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:

Image sourced from:

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:

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:

Image sourced from:

Image sourced from:

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 😀


Green, Ralph. 2011. Cotswold Ridge and Furrows. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 31/10/11]

Hall, David. 1998. Medieval fields in their many forms. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 31/10/11]

Keys to the Past. 2011. Ridge and Furrow. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 31/10/11]

(Rest cursor over images for their source reference)


9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. ohyoucoconutyou
    Oct 31, 2011 @ 09:12:57

    Well done Emily! Why thank you Emily 😛


  2. neil
    Oct 31, 2011 @ 09:13:28

    more skulls! more skulls!
    incidentally, what’s your take on the whole was-Shakespeare-really-Marlowe kerfuffle?


  3. elysiumtheatrecompany
    Oct 31, 2011 @ 11:27:31

    Cool question; there is so much to say on this subject! – sorry in advance for the long post lol 🙂 The main reason that people give as evidence for Shakespeare the genius-writer not actually being Will Shakespeare from Stratford-Upon-Avon is that someone of such humble origins could not possibly have written about foreign lands, kings and queens, courtly life etc as he lacked the necessary experience and education. Marlowe, on the other hand, did have a university education. People suggest that he faked his death to escape the tricky situation he was in (having been interrogated for heresy)! Then there are the other popular candidates: Francis Bacon and Edward de Vere – Baconians and Oxfordians suggest they needed a cover name for their largely politically motivated plays because of their social status – Bacon wanted to hold a high office and de Vere was earl of Oxford etc – and being associated with the stage and with controversial material would not be a good idea.
    But – there is such a lot of evidence that Shakespeare was Shakespeare. Anyone with a grammar school education at that time (which he had) would be much more widely read than a typical young person today and his plays are full of phrases from grammar school texts. His plays are also full of references which only a country lad would know and full of Warwickshire spellings. Events in his life (like the death of his son, Hamnet) seem to influence elements of his plays, and most of his sources are traceable…. Also, there is the more obvious stuff – his name is on all the plays, the editors of the first folio of his plays (Condell and Heminges) knew him personally as a friend and colleague, and there is no evidence of anyone questioning his identity at the time.
    Although Marlowe and Shakespeare do have a lot of stylistic similarities in their work, Marlowe was the greatest playwright at that time and Shakespeare undoubtedly, as a young upcoming playwright, would be influenced by his genius. And there is great deal of evidence that Marlowe did die in the tavern brawl in 1593.So… It’s Shakey all the way for me!! 🙂


  4. neil
    Oct 31, 2011 @ 19:45:58

    it’s all hype for a pretty rubbish film, as far as i can make out! i think it’s all down to snobbery, really; i just read the article on ceefax about it, and the attitude seems to be that no common brummie could possibly be clever enough! i half-remember an interview with some old codger (Alan Bennet? David Starkey?) who was scathing of the anti-Shakespeare theory, he said something along the lines of ‘but it’s always the bright grammar-school boys made good who write and produce art; toffs are just lazy and useless!’
    the only real contender as ‘the real Shakespeare’ would, i think, be Marlowe. there are murky questions about his death, but then again, if Walsingham had wanted him Disappeared, there wouldn’t have been any ambiguity about it; the shabby brawl after a day of longing and drinking has a squalid authenticity to it…
    and if Marlowe was Shakespeare, he would have had to set up the false identity some time before in readiness; it’s possible, but he would have then had to spend the rest of his life somehow managing to bump into any of his old theatrical acquaintances, which i don’t think is really likely!
    (although it would make a pretty good film: The Marlowe Identity, with Matt Damon and Jason Statham as Shakespeare and Marlowe, two fast-talking Elizabethan cops who break all the rules to get their man…with Patrick Stewart as spymaster ‘Professor W’ and Vin Diesel as Elizabeth the first… i think i may pitch the idea to Tom Stoppard, the next time i bump into him…)
    Nah, an interesting idea and sort-of plausible as a conspiracy, but i’m with you on this one; all the works attibuted to Shakespeare were secretly written by….William Shakespeare!


  5. neil
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 13:27:02

    somehow NOT managing to bump into his old theatrical acquantances…


  6. elysiumtheatrecompany
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 16:45:26

    Haha! “The Marlowe Identity” – I’d go and see that! 😀 lol Tom Stoppard would be mad to say no! 😉

    Yeah – Marlowe would have to be incredibly sneaky, and have some amazing foresight to have set up another identity ready and waiting, and not get caught for years and years… Also, this is pure conjecture but somehow he doesn’t really seem the type to sit in some secret hidey hole writing away while another man gets the fame/glory!

    I kind of want to see the film about de Vere… mainly because I’d have to see it to believe that it is as ridiculous as articles such as this one suggest! –

    ~ Ellie


  7. neil
    Nov 05, 2011 @ 19:15:17

    by the way, forgot to say “good article!” to Ems! clear and concise. when’s the book out, you could be the next Francis Pryor!


  8. neil
    Nov 16, 2011 @ 19:39:46


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