The people of Wolvercote have enjoyed the right to pasture cows, horses or geese on Wolvercote Common for hundreds of years. Those rights were first confirmed in 1279 and extended in 1562, while grazing on the common was recorded in the Domesday Book.
Traditionally, a Wolvercote Commoner was any householder resident in the old parish of Wolvercote. This claim is based on historical evidence dating back to before the Norman Conquest. Thus, for centuries, every householder in the village has had grazing rights as long as he or she remained a householder in the village. All rights were lost once that person moved out of the village.
Unfortunately, this custom was not formalised by the Commons Registration Act 1965, when individuals were requested to register their rights. Many of those householders entitled to register failed to do so. Villagers did not expect to have to take action to preserve their rights, or at the time want to keep cattle. Thus only a few houses in the parish have registered grazing rights.
This has created a local injustice. Families who move home within the community can subsequently discover that they have accidentally lost their grazing rights because the house into which they have chosen to move was not registered under the 1965 Act.
Occupiers of new houses built in the village are likely to find themselves automatically disqualified from grazing rights as their new home has no rights registered under the 1965 Act.
The Wolvercote Commoners Committee has attempted to overcome these problems by recognising the following categories of grazier:
- those with registered rights
- those with customary rights
The committee issues up to 30 temporary grazing certificates to those who can show that they need them, and would have qualified before the Act was passed. This practice needs statutory backing under a management scheme.
Other commons in England and Wales have been enclosed, built upon, or in some way lost to local people. One of the unusual features of Wolvercote is the tenacity of Wolvercote people in fighting to preserve their heritage. Throughout recorded history there have been attempts to enclose, purchase, or build upon our commons.
The current committee’s predecessors fought major legal battles to maintain their rights in 1553, 1649, 1762, and 1843. In 1892, an attempt to reduce Wolvercote Common by a few feet along its southern boundary led to an outbreak of violence now known as ‘The Battle of Wolvercote’. As recently as 1993, Commoners successfully resisted an attempt to take the commons into the ownership of Oxford City Council.