Friday, June 29, 2012

Ploughlands and work weeks: Ch 2 'Furroughs and Roods'

To recap. We have a fictional Angle-Land inhabited by a race of Engle-Exxon warrior farmers led by the 'hus-bund' who with his 'wif' oversees a 'family/household' drawing their subsistence and other income from the products of their 'hide' consisting of 120 acres of arable spread among an open three-field system plus rights over common woods, pastures and meadows.

An Anglish acre is amazingly enough exactly equal to a modern American statutory acre (English acres varying by region), which American acre measures 43560 sf. But your Anglish farmer did not measure by the square foot, instead each of his acres, topography allowing, was one furlong by four roods or perches wide. A 'furlong' was considered to be the length of a 'furrow', or grain planting strip, that could be plowed by a standard eight-ox plough team in a single pull, being 220 yards or 660 feet long. A 'rood' or 'rod' or 'perch' was the length of the ox-goad typically carried by the ox-boy who with the ploughman made up the human component of a plough-team, with that goad or 'rood' being 16 1/2' long. Now if our Anglish ploughman had a four function calculator he could have multiplied a 660' ft furrough-long x 4 x 16.5' rood and come up with a calculated 43560 sf (660 x 66). That is our American land measure system only seeming to be arbitrary.

And here is where things get interesting. The following is a description of an 'acre' from an English web page Hemyock Castle: Glossary of Ancient Weights and Measures
Acre (area):
(Anglo-Saxon field.) The land area that can be ploughed by one ox team in a day - actually in a morning because the Oxen would need resting in the afternoon: They would trudge 11 miles while ploughing an acre. Traditionally in the strip field farming system, an area 40 rods long by 4 rods wide (ie. 220 yards by 22 yards). Sometimes used as a measure of width: One acre = 4 Rods wide. One tenth of a square furlong. Similar to the French Journal, and German Morgan or Tagwerk. The modern acre is 4840 square yards.
At this point the average work day and work week of the Anglish ploughman starts coming into view. One the actual portion of the day spent plowing was just half the day with the oxen being turned out onto pasture or the fallow field to browse, rest, and btw to naturally produce the very valuable manure needed to maintain fertility for the planting the next season or year. And the task of leading the oxen to pasture, to watch over them as necessary, and to lead them home could be left to the ox-boy, or as we will see boys, the ploughman himself freed up to perform other tasks. That is already we are pretty far from the Piers Plowman view of the poor villein plowing from dawn to dusk, not because he couldn't be driven to do so if need be, but because any given ox-team can only be driven so far, and oxen at least are valuable production items not to be wantonly wasted (even or especially in times when human labor and life are cheap). The implications of all this for the work week and year will be developed in the next chapter.

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