What is Open Field System? How Did the Open Field System Work?

What is Open Field System? How Did the Open Field System Work?

What is Open Field System?

An open field system is a method of farming in which the fields are not enclosed by fences or walls. This type of farming allows livestock to roam freely in the fields. Open field systems are common in areas where there is ample grazing land for livestock.

The open-field system was the structuring of peasant agriculture in Northern Europe (before the twentieth) century into scattered patches that were communally governed but individually owned.

The concept is similar to much peasant agriculture around the world, particularly in its dispersal of strips.

Understanding the Open Field System

The open-field method was common throughout much of Europe during the Middle Ages and persisted into the twentieth century in Russia, Iran, and Turkey.

Each manor or village had two or three big fields, usually several hundred acres in size, that were divided into many tiny strips of property under the open-field system.

Individuals or peasant families, known as tenants or serfs, cultivated the strips or selions.

A manor’s holdings also comprised common woodland and grazing lands, as well as fields belonging to the lord of the manor and the religious authorities, who were mostly Roman Catholics in medieval Western Europe.

Farmers used to live in individual dwellings in a clustered village, with a bigger manor house and church nearby. The open-field concept required cooperation among the manor’s residents.

The manor was administered and ruled over by the Lord of the Manor, his officials, and a manorial court. The Lord imposed rents and obliged peasants to work on his personal holdings, known as a demesne.

In the Middle Ages, very little land was possessed outright. Instead, the lord was granted rights by the king, and the tenant rented property from the lord.

Lords demanded rent and labor from tenants, but tenants had strong user rights to cropland and common land, which were passed down from generation to generation.

Without legal justification, a medieval lord could not evict a tenant or hire labor to replace him. Most tenants were also not free to leave the manor for other locations or jobs without penalty.

With the rise of capitalism and the concept of land as a commodity to be bought and sold, the open-field system gradually died out.

Over several centuries, the open-field system was gradually replaced by private ownership of land, particularly after the 15th century, in a process known as enclosure in England.

France, Germany, and other northern European countries had systems similar to England’s, however open fields on the continent often lasted longer.

Early settlers in the United States’ New England region used certain components of the open-field system.

Characteristics of open field system

The open-field method has been the basic community arrangement of cultivation in European agriculture for at least 2,000 years. Its most well-known medieval version included three components:

Individual peasant holdings in the form of strips spread across the various fields- in the Middle Ages, a peasant family typically had rights to use two to five strips, which they cultivated in summer and autumn.

Crop rotation- era agriculture involved an open field with crops grown on the same agrarian field for three or four successive years in a row.

Shared grazing- The peasant community also owned grazing lands, usually located on the periphery of the community fields, that were grazed by communal livestock.

The very nature of open field agriculture meant that this system was not economical for larger, wealthy farmers.

A large landlord could adjust all activities seamlessly between several cropland portions and a few grazing acres, but small-scale laborer-farmers were not able to do so.

The present day

Surviving in the open fields

The village of Laxton in Nottinghamshire is one place in England where the open-field system is still employed.

It is believed that its unusual longevity is owing to the failure of two early nineteenth-century landowners to agree on how the property should be fenced, resulting in the continuation of the existing arrangement.

Braunton, North Devon, has the only other surviving medieval open strip field system in England.

It is still farmed with due care for its historic beginnings and is protected by individuals who recognize its worth, despite the fact that the number of proprietors has decreased drastically over the years, resulting in the merging of some of the strips.

In Wales, there is also a surviving medieval open strip field system in Laugharne, which is also the last town in the UK with an original medieval charter.

There are also remnants of an open-field system on the Isle of Axholme in North Lincolnshire, around the villages of Haxey, Epworth, and Belton, where long strips of half an acre or more curve to follow the gently sloping ground and are used for growing vegetables or cereal crops.

The borders are typically unmarked, though where numerous strips have been combined, a deep furrow is sometimes utilized to separate them. In this open landscape, the ancient village game of Haxey Hood is played.

Allotments Gardens

Allotment gardens are a system comparable to open fields that still exists in the United Kingdom. Many towns and cities have one- or two-acre (up to one hectare) plots of land interspersed among the buildings.

These places are typically owned by municipal governments or allotment societies. Small plots of land are rented out to local individuals or families for the purpose of raising food.

Open field example

The case of US v Ishmael is a well-known example of the open fields doctrine, in which evidence obtained as a result of a warrantless thermal scan of an outbuilding located approximately 200 yards from a residence was upheld because the structure was in an open field.

The thermal-imaging device employed in this case was a FLIR Systems, Inc., Model PS20A imager, which is capable of accurate interior temperature readings from a distance of more than 700 meters.

The officers in the case were aware that the building was not located within the curtilage of Ishmael’s home, and therefore could not be searched without a warrant.

The only issue on appeal was whether the search was consistent with the Fourth Amendment; i.e. whether the search and seizure of evidence was lawful as required by a warrant.

Open field system Advantages

The open field system of land tenure and agriculture had a number of important advantages, especially during the Middle Ages.

Because the land was not divided up into small, individually owned units by fences or walls, it could be divided into large appendages that kept the serfs together in a compact group.

