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Castle Combe - the home of our Newman ancestors

It seems very likely that our Newman ancestors lived in Castle Combe from very early times as in the earliest written records of Castle Combe (1340) the name Newman is listed in the Manor Court Rolls as "nativi domini de sanquine" which means that they were bonded serfs to the lord of the manor and were possibly descendants of the "Servi" or serfs of the Domesday survey. The number of these bondsmen seems to have been limited but the same names continue to appear in the written accounts of the courts held at Castle Combe. Through the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries families named Spendele, Weye, North, Yonge, Pleystede, Newman, Taylor and Heynes appear to have continued in blood bondage. As such they would not be allowed to leave the village without the permission of the lord of the manor. I have gathered much of my information from my reading of the book, "History of the Ancient Manor and Barony of Castle Combe" by G. Poulett Scrope, Esq. MP, first bublished in 1852.

Having said that they could not move, I must now say they must originally have come from somewhere else or they would not have had the name Newman which means literally that they were new men to that village. Surnames came into use in the 12th Century so we can surmise that the Newman family came to Castle Combe (possibly from another property of the lord) some time in the eleven hundreds as bondsmen to the lord of the manor.

The NEWMAN FAMILY as entered in the Castle Combe Court Rolls.
(Spelling at this time was very arbitrary so there are many different versions of the name)

I am very grateful to Beryl Schumer who has painstakingly translated the Castle Combe Court Rolls, held at the British Library, which are written in Medieval Latin. They contain some fascinating information about the conditions under which the Newman family were living in Medieval times. I have selected a number of entries which give us a picture of the lives of "nativi domini de sanquine" [tenants of the lord of the Manor of Castle Combe who had severe restrictions on their activities] and modified the formal language to make it more understandable.

1340 From Rental of the manor.
This document refers to tenants, nativi domini de sanquine , holding a half-virgate of land in the manor. The virgate was the unit of land tenure, comprising a certain amount of arable land in the common fields (the acreage varied from one manor to another) with rights in the common meadows and other common lands - and also duties/payments due to the lord of the manor. A list of the nativi domini de sanquine is attached to it and the name of John Newman appears in this list so the following duties apply to him.

They had to work 3 works [3 particular jobs or days work perhaps] every two weeks between the feast of St Lawrence and the feast of St Michael [Michaelmas]. The day's work is worth 1ęd." (It seems that from the rest of this document that the tenant could pay the lord in lieu of work.)
At the feast of St Martin they had to give 1 cock and 1 hen to the lord.
They had to hoe for two days before a meal, [the lord provided food for them] and the day's work is worth ęd.
They had to mow for 4 days, or give 4d.
And make hay for 3 days or give 3d.
They should not have to plough - but
They did have to make 1 haycock in the court or carry hay in the grange for 4 days, and the day's work is worth ęd.
They did not have to do carrying service but
They did have to drive the lord's animals where the lord wished.
They had to carry letters when ordered, provided that they can return in the day they leave, and they should give nothing for that work.
They were not obliged to make malt.
They were obliged to be ploughman or reaper [overseer of the harvest] if the lord wills it.
If they should plough, they should have the lord's plough every other Saturday, and to be quit of all their rents and all services except payment to the church.
When a tenant died a heriot had to be paid by the family to the lord of the manor. A heriot was the tenant's best beast.

The next entries come from a series of documents from the Castle Combe Court Rolls - Additional Charters numbered 18472, 18475, 18478/9, 18481, 18486-9 and the Newman name is found in: 1378 [approx] when Adam Nyweman was mentioned as an assesor of fines. [A fine was just an amount of money that was due to the lord for different duties, etc.]
At that time Adam Nyweman had 1 acre for which he paid 3s per annum.
1 Nov 1384 William Neuman had to appear before the Homage [a court where his contemporaries would pass judgement on him] because he had taken away wood from the lord's park three times.
23 Oct 1393 John Nyman defaulted, in mercy. ["In mercy" I think that this just means that the person has been convicted of the offence listed, and is at the mercy of the lord (or custom) as to what his punishment will be.]
12 Apr 1398 William Neuman drew blood from William Osebarn and had to pay 3d.
To this court came Richard Newman and gave to the lord as fine 4d so that he could have some land to enlarge his dwelling or tenement, for the term of his life according to the custom of the manor, & he made fealty to the lord.
[It is unclear what the relationship was between John, Adam and William at this stage.]

