The agriculture of Middlesex has always been of special interest,
though the county is small. The fact that it included London
as a market for its produce was a stimulus to agriculture as an
industry; while the physical features of the district lent themselves to good husbandry.
The climate is equable, the July isotherm being 64 degrees, and
that of January 40 degrees, while the mean of the whole year is
50 degrees on the higher ground north of London, and 51 degrees in
the Thames Valley. Rainfall varies much more considerably than
is usually recognized; thus in 1905, 27.83 in. fell at Hadley in the
north of the county, while only 19.50 fell at Hampton in the southwest. (fn. 1) The explanation of this is twofold: parts of the county are
much better wooded than others, and the whole north is much more
hilly than the south.
The area of Middlesex returned in the census of 1901 was 178,606
acres; in 1906 the area under 'all crops, including woods, fruit and
gardens,' was 94,067 acres. In 1806 the area under agriculture was
reckoned at 136,000 acres, and there were 2,591 acres of commons. It
has been remarked that
these cannot very well be exact returns of area because roads and steeps at cross ways
are not returned in any uniform manner, and water areas are also left very much to
fancy, some street conveyancers adhering to the old definition of ponds as 'land covered
by water,' and including them in the land acreage, while house agents, despite their
natural interest in magnifying the property, more usually return the area exclusive of
water. Wayside ponds are reckoned by some surveyors as part of the road; by others
they are not so reckoned.
This caveat seems worth entering, though it will not account for any very
material proportion of the difference of 84,539 acres between the total
and the agricultural area. 'Bricks and mortar,' together with private
gardens, account for much, perhaps most, of it.
The county is well watered by the rivers Lea, Thames, Brent, and
Colne. The soil is fertile; it varies from clay and strong loam to sand
and gravel. The following estimate, taken from 'Foot's View of the
Agriculture of Middlesex,' reported to the Board of Agriculture in 1794,
will show the variations in soil, many of which have since been lost sight
of amidst the progress of building:-
1. Hundred of Edmonton, including South Mimms, Enfield, Edmonton, Tottenham.
The soil is clay and strong loam, with some gravel.
2. Hundred of Gore, including Hendon, Harrow, Edgeware, Stanmore, Wembley.
The soil is stiff clay, with a little gravelly loam.
3. Hundred of Ossulstone, including
(a) Barnet, Finchley, Highgate, Hornsey, Hampstead, Willesden. The soil
is clay, mixed with gravel and loam.
(b) Stoke Newington, Clapton, Hackney, Bethnal Green, Stepney. The soil
is rich and mellow, and at Hackney there is some strong loam-like clay,
(c) Islington, Pancras, Paddington. The soil is gravelly loam, with a little clay.
(d) Kensington, Brompton, Chelsea, Fulham, Chiswick. The soil varies from
strong to sandy loam, mixed with sand and gravel, some black and fertile,
some sharp and white. Chiswick has some pure surface gravel.
(e) Acton and Ealing. The soil is gravel, like that of Chiswick, with loam
and clay in parts.
4. Hundred of Isleworth, including Isleworth, Twickenham, Teddington, &c., on
the Thames, and the district round Heston. The soil includes hazel loam,
rich and mellow, also strong loam and a little light gravel.
5. Hundred of Elthorne. The soil varies from strong loam, with gravel, to light loam.
6. Hundred of Spelthorne. The soil includes light loam, lean gravel, and strong loam. (fn. 2)
Lysons gives much the same information in his detailed view of
sixteen parishes of about a hundred years ago, but his account is less comprehensive than that of Foot.
Some account of the early agricultural history of Middlesex has
been given in another article, but we may cite in this place a short
description of the county as it appeared to Norden, (fn. 3) the well-known
surveyor of the days of Elizabeth and her successor.
