The agrarian history of England and Wales p. 209-210 (1991)

Edward Miller


In addition, references to beat-burning (baticium) — the firing of turf pared from the surface when a field was returned to crops — leave no doubt of a system of convertible husbandry. At Cargoll we read of a labourer "rooting out gorse before the plough" in a field which had been so long unploughed that it had become infested with the plant; at Burrington of "hoeing out gorse in order to burn it"; at Sampford Courtenay of the burning of pasture and "scattering" of the ashes; at Whalesborough of "removing thorns before ploughing". That tenants were thoroughly familiar with the method is clear from evidence of labour services, from leases, and from a statement in 1487 that beat-burning was the common custom of the whole countryside — usus et modus patrie. Convertible husbandry was highly suited to the relaxed conditions of the later middle ages, for it was ideal for the fruitful integration of livestock and arable enterprises, while heys could be lengthened to take into account reduced demands for grain. But the system was not a later medieval innovation, as it has sometimes been protrayed: accounts and leases, as well as evidence of labour services incorporating beat-burning, show it in use well before 1350. That even thirteenth-century pressures to increase cropland could not eradicate the practice suggests that it was deeply rooted in the routines and calendars of husbandmen in the south-west. Thence it may well have been imitated elsewhere in the later middle ages, just as in the seventeenth century beat-burning was being praised and advocated abroad under the name of "Denshiring" ("Devonshiring").