My latest research is from a book I’ve had for ages, but never got round to reading it. The Hystory of Myddle by Richard Gough, a gent with legal training is generally considered to be the first ever local history book in England, written in 1702 and extending back as long as records permitted, interspersed with some incredibly funny anecdotes and comments from the author. His approach is unusual but effective; every property has the right to a pew seating, so he traces families through their seats in the parish church. This is from the introduction:
“In the corn growing regions of England falling prices forced many small farmers to sell their farms during the course of the 17th century, but in pastoral areas where farming was geared to dairying or to the rearing of beef the yeomen and husbandmen not only survived but prospered. In Shropshire relatively little land was devoted to corn and the farmers agreed to consolidate the strips in their small open fields long before the age of parliamentary enclosure. Their farming system was quite different from that of the arable, areas, for their principal concern was the grazing of cattle in pastures reclaimed from the woods and the meres. In the parish of Myddle over 1,000 acres of former woods and pools were converted into meadows and pastures between the late 15th and early 17th century. At firs the emphasis was on beef, but towards the close of the 17th century north Shropshire farmers became increasingly involved in the ‘cheshire cheese’ trade.
During the 16th and 17th centuries Shropshire still had spacious commons and woods where immigrant squatters could settle and thrive. The manorial court rolls for 1581 name Ellice Hammer as the 1st to erect a cottage in Myddlewood. By 1701 this part of the parish had become a distinctive squatters’ colony with 14 cottages, and here, as elsewhere, squatters had become a numerous and distinctive element within the community Some were very poor, for one family lived in a cave on Harmer Hill, and the Chidlows dwelt in a ‘poor pitiful hut built up to an oak’. Others seized the opportunities provided by day-labour, textile and woodland crafts, and the rights to keep a few animals on the commons as well as on their own plots, to rise from the ranks. Remarkably, a labourer’s cottage on the edge of the former Myddlewood survives from this era. Now known as ‘The Oaks’ it was erected by John Hughes sometime during the 1580s as a 1 bay cottage open to the roof.”