Portland open fields


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Dorset (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SY 67964 69235, SY 68639 69635


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

Reasons for Designation

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.


See Details.


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.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
DO 163
Legacy System:


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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