The History and Mystery of the Pound or Pinfold - a feature of rural England fast disappearing from the landscape 

Pounds and Pinfolds


What are Pounds and Pinfolds?


A general definition is that:-

A Pound or Pinfold is a structure built to confine stray stock or any animal found grazing on land for which their owner did not have permission. Once confined a Pinder, usually appointed by the Manor Court, was responsible for the care of the animals until the owner had paid the fine imposed by the court.


Pound, Pinfold or Sheepfold?


Each Pound or Pinfold, although usually a simply built structure, has a character and history of its own and those that still remain stand proud though often neglected. A number are protected by the Listed Buildings and Conservation Act 1990 such as the pound at Field Broughton (see Home page).



The use of the terms Pound and Pinfold can, but should not, cause confusion. In practice they mean the same and are therefore interchangeable. Whether a structure is referred to as a pound or pinfold seems quite arbitrary.  I have analysed numerous maps and other reference documents believing that perhaps the use of the word pound or pinfold depended on a specific area or was a north v south or east v west practice but this appears not to be the case.


In many instances, but by no means all, the Ordnance Survey First Edition 1:2,500 and 1:560,000 scale maps show their location and names them as a pound or pinfold. When these maps were drawn up in the mid 19th century it is likely that the pound or pinfold had already been out of use for at least one generation so reliable oral evidence was unlikely to be available. Each surveyor was responsible for mapping large areas and I understand from Ordnance Survey (OS) that the surveyor might rely on local sources to identify a pound or pinfold and use the local name.  He could also use his personal expertise and record what he considered to be the proper term according to his personal preference. Hence each site could either be recorded as a pound or a pinfold. In fact there are examples where the same fold is recorded alternately a pound and then a pinfold and vice versa on different revisions of the OS map.


References to pounds and pinfolds, earlier than the Ordnance Survey maps, are found in many sources including Manorial Court records, vestry records, parish council minutes and other archive documents. From the earliest records they have been known variously as Punfald, Pinfould , Poundfold or Pundfeld from which our modern terms of pound and pinfold are no doubt derived.


All Shapes and Sizes.

Pounds or pinfolds in our villages, towns and countryside appear in numerous different styles and sizes as well as using different building material but why?  The reason for this variety can be surmised as follows. The poorer rural communities would have the available field and river boulders available and the skills to build their pinfold using tried and tested dry stone walling techniques, a skill used throughout Cumbria. These structures would be cheap to erect but would need constant repair. The more affluent townships could afford to use mortar and dressed limestone or sandstone to erect more substantial and robust pinfolds, especially if all or some of them were Manorial Pounds and financed wholly or partly by the Lord of the Manor. 


The building material used could well have influenced the shape of the fold with field stone lending itself more readily to a circular construction to avoid the weight stresses that come with squared off corners. However dressed and cut stone largely avoided this problem and with the use of mortar a substantial square or rectangular fold could be constructed.


The ground area inside the pinfold had to be large enough to cope with different sized livestock varying from geese and sheep through to cows and horses, and no doubt sometimes together. This led to pinfolds being constructed of various sizes depending on the type of animal it was expected to confine.  A tether stone may have been used to ensure the larger animals were limited in their movement as is thought to be the case at Brampton, Appleby.


Location of Pinfolds.

At the time of its original build a typical pinfold location would be at the edge of a settlement or Manor boundary, on waste or common land and close to a water source. Most villages and settlements would have built their own and many would also have a Common and a Manorial pound. As the waste and common land was enclosed a new pound was often established on a new site. A common pound would be one built and paid for by local yeoman, perhaps with some financial help from the Lord or major landowner and it would be used to impound strays found within the township. A Manorial pound would be one built by the Lord of the Manor and located at the manor boundary or near the Manor House. This would be used to impound strays from a neighbouring Manor or from outside the area. 


Another factor determining the location was the availability of a water source. The pinder would need to regularly water the impounded stock so a nearby well or stream was essential.  Some pinfolds were actually built over a spring such as Penruddock Pinfold. Crook Pinfold channels spring water from the adjacent field to provide a continuous source of water and Kentmere Pound encloses part of a small stream. Others are adjacent to the village well and pump. As a settlement expanded the pinfold which was once on the outskirts became part of the built environment and is now often to be found on a small piece of much reduced common land surrounded by modern housing. As well as an adjacent well or pump the village stocks and the smithy could often be found nearby.


How Did Pinfolds Function?

As Pounds and Pinfolds were established to confine stray animals found wandering on private land or on the common or waste without permission a legal framework existed to manage this function and apply sanctions for misuse.  This law was managed by the Manor Courts where the role of Pinder, or Pound Looker, was created and an officer appointed to these jobs by the Lord. Their duty was to collect straying animals and confine them in the pinfold. They guarded, fed and watered them until the owner, on payment of a fine, reclaimed them.  The Manor court also imposed fines for “pound rescue” when an owner accosted the Pinder and retrieved his stock, sometimes by force, as they were being led to the pinfold and “poundbreach” where the pinfold was broken into to remove impounded stock. Straying livestock could also be driven to the pound as a public duty by anyone who found stock grazing on their fields or straggling in the lanes and byways. However the animals could only be driven to the village or manorial pinfold not to a private enclosure. This is demonstrated when in Aspatria at  the  Court held on the 22nd day of October in the 9th year of the reign of King Henry VIII (1518) the court was presented with various offences carried out by a Vicar. This particular Vicar had it seems committed several offences addressed by the court. 



Why did Pinfold Use Decline?

References to the impounding of animals can be found in the archives as far back as the 14th Century and the Manorial System of government encouraged and promulgated the principle of townships and smallholdings. Each peasant farmer had a few animals, typically a horse, a house cow, a few pigs and fowl and perhaps cultivated a field strip for crops from which they paid their tithe to the Lord. Good land, especially on the fell areas of Cumbria, was limited and as population increased the available land became more valuable for cropping and grazing.

During the Middle Ages the open field system of farming, with its lack of hedges and fences, saw the need to impound stray stock to safeguard grass, crops and grazing rights, especially in years of drought and disease. The Manor Courts appointed officials called Lookers to oversee all aspects of the township such as Constables, Moor Lookers, Mill Lookers, Dunghill Lookers, Hedge Lookers and Pinfold Lookers whose responsibility it was to ensure these features remained in good repair.

As the dry stone walls in Cumbria to mark the division between fields and pasture were built and the Enclosure Acts of the mid-18th century were put in force more land was enclosed and fenced creating a countryside in less need of the function of the pinfold.  As their use declined they also became neglected and were often pulled down for their stone or to create space for road widening and house building.


Present Day Condition.

The visible evidence of pounds and pinfolds remaining today varies considerably. Some structures have been renovated or preserved and may boast a plaque whilst others just exist in the landscape in various states of repair. Some are listed and cared for by individuals or public bodies. Many are kept as reminders of our rural history, as monuments or as public amenity areas. Still others incorporate art works or provide enclosed gardens and some are even used to confine animals!  But by far the majority only remain as marks on a map having long ago been demolished as being obsolete. The stone is often re-used elsewhere in the village for new walls and buildings.