Myddlesex is a small Shire, in length not twentie myles, in circuite (as it were by
the ring) not about (sic above) 70 myles, yet for the fertilitie thereof, it may compare with
any other shire: for the soyle is excellent, fat and fertile and full of profite: it yeeldeth
corne and graine, not onelie in aboundance, but most excellente good wheate,
especiallie about Heston, which place may be called Granarium tritici regalis, for the
singularitie of the corne. The vaine of this especiall corne seemeth to extend from
Heston to Harrow on the hill, betweene which as in the mid way, is Perivale, more
truely Purevale. In which vale is also Northold, Southold, Norcote, Gerneford, Hayes,
&c. And it seemeth to extend to Pynner, though with some alteration of the soile.
It may be noted also how nature has exalted Harrow on the hill, which seemeth to
make ostentation of its scituation in the Purevale, from whence, towardes the time of
Harvest, a man may beholde the fields round about, so sweetely to address themselves,
to the siccle, and sith, with such comfortable aboundaunce, of all kinde of graine, that
the husbandman which waiteth for the fruits of his labours, cannot but clap his hands,
for joy, to see this vale, so to laugh and sing.
Yet doth not this so fruitefull soyle yeeld comfort, to the way-fairing man in the
wintertime, by reason of the claiesh nature of soyle; which after it hath tasted the
Autumne showers, waxeth both dyrtie and deepe: But unto the countrie swaine it is
as a sweete and pleasant garden, in regard of his hope of future profite, for:-
The deepe, and dirtie loathsome soyle,
Yeelds golden gaine, to painfull toyle.
The industrious and painefull husbandman will refuse a pallace, to droyle in these
golden puddles. (fn. 4)
Norden evidently wishes by these words to urge the inhabitants to take
fuller advantage of these favourable circumstances. With this intention,
This part of Myddlesex may for fertilitie compare with Tandeane, in the west
part of Somersetshire. But that Tandeane, farre surpasseth it for sundrie fruites, and
commodities, which this countrie might also yeeld, were it to the like imployed: but
it seemeth they onely covet to maintaine their auncient course of life, and observe the
husbandrie of their fathers, without adding anything to their greater profite.
In mentioning orchards he seems to regard them as indicating a
pastime rather than a serious pursuit; thus, in describing the larger
houses, he says that they are 'invironed with Orchards of sundrie delicate
fruites.' (fn. 5) He afterwards adds a list of 'Cities, Townes, Hamlets, Villages, and howses of name within Middelsex;' (fn. 6) and says of Greenford,
'A very fertile place of corne standing in the purevale.' (fn. 7) Heston, however, was pre-eminent in fertility; it was
A most fertyle place of wheate yet not so much to be commended for the quantitie,
as for the qualitie, for the wheat is most pure, accompted the purest in manie shires.
And therefore Queene Elizabeth hath the most part of her provision from that place
for manchet for her Highnes owne diet, as is reported. (fn. 8)
Michael Dray ton, again, in his Polyolbion introduces Perivale
'vaunting her rich estate.'
Why should I not be coy and of my beauties nice,
Since this my goodly grain is held of greatest price ?
No manchet can so well the courtly palate please,
As that made of the meal fetch'd from my fertile leaze.
Their finest of that kind, compared with my wheat,
For whiteness of the bread doth look like common cheat.
What barley is there found, whose fair and bearded ear
Makes stouter English ale, or stronger English beer ?
The oat, the bean and pease, with me but pulses are;
The coarse and browner rye, no more than fitch and tare.
And further the poet notices her 'sure abode near goodly London,'
the ready mart for all her 'fruitful store.'
