Flax or Linseed?
Avon Farm May 2020
Image: Kerry O'Connor
The name of the blue crop at Avon Farm depends on why it is grown. It was one of the earliest crops grown by Neolithic farmers. It was originally grown for the seed oil (linseed) but use of its fibres (flax) gave linen as the world’s first textile, linen, thousands of years before wool was used as a fibre and fragments found in Israel have been dated to about 7000 BC.* In Britain the domesticated plant seeds have been found and dated to around 4000 BC. It has often been harvested for both uses. It was a domesticated form of a wild flax, Linum bienne. Its species name says it all, Linum usitatissimum meaning very useful. Its primary use now has come full circle back to linseed oil.
The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology and its Textiles, in London, claims to hold the world’s oldest dress, 100% linen, with pleated neck and sleeves, dated to around 2800BC, nearly 5000 years old. Mummies were wrapped in linen.
There are records of Linen Drapers in Salisbury from 1306, who probably produced their linen themselves from Wiltshire grown flax. Processing the fibres involved breaking, scutching, heckling and beetling then spinning, bleaching and weaving. The sight of this blue crop is a very old one, it could have been grown here thousands of years before Afene (or Avon) township developed, alongside occupation of this site in the 13th and 14th centuries and is still grown here several hundred years after the mediaeval vill and villagers have disappeared. Cotton wasn’t king till the 19th century. It is a weaker fibre, cannot grow in northern latitudes that suit flax and required long distance shipping and slavery to replace flax.
* Harris, Susanna. (2014). Flax fibre: Innovation and Change in the Early Neolithic A Technological and Material Perspective. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/301224285_Flax_fibre_Innovation_and_Change_in_the_Early_Neolithic_A_Technological_and_Material_Perspective
updated 13 September 2020
Baling linseed stalks north of Old Sarum, September 2020.
It may be used for animal bedding.