Laxton is best known for having the last remaining working open field system in the United Kingdom. Its name is recorded first in the Domesday Book as Laxintone, and may come from Anglo-Saxon Leaxingtūn meaning the "farmstead or estate of the people of a man called Leaxa". It is possibly the namesake of the town of Lexington, Massachusetts, and thus ultimately of all the other towns named Lexington in the United States.
The village has the remains of a Norman motte and bailey castle (Laxton Castle) and is also the site of the Beth Shalom Holocaust Centre. In addition, there are the remnants of a substantial system of fish-ponds, presumed to have belonged to the castle or to the manor house built later on the site of it, two mediæval mill mounds, and ridge-and-furrow earthworks. St Michael the Archangel's Church, Laxton, mostly dates back to the 12th century; after this, the earliest known standing structure is a farmhouse dating from 1703. Most of the village's architecture sits firmly in the local vernacular tradition, with nearly a fifth of the buildings dating from the 18th century, and around 40% from each of the 19th and 20th.
Laxton parish today has much conventionally farmed land but retains also a significant part of the mediaeval open field system. Fields, divided into strips, are farmed in common among the landowners of the village. Today, there are three open fields remaining; the Mill Field, the South Field and the West Field. A 1635 survey of the parish carried out by Mark Pierce (still extant and held in the Bodleian Library) shows that these three fields were in use at that date, but that they were significantly larger than their current size. There was also a fourth field, the East Field, which was considerably smaller than the others, and farmed as part of the West Field. This was fully enclosed, and today is a number of small fields.
The strips within the fields have also changed significantly, with changes in technology. Originally, a single strip would have represented approximately a single day of ploughing; such a strip today would be far too small to be really practical for a tractor-drawn plough. Instead, over time, strips have been consolidated to provide workable parcels of land; the result today is that the average strip size has increased significantly over mediaeval times. However, the practical aspects of open field farming are still very much what they would have been 500 years ago.
Laxton is unique because the open field system is still alive and in daily use. Although the village is now recognised as an important heritage site, it is home to working farmers, who rely on the land for their income. While modern expectations and needs mean that all the farmers own land outside the open fields, the open fields are not part of a museum or showcase but a living part of the agricultural landscape. The system is protected today by a Parliamentary undertaking given by the Crown Estate Commissioners on their 1981 purchase of the Laxton estate and by a Countryside Stewardship agreement held between the Court Leet and the then-Countryside Commission. The sykes, four areas of grassland, are also protected by SSSI status.
Laxton's strip fields were depicted on a postage stamp designed by David Tress that was issued in 1999 by the Royal Mail as part of their Millennium stamp series; the stamp also doubled as Royal Mail's contribution to that year's Europa postage stamp issue with the theme of Parks and Reserves.
View across Laxton's open fields
Opened in September 1995, Beth Shalom Holocaust Memorial Centre was the first venue in Britain dedicated to the Holocaust as its primary purpose. The venue is based around an old farm house (grid reference SK700670) which has a purpose built exhibition centre with lecture theatre, and a Memorial Garden. A feature of the garden is a black stone on which are inscribed the names of the Nazi death camps.
The vision for the centre came when James and Stephen Smith visited Israel with their parents. Some time later, on another visit, they saw Yad Vashem, and were inspired to build a memorial in Britain.
In the media
The town was featured in an episode of Terry Jones' Medieval Lives, which recorded part of the proceedings of the yearly courtleet.
- Gannett, Henry (1905). The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States. U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 186.
- Beckett, J.V. (1989) A history of Laxton : England's last open-field village, Oxford : Basil Blackwell, ISBN 0-631-15972-X
- Orwin, C.S. and Orwin, C.S. (1938) The open fields, Oxford : Clarendon Press, 332 p.
- Beth Shalom web site, About Us
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Laxton, Nottinghamshire.|
- Laxton Village Survey report by Trent & Peak Archæological Trust
- Laxton's fields on a 19p Royal Mail stamp
- Site for Laxton's Visitor Centre
- Site for Stuart Rose - Laxton farmer
- Site for the Open Field parish magazine
- University of Nottingham Manuscripts and Special Collections learning resource, 'Laxton: Living in an Open Field Village', presenting documents relating to aspects of the history of Laxton, 1635-1908
- Portal for web sites for Beth Shalom; Aegis Trust; and related topics.