Ridge and Furrow

Stanton-on-the-Wolds Golf Club's Ridge and Furrow

Probably not many Members give thought that when playing off the fairways of the 3rd, 9th, 11th and 18th holes their resulting lie, presuming that the ball found the cut fairway, has been influenced by farming activity that has taken place centuries earlier.

The 'ridge and furrow' is one of the most recognisable features of English historic landscape which gives fields the undulating, corrugated surface that in most cases marks the remains of medieval strip fields that where once under the plough.

Ridges were cast up, using a single direction plough, in order to create a self-draining seedbed, the furrow acted as an open drain as well as serving as an ownership demarcation between ridges.

The ridges were typical of the pre-enclosure farming system where villages were surrounded by large hedgeless 'open fields' that were farmed in the strip system. An individual farmer's holding, called an oxgang, typically consisted of about 20 acres of land lying in 70 or so strips, or ridges, scattered around a village, with no two ridges lying together, this scattering of an individuals holding was to ensure an even distribution of ridges across the fields, which were usually cultivated on a three-year crop rotation, carrying wheat and barley in the first year, beans and peas in the second, and left fallow in the third.

Typically each ridge measured one quarter of an acre - 5½  yards (1 rod) wide and 220 yards long, its length coming to be known as a furlong, though this term technically refers to block of ridges, of whatever number, lying together within an open field.

Individual owners or tenants would have cultivated these strips, although they would have had to pool resources and help one another, as many wouldn't have a plough or sufficient animals to pull it, and it generally took more than one person to perform the ploughing. Sometimes as many as four men might have worked together, one, the ploughman himself, holding and steering the plough, another to encourage the oxen, another to adjust the plough beam and help guide it, and another to add weight to the plough and keep it steady on the ground. The ploughing team of yoked animals could require as many as four beasts on heavy ground, and up to eight on virgin soil, perhaps averaging one mph, later with the use of horses this was increased to two mph. So ploughing was a matter of shouting and struggle - men against beasts and both against the soil.

Not all surviving ridges relate to pre-enclosure fields, two other types commonly occur, both dating from the 19th century. Wide ridges were sometimes ploughed within enclosed fields, again for drainage, they are distinguished from open-field ridges in being generally straight, rather wider [often 20yds], not so steep and always parallel to at least one field edge. Another type has very narrow ridges, 2-3 yards wide and these too fit within present-day hedged fields as can be seen on the practice ground area of the Golf Club.

So after taking your shot from the ridge and furrow, spare a quick thought for the people responsible for some of our more unusual fairways, I'm sure that they little thought that future generations would be playing sport on ground created by their sweat and graft.

more general 'ridge and furrow' information on Wikipedia