1) In the manorial system, services owed by the tenants to the lord of the manor.
The word ‘boon’ is of Norse origin and has an interesting semantic history. It formerly meant ‘prayer’, but very quickly came to be associated with the granting of the prayer, and by extension acquired the meaning of ‘favour’. The thing asked for eventually became the thing freely given. It retained something of this sense in the manorial system, where ‘boons’ were services, owed by tenants to the lord of the manor. In fact these services were actually obligations, a condition of their tenure of the land, and they could take the form of unpaid labour, carriage or ‘gifts’. In a sense they were part and parcel of the manor, and therefore transferable. In 1595, when Thomas Crompton leased Friarhead in Flasby to James Best, the agreement included certain rents and all the bounes belonging to the messuage. Because most of the early documents that relate to the manor were in Latin, the first English references to ‘boons’ are comparatively late, certainly much later than the origins of the custom. However, from the mid-1400s the word occurs quite frequently, mostly in connection with labour on the land, either in the preparation of the soil or the harvesting of the crops: 1442 sekilbones, ploghbones, Fixby
1532 bownes with sythe and sekyll and rayke, Aldfield. Less usual were those which had to do with woodland clearance and carriage: 1537 stubbyng bowne, or 2d rent, Wibsey
1499 bownes … such as carienge of wodde and heye, Marsden. In a rare agreement in 1592 the tenant of land at Hackness accepted responsibility for the preservation of the deer and the carriage each year of two boane loades of timber from the woods in the lordship.Such services were usually measured in days, and ‘boon days’ is a common term in sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century documents: 1592 duos precarios vocatos boinne dayes, Dewsbury
1595 one boyne day mowinge and one boyne daie shearinge, Blubberhouses. In Settrington in 1599-1600 a survey of the manor listed the underwood of eight ‘haggs’ under the heading Le Bonedayes of the manor. In a set of accounts for work carried out on the quay in Bridlington in 1544, two entries suggest that repairs were done as ‘boons’ and that food supplied to the workmen was obtained at special rates, that is at the boune day price. On that occasion, the fare consisted of 3 kyderkyns of bere and 3 dussen of men bread. Other services were apparently paid in kind, more like tithes, e.g. 1574 henne boynes, Shepley
1582 boyne hens, East Morton. The strange thing is that such services could at some stage be divided, perhaps a reflection on the history of the tenure of the land in question. So, in 1571, we find the tenant of Brockholes in Thurstonland responsible for two sekel boynes and towe partes of two hennes and two capones. Amongst the papers at Woolley Hall, with a date of 1680, is A Rentall of Henns and Capons ... due at Easter, with details of Boon draughts for plowing ... Leading of Lyme yearly ... Harrowing and Shearing .Eventually tenants began to find these obligations irksome, and disruptive of their own farming practices. One way round the problem was to replace the boons with money payments, and that practice may have been in operation from a very early date: 1280 the foresters of the Earl … had not puture, corn in autumn, bonepeny or anything else from the tenants, Kirkby Overblow. The alternatives are clearly expressed in a North Bierley deed of 1537, in which the tenant had the option of providing the lord with one half ploghebone or 3d rent, and one half seculebone or 1d rent and the changing situation is explicit also in the accounts of Richard Cholmeley who held the manor of Brandsby: in 1602 he wrote the tenants do geve me bone dayes in hey time, whereas in 1614 he noted a payment of 6d from a woman called Cecile Addyson in lew of her boone day. In more recent times, when the landlord might also be a mine-owner, the services could be in work performed at a colliery, not on the land, as at Tong in 1761, where there is mention of leading wood to pitt Boon work . Entries such as Hall a boone and bonners to Hall in Farnley, in 1711-2, may refer to coal supplied by colliers to the hall as part of their right to work a pit. Some Skipton leases granted by the Cliffords in 1604 required the tenant to convey a sack of coal from Colne to Skipton Castle, a distance of twelve miles. There is evidence of similar ‘booning’ practices in Colsterdale, Silsden, Methley and Whitley. At Woolley Hall a rental of 1680 recorded Boon Draughts for Leading of Lyme. No doubt the changes were different from one manor to another and it is difficult to generalise about the decline of traditional boon days and boon payments, but the word was occuring much less commonly by the middle of the seventeenth century. One late usage, in 1754, appears to reflect the changes that had taken place and a return in meaning to the idea that a boon was a favour. On this occasion the inhabitants of Almondbury township were involved in a dispute about the repair of a lane that crossed into the neighbouring territory. They maintained that the lane did not have highway status but was merely a by-way and, therefore, they had no obligation to repair it. They acknowledged that they had carried out some repairs, but only as booners. Now, of course, a boon is a benefit or advantage that we enjoy freely, perhaps unexpectedly.