The demesne of Rimpton, 938 to 1412: A study in economic development


The agricultural history of the well-documented manor of Rimpton in south-east Somerset provides an opportunity for a detailed reconstruction of one medieval demesne farm and for testing generalized models of economic development in one specific local context. Background information is provided concerning the evolution of the manorial economy through to the twelfth century. This analysis suggests that manorialization might have been a significant factor in the adoption of nucleated settlement, common-field agriculture, and certain peasant tenures and customs. Quantitative and qualitative information from the Pipe Rolls of the Bishopric of Winchester, 1208/09 to 1411/12, is used to describe the operation of the demesne farm under direct management. Topics addressed include the field system, the physical resources (buildings, crops, livestock) and human aspects (administration, labour, marketing) of production. Despite the basic inflexibility of manor's agrarian structure, significant chronological changes in production types, agricultural technology, and administrative systems are detected. Some of these reflect the influence of market pressures upon arable and pastoral husbandry, others the importance of social relationships between lord and peasant for the success of manorial farming. The thesis concludes with a statistical investigation of arable productivity, agricultural investment, and manorial profit. Earlier hypotheses emphasizing overcultivation and lack of manure for yield trends are discarded in favour of management decisions concerning the labour supply and production techniques. Although technology was not static, analysis of investment at Rimpton still shows that bouyant market conditions led to expansion in the scale of manorialised production rather than intensive applications of capital. Trends in productivity, investment, and profit, therefore reflected the impact of wider movements in population and the money supply upon market demand. Despite the success of pastoral production over the fourteenth century, a contracting market for grain undermined farming success and led to the lease of the manor.





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Thornton, Christopher Charles, “The demesne of Rimpton, 938 to 1412: A study in economic development,” Centre for Regional and Local History Theses and Papers, accessed February 2, 2023,