History of Widdop

The traditional Medieval 'three,open-field 'system of farming was not possible in the upland Pennines as the land was such poor quality, the weather cold and wet and remote from civilisation! [there appears to be no sign of open-field system at Widdop]. Landlords were always looking for ways to expand their demesnes and evidence exists throughout the Pennines for the grazing of cattle by the visible remains of 'vaccaries'. A 'vaccary' [from the latin vaccus for cows] was an enclosure to contain principally dairy cattle and oxen, usually sited near a flowing stream with pasture and grazing land adjacent and with the option of summertime grazing higher up. It has been suggested that the local term 'tonstall', meaning a farmstead, actually meant a 'vaccary' especially as several known 'vaccaries' settlements end with 'tonstall'. There are a number of settlements in the area which end with 'tonstall', including Shackletonstall where all Shackletons originate!! A much later Savile estate survey of 1809 supports this as out of 85 acres at Widdop 34 acres [40%] were pasture and 24 acres [28%] meadowland with only 4 acres [5%] for arable.

Archaeological finds
Archaeological finds

Widdop Pot

Years of fieldwalking looking for pre-historic archaeology by Brian Howcroft,Richard Blakeley and David Shepherd of Hebden Bridge History Soc. and Yorkshire Arch.Soc. have discovered finds at Widdop. The adjacent link lists those to date [2017] going back to Mesolithic Era;the vast majority listed on The Portable Antiquity Site. My thanks for their permission to catalogue their finds. There are many potsherds the earliest dated 1100-1300 but the majority 'post-medieval', pictured adjacent. Finds were located on the edge of the present reservoir, at low water, just below the Higher Houses on the northern shoreline [and others on the southern shoreline]. Initially Brian thought the potsherds too far away from the buildings but now it's thought that constant ploughing would have gradually moved them downwards.

Widdop Res. - North Shore - Potsherds - 13-8-2013

In 2013 a number of us met to 'share' potsherds and opinions!
To the left are a mixture of medieval and post medieval potsherds; the oldest possible one, to the right, could be 12th century[yet to be dated]

widdop vaccary

Brian and friends discovered a linear feature indicating a large enclosure-origin as yet unkn0wn? To the right at the northern reservoir shorline are some stone culverts- built as either drainage or irrigation channels?

Widdop Reservoir - Culvert - 2001 scan 2 (2)
Widdop Reservoir - Culvert - 2001 scan 2 (3)

Were my ancestors ''free'' or ''unfree'' tenants ?

  On looking through the various archives I began to think what WERE my ancestors in the Medieval era? were they free? serfs? slaves?
There were two types of tenant recorded in the 1572-1610 lists there were ''libe''---latin for ''free''; and ''ad voluntatum''-- latin for ''at will'' i.e. the tenants had no rights at all --and ''unfree''.
  ''Free'' tenants were ''free'' men who could own their own land, chattels, animals etc. but often rented land off the lord of the manor. They also had legal rights at the King's court and owed no service obligations to the lord of the manor though they would have to attend the manor court. Their rents were less than the ''at will'' tenants. There were few Shackletons, circa 4, in any of the ''free'' tenants lists.
Most Shackletons, including my ancestors, were amongst the ''at will'' lists. ''At will'' tenants were ''unfree'' with no tenancy rights at all, nothing in writing and therefore could be evicted without any notice 'at the will of the lord'. Usually they had to carry out other labour duties and ''fines'' to the Lord of the manor. At some point prior to 1572, possibly as far back as early Medieval years, the Savile lords of the manor appear to have preferred such duties to be converted to 'cash rents' which was the principle practise in Pennine areas from as early as 12th/13th centuries. The annual rents were negotiated by ''agreement'' between lord and tenant—hence the term ''at will''- implying that the Lord really held the upper hand!
''At will'' tenants could choose what to farm on their land, expand their rental holdings, erect new buildings and intake new fields to increase acreage---all still with the permission of the lord. It looks as though by at least the 1570s some of the tenants were being given 'paper agreements' for fixed terms, usually 21 years, by ''indenture'' leases.

The 'grave'/reeve & 'villeinage'

  In the later tenants ''voluntatum''/''at will'' lists of 1711-1779 the term ''grave rents'' is used. The term ''grave'' was the Old English word ''gerafe'' or ''grafe'' or ''greve''--originally Saxon-- from which the term ''reeve'' evolved. A ''reeve'' was an ''officer'' elected from amongst the ''unfree'' tenants to carry out various duties e.g. sorting out local disagreements, being involved at the manor court, collection of monies, supervising manorial work and generally being an overseer. This term being used in the tenants lists provides evidence of the medieval system of ''villeinage'' whereby such tenants were ''unfree'' and all their lives were controlled and conducted by the manor court. Criminal acts [for and against], disagreements regarding boundaries, transferring of tenancies were all brought to the manor court for decision. A ''villein'' could not legally opt out of his tenancy or leave the manor; if a daughter was married or committed '' fornication'' a fine was paid, when a tenant died a 'fine' of the best animal was paid called a heriot. Then there were service obligations, according to each courts ''custom'', whereby work was carried out on the lords lands at harvest, ploughing etc. Hence, tenants were termed ''customary tenants'' whereby conditions of tenancy were according to the terms of the local manor court and it's particular, historical, customs or precedence. They later became termed as ''copyhold tenants'' whose ''hereditary''tenancy rights were recorded on a roll at the manor court and gradually over the years the tenants began to ask for a copy to have written proof of their rights of tenure.


he'd very likely only be sowing oats at Widdop because the soil was such poor quality !

a ''grave'' overseeing serfs

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