The Town of the Free Peasants, near Thirsk

CARLTON Husthwaite, to the south-west of Thirsk, has a name that recalls the ancient social order of our region.

Carl refers, in fact, to the karl, the word the Vikings used for free peasants and so Carlton C ton means settlement C was the Town of the Free Peasants on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales.

But what were free as opposed to normal peasants? Unfortunately, for the karl the differences were not dramatic.

Unfree peasants had to work for their lords for much of the week.

Free peasants, however, often got away with just a day or two of service and did not have the humiliation of seeing their wives spend their time sewing clothes for the lords wardrobe.

The free peasants also had certain rights: they could get married without permission and they could not be moved between estates against their will C two indignities that meant that the unfree peasants were little better than slaves. But studies have shown that economically, the ten per cent of the population that were karls (found predominantly in the north and east of Britain) were not much richer than unfree peasants and that they were unable to escape from their state of semi-servility.

The second word of Carlton Husthwaite was not originally part of the name, but was added at a later date, perhaps as late as the sixteenth century: there were so many Carltons in the region that such tags were needed to distinguish one Carlton from another.

And Husthwaite means simply Houses in the Glade, houses these, we should presume, near to the Settlement of Free Peasants.

ñ Simon Young is a historian and writer of AD500.

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