Ballard’s survey of 1762 gives us our first real look at Englefield and it shows a countryside undergoing a gradual transformation. There is a mixture of enclosed fields, some enclosed early, some later, and still some common fields with their multiple strips shared among many owners. Early enclosures were often small in size, such those between North Street and Hogmoor and also along the south side of Mare Ridge. By their position on the lower slopes of heavily wooded ridges we may deduce that these smaller enclosures at Englefield were probably land claimed direct from the wastes and the description of some of these parcels as being “in the widemoors” supports that. They may well have been enclosed by the local people during the time when there was no settled lord of the manor.
The larger fields around Chalkpit Farm are later enclosures and there are in the County Archives, plans of the dimensions and boundaries of these fields, seemingly dating from the same time as plan of the open fields that is tentatively dated from the latter part of the 17th century, so that is possibly when these enclosures, and Chalkpit Farm, were created. How this land looked before it was enclosed is unknown but from the size and general flatness it is at least possible that there were once open fields cultivated in strips here as well as the ones still in existence in 1762. Assuming that the usual Medieval practice of two or three-field cultivation was followed, that may well have been the case.
In 1762 this land, both enclosed fields and strips, was farmed by 23 tenants of Powlett Wrighte with 1044 acres between them, and 27 freeholders with a total of 451 acres. So there were still 50 others with land holdings in addition to the lord of the manor and this number included Sir Henry Englefield with the rump of the estate that had been retained in the family. Many of these freeholders and tenants are the direct descendants of those noted in the previous century. Only Philip Wyat, tenant at Chalkpit Farm and Cranemoor Farm, and six others had more than 20 acres of land. Of the remaining tenants, only one had between 10 and 20 acres, three between 1 and 10 and the remainder less than one acre each. The freehold land was similarly distributed, with six people owning more than 20 acres each, ten owning between 1 and 10 acres and eleven with less than an acre each. The largest holding was that of the widow Powell with 93 acres. This simple breakdown is misleading, however, for some of these people had land in the neighbouring parishes of Sulhamstead, Ufton and Tilehurst. John Horn, for example, was one of the smaller landowners in Englefield but had considerably greater acreage in Tilehurst. Some of the holdings, both in open field and enclosures, were occupied by people other than the owner or leaseholder. The area still in open fields in 1762 is shown outlined in red below.
These open fields were in three parts. The largest was the Great Field, covering an area between the later Wickcroft Farm and the parish boundary with Sulhamstead to the south east. To the south of this and just on the other side of the Bath Road was the Punt Field and running along the north bank of a stream forming a branch of the River Kennet to the east was the Englefield Meadow. Each of these blocks was subdivided into smaller areas, or furlongs, with the strips in a furlong all running in the same direction. The majority of strips in the Great Field and all of those in the Punt Field and Englefield Meadow run in a north-east/south-west direction but a few furlongs in the Great Field have strips at right angles to this orientation. The strips at the eastern end of the Great Field are mostly oriented north/south. An individual’s total holding of land was spread in small parcels across many or all of these furlongs.
The derivation of furlong is from “furrow long”, the distance a team of oxen could plough without a rest but despite the later use of the term as a precise unit of distance the strips here can be seen to be of varying length and are also of varying width, with some being as little as three or even a mere one yard wide. Some of the strips as drawn by Ballard show the typical long, sinuous form that came about from the need to turn the medieval ploughs and their ox teams without an excessively wide headland. Another distinctive feature of the medieval “ridge and furrow” cultivation (and which gives it its name) is the humped form of the strips, with adjacent strips separated by a “furrow”. This form was created by ploughing in a clockwise spiral starting from the middle of the strip and ending by ploughing around the edges, with the plough always throwing soil to the right. The earth being higher in the middle (the “ridge”) and falling off towards the sides meant that the strip naturally drained down into the furrow, which both acted as a drain to take water away and as a demarcation between strips. In some ancient field systems that went straight from this type of cultivation to pasture this form can still plainly be seen but in Englefield all of the Great Field and Punt Field were cultivated annually for many decades (as is mostly still the case) so it has been lost to modern ploughing. The Englefield Meadow, of course, has been subjected to gravel extraction and other development.
© 2021 Richard J Smith