Ridge and Furrow Survey (King's Norton) PDF  | Print |



Surveys were conducted of surviving fragments of ridge and furrow in Kings Norton Recreation Ground and beside a new housing estate off Staple Lodge Road, Northfield (Fig 45). Evidence from aerial photographs indicates that the ridge and furrow in the immediate area of the Northfield site was until recently more extensive, but was destroyed by the new housing development. Both sites are situated close to the River Rea.

Geographical proximity to the river was found to be the only common factor, however, as the Northfield site is situated within the former manor/parish of Northfield and Weoley and the Kings Norton site in the former area of the manor/parish of Kings Norton. These two manors had contrasting histories which made distinct imprints on the rural landscape. The documentary record points to a very different chronology and function for the two ridge and furrow sites and surveys were made to see whether such differences were reflected on the ground.


Northfield and Weoley manor has considerable evidence for open fields, which , although already disintegrating in the fifteenth century, are still detectable as distinct traces on maps of the early nineteenth century. The field in which the ridge and furrow survives was known as ‘Little Brimstone’ and in 1811 belonged to Moat Farm (Eddebaston fifteenth century), which at this late period had still some of its land dispersed as unenclosed strips. ‘Little Brimstone’ formed part of a more consolidated area of the farm, but its field pattern reflects earlier piecemeal enclosure of bundles of open field strips. (Robins 1811)

The neighbouring glebeland shows even more distinct evidence of this piecemeal enclosure. To the east of the site, a field only recently destroyed, measured approximately 250 metres by 12-18 metres and was clearly an enclosure of a few open field strips. Much of the remaining glebeland consisted of isolated and scattered strips, some still unenclosed in the early nineteenth century. As the nineteenth century field pattern reflected an earlier open field layout, it is suggested that the ridge and furrow present in these fields was a survival of this earlier system. (Leadbetter, 1714; Fowler, 1857)

The field survey revealed a regular series of ridges between 4.5 and 5 metres wide. Their length was insufficient to judge their alignment but aerial photographs indicate other recently destroyed ridge and furrow displayed a slight ‘C’ curve, as id some of the field boundaries. This ridge and furrow was also of similar dimensions to that surveyed on the ground.


A survey of trees in the immediate area was made to see if any light could be cast on the date of the piecemeal enclosure. Two trees had been fortuitously felled only recently and their rings were counted; the remaining trees were measured around their girth. Most trees were found to be around one hundred and twenty five years in age. They could not be identified with the mature standards marked by surveyors on the first edition of O.S.25” (1884) series. This evidence suggests at least one major replanting phase about a century ago but no estimate could be made about the number of phases which preceded this. Surviving hedgerows were too denuded to do a species count.


In Kings Norton manor, linked with Bromsgrove until the sixteenth century, evidence for an open field system is scanty. There are possible traces of fields lying immediately to the south of the village (Dougherty, 1731) but they were of limited extent and were probably being enclosed as early as the twelfth century, when the demesne was granted to Brodesley Abbey (Price, 1971). There is better evidence for a separate, though still small, open field area at Houndsfield (License, 1550). The rest of the manor consisted of hamlets, isolated farmsteads, often moated, and large expanses of waste.

The ridge and furrow is located within the former lands of Kings Norton Rectory, owned by the Dean and Chapter of Worcester; they formed a single block lying immediately to the north of the village as far as the River Rea and provide a striking contrast to the scattered strips composing Northfield’s glebe. The site falls within two fields described in the 1840 Tithe survey as “Near” and “Far School Piece”. These can be identified with two fields known as ‘Schoolhouse Close’, which appear in the 1649 survey of the Kings Norton Rectory (Care, 1927).

Around 1811 a canal feeder from Wychall reservoir was constructed diagonally across “Far School Piece”. The land remained open and now forms part of Kings Norton Recreation Ground. The canal feeder divider an area of football pitches, where the ridge and furrow has been eroded and is difficult to distinguish on the ground, from a sloping area where the ridges are well preserved. Aerial photographs do however permit plotting of the ridge and furrow in the football pitch area.

