Roadways around old Didcot part four: the open fields and common land

IN recent articles I have spoken about the roads of old Didcot.

In one piece I mentioned Northfield, one of three major fields for growing crops and grazing livestock in the vicinity of the Didcot settlement.

North and South fields were to the east of the village, the dividing line running from Lydalls Road through to the old line of Cow Lane, which today has been realigned and severed where it runs through the Ladygrove Estate.

West field, stretching as its says to the west of the village up to to the Harwell village boundary, included a Windmill which would have been located somewhere in the area of today’s Slade Road.

The soil was clay-based,of poor quality and subject to flooding in the North field. Times would have been tough for these tenant farmers.

Herald Series:

These were called open fields or common land, meaning crops were grown for part of the year including barley, wheat, pulse, oats, beans and peas.

For the remainder of the year, livestock were grazed to fertilise the land. The three fields had a total area of some 600 acres for the tenants of Didcot Manor

The open field system existed in this area from the eighth century until the Enclosure Acts of the 1840s.

The people were peasant farmers, the correct name being Villiens and Copyhold tenants, who had legal ties to the Lord of the Manor.

The fields were further divided into furlongs for ploughing purposes and originally ploughs would be hauled by oxen although they had been replaced by horses by the 16th century.

The number of furlongs in the North field were around 10, 11 in South Field and 12 in West field.

Herald Series:

Note one of the furlongs in the South field was named Whitepiece: that furlong today is part of the land on which the present day Broadway allotments are located and the land was owned by St Johns College Oxford.

Two other academic institutions are known to have been landowners in the area: Brasenose College (Brasenose Road is named after the college because it owned land near this road junction), and The Queens College owned some of the land in North field, now Ladygrove Estate.

There were tracts of lands of better quality than the open fields available for the tenant farmers.

This better land was reserved for the Lord of the Manor and his freeholders. The land near Haddon Hill was one example of this better quality land.

The livestock kept were mainly sheep as wool in Medieval times was a very profitable commodity for not just local farmers but throughout other parts of England.

Pigs, horses and cattle would have also been found grazing these fields.

In fact, the profits which could be gained from sheep farming led to the many Enclosure Acts being passed to fence off land for larger flocks of sheep which, in turn, led to many tenants leaving the agricultural way of life and heading to the large towns in later times, to provide labour for the Industrial Revolution.