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BAHS Spring Conference 2019 - Trip to Laxton Open Field System

The trip was led by Professor John Beckett who had primed us with a lecture on the previous evening on how the medieval system of farming strips in three open fields works in 21st-century England. Once we reached the village, Professor Beckett handed us over to one of the farming tenants who first gave us a talk in the Laxton Visitor Centre, where he explained how the open field system worked in the past, and works today, with the aid of the replica map.

He then took us out to one of the three fields, the one that is lying fallow this year and we walked up the side of his strip to the ridge, from where we could survey most of the Laxton field system (including the outlying areas which had been enclosed into individual farms because the strips there took so long to get to from the village), and a large heap of manure waiting to be spread over the land.

Back in the village, the large number of farmhouses, with yards and farm buildings gave a noticeably different feel from that of most English villages, where the farms are generally away from the centre, among their own fields. The visit was rounded off by tea and biscuits provided by the farmer and his wife.

You can click on these images to see the full-size image. [Photos by Henry French and Catherine Glover]
The replica Laxton map in the Laxton Visitor Centre (the original is in the Bodleian Library)Conference delegates in the Laxton Visitor Centre
The fallow open field can be seen beyond the grazing cattleLooking east, from the track, across the fallow strips. The first strip is more ‘weedy’ than the farther one
The muck heap at the top of the ridge, looking south towards enclosed fields in the distanceFarm buildings
Farm houseBarn
The satellite photo from Google Maps shows more clearly that this is an open field system with strips (rather than modern ‘prairie’ which it can resemble from the ground). The conference delegates walked from top to bottom (as it were), along the track (which we were told is about the width of a medieval strip; the modern strips are wider to facilitate the use of modern farming equipment). The manure heap can be seen just below the Y-junction of the tracks, in the bottom left-hand corner.