In the Tudor period (fn. 9) rural Middlesex-especially Islington and
the neighbouring parishes-was called upon to supply much of the
milk, cream, and cheese required in London. A curious illustration of
this fact appears in the introduction at the famous festivities at Kerilworth in 1575 of a minstrel from Islington who in mock heroic style
celebrated the praises of his 'worshipful village,' and gravely described
and explained as the arms of Islington 'On a Field Argent, a fess
tenny three platez between three mylk tankerds proper,' while the scroll
or badge was to be 'Lac, Caseus Infans that is goode milke and yonge
Agricultural activity was at its height in the county in the
eighteenth century, and the beginning of the nineteenth. In addition
to evidence of a more general character, there are three full accounts
of the agricultural conditions of Middlesex at this time. These are
reports on the subject, addressed to the Board of Agriculture, and
issued within a few years of each other. That by Thomas Baird
appeared in 1793, Peter Foot's in 1794, and John Middleton's in 1797,
with a second edition ten years later. They contain much the same
information, though in different form. Foot describes fully the extent
of cultivation, and the methods used. In his map it will be seen that
crops occupy considerably less than half the area of the county. They
lie in the west and south-west; also in the north-east with scattered
districts elsewhere. The rest of the county, with the exception of a few
woods and parks, consists of meadows, pasture, and nursery-gardens.
The latter are situated on the left bank of the Thames, in a continuous
line from Teddington to London, while some extend immediately
north-east of London to Islington. The total area of Middlesex is
estimated at 240 square miles, or 217,600 acres.
After describing the nature and variations of the soil Foot gives an
account of the 'garden ground.' (fn. 10) He considers it well cultivated, and
in describing how the lands are dressed he adds:-'To this manure,
and care of sowing seeds, the kitchen-gardeners who supply the markets
at Spitalfields, who cultivate in general on a light black soil owe their
celebrity in the article of lettuces.' (fn. 11) Near Chelsea, the work of farmer
and kitchen-gardener was often combined; thus peas, turnips, and
coleworts were grown in succession on the same ground. Fruit was
successful, and much care was given to grafting. Certain nurseries (e.g.
those of Mile End, Hammersmith, Hackney, and Dalston) were famous
for their adoption of foreign plants; Isleworth was noted for strawberries. Foot himself thought that the vine could be cultivated with
advantage. He was also sanguine about the proposed cultivation of
plants for dyes, as a substitute for madder: a certain species of common
bed-straw was chosen for this purpose, and at the time much was
hoped from the result of the experiment.
The next subject treated by this author is the system of husbandry
then pursued by the farmers of Middlesex. He points out that all
success must depend upon that rotation of crops which will get as much
as possible out of the land, but which yet will not injure its productiveness. The following account shows the general system and how it varied
in different districts:-
|(a) On the clay.
(1) summer fallow;
(3) beans, pease, or oats;
(4) summer fallow.
|(b) On the better soil.
(1) turnips on summer fallows;
(2) barley with broad clover;
(3) clover fed or mown;
(4) wheat on clover lay, with one ploughing.
|II.-District round Norwood, Hayes, &c.:-
|(a) In the common fields:
(1) fallow; (2) wheat; (3) barley or oats, with clover.
|(b) In the inclosed lands:
(1) wheat; (2) barley and clover; (3) turnips.
(2) coleworts (off in March);
(3) potatoes (off in October);
(5) turnips or tares (manuring well after the barley).
(3) turnips on wheat stubbles;
(4) oats, tares, pease or beans-to be gathered;
(5) wheat (manuring well).
(2) barley with clover, mown twice;
(3) pease or beans to be gathered;
(1) clover, well dressed with coal ashes;
(2) pease, beans, or tares;
(3) wheat, then turnips on the stubbles, fed off;
(1) vetches for spring seed, or pease, or beans, to be gathered green;
(2) turnips (good on inclosed land) sold straight to London cowkeepers;
(manuring before pulse, wheat, and barley).
(4) barley or oats.
|A better course here would be:-
|(3) oats or barley, with clover;
(4) wheat (manuring well before pulse).
