Langford History Soc Crest
Langford History Society

Langford field names and the Enclosure of 1827
I have been asked a few times about the old names of the fields in Langford. With no personal knowledge I have had to refer to the local history book researched and compiled by Michael Rutt and called The People at The Long Ford. In this book an old map of 1800 is mentioned which describes the field names in use at this time. The agricultural system in use from the Middle Ages to 1800 was the open-field system. Under the open-field system, each manor or village had two or three large fields, usually several hundred acres each, which were divided into many narrow strips of land. In Langford these fields were known as Sand Field, Middle Field and Holme Field. The strips were cultivated by individuals or peasant families, often called tenants or serfs. The holdings of a manor also included woodland and pasture areas for common usage and fields belonging to the lord of the manor and the church. By the time of the Enclosure Act of 1827 when the strip system finished and the open fields in Langford had to be enclosed with hedges there was a significant change in ownership of most of the lands in the area. Consequently, the names used previously started to disappear from conversation as they no longer applied due to the new hedge boundaries. These fields were enclosed by hedges or fences in 1829. Today of course, many of these field hedges have gone to make the fields more economic to farm with bigger machinery.

Michael Rutt lists some of the Langford Field names as follows:

Sand Field (which was east of Common Road and south of Edworth Road and included the land up to Vine Farm and Hill Farm) was made up of 12 smaller open fields before 1800 called: Welspoken Hill; Cow Pasture Furlong; Short Musden; Warrens Hill; Long Lands; Pancake Furlong; Peasy Furlong; Long Musden; Lillums; Hobnail Furlong; Foxhole Furlong.

Middle Field (which was north of Edworth Road roughly where the wind turbines are now) was made up of 13 smaller fields before 1800 called: Shortlands; Pitt Furlong; Little O; Eldon Furlong; Elbow Furlong; Parton Furlong; Elm Furlong; Short Flintway; Green Furlong; Hobbs Harry; Pyn Slade; Nether Ditch; Middle Shot.

Holme Field (which was near East Road) was made up of 12 smaller open fields before 1800 called: Langford End Corner; Middle Slade; Southwood Corner; Jews Elm; Sales Lanes End; Wolland Furlong; Long Furlong; Dunway Furlong; Whitmarsh Furlong; Trunk Furlong; Puttocks Furlong; Blakes Furlong.
The job of enclosing the fields was a long job. Fields had to be surveyed, maps created, quality of land assessed, owners had to be compensated for loss of tithes or if the land they swapped was different in quality. No doubt there were arguments and disputes too to be settled.

The picture shows the part of the enclosure map and one can see Middle Field which straddles Edworth Road. Note the absence of the railway.

Langford Enclosure
In 1814 there was an attempt to enclose the open fields of Langford. The main landowners, Sir William Welby, the Vicar – Rev George Mossop, Dean and Chapter of Westminster, together with Perigrine Piper, Mark Norman, and George Edwards all met to prepare the way forward for a petition to be sent to the House of Commons for leave to introduce a Bill. After a year this came to nothing because of an objection and a counter-petition by the Abbey of Westminster. So Langford retained its open field system whilst other villages were being enclosed. A second attempt was made in 1827 and this time the petition was successful. The instigators or commissioners were Perigrine Piper, Mr Pym and George Edwards. They met at the Crown public house. The enclosure would rid the village of the payment of tithes which had been paid since the Middle Ages. However, the tithe owners had to be compensated for their loss of tithes and they received parcels of land.

All the lands had to be surveyed and assessed for quality and accurately mapped. Claims for compensation had to be considered taking into account the requirements of the Act and so this work continued until completion in 1829. Landowners previously holding land in the open field system were compensated with roughly equal amounts of land in the newly enclosed land, the lords of the manors were compensated for loss of manorial rights, tithe owners were compensated for loss of tithes and commoners were compensated for loss of common rights. Highways, drains, ditches and boundaries were defined or created.

The main people who benefited were Sir William Welby of Lincolnshire, Rev George Mossop of Biggleswade, George Edwards of Henlow, and Major-General Raynsford of London.
Sir William Welby had previously purchased the manor of Langford Rectory from Sir John Fagg who lived in Kent. Before that it was owned by Daniel Newman. The rights of tithe went with this land and so a large compensation of 622 acres, a tithe barn, several houses and cottages, river meadows and pasture was made to him. Most of the land was now called Sand Field and lay east of Common Road and south of Edworth road. All this land was let to tenants.
The Vicar, Rev George Mossop, received significant compensation for the loss of tithes which previously had been paid by the village folk.

Major-General Raynsford gained his land as compensation for the loss of part of the Manor of Langford which was previously called the Wahull Manor. He sold the land shortly after receiving it.
George Edwards was the last lord of the Manor of Langford and he sold his newly acquired land to Henry Addington who was the vicar of Langford and Henlow from 1850 to 1870.
The Dean and Chapter of Westminster continued to own large pieces of land, over 300 acres until they sold the freehold in the 1890s. Their land was from where Vicarage Close is now right across eastwards to Toplers Hill.                                                   

Contributed by John Shipman

Farming in Langford
Farming has been carried out in the Langford area since the Bronze Age. In the time of the Domesday Book about 100 parishioners were recorded together with 300 grazing sheep.
In Medieval times the open field system was used with large unenclosed fields and strip allotments. In Langford there were three large fields called: Sand Field; Middle Field and Holme Field. These fields had rectangular blocks of land called furlongs and the size was such that a team of eight oxen could plough each block in one day. The blocks were subdivided into strips and farmers had several strips in different locations to share the good and the poor soil. There were no hedges. Sometimes the strips were separated by grass baulks or open drains. Sowing and reaping had to be done by everyone at the same time as cattle and sheep were released onto the stubble. This system continued until the enclosure act of 1829. See article for further details.

