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From Domesday to the 17th Century

13th Century

By the 13th century, the two- or three-field system of agriculture was in common use and the method of ploughing has left indications in the landscape which in some cases can still be discerned today. The unit of cultivation was the strip, called a land, roughly 7 by 180 metres (8 by 200 yards or 0.13 hectares). The strips were ploughed in such a way that they earth was heaped up into a ridge of on average a foot high in the centre, with sloping sides which aided drainage. The movement of the plough caused a small amount of soil to be pushed in front of it, making a raised part at the end of the strip when the plough was turned round. Over the years with repeated ploughing these became a substantial feature of the lands and were called heads or butts. The line the plough took was not straight but had a slight reverse elongated 'S' curve in it. This was because the plough needed a team of six or eight oxen to pull it. They were yoked in pairs to the plough and took up a great deal of space. If each ridge and strip had been ploughed in a straight line, when the team turned at the end of the ridge, they would have trampled on adjoining strips and ridges. When the plough itself had reached the end of the strip the plough team would have been stretched across the adjoining strips and ridges. By ploughing in a slight 'S' shape half the plough team could start to plough by standing on the headland at right angles to the line they were going to follow. These elongated 'S' shapes, or sometimes shallow 'C' curves, can still be seen even if the ridge and furrow patterns have disappeared because when the land was enclosed in later centuries the hedge enclosing the field followed the line of the medieval ploughing.

People farmed strips in different parts of the parish so the poor and better land was distributed fairly and the strips were banded together to form furlongs, which when it referred to agricultural land was not so much a measurement of length, but of area. The furlong was the unit which determined the kind of use the land was put to: fallow, arable, legumes or grass. Each furlong had a name. Triangular shapes of land which occurred occasionally were called gores.

As well as strips of land to be cultivated each tenant had rights on the common land: to graze animals and cut hay from the common meadows. Most of the work would be jointly organised and carried out, though the animals and corn and hay would belong to the individual tenants.

The furlongs were grouped into two or three large fields and from his reading of original documents Clark suggests there were two fields at one time, the North field and the South field, but then later finds evidence that there may have been three.

An examination of the Cartularies of the Monastery of St Frideswide, which are now available on line show that in one particular charter, dated 1273 there is an agreement by Stephen le Dispenser to give 10 acres of his land in Elsfield to the monastery. Fortunately for us, the land is in very small parcels, mostly half an acre, and are spread about in the parish. He locates them by naming both the furlong and some of the people who own adjoining strips of land. Unfortunately, we do not know where those furlongs were, though we can make a guess at some of them.

Stephen describes his land as:

Half an acre lies against le Wedho
Half acre in Mesforlonge between the land of John atte Twychen and the land of William Coyn
Half an acre in the said forlonge next to the Porteweye
Half an acre in the furlong above in Northfelde which extends to Buryforlonge
1 rod higher in Northefelde
A furlonge near the Portehegge
1 rod in le Hangynde next to the land of John Phillips
Half an acre below Hangynde land next to the land of Robert the Wise
Half an acre which is called Forthshterre in Holdern forlonge next to the land of the said Robert the Wise
Half an acre in Mersforlonge in South field next to the land of William Coyn
Half an acre in the same furlong by Strauputtes next to the land of Roger Goderiche
Half an acre in Thornbreche next to the Greneweye which lies next to the land of Robert the Wise
Half an acre in the Hechjuge next to the land of Roger Godriche
Half an acre which extends in Hedenbrok next to the land of William Coyn
Half an acre Medlond below Haselyngrove
Half an acre above Vivarium ( warren or fishpool) in Eldindone next to the land of John Phillips
Half an acre in Okris next to the land of Roger Godriche
Half an acre in Thornebreche next to the land of William Finemore
Half an acre in Ferniforlonge next to the land of Robert the Wise
Half an acre in Northefelde in Thedede Clay next to the land of the said Robert Goderiche
Half an acre in Brocforlonge next to the land of William de Cimiterio

Stephen agrees to pay 8d at Michaelmas and Lady Day to the Monastery, presumably the income from the ten acres he has given.

Some of these names are completely unintelligible to the modern eye uneducated in Anglo-Saxon: le Wedho, Forshterre, Hechjuge, Okris, Thedede Clay. Others are identifiable from the 1703 map and even from the 2007 map of the Brown family who now farm the land. Le hangynde is the modern ‘Hangers’, Portway is the name of a field lying next to the road on the 1703 map, Portehegge implies this furlong is hedged and by the road, Grenewye may have been the road to Woodeaton, which would have been green in summer though swamped and soggy in winter. Thornbreche and Brocforlonge had been fairly recently taken from the forest, as ‘breche and ‘broc’ signify newly cultivated land. Mersforlonge, ‘marshy furlong’ must have been on low-lying land while Vivarium refers to a warren or fish pond. On the 1703 map there is a field called ‘Fishpool leys’ which lies next to what is now Lousy Mead, and was called Mereleys in 1921, with ‘mere’ meaning ‘pool’ in Anglo-Saxon. Where the Warren is we do not know but Haselyngrove and Buryforlonge imply the proximity of woodland, if ‘bury’ refers to berries, while Hedenbroke may well be the stream which delineates the boundary between Elsfield and Headington now called Bayswater Brook.

There are two geographical references: Northfield and Southfield and these must be the two fields cultivated in the twofield system, and George Clark does not say they were organised into a three field system until 1369. Generally there was a change from a two- to a three- field system during the 12th and 13th century because of the increase in population. Under the three-field system only a third of the land lay fallow while under the two-field system half the land was under cultivation while half was fallow.

There may be signs of this medieval system of cultivation on the present day OS map of Elsfield. The line of the footpath to the east of Forest Farm, for instance, has a distinct 'S' shape, as has the field boundary which continues the line of Pennywell Wood to the north-west. The field contiguous to the Elsfield boundary on Wadley Hill farm has a 'C' shaped curve while the northern edge of Woodeaton Wood again shows the elongated 'S' shape. However, to be absolutely sure that the curves are caused by medieval ploughing, ideally there would be two sides of a field with parallel 'S' curves and this is not the case.

In 1279, commissioners drew up the Hundred Rolls which reported that arable, meadow and pasture had greatly increased since Domesday. In Elsfield, in place of the seven villeins there were now eight, but the number of cottagers had increased to 24. Tenants paid money rent or worked the lord’s will from St John Baptist’s Day (24th June) to Michaelmas (29th September). Cottars paid a rent or worked according to the terms of their tenure. All of them had to give one quarter and five bushels of nuts at Michaelmas to the lord of the manor. Several had names which suggest occupations other than general farming: Henry the Smith, Richard the Woodward, Robert the Cooper, William the Miller, who was presumably living at the mill at Sescut. (Sescut means "cottages by the south elder tree", ‘cot’ usually referring to a humble dwelling, and records suggest that at this time Sescut was more or less cut off from the rest of Elsfield by marsh. The mill had been in existence in the 12th century and was pulled down about 1700 when a farmhouse was built in its place.)

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