Few things have helped create the look of the English
countryside more than hedgerows. Hedges have been used for a long time in
England, yet for all their antiquity, much of the familiar checkerboard
pattern they help create is of very recent vintage.
Hedges have been used as field boundaries in England
since the times of the Romans. Excavations at Farmoor (Oxon) reveals Roman
hedges made of thorn. The Anglo-Saxons also used hedgerows extensively,
and many that were used as estate boundaries still exist. Although these
early hedges were used as field enclosures or to mark the boundaries of
one person's property, there was no systematic planting of hedges in
England until the first enclosure movement of the 13th century.
The pressures of population expansion led to a
widespread clearing of land for agriculture, and the new fields needed to
be marked clearly.
Hedges are used as field
boundaries in the lowland regions of England. In
the highlands, such as the Yorkshire Dales,
dry stone walls are commonly used.
Later, farming expansion in the 15th century led to
more widespread hedge planting, but the greatest use of hedges came in the
Enclosure Movement of the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Enclosure Movement is a fancy term that historians
use to describe the habit of wealthy landowners enclosing common fields
for their own use, usually for the purpose of raising sheep.
So great was the need for hedges during the enclosures,
that a whole new industry sprang up supplying hawthorn plants to be used
in planting new hedges.
In the process of enclosure many rural labourers lost
their livelihood and had to move to the new industrial urban centres. So
the next time you sigh over the timeless quality of the English
hedge-shaped countryside, spare a thought for the misery and hardship
caused by the erection of hedged fields to much of England's rural
Roman, Anglo-Saxon, 13thC, 15thC, 18th-19thC
Where: Lowland areas
Why: Field boundaries
How: Planting bushes or trees and pleating them together at
an angle as they grew
huge variety based on local availability, but the most
common were hawthorn, blackthorn, and holly
A lot of effort and ingenuity has been brought to bear
on the problem of dating hedges. Several historians have advanced
mathematical formulae for calculating the age of a hedgerow based on the
number of plant species found in a certain length of hedge. As an
extremely rough rule of thumb, one species of hedge plant per 100 years
seems to get close to the truth.
Unfortunately, recent years have seen the disappearance
of many miles of English hedgerows. Farmers want bigger fields for their
crops and It is easier for modern farmers to string new metal fence wire
than to maintain ancient hedgerows. This has lead to the erosion of the
soil in some cases, as there are no longer any roots to bind the soil
together. Conservation efforts have introduced incentives to farmers to
maintain the hedges, and losses have slowed somewhat. Estimates vary, but
there may be upwards of 500,000 miles of hedgerows in England today.
The fields surrounding Rishton are of mixed variety.
Because of its location, field boundaries can be either stone walls or
hedge rows, depending on the gradient of the land.