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Open Fields

The open-field system was the most common agricultural system in much of Europe during the Middle Ages. Each manor, village, or sometimes hamlet, had two or three large fields, which were divided into many narrow strips. These were cultivated by peasants, often called tenants or serfs. The holdings of a manor also included woodland and pasture areas for common usage and fields belonging to the lord of the manor and the religious authorities.


The map above shows the three large fields of Stoke Field, Lambley and Dunfield, but these would almost certainly have been larger during the Middle Ages. Stoke Field is associated with the original name of the village, Gregory Stoke (from the Saxon word stoc, where the stock would be kept). Lambley would originally have been a clearing in the wood where lambs were kept, before giving its name to one of the other large fields. The name Dunfield is most likely associated with the rising ground from the centre of the village, dun or don being a common part of place names for settlements on a slight hill. Broadmead was originally called Smith Moor. Before West Sedgemoor was drained it would have been an extension of that area and would have been much wetter. Another large ‘strip’ field in our present parish is Sharpham Field. This would almost certainly have been associated with the separate hamlet of Sharpham. The three hamlets of Huntham, the home of Mr Hunta, Sharpham, the home of Mr Sharp, or Scearp, and Pinkham, the home of Mr Pink (the Saxons liked giving people nicknames relating to their characters) were strung out along the ridge overlooking West Sedgemoor. The part marked 'A' on the map above is the portion left of Dunfield behind Huntham Close as shown in the photo below with the church in the background.


The open-field system was gradually replaced over several centuries by private ownership of land, especially after the 15th century in the process known as enclosure. However, remnants still occurred in many areas well into the 19th Century. Two Stoke St Gregory fields in particular show this retention of the strip agriculture as shown on the Tithe Maps below (c 1840):


Going south west from the school, it can be seen that parts of Dunfield had already been turned into enclosed areas owned by individuals, but strips 862 to 869, shown by the dotted lines, were still owned and farmed by different people. Even if someone owned several strips, they still might be separated. Originally this had been so that each plot holder had a fair share of the better ground. 862 on the Tithe Map was owned and farmed by Robert Pearce. Charles Holcombe Dare owned 863 & 868, but rented the two plots to Edward Attyeo. Charles Hill owned and farmed 864 & 869. 865 belonged to John Scott Gould, rented to Edward Lockyer, 866 was Thomas Barrington’s, and 867 was owned and farmed by Charles Miller. And that was only a small part of the original field!


Much of Sharpham Field was also still divided into strips in 1840. Thomas Barrington, who lived at Lower Huntham Farm farmed fields numbered 789, 791, 793, 831, 833, and 835 on the map, but 790 & 792 were owned and farmed by Mary Pearcy, 830 & 834 were farmed by Thomas Hembrow, and John Hunt owned and farmed 832. Incidentally, field 834 was where the Quaker burials took place in the 18th Century - but that’s another story.

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