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Open Arable Fields at Portland and elsewhere


Examples of Open Arable Fields in cultivation at the present time are so rare that it is strange that those in the Isle of Portland in Dorset have been overlooked by every writer on this subject, This omission is probably due to the isolation of Portland, thrust, as it is, far out into the waters of the English Channel. Its isolation, also, is probably one reason why these open fields have survived, for Portland is a district of survivals. The Court Leet of its Royal Manor still exercises real authority, and Portlanders are tenacious of their ancient rights and customs. They tolerate but are not over-fond of ‘foreigners’ from the mainland and they sturdily resent outside interference and direction.

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1 C. S. and C. S. Orwin, The Open Fields, p. 45, give only three—Eakring and Laxton in Nottinghamshire, and the parishes of the Isle of Axholme in Lincolnshire, to which they add Elmstone Hardwicke in Gloucestershire, which was enclosed as recently as 1914.

2 Lord Ilchester kindly informs me that at Abbotsbury in Dorset the terraces formed by the fine series of linchets on the side of St. Catherine’s Hill are also called ‘ the Lawns ‘. So the term was not confined to Portland.

3 In Portland the local term for a balk is ‘ lawnshed ‘.

Mr W. J. Hooper kindly tells me that when a boy he was told by an old carter that he had ploughed up the balks between the strips in what was Fordington Great Field, the land which Mr Hooper now farms. This ploughing up would have been in the 1860’s.

4 Frederic Seebohm, The English Village Community, 4th edn., p. 2.

5 C. S. and C. S. Orwin, op. cit., pp. 43-8 and 321, 322. Professor R. F. Treharne, Common Errors in History, 2nd Series, Historical Association (1947), p. 6, is even more emphatic. He says :—’ The dividing baulk between strips . . . must be discarded as the invention of prejudiced ignorance; it never had any basis in fact’. This can only refer to Frederic Seebohm, and I cannot allow it to pass without protest. His pioneer work on Open Fields, to which all students owe so much, deserves more generous reference.

6 E. Cecil Curwen, The Plough and the Origin of Strip Linchets, ANTIQUITY, XIII, pp. 45 ff.

7 The presence of Gavelkind in Portland is interesting. I leave to others more qualified than myself to judge if it may be an indication that Jutish coastal settlements extended farther west than has been hitherto recognized, i.e., the Hampshire Avon. It is perhaps significant that Gavelkind was ‘ the custom of the town ‘ at Wareham in 1316. (Assize Roll, No. 1370 m.14, 8 Sept., 10 Edw. 11).

8 C. S. and C. S. Orwin, op. cit., pp. 321, 322.

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  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquity
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