Ridge and furrow that grand remnant of medieval farming appear like ripples in the fields surrounding our villages and town. Tamworth is no exception and in this post I’ll be looking at ridge and furrow I’ve noticed to the north of Tamworth.
A quick explanation of ridge and furrow: Ridge and furrow is the result of ploughing by teams of oxen with non-reversible ploughs. In the middle ages families owned strips of land dotted throughout large common fields, so the ploughing location didn’t change much over the years . So over the years the ploughing motion built up earth in the centre of their strip and left a dip between each ridge. This technique offered the advantage of better drained soils. For more information on them take a look here and here.
These techniques pretty much ended when enclosure and modern farming techniques came along, this changed everything in the countryside and through it’s knock on effects, displaced peasants, richer single landowners changed pretty much everything else in the world through it’s speeding up of the industrial revolution. This meant though that evidence of ridge and furrow patterns have only survived where modern ploughing hasn’t continued. So that’s fields that have been kept for pasture as grasslands and areas like country estate gardens.
The results are ondulating green fields. The effect is mesmerising and the appearance of the ridges and furrows changes with the light throughout the day. Apparenty the best time of day is sunrise, haven’t managed to take photos at this time yet another one for the list. In one way they can be seen as monuments to the toil and lifestyle of those medieval peasants. Just as grand in their way as castles and cathedrals and satisfying that basic need, to eat! Unlike great stone age earthworks they were built over slowly and gradually over hundreds of years. Something pretty special about all that daily struggle for survival preserved as gently ripples in a field.
I’m lucky that I’ve been able to see a field system and even landscapes which in some ways bear resemblance with medieval central England. My father comes from the frontier lands between Portugal and Spain in northern Spain in a region called Galicia. It’s far away from the typical Spain image as possible, it’s a land of green rolling hills, chestnut forests and bagpipes. Until recently(a couple of decades) it had a vibrant peasant culture in the countryside. Villages separated by hundreds of metres dot the hills, they were largely self sufficient and surrounding the villages are fields strips reminiscent of the old ridge and furrow system which operated around Tamworth. People still have in their possession small strips of land sometimes tiny in size. Each of your plots are sprinkled throughout the area. One by the stream, one on a hillside, a chestnut grove here and another on the other side of the village, this was I believe it was similar to pre enclosure England.
I’m not saying that recent peasant Galicia is the same as life in the countryside around Tamworth 500 years ago. Each region is different, it’s own history and culture, don’t want to go down that road of ”like England but 30 years ago” way of thinking. Were in 2011 together! It does help though in seeing what a peasant countryside looks like and how it works,one without affluent landowners and commuter villages. Maybe a better way of thinking about it would be idea of how rural England would have been today if enclosure and industrial revolution hadn’t have happened or had happened differently.
Below I’ve marked on a google map image evidence for ridge and furrow together with documentary and archaeological evidence for medieval villages. It’s not complete and is just to give an idea of the amount of villages in the landscape surrounding Tamworth. It was in effect a world of villages, After all towns were not much more than large villages themselves. Forgot to mention that ridge and furrow is a good pointer that there was a village thereabouts. Some of those villages continued such as Wigginton while others such as Syerscote became single farms and country estates. What happened to the dissappeared villages? Well enclosure and concentrating the land and profits into single farms must have a been big reason. Also similar to this was landowners using the land for the more profitable sheep grazing and chucking the peasants off the land. This appears to have started back in the 16th century. Also there’s the simple fact that with mechanization farming just doesn’t need that many people working on the fields. The result is a far more lonely but could be argued more profitable landscape.
1. Ridge and furrow and some interesting earthworks including hollow ways(click on google freezeframe image below) on the northern edge of modern Wigginton village, supports the idea that the village has been displaced to the south(from Staffordshire HER).
Just to the east of Wigginton village are extensive ridge and furrow patterns. You can even make out the individual field boundaries(pastscape).
A photo of the ridge and furrow taken on a walk through these fields along a public footpath. Contender for the best preserved ridge and furrow I’ve seen around Tamworth.
2. Ridge and Furrow around modern day Syerscote farm. According to Pastscape scape entry you can also make out house platforms, together with the fields is evidence for a dissappeared medieval settlement, consisted of 5 houses and was deserted between 1334 -1524(Staffordshire HER).
3. In the land surrounding Amington hall, this field report states that an aerial photograph turned up evidence for a medieval village, together with the telltale sign of a medieval fishpond. According to HER Staffordshire could be site of village known in Domesday book as ‘Ermendone’. Nowadays there’s a later Victorian fishpond just to the right. Can’t make out any ridge and furrow from the ground but the landscape is pretty special around here, with it’s stately ancient oaks, Old 16th/18th century Amington hall and the bends of the river Anker.
4. Statfold. Walking on further up from Syerscote, are the impressive ridge and furrow systems surrounding modern day Statfold farm. There is documentary evidence here for a medieval village and there were still houses and community around the house until living memory. (from a conversation with the owner of the house, more on that in next photo)
Just tried to save the rest of post and lost it, bahh. Understandably think I’ll leave it for later!
All Saints Church
5. Wigginton park
Fill in links and sources later, goes off muttering under breath and banging the keyboard..