Open field system
Overview
 
The open field system was the prevalent agricultural system in much of Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

 from the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

 to as recently as the 20th century in some places, particularly Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

 and Iran
Iran
Iran , officially the Islamic Republic of Iran , is a country in Southern and Western Asia. The name "Iran" has been in use natively since the Sassanian era and came into use internationally in 1935, before which the country was known to the Western world as Persia...

. Under this system, each manor
Manor
-Land tenure:*Manor, an estate in land of the mediaeval era in England*Manorialism, a system of land tenure and organization of the rural economy and society in parts of medieval Europe based on the manor*Manor house, the principal house of a manor...

 or village had several very large fields, farmed in strips by individual families. From the 12th century onwards open fields were gradually replaced by private fields through various reforms in agricultural technology and local government.
Open fields appear to have developed in the medieval period, and were particularly well suited to the very heavy plough
Plough
The plough or plow is a tool used in farming for initial cultivation of soil in preparation for sowing seed or planting. It has been a basic instrument for most of recorded history, and represents one of the major advances in agriculture...

s that were used to cut through the heavy clay soils common in north-western Europe.
Encyclopedia
The open field system was the prevalent agricultural system in much of Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

 from the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

 to as recently as the 20th century in some places, particularly Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

 and Iran
Iran
Iran , officially the Islamic Republic of Iran , is a country in Southern and Western Asia. The name "Iran" has been in use natively since the Sassanian era and came into use internationally in 1935, before which the country was known to the Western world as Persia...

. Under this system, each manor
Manor
-Land tenure:*Manor, an estate in land of the mediaeval era in England*Manorialism, a system of land tenure and organization of the rural economy and society in parts of medieval Europe based on the manor*Manor house, the principal house of a manor...

 or village had several very large fields, farmed in strips by individual families. From the 12th century onwards open fields were gradually replaced by private fields through various reforms in agricultural technology and local government.

History

Open fields appear to have developed in the medieval period, and were particularly well suited to the very heavy plough
Plough
The plough or plow is a tool used in farming for initial cultivation of soil in preparation for sowing seed or planting. It has been a basic instrument for most of recorded history, and represents one of the major advances in agriculture...

s that were used to cut through the heavy clay soils common in north-western Europe. The ox
Ox
An ox , also known as a bullock in Australia, New Zealand and India, is a bovine trained as a draft animal. Oxen are commonly castrated adult male cattle; castration makes the animals more tractable...

 teams which pulled the ploughs were very expensive, and thus tended to be shared among the families of a village. This form of settlement is sometimes referred to as champion land.

Each village would be surrounded by several large open fields, usually not physically divided from each other, with each field containing a different crop as part of a three-field crop rotation. The fields would be split into sections a furlong
Furlong
A furlong is a measure of distance in imperial units and U.S. customary units equal to one-eighth of a mile, equivalent to 220 yards, 660 feet, 40 rods, or 10 chains. The exact value of the furlong varies slightly among English-speaking countries....

 (220 yards, about 200 metres) wide, each of which would be subdivided cross-wise into strips covering an area of half an acre
Acre
The acre is a unit of area in a number of different systems, including the imperial and U.S. customary systems. The most commonly used acres today are the international acre and, in the United States, the survey acre. The most common use of the acre is to measure tracts of land.The acre is related...

 (about 0.2 hectares) or less. Under their commoner's rights, each villager was allocated a set number of strips in each field (traditionally about thirty) which they would subsistence
Subsistence agriculture
Subsistence agriculture is self-sufficiency farming in which the farmers focus on growing enough food to feed their families. The typical subsistence farm has a range of crops and animals needed by the family to eat and clothe themselves during the year. Planting decisions are made with an eye...

-farm. The strips were generally allocated by lot
Sortition
In politics, sortition is the selection of decision makers by lottery. The decision-makers are chosen as a random sample from a larger pool of candidates....

 in a public meeting at the start of the year. The individual holdings were widely scattered, so that no single farmer would end up with all the good or bad land. The land was usually managed using ridge and furrow
Ridge and furrow
Ridge and furrow is an archaeological pattern of ridges and troughs created by a system of ploughing used in Europe during the Middle Ages. The earliest examples date to the immediate post-Roman period and the system was used until the 17th century in some areas. Ridge and furrow topography is...

 cultivation.