1413 - 4 Payment made from William NYMAN & Edith his wife for a cottage garden formerly in the tenure of William at Mulle.
[In the Court Rolls there is also a note about a villein who paid 13s 4d for the marriages of his daughters, i.e. so that they could marry whoever they (or their father) wanted to, not the men the lord told them to.]
4 Oct 1417 John Niwman elected to serve as reeve [the representative of the lord. Over the centuries, the words "shire reeve" became corrupted to "sheriff"].
30 Sep 1419 John Nyman had to pay 1d because he let the hedges at Colnham lie open - to the harm of others.
John Nyman named as having `arrested' the chattels of John Felde.
[This seems to mean that John Felde's goods were seized for some reason under the law by John Nyman, sold and the money held by the court]
30 September 1420, John Nyman was elected as bailiff of the fees and sworn in.
27 Mar 1421 William Nyman had to pay 3d for breaking law by making ale.
12 Apr 1436 William Niweman again had to pay 3d for breaking the law about making ale. [This is something that the Newman family are frequently brought to the court for.]
25 Oct 1441 John Newman among 5 men elected to the office of keeping the common pasture this year
1441 December John Nyman elected to keep the common street of the village of Castelcombe from the dung and timber lying there this year.
1443 October John Nyman (and others) were outlawed for some reason not given.
1443 - 4 List of the nativorum (neifs, villeins) of the lord John Fastolf knight at Castelcombe in the 22nd year of Henry VI reign includes:
John Newman at Castelcombe
William Newman at Castelcombe
William Newman son of John at Slaughtynforde, Com. Wiltes.
1 October 1443 William Newman,nativus domini, had to pay a fine of 2s for a license called "cleavage" for living outside Castle Combe, in Slaughterford and John Newman, his son paid 8d for the same to live at Gredlyngton [Grittleton]. They pay this sum every year.
October 1476 William Newman is called to the villein homage because he is living with Thomas Bokeler at Foxcote. He has to pay 6s 8d if he does not come. [So William seems to have absconded, and the lord wanted him back. He was not free and could not go away from Castle Combe.]
1 Oct 1444 Roger Grous unjustly drew blood from Edith Nyman [William's wife] with his fist so he was going to be punished.
19 May 1445 Here we get the information that William Newman in Slaughterford has two sons, Henry and Walter and a daughter Joan. John Newman [previously called the son of William] who lives in Gredlyington also has children but they are not named.
3 Oct 1446 John Newman and others are called upon to decide the boundaries of two areas of pasture and to evaluate them.
6 April 1453 Edith Nyman who is now the widow of William is given a license for a cottage and garden, well and appurtenances from the lord to hold for the term of her life but must keep them in good repair. [On two occasions later she is fined because they are not in good repair.]
13 Oct 1455 Edith Newman in trouble again for not repairing her shop which seems to be in a covered area in the centre of Castle Combe.


The covered market in the centre of Castle Combe today.
Is this where Edith Newman had her stall/shop?

