Ridge and Furrow formations are possibly one of the best-known archaeological features which survive into the modern day. These long, sinuous raises beds of earth can be seen across Britain, from train
In two fields in West Derby the remains of this farming technique can be seen, both on Eaton Road. The Walker Playing Fields near Kiln Hey are one location, while the Bill Shankly Playing fields on the corner with Barnfield Drive is the other.
They are best viewed in low sunlight, or after a light snowfall, or occasionally when a lone golfer tees off from their slopes of a late summer evening!
Ridge and furrow is a form of ploughing that first appears in Britain shortly after the Romans left, and lasted well into the 17th century.
In those times, groups of animals (oxen or, later, horses) pulled a single-sided plough which turned the soil over to one side. This side never altered, which is why the ridge of soil was able to build up.
At the same time, the furrows were useful drainage channels, keeping crops like wheat high and dry where they would otherwise have drowned. Rainwater would then have flowed down the furrows to a ditch at the bottom of the slope – ridge and furrow always ran up and down slope rather than across.
The ridges were an elongated reverse-S shape, in that they were largely straight, but where the oxen were turned along with their plough the animals were turned slightly to the left, then fully around to the right in order to line up with the next furrow.
Each of the ridges which grew up became known as a land, and lands were a measure of area and value, such as when calculating the work a ploughman had done.
Ridge and furrow lines could be built up to 6 feet in height in some places, and so they take a lot of punishment before they are wiped from the landscape. While modern ploughing will quickly reduce the ridges to nothing, where no ploughing has taken place since their formation, ridges can survive up to 2 or 3 feet (almost 1 metre).
The two main surviving examples we’re looking at here are around a foot tall in some cases, though as the fields in which they lie are used regularly for football the ridge and furrow lies at the edges. The sports fields themselves have been levelled.
The moderate survival of this ridge and furrow in West Derby can be taken to mean many things.
Either this land went totally out of use once the open field system was no longer in operation. Or perhaps cattle or sheep were grazed here instead. Ridge and furrow survive fairly well when grazed instead of used for crops.
It’s also a fact that parts of south Lancashire were fairly waterlogged in their natural state, and so the land may simply have been unsuitable for crop growing.
Perhaps the local population fell to the extent that the number of fields needed for crops went down.
Main image: Ridge and furrow remains on the Walker Playing Fields, Eaton Road, West Derby.
Ridge and furrow photograph: “Medieval Ridge and Furrow above Wood Stanway – geograph.org.uk – 640050” by Philip Halling. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons.