Country House for Sale Lists Big Caveat – Purchaser Must Use Medieval Farming Techniques and is Bound by Ancient Code
News media outlets in England have announced that a unique piece of property is for sale. A country estate with houses, a pub, and a working farm has come on to the market. There is nothing too remarkable about that, however, those who purchase the estate are expected to abide by one important condition – they must agree to farm the estate according to medieval farming practices. Any new owner is required, as part of the purchase agreement, to engage in strip farming and to retain the medieval open field system of agriculture.
Laxton Estate is on sale for $10 million (£7 million). It is located in the County of Nottinghamshire and it comprises 17 private dwellings, the Dovecote Inn, and over 1800 acres of land. The estate is run on a commercial basis and it generates a profit of close to 300,000 dollars (£230,000) per annum. The present owner is committed to maintaining the medieval style of farming in Laxton and any offers that do not include a commitment to continue this centuries-old form of farming will be rejected.
The Dovecote Inn forms part of the Estate ( CC by SA )
The estate has been in existence since the Middle Ages and is overseen by an ancient but legally-constituted court known as a Court Leet, a relic of old feudalism, which has the power to fine and regulate the tenant farmers. The Leet is a manorial court which works with a jury of l2 local people to administer the lands and to ensure that the estate is in good order. The court and jury works’ very “much as they have done for hundreds of years”, reports the Daily Telegraph .
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Laxton Estate ( Farmer’s Weekly )
Medieval Practice of Strip Farming
In the medieval period, the farmers who worked the estates held the land in ‘common’. This was the so-called open field system, where there were no barriers, walls or hedgerows between the farmers holdings. The individual farmers holdings were long strips with a ridge and furrow pattern. The farmers’ strips were scattered throughout the estate and this was to reduce risk of crop failure and to ensure equitable access to the best land.
Medieval farmers and their families, after agreeing with the manorial court, were allocated their strips of land. Usually, they were given three strips of land, they planted two and left one fallow. They followed a three-year crop rotation pattern. They were tenants of the estate – the land they farmed was rented from the local lord, whom was also their feudal master. The peasant farmers often had to provide free labor to the lord, who had great power over the tenants, especially through the manorial court.
In Medieval strip farming, farmers worked in an open field system, where there were no barriers, walls or hedgerows between the farmers holdings. ( Taiga / Fotolia)
The Laxton Estate
In Laxton, farmers still pay the manor rents as medieval peasant farmers did in the past. Modern tenants, like their forebears, are also under the authority of the manorial court, which represents the interests of the current owners. Unlike the medieval tenant farmers, those who farm the estate today, do not have to perform labor services for the estate.
Laxton has been a settlement since the 11 th century and it ‘is mentioned in the Domesday Book’ reports the Nottingham Post . It was able to survive the Agricultural Revolution in England in the eighteenth century. In 1740, the Westminster Parliament passed a law that enabled landowners to end the open field system and to enclose their land. The estate was able to preserve its unique system because it was sold to the Crown Estate in the 1950s, which is legally owned by the British monarch but is actually ‘a semi-independent public office, accountable to Parliament’ reports the Nottingham Post .
The Estate wants to maintain the manorial system at Laxton and its unique farming practices. It recognizes that it is an essential part of England’s agricultural heritage. However, the Crown Estate believes it is not able to continue to manage the properties and in order to preserve Laxton ’s traditional system, a new owner is needed. If the estate can find a suitable buyer, then this could mean that the traditional open field system and strip farming will not yet die out in England.
Top image: Medieval illustration of men harvesting wheat with reaping-hooks (public domain)
By Ed Whelan