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The basic unit of administration from the 10th to the 19th century was the township, many of which also became ecclesiastical parishes during the medieval period. In Rockingham forest each township typically encompassed a single village and its land, together with any mills and other dispersed elements of the settlement pattern.

Townships within the forest in the medieval and post medieval period

Townships, like the villages themselves, were created in the centuries before the Norman Conquest by the progressive break-up of much larger Anglo-Saxon estates. Many examples of this process can be seen, as with the creation of Newton (the new ‘tun’ or township) out of the land of Geddington. Perhaps the best example is the creation of the three townships of Ashley, Weston by Welland and Sutton Bassett, as shown by their names (west ‘tun’ and south ‘tun’), out of a single land unit which must have been centred on Ashley. The common rights that medieval villagers in many townships had in the forest were probably a survival of shared rights in tracts of woodland and wood pasture that had belonged to their original estates.

Collyweston and Easton land use
Land use in Collyweston and Easton on the Hill before parliamentary enclosure in the early 19th century

The balance of resources within a township was crucial to its prosperity. Woodland townships may have been more prosperous, or at least economically more stable, because they had extensive pastures in the woodland to support their stock as well as easy access to fuel. Those with large meadows would have hay and pasture on which to maintain large numbers of stock. It was the townships with neither that must have been under the greatest pressure at the height of the medieval expansion of population and agriculture, with almost 100% of their land area under arable.


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