Buildings, Village

The Medieval Pound, Most villages had One

The medieval Pound can still be found in many villages and even cities. The man in charge of impounding the stray animals was paid by the Lord of the Manor and was known as a pinder or pounder. Fines and disputes are documented in manorial court records.

In the medieval period the field system in use was an open one, so it would have been easy for animals to stray onto a neighbour’s land. Animals grazing unlawfully on common land could also be impounded. If a person owed a debt to another person, their animals might also be impounded until the debt was paid.

The word pound comes from the Old English word pund, meaning a pen or enclosure. In parts of Scotland e.g. Shetland the word pund is still used. The term pinfold is used in some parts of Britain instead of pound e.g. in the north and east of England.


Pounds were often sited near village greens, churches or crossroads to enable local residents to check if any of the impounded animals belonged to them.

If not claimed in three weeks, the animals were driven to the nearest market and sold, the proceeds going to the impounder and pound-keeper.They were used up until farmland was enclosed in the 17th to 19th centuries.


The earliest known references to such structures date back to the Anglo-Saxon period in England, suggesting that the concept was already well-established by the early medieval era. These pounds were typically communal facilities, managed by appointed village or town officials.

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The role of the poundkeeper or pinder was an important one, as it involved not only capturing and securing stray animals but also mediating between the owners of the animals and the land they trespassed upon.

Milton Malsor village pound, Northamptonshire, England, dating from at least 1686.
Milton Malsor village pound, Northamptonshire, England, dating from at least 1686.

The design of these early pounds was practical and straightforward. They were often circular or rectangular enclosures, constructed from locally sourced materials such as stone or wood. The robustness of the construction was essential to prevent animals from escaping.

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In these early periods, the existence of the pound played a dual role. It was a practical solution to a common problem, and it also represented an early form of local governance and communal responsibility.

The management of the pound, the adjudication of disputes arising from straying livestock, and the collection of fines were all part of the evolving legal and social structures of medieval communities.

Structure and Design

The structure and design of medieval animal pounds, while varying somewhat based on regional architectural styles and available materials, generally followed a practical and functional template. These pounds were essentially enclosures, designed to securely contain stray livestock, and their construction was a reflection of the agricultural and social needs of the time.

In terms of structure, medieval animal pounds were commonly built using sturdy materials such as stone or wood. Stone was a preferred material, especially in regions where it was abundant, due to its durability and strength.

The Somerleyton animal pound in Wadding Wood, Suffolk, England
The Somerleyton animal pound in Wadding Wood, Suffolk, England

In these cases, the walls of the pounds were often constructed of local stone, laid without mortar in a style known as dry stone walling. This method not only provided the necessary strength to contain large animals like cows and horses but also allowed for repairs and alterations as needed over time.

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Wood was another common material, particularly in areas where timber was more readily available than stone. Wooden pounds were typically constructed with large posts driven into the ground, connected by horizontal beams or planks. The wood used was often of a substantial thickness to withstand the pressure exerted by the animals and to prevent escape.

The Medieval Pound Varied in Size

The design of these pounds was usually simple but effective. They were often circular or rectangular in shape, with a single entrance that could be securely closed with a gate.

The gate was a crucial feature as it needed to be both easy for the poundkeeper to operate and robust enough to prevent animals from breaking out. In some cases, the gate was reinforced with metal or a heavy locking mechanism to ensure security.

An animal pound attached to Llanycrwys churchyard.
An animal pound attached to Llanycrwys churchyard. Carmarthenshire, Wales

The size of the pound varied depending on the size of the community and the number of stray animals typically encountered.

However, even in smaller villages, pounds were usually large enough to hold several animals comfortably. This was important not only for the welfare of the animals but also to accommodate different types of livestock that might be impounded at the same time.

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In addition to their functional aspects, the design of animal pounds sometimes reflected the architectural styles of the period or region. In some cases, they were built to complement other communal structures, such as churches or marketplaces, indicating the pound’s importance in village life.

