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  • A close examination of modern features can sometimes reveal interesting clues about the distant past.

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Take a careful look at this view of the houses on the east side of Long Acre, looking north (or check an aerial view of the street). Unlike most terraces in Castleford and elsewhere, the row is far from straight. The nearest half-dozen or so houses point slightly to the west, then the terrace curves to the east (note the line of the pavement and front yard walls for the clearest change in direction), then towards the far end it curves back to the west again. Why should this be the case when there are no obvious reasons on the ground preventing the late nineteenth century builders from running the houses in a straight line?

The answer can be seen on the earliest maps of Castleford, when this area was still agricultural land comprising numerous small fields or ‘closes’ of various shapes and sizes. These closes had been created by dividing up and enclosing parcels of land from the medieval open fields – in this case the former Roundhill Field – and the houses of Long Acre can be seen to have been built on the narrowest of three side-by-side fields each with a distinctive double-curved shape, like a back-to-front letter ‘S’. It appears that the builder bought this one field but it was too narrow to create a straight row of houses plus front and back streets within its confines – so the line of the houses had to follow the curvature of the field.

  The plot on which Long Acre now stands, as it was in 1854. Other features to note include High Bridge Lane, now Smawthorne Lane, and the dotted line running bottom left to top right which is the former Castleford–Glasshoughton township boundary (the position of which explains why the row of houses on Long Acre ends where it does).

This reverse-S shape is a classic feature of medieval open fields with their distinctive wide ridges and furrows, which were created by the annual cultivation of the land by a one-man horse or ox-drawn plough. As the plough approached each end of the field, the ploughman would veer off to the left to give the animals more space to make the 180-degree turn before heading back in the opposite direction, thus creating the reverse-S pattern of ridges and furrows. These can still be seen in many fields which were converted from arable to pasture at a time when open-field cultivation was still in force and which have not been ploughed since: a couple of such fields survive within the Castleford boundaries at Methley Bridge Farm, between the Three Lane Ends housing estate and the River Calder.

As much as anything visual, there is also a big clue in the name of the street: Long Acre, which undoubtedly perpetuates the name of the old field division on which the houses are built. Quite probably, the strip of land was an acre in extent but, because it was so narrow, it was also necessarily very long. The nearby Half Acres district almost certainly takes its name from an old field name, too, and likewise Roundhill Road, the street with which Long Acre has its junction at its northern end.

So – in all probability unbeknown to the Victorian builder and to the hundreds of people who have lived in Long Acre since – this unassuming street of terrace houses, on the face of it no different to dozens more in Castleford, can trace its distinctive name and form directly back to the first medieval ploughman who undertook to cultivate this plot of land, perhaps almost a thousand years ago.

DSCN4125 Ridge and furrow at Methley Bridge Farm. It is just about possible to make out the reverse-S curvature from this low angle.

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