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on the other hand, with his two oxen would have been grouped with three other villagers, in a like position to his own, in the sequence 1 of the strips. It is more probable, therefore, that the system of strip-holding originated in the desire to secure equality 2. The arable land of a village was not everywhere uniform in quality, and one part differed much from another in fertility and advantage of situation. It was possible for the value of the soil to vary greatly within a very narrow compass 3, while the distance of the remoter fields from the village was often considerable. At Naseby, for example, “the farm-houses and barns" were “all in the village which is two miles away from a great part of the field "4. Hence it was necessary to avoid continuous tracts of property in parcelling out the village lands among the members of the village community. Inconvenient though the system of strip-holding proved to be, it had its roots in the primitive instincts and fundamental principles of mediaeval rural life, the equality of the share-holders in the common fields. Intermixed ownership was devised in the interests of the community as a whole; it sacrificed the individual, but in its origin it was intended to promote fairness in the distribution of each man's property. Every one was given a share alike of soil that was good and bad, and soil that was near and far. The method of allotment sprang from the determination that no one should benefit at his neighbour's expense, and the tenacity with which the open field system continued to survive for centuries, in spite of defects that were incontestable, can only be explained on the ground that it was the product of forces as old as the village community itself. At a later period these forces were also at work in the New World, and they are said to account for "the original distributions of land in the older New England towns " 5.

At first the strips were allotted afresh every year. The

1 Vinogradoff, Villainage, 253-254.

2 Ibid. 234 et passim; Andrews, Old English Manor, 162.

3 The value of one acre could be eight times that of another in the same field: Maitland, Domesday Book and Beyond, 380.

E. C. K. Gonner, Common Land and Inclosure (1912), 309.

5 Andrews, Old English Manor, 162.

'Ideal' and 'real'

right of a cultivator was not to retain his strips in permanent ownership. ownership, but to be assigned a portion in the annual redivision. Thus while occupation in severalty existed1, this occupation was 'shifting', and there was accordingly a constant interchange of holdings. But when intensive succeeded extensive methods of cultivation, the practice of periodical redistribution must very soon have come to an end, and each individual was then allowed to keep his portion and hand it on unchanged to his sons. His interest in the soil ceased to be 'ideal', and developed into a 'real' and lasting ownership of his own particular strips 2.

Joint husbandry.

The intermixture of strips was due to the presence of a strong element of communalism in the mediaeval village, in which the principle of private ownership of land received ample recognition, but the free play of individual enterprise and initiative was obstructed. This communalist side of village life found further expression in the system of joint husbandry. Mediaeval tillage was co-operative in character, and all the principal operations of agriculture were carried on in common. Indeed, the association of all the tenants in the open fields in a general partnership was rendered necessary, in any case, by the fact that a peasant would seldom possess sufficient oxen to do without his neighbours' assistance. Accordingly the villagers worked together, ploughing and reaping every strip as its turn came round. On the other hand, the produce of the strips went to the individual owners, for rural life was only communistic in one direction. There was co-operation for purposes of production, but there was no communistic division of the produce, and no general sharing out of the crops among those who had taken part in the work.

However the practice of strip-holding may have originated, there can be little question as to the incon

1 The Mark Theory '-that land was owned by the community before it was owned by individuals-is now discarded as "a figment of the Teutonic imagination". See Fustel de Coulanges, Origin of Property in Land (English trans., 1891); Maitland, Domesday Book and Beyond, Essay 2, § 6. W. J. Ashley, Surveys Historic and Economic (1900), 161.

2 The survival of shifting ownership in arable in Early England is discussed by C. I. Elton, “Early Forms of Landholding”, in English Hist. Review, xviii. 427-444.

the strip

venience of a system of intermixed ownership. It was Defects of wasteful, unsystematic, and in every way bad economy. system. It is difficult to understand how a mediaeval farmer could attend to his land with efficiency, when it was scattered over the whole village area. Instead of a compact property he was responsible for a crowd of disjointed plots, and proper supervision became hopelessly impossible. Much valuable time was lost in moving about from one strip to another, and a careful farmer was also hampered by other difficulties. It was largely labour thrown away to clean the soil 1 when he was at the mercy of unthrifty and careless neighbours, from whose untidy strips the wind readily carried the seed of thistles to his own. Time again was wasted in quarrels between the owners of coterminous strips over alleged encroachment on one another's land, for the grass balks were no barrier to trespassers. But the chief drawback of the common fields was that they bound the cultivator to a system of common tillage. The compulsory character of mediaeval husbandry affected all strip-holders alike, whether the lord of the manor, or the freeholder with rights pleadable in the king's courts, or the serf annexed to the soil. No one was free to manage his own land in his own way. The individual farmer was consciously subordinated to the general will, and private interests were sacrificed to the superior 'weal' of the community. Every villager had a voice in the communal management of the whole village territory, but he was denied complete individual control over his own acres. Customary rules regulated primitive farming, and traditional practices became stereotyped. Agricultural operations and the concerns of agrarian life were determined upon by the community as a whole : 2 the rotation of crops, and regulation of the ploughing, sowing and reaping, the allotment of meadows and treatment of the common waste, the rules for fencing and removal of hedges, the decisions as to rights of way over the "communal fields" and the maintenance of

