The Enclosure Acts of 16th century England changed the look of the countryside for ever. No longer were peasant farmers allowed to cultivate or graze animals on ‘common’ land; for the first time and henceforth hedges and ditches defined ownership of land. In more rugged landscapes, field stones were used to build dry-stone walls. Later both of these methods began to be replaced with fences.
In order to grow hedges dense enough to prevent animals escaping on to neighbouring land or increasingly busy roads, hedges were skilfully hand ‘layered’ every two or three years. This entailed cutting back, bending and pinning down hazel, blackthorn and hawthorn stems. Thin lengths of hazel are ‘woven’ along the top of the now ‘layered’ hedge to help keep it in place.
Not only practical but beautiful too.
The custom of layering hedges survives to this day as part of our cultural heritage.
I passed this hedge whilst on a bike ride near my home in Gloucestershire. The skill continues to this day.