Ferring in the 15th Century

The main source of information about Ferring between 1400 and 1500 is the Account of the Reeve (the Bishop’s farm agent) for 1430. This has been preserved among the Archbishop of Canterbury’s records because, for that year, there was a vacancy for the Bishopric of Chichester and the revenues went to the Archbishop while the see was vacant.
The Account identifies the Reeve as John Franklin, from a well-established Ferring family. This office, subordinate to the Steward, was evidently rotated among the Bishop’s tenants in each of his manors and for his trouble, in collecting rents and payments in kind and drawing up the accounts, the Reeve was exempted from himself making these payments during his term of office.
His account begins with arrears from the previous year (some £2), then goes on to cash rents received from tenants in the current year: quarterly payments from the long-term tenants in Ferring itself, plus quarterly payments from those in ‘Fure’ (the detached section of the manor near Billingshurst); then part-year rents from three new tenancies, by John Martyn, John Caufyn and John Wolvyn. All the rent for the current year comes in at just under £30.
He then goes on to leases and licences on the Bishop’s own estate. The land is leased out to eight different proprietors, for terms of up to 20 years, and the income this year is over £17 (of this, £12 13s comes from a single holding).
The Bishop has other income, as Lord of the Manor but there was not much of it this year. There was is no income from licences to catch rabbits, keep pigeons, catch fish etc) because no one has taken them up. Nor was there the usual income from the sale of brushwood or tree loppings. What he did get was 4s 4d from the sale of some chickens and eggs paid to him as rent, and 4s income from a house and smallholding which had reverted to him for want of a tenant. He also received just over £2 in fees charged by the Manor Court, and another 2s 8d from fines.
All this, including the arears from the previous year, came to just over £52. Then came the deductions – 30s rebated to the Reeve, and a long list of credits allowed to tenants who were in some sort of difficulty – £9 15s in all. The Steward received only 6d in expenses that year (parchment for the Court documents).
The Reeve said he had paid £17 14s 8d to the Bishop’s Receiver. The rebates, credits and cash paid out amounted to £24 11s 8½d, and the outstanding amount of £1 7s 8½d was paid to the Archbishop at Slindon on 21 January 1433.
On the ‘Dorse’ or back of the document are more details of the payments in kind. These include ‘Capons: Item: three capons from the rent of the miller of Grenedowne per year at the feast of St. Michael’, a very early reference to Highdown Mill.
What this account seems to show is that the manor was now run on very much a cash basis, as opposed to the labour service basis set out in the Custumal of the turn of the 14th Century. The Bishop’s own estate was leased out (70 per cent of it to a single proprietor) and the copyhold tenants in the rest of the manor, administered by the Manor Court, were paying rents (although some dues were still being paid in poultry and eggs). There is some indication of agricultural recession, or even depopulation, in that a large number of tenants were asking for rent relief, several holdings were without tenants and no one had taken up the licences for catching rabbits, keeping pigeons, fishing and other manorial rights.
The tenants’ names show some continuity with those in the Subsidy Roll of 100 years before (although more with that of 100 years later) and it is interesting to note that the surnames are all in the modern form – ‘Southtowne’, ‘Vicaries’, ‘Smyth’, ‘Clerk’, rather than the earlier phrasal versions – ‘de Southtowne’, ‘atte Vicaries’, ‘Le Ferour’, or the Latin ‘Clericus’. Ferring, and England, was moving out of the Middle Ages into the modern world.