Sunday, 22 April 2012

The Prosperity of the Kentish Yeoman

Photograph Details: Nikon D7000 Focal length 18mm ISO-250 exp: 1/320 f22

Stoneacre is perhaps one of the best examples of a 15th Century Yeoman's house surviving in Britain today. It is owned and managed by the National Trust, and was once almost derelict. It was purchased in 1920 by a Mr Aymer Vallance who restored it by using bits of other period houses. His family made its fortunes in the brewing industry in nearby Sittingbourne.

Stoneacre is in the parish of Otham, in the district of Maidstone in the English County of Kent. It is a Grade II listed building, and most certainly worth a visit. As it is a private residence, the whole property is not open to the public, but the gardens, Great Hall and solar room are open each Saturday (at the time of writing this). It is also worth mentioning that the staff there are friendly and welcoming, and clearly they value the personal touch (as shown through their twitter account). 

Stoneacre is a half-timbered yeoman's house. 

Photograph Details: Nikon D7000 Focal length 26mm ISO-320 exp: 1/80 f25

A Yeoman was essentially a farmer who held his own land (about 50 acres). Yeomen were independent and affluent, and whilst not considered to be part of the gentry (due to the fact that the commonly tended to their farms themselves), it was relatively common for their children to rise through the social standings.

As the Yeomen were fairly wealthy - with Kent being one of the best areas for riches - it was possible for a son of a yeoman to attend a school and gain an education, enter a profession (commonly the clergy) and rise up the hierarchy of society.

Photograph Details: Nikon D7000 Focal length 18mm ISO-320 exp: 1/80 f22

The wealth of a Kentish Yeoman is reflected in the passage below:

"A Squire of Wales, a Knight of Cales,
And a laird of the North Countrie,
A yeoman of Kent, with half a year's rent,
will buy the out all three."

Social Hierarchy of Early Modern English Society

  •           Unlike the nobility of France and Spain, English noblemen were required to pay taxes. Due to this, the House of Lords would often side with the House of Commons regarding the opposition of taxation.
  •           Before the ascension of James I in 1603, there were around 60 nobles in England, however this doubled during his reign, partly to gain favour and allies but also for the reason of taxation

  •           James I also created this title in 1611. To qualify, the baronets needed an estate with an income of at least £1,000 per year. within 75 years, there were around 800 Baronets in England.
Knights and Esquires
  •           As with nobles, Knights were created by James I to gain allegiance
  •           Knights were also Justices of the Peace (magistrates)
  •           Below knights were esquires, who were the errand boys for the knights

  •           Yeomen were farmers who owned their own land (generally about 40-50 acres)
  •           Not gentlemen in their own right, but their son's could become one by education and career
  •           Being below Knights, the Yeomen could serve on juries

Merchants and Citizens
  •           Each individual town had their own rules to qualify as a citizen, but generally you had to be a successful trader
  •           Many gained access to the gentry by marriage or through the purchase of land

The Rural Workforce
  •           Husbandman (below the Yeomen) were farmers working their own land, making enough to survive with a small extra amount.
  •           Under a husbandman, were labourers and cottagers and these worked for other people to earn their living.
  •           A cottage usually consisted of a small plot of land on which to graze cattle. Cottagers usually had the right to graze their cattle on a local common, with the food products being incorporated into the local economy. The right to graze animals on common ground is still alive and well in The New Forest in Hampshire
  •           Labourers were owned no land often only just scraped by on a meagre living

The Urban Workforce
  •           As with modern day living, conditions in the towns were generally poor
  •           Overcrowding and disease were a problem
  •           Approximately 1 in 3 adult males were freemen (entitled to trade on their own accord).
  •           Dock and factory workers made up the majority of the urban workforce

Useful/Relevant Links:
Stoneacre on Twitter

If you liked this post, or have done something similar, why not spend a minute and let me know in the comments below

As ever, thanks for reading

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