An Archaeology of Town Commons in England

‘A very fair field indeed’

By Mark Bowden, Graham Brown, Nicky Smith

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Historically, towns in England were provided with common lands for grazing the draft animals of townspeople engaged in trade and for the pasturing of farm animals in an economy where the rural and the urban were inextricably mixed. The commons yielded wood, minerals, fruits and wild animals to the town's inhabitants and also developed as places of recreation and entertainment, as extensions of domestic and industrial space, and as an arena for military, religious and political activities.

However, town commons have been largely disregarded by historians and archaeologists; the few remaining urban commons are under threat and are not adequately protected, despite recognition of their wildlife and recreational value. In 2002 English Heritage embarked upon a project to study town commons in England, to match its existing initiatives in other aspects of the urban scene. The aim was to investigate, through a representative sample, the archaeological content and Historic Environment value of urban commons in England and to prompt appropriate conservation strategies for them. The resulting book is the first overview of the archaeology of town commons - a rich resource because of the relatively benign traditional land-use of commons, which preserves the physical evidence of past activities, including prehistoric and Roman remains as well as traces of common use itself.

The recognition of town commons as a valid historical entity and a valued part of the modern urban environment is an important first step towards successful informed conservation. An important consideration for the future is maintaining the character of town commons as a different sort of urban open space, distinct from parks and public gardens.


  1. Introduction
  2. The land before the commons
  3. Farming on town commons
  4. From the land
  5. Defence of the realm
  6. A social dimension to town commons
  7. High days and holidays
  8. Present and future

Additional Information

  • Series: Archaeology
  • Publication Status: Completed
  • Pages: 108
  • Illustrations: 75, colour and b&w illustrations
  • Product Code: 51478
  • ISBN: 9781848021761


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