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Widecombe History Group Talk October 2007
Something in Common - A talk on the Dartmoor Commons with particular reference to our area by Tess Walker (Dartmoor National Park Authority)
It appears that many years ago the rough grazing ground of the open moors were of little value to the owner, The Lord of the Manor. He had little use for it other than hunting, so farmers of the Manor were permitted to turn out some of their livestock at certain times of the year to graze, so developed the use of the commons in the form of ’common rights’, a right for farmers in a Manor to graze some of their stock during the summer months, but only that number that they could keep on their particular holding during the winter.
An early example could be ‘Foales Arrish’ as long as 3500 years ago. This small holding, in the midst of an area of rough ground, could have exercised such a system. The owner would have had and still has the rights to any minerals beneath the ground, but the farmers developed a system where they could take stone and sand for building, and the maintenance of tracks etc. They could also take a certain amount of sticks and wood for fire wood and the maintenace of the structure of the house and gradually further rights developed.
The basic understanding could be described as ‘owned by one but used by many’.
As farming progressed from hunter gatherer to resident farmer these rights became more important. The Medieval farmer of sites like Hutholes and Houndtor would have used this system, their closeness to a moorland site being very beneficial.
Any mining activity like tin mining would be under the Lordship’s control but the rights can be best described as:
Grazing A right to graze specific number of animals
Pannage To let pigs graze for acorns and beechmast/beechnuts.
Estovers The right to take sticks and wood.
Turbary The right to take peat or in Widecombe Parish Vags (turf)
These words are still in use regarding the registration of Common Rights in "The 1965 Commons Registration Act".
It must be stressed that only registered commoners can exercise any of these rights. The general public are not permitted to remove anything from any site of Common Land.
Currently 3 per cent of England is registered as Common Land.
In 1066 there were only 10 commons actually listed.
Now there are many more as they have been divided up over the years.
About 2400 of today’s commons are in private ownership and another 1200 are owned by Parish Councils. In addition to these there are also 4370 Village Greens registered under the 1965 Act.
The 1965 Act resulted in several disputes on ownership etc and it took until 1984 before they were settled and all the registrations were completed.
There are many papers and some books still in existence that show the process adapted at that time but the register is complete and is the ‘bible’ as far as common rights are concerned.
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