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field systems

field systems. From the time that man began to practise agriculture, systems of husbandry were devised and adopted by individual communities which best suited the soil and climate. The precise circumstances in which the systems were adopted, and the external factors influencing particular communities, cannot now be reconstructed, and such were the variations that generalization is hazardous. Perhaps the best-known system was the common, or open field, system of farming in which the land of a particular parish was divided into two, three, four, or even more fields depending on local conditions. The system is usually dated to the Anglo-Saxon era, and emerged with the division of land and livestock among a mass of small occupiers. The need for common folding compelled common management of intermixed parcels of land. The fields were cropped usually on the basis of two crops and a fallow, although with considerable flexibility for individual initiative. Although the system was designed for a mixture of reasons including risk-sharing, plot-splitting (to accommodate sons for example), and the need to restore the fertility of the land, it is now believed that the need to maximize the number of animals may have been critical.

The common field system was found predominantly in midland England, and other systems were nearly as widespread. In upland regions, or on poor-quality soils, and particularly in Scotland, the system of infield-outfield cultivation was found. In Scotland the infield was an area of land under permanent cultivation which was regarded as a vital adjunct of the cattle-keeping sector of the agrarian economy. The ‘outfield’ land lay in irregular patches at varying distances from the settlement. They were broken up and cropped on a shifting system. Each parcel might be cropped for four or five years and then allowed to rest for five years. Cropping patterns on the infield and the outfield varied. See also enclosures.

John Beckett

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