Farms in Southam in the 1900's

I have been looking at two auction prospectuses in my collection, dated 1900 and 1917. They were mainly concerned with the sale of farms in the Southam area and among the information given were the names and acreage of the fields. Nowadays fields are usually referred to simply by numbers, so it was interesting to see the old names. On the Fields Farm along the Kineton Road they included The Paddock, Little Paddock, Big Meadow, The Slanket and Slipe (can anyone tell me what those words mean?), First, Second, Third and Fourth Hill, Little Dairy Ground, The Osier Bed, Spring Field, Cherry Tree and The Cottage Field. On the Southam Road Farm, Napton, some of the names were Picked Bit, The Green, The Mead, Ploughed Thorn Furlong and the Ploughing. At High House Farm, Napton, names included Top Big Pasture, Bottom Big Pasture, Rushington Lags and Woodfield Close. Back in Southam, names at the Brooklands Farm were Paddock, Crossway Ground, Long Meadow and Spinney, Little Meadow and Broad Baulk.

The familiar pattern of fields and hedges has only existed in fairly recent history. Throughout the Middle Ages and up to the eighteenth century farming was a communal activity with most people working on the land, which belonged to the Lord of the Manor or local landowners. Arable land was worked by heavy ploughs drawn by teams of oxen. The available land was divided into a few huge fields, which in turn were divided into unfenced strips two hundred yards long and ten to twenty yards wide.

Each villager was allotted several strips on a mixture of good and poor soil in different parts of the communal fields. One area of meadowland was set aside as common grazing ground where villagers had the right to graze livestock such as pigs, sheep, cattle and geese. In a number of places locally we can see the remains of the old strip fields which have never been ploughed out. The rolling, corrugated surface of these fields shows that the troughs between the "bumps" were once drainage ditches or footpaths between the strips.

The Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions led to a large rise in population. and a demand for more food. Landowners realised that the old open field strip system was out of date and inefficient. This led to what have become known as the Enclosures. They took over the open fields and commons, turning away the villagers whose families had worked on them for generations , and made them into smaller hedged or stone?walled fields which could be worked more economically and be more productive. The villagers became agricultural labourers, often paid very low wages. Some of them went to work in the new industrial centres. Enclosures had to be sanctioned by an Act of Parliament. The landowners had to submit a petition for enclosure, after which a Commission of local dignitaries was appointed to oversee the changes. In an area like Southam a number of landowners had holdings in different parts, so it made sense for them to exchange holdings in order that their property might be all together in one place.

The principal landowners applying for the Southam Enclosure Act of 1760 were Lord Craven, Thomas Brockhurst, Gerry Packwood, Robert Hanslapp and Joseph Davie, the Rector of the Parish, representing the Church and its Glebe Lands. Part of their petition ran as follows (with contemporary spelling):-

"The lands and grounds of the said Common and Open Fields of Southam lie intermixed and dispersed in small Parcels ----and are most of them inconveniently situated ?????and by Reason thereof a sufficient Quantity of Manure and Compost cannot, without great Difficulty and Expense be conveyed to the same, nor frequent Trespasses and Disputes amongst the several Proprietors be prevented; and so long as the said Commom Fields lie open, commonable and unenclosed they produce very little Profit to their respective Proprietors, and in their present situation are a great discouragement to 'Industry and Improvement."

Many of the newly created fields were given names that reflected their situation or use. Names like Badger Bank, Sheep Walk, Froggy Meadow and Foxrun have been recorded in other areas. Names like Plashets suggest marshy ground, while The Tumps indicates earthworks or quarry remains.

In recent years a good deal of interest has been aroused in field names, and an environmental charity, "Common Ground," is working for their preservation. Suggestions have been made that farmers should have the names of old fields painted or carved on the field gates, and in some places this is being done. In places where housing estates are going to be built on erstwhile farmland it is suggested that some of the estate roads should be given the old field names of the land they are covering. With this in mind I have looked at the field names of the area about to be developed around the old sewage works in Southam. The names include Hill Ground, Hither Bray, Holywell Ground and Further Park. Some of these might make unusual and attractive road names and at the same time connect the new development with local history.

This article has been kindly written by Irene Cardali

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