Laxton, Nottinghamshire: The 21st century village still using a medieval farming system

Open field strip farming has almost entirely disappeared from Britain in the past 1,000 years — though there is one great exception: Laxton.

In 1635, a surveyor called Mark Pierce was employed to map the farmland around Laxton, which he did in four sheets, now in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. Each shows one of the enormous open fields around the village, between them divided in 2,280 strips of land.

Open-field farming, with land divided into small parcels between villagers, who were forced to farm in co-operation, was still practised much as it had been in the Middle Ages. Extraordinarily, the system survives to this day, but only in Laxton.

The manuscript ‘terrier’ describing land tenure in the villages of Laxton and Kneesall, Nottinghamshire, used in conjunction with The Laxton Map of 1635 by Mark Pierce.

It was unpromising, clay land, one reason subsequent landowners never stirred themselves to enclose it. Better land was shared out equally with the worst. The sides of the valleys, too steep to plough, became ‘sykes’, or useful pasture, and neat blocks of woodland provided an invaluable resource.

Everywhere else in England, open fields were eventually enclosed and divided with hedges. Laxton became first an oddity, then a rarity, before being recognised as precious; it was owned by the Crown Estate until 2020, when it was sold to the Thoresby Estate.

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A farmer ploughs his field with a tractor in the only place where the medieval open field strip system was still in use. Each farmer’s land is divided into six or more patches, making husbandry difficult, however it does ensure that each has an equal share of good land. The fields can not be fencedand the sanctity of the boundaries is watched over by the Court Leet, composed of householders. (1952 Photo by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

How to visit Laxton

Laxton is in the heart of rural Nottinghamshire, roughly half-way between Newark and Worksop, and just a few minutes off the main A1. There is a visitor centre located in the local pub, The Dovecote Inn; see for more details.

The Dovecote Inn.

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