These appendages were easily monitored by the lord and allowed for an efficient way to ensure that the serfs did not stray from the land or disobeyed their rules.

The open field system of agriculture also made it easier for the lord to utilize the land, since he would only have to organize the harvest for one plot of land, rather than for each individual piece of property that he owned.

The large plot of land could also be rotated over a number of years, so that the same plot would not have to be used year after year.

This kept soil from getting worn out and allowed for different types of plants and crops to grow in a given area.

Another advantage was that the open fields could function as a common area for the serfs to gather on a regular basis.

This allowed for greater trade, which in turn was essential to their agricultural success.

Open field system Drawbacks

The disadvantages of the open-fields system were that it was not economical for large landowners, and it could be easily invaded by intruders who would steal crops and disrupt the community’s security.

In addition, the amount of land did not allow for very much specialization.

There were no proper crop rotation systems and thus the soil was severely depleted.

The fields were also far enough away from the main homestead so that any injuries or illnesses would make it extremely difficult for a laborer to return for assistance.

Other disadvantages included the lack of privacy, which often meant that families could hear others fighting or making love, having children or other activities that would normally be private.

It may also result in unwanted neighbors listening in on conversations or family members staring at what is happening inside one’s dwelling.


What is an open field system?

In an open field system of agriculture, fields were divided into small portions that were farmed by individual landowners.

Often these farmers shared a common opening (the infield) from which they could cut their hay and graze their animals.

The individual plots of land were referred to as “strips”. If the open field system was successful, there would not be much need for fences, since they would not be able to encroach into any other farmer’s field.

Why did the open field system of agriculture disappear?

The reason that the open field system of agriculture disappeared by the 15th century was due to the increase in population and land that came with it.

As more and more people began to move into a single village or town, they began to claim their own plots of land by digging up grassland and establishing farms on them. This meant that the traditional rotation system of the open field could not be applied, and that the land would need to be enclosed.

Landowners began to fence off their plots of land, protecting them more and more each year. The need for privacy may have been a contributing factor in the disappearance of the open field system.

Although collecting in an open field provided social interaction, there was no way to control who was standing around while they attempted to have a private conversation.

Open field system disadvantages?

The first disadvantage was that it was not very efficient. Not only were there no crop rotation systems, but the strips were too close together to have a larger plot of land for specialization.

Another disadvantage was that the open fields provided poor privacy for each family because they could hear what others were doing in their homes.

This type of system was also not successful for large landowners due to the fact that it was difficult to control so many strips.

How did the open field system of agriculture work?

The open field system of agriculture is one in which fields are divided into small portions that are farmed by individuals, or a community.

The crops were rotated across the land, allowing different plants and crops to grow in a given area and allowing for better soil conditions overall.

The fields were also divided up into several strips. Each strip was owned by a different farmer and the crops that were grown by each one of them would be different. The land could then be rotated to preserve the health of the soil and keep it from being depleted.

Who created open field system?

After the fifth century AD, Germanic and Anglo-Saxon invaders and settlers may have introduced the open-field system to France and England. Although documentation anterior to the Domesday Book of 1086 is scant, the open-field system appears to have matured in England between AD 850 and 1150.

Open field System Advantages?

It could be divided into large appendages that kept the serfs together in a compact group. These appendages were easily monitored by the lord and allowed for an efficient way to ensure that the serfs did not stray from the land or disobeyed their rules.

The open area was also essential for trade and the gathering of the serfs.

They were able to bring their crops, animals, crafts and goods together to be sold, traded or exchanged without the need for a central marketplace or trading ground. This created a common area where they could interact with their neighbors.

Another advantage was that there was large space to grow crops when under rotation. This meant that there were more opportunities for a variety of plants to grow in a given area, thus providing better nutrients and taste.

Who owned the land in the open field system?

Each manor or village had two or three big fields, usually several hundred acres in size, that were divided into many tiny strips of property under the open-field system. Instead, the lord was granted rights by the king, and the tenant rented property from the lord.

What was the 4-crop rotation system?

On his farms, Viscount Townshend successfully implemented a novel crop rotation strategy. He split his fields into four sorts of produce: wheat in the first, clover (or ryegrass) in the second, oats or barley in the third, and turnips or swedes in the fourth.

When was strip farming used?

Soil conservation became a major political issue in the United States in the 1930s, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt launched a campaign to examine the loss of vital topsoil due to erosion.

What did a farmer have to do to enclose his land?

Enclosing land meant putting a hedge or fence around a piece of this open ground, preventing common grazing and other rights from being exercised over it.

Why did large landowners enclose their farms?

Their landholding increased, allowing them to develop wider fields. Large landowners compelled small farmers to become tenant farmers or to abandon farming and go to cities.

Why did small farmers thrive in the open field system?

Farmers cycled soil-depleting crops like grains with soil-replenishing crops like beans and root vegetables so they didn’t have to rest a field for a year, increasing their yield.

How many acres do you need to support a medieval family?

In medieval England, a hide was described as “the land sufficient to maintain a household for a year, ploughed by eight oxen,” and was generally set at 120 acres, however the quality of the soil definitely affected the output. A comparable notion was referred to by the term Carucate.

Similar Posts