The picturesque village
of Bures is divided by the River Stour into two halves: Bures St Mary
in Suffolk and Bures Hamlet in Essex. The field in the village centre,
beside the bridge and medieval church, was originally common land accessible
to everyone: it formed a village green where parishioners were allowed
to graze their pigs and sheep, and it even possessed a ducking stool
where nagging wives and other unfortunates were dipped into the river.
A manuscript map of 1600 labels the land as Bures Common, and shows
the forded stream which bisected it until the 17th century.
Like most common land in
Britain, ours was enclosed by local landowners during the 18th century
when the rights of the man-in-the-street counted for little. It became
a private paddock from which villagers were excluded by a fence and
gate. The 19th century timber-framed barn on the land was used as a
slaughterhouse by a local butcher and in recent years it has become
overgrown and unsightly.
A circa 1600 manuscript map describes the site as 'Bures Common' and is crossed by a stream (called the Common Stream) which no longer survives. The stream was crossed by a ford and linked to the main river bridge by a wooden causeway known as 'the long footbridge'.
In 1503 the residents of Bures were ordered not to throw 'dung' into the Common Stream, which seems to have been used as the village rubbish tip, on pain of a twelvepence fine. Many similar references appear in the 16th century manorial court records.
In 1553 the inhabitants were ordered to rebuild the 'cukkyng stole' that stood on a mound on the Common. Used to punish wives who nagged or cuckolded their husbands (i.e. were unfaithful to them) these instruments are more often known today as ducking stools. Suspicions that certain villagers have pledged money only in the hope of seeing it restored are probably unfounded.
Many villagers kept pigs on the Common during the 15th and 16th centuries, but were fined if they failed to put rings in their noses to prevent them from digging the ground (the pigs - not the villagers).
There are several cases of people building cottages illegally
on the common during the 17th century, only to see them pulled down. Others
were allowed to remain and the open land was gradually reduced in size until
it reached its present extent in the early 18th century, having formerly extended
further along the Colchester Road.
It was shown as a private field on a map of 1819.