Subdivided strip fields were widespread over most of lowland England before enclosure. Where datable they seem to originate in the late Saxon period and their use survived into the 19th century in some places. In East Anglia and southeast England strips were usually ploughed flat, but in most of the Midlands they were cast up to form `ridge and furrow'. This ridging technique was once used in a central band stretching from County Durham in the north to Somerset in the southwest.
Modern agriculture has removed ridges to such an extent that it has become desirable to preserve some of the increasingly rare good examples. The Monuments Protection Programme of English Heritage, as part of its comprehensive review of the whole of England's archaeological resource, has analysed ridge and furrow in the Midlands (roughly defined as a block from north of Leicester to the Chiltern ridge and from Warwick to Cambridge). The work was undertaken in conjunction with the Heritage section of Northamptonshire County Council and the archaeological officers of the other counties involved. Academic priorities were developed for methods of appraisal and 43 townships within the region have been selected as places where ridge and furrow is worthy of preservation as a monument. Among the criteria used for selection were that a township should have more than about 20% of ridge and furrow surviving (only 120 of the 1500 townships in the region do) and that there are good historical records. It is hoped that a full report of the Open Fields Project will be published by Northamptonshire County Council and English Heritage in 2000.
Ridge and furrow was mapped from vertical aerial photographs taken for each county council at various dates from 1988-1996. An essential next stage, before engaging preservation procedures, was to determine the current state of survival. This was achieved by new vertical photography of all the 43 townships taken in January 1999 by Cambridge University Committee for Aerial Photography. …