Here is the inventory of a labourer named Thomas Becket. He died in 1680. We don’t know his age, but he didn’t appear to have any children. His wife died a few days after him, and his brother in law, another labourer called John Archer, had probate for his possessions.
|In the hall a bedstead table frame cupboard and chair||0||4||0|
|In the chamber a small bedstead||0||3||4|
|Corn and moute (malt) in the house||0||10||2|
|Brass and pewter||0||10||2|
|Bedding woollen and Linen||0||10||4|
|Stocks of bees||0||3||4|
What can we tell from this small list. Firstly two rooms are named –the hall and a chamber. The hall was the room where most activities took place – especially cooking and sleeping. Notice there was a bedstead in the room. The word ‘chamber’ implies the room was above the hall. That has an important implication: that the hall was not open to the roof. He may had had a chimney to one side of the hall, rather than cooking over an open fire in the centre of the hall. So he lived in a very small two storey cottage
Brass and pewter: this would be his (probably) few dishes and cups, and also any cooking pots he had. These pots would be the brass items.
Corn and malt in the house. This is a valuable part of his possessions, and it may mean he had a small plot of land on which to grow barley (for the malt) and other grain for bread making. We need to look at our old property records to see if we can find him.
Stocks of bees: these are not listed in many inventories of the time, so that it is likely he and his wife made honey to sell – another source of income.
A labourer: Thomas was a labourer. That implies his work was insecure, working for whoever had some for him. He would have done anything from agricultural work to running errands, from helping builders to repairing the roads. Life was a struggle.
Summary: he had some valuable items in his house – his bedsteads, his bedding, his brass and pewter. This may well have been enough to make it worth John Archer’s while to get probate.
What’s missing? Any lands he rented, or rights he had in the common fields, such as to gather wood for fuel. That alone, without the goods in the house, would make John Archer’s claim to Thomas’ assets worth making.