oxgang

In Scotland and England, late 9th century – present, a unit of land area, the amount of land that could be farmed with one ox. Its actual area depended on the quality of the land. Moreover, an oxgang included land that was not plowed, but necessary to sustain the ox (e.g., meadows). At least in Yorkshire an oxgang was said to be sufficient to sustain "1 draught [i.e., a draft ox], 2 kine and a yonge animal."

In Scotland, at least as early as 1585, the oxgang was officially 13 acres.

In the Norman-Latin of official records, oxgangs were called bovates, and ploughlands carucates.

Other terms for the oxgang include oxgate, oxgait, oxengate and oxingang.

sources

1

The mesuring of landis.

In þe first tyme þat þe law wes maid and ordanit þai began at þe fredome of Halikirk and syne at þe mesuring of landis þe plew land þai ordanit to contene VIII oxingang, þe oxgang sail contene xiii akeris. The aker sail contene four rude, þe rude xl fallis. The fall sall hald vi ellis.

Acts of Parliament of Scotland, vol 1, p. 751.
From “Fragmenta”, not legislation. Late 13th – early 14th centuries.

2

The case came to be argued in the Court of Exchequer on 11th May 1585, and a full account of the proceedings is preserved, and of an elaborate judgment pronounced by the Lords Auditors of Exchequer, who, regarding this as a leading case, with all solemnity, “Find, decern and declare that 13 acres of the complainer's lands, lying within the barony of Broughtoun, extendis and sail extend to ane oxgait of land, and that four oxgait of the saids lands extendis and sail extend to ane pund land of auld extent in all tyme to cum” —thus ruling that a forty-shillingland of Old Extent is equal to eight oxgaits, or in other words, one plough-land, and that indiscriminately over the best land of Lothian and some of the poorest.

Cosmo Innes.
Lectures on Scotch Legal Antiquities.
Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas, 1872.
Page 283:

3

13 Acres is compted an Oxen-gate.
4 Oxen-gate is esteemed a pund land of old extent.

Alexander Huntar, page 7, 1624. He speaks of Scotland.

4

[From Coke on Littleton 5a]

[l] Una bovata terrae, an oxgange, or an oxgate of land, is as much as an ox can till (10).

10. See post 69.

[From Coke on Littleton 69a]

Others say, that an oxgange of land containeth 15 acres, and eight oxgangs make a plowland; by which account a plowland containes 120 acres; and that virgata terræ, or a yardland, containeth 20 acres. But I hold, that a knight's fee, an hide or plowland, a yardland or oxgange of land, doe not containe any certaine number of acres (2); but a knight's fee is properly to be esteemed according to the qualitie, and not according to the quantity of the land, that is to say, by the value and not by the content (3).

.

(2) T. 21 E. 1. Rot. 26. Ebor. coram rege. Eight acres make an oxgang in the fields of Doncaster. Hic fol 5. a. Vid. Seld. Tit. Hon. pars. 2. c. 5. a.4 In Cranfield 48 acres make a yard-land, and 4 yard-lands make a hide; so that oxgang, yard-land, and hide or plow-land, are altogether uncertain according to the diversity of places. Hal. MSS.-See further infra and also ante 5. a. and note 11, there. In fol. 5, lord Hale gives the following note on the uncertainty of the word oxgang.-Breve de una bovata marisci is ill, 13 E. 3, Briefe, 1141. Hal. MSS.-See infra a like case as to the uncertainty of virgata.-[Note 11!1.]

Edward Coke.
Institutes of the Laws of England; or, a Commentary upon Littleton…
Revised and corrected by Francis Hargrave and Charles Butler, et al.
18th edition, vol. 1.
London: Clarke, Pheny and Brooke, 1823.
The first edition was published in 1628.

5

Una bovata terræ, an oxgange or an oxgate of land is as much as an ox can till (Co. Litt. 5 a). It is a term used only in the northerly counties, and sometimes appears to be confounded with the yardland. In Domesday from ten to fifteen acres make an oxgang: eight oxen, therefore, could till from 80 to 120 acres.

James F. Morgan.
England under the Norman Occupation.
London & Edinburgh: Williams and Norgate, 1858.

6

Oaken, sb. an 'oaken of land,' an ox-gang, which in some places contains ten acres, in some more.

John Ray.
A Collection of English Words Not Generally used, with their Significations and Original, in two Alphabetical Catalogues, the one Of such as are proper to tbe Northern, the other to the Southern Counties…. 2nd edition.
London: Printed for Christopher Wilkinson, 1691.
quoted from the edition edited by W. W. Skeat for the English Dialect Society:
Reprinted Glossaries.
London: Trubner, 1873-1874.

for further reading

Bernard Campbell.
Commonfield Origins-The Regional Dimension.
pages 112-129 in
Trevor Rowley, editor.
The Origins of Open-field Agriculture: (papers presented to a seminar; Oxford, November 1978).
London: Croom Helm, 1981.

David A. Hall.
Field work and field books: Studies in early layout.
pages 115-129 in
Brian K. Roberts and Robin E. Glasscock, editors.
Villages, Fields and Frontiers, Studies in European Rural Settlement in the Medieval and Early Modern Periods: papers presented at the meeting of the Permanent European Conference for the Study of the Rural Landscape, held at Durham and Cambridge, England, 10-17 September 1981.
BAR International Series 185.
Oxford: British Archeological Reports, 1983.

Mary Harvey.
Planned Field Systems in Eastern Yorkshire: Some Thoughts on Their Origin.
The Agricultural History Review, vol. 31, no. 2, pages 91-103 (1983).

Footnote, page 91: “‘Oxgang’ is the term used in northern England for the tenurial units which formed the basis of landownership. Within any one township, the oxgangs were of similar size, and they were made up of lands scattered through the open fields. They also had rights in meadow and pasture land.”

Reginald Lennard.
The Origin of the Fiscal Carucate.
The Economic History Review, vol. 14, No. 1 (1944), pp. 51-63

Isaac Taylor.
The ploughland and the plough.
in
P. Edward Dove, editor.
Domesday Studies, vol. 1.
London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1888.

Page 173: “The carucate being the quantity of land tilled by one plough, and the normal plough being drawn by eight oxen, a bovate, which was originally the share of the tilled land appropriated to the owner of each of the associated oxen contributed to the co-operative plough, was normally one-eighth of a carucate.”

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