WHAT WAS A MANOR? A manor was a landholding that the sovereign granted to a Lord of the Manor in return for services rendered in 'knights fee' military services, when required, or by way of payments to the crown. It was an agricultural business which the lord established on the landholding. Some lords had several manors in various parts of the country. A manor was also a social construct in which people lived and worked together.
In its early medieval form , the manor was almost self-sufficient and only a few commodities such as salt had to be bought. Most manors had a mill and a church or chapel with their own clergy who conducted daily services.
The image shows a medieval manor and the strip farming typical of the time in many parts of England. The orange strips were farmed for the Lord of the Manor. Work there always had to have priority. The white strips were farmed by the serfs or cotters for their own use. Strip farming was later abandoned and fields were enclosed. In Kent it was more the case that certain fields were allocated for the lord's or the labourers' use.
GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD………it doesn’t seem to be a problem these days. We go to the bakery or supermarket and voilà….!
Food is so easily available today that we don't appreciate any more that it needs to be 'grown'. Some of the fields surrounding Lenham supplied the locals' daily bread for hundreds of years.
Maybe we ought to respect the soil and the fields as much as we respect old buildings. Both have supported human life for centuries and they still do. The wheat in the field which we cross when walking our dog might end up in our bread, the barley in our favourite beer. The meat from the lambs grazing on the land could be served for Sunday lunch in our favourite pub. The lambs' wool is turned into something useful, be it a jumper or loft insulation. The timber from the coppiced woodlands on the Downs has been used for buildings, fencing or firewood since records began, and today the timber that lights up our cosy fireplace also powers large industrial plants. The beans grown in a Lenham field might be exported to an Asian country where there is a great demand for black beans on certain holy days, thus helping to improve the national balance of payments.
For centuries people's wellbeing has been connected to the use of land and for many centuries the land was held in landholdings called manors.
The Lord of the Manor could be a tenant-in-chief
who held the manor directly from the crown
or he could be a ‘sub lord’ if he was a vassal to another
Some Lords of the Manor held several manors all over
the country, with the result that not every manor
had a big manor house or a well-endowed church. An
absentee Lord would appoint a steward to run the manor on
his behalf. The overseer of the work was the reeve.
The manorial system depended on the labour of the
serfs. They worked on the lord's demesne
land and in return were given a roof over their
head and a strip of land supposed to be
enough to sustain the serf’s family. However, in many cases
the serf had to give a substantial amount of his produce
to the lord.
Serfs were part of the estate, just like the buildings. When
the manor changed hands, the serfs were part of the process.
They could leave the manor only with the permission
of the lord and, if they wanted to get married,
they also needed his permission. They were
subject to the law of the manor.
How important the serfs were for the manorial system
is illustrated by the fact that its demise started with the
Black Death, when there were not enough people left
to work on the land and those who were left
could ask for more rights, e.g. a piece of land of their own.
There were villeins, cotters and borders who
were all tied in some form to the land.
Freemen owned a piece of land and then another group,
called copyholders, leased a piece of land for a certain
The Manors in the Parish of Lenham in the Domesday Book
...............West to East ..................
From Manor to Farm most of the manors in Lenham and the wider area became farms: East Lenham, New Shelve, Cobham, Court Lodge, Marley and also Boughton Malherbe or Bowley still operate today as farms.
Later Manors not mentioned in the Domesday Book
When did the manorial system come to an end?
Serfdom came to an end in England in the late 14th/ early 15th century, but vestiges of the manorial system remained in a few aspects of the law until the early 20th century. The system evolved into a much more benign
social order in which the Lord of the Manor leased land to farmers and employed farm labourers to work on the farm.
Medieval thinking was very much based on the assumption that people were born into a preordained place in society. The king was king by God's will and God bestowed power and privilege, wealth and status. The societal pyramid had the king at the top, the knights, lords and bishops on the second tier, the freemen on the third and the serfs on the very bottom tier.
The manorial system was formally abolished during the Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell. However, when Charles II returned from exile in France in 1660, one of his first decrees was the abolishment of the manorial
(feudal) system. The entrenched belief that this social order came directly from God had cost his father, Charles I, his head.