The Shaping of the Land


The Shaping of the Land


The landscape we see around Oakridge today is largely derived from the changes in land ownership and farming in the 17th and 18th Centuries.

The 1600's was a golden age for farming, though land holdings at the beginning of the seventeenth century were small.

Considered an important estate, Watercombes Farm (now Watercombe House at Waterlane) had only 10 acres when it was sold in 1620. Prices for crops were good and rising and there was a growing population to feed. Farmers were keen to profit from the growing market for foodstuffs and it was vital that they were able to manage their land better.

The old system of open fields with its crop rotations, which had to be agreed by all the farmers, often led to endless quarrels and disputes. This way of farming was holding back progress.

Landowners decided, therefore, to take matters into their own hands. They began to exchange parcels of land with their neighbours. There is a comment in the estate records of Brasenose College, written in 1686, that 'tenants have changed some lands with their neighbours, they deny to others ancient ways and water courses'. But the process was unstoppable.

The deeds for Sydenhams, a farm near Eisley, show that between 1715 and 1735 there were seven exchanges of parcels of land. The open-field system was slowly being abandoned and as each new field was created, it was hedged or walled off. The landscape was being changed into what we recognise today and many field boundaries date from this time.

Once the strips were amalgamated and enclosed, the new fields were called 'Tynings' and the road from Eisley to Waterlane now passes through New Tyning, Holloway Tyning and Sycamore Tyning.

During these years, clothiers and weavers ploughed their new wealth back into the land. Wills and title deeds record their purchases.

In 1712, the broadloom weaver Samuel Damsell, who lived at Lyday Close in Oakridge, listed his acquisitions in his will, 'all those several parcels of land which I purchased of John Taylor of Tetbury lying in the Parish of Eisley and all those several parcels of land which I purchased from Walter Sevill lying in a place in Eisley called Hawkley [just outside Eastcombe]'.

Farming Improvements

At the same time, farmers began to be keenly interested in improving the fertility of their land. If they could only grow more hay, they could keep more cattle alive through the winter. One of the earliest innovations was the floating meadow or water meadow. Where a stream or small river ran through meadows, it could be dammed and equipped with a series of hatches, so that the water was diverted along channels across the meadow. Then, during the winter months, the whole field could be covered with a thin constantly moving sheet of water. The grass was protected from the frost and enriched by the silt brought down by the river. The grass grew earlier and provided fresh lush grass for grazing and later on there was an abundant crop of hay.

Probably the low-lying fields from Chalford down to Daneway were all once water meadows. Certainly there were water meadows from

Whitehall bridge, near Trillis, through to Daneway and from below Rookwoods down to Tunley. Ken Bucknell, who grew up in Waterlane, remembers the meadows in the 1930s, a scene unchanged since the seventeenth century,

'They were beautiful with wild flowers among the grass, fly orchids and bee orchids, moon daisies and yellow irises. When the hay was cut it was lush, very heavy green grass, heavy with seed, almost like ears of corn, with flower heads in it. The hay was cut with hand scythes and I remember the sound of the man sharpening his scythe with a stone, a wonderful sound in the valley, a sound that will never be heard again. Gone are the really old men, bearded with flat caps or bowler hats with heavy boots and special leggings to keep themselves dry who maintained the system of dams and hatches.'

These men took their skills to the grave and with the introduction of chemical fertilisers, the water meadows disappeared from the landscape.

New crops introduced from Holland in the seventeenth century, such as clover and sanfoin, also helped to improve the fertility of the soil. Their use is recorded in two field names near the Eisley to Oakridge road, Clover Ground and Sanfoin Ground. Even in the 1930s sanfoin was still being grown, as Ken Bucknell remembers,

'It was a very sought after crop and grown in specially seeded meadows. It had a floral head to it and when you tasted the milk after the cows had been fed on sanfoin hay, it was very sweet, full of cream.'

The above is an extract from 'Oakridge a History' by Pat Carrick, Kay Rhodes and Juliet Shipman, available from Oakridge History Group, price £15 through the ‘Contact Us’ page or from the Oakridge Village Shop.



Local horsepower before mechanisation ...


“The Shaping of the Land,” Oakridge Archives, accessed July 16, 2024,

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