THE BCH ARCHIVE
LOCAL HISTORY FOR
And The Surrounding District
5. Commoners and Commoners Rights.
As long as there have been commons, there have been
Commoners, and the Commoners have had rights - usually
arrived at by custom and usage, rather than by law
which has caused many problems in the past, as for
instance when Charles lst wanted to disafforest the
Chase. There are variations in the detail of common
rights in each local area throughout Britain, but most
of them fall into one of the five major categories
1 GRAZING - very important, often used to be the
very livelihood of the commoner.
2 PESCARY - the right to take fish and eels from
streams and pools on the common.
3 ESTOVERS - the right to cut wood for fuel, repairs
etc, and the cutting of furze or bracken for animal
4 PANNAGE - the right to graze animals, usually
pigs, in the woodlands, for acorns, beechmast etc.
5 TURBARY - the right to dig turf or peat - usually
In Castlemorton, many of the people who lived on, or
adjacent to, the common depended on these rights to
make a living, but today fewer and fewer people
actually use the common grazing as an important part of
their agricultural practice. Fortunately there are
just enough grazing mainly sheep and some cattle, for
the common to remain as a working common. As the older
generation of 'Cast1emortoners' dies out, their houses
may be bought by people who do not use the rights,
hecause they have other jobs away from the common.
Many of the 'incomers' use the land attached to their
house as paddock for ponies or horses, because the
adjacent common provides an ideal place for riding, so
they have no need to exercise their grazing rights.
These do not lapse through disuse, however, and sumvnnv
in the future may use them again.
Mention may be made here of the hill quarries at
Hollybush and the Gullet, since up until l9//, when lhc
Gullet closed (Hollybush some years earlier), A number
of the commoners worked as quarry-men, and used the
common rights to provide a supplementary income.
The quarries employed quite a number of men from the
area. Most of the stone was used for road building or
granite chippings. Work only ceased altogether at the
Gullet in l98l, because up to then the crushing plant
was used to break up material brought from elsewhere.
Until 1977 the roads across the common were frequently
used by huge dusty lorries, and blasting days
reverberated all over the parish. It is hard now to
picture this scene of industrial activity as the
visitor looks over the wall of the Gullet Quarry car
park, into the tranquil green waters of the pool which
now floods the old workings. The crushers have gone,
and the old quarry face is ruggedly attractive, as the
birds and plants begin to colonise its nooks and
crannies. The many people who come to bathe in the
pool regard it as a beauty spot, less than six years
since work finally stopped here.
There was some consternation amongst the commoners during World War ll, when the War Agricultural Committee embarked upon its 'Dig for Victory’ campaign, which resulted in some of the more manageable parts of the common being ploughed up, using a 'Sodbuster' amongst the array of machinery. The crops that were produced from here, in the later years of the war were obviously not of the best quality, but were useful thenation as a whole.
The commoners, meanwhile, had to make more use of thehills, for their grazing animals, and some of them
became worried that, after the war, the land which had
been enclosed and ploughed up, might stay that way -
like a sort of latter-day Enclosure Scheme.
However,t he authoriities did put in writing the intention to remove all fences, and to reseed and reinstate the
common, and this was done very soon after the war
It is interesting to note that these areas can
still be identified easily, 40 years on, because of the
lack of ant-hills, gorse etc, and the difference in the
types of grasses found there - a reminder of how easily
man can change the environment.
In the early 19605, the Malvern Hills Conservators
were about to take over the manorial rights of the
common from the Church Commissioners (who had acquired them many years previously), and many commoners feared that there would be infringements of their rights. TheMHC took over the running of the common in 1964, but, rather than eroding the rights of the commoners, that body is charged, through Bye-Laws, and the Malvern
Hills Act of 1884, to preserve the rights, and to do
nothing which may be prejudicial to the exercise of
The Commons Registration Act of l965 however, did
create some important changes.
The purpose of this Act was to try and bring the
situation of law and legal rights over common land,
into the 20th century. In many areas throughout the
British Isle commons were deteriorating, by over use,
abuse (walkers, vehicle tracks, too many animals
grazing them etc) while encroachments, iv Ihv lvnvinp-
in of parts of the land, was going on ﬂﬂllr upvnlv.
especially where commons and village greens wvfr in
tov. or near areas of building expansion.
All pieces of common land, however small, had to hv
registered, and anyone wo felt they had rights on that
land had to register his claim, the idea being, for the
first time in history, to actually legalise things, so
that in these modern days of pressure on Open land,
there could be tangible proof and legal claim in
It was during the late 70s before the registration
claims over Castlemorton were heard, and the way things
have turned out says a great deal about the change in
use of the common. The author remembers an old
commoner saying (during a discussion of who should
register a claim for what) "What you don't ask for, you
won't get", and this may have had an effect on the
claims made. When the registrations hearing took place
in Worcester, many of the other commons of this part of
Worcestershire were dealt with, but Castlemorton Common
presented so many problems that a special hearing had
to be set aside for that area alone, and this provided
some very amusing incidents including a discussion of
whether a ewe meant one animal or a ewe and its lamb.
The QC in charge was reduced to asking at one point "Do
you mean four feet, or eight feet per animal?"!
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