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Frankpledge, Oxgang, Herriot and Advowson

This sounds like a foreign language, but in the 18th century lawyers would have been familiar with these terms. They are not just measurements of property, but ways of life, by self-policing, status and gratuities. These terms take us back to the Norman Conquest, and the times of the Vikings and some of their means of self government. It reminds us of the times of Richard 111 and the Council of the North, whereby the `North` was almost a kingdom apart.

The documents I am currently transcribing and cataloguing are almost exclusively concerned with properties in the North. They relate to an enclosed Act of Parliament dating back to 1726 and 1780, around the time of John Powell`s first land purchases. In 1774 large amounts of outer London farmland came into his possession. Very little is known about John`s land but we can learn of inheritances and wills which had a significant effect on how we understand ancient society, as many of the numerous schedules give entries as they do in the Domesday book, even to surveying the exact number of each different type of tree in the woodlands, and each cattle gate.

The reason for this act was to split the inheritance of vast acres of land and woodland after the death of Sir Michael Warton. The land and woods were to be split three ways, for the Pennyman family, the Newton family, and the Pelham family. Thousands of acres of land were involved and were surveyed and valued. The areas mentioned were mostly in Yorkshire, particularly around Beverley, Hull, Lincolnshire, but also Middlesex, Fulham, Chelsea, Holborn, and the City of London. To gain their inheritance it is noticeable that several family members changed their names. This also occurred later in the Powell family from Roberts to Powell to Powell – Cotton. Deed polls were also involved in the 1890`s to prevent the Cotton family from inheriting, unless they had ` Powell` in their name.

From records of Birchington Heritage Trust we can learn that in the early 18OO`s much of Birchington  comprised prime agricultural land. Some 800 people lived and worked on the land and some on the sea, farmers and fishermen in the main. We learn from Bagshaws that 1679 acres were owned by John Powell, the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury Cathedral, J. Friend and Edward Neame. I have not found as detailed an account of this ownership, as the one I am studying. However we do know that John Powell Powell inherited land from his uncle after his brother died and he changed his name from Roberts, and had some disagreements with his sister, Harriott Cotton over inheritance. From my recent work we can see that women were not forgotten. On page 59 there is a long list of daughters who could possibly inherit. Terms of determination could be 500 years.

Going back that far changes language use, and thanks to Google we can discover that `Oxgang` goes back to the Vikings, and was a strip of land able to be ploughed by an ox, so about 20 acres. `Frankenpledge` was a surety, a mini-legal system whereby 10 houses were responsible for each other`s conduct. An `Amerciament` was a penalty, awarded by a court or sheriff. An `Advowson` was a diocesan appointment, and a ‘Herriott’ was a Norman term for land granted to an inferior tenant.

`Ozier` ground had willows, but before we weep, the implications of status were complex. Burgage free land was also granted and anyone who had land could feed their family and keep animals. Names like Cockrill Close and Dog- Kennel Close remind us of this, with houses and land often sporting garths or courtyards, and the numerous cattle-gates mentioned. Sheep, pigs, cows and horses were evident as well, and from monastic sources, as well as Chaucer, we learn fish ponds were well stocked.

Although much of this Act of Parliament concerns agricultural land, urban properties were also hugely important to the family, especially from early Victorian times when London farms were being bought for housing and railway development. This is evident from the Major`s diaries which record a visit to Kilburn, London after his return from Africa, from the Ituri forest in 1907. Apparently he hired a taxi to help him inspect his properties in both Fulham, particularly Park house, and Kilburn. This is referred to on page 20, as an entry on the 15th September. These properties helped to finance many of his extensive expeditions between 1895 and 1939.

From the tiny strip of land originally owned by John Powell to the farms purchased by him in the 1770`s , we can trace the lineage and the drivers that led to the expeditions, that eventually resulted in the world class museum that Percy set up, and exists here today.     

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