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Orcheston Long Grass

Posted: 12 Jul 2017, 13:22
by Dusty
Orcheston in Wiltshire was once famed for its 'long grass'. The grass was of the agrostis bent grass family and could grow to 16' or more given a good winter's flooding. It produced luxuriant grass for fodder and hay in extraordinary yields for what was, essentially a 3 acre site. The grass first came to fame in the 16 hundreds and was still producing in the early 20th. The area has not been subject to any great change for hundreds of years. My question is: could this same grass species have been growing in the same location in the same abundance in the 9th century.

Re: Orcheston Long Grass

Posted: 12 Jul 2017, 21:49
by Alan Wadsworth
I assume that you have read (perhaps you are the author?) of this webpost ... s-meadows/

Given that bent grass is native to Britain, then it appears that the luxuriant growth was achieved through the use of a water meadow system of some sort. The current view, as expressed by Cook and Williamson (2007) in Water Meadows - History, Ecology and Conservation, is that the construction of water meadows started around 1600 (p.5). Orcheston is referred to in their book in Chapter 7 which examines the effects of floating on plant communities.

As ever, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence: it may well be that farmers of the 9th century knew about the effects on growth of a water meadow system, or perhaps the area forms a natural water meadow - although there needs to be some form of regulation of the water, perhaps through naturally-occurring gravels beneath the land - if it lies on the surface for too long, the grass will rot, not grow.

Re: Orcheston Long Grass

Posted: 23 Jul 2017, 14:07
by Dusty
Hi Alan,
thanks for your response. I have read the Salisbury Plain Benefice article, which is very interesting and although I haven't read the Cook and Williamson book you reference, I have read 'The origins of water meadows in England' by Hadrian Cook, Kathy Stearne and Tom Williamson which is both valuable and comprehensive. On reading 'The Origins...' I was surprised that Orcheston wasn't mentioned. They talk about old mill leats having perhaps given inspiration to the idea of floating but who knows, maybe it was Orcheston; it managed an enviable result without human intervention.
For your interest Kew Gardens replied to the same question by confirming that, in their opinion, the long grass would probably have been there in the 9th century.


Re: Orcheston Long Grass

Posted: 20 Sep 2017, 12:20
by rwhoyle
Perhaps a bit late to contribute to this, but have you see Arthur Young's discussion of it in Annals of Agriculture XXVII (1797), pp. 365-78 which draws together previous accounts, a letter written to Young on the subject and his own observations.