January on the Farm

Winter aconites alongside the “gated” (or Moreton) Road.

Richard Fonge writes:

I always feel that January is a month that has very little going for it, especially this year with its many dank days. However there are two visible signs of new life. Hazel catkins are out and the first wild flower the small delicate Aconite can be seen beneath the Horse Chestnut as you leave the village up the gated road, and further up on the right side verge.
As very little happens on the farmland this month, I would like to draw your attention to two landscape features,many centuries apart.
Firstly the tramlines you will see running through the arable fields. They are made by the drill at sowing time. The tractor driver can set the drill to not sow down the relevant spouts at pre determined intervals. Usually every 24 metres, but those on the concrete road fields are at 32 metres. They are used as roadways for later arable operations,which I will write about in future letters.

Three “tramlines” through the fields next to the disused railway

The second feature are the ridge and furrow,still to be found in some grassland around the village,but the best examples in the area can be seen down either side of Blacklocks Hill on the way to Banbury. It was the Anglo Saxons who when they cleared the woodland,to farm the land did so by ploughing the land uphill to form a ridge.Crops grew on that ridge with the furrow a drainage channel. The length of each ridge was a furlong andthe distance between each ridge a perch. A furlong is 220yards, a perch 5.5 yards.

Ridge and Furrow in the fields between Sulgrave and Weston

So four perches equals one chain or 22 yards. Therefore one chain multiplied by one furlong equals one acre.
I mentioned that the chain measurement is still used in hedge laying in lasts month notes, well the furlong is of course still used in horse racing, As it is an eighth of a mile. We have races of 7 furlongs or a mile and three furlongs for example. There are two very plausible theories why the the measurement is a furlong. It was the length the oxen could plough before needing a breather, and the length a man could clear the woodland in a year,so he could start to cultivate and grow crops. The Saxons were very good farmers and worked in co-operation with each other, sharing the different soils between them.

Richard Fonge.



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