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Medieval Boundary Dispute



The Beeston - Middleton Boundary Dispute 1200-1212

Introduction

Photo of Boundary Ditch in Beeston Wood

Over 800 years ago, in the reign of King John, two local land owners pursued a long and protracted dispute over ownership of the woodland to the northwest of the Park. William de Gramary of Middleton and John de Beeston carried on a dispute for over ten years which involved the intervention of the King and resulted in the construction of a large boundary bank and ditch which can still be seen in the park woodland today. While boundary disputes were not uncommon, the length of this dispute was one of the longest on record. Not bad for a dispute between two minor landowners, and testament to the tenacity (some would say stubbornness or even cussedness) of Yorkshiremen.

The dispute has been thoroughly researched by Michael Collinson from the contemporary court records and written up in an article in Volume 27 of Medieval Yorkshire [1] which is available for free from the Yorkshire Archaeological & Historical Society. Anybody wanting the full story is recommended to read Mr. Collinson's excellent article. Meanwhile here is a summary of the dispute.

William was of the middle ranks of land owners and had other lands in Aberford and elsewhere. Adam was of lesser standing, who held land in western Beeston and some in Morley.

A Forrester and Landowner are put in the Stocks

Photo of Boundary Ditch in Beeston Wood

It is not recorded when the dispute started, but the first mention is in King's Court records of 1200 at Lincoln. William failed to appear at that court, but promised to appear later. Both parties appeared before the King's Court in 1201, where Adam made criminal accusations against William.

Adam's Forrester was seized by William in woodland that Adam claimed was his and taken to William's house and put in the stocks. Adam attempted to release the Forrester but failed and while he was returning William and his men pursued and robbed him of a cape, sword, cap and gold ring; then took him back to Middleton into the stocks next to his Forrester. Adam's brother, Alan, and his man Liulfus, were also attacked when they went to the aid of Adam. Alan was robbed of his cape and sword and 5s 4d.

A Judicial Duel is Ordered by the Court

Photo of Boundary Ditch in Beeston Wood

In court William denied everything and offered 100s for a jury of 12 men of the county to consider whether Adam's claim was due to malice over the real dispute about who owned the woodland. Later Adam offered 10 Marks (£6 13s 4d) to settle the matter, but this was not accepted and instead a Judicial Duel was ordered for the last day of Easter 1201. Adam and William and their men were to come armed and local landowners were made to make pledges to ensure their attendance.

However the duel did not happen, because William didn't attend (essoined is the legal term). Instead he increased his offer of settlement to 100 Marks (£66 13s 4d) and a palfrey (a horse).

It is a common myth that the duel did actually happen. Probably due to a misreading of the term "waged", which simply meant pledged to be fought.

William's offer of a 100 Marks was cancelled from the records, then William offered £100 to the county sheriff to make an agreement with Adam. This seems to have been accepted and negotiations over the disputed woodland were started. £100 would have been a substantial amount to a middle ranking landowner like William, probably several years' income. Adam was responsible for 20 Marks (£13 6s 8d) out of the £100.

A Boundary is marked and a Ditch dug

Other local knightly landowners were drafted in as guarantors for this sum, so now a dozen or so local knights and landowners were involved in this little woodland dispute.

It is implied that a written agreement for partition of the woods was made, though the orginal does not survive, despite such documents being commonly kept in the court records. In 1204 Adam offered the King 20s so that the document should have the King's authority.

Following this the woodland division was made by a group of local knights and a ditch to mark the division was dug. This is the ditch and bank that is still a visible feature in the park.

But the Dispute continued

However that was not the end of the affair, and in 1205 Adam was complaining in court that William was not observing the agreement. William claimed he had his share as agreed by the knights. This came up before King John at York in 1206. Adam was not successful, but the Sheriff was told to go back to the wood with the knights who made the partition to give Adam his proper share and report back to the court at London.

It appears this may not have happenned, and in 1207 Adam was back in court for a judgement on whether the partition had been properly made. Eventually in 1208 this came before King John himself at the court in York, and again the sheriff and the original knights were told to return to the woods to show where they made their partition.

On 4th May 1209 a final settlerment was agreed at court. It was decide that Adam had not been given his proper share, and he was allotted William's share of "Little Wood". By now the bank and ditch is no longer the definitive boundary, but it was not made anew - simply left as original dug.

After the Dispute

Photo of Boundary Ditch in Beeston Wood

It was not until 1212 that Adam eventually paid his court fees, 12 years after the dispute had started! And afterwards? It appears the two families managed to live in peace. The Beeston family holding the manor of Beeston till 1608, and the Gramary family losing their interest in Middleton in the late 13th century.

Beeston Wood was not a part of the later Middleton Estate of the Brandlings until 1767, when it was bought for mining purposes [2]

References

[1] Collinson, M (1998) Boundaries, Woods and the Law: The Case of Beeston and Middleton. Medieval Yorkshire Vol 27.

[2] WYAS WYL160/21 - West Yorkshire Archive Services

Photos by Martin Roe - Meerstone Archeological Consultancy for the Middleton Park Community Archaeological Survey. © 2011-2016 Friends of Middleton Park and Martin Roe

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