The ridge and furrow was found to be less regular than at Northfield, the width varying from 2.5 to 11 metres; the widest may be two ridges combined. Most fall in the 3 to 6 metres range. The ridge show a slightly different alignment between “ Near” and “Far School Piece”. More significantly, the alignment differs on either side of the canal feeder within “Far School Piece2 and in addition, the ridges do not match up across the feeder. North of the latter there is a marked twist in the ridge and furrow seemingly to conform to the eastern boundary of the field. At the western end of the Pershore Road South a new turnpike road built in 1825 cuts the ridge and furrow and isolates a part of “Near School Piece”. A terminus post quem may be provided by the date of the canal feeder (c. 1811) along which the alignment and spacing of the ridge and furrow changes.

An early nineteenth century dating of the ridge and furrow relates to its creation and the ridges may have continued in use until the land fell out of cultivation during the present century. The fields may in fact have had a long history of ridge and furrow ploughing, but one unlikely to have been linked with part of a medieval open field system. The single block of land, with its pattern of closes already in existence in the mid-seventeenth century, suggests a single medieval grant of a compact holding to the Rectory. Any pre- nineteenth century ridge and furrow would have been created purely as a method of ploughing in old enclosures held in severalty by Kings Norton tenants.

The present ridges are the product of a ploughing technique much in vogue in the nineteenth century and for a considerable period earlier. Unfortunately they can be easily mistaken for medieval open field strips, which served not only as a method of agriculture, but also as a system of landholding and tenure. The measurements of the Northfield and Kings Norton ridge and furrow on their own are insufficient to be able to identify either open field selions or ‘ploughing ridges’ In fact a purely morphological classification based on the distinction between ‘narrow rig’, considered modern (less than 4-5m in width), and ‘broad rig’, linked with medieval common fields, is proving unsatisfactory (Bowen 1961). Recent work has discovered ‘narrow rig’ to date from the eleventh century at least (Drury 1981) Conversely ‘broad rig’, as the Kings Norton evidence demonstrates, can be as late as the nineteenth century and local aerial photographs show modern broad ridging to also be fairly common.

A more comprehensive approach is necessary to establish the origin and function of ridge and furrow in the field. This would involve a wider topographical analysis, complemented by documentary research into the manorial and tenurial history of the land in question. A rule of thumb for the topographical evidence is to check whether the field pattern conforms to the ridges or whether the ridges respect the field layouts. Piecemeal enclosure of open field strips tended to create long rectangular fields, reflecting selion and furlong alignments; this is the case at Northfield. Fields predating ridge and furrow , as in Kings Norton are more often than not irregular in form, enclosing bundles of strips little akin to the prevailing shape of furlongs. Parliamentary enclosure usually produced a discontinuity between the pattern of ridges and furlongs and the subsequent field layouts. The chronological relationship between fridge an furrow and field boundaries is not always clear however and here the documentary evidence may be invaluable.


Bowen, H.C., 1961 Ancient Fields

Care, T. and Wilson R.A., 1927 The Parliamentary Survey of the land and possessions of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester made in the year 1649 includes: Survey of the Rectory of Kings Norton ... February , 1649 227 (Worcester Historical Society).

Dougherty, J., 1731 A Book of Maps containing all the Estates belonging to Bowater Vernon Esq., in Worcestershire, Warwickshire and Shropshire ... includes: Map the TWELFTH, Kings Norton Farm (1) W R O f970 5:7 Plan II.

Drury, P.J., 1981 ‘Medieval ‘Narrow rig’ at Shelmsford and its possible implications’ Landscape History, III, 51-58.

Fowler, R., 1857 Sketch of an estate in Parish of Northfield in Co. of Worcs. B R L, Jewel Baillie 80d.

Leadbetter, C., 1714 An Actual survey of Northfield Glebeland, B R L Jewel Baille 80a.

Licence of alienation, 1550 W R O, ref BA 2510 class f705; 320.

Price, S., 1971 The Early History of Bordesley Abbey (unpubl. MA thesis, University of Birmingham) 63.

Stephens, H., 1871 The Book of the Farm, 94-105

Robins, E., 1811 Plan of Moat Farm, B R L, Robins Box 14.

W.M.C.C. Aerial Survey, 1980 1:6000.


Grateful thanks to members of the Filed Group and Solihull Archaeological Group; to Stephen Price for advice and access to personal archives; to Mike Hodder for helpful discussion and advice.

George Demidowicz, Birmingham and Warwickshire Archaeological Society, Field Group.

© George Demidowicz

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