Legal and Social Role of the Medieval Pound

The pound served not just as a physical enclosure for stray animals, but as a crucial part of the local legal and administrative framework, reflecting the societal norms and agricultural priorities of the era.

Legally, the animal pound was a manifestation of the emerging laws and regulations regarding property and livestock management. When an animal strayed onto another’s land, damaging crops or gardens, it was taken to the pound by an appointed official, commonly known as the poundkeeper or pinder.

Capenhurst pinfold, Cheshire. A pinfold has existed on this site since the 10th century.
Capenhurst pinfold, Cheshire. A pinfold has existed on this site since the 10th century.

This action was not merely punitive; it served as a form of dispute resolution between landowners and livestock owners. By impounding stray animals, potential conflicts were mitigated, and a formal process was established to address such incidents.

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The owner of the impounded animal was required to pay a fine to retrieve their livestock. This fine was a critical aspect of the system, serving as a deterrent against negligent animal husbandry. It encouraged owners to be more vigilant in controlling their livestock, thereby reducing damage to communal lands or neighbors’ properties.

The collected fines were often used for community purposes, such as maintaining the pound or other communal facilities, or they were added to the village funds, contributing to the overall welfare of the community.

The Medieval Pound had a Keeper

Socially, the pound played a significant role in reinforcing communal norms and responsibilities. The existence of a communal pound symbolised the collective effort to maintain order and protect community resources. It underscored the importance of responsible animal husbandry and respect for others’ property, values that were essential in the closely knit communities of the time.

The poundkeeper’s role was also socially significant. As an appointed official, the poundkeeper had a position of responsibility and authority within the village.

This role required a fair and impartial approach to dealing with stray animals and their owners, reflecting the broader social expectations of justice and community service.

Landbeach Parish Pound, Landbeach, Cambridgeshire, England
Landbeach Parish Pound, Landbeach, Cambridgeshire, England

Moreover, the animal pound was a physical representation of the balance between individual rights and communal needs. In an era when communal lands were widely used for grazing and agriculture, managing the interaction between private livestock and communal resources was crucial. The pound system provided a structured, equitable way to handle these interactions.

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It was a practical solution to a common problem, a legal mechanism for handling disputes, and a social institution that reflected and reinforced community norms. The existence and operation of animal pounds were vital for maintaining order and harmony in medieval rural societies, playing a key role in the daily life and governance of these communities.

Economic Implications

One of the most direct economic impacts of animal pounds was related to the fines imposed for reclaiming impounded livestock. These fines served as a source of revenue for the community.

In many cases, the money collected was used to maintain the pound itself, ensuring that it remained in good condition and functional. Additionally, surplus funds from these fines could be channeled into other communal projects or needs, contributing to the overall welfare and development of the village or town.

North Elmham village pound, Norfolk
North Elmham village pound, Norfolk

Beyond the fines, the presence of a pound had a preventive economic impact. By providing a means to control stray livestock, pounds helped to minimise damage to crops and gardens, which could be substantial.

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For a farming community, the loss of crops due to straying animals represented a significant economic setback. Thus, the effective management of livestock through the pound system helped protect individual and communal agricultural investments, ensuring more stable food supplies and economic security.

The Threat of Fines

Furthermore, the pound system indirectly supported the local agricultural economy by promoting responsible animal husbandry. The threat of fines encouraged livestock owners to invest in better fencing and to be more vigilant in their care and control of animals.

This investment not only reduced the incidence of straying livestock but also led to improved farming practices, ultimately benefiting the economic stability of the entire community.

Circular village pound in Stanton Prior, Somerset. (Above the pound are hot-air balloons taking off from Bath (6 miles or 9.7 km to the north-east.)
Circular village pound in Stanton Prior, Somerset

The role of the poundkeeper or pinder, often a paid position, represented another economic aspect of the pound system. This role provided a source of income and livelihood, and in some cases, the poundkeeper was allowed to keep a portion of the fines as compensation for their work. This arrangement not only supported the poundkeeper but also ensured that the pound was managed effectively, furthering its economic benefits to the community.

