oats and legumes in some unpredictable combination,
occasionally under barley alone. Although there are one or two years
when the field was wholly blank, it was, in recorded years, rarely
cropped over less than 60 to 80 acres. But East Field was the exception.
North Field was in operation over the whole period, yet after 1322 never
more than about 40 of its supposed 154 acres were sown; during the later
middle ages some 20 to 40 acres of its surface were generally sown with
blocks of wheat, spring barley and, occasionally, oats. In 1432 it was
specified that 26a in the south of the field were under wheat, 18a in
the northern part under barley. 1 Roughly the same things
could be said of the Combe, though this was cropped a little more fully.
The big field in Shoreham was quite fully cropped till 1391, after which
no record of cropping exists at all. Other fields seem only occasionally
and marginally cropped, though a demesne field at Milton was
considerably used in the fifteenth century.
If, as is apparent, the demesne arable was increasingly under-exploited
from the mid-fourteenth century onwards, what was happening to it? The
evidence is fragmentary, but there may be two or three complementary
explanations. Small portions of the demesne fields were being let off to
tenants by court-roll, for rent.2 Also, some demesne land,
like some tenant-land, was going out of cultivation for lack of people
willing or able to cultivate it.3 Finally, it is
possible that some of the demesne went out of cultivation
the soil was not good and was easily abandoned during a period of
economic recession.4 The leasing process is visible in a
small way at least by the early years of the fifteenth century. Decayed
rents and land left in the lord’s hand are more apparent in the second
quarter of the fifteenth century. But they are also concurrent
This tale of diminishing tillage is only one aspect of the archbishop’s
demesne economy at Otford. It is necessary to look briefly at the
proceeds and expenses of demesne farming.
1 L.R. 860.
in 1404-5 the assized rents are swollen by a number of "new"
rents (not necessarily new that year), including is. 4½d. from William
and John, sons of Adam Sweyneslond, for 2a. 3r. lying in North Field and
the Combe, let to them by court roll, and 4 dayworks by the sheepfold
let to Adam Sweyneslond and his heirs forever for 4d. and the service of
supplying lime to Otford manor whenever necessary (L.R., 839).
3 E.g., in 1437-8 some
23a. of demesne land in Shoreham was let to various persons at 8d. an
acre. But all other demesne lands and pastures there brought in nothing
for lack of a conductor, and were occupied by the lord’s sheep (L.R.,
4 There seems to be an
analogy in an Inquisition post mortem (vol. xi, no. 363),
where an estate in Ickham is described in 1362 as consisting of" a
capital messuage and 120 acres of arable, dry and sandy, of which 80
acres may be sown every year, but this year only 31 acres are sown, and
of these 8 acres are sown with beans, peas and vetches."