The Manorial System was very complex; basically it was operated on an open field system and each villain held about 30 acres called a virgate, although in East Anglia it was about 12 acres. The Lord, of course, held overall power. The Lord extracted payments from his workers for certain everyday occurrences; for example, when a tenant’s daughter was married, he exacted a tax known as a merchate. When a tenant died a heriot was levied and when the heirs came to take the property another payment was made called a relief. In the rare event that the Lord allowed a tenant to live outside the manorial boundaries the privilege was paid for with a chevage. As each parcel of land was conveyed from one tenant to another, the Lord technically re-granted the property to the new owner with a payment called a fine. The devastation of the countryside caused by the Black Death and the ensuing plagues completely changed the social fabric. As demand for land fell, so the demand for labour rose and the Lords were forced to accept that they had to increase wage rates and give greater security to their tenants’ holdings. From the fifteenth century, tenants were granted holdings with full hereditary rights and fixed rents. They received a copy of the entry recorded in the Lord’s manor records, their holding then being referred to as copyhold.
To ensure the smooth running of the manorial unit, members of the Lord’s community were elected or appointed to offices, each with a functional position to aid that community. The Steward had charge of the records of the manor, for holding the Lord’s court and of complying with the legal complexities of land conveying. The Bailiff was the Lord’s agent and general overseer of his estate. The Reeve was responsible for the cultivation of the lands, the sale of the stock and grain and was usually appointed from one of the Lord’s copyholders. The Hayward had specific responsibilities for the Lord’s woods, corn and meadows. The Constable, an unpopular office was elected usually on an annual basis; his job was to keep the peace, to summon men to jury service and to supervise the pound; the latter was sometimes under the control of the Pindar. Perhaps one of the few offices that might be sought after was that of the Ale Taster. He had to ensure that a good standard of beer was produced, a practice which in later centuries became subservient to the main task of ensuring that those wishing to make the ale, paid their licence fees to the Lord.
One of the Manorial privileges was that of owning a dovecot. These buildings were set aside from the main house and some had a moat around them. The common size of a dovecot held 500 nests. It was thought that they supplied meat all year round but recent research has proved that the pigeons only provided meat from March to October. Shorts Farm had a dovecot, also Hestley Hall. On the 1840 tithe map there is mention of the dove-house piece and dove-house meadow at Rishangles Lodge and a dovecot at Lampitts Farm.
Another Manorial privilege was that of owning a rabbit warren. The rabbit or more correctly named the ‘coney’, originated from the Mediterranean region and appears to have been brought to Britain during the early Norman period. At first they were delicate and needed cosseting to survive. They were kept for their fur, for decoration and warmth and of course food. They could provide meat every six weeks. Thorndon had several warrens and in 1330, John Stilgoe, Chamberlain to Queen Isabella, Queen of Edward II, held the grant of custody of the Castle and Gaol of Eye, with the warrens of Thorndon and Eye.
Throughout the subsequent centuries, the manorial system survived as the focal point with the Lord continuing to exercise his manorial rights though by the end of the eighteenth century this had been reduced to a token gesture.
Thorndon with Hestley was the main manor; later, Lampitts which had originally been a manor on its own became part of the main manor. Two other manors were the Rectorial Manor which was owned by the Church and Thorndon Parva the seat being Thorndon Hill Farm. Bucks Hall came under the Manor of Gislingham in Bedingfield. The Crown owned land on the periphery of the village but a large chunk particularly along the centre of the village belonged to the Church. Estates at Hestley Green such as Hestley Green Farm and White Horse Farm were owned by the Rectorial Manor.