Look into this photo…look deep into this photo.
What do you see?
Yes, I know.. it’s just a bit of farmland.
Look deeper…there’s at least 4000 years of farmland here.
Look at the hedgerows….they’re very precious …on a European scale, our bushy boundaries are surprisingly rare and wonderful for wildlife.
Off to the left is the edge of Badbury Rings.. so we’re on the Kingston Lacy Estate in Dorset again.
Kingston Lacy for me is like Miss Marple’s village.
We are on the south side of the grand Beech Avenue. William John Bankes had this planted for his mother in 1835.
This land has been ploughed for many generations. Bottom centre, there’s a dark circle with a black blob in it.
The ploughing has levelled an Early Bronze Age burial mound and all that is left is the cut of the quarry ditch. From here the chalk was dug to heap up the bright white mound over the grave. Perhaps the body is still be in the grave pit marked by the blob.
The Round Barrow was once an eye-catcher. About 1000BC the land was divided into units by linear boundary ditches. Perhaps population was rising. Boundaries needed to be clear and well defined. The barrow mound formed a good fixed point and the boundary runs against it.
Look again. This linear boundary does not follow a straight line. It has to weave between existing fields. Can you see the white ghost lines of the chalk field banks it has to negotiate. These are small ‘celtic’ fields, in use from the Bronze Age through to the Roman period and later.
Many hedge and wall field systems in the west still follow boundaries as old as this.
Nothing is completely static.
Look up to the centre right and see a group of dark-lined enclosure ditches overlying the ghosts. I walked there with the farmer once and recovered scraps of Roman pottery from the new ploughed field. Stock enclosures, Roman development over part of the old system.
Zoom out a little… can you see broad bands of darker and lighter stripes running roughly with the hedgerows?..
These are the remains of the furlongs and strips of Shapwick’s common arable field system. A time of centralisation when scattered farmsteads and fields became concentrated. Devised by the Saxons, around the 10th century, communities farmed their scattered strips within the great fields, managed by the lord’s manorial court.
At Kingston Lacy, this system continued right down to the 19th century. We have a great map showing all the strip fields in 1773-4, it tells us who farmed what.The small guys were being squeezed out by the larger farmers.
How old fashioned! This was the advice of William Woodward, the surveyor, who advised the Bankes family to enclose the land. In 1813, a new map was made and the land was divided up into large economic farms with straight hedge boundaries. The smallholders became farm labourers.
Look into this photograph. Look deep into this photograph. We are east of Badbury now. Towards Kingston Lacy Park.
Bottom left is the tree-edged enclosure of Lodge Farm. All the names in the landscape matter. It’s ‘lodge’ after the medieval hunting lodge.
The stone lodge itself now has a lawn in front of it. A 15th century building on the site of an earlier building at the gateway to the royal deer park and warren of Badbury. This park is documented right back to Henry de Lacy’s time in the 13th century.
Top, right of Badbury, is the medieval High Wood, and middle right is a hedgerow strip marking the deep survival of the broad medieval deer park ditch. Designed for fallow deer to leap in but not get out. Deer were valued for their high status meat, a preserve of the rich carefully nurtured and guarded.
Badbury Warren was maintained right up to bachelor John Bankes’ day. There were complaints that the thousands of rabbits kept there, got out into the corn and coppices and damaged the crops.
John’s mum Margaret always kept the accounts and when John took over the Estate he followed her example….right up to 1740, when he closed the account book and left a few sheets of paper there.
One of these contained the inked in costs of enclosing the Warren. All the hedges in this photo were planted at this time. Their names give away the old use of this new farmland…’Lodge Field’, ‘Deer Hill Field’, ‘Hare Run Field’ and ..
‘Watch House Field’ (watching for poachers? a dangerous job, one of the medieval keepers Henry Warren was murdered…)
Sometimes… in the right conditions…. the Roman road from Poole on the coast to Badbury can be seen running from Lodge Farm across the fields.. aiming for the saddle of land between the hills of Badbury and High Wood.
Not in this photograph though..
each year brings new conditions of ploughing, drought, snow and frost and …new revelations of the past become possible…
Look into this photograph…north of Badbury now…what can you see?
The spaghetti junction of Roman Dorset! We’re looking down the barrel of the late 4th century road from Old Sarum (Salisbury), the London Road, to the civitas captital of Dorchester (still Dorset’s county town).
This late road crosses two, perhaps three earlier roads. The Poole road turns in the middle left of the photo and splits.
First joining the field boundary running to bottom centre (the road to London).
Second crossing the centre of the field, under the Dorchester road, and continuing to Bath and….
Third.. following the straight, thick hedge boundary between Badbury and the arable fields. Another road, long forgotten, heading for the Somerset Roman town of Ilchester.
This boundary, preserved and managed over the centuries.. ancient, ancient boundary held in the landscape as a hedge…once a Roman road.. it became a convenient straight marker in the 12th century to divide off the new manor of Shapwick from the royal manor of Wimborne Minster…
and today it remains the parish boundary between the St Batholomew’s Church of Shapwick and St Stephen’s of Pamphill.
Everything in the landscape speaks. Ancient public footpaths, names of fields, woodlands, coppices…all full of stories and ….hedgerows are particularly precious and vulnerable…