5 Oct 1462 Walter Newman pays the lord £7 for a messuage with land adjoining and its appurtenance called Yondever. [I have been told by Adrian Bishop, the curator of the Castle Combe museum, that this was a large house in Ford. Unfortunately it no longer exists.] He held it on the lives of his wife, Joan and son for the terms of their lives as was the custom of the manor & made fealty to the lord and was admitted as a tenant.
12 Oct 1463 Walter Newman felled 52 Ash trees on his land for which he will be punished. He was also put on the manorial jury.
8 Oct 1464 Walter Newman kept his sheep in such a way that was a trouble to others.
30 Jan 1468 Walter Newman felled his hedge causing harm to his neighbours for which he will be punished.
Between 1469 and 1474 Walter Newman is fined several times for not keeping his house in good repair. He is also appointed to the jury of the homage several times.
29 Oct 1472 Walter Newman made an assault on William Jeylins and drew blood from him with a dagger of the price of 6d. He was fined 6d.
29 Abt 1477 William Newman nativi domini was living with Thomas Boleler at Foxcot, William Newman nativi domini was living at Slaughterford, outside the domain & Walter Newman nativi domini was living within the domain and had eight children (2 sons and 6 daughters).
28 October 1478 Walter Newman forfeited a penalty of 6s 8d because he put his pigs in the lord's land to the lord's damage.

AND the most important bit of all:
17 Oct 1482
To this court came William Newman alias Nyman and gave to the lord £13. 6s. 8d to have his manumission [freedom] which was granted in these words

To all faithful Christians to whom this present writing shall come John Scope, knight, lord of Castelcombe gives greeting. Let it be known that I have manumitted and made free William Newman alias Nyman of Slaughterford and Walter Newman alias Nyman of Forde within the parish of Castelcombe aforesaid son of the aforesaid William, nativi of the manor of Castelcombe aforesaid.

So they are free and should remain so in perpetuity with all their issue procreated or to be procreated in the future with all their goods and chattels moveable and immoveable at their will without dispute from me or my heirs in perpetuity. In witness of these present testimonies I have affixed my seal. Given at Castelcombe aforesaid 17th day of October in the 22nd year of King Edward 4th after the conquest

So the Newman family were now free to live and go anywhere they wanted. They appear to have done just that as they do not appear again in the Court Rolls of Castle Combe but where they went I have yet to find out. They returned to Castle Combe in the 17th century.

The Black Death
The plague known as the Black Death arrived in England in the summer of 1348 which had been abnormally wet. It quickly spread throughout England and Scotland, decimating the population. It was followec in 1361-2, 1369, 1379-83, 1389-93 and 1413, and later in the fifteenth century by further outbreaks of plague. In 1348 the population of England had been between 5 and 6 million. In 1377 it had been reduced to between 2.5 million and 3 million and it did not begin to rise again until 1520. Many villages were wiped out by plague and others suffered severe losses. I can at the moment find no evidence of this in Castle Combe. In fact it appears to have been a thriving centre for the manufacture of a special woollen cloth and 50 new houses were built for spinners and weavers during this time - hardly a sign of a diminished population. How Castle Combe managed to escape this truly terrible pandemic I can't imagine but if our ancestors had not done so I would not be writing this today.

Proven NEWMAN ancestors
The earliest Newman ancestor I have traced with certainty to Castle Combe is William Newman(1), my five times great grandfather, who died in Castle Combe in July 1762. I cannot find his baptism mentioned in the Castle Combe parish record but there is a William Newman baptised in 1685 in Corsham who may be our William. This is the only possible birth I have found for him in surrounding villages at the present time.

We know for certain that my three times great grandfather, Elver Newman, lived, was married and died in Castle Combe and also his father William Newman(2) and grandfather William Newman(1) , and, although there is no proven connection with these men and the Newmans in the Court Rolls of 1340 onwards, I feel fairly confident that they are one and the same family. I have seen the large box-like graves of Elver and the two Williams in the churchyard.
G.Scrope himself in his book says,

"The churchyard contains numerous tombstones and monuments of the heavy sarcophagus form recording the burial places of many of the old families whose names continually recur in the court rolls from the earliest time such as Newman, Taylor ...etc."

