The Medieval Village Pound, What are They?

The medieval village Pound remains a feature in many villages and even cities to this day. The individual responsible for impounding stray animals was remunerated by the Lord of the Manor and bore the title of a pinder or pounder. Records of fines and disputes are chronicled in the manorial court documents.

During the medieval era, the prevailing field system was an open one, facilitating the easy straying of animals onto a neighbour’s land. Animals found grazing unlawfully on common land were also liable to be impounded. Furthermore, should an individual owe a debt, their animals could be seized and kept in the pound until the debt was settled.

The term ‘pound’ derives from the Old English word ‘pund’, signifying a pen or enclosure. In parts of Scotland, for example, Shetland, the word ‘pund’ is still in use today. The term ‘pinfold’ is employed in certain areas of Britain, such as the north and east of England, as an alternative to ‘pound’.



The village pound, known in various regions as the pinfold or poundfold, was essentially an enclosed area, often situated at the heart of the village or at a strategically chosen peripheral location. Its primary function was to secure stray animals such as cattle, sheep, pigs, and occasionally, more valuable beasts like horses.

The old Pound in Blundeston
The old Pound in Blundeston

These enclosures ranged from simple fenced areas to more substantial structures built of wood, stone, or a combination thereof, depending on the wealth and resources of the village.

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The pound was a manifestation of the community’s collective effort to maintain order and protect the agricultural assets that were vital to their survival and prosperity. Pounds were often sited near village greens, churches or crossroads to enable local residents to check if any of the impounded animals belonged to them.

Tracing Back the Village Pound

The emergence of the village pound can be traced back to the early medieval period, a time when the open field system predominated. Under this system, land was divided into strips and allocated for individual farming, yet large expanses remained as common ground for grazing.

The old village pound at Wicken. Stay animals would be impounded within its walls until their owners paid a fine.
The old village pound at Wicken. Stay animals would be impounded within its walls until their owners paid a fine.

This communal land was crucial for the villagers, providing pasture for their livestock outside the growing season. However, the communal nature of these spaces often led to conflicts over resources and the challenge of managing stray animals, which could damage crops and encroach on private plots.

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The village pound was the solution to this perennial issue, embodying the community’s collective responsibility towards its members and their livelihoods.

The administration of the pound was entrusted to a village official, often referred to as the pinder or poundkeeper, appointed by the manorial court or elected by the villagers. This role was not merely administrative; it carried a significant level of authority and responsibility.

Animal pound at Rudge, Shipley, Shropshire, England
Animal pound at Rudge, Shipley, Shropshire, England

The pinder’s duties included rounding up stray animals, ensuring their safekeeping within the pound, and releasing them to their rightful owners upon payment of a fine. This fine was a form of compensation for the trouble caused by the straying animals and covered the costs of their upkeep while impounded.

The position of pinder, therefore, was integral to the maintenance of communal harmony and the enforcement of local by-laws pertaining to common land and livestock management.

Sussex County Magazine

The Sussex County Magazine in 1930 stated:

Nearly every village once had its pound for stray cattle, pigs, geese, etc. to be driven into and there kept at the expense of the owner, till such time as he should pay the fine (the amount claimed by the person on whose land they had strayed, for damage done), and the fee to the pound keeper, man or sometimes woman, for feeding and watering the same.

If not claimed in three weeks, the animals were driven to the nearest market and sold, the proceeds going to the impounder and pound-keeper. An ingenious form of receipt was sometimes used. The person who found the animals on his land cut a stick and made notches, one for every beast, and then split the stick down the centre of the notches so that half each notch appeared on each stick; one half he kept, the other he gave to the pound-keeper.

When the owner came to redeem his property and had paid for the damage done, the impounder gave him his half stick. He took this to the pound-keeper, and if the two pieces tallied, it proved he had paid and his beast was freed. Hence the word tally-stick and the pound-keeper being referred to as the tallyman.

Although pounds are most common to England, there are also examples in other countries.

Operational Framework

The operational framework of the village pound reflects the broader socio-economic landscape of medieval rural England. The manorial system, with its hierarchical structure of lord, villein, and serf, underpinned the governance of rural communities, including the administration of the pound.

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The lord of the manor, through the manorial court, exerted control over the common lands and resources, including the appointment of village officials. This system ensured that the management of the pound was aligned with the manorial interests, highlighting the interconnectedness of authority, land rights, and community obligations.

Lord of the Manor

In medieval times, the lord of the manor exerted substantial control over agriculture, a cornerstone of the feudal system that dominated European life. This control was not merely a manifestation of power but a reflection of the lord’s pivotal role in the socio-economic structure of the manor, which served as the basic unit of rural economy.

Woolbridge Manor. Dorset. Like all big houses this manor is not short of history. By the very nature of being built and owned by the most powerful people of the day these houses should really be seen as ‘power houses’.