In addition to the three fields, there would be large common meadow
Meadow
A meadow is a field vegetated primarily by grass and other non-woody plants . The term is from Old English mædwe. In agriculture a meadow is grassland which is not grazed by domestic livestock but rather allowed to grow unchecked in order to make hay...

s (allocated in strips in a similar way), common pasture land or waste where the villagers would graze their livestock
Livestock
Livestock refers to one or more domesticated animals raised in an agricultural setting to produce commodities such as food, fiber and labor. The term "livestock" as used in this article does not include poultry or farmed fish; however the inclusion of these, especially poultry, within the meaning...

 throughout the year, woodland
Woodland
Ecologically, a woodland is a low-density forest forming open habitats with plenty of sunlight and limited shade. Woodlands may support an understory of shrubs and herbaceous plants including grasses. Woodland may form a transition to shrubland under drier conditions or during early stages of...

 for the pig
Domestic pig
The domestic pig is a domesticated animal that traces its ancestry to the wild boar, and is considered a subspecies of the wild boar or a distinct species in its own right. It is likely the wild boar was domesticated as early as 13,000 BC in the Tigris River basin...

s and for timber, and a communal village green
Village green
A village green is a common open area which is a part of a settlement. Traditionally, such an area was often common grass land at the centre of a small agricultural settlement, used for grazing and sometimes for community events...

 for social events. There was also some private fenced land (paddocks, orchards and gardens), called closes, and often also a park
Medieval deer park
A medieval deer park was an enclosed area containing deer. It was bounded by a ditch and bank with a wooden park pale on top of the bank. The ditch was typically on the inside, thus allowing deer to enter the park but preventing them from leaving.-History:...

 for the use of the owner of the manor for hunting. The ploughed fields and the meadows were also used for livestock grazing outside the growing season.

As populations increased, the land available for each family diminished as more strips were required. From the late Middle Ages onwards, a gradual movement towards consolidation took place as small plots were amalgamated into fewer but larger holdings, with a corresponding increase in the power of the landowners.

England

Contrary to popular belief, not all areas of England had open-field farming in the medieval period. Parts of south-east England, notably parts of Essex
Essex
Essex is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan county in the East region of England, and one of the home counties. It is located to the northeast of Greater London. It borders with Cambridgeshire and Suffolk to the north, Hertfordshire to the west, Kent to the South and London to the south west...

 and Kent
Kent
Kent is a county in southeast England, and is one of the home counties. It borders East Sussex, Surrey and Greater London and has a defined boundary with Essex in the middle of the Thames Estuary. The ceremonial county boundaries of Kent include the shire county of Kent and the unitary borough of...

 retained a pre-Roman
Roman Britain
Roman Britain was the part of the island of Great Britain controlled by the Roman Empire from AD 43 until ca. AD 410.The Romans referred to the imperial province as Britannia, which eventually comprised all of the island of Great Britain south of the fluid frontier with Caledonia...

 system of farming in small, square, enclosed fields. In much of west and north-west England, fields were similarly either never open, or enclosed earlier. The primary area of open field management was in the lowland areas of England in a broad swath from Yorkshire
Yorkshire
Yorkshire is a historic county of northern England and the largest in the United Kingdom. Because of its great size in comparison to other English counties, functions have been increasingly undertaken over time by its subdivisions, which have also been subject to periodic reform...

 and Lincolnshire
Lincolnshire
Lincolnshire is a county in the east of England. It borders Norfolk to the south east, Cambridgeshire to the south, Rutland to the south west, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire to the west, South Yorkshire to the north west, and the East Riding of Yorkshire to the north. It also borders...

 diagonally across England to the south, taking in parts of Norfolk
Norfolk
Norfolk is a low-lying county in the East of England. It has borders with Lincolnshire to the west, Cambridgeshire to the west and southwest and Suffolk to the south. Its northern and eastern boundaries are the North Sea coast and to the north-west the county is bordered by The Wash. The county...

 and Suffolk
Suffolk
Suffolk is a non-metropolitan county of historic origin in East Anglia, England. It has borders with Norfolk to the north, Cambridgeshire to the west and Essex to the south. The North Sea lies to the east...

, Cambridgeshire
Cambridgeshire
Cambridgeshire is a county in England, bordering Lincolnshire to the north, Norfolk to the northeast, Suffolk to the east, Essex and Hertfordshire to the south, and Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire to the west...

, large areas of the Midlands
English Midlands
The Midlands, or the English Midlands, is the traditional name for the area comprising central England that broadly corresponds to the early medieval Kingdom of Mercia. It borders Southern England, Northern England, East Anglia and Wales. Its largest city is Birmingham, and it was an important...

, and most of south central England. This area was some of the most populous and profitable; it was also the main grain-growing region (as opposed to pastoral
Pastoral
The adjective pastoral refers to the lifestyle of pastoralists, such as shepherds herding livestock around open areas of land according to seasons and the changing availability of water and pasturage. It also refers to a genre in literature, art or music that depicts such shepherd life in an...

 farming).

From as early as the 12th century, some open fields in Britain were being enclosed into individually owned fields. In Great Britain
Great Britain
Great Britain or Britain is an island situated to the northwest of Continental Europe. It is the ninth largest island in the world, and the largest European island, as well as the largest of the British Isles...