This would exhaust the soil less, but the cultivators are bound by the Lammas tenure
not to have any clover. (fn. 12)
We notice here three main points of interest, viz., the decline of
fallow; the restrictions of the Lammas tenure; and the fertility of
Heston, which still kept up the high reputation which it possessed in
the sixteenth century. Thus Foot says:
The lands about Heston are chiefly of a strong loam, and celebrated for producing the
finest wheat in the county; the skin is thin, the corn full and bold, and the flower
white, or, as the millers term it, fair. (fn. 13)
The barley of Middlesex, especially that of Chelsea, Fulham, and Chiswick, was also 'distinguished for its good quality, and has been much
sought after for seed'; (fn. 14) it was the 'whitest, most thin skinned, and
mellowest barley in England.' (fn. 15) Foot deplores that this fine barley was
being supplanted by vegetables grown for the London market, but this
was doubtless because the demands of a large city make variety above all
The importance and methods of manuring the land are then discussed. The carriage of the manure by water or land, rather than the
manure itself, formed one of the most costly items in the farmer's
expenditure. The burden could only be decreased, not by neglecting to
dress the land, but by feeding cattle on arable fields. The expense fell
chiefly on the gardeners, who were obliged to apply manure more frequently than the farmers. (fn. 16)
Foot, with most of the writers of his time, condemns the system
of commons as wasteful in agriculture. (fn. 17) In this connexion he describes at
some length the agricultural conditions of Enfield Chase, part of which
had just been inclosed. Even after a short time, and in spite of the
difficulties of changing cultivation, the results, he thinks, had been
South Mimms inclosure is also part of Enfield Chace, and consists of nearly 1,000
acres. In its open state it was supposed not to have yielded the parish at large more
than two shillings an acre per annum, but since its inclosure it is worth on an average
fifteen shillings an acre.
It is at present in tillage; but in a few years it may be converted to grass, which
will give it an increased value of at least five shillings an acre. (fn. 18)
Drainage had been much required on these new inclosures; 'the
common shoulder-draining spade and scoop have been used with great
success.' (fn. 19) In clearing the land also various methods had been used.
Paring and burning were done by some, while others said that this process destroyed the pabulum for future plants. Foot adds that 'marle is
one of the most valuable manures upon the Chace.' (fn. 20) In many cases,
owing to want of experience, the best methods had not been followed,
but even then inclosures had been found more profitable than the
common lands where rights were abused and the land over-burdened.
Foot goes on to say that 'hay-making in Middlesex is carried on by
a process peculiar to the county.' (fn. 21) He describes it in detail:-
On the first day the grass was mown before 9 a.m., tedded, broken up as much
as possible, and well turned by mid-day. It was then raked into wind-rows and made
into small cocks. On the second day the grass mown after 9 a.m. on the first day
was tedded, while all grass mown before 9 a.m. on this day was treated as before.
Meanwhile the cocks already made were shaken into straddles or separate plats of five
or six yards square, and the spaces, if any, were raked clean. The plats were turned
first, then the second day's mowing-all before the dinner hour. After that the
straddles were raked into double wind-rows, and the grass into single wind-rows; the
hay was cocked into bastard or medium cocks, and the grass cocked as on the first
day. On the third day the same order was pursued as before. Medium cocks were
spread into straddles, then turned; grass cocks and grass were also turned before 1 p.m.
If fine, the medium cocks of yesterday could now be carried. The second day's hay
was then made into double wind-rows, and the grass into single wind-rows. The
first day's hay was made into large cocks with a fork, and the rakings put on the top
of each cock. The hay in double wind-rows was made into medium cocks, and the
grass in single wind-rows was made into small cocks. The hay in the large cocks
could then be carried, and the medium cocks could be made into large cocks, the grass
cocks into medium cocks, and the grass (tedded that morning) into small cocks. On
the fourth day the hay was put into stacks, 'well tucked and thatched.'
It was important to keep a good proportion in numbers between the
mowers and the haymakers, so that this sequence of operations could be
strictly maintained. The process was made as systematic as possible,
from grass, single wind-rows, small cocks, straddles, double wind-rows,
medium cocks, straddles again, large cocks-to the stacks (fn. 22) themselves.
