Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Turning the plough

click photo to enlarge
Before I moved from north west England to Lincolnshire I knew more about medieval ploughing than I did about ploughing today. I still do, but a few years in this most agricultural of counties has widened my understanding of modern methods. I was reflecting on this as, late on a January afternoon with shafts of sunlight piercing the cloud that was moving in from the west, we watched a tractor with its plough turning over the ground in a field on the edge of the village of Bicker.

A thousand years ago the single plough was pulled by oxen, five hundred years ago the horse was more commonly used, but during that long period little else changed in the way the land was prepared. A village commonly had three large, open fields each divided into selions of approximately half an acre (220 yards by 11 yards). These were parcelled together in groups (furlongs) that were often at right angles to each other with the irregular spaces at the edges of the fields (butts and gores) also ploughed. Over time each straight selion became banked higher in the centre and to have a characteristic curve at each end making it into an elongated "S" shape. This came about because the plough always turned the soil to the right and and because the ploughman turned the same way at the end of the selion to get ready to plough back down the strip. Where these medieval fields have been turned to pasture and escaped subsequent mechanical deep ploughing you can still see undulating lines, all with the characteristic curve at each end, especially when the sun is low and casting shadows across the land.

The modern plough that a tractor such as the one above pulls always has more than a single blade; here there are 6. The blades themselves are always made of steel where the earlier plough blades were wooden. In addition, the plough is turned over at the end of each run overcoming the problem of banking and "S" shaped curves. I took my photograph as the ploughman was undertaking this manoeuvre and about to reverse into his starting position. Noticing the camera he gave me a wave before he set off.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 100mm
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/200 sec
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  -1.0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On