in this case, at marriage. One wonders how much chance played a part in the marriage. Little would seem to be the answer given the age difference between them, the unusually young age of the bride, and the fact that they both had the same guardian, indeed may have been brought up together. For the subsequent history of the Abbott family marriage and the wealth it brought them seems to have been most significant. During the next hundred years they move from being landless to holding a good tenth of the copyhold and freehold lands in Earls Colne, and by further assiduous marriages, land all over north Essex and Suffolk.
We must assume, for want of evidence to the contrary, that Henry was principally a farmer. We know however that his son and grandson were both sayweavers and it is possible that he was a weaver too. In one leet case the lord of the manor apparently sent his bailiff to distrain cloth from him for an amercement of £5 that had remained unpaid from an earlier court. Henry is described as having scoffed at them and alluded to the recent death of the lord's wife by saying 'I had thought your master had sent you to have taken cloth to make mourning coats.' He described himself in his will as a yeoman but this may have been the assessment of his status in the village rather than a reflection on his occupation.
The early references to him in the court leet give us some idea of his character as seen through the eyes of the lord of the manor, Roger Harlakenden. One gets the strong impression from reading these that there was a feud between them. We know some of the reasons why this might have been the case. The manors of Earls Colne and Colne Priory were first leased to Roger Harlakenden and then bought by him from Edward, the Earl of Oxford. The Earl had been an absentee landlord as had his family for generations. Their Essex seat was at Hedingham Castle, though after their purchase of the Priory lands they did use Colne Priory as a dower house. Thus the inhabitants had been used to a lax situation where the Earl's steward would come once or twice a year to hold court and collect fines for admission to copyhold property, perhaps amerce someone for a leet offence, and then go away again. It seems that the Harlakendens intended to resuscitate the manor courts and to work them, whether just for their own financial advantage or from a genuine desire to improve the morals and behaviour of the inhabitants, we cannot say. There are reasons for believing that both may be true. Certainly they were a strongly puritan family. Roger's grandson, Richard, was described as a 'saint' by a neighbouring vicar, Samuel Rogers (Shipps), and Ralph Josselin's attitude would support the idea that they were a 'worthy' family. On the other hand there is plenty of evidence to show that they were efficient businessmen. There was a long dispute with the heirs of Edward, Earl of Oxford over the right to Colne Priory manor. They accused Roger Harlakenden of having embezzled it from the Earl who had never intended to sell it. This dispute was still going on in 1640, at least fifty years after the original sale. We also know that the Earl and Roger Harlakenden fought over much less weighty issues. For instance, Roger Harlakenden and some neighbouring gentry had tried to replace the schoolmaster, William Adams, described in a court deposition as 'a very unmeet man ... and also very insufficient for his learning to instruct any children in the latin tongue, and that by reason thereof divers youths had of a long space greatly lost their time to their hindrance' (REQ/271/76). Adams had retaliated by getting a patent from the Earl of Oxford who supported his case. He was not finally ousted until 1610.
We know that the villagers took sides in these disputes and that the Harlakendens depended on their own servants rather than their tenants to support them. There is no evidence that Henry Abbott ever appeared for the Earl, although his brother-in-law Francis Wright was involved in one case, but there is a strong hint that he was persecuted by Roger Harlakenden through his manor court. A document described in chapter 3 lists five offences said to have been committed by Henry, for which he was amerced the incredible sum of £5. That this was taken by distress has already been alluded to. In the latter case he is 'adjudged by the whole court a vile and troublesome member of the Commonwealth' for 'many bad and lewd misdemeanours'. Further weight was apparently given to the leet case by an endorsement in the court of King's Bench. It is interesting to note that a year before this case, Henry was accused in the ecclesiastical court 'that he was drunk and in his drunkennes he said that his privities or prick was longer by four inches than one Clerke's there passing'. He was dismissed on the evidence of the churchwardens who said that the detection was untrue, but one wonders whether this was the William Clark whose finger he wounded a year later. Over subsequent years he was further presented in the manor court for unlicensed tree cutting, for contempt of court, for converting barns into cottages without licence, for taking inmates and the usual array of unscoured ditch offences. In 1623, though, he was the first inhabitant to sign an agreement with the lord on behalf of the tenants, for the right to cut timber on their copyhold lands. He was by then nearly sixty years old and seems to have become a respectable inhabitant. His first and only village office was as an aleconder in 1625.