Apparently this method was followed with good results, as hay at this
period was found profitable in Middlesex, and the area used for hay was
Horses were not bred in the county, but were bought at fairs, and
the standard required was a high one.
The draught-horses in general, in possession of the brewers and carmen, are
as to strength and figure, scarcely to be equalled. The brewers' and carmen's horses
are fed with grains, clover, chaff, and beans; racked with rye-grass, and clover, and
broad clover hay of the best quality; and in summer it is not uncommon to feed
them with green tares and clover. Many of the saddle and coach horses are bred in
Yorkshire, and brought up from thence and from other counties by the dealers.
These horses are fed with meadow hay only. (fn. 23)
Foot considered Middlesex to be less noted for sheep than for horses;
6,000 were kept on Hounslow Heath, but with this exception the
numbers were small. The hay-farmers round Hendon and Barnet
allowed sheep and cattle to feed on their after-grass at so much per head.
There is a long account of experiments in breeding Spanish sheep which
might produce as fine a cloth as that imported. In raising lambs under
cover for the butcher, ewes were obtained from Dorset. (fn. 24)
Oxen were sometimes used for draught or the plough, a custom
which this author (unlike some others of the time) looked upon as likely
to prevail. He says, 'Five oxen are used to draw a wagon on the road,
one in the shafts, and four in pairs, with collars or holsters, and headstalls. At plough two pair are used; at dung-cart three oxen only are
used.' (fn. 25) Calves were raised in the western parts of the county, but not
to any great extent.
Before going on to the subject of cow-keeping and dairies, Foot
now returns to the subject of commons. He describes the common
meadows (fn. 26) and their capabilities. Those near the Lea were under
Lammas tenure, which did not admit of 'any general system' of cultivation. They were let for 25s. per acre, but if inclosed the rent would
have been 40s. per acre. The meadows near the Thames from Fulham
to Chiswick and Staines were much flooded, and the rushes made it
difficult to get good hay there. They were also too flat for ordinary
drainage, and therefore became soft. The meadows on the banks of the
Colne were more fertile, and here the drainage was better.
The common arable lands are said to be 'at present in a good
course of husbandry' (fn. 27) ; though if inclosed they might have been made
Farm buildings were well constructed and in good repair on the
whole, as they would naturally be in a county where agriculture
produced good returns. The only defect pointed out here by Foot is
the fact that they were in inaccessible situations, especially on the
common arable lands. (fn. 28) Round Harrow, Hendon, and Finchley there
were large hay barns, holding from 50 to 100 loads of hay each. (fn. 29)
The report of the agricultural instruments (fn. 30) is not so satisfactory;
evidently improvements in implements were not readily adopted by the.
farmers. The common wooden swing-plough was the one in general
use; the Hertfordshire wheel-plough being used for summer fallowing.
The harrows varied in weight from one-horse to four-horse carriage;
they had rollers of wood and iron of equal capacity. Carts with iron
arms were more used than wagons. The improved plough and cultivator
invented by the Rev. James Coke had been tried by few.
