Ancient Monuments

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Portland open fields

A Scheduled Monument in Portland, Dorset

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Latitude: 50.522 / 50°31'19"N

Longitude: -2.4533 / 2°27'11"W

OS Eastings: 367962.8329

OS Northings: 69231.1728

OS Grid: SY679692

Mapcode National: GBR PY.L9L0

Mapcode Global: FRA 57RP.829

Entry Name: Portland open fields

Scheduled Date: 2 September 1952

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1002729

English Heritage Legacy ID: DO 163

County: Dorset

Civil Parish: Portland

Traditional County: Dorset

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Dorset

Church of England Parish: Portland All Saints

Church of England Diocese: Salisbury


Part of a medieval open field system to the east and north east of the Old Higher Lighthouse.

Source: Historic England


This record was the subject of a minor enhancement on 17 December 2015. The record has been generated from an "old county number" (OCN) scheduling record. These are monuments that were not reviewed under the Monuments Protection Programme and are some of our oldest designation records.

The monument, which falls into two separate areas of protection, includes part of a medieval open field system situated close to the southern tip of the Isle of Portland. The field system survives as a series of long sinuous reversed S-shaped strips divided by low banks of unploughed turf or lynchets of up to 1.3m high called ‘lawnsheds’ within large fields. They are characteristic of medieval communal agriculture which as a system began during the Anglo-Saxon period and reached its zenith following the Norman Conquest and the rise of Feudalism.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

The medieval open field system commenced during the Anglo-Saxon period and flourished under the Feudal system following the Norman Conquest. In its earliest form the system required two fields, an infield and outfield. The infield was used in the summer to grow crops and to over winter animals whilst the outfield was used for summer pasture only. This developed into the three field system, whereby one large field was left fallow and used for grazing, and the other two were cultivated with rotational crops such as cereals and peas and beans in an attempt to maintain soil fertility. Over time the rotation would include all fields with all types of use. Other key areas not included in the ‘fields’ were meadows used to provide winter fodder, common land for additional grazing and woodland for firewood. The fields were divided into strips and shared amongst the peasantry who worked the land communally. Peasants would work strips scattered amongst all three fields. Much of their produce was then paid in dues to the lord of the manor. The distinctive strips fields were produced by areas of unploughed land being left between allotments and the shape was determined by the action of ploughing which always turned the soil to the right and thus produced an undulating S-shape. The size of the strips was roughly an acre (0.405ha) which represented a days’ work with a plough and the length was determined by the distance an ox team could plough before needing a rest, a furlong (201.2m).

The part of a medieval open field system to the east and north east of the Old Higher Lighthouse survives well and although once common, the evidence for this method of agriculture is rarely preserved following the introduction of differing agricultural techniques and practices through time.

Source: Historic England

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