Ploughing with oxen
and the size of the acre

Excerpt from:
John Mitchell Kemble.
The Saxons in England. A History of the English Commonwealth till the Period of the Norman Conquest.
London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, 1849.
Page 96.

There is reason to believe the latter measure [the Anglo-Saxon acre] implied ordinarily a quantity of land not very different in amount from our own statute acre.(1) I argue this from a passage in the dialogue attributed to Ælfríc, where the ploughman is made to say: “ac geiúcodan oxan and gefæstnodan sceare and cultre mid ðæ´re; syl ælce dæg ic sceal erian fulne æcer oððe máre;” that is, “having yoked my oxen, and fastened my share and coulter, I am bound to plough every day a full acre or more.” Now experience proves(2) that a plough drawn by oxen will hardly exceed this measure upon average land at the present day; an acre and a quarter would be a very hard day’s work for any ploughman under such circumstances.

1. That it was a fixed and not a variable quantity, both as to form and extent, seems to follow from the expressions, three acres wide (Cod. Dipl. No. 781), iii acera bræde, i. e., three acres breadth (Leg. Æðelst. iv. 5), ix acrae latitudine. Leg. Hen. I. cap xvi.

2. These calculations rest not only upon the authority of several large, practical farmers, and the opinions of intelligent ploughmen who have been consulted, but also upon experiments made under the author’s own eye, on land of different qualities.


The passage in Ælfríc to which Kemble refers can be found in

G. Garmonsway, editor.
Ælfric’s Colloquy. 2nd edition.
Methuen, 1947.
Page 20.

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