THE BCH ARCHIVE

LOCAL HISTORY FOR

BIRTSMORTON

CASTLEMORTON

HOLLYBUSH

And The Surrounding District

CASTLEMORTON COMMON GUIDEBOOK

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

shown below.


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

bedding.


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

for fuel.


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

ended.

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

them.

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

disputes.

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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A handbook for Locals and Visitors