Woodborough’s Heritage

Woodborough, a Sherwood Forest Village, recorded in Domesday

Appendix - General history of Nottinghamshire pinfolds

Pinfolds, or pounds, were at one time to be found in nearly every village of Nottinghamshire particularly during the time of the medieval open-field system. There are still 20 in existence which are important features of the village scene in rural Nottinghamshire, perhaps the oldest being at Laxton where the open-field system is retained and at times the pinfold is still used.

A pinfold can be defined as an enclosure in which cattle and other animals could be detained, either as a penalty for straying and causing damage, or as an indemnity against debt or default. They were in most regular use in the Middle Ages when straying cattle and sheep were common in the open fields which had no hedges or fences to control animals. But they were in use much earlier and continued so until the enclosures of the 18th and 19th centuries, when newly enclosed fields brought livestock under better control.

It is likely that pinfolds are of very early origin. The words ‘pound’ or ‘pund’ and ‘fold’ or ‘fald’ are from old English words all meaning an enclosure. Pinfold is in general use in this county and further north, but Pound is more common in the south.

Pinfolds are usually fairly central in the village in a position which had easy access to the surrounding open fields and commons, or near to a stream, or pond for watering animals impounded. It is likely that all walls were originally at least 5 or 6 feet to restrain cattle and sheep from jumping out, and to keep pound breakers from getting in.

In some villages responsibility lay with the Church Vestry and was delegated to the Church Wardens, which is perhaps the reason why so many pinfolds are located close to the Church.

In medieval times the keeper of the pinfold was an important officer of the Manor Court, responsible for gathering strays, impounding them, presenting the owners to the Manor Court to be assessed for fines or ‘pains’, and for collecting fines before the animals could be released. Generally known as the Pinder or Pounder, from which many family names originate, he was in some places appointed for a period of years or sometimes elected annually.

Attempts were often made to rescue impounded animals. The rescue however had to be completed before the animals reached the pinfold. Once there they were considered in legal custody. Typical fines in the late 18th century were 1d for a horse, 4d for a pig and 2d for twenty sheep.

At Selston in 1753 the Manor Court ruled that ‘no person shall rescue cattle driving to the pound or lift cattle over the pound, or break the pound to take them away on pain of £1 19s 11d for every default’. Elsewhere the fine was moderate. In 1748 Francis Robinson of Southwell was fined one shilling ‘for rescuing and taking away by force swine from George Herring, the Pinder, after the said George had taken them for trespasses the said swine had committed’.

In 1641 the Pinder himself was in trouble at Wellow, where the Manor Court fines include ‘we present James Walgden for his pinfold being in default’, presumably not being kept in good repair.

The Pinder was rewarded for his work, sometimes from the fines collected in cash, so much per animal, sometimes with a wage approved by the Manor Court or occasionally in kind, with a cottage and an allotment of land. Laxton in 1789 levied two pence from every farmer and one penny from every cottager to remunerate the Pinder. The Pinder was also responsible for recouping costs of feeding animals held.

Evidence of how assiduous they could be in their duties is seen in ‘The Shepherd’s Calendar’, by John Clare, the Northamptonshire poet who wrote in 1827 of the Helpston Pinder:

‘The Pinder on the Sabbath Day

Soon as the darkness waxes grey

Goes round the folds at early morn

To see what stock are in the corn.

There like a fox upon the watch

He in the morning tries to catch

And drive them to the pound for pay

Careless about the Sabbath Day’.


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