(March 1979) Ridge and furrow

The receding snow provides a good opportunity to observe the ridge and furrow pattern of a number of the fields in this area, for the snow remains longer in the furrow than on the ridge.

I had assumed, iron history lessons at school, that this washboard effect on the fields was evidence of ancient strip cultivation before enclosure. The open fields of the Anglo-Saxons were commonly divided into many long, narrow strips which were parcelled out to individuals to cultivate. The up-and-down ploughing of the strips with a certain type of plough threw the soil towards the centre producing a high ridge and this effect, incredibly, can still be seen in many areas today.

Two things puzzle me. In many fields the ridged strips appear too narrow and in too haphazard a pattern to have been conveniently cultivated. Further, in aerial photographs many of the strip patterns terminate at the present boundaries of the fields, suggesting that the effect appeared after enclosure.

A possible answer is that there are two distinct types of ridge and furrow, one a residue of the ancient strip cultivation, and the other of more recent agricultural methods. This conclusion is supported by Professor W. G. Hoskins in The Making of the English Landscape, but he suggests no cause of the more recent ridge and furrow. One popular explanation is that it is the result of drainage requirements. But, near Sibford, fields which are steeply sloping show the effect; they wouldn’t need superficial drainage so that answer doesn’t seen very likely.

One local farmer I consulted believed that fields were deliberately ploughed that way to increase the surface area, and thus, the yield. However, I suspect that this would involve a considerable amount of extra work for a rather marginal result.

So I am still puzzled. Does anyone know the answer?

Richard Austing