Subtypes Commons - Common arable/Common field/Open field

The terms common arable, common fields or open fields refer to land whose primary use was arable (i.e. for the growing of crops). In its classic form in north-west Europe, this land was held in long thin strips. Each farmer held a number of strips scattered around a field system, and the farmers cultivated and harvested their own strips. However, after the harvest and in years when the land was uncultivated or fallow, the land was used for common grazing. The individual strips were grouped into blocks called furlongs, and in turn, furlongs were grouped into larger fields. The fields were management units for the purposes of crop rotations. Such field systems could contain two, three or more fields, but were usually cropped according to a two- or three-course rotation, meaning that every second or third year respectively each field was left fallow.


Open field is a frequently used term for this arrangement, alluding directly to the physical openness of a landscape devoid of internal hedges or fences. Most writers use the terms common field and open field interchangeably. However, others have distinguished the term common field from open field on the grounds that in some areas (such as Kent in south-east England) open fields were not subject to common rights.  These fields then were physically open but not common (Thirsk, 1964). In the context of common land the word ‘field’ is generally used in English to refer to arable land rather than meadow or pasture or waste. By contrast, enclosed or private land whether arable, pasture or meadow may be referred to as a field. 


(De Moor et al. 2002, 17-8)



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