Tied Cottages & Agricultural Labourers

Originally farms in Britain were family run, with the extended family at first all living on the same plot and in many cases, in the same dwelling.

Over the centuries this changed for a number of reasons, significantly because of the working practices brought in by invaders to these shores.

Romans used a large part of the indigenous population as slaves, living on estate farms in communial accommodation.

Angles & Saxons reverted back to the family unit once they had conquered the country - as did the Danes/Vikings, although both Anglo/Saxons & Vikings made use of slaves to some extent.

When the French/Normans invaded they were keen to see the land in production and generate wealth for themselves. Tracts of land were given to supporters of the King and those persons recruited peasants to farm the lands. Those recruits almost certainly were initially slaves, living in communial accommodation, much as before.

By the time we get to the 1700/1800's, most people were still working on the land & farmers needed to hire workers for particular jobs (dairymen, pig farming, game keepers etc) or for seasonal work (root vegetable picking, fruit picking, hop picking etc). To do this the farmer & potential worker alike attended "hiring fairs" that were staged at different times of the year around England & Wales (many of which still exists today, although no longer for their original reasons). The deals for the workers almost certainly included accommodation - communial for single people & cottages for families.

As a consequence of this tied accommodation and because social mobility, as now known, was a myth until the coming of the railways and the industrialisation of towns & cities in the mid 1800's, whole families had to move from farm to farm at the end of the contract period or if the contract was terminated early because of adverse weather or laziness (perceived or real) or ill health, on behalf of the head of the family.

The new employers were usually the next farm in the area or most certainly not too far away, the general rule being walking distance in a day - and you have to remember they have to move all their belongings, what furniture they had and any animals they kept too.

Often that meant borrowing or hiring a cart & horse from either the farm they were leaving or the one they were going to - so the journey between the old farm & the next may have to include at least one return journey in a day. I say in a day because Sunday was usually the only day off in a week. So it became moving day. Therefore, I believe most families moved only 4-5 miles between farms/cottages at that time. 

Strangely enough, Tied Accommodation is still a feature of modern farming in Britain, however modern times do mean that laws now exist protecting workers & farmers alike.