The Fell Pony Museum: Viking and Norman era
The Fell Pony Museum
Vikings :: Normans

The Normans

Shortly after the Norman invasion in 1066, the north east of England supported a potential overseas challenger to the Conqueror William 1 and several uprisings took place against Norman rule. In consequence, the North was brutally "harried" by his troops. Livestock were killed off or crippled, food and stored crop was burnt, and farming implements broken. Thousands of people starved. (ref)

The trained ponies within the villages were destroyed, but the stock on the fell was not so easily vulnerable to vengeful troops. Living wild, they continued to breed. The continuing shortage of livestock of other kinds in the north resulted in greater use of ponies for agriculture and, for several decades, the breeding of ponies for meat. This horrified clerics of the time: they knew that this practice had been pagan and they believed that eating horseflesh was an indication of a slide away from Christianity.

Northern Agriculture

Cumbria in the 13th Century had three times as much arable land as pasture land. The cereals grown were mainly oats, followed by barley and rye, grown in strip ploughing often on very high land, much higher than is usually ploughed today. Field patterns and plough lynchets still indicate where such agriculture was practised.

Marginal drawings in documents at Lanercost Priory illustrate the stock that were kept: cattle were the main haulage animals, drawing the ploughs and carts; they were only later kept for milk and cheese. Milk was first mainly obtained from sheep (a "milking" of sheep was 240 ewes). Sheep's-milk cheese was an important product, and, of course, wool. Wool became a huge factor in England's cash flow, because it supplied both the English and European markets with a reliable, versatile clothing staple that for several centuries had no competitor other than linen. Mutton was the least important sheep product. [ref] From about 1300 the climate began to change, with colder winters and wetter summers, making wool an even more desirable material.

Pigs provided meat in the form of pork or bacon, which was smoked or salted to make it keep. Salt for preserving food was provided by "salters" using packhorses. Local placenames such as "Salterwath" (the salters' ford, near Shap) may indicate places on trade routes used for this purpose.

The Monasteries

This was the period when the Church became a potent force in agriculture. Norman troops had been ordered not to touch its property because the Church had taken no part in the uprisings. In particular, the Cistercian Order or "White Friars", who specialised in sheep management, became major players in the North of England economy. (In Cumbria itself: Calder, Furness and Holm Cultram Abbeys; elsewhere, with estates across Northern England: Fountains, Jervaulx, Rievaulx and Byland.)

The Cistercians and their farm-tenants made full use of horse power: for shepherding, to hunt wolves that might attack the flocks, and as pack horses to carry the wool clip, and other products such as cheeses, to market or to the ports.

The Northern pony types

The Galloway pony in southern Scotland is said to have been established very early as a type although the term "Galloway" is not to be found in equestrian literature until much later (Dent). Even as late as the remount rolls of the Battle of Flodden in 1513, the name "Galloway" is not mentioned; but by 1598 the word was common enough to be used by Shakespeare in his London plays.

The Fell and the Dales types were geographically close to the Galloway and are said to have been very similar, probably similarly bred and containing types ranging from the taller Dales and Highland types to the smaller end of the Fells. Old farmers still sometimes refer to a Fell as a Gallowa'. [ref] In these early times such ponies were not used for ploughing or draught, which was done with oxen, but were used for riding and pack work.

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Last updated 23 May, 2021 .
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