The History and Archaeology of Medieval England – Part One

In honour of our War of the Roses project, I (Emily) will be writing a series of short blogs about medieval archaeology to help get us in the Middle Ages mood!

Have you ever been travelling in a car or on a train and looked out of the window, or have been walking in the countryside, and noticed strange linear earthworks in the surrounding fields?

Like these?:

Image sourced from: http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1553659

Image sourced from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Plan_mediaeval_manor.jpg

Medieval open field system (note the different strips!)

Well what you are seeing are the remains of a medieval (and in some cases post-medieval) cultivation method that is called ‘Ridge and Furrow’ (or ‘Rig and Furrow’ depending on where you are in the country!). In Medieval England villages and towns were surrounded by large open fields that were farmed in strips, shared by farmers who had their own various numbers of strips.

These farmers would use ox-drawn ploughs to cultivate the land: the plough’s blade would cut the turf and push the soil against a wooden board, which turned the soil over and moved it to one side. As the oxen returned back down the field, after finishing the first cut, the process would happen again but with the new soil being turned over piling up against the first cut creating a ridge. The ridges created by ploughing were in essence self-draining seedbeds, whilst the furrows acted as open drains and served as markers between different farmers’ ridges.

Image sourced from: http://www.openairclassroom.org.uk/History/history%20hangleton%20detailed%20research/history-hangleton-farming%20and%20peasant%20economy.htm

Medieval ploughing

Many areas of once widespread ridge and furrow have been lost due to enclosure of land and demise of strips, urban development, and modern agriculture; but the archaeology of these features often still remains in the soil. Areas of these interesting earthworks can still be found all over Britain and vary in shape and size.

Image sourced from: http://www.yourlocalweb.co.uk/images/pictures/09/46/ridge-and-furrow-near-braithwaite-hall-92720.jpg

Image sourced from: http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/640050

Image sourced from: http://hhfs.org.uk/hhfs/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Hagley_Ridge_and_furrow_1024.jpg

I hope with this short blog, and its followers, you get the feeling that even in our busy, hi-tech modern world, our humble past is never that far away.

Emily 😀

References

Green, Ralph. 2011. Cotswold Ridge and Furrows. [online] Available at: <http://www.cotswolds.info/blogs/ridge-and-furrows.shtml> [Accessed 31/10/11]

Hall, David. 1998. Medieval fields in their many forms. [online] Available at: <http://www.britarch.ac.uk/ba/ba33/ba33feat.html> [Accessed 31/10/11]

Keys to the Past. 2011. Ridge and Furrow. [online] Available at: <http://www.keystothepast.info/durhamcc/k2p.nsf/k2pglossary?readform&glossary=Ridge+and+furrow> [Accessed 31/10/11]

(Rest cursor over images for their source reference)