On the fringe : landscape and life in Upholland, c1300-1599.
The aim of this study of Up holland in Lancashire is to investigate the late-medieval
and Tudor community, to understand the landscape in which this community
operated and to assess the impact of marginality on society and economy.
Upholland lay within the agricultural fringe in respect of its soils and straddled the
geographical interface between lowland wetlands on the Lancashire plain and
elevated land on the Billinge-Parbold ridge. It was a peripheral place, too, as
regards its positions on the western edge of Wig an parish and on the eastern border
of West Derby hundred.
Despite its undoubted marginality, there are indications for great stability in
its boundary, for ancient settlement patterns and for clearance levels remaining fairly
constant between the Iron Age and the early-modern period. Because several tracts
of ancient woodland survived into Tudor times and as most soils in this township
were wet and/or infertile, farming life was based on the wood-pasture economy.
Upholland farmers made the best possible use of their resources and diversified into
rural crafts, such as tanning, carpentry, and the ferrous metal industry. There is a
particularly early example of a water-powered bloomery in the demesne.
Upholland was arguably part of a multiple estate in the pre-Conquest period.
It was held in thegnage in 1066. Under the later manorial system the township had
powerful lords in the de Holands, the Lords Lovell and the Earls of Derby. Only the
former, however, were resident. Their status symbols included a castle, two large
parks, a warren and a priory. Despite this emergence of power, tenants enjoyed
autonomy and security of tenure. Their dispersed homesteads lay amidst enclosed
fields and there was an absence of communal organisation in agriculture. Many
copyhold families were long established by the sixteenth century and well aware of
their ancient rights. When the second Earl of Derby tried to impose more-stringent
tenurial conditions, several copyholders took their case to the Court of Star
Chamber. Tenant independence is also seen in local government. Although this
institution was presided over by the lord's steward, community regulation was
effectively in the hands of a tenant elite.
Tenant holdings tended to be small although disparkment and shrinkage of
population after the Black Death made way for the creation of larger allotments.
Population recovery by the mid-sixteenth century led to expansion by 1600, an
increase largely due to the growth of leasehold properties in the former parks and in
the waste. Upholland lay within a part of Lancashire that was relatively rich by the
1540s. Growing commercialisation is evident in the trading centre present by 1599.
This study demonstrates how independence and skilful use of the
environment can turn marginality into advantage. It shows, too, how the fringe can
provide quality of life.