Farm for rent, would suit time traveller

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The Independent Online
Wanted: one tenant for a farm that time forgot. In the Nottinghamshire village of Laxton, the medieval pattern of crop rotation and communal farming survives. Thanks to various accidents of history, the parish still has three large fields divided into 164 small strips.

In each strip, Laxton's 18 farmers plant winter-sown wheat one year and a spring-sown crop such as barley the next. In the third year, the field used to be left fallow to recover its fertility before the cycle restarted, but these days grass is grown to provide hay.

The three crops rotate round the fields.

This is a pattern that was found across England 600 years ago. It required much co- operation between the farmers and the maintenance of precise boundaries without the use of fences and hedges. All this was regulated by manorial courts, which had substantial powers to punish transgressors.

In Tudor times, the larger and more influential landlords and tenant farmers consolidated the tiny, dispersed holdings into fields surrounded by hedgerows.

In the 18th century, new farming systems and advances in farm machinery propelled enclosure, keeping lawyers and surveyors busy and converting a large part of the English peasantry into landless farm labourers and factory fodder for the Industrial Revolution.

Laxton, which once overlooked the mighty Sherwood Forest, also had its open land nibbled away into enclosures over the years. But while enclosure of the entire parish was considered several times, it never happened because the two major landowners, Earl Manvers and the Earl of Scarborough, could not agree on how it should be done.

Finally, soon after the turn of the century, local leaders and farmers began to realise that something unique and precious had survived; interest in conserving Laxton's fields began.

The Ministry of Agriculture bought the freehold in 1952 and became lord of the manor. In 1981 the land was passed to the Government's Crown Estate.

One of the tenants, Ernest Kent, has died, and the estate is looking for someone who will adhere to the old ways.

Tenant Reginald Rose, 70, has traced his ancestors in Laxton back to 1434 and is Clerk to the Guits and Commons in the Court Leet. He admitted the new tenant might have trouble making a living with such a small holding, but hoped that could be overcome.

"We can see the day coming when we will all have to diversify," he said.