, the process sped up during the 15th and 16th centuries as sheep farming grew more profitable. In the 16th and early 17th centuries, the practice of enclosure (particularly depopulating enclosure) was denounced by the Church
Church of England
The Church of England is the officially established Christian church in England and the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The church considers itself within the tradition of Western Christianity and dates its formal establishment principally to the mission to England by St...

 and the government, and legislation was drawn up against it. However, the tide of elite opinion began to turn towards support for enclosure, and the rate of enclosure increased in the seventeenth century. This led to a series of government acts
Inclosure Act
The Inclosure or Enclosure Acts were a series of United Kingdom Acts of Parliament which enclosed open fields and common land in the country. They removed previously existing rights of local people to carry out activities in these areas, such as cultivation, cutting hay, grazing animals or using...

 addressing individual regions, which were given a common framework in the Inclosure Consolidation Act of 1801.

Throughout the 19th century, the developments in Britain were exported across the world, and the various contributions made upon the working population by war
War
War is a state of organized, armed, and often prolonged conflict carried on between states, nations, or other parties typified by extreme aggression, social disruption, and usually high mortality. War should be understood as an actual, intentional and widespread armed conflict between political...

fare and increased mechanization
Mechanization
Mechanization or mechanisation is providing human operators with machinery that assists them with the muscular requirements of work or displaces muscular work. In some fields, mechanization includes the use of hand tools...

 finally finished the open field system off. However, to this day there is still more communally managed open agricultural land in Continental Europe than in England.

Russia

The open field system, administered by the mir (the community of the peasants) remained as the main system of peasant land ownership in Russia until the Stolypin reform
Stolypin reform
The Stolypin agrarian reforms were a series of changes to Imperial Russia's agricultural sector instituted during the tenure of Pyotr Stolypin, Chairman of the Council of Ministers...

 process that started in 1905.

Surviving open fields

One place in England where the open field system continues to be used is the village of Laxton
Laxton, Nottinghamshire
Laxton is a small village in the civil parish of Laxton and Moorhouse in the English county of Nottinghamshire, situated about 25 miles northeast of Nottingham city centre....

 in Nottinghamshire
Nottinghamshire
Nottinghamshire is a county in the East Midlands of England, bordering South Yorkshire to the north-west, Lincolnshire to the east, Leicestershire to the south, and Derbyshire to the west...

. It is thought that its anomalous survival is due to the inability of two early 19th century landowners to agree on how the land was to be enclosed, thus resulting in the perpetuation of the existing system.

The only other surviving medieval open strip field system in England is located in Braunton
Braunton
Braunton is situated west of Barnstaple, Devon, England and is claimed to be the largest village in England, with a population in 2001 of 7,510. It is home to the nearby Braunton Great Field and Braunton Burrows, a National Nature and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve....

, North Devon. It is still farmed with due regard to its ancient origins and is conserved by those who recognise its importance although the number of owners has fallen dramatically throughout the years and this has resulted in the amalgamation of some of the strips.

There is also a surviving medieval open strip field system in Wales in the township of Laugharne, which is also the last town in the UK with an intact medieval charter.

Vestiges of an open field system also persist in the Isle of Axholme
Isle of Axholme
The Isle of Axholme is part of North Lincolnshire, England. It is the only part of Lincolnshire west of the River Trent. It is between the three towns of Doncaster, Scunthorpe and Gainsborough.- Description:...

, North Lincolnshire
North Lincolnshire
North Lincolnshire is a unitary authority area in the region of Yorkshire and the Humber in England. For ceremonial purposes it is part of Lincolnshire....

, around the villages of Haxey
Haxey
Haxey is a village and civil parish within North Lincolnshire, England. It is situated to the northwest of the city of Lincoln and in 2001 had a total resident population of 4,359....

, Epworth and Belton
Belton, North Lincolnshire
Belton is a village and civil parish in the Isle of Axholme area of North Lincolnshire, England, that lies on the A161 road six miles east from Scunthorpe. To the north of Belton is the town of Crowle; to the south, the village of Epworth....

, where long strips, of an average size of half an acre
Acre
The acre is a unit of area in a number of different systems, including the imperial and U.S. customary systems. The most commonly used acres today are the international acre and, in the United States, the survey acre. The most common use of the acre is to measure tracts of land.The acre is related...

, curve to follow the gently sloping ground and are used for growing vegetables or cereal crops. The boundaries are mostly unmarked, although where several strips have been amalgamated a deep furrow is sometimes used to divide them. The ancient village game of Haxey Hood
Haxey Hood
The Haxey Hood is a traditional event in at the village of Haxey in North Lincolnshire, England, on the afternoon of 6 January, the Twelfth Day of Christmas ....

 is played in this open landscape.

Allotment gardens

A similar system to open fields survives in the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

as allotment gardens. In many towns and cities there are areas of land of one or two acres (up to about one hectare) interspersed between the buildings. These areas are usually owned by local authorities, or by allotment associations. Small patches of the land are allocated at a low rent to local individuals or families for growing food.

Further reading

  • Oliver Rackham, The History of the Countryside (1986). (On Britain, primarily England)
  • Sumner Chilton Powell, Puritan Village (1963). (On the expansion of the Open field system into the New World)

External links

  • http://travel.guardian.co.uk/activities/walking/story/0,7447,414838,00.html
  • http://mahan.wonkwang.ac.kr/link/med/economy/agricul/laxsurv.html
The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.
 
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