On 21 September 1811 Richard Street and several others in Langford were each fined £4 by the local magistrate Samuel Whitbread for mowing and taking crops from a strip farmed by Mr Lisle.

The agricultural wages in the 19th century were awful and farm workers relied on subsidies from the Poor Law (1834) rates. The employment of women and children on the land cost the farmer less, and the overstocked labour market drove wages even lower. Large families were an asset as many children could supplement the father’s wage.

Wages were linked to the price of bread and the size of families. Self-respect and motivation for self-improvement was minimal. Workers received an allowance for all children and the parish Overseer administered the ‘dole’ to those who qualified. The Poor Law was subsequently amended, subsidies were stopped and the free labour market found its own level. The workhouse played a big part in housing and feeding the destitute. Langford had its own workhouse from 1785 to 1835.

Farm workers on low wages were encouraged to grow their own food on ‘allotments’ rather than rely on cash handouts from the poor rates. Friendly Societies began to offer help to those workers who were sick and many such benefit clubs or schemes were funded by weekly subscription. The clubs were often called ‘Slate Clubs’ and were run by the publicans in The Wrestlers, The Corner House and The Plough. Pay-outs were made for sickness and funerals. The clubs had an annual meeting on Whit-Monday and this holiday began with a procession through the village with a band, flags and banners. Will Street would bring a barrel of beer on his coal cart. A meal and plenty of beer would be served at the pub where the landlord looked after the club’s accounts.

After harvest the church bell would be rung every day at 7am to announce the start of gleaning. This old custom would enable everyone in the village including the children, the old and the feeble to collect un-harvested corn from the fields. The bell was rung again at 6pm to close the activity. The bell ringer was paid 1s 2d by the gleaners. This daily routine was repeated over three weeks and it gave everyone ample time to stock up their own store of corn for threshing and grinding at the local mill. Gleaning continued on a smaller scale after the fields were enclosed.

Corn harvesting in the 19th century was done with a sickles and scythes. A man could cut one acre of corn in a twelve-hour day. Thirsty work! Everyone helped to beat the bad weather. The whole village turned out and in a field of about eight acres, eight men worked in a line cutting the corn whilst their families followed behind gathering and tying the corn into sheaves which were stood upright into “shocks” or “stooks” to dry the straw and ears. The corn was carted or ‘led’ to the farm where it was stacked in a weather-proof stack topped with thatch. The heads of the sheaves pointed to the centre of the stack.

In 1876 the railway goods sidings in Langford were opened and queues of horses and carts could be seen going up the sidings to load up produce for the lucrative London markets.
In 1881 the advent of reaping and binding machinery brought some mechanisation to the harvest. The need for labourers diminished and many left for work in the towns. Steam threshing machines revolutionised the process even further. Children played a big part in harvests until the Agricultural Children’s Act of 1873 forbade children under eight being employed. Children were at school until 14 years, but they were allowed time off to help at critical harvest times providing they were good attendees during the rest of the year.

A good threshing drum or machine could thresh seventy quarters of wheat a day and produce 140 sacks of corn, weighing about 13 tons of wheat. All corn was sold by the quarter and the recognised weights for each quarter were: oats 336lbs, barley 448lbs and wheat 500lbs.
In 1900 Langford had 1,935 acres under cultivation. A quarter of this was owned and the rest was rented. By contrast, in 1977 there was 2,023 acres under cultivation and roughly half was owned and rented.

1914 saw some farming men enlisting to fight in Flanders, Gallipoli or in the Navy. Many did not return.

Market gardening became popular in Langford at the beginning of the 20th century. Just before WWII market gardens in the Bedfordshire area covered 20,000 acres or nearly 20% of the arable land. Half was used for brussels sprouts. By 1940 there thirteen market gardens of up to 5 acres and 24 from 5 to 15 acres, 12 from 30 to 50 acres, five from 50 to 150 acres and one over 500 acres.

In 1940 there were 14 tractors in the village and one crawler tractor. The labour force consisted of 95 regularly employed men, 18 casually employed men and three women. In 1940 there were still 52 horses working the land compared to 126 in 1900. By 1977 there were none.
In 1940 there were 1,240 poultry including ducks being reared. Pigs were popular with 257 in 1900, 527 in 1940 but only 27 in 1977.

By the 1950s 16% of the population were engaged in agriculture. The average rent was £3 per acre but some intensive holdings reached £6. A skilled brussels sprout picker could earn £7 per week.

The fields were fertilised either by sewage or stockyard dung and straw. The stockyards were cleared and the dung carted to the field and left in five-foot-high heaps until the October ploughing began. The heaps were then manually dispersed into small heaps each 7 yards apart and in rows 9 yards apart. A man was expected to work 20 cart loads (each of 7 heaps) per day for 2 shillings pay per acre.
Langford’s population remained the same at about 1,200 from 1901 to 1951 but by 1971 it reached 2360. In 2011 it was 3,091.         

Contributed by John Shipman from notes provided by Ralph Turner