During the time of my great-great-great-great-great-grandparents, William & Elizabeth Newman, née Elver(1) , and their son, William(2) and Ann Newman, née Jenkins Castle Combe was beginning to loose its prosperity and in the time of Elver, my great-great-great-grandparents, towards the end of the 18th century the Bybrook, which runs through the village and had supplied all the water for the mills, began to dry up and there was not sufficient water to run the mills. The cloth trade moved away, the mills were pulled down and many houses were either pulled down or just fell into disrepair. The population of the village diminished. By 1820, when my great-great-grandfather, Thomas Newman, and his brother, William Beard Newman, moved away to become surgeons and apothecaries (the former in Marshfield, Gloucestershire, and the latter in Corsham, Wiltshire), Castle Combe had returned to agriculture as its chief means of livelihood. The manor house was enlarged and the church, where Elver had been churchwarden in 1813 and in 1817 was rebuilt.

I can find no evidence that the Newman family were involved in the cloth trade, but it is more than possible that sheep were pastured in their fields. There is ample evidence that they made their money from inns and from agriculture. The Newman family owned two inns - The George in Castle Combe itself and The Salutation, a little out of the village at a place called The Gib. They also owned a malt house which I presume was for making beer. As well as being an inn, The George carried on the trade of currier, which was concerned with the dressing and dying of tanned leather. The family also leased a large number of fields from the lord of the manor. Some of these fields were suitable for arable farming and some for pasture. The fields had interesting names like "Gallows Leaze", "Marsh Furlong", "Little Thorngrove", "Great Thorngrove", "Woodbury Hill", "Foss Tyning", "Great Lords Meere Tything" and "Stone Hill". They often had a house on them and were known as a messuage (pronounced "messwidge"). They either farmed this land themselves or sub-let it. As well as being an inn, The Salutation was also a farm and had four stables and a barn. The family also owned several houses - "Davenants" in Park Road which was burnt down in 1925, a house and garden near "Parsonage House" in the village, three cottages in Upper Combe and the house in which Elver Newman lived called "The Great House" or the "Dower House".

By this time the Castle Combe estate had passed from the Scrope family into the hands of the Gorst family. Past villagers remember the last Gorst, lord of the manor, striding about the village with his dogs. He was a rather fierce man and everyone was a little afraid of him, but in 1947 everything suddenly changed. He decided to sell up and the whole village as well as the Manor House were put up for sale. No one wanted all of it so the cottages were sold either individually or in groups. Many of them went to their original tenants. The Manor House, in its beautiful grounds, became a Five Star hotel and David and I spent a couple of days of sheer luxury there in October 1990.

The Newman family seem to have become a very important family and of quite considerable wealth. From 1728 the overseer of the manor and the churchwarden were chosen from the principal yeomen, farmers, and clothiers of the parish and (according to Scrope) the Newman family were of this number. They served in turn together with the lord or lady of the manor. Elver Newman, and later his son Elver Dolman Newman, lived in the Upper Great House or Dower House which is the most impressive house in the village and, as the Scrope shield above the door shows, was once lived in by some members of the Scrope family.


The gravestones of William Newman (1) & Elizabeth, née Elver
William Newman (2) & Ann, née Jenkins and Elver Newman & Ann, née Coleman.

On the impressive box grave stones of the two Williams and Elver there is the word 'Gent.' after their names. To be called a gentleman in those days meant much more than it does today. It denotes a position of importance in the community. So, we have discovered that our ancestors -

The Newmans - had risen from serfs to Gentlemen!

THE MANOR OF CASTLE COMBE and the NEWMAN Family

The castle at Castle Combe has existed there since soon after the Norman Conquest and it was considered important enough to come into the ownership of the king. Sometime during his reign (1100 - 1135), the king, Henry I, gave the castle and surrounding lands to his natural son, Reginald de Dunstanville, Earl of Cornwall, and it seems reasonable to suggest that Reginald brought with him one of his bondsmen who, as a new man to the manor became Newman. This would also tie up with the time when surnames began to be used. However this is all supposition.

