Hello there, we’re back again with another post about looking at the archaeology and history we can see here in our parish of King Sterndale. The last post looked at roads, and how we can begin to tell their story and date them. Today we’ll look at fields. Now, we are a small rural parish, so of course we have lots of fields here. You on the other hand, may not have fields where you are, but hopefully you’ll be able to look around you the next time you are out in the countryside and consider what the fields can tell you.
Before looking at ‘Enclosure’ in our next post, it is worth giving a thought to the history of ‘fields’. We have had fields since at least the Bronze Age, and there are many examples of Neolithic fields in the British Isles. Some of the best documented are those at Ceide Fields in Ireland which date to the 4th millenium BC. Fields have always been associated with farming, and arable farming in particular. Almost a thousand years ago, Domesday recorded fields and with such a long history, fields, their boundaries and our understanding of them has changed through time.
The countryside of Britain is not uniform in its appearance with its moors, woodland, fenland and more. Landscape historians the terms ‘ancient’ and ‘planned’ countryside to help distinguish what we see around us. An ‘ancient’ countryside is said to feature smaller hamlets or villages, hollow-ways, many small woods, older isolated farms, mixed species hedges which are not straight, many small roads and footpaths, pollard trees and ancient monuments such as burial mounds. ‘Planned’ countryside on the other hand includes villages, later (18th & 19th cent) isolated farms, straighter hedges and usually a single species such as Hawthorn. There are fewer roads and footpaths, woods and ancient monuments.
Historic Environment Record – follow the link to read more on them. There are documentary records of villagers dating to the early 13th century and in all likelihood they would have relied on farming for their subsistence. So the presence of older fields is not of course unusual and in common with many other parishes, King Sterndale has presented us with a mixed picture – some ‘ancient’ and some ‘planned’ elements.
In keeping with these other parishes the fields of King Sterndale have not been fully investigated yet.
If you are interested in reading more about fields and hedgerows we recommend these:
Christopher Taylor’s ‘Fields in the English landscape‘
Gerry Barnes & Tom Williamson’s ‘Hedgerow History‘
Sarah Tarlow’s ‘The Archaeology of Improvement in Britain 1750-1850’
Oliver Rackham’s ‘The History of the British Countryside‘
Tom Williamson’s ‘The Transformation of Rural England’