The Bye - Laws of Thornbury.

Acknowledgement to: Peter Franklin.

The medieval manor of Thornbury covered about 10,000 acres, stretching from the River Severn up to and beyond the A38, with Thornbury Borough and St. Mary`s parish church at it`s heart.

The manor was a thriving peasant community where wheat, barley, oats, beans and peas were grown both for local consumption and to be shipped down the Severn to Bristol. Most of local agriculture operated on the old communal `tree-field system` with everyone`s land thrown together and agricultural operations carried on at the same time - a system quite different from the modern division of the land between separate farms.

Agriculture was one of the many important aspects of local life which were regulated by the manor court, which usually met every three or four weeks. This court still had some of the features of a popular assembly, but it was the private property of the lord of Thornbury. His steward was in charge of the court and all the fines collected became part of the lord`s income. The peasants` communal agriculture was usually organised by means of unwritten rules and agreements - special rules called `bye-laws` were made to cope the new difficulties and were written down in the court records.

Those reproduced here are the oldest known Thornbury bye-laws, translated from the Medieval Latin of the earliest surviving manor court records. They reflect local concern to safeguard the supply of common grazing (including the stubble left in the fields when the corn had been cut) to feed the draught animals needed for cultivating arable land. Bye-laws 1, 2, 4 and 10 were intended to restrain anti-social peasants from letting their animals eat up (`depasture`) the grazing before the agreed times when all would have access to it. Sheep were seen as something of a nuisance. Bye-law 7 and 9 reveal how little local people who did not have enough of their own land to live on could hope to earn by working as day labourers.

The first ten years of the court records (from 1328 to 1338) contain no bye-laws at all, and the making of the ten reproduced here probably reflects the strains put upon the local economy by the taxes which the government levied in order to pay for the first phase of the Hundred Years War against France.



From the medieval court rolls of the historic Manor and Borough of Thornbury.


* It was agreed by both the freemen and the serfs of the whole homage that if

anyone depastures the pastures in Legarst and Benmor with any of his beasts

before all the corn is removed and is convicted of this, he shall pay 40d. to the lord.

2 September 1338.


* Also, whosoever depastures the pastures in the stubble or in the meadows

with his sheep, other than in the oats stubble, and is convicted of this pays

2s. to the lord each time.

2 September 1338.


* It is ordered by the steward and all the court that no one leave sheaves in

the fields under a penalty of 12d. each sheaf.

29 July 1344.


* Also, that sheep do not go to depasture the meadowland nor the stubble

before All Saints Day (1st November).

29 July 1344.


* Also, that no one carry corn at night time.

29 July 1344.


* It is ordered that no one receive strangers outside the assize, under a penalty

of 40d.

29 October 1344.

repeated 23 October 1346.


* It is ordered under a penalty of 40d. that no one glean in the harvest who

can earn 1d. per day with food provided, or 2d. without.

1 August 1345.


* Also, that no one leave sheaves in the fields under the same penalty.

1 August 1345.

repeated 16 August 1347.


* Also, that no one gather corn in the fields who can earn 1d per day.

16 August 1347.


* Also, that no one enter into the meadows of Hammes and Newebrech.

16 August 1347.



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