Sharefarming before 1500: A Hidden Practice

  • Elizabeth Griffiths
  • Mark Overton


Where to begin a history of sharefarming in England? If the definition of sharefarming is confined to the classic versions, involving the sharing of the input and output, the task is beset with difficulty. Medieval documents, which provide such a precise record of the transfer and ownership of land, are more or less silent on farming to halves, as it did not involve a transfer of ownership or obligations.1 Manorial court rolls, surveys, estate rentals and accounts that were designed to inform the lord of the rents and services owing to him from his tenants, say little about their farming and do not necessarily reflect the actual occupancy of a holding or how it was used. However, formal leases often contained restrictions against subletting, and it is in this context, when infringements were punished in the manor courts, that evidence of farming to halves comes to light.2 These formal leases included stock and land leases which were of great antiquity.3 Lennard dates them back to the Anglo-Saxon period, whilst Venn describes métayage as the most ancient tenure of all, and in its original conception exactly akin to the English stock and land tenure.4 Broderick, in his nineteenth-century critique of the landlord-tenant system, compares the stock and land lease to the métairies of south west Europe and recommends its revival in England.5 Thus, if we extend our definition of sharefarming to include the stock and land lease, generally considered by historians and economists to be the English version of métayage, we can see that forms of sharefarming date from the earliest times and most likely predated fixed money rent.6


Medieval Period Teenth Century Land Lease Large Tenant Peasant Family 
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Copyright information

© Elizabeth Madeleine Griffiths and Mark Overton 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elizabeth Griffiths
    • 1
  • Mark Overton
    • 1
  1. 1.University of ExeterUK

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