Introduction | Exploring Medieval Village Territories | The Evolution of Post-medieval Village Territories | The Creation of Village Territories | The Development of Medieval Village Territories | Late Medieval Village Territories | Conclusions

5.2.3 The development of the arable zone

By 1100 all the villagescapes of Whittlewood contained open fields. These were not extensive, but were well developed. A combination of factors appears to have combined to encourage farmers to return to manuring with household waste during the first half of the 12th century. This can be seen as a response to diminishing soil fertility brought on by intensive and continuous cultivation, despite the regular fallowing and fallow grazing. This situation was made more acute by rising populations and their subsistence needs. Rising taxes and rents further demanded increased output. More crops were to be marketed, both to raise money for rents and to allow peasants to buy goods and services. By the middle of the 13th century, heavy loads of domestic refuse were being applied across the arable zone. The acreage under the plough was also increased, as further furlongs were added beyond the old core at the expense of pasture and woodland. This extension of the arable zone can be traced with accuracy through the pottery record within a number of Whittlewood's villagescapes, notably in Leckhampstead and Lillingstone Dayrell.

In a parallel movement, other parts of the village territory were cleared and cultivated, although these remained outside the open field system. Some woods were preserved and many were exploited by cropping the young trees intensively under a system of coppicing. Documentary references to assarts reveal that these might range in size from a few roods, such as those at Puxley in Passenham, tens of acres as represented by those which eventually were taken into the monastic grange estate of Monksbarn in Whittlebury (Jones 2002), or up to several hundred acres in the case of Stockholt in Akeley. Most appear to have been undertaken by private enterprise and were thereafter farmed in severalty and used for the cultivation of a variety of crops.

5.2.4 Parallels

The middle ages saw radical changes to the way that the arable zone was organised and managed. The introduction of open field farming was one of the most fundamental of all the changes to the villagescape. Much remains to be understood about the moment or longer process of transition from ring-fence farms to fields worked in common and how this was achieved. Whether the idea was welcomed by communities at large and enacted through consensus, or whether it was initially opposed and then finally imposed cannot be known. But there are sufficient grounds to suggest that the open fields of different villages might have originated from different stimuli and have developed at different times, and were almost certainly effected by different means. Individually the transition may have been swiftly achieved, but the transformation of the whole landscape may have taken as much as a couple of centuries. As such this chronology, its pace and its rhythm, resonates with that followed during the later enclosure of these fields, offering the possibility that a close analogy can be drawn between the two.


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Last updated: Mon Sep 4 2006