What kind of place was it that they came to? The name "Combe" means a short, tree-covered valley in the flank of a hill and this exactly describes Castle Combe. There are three rather steep sides leading down from the hill which dominates the valley and these are still covered with trees. The hill is where the castle was built which gives the "combe" its special name. There are now very few signs of the castle that was there. A stream, called Bybrook, runs along the bottom of the valley and, beside it and climbing up the valley, are nestled mellow, creamy coloured and grey limestone cottages with red-brown, stone tiled roofs. It is very picturesque and in 1962 it was voted the prettiest village in England. It is now a quiet little village but in the 15th century it was a very busy cloth producing town. Apparently Bybrook at that time contained more fast flowing water and there were several mills on it which were used in the cloth making industry.


The stream, called Bybrook, in Castle Combe as it is today.
On the left is St Andrews Church and on the right the cottages that were
originally built for the spinners and weavers
.

Early History
The area where the castle of Castle Combe stood shows evidence of settlement which pre-date the Normans as can be seen from remains discovered there. Although there are no Druidical relics actually at Castle Combe, at Nettleton and "within cannon shot of the castle hill [of Castle Combe] there is a large barrow consisting of 2 upright stones standing at the eastern end of a long barrow with a third stone about 12 feet by seven and of a flat shape, now resting on its edge against them, but formerly no doubt superimposed tablewise on their summit." [Scrope]

Although there is no evidence of ancient British occupation, there are earthworks around the castle "bearing very much the appearance of a Saxon entrenched camp. It was seated on the brow of a steep hill, which juts out into the valley about a quarter of a mile from the town towards the north-west. The hill is tongue-shaped, abruptly sloping on three sides, and connected on the fourth with the flat high level of the surrounding country. The summit, which occupies about eight acres, is surrounded by a deep ditch and mound. Three other similar trenches divide it into four unequal compartments." [Scrope]

The Romans certainly made a settlement there as many Roman coins, pieces of pottery etc. have been found in the vicinity. The hill above the valley is very near to the 'Fosse Way', the Roman Road that goes from Devonshire to Yorkshire, so the Romans probably used the hill as a strategic position.

There is some evidence from an old document quoted by Scrope that an early castle on the site was used by King Alfred. The document reads:- "there was a castle in the middle of the park here, seated upon a hill, which was destroyed by the pagan people coming from the kingdom of the Danes, as invaders and enemies to King Alfred, in the year of Christ eight hundred and seventy eight. The said Danes remained for a long time at Chippenham, then a royal town, forming designs against the English, and that Guthrum, King of the Danes, was their leader." The Danes were afterwards routed and slain by the army of King Alfred while retreating across the Castle Combe brook at a place which is still called Slaughterford - a name which tells its own tale.

Several arrow heads from early Norman times and a few Saxon coins have been found within the area of the castle and a tradition exists that in a deep old castle well, now filled up with rubbish, there is treasure.

The Domesday Book

In 1086 William the Conqueror, as William I of England, had a survey made of the land he had conquered in 1066. The survey was regarded with dismay and a feeling of doom for fear of what William would do with the information once it was gained and the final book, with the results of the survey, came to be known as The Domesday Book (spelling was very arbitrary in those days). In it were listed every town and village, every manor and all its land, and every man on the land with his animals and tools. It was done of course to assess what taxes William could extract from the land but it has been invaluable in painting for us a picture of England as it was then.

The entry for Castle Combe reads thus:-
"Humphrey (de Lisle) holds Combe. Suain held it in the times of King Edward, and was assesses at 10 hides. Here are 10 plough-lands. Five hides, wanting a yard-land, are in demesne, where are 4 plough-lands, and 13 serfs. Five villeins, 7 borderers, and 5 cottagers occupy six plough-lands. Three mills pay thirty-one shillings and six pence. Here are 12 acres of meadow, a wood a mile and a half long and three-quarters of a mile broad. A burgess in Wilton pays 5 shillings, and 2 burgessses in Malmesbury pay 18 pence. It was, and is, worth 10 pounds."

A hide was a square measurement of land. One explanation for it is that it was made by cutting the hide of an ox into one thin, long, continuous strip and then enclosing land within this strip, but this seems unlikely. Whatever it was though it was a very variable measure and in fact it varied from between 60 to 130 acres.

