1) A variety of meanings over time, including open country; unenclosed land which was worked communally; or enclosed land given over to crops or pasture.

This is a word with a complicated semantic history, with meanings which can overlap chronologically, reflecting differences in land organisation from one village to another. In its earliest phase it was used of a tract of open country, contrasted with ‘wood’ and ‘fen’, and it is that meaning which explains major place-names such as Mirfield, Sheffield and Wakefield. As settlements became established, a new functional meaning developed, and for a long period during the transition from Old English to Middle English ‘field’ came to describe unenclosed land which was worked communally. Typically in those years each township had an area of arable which would be called the town fields. An undated thirteenth-century deed for Lepton records the grant de tribus acris terre in campis de Lepton

that is three acres in the fields of Lepton. In fact the sections of these fields had their own names which differed from one community to another: those in Lepton included North Field, Broomfield and South Field. Such fields had no permanent enclosures, but temporary fences would be erected to allow for their seasonal management. Those town fields no longer exist but their locations can be found on old maps, and their names have sometimes survived: Southfield Road in Almondbury has replaced Southfield Lane which owed its name to the town’s original South Field. We now use the word ‘field’ for an area of ground enclosed by some type of fence and given over to pasture, or crops such as corn, turnips or potatoes. Documents can reflect those transitional stages in the word’s meaning: 1563-4 Rawdenfild afore this suit begane for this xxx or xl yeres continually haith bene and yet is a severall inclosid ground having no usiall throughe passage nor hieght way in it nor through it

1722 Samuel Wright was mowing oats in a close or field not far from Bilbrough.

places Lepton Bilbrough
dates 1200-1299 1563-1564 1722

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Photo by Kreuzschnabel CC BY-SA 3.0