To glean or not to glean……….
High winds, fallen trees, traffic disruption and closed roads, sounds familiar? Police arrive, tree surgeons follow closely behind to remove the offending trees in order to allow normal life to continue (ie. the morning rush to work). What had all this to do with the medieval laws that permit gleaning?
Now you may think (as I did) that gleaning was all about the poor in history having a right to clear up the chaff after the
crops had been harvested……the bits of the harvest that reapers were happy to overlook because it was too much work for the meagre returns. Well I met a gentleman recently, in my village, who helped me to revise my thinking. With his chainsaw, he was in the process of cutting up a huge tree that had fallen across the main road, and the expression on my face seemed to elicit (unprovoked, I might say) a long and interesting explanation of what he was doing. Well, I could see what he was doing…..but he really wanted to explain why he was doing it.
The tree had been on the edge of a private garden, but had fallen across the public highway. Now had the tree fallen across the garden, it would have been a different story. But the highway, in medieval terms, was the ‘King’s Land’ (meaning, I suppose, that it had some kind of common ownership), and that anything that should fall onto this land could be claimed by members of the public.
So I told him about my habitual fruit foraging and apple-scrumping in the autumn, and asked him if I would be protected by this 1000 year old law. “Of course”, he said, “you have a perfect right to any fruit that hangs over or falls onto public land. Better still, though, why don’t you go throwing apple and pear cores along the verges and in 6-7 years time you can harvest fruits wherever you want!” Now there’s a thought………..