The demesne is the actual land of the lord which, in this case, was worked on by the thirteen serfs who were there under his direct ownership, not unlike slaves. It is unlikely that a Newman was one of these serfs at this time, even though they were bonded serfs to the lord at a later date, as surnames were not then in use.

Villeins, borderers and cottagers were all peasants of the manor with differing status - the most important first. They all had land of varying amounts and a dwelling for which they paid the lord in services or, at a later stage, money. At this time they were all vassals of the lord and owed complete allegiance to him under the feudal system.

Castle Combe under the Norman Fuedal system

The Castle remained in the possession of the king until the time of Henry I (1100-1135) when Reginald Dunstanville became the first Baron of Castle Combe. This seems the most likely time when the Newman family came to Castle Combe - brought there by their lord. As the lord's bondsmen they were forced to lead severely restricted lives for they were not allowed to leave the manor at any time without the express permission of the lord and neither they nor their families were allowed to live anywhere else. They had to have the lord's permission for their daughters to marry, and for their sons and daughters to inherit anything from them.

Civil War 1139-1153

The castle at Castle Combe was probably re-built and strengthened at the commencement of the civil war between the Empress Matilda and King Stephen. In the struggle for the throne between Stephen and Matilda, Earl Reginald, the baron of Castle Combe, was a supporter of Matilda. In spite of this King Stephen supported his claim to the barony and later his successor, Henry II, son of Matilda, confirmed his ownership of the castle.

The inhabitants of the village, which by then most likely included the Newman family, suffered throughout the cruel times of the civil war (1135 - 1154). The country was seriously depopulated during this time by the continual slaughter of the troops of the various lords. The troops were made up from amongst the peasantry who were forced to fight, now on one side, now on the other, according to the wavering allegiance of their feudal superiors who dictated to their vassals the part they must take.

A great number of castles were built throughout the land during the civil war, reckoned by the chroniclers at upwards of a thousand, but on the succession of Henry II to the throne he had most of them levelled to the ground. The castle at Castle Combe however seems to have been an exception to this, maybe because it belonged to the king's uncle. It was a very important castle at this time and the baron of it was in control of many knights and smaller manors in the surrounding country. Over the years the barony passed to several de Dunstanvilles until the husband of Petronilla de Dunstanville, Robert de Montfort, sold his entire rights to the estates of Castle Combe for £1000 to Bartholomew, Lord Badlesmere in 1309. The Badlesmeres were succeeded by the Tiptoft family through marriage.

Gradual prosperity of the Newman family

Over the Norman period the condition of the inhabitants of the Barony of Castle Combe improved. The terms of tenure were changed from complete serviture to the lord to partial serviture with fixed money rents and most tenants were able to pass on their holdings and their goods to their descendants. There seems to have been one main tenant, holding about 420 acres of land and twenty-seven customary or copyhold tenants each holding a messuage (land with dwelling) from about fifteen acres to three roods of land at rents varying from 20 shillings per annum downwards. Next come eleven villeins, or "servi custumarii", an inferior class of tenants not yet released from personal services of a lower kind who each held a messuage with fifteen acres of land with a rent of about eight pence and forty days' labour in the year. Also, each was bound to mow eighteen acres of corn for the lord in the autumn and to carry the corn when cut to the lord's barn, receiving while at work, besides food, one sheaf. Each of these persons also paid the lord every year five sheep and three hens. It seems that even the "nativi domini de sanguine" had land and a dwelling. At first their rent was entirely by service to the lord and their freedom still very restricted. Later they could pay fixed prices instead of a particular piece of work but their freedom was still restricted.

The Castle and the Manor House

The castle at Castle Combe was probably re-built and strengthened at the commencement of the civil war between the Empress Matilda and King Stephen. In the struggle for the throne between Stephen and Matilda, Earl Reginald, the baron of Castle Combe, was a supporter of Matilda. In spite of this King Stephen supported his claim to the barony and later his successor, Henry II, son of Matilda, confirmed his ownership of the castle.