1 Cf. Seebohm, Village Community, 15-16.

Nasse, Agricultural Community, 42 et passim; Vinogradoff, English Society, 476.

Its merits.

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roads and paths1. All this left little room for innovation or change; and the more enterprising farmer, tied hand and foot by the tyranny of custom and his dependence upon his neighbours, was not allowed to use his land to the best advantage. The culture of open fields afforded no scope for the exercise of special skill and no opportunity to try experiments. The husbandman had to plough and reap at the appointed times, and work in accordance with timehonoured principles however obsolete and futile. The system of intermixed holdings and the practice of co-aration largely help to explain why mediaeval husbandry remained for centuries so backward.

On the other hand, it is fair to remark that mediaeval agriculture was not altogether without its compensations. It served at any rate to prevent excessive negligence, for a definite standard of tillage could be maintained where every peasant worked under the eyes of his neighbours, and was subjected to the unremitting supervision of the manorial officials. Moreover, village life in the Middle Ages, in spite of a certain isolation and self-dependency, was much exposed to the disturbances of war. The tiller of the soil was often summoned away from the plough to meet his country's enemies, or to fight the king's quarrels with a turbulent nobility; and the fields were then abandoned to the care of those who remained at home 2. This would favour a system of joint husbandry and indeed render it an indispensable condition of tillage. But the real merit of the open ✓ field system lay in the advantages it afforded to the small


1 See the bye-laws of Great Tew (Oxon), which "throw a strong reflected light on the actual practices of open field husbandry": Vinogradoff, “ An Illustration of the Continuity of the Open Field System", in Quarterly Journal of Economics, xxii. 62-82. For rules governing the collective management of the common waste, see Common Rights at Cottenham and Stretham in Cambridgeshire ", in The Camden Miscellany, xii. 194 seq. This is recognized in W. Marshall, Elementary and Practical Treatise on Landed Property (1804). These disturbed conditions survived longest in the North. Cf. the account of Furness: open field methods "were convenient at the time for which they were calculated", for since "several tenants united in equipping a plough, the absence of the fourth man" when called away for military service "was no prejudice to the cultivation of his land, which was committed to the care of three" others joined with the fourth in the subdivision of the tenements: T. West, The Antiquities of Furness (1822), 23-24.

farmer and the rural labourer. Where the system of scattered ownership prevailed, every labourer enjoyed an opportunity to occupy a few acres of land and so attain some degree of economic independence; every cottager could strive to improve his position, adding strip to strip as economy and thrift enlarged his scanty resources; while, above all, rights of common 1 proved an invaluable provision for poor and struggling villagers. The result of the enclosing movement, on the other hand, was ultimately to divorce the labourer from ownership of the soil, to develop the growth of large farms, to accumulate land in the hands of the few, and to drive the rural population from the country into the towns.




Hitherto we have been concerned only with one aspect The of the open field system-the cultivation of the arable; for mediaeval this was the basis of mediaeval husbandry, and the most important part of the agricultural system. But other sides of agrarian life should be taken into consideration. The produce of wood, meadow and waste was no less essential to the economic welfare of the villager than the produce of the tillage. A husbandman, observes Fitzherbert, "cannot well thrive by his corn" alone, "for else he shall be a buyer, a borrower or a beggar" 2. He needed meat for food, and wool for clothing, and peat and turf and timber. To define the mediaeval tenement, therefore, as simply a bundle of strips scattered in the open fields is to convey a totally inadequate impression. The rights over meadow and waste were equally an integral part, and they constituted an indispensable element in the economy of the primitive household. Thus combined with the ownership of the arable were the several appurtenances (pertinacia), which were apportioned in accordance with the size of the holding.

The meadows were treated largely after the manner of The the ploughed lands, but here the communal aspect of rural meadows. life was in even greater evidence. They were divided into strips, and these strips were distributed among the tenants The practice of annual re-allotment

in the open fields.

1 Infra, p. 71.

a Fitzherbert, Book of Husbandry, 42.

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