I was visiting a house for work recently, listening to my colleague talk about the field over the road which offered a tranquil countryside view from the back garden.

The viewer had asked if there was a possibility that the field would get developed with housing, therefore spoiling the lovely rural outlook.

My colleague informed them that it would be unlikely due to the fact that in the field was evidence of the ancient "ridge and furrow" method of agriculture, and therefore there was a chance that it was classed as a Scheduled Monument by English Heritage. My ears pricked up as the seeds of a column began to form. I had to find out more about this aspect of our agricultural history.

Ridge (or rig) and furrow is an ancient ploughing technique that dates from at least medieval times and possibly even earlier. You’ll likely have passed it and perhaps not have known what you were looking at. To spot it, keep an eye out for a grassy field that undulates smoothly at regular intervals, like a giant green corrugated roof. If you find one, you are looking at centuries-old evidence of the hard graft of a farmer who would have had to trudge up and down that field with his plough for hour after hour, year after year, to create the ridge and furrow effect.

In the days before Enclosure (a series of Acts of Parliament starting in the early 17th Century that chopped up and enclosed vast swathes of land that used to be common), settlements would grow crops to feed the local population on common land in what was called the "open field" form of agriculture.

Villagers would draw lots and be allocated their own strip, or several strips, which they would cultivate using a single-sided ploughshare to carve up the soil ready for planting. Originally pulled by oxen, and later horses, the strip would be ploughed from the outside, and all the soil would be pushed into the centre, creating a ridge which increased the surface area of your plot, which meant you could sow more crops.

They had to be canny with what they planted where, and used different types of crop, such as corn and wheat, in the same ridge that would tolerate either wet or dry conditions. The driest soil was obviously at the top of the ridge, and the wetter soil at the bottom, so judicious planting was a must to ensure that whatever the weather threw at you, enough would survive to provide food over the barren winter months.

To assist with drainage, ridges were always ploughed in the direction of any slopes, rather than across them, with the furrows helping to drain water away.

Each strip was called a "land" and as a rough guide, lands could be up to 22 yards wide and around 220 yards long, a measurement known as a "furlong" (furrow-long). Some examples look like a rather large S shape, and this is evidence that they were created by an ox-led plough, the curve of the S being created by the ample space needed when the great beasts had to change direction. The straight examples will have been dug by horse-drawn ploughs.

The ridge and furrow method died out once the double-sided plough was invented, and many of the ridges were dug over or developed upon and have disappeared. However, some were just too large or too difficult to get rid of (reaching heights of up to six feet), which is why they can still be seen undulating like a series of rounded humps beneath the grassy surface of some fields today.

These fields may be classed as Scheduled Monuments and protected by law, which means they cannot be removed or developed upon unless permission is granted by English Heritage.

A "furrow-long" was considered the length a horse could plough in one day, or a pair of oxen could plough before they needed to rest and was the chosen method of measuring distance when the sport of horse-racing took off in the 1500s.

To this day, furlong markers line British racecourses, and the length of any race shorter than a mile will be described in furlongs, which is an eighth of a mile. Despite suggestions that the system is outdated, there is no indication that our very traditional British racing industry is going to change any time soon.

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