The Medieval Pound in Law

Medieval law, particularly in rural communities, had specific provisions regarding the management of stray animals and the role of the pound, underscoring the pound’s significance in the legal and administrative systems.

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Legal codes from the medieval period often included detailed sections on the operation of animal pounds. These laws outlined the responsibilities and authority of the poundkeeper or pinder, the fines associated with impounding animals, and the procedures for reclaiming impounded livestock. Such legal specificity was necessary to ensure fairness and clarity in the management of stray animals, a common issue in agrarian societies.

Brynberian, Pembrokeshire, Wales

The laws governing animal pounds were not just punitive; they were also designed to prevent disputes and provide a regulated method for dealing with issues related to straying livestock. The fines imposed for reclaiming animals served as a deterrent against negligence and encouraged livestock owners to exercise greater care in managing their animals.

This legal approach was essential in communities where the damage caused by stray animals could lead to significant economic loss and potential conflict.

Communal Needs

Additionally, the legal framework often stipulated how the collected fines were to be used. In many cases, these funds were allocated for the maintenance of the pound or for other communal needs. This aspect of the law ensured that the pound system not only served its immediate purpose but also contributed to the broader welfare of the community.

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The pound laws also addressed the rights of the animals’ owners. They provided a structured process for owners to reclaim their livestock, ensuring that the animals were not unjustly kept or mistreated. This legal protection was important in maintaining a balance between communal authority and individual rights.

Animal pound New Forest National Park

In some regions, the laws regarding animal pounds were part of broader statutes governing communal lands and resources. These laws reflected the interconnectedness of various aspects of medieval life, from agriculture and property rights to community management and legal governance.

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The importance of the pound in law during the medieval period was indicative of a society that was increasingly structured and regulated. The existence of these laws highlights the evolution of legal systems in response to the practical and social needs of communities.

They demonstrate how the management of common resources and everyday issues, such as stray animals, required legal frameworks to ensure order, fairness, and communal welfare.

Decline and Legacy

The decline and legacy of the medieval animal pound are closely linked to the broader changes in agricultural practices and land use that occurred from the late medieval period onwards. As Europe transitioned into the early modern era, shifts in both societal structures and farming techniques led to a gradual decrease in the use and relevance of these communal pounds, though their historical legacy remains significant.

Animal pound at Rudge, Shipley, Shropshire, England

The decline of animal pounds can be attributed largely to the enclosure movement, which began in earnest in the 15th century and continued for several centuries. This movement saw the transformation of common and open fields into individually owned and fenced plots of land.

As a result, the need for communal animal pounds diminished. With the advent of enclosed fields, there was less risk of livestock straying onto others’ property, and the responsibility for managing animals shifted more to individual landowners.

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Additionally, improvements in agricultural technology and changes in livestock management practices reduced the reliance on communal structures like pounds. The development of better fencing materials and techniques meant that farmers could more effectively contain their animals.

Medieval Pounds are Still With Us

As farming became more regulated and the concept of private land ownership became more defined, the communal approach to managing stray animals, which the pounds represented, became less relevant.

medieval pound
Village pound at Okeford Fitzpaine, Dorset.

Despite their decline, the legacy of medieval animal pounds is still evident today. Many of these structures have survived, often preserved as historical landmarks. They serve as tangible reminders of the past, offering insights into the agricultural, legal, and social practices of medieval communities.

In some areas, restored pounds have become tourist attractions, contributing to local heritage and education initiatives. They provide a unique window into the rural life of the Middle Ages, illustrating the communal approaches to resource management and social governance.

Have you ever been through a village and seen a lane called Pound Lane or Pound Street? This historically was where the village pound was located. If you are sharp, you will also see such place names in towns or cities – this is where the village pound was before it was engulfed by urbanisation.