The smallholder’s cows represented a considerable financial investment. Losing their "best beast" would be a great blow. This is illustrated by a document which has survived from 1799, called "An Address to the Copyholders within the Manor of Marsden" by "A Copyholder" who, perhaps wisely, remains anonymous24.
The problem arose over interpretation of the "Custom of the Manor" as to the right of the Lord to a "heriot" from any new copyholder in Marsden: "The Lord of the Manor supposing he has a Right, by the Custom of the Manor, to take the best Beast or Chattel … for a Heriot, … he, under Colour of this pretended Custom, seizes the Copyholder’s cow, for that Heriot." The copyholder, denying the legality of this action, would "replevy" (take back) his cow and the dispute would go to court.
There had apparently been at least three such court cases, both at the Marsden Manor Court (since the author complains that inattentive or inexperienced jurors tended to "act partly at the discretion of the Lord" rather than being impartial between the Lord and the copyholders) and by "Determinations of the Court at York". The author says that these determinations, based on perusal of "ancient Court Rolls and Verdicts of the Jury", make it clear that while the Lord has a right to "A FINE OF HERIOT", the amount of this was in the past decided by the Manor Court Jurors; only if the money fine went unpaid did the Bailiff of the Manor have the right to seize any of the copyholder’s goods. Forthcoming research among Marsden wills may throw some light on this matter.
A Beast Gate is the right, granted by the Lord of the Manor, to graze one or more animals on common pasture, and in Marsden, as elsewhere, belonged with the smallholding. Not every smallholder was a "proprietor" of Beast Gates, but in 1801 68 out of 97 occupiers of land had at least one Beast Gate.
Farmers in Marsden-in-Almondbury in 1801 had Cow Gates on Lingards Wood Moor, Holme Moor, Binn Moor, Pule Bents, Pule Holes, Firth Pule25, while farmers in Marsden-in-Huddersfield had Cow Gates on Shaw Cow Hey, Dirker Hey, Ashton Binn Hey, and Netherwood Hey. In the 1886 Rates Survey26, Sheep Gates are also listed on the large March Haigh/Clough Moss area, and Wessenden Moor had both Sheep and Beast (Cow) Gates. It seems possible that sheep were allocated to the rougher and more distant moorland.
The minutes of the annual meetings of the owners of Binn Moor Beast Gates still exist for the years 1863 to 1881 (these meetings were held at the New Inn)27. It was annually agreed that two cows per Beast Gate could be grazed on the moor "at any season of the year". It seems from the accounts that few of the potential 19½ Cow Gates were in use at this period, the maximum being 7½ (15 animals). It is also clear that gates could be let (for ten shillings per annum) to any "neighbour" requiring the grazing. The funds from rental, and from a Mr. Thomas Haigh’s "privilege of water from the (Binn) Lodge", were spent on draining and "fencing" (walling) the moor. The other main expense was paying one or more "pindars" to attend court, presumably when a stranger’s cow or sheep was found straying. The fine for a straying cow was six pence, and for a sheep two pence.
Cows were valuable enough to insure. There exists a record of the Articles of a "Cow-Club", established in July 1801 at a meeting held at the house of John Parkin (The Ram Inn)28 in Marsden. This was a sort of friendly society.
The Cow-Club took annual payments of two shillings per cow from its members, plus entrance money of one shilling per cow; the cow first had to be inspected for health. If a cow fell sick, this had to be immediately reported, and the "cow-leech" (vet) called; if the cow died, its owner would receive four-fifths of its value (with a maximum of £8) from the Cow-Club, and would keep the hide and tallow. Viewing the dead cow - or handing over the cash - must have been an upsetting business, because the master and stewards of the Club were allowed to spend one shilling from funds at the public house on these occasions.
At each meeting, three-pence was to be paid for liquor, and there were fines for lateness, swearing and cursing, or refusal to obey the master’s command for silence in the event of "great confusion and noise" in the meeting. According to a newspaper cutting from 1881, the Club continued for at least 81 years and succeeded in "meeting all demands in full or partially".