3The lord’s influence spanned the allocation of land, the imposition of labour duties, and the regulation of agricultural practices, deeply impacting the daily lives of those within the manor’s bounds.

Manorial System

The manorial system was predicated on a hierarchical relationship between the lord and his serfs or villeins. In return for protection and the right to work a piece of land, serfs were obligated to perform labour on the lord’s demesne—the portion of land reserved for the lord’s own use.

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This arrangement ensured the lord had a steady supply of labour for his lands, which were the manor’s most valuable asset. The serfs’ work on these lands included ploughing, harvesting, and tending to the lord’s crops, which were essential for sustaining the manor’s economy and the lord’s household.

Moreover, the lord of the manor had the authority to dictate the types of crops grown and the agricultural methods employed. This control was crucial in an era when agricultural productivity was limited by the technology of the time.

The Manor House, Mells

The lord’s decisions could influence the manor’s resilience to famine and economic fluctuations. By overseeing crop rotation, fallow periods, and the maintenance of common lands, the lord played a central role in ensuring the sustainability of the manor’s agricultural output.

Judicial Powers

The lord also held judicial powers within the manor, presiding over the manorial court, which dealt with disputes among the peasantry, including those related to agricultural practices. This court enforced the manorial customs that governed land use, inheritance, and the obligations of the peasantry.

Through this judicial role, the lord could directly influence agricultural practices by resolving disputes in a manner that upheld the manorial economy’s stability and productivity.

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However, the lord’s control was not absolute. The customary rights of the peasantry, such as access to common lands for grazing, wood for fuel, and the right to glean after harvests, were protected by tradition and, often, by the decisions of the manorial court.

These rights ensured a degree of economic resilience among the serfs, allowing them to supplement their livelihoods beyond the agricultural duties owed to the lord.

Structure and Design of the Village Pound

The architecture and design of medieval animal pounds, although subject to regional variations in architectural styles and materials at hand, adhered to a pragmatic and utilitarian blueprint. These enclosures, conceived to securely hold stray livestock, mirrored the agricultural and societal demands of the era.

An animal pound attached to Llanycrwys churchyard, Wales.

Regarding their structure, medieval animal pounds were predominantly erected using robust materials like stone or wood. Stone, particularly favoured in areas of its abundance, was chosen for its lastingness and robustness.

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In such instances, the walls of the pounds were frequently made from local stone, assembled without the use of mortar in a technique known as dry stone walling. This approach not only ensured the enclosure was strong enough to hold large beasts such as cattle and horses but also facilitated necessary repairs and modifications over time.

Animal pound New Forest National Park

Wood served as an alternative material, especially in regions where it was more accessible than stone. Pounds made from wood usually featured hefty posts embedded into the ground, linked by horizontal beams or planks. The timber selected was typically quite thick, designed to endure the force from the animals and prevent their escape.

The Village Pound Varied in Size

The architecture of these pounds was typically straightforward yet efficient. They commonly adopted a circular or rectangular form, featuring a solitary entrance that could be securely sealed with a gate.

The gate stood as a pivotal component, requiring ease of use for the poundkeeper while being sufficiently sturdy to thwart the escape of animals. In certain instances, the gate was bolstered with metal or a robust locking mechanism to guarantee its security.

Ryton Pinfold, Barmoor Lane. The pinfold (also known as pound) was built in the C12th as a pound for stray animals which were released on payment of a fine. The one here is unusual in that a source of water was supplied for the captive animals from a small stream entering below the wall and road.

The dimensions of the pound varied in accordance with the size of the community and the typical number of stray animals encountered.

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Nonetheless, even in smaller villages, pounds were generally spacious enough to comfortably accommodate several animals. This consideration was crucial not only for the animals’ welfare but also to ensure the facility could house various types of livestock simultaneously.

Capenhurst pinfold, Cheshire. A pinfold has existed on this site since the 10th century.

Beyond their practical features, the design of animal pounds occasionally mirrored the architectural trends of the era or locality. Sometimes, they were constructed to harmonise with other communal edifices, such as churches or marketplaces, signifying the pound’s significance within village society.

The Decline of The Village Pound

The decline of the village pound in the 19th century is closely linked to the sweeping changes brought about by the Enclosure Acts. These Acts led to the division and privatization of common lands, fundamentally altering the landscape of rural England.

The enclosure movement, driven by the desire for more efficient agricultural production and the control of land, resulted in the disappearance of communal grazing lands and, consequently, the diminished need for village pounds.

As agriculture moved towards a more individualistic and enclosed system, the communal institutions and practices that had supported the medieval rural economy, including the village pound, became obsolete.

Despite their decline, remnants of village pounds can still be found dotted across the English countryside, silent witnesses to a bygone era. These historical structures, whether fully intact or merely traces of their former selves, allow an insight into medieval village life. They remind us of a time when community, land, and livestock were inextricably linked, and communal responsibility and cooperation were vital for survival.