This article was written by Bob Brown who runs Cotswold Garden Flowers, a nationally acclaimed nursery in Badsey specialising in unusual garden perennials. Here he describes Briar Croft where his nursery is based.
I bought this small piece of freehold land from Badsey and Aldington Parish Council in about 1989 in order to start a plant nursery. Previously the land has been owned by Miss Sladden whose family played a central role in village life in the early years of the twentieth century. The land is now occupied by Cotswold Garden Flowers.
From the start I was interested in the history of this plot and three facts needed particular explanation. Firstly the land is freehold in the midst of land held under ‘Evesham Custom’ chiefly from Christ Church, Oxford (who obtained it after the dissolution of the Abbey in Evesham). Secondly, it is leg of mutton-shaped in the midst of large tracts of more or less open unhedged land. Thirdly, the land is bounded on the north by a small stream and a stank dug from it, and an overgrown strip of blackthorn dominated scrub. A track runs inside this boundary. On the south and west sides it is bordered by a ditch and bank. On the far side of the bank the surface of the field is about 1m higher than the land on the Cotswold Garden Flowers side.
So what could help explain these three facts? Firstly there is evidence that illustrates that the land around Cotswold Garden Flowers was originally worked in strips as a common field. Take a look at a large-scale map and notice that the word ‘field’ occurs on this side of the village as Badsey Field (with Badsey Fields Lane leading to it). Also, walk down Sands Lane and look carefully at the shape of the ground surface. Since the Greenacres Animal Rescue has grazed ‘Upper Sands’ on the left you can just see traces of ridge and furrow that is repeated in the grazed land on the right. Finally, when I came in 1989 the land adjacent to mine to the north and on the other side of a small stream was ‘owned’ and worked for vegetables by 4 or 5 different people in strips without any obvious markers between the strips.
Now the word ‘field’ used to describe an area (and not merely a field), ridge and furrow and land worked in strips are evidence of former open fields worked in common by the villagers. The conclusion is that Badsey, like most other Midland villages had land worked by this method, and that working it in strips for vegetable production meant that with its relatively higher productivity, the system hung on for longer and maybe even survives today. Famously, the land around two villages outside the area Laxton in Nottinghamshire and Braunton in N.Devon more or less completely continues to be worked in this way. Most vestiges of such workings disappeared in the nineteenth century with the passing of enclosure acts.
The difference of height of the land either side of the ditch and bank is explained by what happens when land is ploughed and the sod turn over on one side. Repeated turning in the same direction over many centuries can both raise and lower land either side of a boundary. This is what causes strip holdings on common fields to become ridge and furrow since the people who had the right to use the land always turned the sod inwards on their strips to preserve their topsoil. An additional piece of evidence illustrates the great age of the boundaries around Cotswold Garden Flowers. On the boundaries we have in a short distance several plant indicators of old boundary among them dewberry (Rubus caesius) and Mercurialis perennis (perennial dog’s mercury).
What about the leg of mutton shape and its freehold status? On heavy clay fields in the past, oxen rather than horses ploughed land because it needed their superior strength to do the work. (Having dug this ground repeatedly, I can confirm Cotswold Garden Flowers has the heaviest clay in Britain!) Where fields were held in common and worked in strips and were on clay it was usual to keep a small leg of mutton-shaped piece of land for turning the ox teams in the middle of the fields. These teams of oxen were long and the space needed to turn them great and they would have come in at the shin end of the leg of mutton turned in an arc at the top of the thigh and exited back at the shin but now pointing in the opposite direction. Such pieces of land would have not been productive and would have remained in the freehold ownership of the lord of the manor. Many have now been taken over by local councils and are ‘greens’ (sometimes called leg or shoulder of mutton greens) and are surrounded by housing. Just to add a little archaeological evidence to this conjecture – we have in the last 11 years dug up many pony, mule, horse and ox shoes from the land. Oxen have cloven feet and each shoe consists of two halves. Mr. Caswell’s predecessor as smithy would have been kept busy reshoeing animals.
Bob Brown, 24/5/02
Briar Croft is shown is shown on a map from an 1888 indenture.
Here is the website for Cotswold Garden Flowers in Sands Lane, Badsey.
Editor's note: While reading Derek Parson's excellent book 'Broadway: A Village History' my attention was caught by a 10C reference to 'Briar Low'. Could there be a connection? A 10C document describes the old boundaries of Broadway which included Childswickham and certainly came close to Badsey's parish boundaries. Part of the document reads -
"... From the low to Egsa's marsh, from the marsh up along the hill. So that to Baedda's spring. From Baedda's spring to Briar Low, from the Low to the north watermeadow, around the meadow along the old dyke, so that to Sand Brook. From Sand Brook to the plank streamlet, thence to the streamlet of the dirty pit..."
Parson gives an interpretation
based on the book 'Anglo-Saxon Charter Boundaries' by Della Hooke -
Egsa's Marsh = Murcot
Baedda's Spring = Badsey Brook
Briar Low = Bowers Hill
Sand Brook = the brook that runs through Condicup
- which sounds plausible apart from Briar Low being Bower's Hill. Could it perhaps be Briar Croft?