During the time of the Badlesmere and Tiptoft baronies the castle was neglected and fell into disrepair as neither of these families actually lived there, both families owning several grander properties. In any case it was never a very big castle and was not fit for a wealthy family. The times were more peaceful also and there was not the need for fortification so it was chiefly used as a prison for offending tenants and perhaps the residence of the bailiff. The bailiff or "praepositus" was responsible for collection of rents and management of the estates. The quality of life of the "nativi domini de sanguine" would have depended very much on what sort of person the bailiff was.

Some time during the 14th century a manor house was built to replace the castle as a residence for the barons of Castle Combe, a strong castle being no longer necessary and comfort being more desirable. This was built in the valley and was much closer to the rest of the village. The original house was burnt down leaving only a grain drying kiln and granary but the house was rebuilt and enlarged over the following centuries.


The Manor House of Castle Combe as it is today.

The Lord Tiptoft died in 1372 leaving three daughters who were left in the wardship of Sir Richard Scrope (pronounced "Scroop") who promptly married two of them to his sons so that the barony of Castle Combe went into the hands of the Scrope family. It stayed with the Scrope family until the 19th Century except for a short period when it was in the hands of Sir John Fastolf. Sir John Fastolf had married the Lady Millicent, the widow of Sir Stephen Scope, and as her husband, took over the Barony of Castle Combe virtually deposing the rightful heir, Millicent's son, who at the time was a minor. Although Fastolf never lived in Castle Combe, he controlled the barony for over fifty years (1408 - 1459) and during that time Castle Combe was at the height of its prosperity. Fastolf is supposed to be the man on whom Shakespeare modelled Falstaff, the roisterous friend of Prince Hal.

Our Newman ancestors were "nativi domini de sanquine" and as such they would have held a messuage and half-virgate of land in the manor for which they would have paid 2s 6d per annum. The virgate was the unit of land tenure, comprising a certain amount of arable land in the common fields (the acreage varied from one manor to another) with rights in the common meadows and other common lands - and also duties/payments. At the feast of St Michael [Michaelmas] they would have had an allowance of 3_d a day for the autumn work.

Cloth making
Castle Combe had become a thriving centre for the cloth trade and most villagers were involved in some way with it. Fastolf was responsible for introducing new processes to keep up supplies of the famous red and white cloth, called Castlecombe, which the village produced and also for the erection of several new mills and fifty houses for dyers, fullers and weavers. Many freehold and copyhold tenants were fully occupied, not only cultivating their farms, but also in the cloth trade.

The vast open areas of the Cotswold Hills provided ideal grazing for flocks of sheep which dominated the medieval pastoral scene from the 13th century. These sheep produced a wool of quality unsurpassed on the Continent and the English wool trade flourished by export of the finished cloth. In Castle Combe the cloth was dyed red and white and was much in demand for its quality.

Spinning of the wool was carried out by the women of the village, whilst the weaving was the task of the men, known as "websters". This was a cottage industry, with spinning wheels and looms employed in the homes.


The Cottages built for the spinners and weavers.

The woven material was sent to the fulling mills located on the banks of the Bybrook. "Fulling" was the process by which natural grease would be removed from the cloth before dyeing. To "full" the material meant beating it with mechanically driven hammers, called "stocks", powered by the mill water wheel, the cloth being immersed in Fullers' Earth, or a mixture of human urine, called "sig", oatmeal and pig dung. Buckets of sig were left outside the cottages and taverns of the village, to be collected daily for use in the mills.

After fulling the cloth was stretched on "tenter" frames, to dry in the open air. The phrase, "being on tenterhooks", derives from this process.

Finally, the cloth went to the dye vats in the mills and was then dried on racks sited on the slopes of the valley. The name "Rackhill" is still used for a field above Collum Mill.

The village, or town as it was then, developed steadily and grew to be more important than Chippenham. It had a market every Monday, which was the largest in the north of Wiltshire and there was a fair once a year. It was a very self contained community and had its own courts of law as will be explained later.

