Since visiting the Hackney Archive, I’ve become intrigued by the old stories of Lammas rights that would have affected Hackney while it was still rural, right up until the the early to mid 19th Century…
The idea that ownership of, or right to use land being tied to the seasons or the stars is an interesting one, because it somehow removes direct control by those with otherwise worldly power – wealth, political standing, etc. Temporal ownership opens up ideas of shared spaces, rather than the overused expression of public/private space, it is the actual right to the space that alters in response to a momentous outer influence.
I produced the following drawing to investigate a particularly important expression of Lammas rights in Hackney’s history…
Our studio is currently focussing on retrieving specific examples / ‘situations’ involving codes (social, conduct, legal, regulatory, etc) from our experience of visiting Hackney Wick and the surrounding area last week.
This specific exploration looks at a historic event (Lammas Day, 1837) – that revealed a specific code about land use and human activity as directed by the temporal (in this case, a certain date in the year). I am interested here in how the production and use of space is affected both by social class, and the calendar…which itself is derived from a host of other social, cultural, religious and natural codes.
Lammas Day, 1837 – Temporal Change of Activity
Right up until the early parts of the 19th Century, the London Borough of Hackney was very much a rural place. By law, local landowners were allowed to farm – and recieve a return from – common land until the 1st August (Lammas Day), after which commoners could turn their animals out and take possession of anything remaining.
Lammas Day, 1837 perhaps signalled the end of rural Hackney with a particularly poor harvest leading to vast quantities of crops remaining in the fields at the time of handover. Press reports at the time describe “thousands of people descending upon Hackney Downs, reaping into the night, some staying until well past midnight”.
Manorial customs and authority that still officially governed the land ceased to have any real meaning.
It is also interesting to note that the ‘Quarter Days ‘- of which Lammas Day is traditionally one – are points of legal reference for the payment of debts and administration of leases. The following quotes best summarise this legal tradition of Quarter Days;
“There is a strong principle of English justice tied up in this – “debts and unresolved conflicts must not be allowed to linger on” past the quarter sessions.
It was deemed that however complex the case, however difficult to settle the debt, a reckoning has to be made and publicly recorded; for it is one of the oldest legal principles of this country that justice delayed is injustice.”
On the Way to the Postmodern – David J.A. Clines