Term : The Territorial Vill
The Territorial Vill is synonymous with the English words town or township, deriving from the Old English tun, the commonest element in English place names, i.e. a settlement with a distinct, delimited territory, the latter representing the expanse of land in which that particular community of peasants lived and practised agriculture.
A township/territorial vill was not the same as the village itself, which was simply the nucleated settlement which commonly lay at the heart (though not necessarily the geographical centre) of the township, and where the bulk of the individuals who made up the community might reside.
A classic township, centred on a nucleated village settlement, was composed of three main elements, the village itself, the cultivated arable land and meadows, and the moorland waste or common. However a township community might live scattered about in dispersed farms instead of or as well as being grouped together in a nucleated village or hamlet. Any combination of these elements was possible, but some permanent settlement was required for there had to be a community for a township to exist. Writing between 1235 and 1259, the lawyer Henry de Bracton defined the township thus (De Legibus et Consuetudinibus Angliae, iii, 394-5; cited by Winchester 1978, 69; Dixon 1985, I, 75-6):
"If a person should build a single edifice in the fields, there will not be a vill, but when in the process of time several edifices have begun to be built adjoining to or neighbouring to one another, there begins to be a vill."
A township's consciousness of itself as a distinct community would have been reinforced by the communal agricultural labour required to work the land. This is particularly obvious in the cases where the township was centred on a nucleated village, its members living and working alongside one another, but even in townships composed of scattered hamlets or farmsteads it was just as vital to regulate access to the use of communal resources such as the upland waste or commons. Such activities would have generated a sense of communal cohesion however fragmented the framework of manorial lordship and estate management in the township might have become over time (see below).
The boundaries of such township communities would have become fixed when the land appropriated by one community extended up to that belonging to neighbouring settlements (Winchester 1987, 29). In the lowlands intensive cultivation had been practised for millennia prior to the medieval period, when townships are first documented. Consequently it has been argued that many of these boundaries were of considerable antiquity, particularly where obvious natural features such as rivers and streams and watersheds were followed, although such antiquity is difficult to prove conclusively.
In the uplands, settlement is thought to have experienced successive cycles of expansion and contraction in response to a variety of stimuli, including environmental factors such as climatic change, but doubtless also political and economic issues. This may have resulted in periodic obscuring of the boundaries when communities were not fully exploiting the available resources and hence had less need to precisely define their limits.
In all areas the definitive boundary network recorded by the first Ordnance Survey maps is obviously a composite pattern, in which precise delineation occurred in a piecemeal fashion over the centuries.