The Manor Courts
There were three courts. Firstly, the Court Baron or Manor Court which dealt with the land held by all the tenants and the rents due from them. The tenants were represented by a select number of them called a "homage". It was through this court that a tenant received his "copyhold" or his right to a certain piece of land. Although in theory the lord had the power to give and take these copyholds, in fact they were passed down from father to son and were virtually ownership of the land (in the wills of William Newman, Elizabeth Newman and Elver Newman in the 18th and 19th centuries we find that the copyholds of considerable amounts of land which were in their possession were left to heirs in the same way as their freeholds and leaseholds). The steward presided over this court and looked after the lord's interest and the bailiff collected the rents, fees and fines for the lord. It was in this court also that civil actions for debt over a certain amount were heard and trespassers and poachers on the lord's land and waters were dealt with. It also dealt with strangers within the manor and bondsmen absenting themselves without the lord's consent or marrying their daughters without consent. This court was held twice a year but more often if required.

The second court was the Knight's Court in which noblemen and gentlemen who held lands or manors within the barony were bound to attend either in person or by proxy to do their suit and service and pay the rents, etc. due from them.

The third court was the Court Leet which again was held twice a year or more often if required. At this court the entire tithing (everyone who lived in the manor) was required to be present and it was presided over by twelve principal inhabitants. The absence of any inhabitant was reported and he was fined 2d, as was the tithing man for failing to produce him. This court dealt with breaches of the peace, frauds, unjust levying of toll, nuisances and other offences either against the common or statute law or in breach of the bye-laws made by themselves for the regulation of the community. It dealt with assaults, blood-shedding, tippling in ale houses, eavesdropping, night walking, the keeping of bad houses, gaming, regulations regarding common land and the animals' use of it. It regulated the butchers, bakers and candlestick makers with a multitude of regulations about quality, quantity and price. Many items such as beer, bread and candles were protected and could not be bought except from the manor thus protecting local traders from cheaper imports. Punishments were meted out for offenders, and gallows, pillories, stocks and the ducking-stool (used for ducking nagging wives in the pond) were always a threat for offenders. However pecuniary fines seem to have been the most usual penalty inflicted in all cases. This court also regulated "foreigners" in the manor, giving some people, who did not belong to the manor, permission to live there for renewable lengths of time and charging them a fine for doing so.


The house with the exposed beams was where the Castle Combe Leet Court
was held and the Court Rolls (more later) were produced.

The improved conditions making prosperity possible.
From the middle of the 14th century not only had the main tenants of the manor been given leased out property for money rent but the personal services of the inferior tenants or bondsmen had been commuted for similar annual payments. This was happening all over England and it is thought England owes her superiority in agriculture at this time to the fact that the people were released from serfdom far in advance of most other countries. Men working for themselves could be more motivated to improve their methods of farming and food production. There were however some strange contradictions to this for a few families in the manor, those "nativi domini de sanguine" of whose numbers the Newmans still belonged, although having the freedom to run thriving farms and trades, having secure tenure of their land and homes and often acquiring quite considerable wealth, were still subject to quite odious restrictions to their personal freedom by the lord of the manor. They still had to apply to the lord for permission for their daughters to marry; or for themselves or their families to live beyond the limits of the manor; or for their sons and daughters to inherit goods or property from them. Often arbitrary fines were applied to them by the lord before permission was given for any of these things and for this they had no redress: however there was redress through local courts for other injustices. By the fifteen century the distinction between free and bonded men was misty as far as social importance was concerned. Men like the Newmans although legally still villiens and bonded to the lord of the manor could be economically wealthy men and socially men of some position in the community.

The manor or barony of Castle Combe, which included twenty six neighbouring manors, was self-governing and continued to be so right into the 19th century when most of the country was subject to archdeacon's courts. This kind of self-government by a village or manor is known as a "Peculiar". The tenants and other inhabitants of the manor had the great advantage of local courts of justice at their own door which held pleas of debt or damage among themselves or at their fair and markets and adjudicated on all petty offences. They themselves composed the court under the presidency of the steward of the manor.