Friday, July 25, 2014

Farm and land and boundaries and history

I've had a couple of boundary disputes about my land, (with the local parks department and with a neighbor)  and both were basically solved when we looked at a professional surveyors survey of the lines.

But it's only recently that we have surveyors, the last hundred or so years, and for thousands of years before that people have been interested in the boundaries of their land.

One system that I'm familiar with is the english system of metes-and-bounds, or beating the bounds.

This basically consisted of getting together a group of the local inhabitants and they would walk around the village and recite who owned what, and the landmarks related to it.  At the time, english fields were managed as long strips of land -- furlongs.

An english field of the time would consist of long furrows, each one owned by one or many other individuals.  This is different than our modern system of mostly-rectangular lots, and there's pretty good records that there was a lot of conflict about this organization.  it was pretty easy to harvest the furrow next to you, and /or to overrrun it when you were putting in your own crops.  

We know this because one of the best set of records that survive from this time are the court records, and they're a long list of small fines for crop-related incidents.  Plant too many seeds in a single hole?  Yes, that actually was an offense you could get a fine for, and the court records show that.  Most of those fines were for people who were planting crops for others -- a peasant planting the lords share of the land, for instance -- but there are thousands of references to disagreements about rows and ownership.

These long rows resulted from the technology of the day -- ox-drawn plows.  It was difficult to turn the oxen and plows around to plow in the other direction, so rows were made as long, and as straight, as possible.  The people of the time did keep cattle, but the main reason that they kept them was for tillage or transport - plowing their fields or pulling their carts.

Meadows were prized as a source of forage for the oxen, and the oxen were often required to be kept in the lords barn over the winter months.  That wasn't generosity on the lords part - the lord got to keep the manure from the oxen, which was applied to the lords fields and improved their harvest.  It was, in effect, a manure tax.  

The beating the bounds relied on the community memory to resolve property disputes, and this system still remains in place today in our legal system.  Concepts of adverse possession, for instance, were ways to resolve issues when someone else had used land that they didn't own for a period of time - it was a solution to the problem of constantly shifting boundaries, or the deterioration of landmarks or other markers for boundaries.

1 comment:

Steve said...

This brings back memories of growing up helping my civil engineer father. We surveyed more then one field and lot to settle disputes. My father was also respected enough to do lot splits and he created many of the now common 2 to 5 acre house in the country that abound here.

My lasting lesson was accuracy. He would remind my brother and I than though land was cheap here in our poor county and being off a quarter inch didn't seem like much, that quarter inch in downtown LA was worth millions of dollars.

We did "chain" distances when we started. Chaining is a term and action from the English measuring system.