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'A World Unto Themselves’?: Squatter Settlement in Herefordshire 1780-1880

By James Moir


By the early nineteenth century, Herefordshire's commons hosted 96 settlements comprising ten or more dwellings. Were they peopled by 'squatters' who had built their shanties illegally on the waste and were the inhabitants a rough, uncivilized people who indulged themselves in vice and profanity of every kind? \ud Contemporary views are understandable given the geographical isolation of these settlements, but they ignore entirely the diversity of settlements encountered as a result of the varied topography and types of agriculture practised within the county's five principal regions. Except in the south-west corner of the county, farmers themselves relied little on the exercise of common rights – an important prerequisite for settlement growth.\ud Conversely, this mixed agricultural economy created a wide range of employment opportunities; commons settlements were marginally placed between woodlands and fields, creating a rhythmic cycle of seasonal employment for male commoners. In contrast, women's lives were structured around the spatial organization of domestic tasks and in particular, access to and control of fire and water.\ud Threatening to undermine this cohesive intermeshing of complimentary roles in squatter society was the problem of tenurial insecurity, although obsessions with the origin of squatter housing have tended to obscure the increasingly complex web of tenurial interrelationships in which the squatter, freeholder, copyholder, vestry and manorial lord were entangled.\ud Tenurially, settlements tended to develop along three distinctive paths; some became enveloped by large rural estates, illustrated in the case study of Tarrington's commons. More isolated settlements retained a staunch freeholders' presence; in others petty landlords predominated as a result of enclosure and proximity to market centres. This classificatory model becomes a useful tool for analysing nonconformist tendencies. Each type of settlement, though, should be viewed in the context of a developing capitalist economy, which ultimately is responsible for giving birth to, and destroying, squatter communities

Publisher: University of Leicester
Year: 1990
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