Time was when commons were common. Common land was used by commoners with the rights to work them. Often, during medieval times, workers of the Lord of the Manor’s land supplemented their meagre earnings by using common land for grazing, growing crops and collecting firewood.
In my own village, Geoff Flatt, who lived next door to the school, would recall using the common behind it, to grow vegetables and keep chickens - a very useful addition to their own small garden. The principle occupation of older villagers when we moved here in the 1980s was growing vegetables, keeping chickens or rabbits for the pot, on any spare piece of land they could access.
Commons began to disappear as a range of acts of enclosure were enacted across the country during the 18th. century. Previously farmer’s land was often spread around the village as a collection of strips. It made sense logistically and agriculturally to rationalise the strips into single blocks of land. Along the way though, areas of common land were ’rationalised’ into the new farms - leading to that prolific poet, Anon., to pen a pithy condemnation of the practice:
The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from the goose.
The much reduced commons of East Anglia remain today as small islands of ‘unimproved’ countryside - a precious source of biodiversity in an increasing less diverse blocks of monoculture.
On Wednesday 20th. March at 7.30 Gemma Walker, Wildlife and Community Officer of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, will give a free illustrated talk at the Waveney Heritage Centre introducing some common (and not so common) species associated with Norfolk commons. Discover the natural and unnatural history of some of the species found on Norfolk commons and learn about the new Wildlife in Common project funded by the Heritage Lottery.