The subject of dairy-farming was one of growing importance, and
the number of cows was very large, compared with that in neighbouring
counties. Foot gives the numbers as follows:-
Tothill Fields and Knightsbridge
|Paddington, Tottenham Court Road, Battle Bridge, Gray's Inn Lane, Bagnigge Wells, Islington
|Shoreditch and Kingsland
These, with 224 odd cows, made a total of 7,200. (fn. 31)
The best milch cows, kept for supplying London with milk, were
bred in Yorkshire, Lancashire, and Staffordshire. They were bought at
three years old, costing from eight guineas to £14 each. They either
came straight to the purchasers from the northern counties, or
were bought at the fairs and markets of Barnet, Islington, and other
places. The food and shelter of these cows was a matter of systematic
routine, in which apparently an absolutely uniform method was followed. (fn. 32) Foot summarizes their productiveness as follows:-Each cow
on an average gave eight quarts a day, for 365 days, i.e. 2,920 quarts,
which at 1¾d. per quart comes to £21 5s. This represents the price
given by retailers. Consumers paid 3d. per quart, and the retailers got
the difference, as profit. He adds that this may over-rate profit as
'When the families leave London, the cow-keepers do not find a ready
sale for all their milk; and in this case they generally set the unsold
milk for cream, of which they make fresh butter for the London markets,
and give their butter-milk to the hogs.' (fn. 33) The author refers to Arthur
Young's investigations in dairy-farming; he evidently regards it as a
subject of interest, increasing in proportion to the increase of London
itself, since dairy-farming requires a near and a constant market.
Foot closes his account with words of advice; (fn. 34) he points out the
importance of hedges in making the new inclosures. These should not be
made of 'wild-quick,' (fn. 35) such as the poor use, but 'quicks ought to be
had from the nursery-men,' (fn. 36) having been already twice transplanted.
Middleton's View of the Agriculture of Middlesex [addressed to the
Board of Agriculture, 1797; 2nd Edition, 1807] covers much the same
ground as Foot's, though it is far more voluminous, and touches on
many irrelevant subjects. He describes the agricultural conditions of Middlesex as most favourable, and is therefore all the more anxious to point
out defects in cultivation. Thus he says:-'The plough in general use
throughout this county is a swing one of the most clumsy construction,' (fn. 37)
and 'I do not know of any instance of Mr. Ducket's simple, cheap, and
effectual drill being used in this county.' (fn. 38) He also is opposed to the
waste in common land, which he defines as the 'uncultivated soil of this
county, capable of receiving improvement,' (fn. 39) consisting as it did of 'about
8,700 acres, or one-twentieth part of the whole quantity.' (fn. 40) In the same
way he finds that trees grow well, but are 'scandalously' pollarded, (fn. 41) and
that hedges are badly constructed, being 'generally full of live wood.' (fn. 42)
According to his computation the land was 'not producing wheat
sufficient to supply one-sixtieth part of the inhabitants with bread,' (fn. 43)
in spite of its fertility. Heston is again highly spoken of, the soil there
being 'a most productive loam, possessing that most happy medium of
texture which fits it alike for the production of every kind of corn, pulse,
and root, and its staple is five or six feet in depth, on a bed of gravel.' (fn. 44)
Middleton gives a detailed account of the corn harvest. In the
case of wheat it began in the first week of August, and became general
in three weeks. Reaping was done by 'a toothless hook, of about twice
the weight of a common sickle.' (fn. 45) The reaper struck within two or
three inches of the ground; he collected the sheaves separately, and then
bound ten together in a shock: this was called bagging or fagging. (fn. 46)
Thrashing was usually done by the flail; though the author points out
that mills were coming into more general use, in spite of the fact that in
them the corn became more bruised. (fn. 47) He considers barley to be particularly productive in this county; thus:-
Two sorts of spring barley are usually grown. On rich land, the sprat or
battledore barley, which produces a short tapering straw, is mostly sown, owing to its
being less liable to fall to the ground than the other sorts. The common spring
barley, containing two rows of grain in the ear, is sown in every case when the soil is
not so rich as to endanger losing the crop. (fn. 48)
Barley was mown by scythes, 'previously furnished with a bow or
cradle, to collect the corn together, and keep it from scattering.' (fn. 49)
