Studies in Chiltern field systems
H.L.Gray, writing in 1915, stressed the fact that the Chiltern Hills lay in a transition area between Midland England, with its more regular open field arrangements, and the Southeast, with less regular systems. Basing his conclusions largely on sixteenth and early seventeenth century surveys, he showed that field systems within the Hills were different and distinctive from those on either side. The present study is the first comprehensive account of these distinctive systems. The medieval field arrangements of four parishes are examined in detail, and evidence for the whole region before 1850 is summarised. The most important features of the Chiltern field systems were: (1) the high proportion of enclosed arable land, particularly in the southwest; and (2) the existence of numerous, relatively small, common fields within the individual township. A three-course rotation had appeared as early as the twelfth century, and was later widely followed; but this does not imply the presence of a simple two- or three-field system. Farm holdings were concentrated in one part of a township, while the individual common arable holding was distributed irregularly between only a few of the many common fads. There was little meadow or grassland pasture, apart from that in parks, but woods and wastes were important elements, except in the northeast. The settlement pattern combined elements of both nucleation and dispersal. These features had appeared in the area by the mid-thirteenth century, when large-scale assarting was coming to an end. Their origins were, as Gray suggested, probably connected with the slow and piecemeal nature of colonisation in this hilly and heavily wooded region, and they survived largely unchanged until the mid-sixteenth century. After c.1550 the common field system began to disintegrate, with widespread piecemeal enclosure from the common arable, and almost all traces of the old arrangements bad disappeared by 1850.