A reason why he might have incurred the dislike of the Harlakendens was for his religious 'non-conformity'. Apart from the earliest presentment in the ecclesiastical court for drunkenness, the majority of other appearances were for church offences. For instance, in 1594 and 1595 he was accused of refusing to pay the assessment for the reparation of the church, then again in 1609 he was 'detected' for refusing to pay the 3s.4d. for the same purpose. The most telling years are those immediately following. At the same court in 1609 he was detected by the churchwardens 'for his great negligence in not frequenting his parish church in divine service time upon the Sabbath days, and also that he doth seldom or never upon any Sabbath day repair to evening prayer but at such time he is walking up and down the fields as we are credibly informed'. For this offence he was ordered to confess his guilt in church after the second lesson and to certify to the authorities that he had done so. At this point one should note that this is exactly the time that Richard Harlakenden, son of Roger and now lord of the manor, was exerting his influence to oust William Adams, not only as schoolmaster but also as vicar of Earls Colne. In May 1609, Thomas Greenfield had presented his credentials to the ecclesiastical court and had been appointed the new vicar of Earls Colne. It was in the following September that Henry was presented for not attending church. At the same court, Moses Rowton of Earls Colne was accused of using reproachful words against the vicar. By July 1610 the affair had escalated to the Assize court where Henry was indicted for having interrupted the sermon of Thomas Greenfield. Although this document is mutilated, it does seem that Henry was able to plead that the indictment was insufficient. Certainly he does not appear in the gaol calendar. The affair seems then to have gone back to the ecclesiastical court with Henry 'detected' the following January 'for that he refuseth to take his place according to the churchwardens' appointment and he is ordered to sit in the pew and stool where he was formerly placed by the churchwardens'. In March and April 1611 it was presented 'that he doth commonly depart out of the church before the end of sermons divers sabbath days and especially on 30th September 1610 he in base and most filthy manner did make mouths and wring his chaps at our minister in gross sort'. Henry in mitigation said that on the day named he was unwell, and that he was now reconciled to Mr Greenfield. It is interesting to note the other actors in-this drama. Both Richard Harlakenden and his wife Margaret were themselves presented in the ecclesiastical court in 1606 for not having received communion since 1604. They alleged that the cause of the presentment was Mr Adams himself as he refused to minister to them. Presumably the final effort to dislodge him dates from this time. William Adams and his family tried to make Mr Greenfield's job impossible. For instance, William himself besides the usual tactic of refusing to receive communion, threatened to strike Mr Greenfield with a pitchfork in the churchyard. His son 'lay along in the church at the reading of the lesson and disturbed the minister', and Joan, William's wife, was presented for violently throwing a stone at the vicar in the churchyard. Francis Wright, Henry Abbott's brother-in-law, was presented 'for slandering our minister', and Grace Wright, Henry's sister was presented with Margaret Woodward 'for giving out bad speeches against our minister concerning his doctrine delivered in our parish church in most rude and bad manner'. One cannot help wondering whether this alliance between the Adams and the Abbotts was functioning during the earlier affair when William Adams was the victor, and whether some of the animosity sensed between the Harlakendens and Henry Abbott is rooted in the same larger conflict. Certainly the Harlakendens had the victory on this occasion as not only did William Adams lose his living, but also in 1611 another schoolmaster was appointed.
We turn from conflict land and family. Henry added to his landholding once in his life. On the death of his uncle, Henry Abbott senior, he inherited the house in Church Street referred to in the analysis of a landholding in the section above. This occurred in 1616. It is interesting to note that although he held Colne Priory land, he never appeared in the view of frankpledge for that manor but continued to appear and occasionally to act as a homage juror in Earls Colne manor court. One of our observations has been that there is little likelihood of anyone appearing in more than one leet, which bears out the general principal repeated in many of the guides to keeping a court leet, 'Everyone is in some leet, and no one is in two leets' (Kitchin in Hearnshaw 1907: 84). Henry Abbott surrendered all his land together with his wife's land in 1623, to their own use for their lives and for the longer liver of them, and at the death of the longer liver to their son Henry and his wife Joan. We have not found this son's marriage either in the Earls Colne register or in any neighbouring one, and we never know the maiden name of his wife. It must have occurred about 1623 so that the land transfer may well have been a form of marriage payment. Henry the son was baptized 9 June 1595 and was probably the eldest son. Of his siblings, we know that a surviving elder child was a daughter, Grace (mentioned in her father's will) and that there were two further sisters and two brothers, so six children in all. A son and two daughters died before their father made his will in 1625 (see sample documents for this will). It is interesting to note that in this will he bequeathed the house in Church Street to-his younger son, Robert, when he had already surrendered the remainder to his elder son and wife. There is no further transfer in the manor court until his death when it seems that the will overrides the earlier transfer and Robert is admitted tenant after his mother's death.
There is some difficulty in ever placing Henry Abbott in a particular house in the village. His wife brought land to the marriage but no house. In his will he mentions that his son Henry occupies the house that he inherited from his uncle. Only one rental in 1638 gives a hint that he may have lived in one of the houses in Holt Street that his wife's sister, Joan, inherited. She married out of the village and clearly never lived there herself.
There are many references to Henry Abbott that add only a little to the picture of the man, so that they have not been dwelt on at length in this summary. There are references to him in a number of rentals and a terrier which confirm what we already know of his landholdings. There are the appearances or non-appearances in the views of frankpledge, on average once a year from 1590 to 1636. These help to confirm his actual presence in the village over this period. There are the taxation returns: Lay Subsidies 1599-1629 and Ship Money 1636, which give the impression that his actual wealth remained static over the period. He is invariably taxed at 8s. There are the obscure references to him in the manor court and in wills as a witness through which we see that he could sign his name. In all, there are, over one hundred references to him during his life in the documents that we have looked at. In conclusion, we repeat that he was unusual in that he lived in Earls Colne for so long, but not in the amount of information that one could produce on him in any particular year.
It will be seen from the vast amount of information on this one man that it would be impossible to attempt a biographical approach to the history of a community. Yet the presence of these biographies makes various kinds of analysis possible. Some of these will be illustrated in the next chapter.