A country estate that makes £230,000 per year and comes complete with 17 homes, 1,845 acres and a village pub, has come on the market in Nottinghamshire.
But there’s a catch: whoever buys it must commit to perpetually maintaining its medieval strip-farming system.
Laxton Estate is a historical gem, and is the last remaining example in Europe of the open-field system, the medieval style of farming.
It is administered by a Court Leet, an ancient manorial court with a jury appointed to keep common areas of the fields in good condition. The tenant farmers operate “in common”, using a three-year crop rotation.
While strip farming can be found elsewhere in the country, Laxton is a unique historical artefact. This is due to “the survival of the manorial court, which regulates cultivation and inspect the fields, imposing fines for manorial offences, much as they have done for hundreds of years,” says Briony McDonagh, a historian at the University of Hull.
The estate is farmed in the same manner as it was in medieval times, albeit with modern machinery such as tractors and combine harvesters. In this kind of farming, each family would be given a strip of land in three fields, ploughing two strips a year, while leaving the other fallow.
Laxton “survived” the agricultural revolution: when large swathes of the countryside were enclosed under Parliamentary Enclosure Acts in the century after about 1740, it escaped these changes.
It was sold to the government in 1951 so it could be preserved for the nation, and was then to the Crown Estate in 1981.
“The Laxton estate is a unique asset that preserves an important part of Britain’s agricultural heritage,” says a spokesperson for the Crown Estate.
“As a commercial real estate business, we recognise we may not be best placed to manage the estate moving forwards, and have therefore reached a decision to sell.” It is looking for a buyer who will commit to keeping the farm running with this style of farming.
“Laxton represents a system of farming that was extremely common – though never universal – until the mass enclosures of the late 18th and early 19th centuries,” says Brodie Waddell, a historian at Birkbeck College.
“The co-operation and organisation needed to make this work makes it a very special community.”
Its future could be under threat, says John Beckett, a historian at the University of Nottingham. “It depends on the farmers. They have to be willing to work the system and operate the manor court.
“Since the jury consists of twelve villagers, and has traditionally been of farmers, if numbers were to fall any lower than at present there could be a crisis in terms of Laxton’s future.”
It is on the market for £7 million with Carter Jonas.