Ridge and Furrow
Ridge and Furrow, known in North-East England as rig and Furrow’, is a type of earthwork found in fields. It gives the surface of the ground a wavy corrugated effect, like corduroy, and consists of linear ridges or humps with shallow ditches between. They are arranged in blocks, which reflect the shape of old fields. Seen from the air, the ridges are often slightly S-shaped - a result of horse-ploughing techniques, and a bank or ‘headland’ would grow at the end of the rows where the plough turned. Sometimes the old field boundaries have survived, in other cases the ridge and furrow is cut and crossed by more modern field boundaries.
Ridge and Furrow is a relic of an obsolete type of agriculture. The pattern of ridges and furrows is often all that remains of the narrow strips (called ‘selions’) used in the ‘open field system’ of agriculture – a communal method of strip farming in large village fields which has its origins in the Early Medieval period (circa AD 800- 1200) and which continued in some areas into the early 19th century. Each smallholder would work a few strips in the open fields. This system was largely destroyed by Enclosure into smaller square-shaped fields, a process which peaked in the 18th and 19th centuries. Only one working example of an open field system remains, at Laxton, Notts. In the Cheviot Hills in Northumberland, a prehistoric version called ‘cord rig’ has been identified.
There were practical advantages in creating ridges – they increase soil depth and add to the overall surface area of the field, and the furrows between assist in drainage.
Almost every part of England has some examples, in some counties, such as Northumberland, rig and furrow is visible across wide areas of the countryside. In east Oxford the remains of this type of farming can be seen in South Park, but in many areas they have been ploughed out. and have entirely disappeared or survive only as soil marks or very slight earthworks. This may have happened in the recent past, and many now-vanished examples are visible on aerial photographs taken in the 1940’s to 1960’s.
Ridge and Furrow in South Park, outlined by the snow. December 2010.
Photograph: Joan Bellinger