From the Thorley Archives

Thorley's 1845 Tithe Map

Two years ago I was given a small, red notebook containing 'some information about Thorley that might be of interest to you'. The book had belonged to Miss D. Sortwell. She had painstakingly transcribed the complete record of details of the contents of the 1845 Thorley Tithe Award. The Thorley Parish records, stored at the Hertford Archive and Local Studies Office (HALS), listed the original written Award but they couldn't find its accompanying Tithe Map. The Public Record Office at Kew also had an original copy of our Tithe Apportionments (written details) but no map. Last year I enlisted the help of Wally Wright (Bishop's Stortford historian) and we were given permission to search for the map at HALS. We eventually tracked it down, filed under a different reference number, and we were allowed to photograph it for the Thorley archives.

Since the 8th century it was a legal obligation that landowners had to hand over a tenth of the produce of their land for the maintenance of the chancel of the church and provision of church worship. Great tithes from corn and hay went to the Rector who was responsible for this provision. Where an institution was responsible for the church or chapel then a Vicar was appointed to receive the small tithes from livestock, wool and non-cereal crops. After the Reformation Henry VIII 'sold' monastic tithe rights to lay people. Early in the 19th century the Nonconformist churches began to oppose this practice of the Established church and a Commutation Act was passed in 1836. A Tithe Commission appointed surveyors who produced large-scale maps and schedules for every parish between 1836 and 1852. Subsequent Tithe Acts meant that tithe charges gradually disappeared - the last ones were redeemed in 1996!

The written tithe schedule lists the names of owners and occupiers of the land together with names, acreage, state of cultivation of each field and the assessed rent charge to the church. An accompanying tithe map contained reference numbers for each field and property that matched the written schedule. The two documents were often bound together. For family history and local history researchers such documents provide a rich and accurate source of material. Individual land holdings can be located and linked to the earliest census returns of 1841 and 1851. The map is especially useful in researching the history of the landscape and the significance of field names.

By transferring Miss Sortwell's handwritten notes to an Excel spreadsheet it has been possible to analyse the extent of the ownership and occupation of Thorley's landholdings. In 1845 Lord Ellenborough owned Thorley Hall and Thorley Wash farms covering nearly 500 acres and was assessed at 164=4s=6p. George Frere at Twyford House was the second largest landowner with 180 acres. There were ten other landowners with between 20 and 100 acres, including the Rector with 49 acres.

The tithe map provides an intriguing insight into the distribution of fields, their shapes and sizes and the derivation of field names. Thorley parish in 1845 extended from the River Stort in the east, up the valley side to the church and manor house in the middle of the parish and then on to the higher ground towards the road to Much Hadham. The fields in the river valley were meadows for grass and hay crops. They are small in size, and have names such as Slumbers Mead, Lucky Piece, The Bottoms and Moors. Rising up the valley, from the main road behind Thorley Street, are the most regular sized fields in Thorley with straight hedge lines and right angled corners. These have commonplace names such as Upper and Lower Thorley Fields, Great Wood Field and Great Pond Field. There is a possibility that these field patterns and names were the result of the Enclosure Acts that, from the Middle Ages, consolidated open field systems and common land to make farming more efficient. On the 1845 map common land is still in existence in the North West quarter of the parish. This is the area where St Michaels Mead housing now exists. Remnants of medieval strip farming where villagers or commoners farmed furlongs of unfenced land is still obvious in an area of small fields, without individual names, but marked collectively as Thorley Common.

A Section of the 1845 Thorley Tithe Map
showing remnants of medieval strip farming in the field boundaries.

Present day St Michaels Mead covers the right half of the map whilst Butlers Hall Farm is in the top left quadrant.

This part of the parish was known as Thorley Common.


Bill Hardy
February 2006

From the Archives