Each manor contains several large fields worked in an open field system, common hay meadows, common pasture land for grazing livestock, and woodland, either coppiced for firewood or left as high forest for timber or grazing pigs. There is also usually some fenced land: paddocks, gardens and orchards called closes.
Fields and meadows are divided into strips covering about half an acre each and assigned by lot so that no single farmer has all the good or bad land. There are typically three types of land in a manor:
- Demesne – land owned by the landholder and used for his or her own benefit (generally about a third of the land).
- Dependent holdings – land for the use of serfs for which the serf owed service in labor.
- Free Peasant land – for which service was not owed, but which is otherwise subject to manorial jurisdiction and a fixed rent, set at the time of the lease.
In the center of the manor is the village, containing cottages for the peasantry, a well, a village green for communal gatherings and perhaps a chapel. The manor house of the lord is most often set slightly apart from the village.
The manor house itself is almost always fortified to some extent. A stout stone hall or tower house set over an undercroft, surrounded by a stone wall with sturdy gates. Besides the manor house itself within the walls, there were several outbuildings: barns, stables, millhouse, bakery, buttery and servants quarters.
Often, a lord will own more than one manor in which case a steward is assigned to run the manor in the lord’s absence. Also, some manors are benefices, deeded to the Abbey or local temple.
Most peasants working the land of the gentry are serfs. About one in ten is a free peasant. However, lands owned by the Abbey or temple tend to be entirely farmed by free tenant farmers.