How many of us have sat stuck in traffic on the Westwood watching the cattle wander aimlessly across the road only for them to stop, turn and look to see why the rest of the herd aren’t following? Come on lads (and they are mostly lads) this way, the grass looks greener and there’s nobody at the water trough. Morrison’s will have to wait, it’s not going anywhere and neither are the cattle.
Yes, the cattle are back, but then you’ll know that if you regularly drive across the Westwood; the cattle have returned to the Westwood to do what they’ve been doing for hundreds of years. In fact there is a record in the Doomsday Book, in 1086, making reference to woodland pastures which was probably the Westwood and Hurne pastures. From those medieval times the pastures have been used for grazing for cattle, horses, sheep and pigs.
However for years, it was only the privileged townsmen of Beverley who were allowed to graze their animals and only at certain times and in controlled numbers. This was called ‘stinting’ and the right to graze an animal was called a ‘gate.’ This was strictly controlled and grazing too many animals was an offence punishable by a fine; the animals impounded, and placed in ‘fenced pounds’ which can still be seen at the entrance to the Westwood.
After many years of violent disputes and arguments the Westwood common land is now in the ownership of East Riding Council. The Pasture Freeman of Beverley hold annual elections to choose 12 Pasture Masters who are responsible for all aspects of the commons, including trees, buildings and fences. The rents from grazing cattle, and other uses, such as the Beverley Racecourse and the Golf Club are paid to the Pasture Masters and then distributed to the Freemen, and since 2011 to Freewomen.
The tradition of Beverley Freeman grazing their cattle on the Westwood is dying out and very few actually do so now. The cattle belong to local farmers who pay a rent for each animal to graze on the Westwood between April and early November.
Editor’s note: Please note that 2 or 3 cattle are killed on the Westwood roads each year, so next time you come to a stop, just chill and think what life would be like in 1086.