Unusually heavy crops were bound into sheaves and set up in stocks; but
the average ones were arranged in swaths, then raked into rows, and
carted for stack or barn. (fn. 50) The produce of wheat was reckoned by
Middleton to be from ten to over forty bushels per acre; that of barley,
from fifteen to seventy-five bushels. (fn. 51)
He describes the other crops, and urges such a system of rotation
'as shall support cattle on arable land all the year round.' (fn. 52) But, except in
matters of detail, he adds little information to that given by Foot, whom
he sometimes quotes. Both writers agree on two subjects, viz. the
wastefulness of commons, and the excellence of the hay-making. 'This
branch of the rural art has, by the farmers of Middlesex, been brought
to a degree of perfection altogether unequalled by any other part of the
kingdom.' (fn. 53)
The kitchen gardens between Westminster and Chelsea, with the
nursery grounds for fruit, shrubs, and flowers at Chelsea, Brompton,
Kensington, Hackney, Dalston, Bow, Mile End, are described as
flourishing. (fn. 54) The author deplores the neglect of drainage (fn. 55) as well as of
paring and burning, (fn. 56) this neglect being due to want of enterprise
rather than to ignorance. In discussing the use of oxen for field labour, he
says:-'Upon the whole, I am of opinion that the very few advantages
which oxen possess, are not by any means of such consideration as to
compensate for the damage which their being used would do upon some
kinds of land.' (fn. 57)
The uniformly profitable character of agriculture from 1801 to
1815 gave to rural Middlesex an immense impetus which, thanks to the
rapid growth of metropolitan population, was in no way lost from 1815
to 1845. The Free Trade movement was vehemently fought in Middlesex, the rural parts of which gravitated to Conservatism in the middle
Victorian era after two centuries of a Puritan and then Whig cast.
But, for reasons which lie outside the scope of this article, Free
Trade did not produce bad results for agriculture between 1846 and
1873, and the famous new Domesday Book of the latter year reveals decided
prosperity. In the parish of Ickenham 981 acres of agricultural land
were bringing in £2,235 a year, and 122 acres at Hoddesdon, £650 a
year. Small holdings even in very minor rural places yielded a good
rent, as for instance 10 acres at South Mimms £71 a year, 3 acres at
Ruislip £38 a year, and 6 acres at Cranford £38 a year. In the
market gardening region we find at Isleworth, Brentford, Chiswick,
Acton, and Hammersmith a total area of 66 acres bringing in £445 a
year, while dairy meadows in Finchley, Edmonton, Wood Green, and
Southgate yielded £414 a year from 41 acres. The riparian parishes of
Teddington, Shepperton, Sunbury, Staines, and Laleham were acquiring
agricultural value as appanage lands to wealthy men's estates; in these five
parishes 665 acres of land otherwise agricultural, but really used for the
most part for rich men's pleasure, brought in £3,320 a year.
Coming to modern agriculture in its fullest sense of contemporary
record and comparisons within living memory we shall find it most
advantageous to take the figures for 1876 and for 1906. Those for 1876
because they are the earliest available at an exact interval in decades and
because those of 1873 (the earliest published) show no vital difference.
The reason for taking the figures in 1906 is manifest: they are the latest
The total area in Middlesex under all kinds of crops thus
The decline in these figures, which include grass as a crop, is serious,
and if we could clearly distinguish how much is due to a decline in
agriculture generally and how much is simply the result of residential
uses increasing we should get a very fair measure of how far agriculture
as a whole is losing ground. But this is just what we do not seem able
to get at, and the figures must needs blend. A residential occupier of
means, for instance, will usually keep some private meadows as grass.
The area under wheat shows the following change:-
This is a disastrous and altogether discouraging return. The London
market takes, roughly speaking, the produce of 25,000 acres every week,
and there is no part of Middlesex from which a cart cannot carry wheat
to Mark Lane within four hours of sober going, such as befits the
cart. The greater area of Middlesex may regard the distance as one of
two hours' journey. The whole riparian district from Isleworth to
Staines has water-borne traffic, which is far cheaper than either road or
rail. Soil and climate suit wheat over at least the moiety of the county,
and, as we see, as recently as 1876 some 8,096 acres were devoted to its
cultivation. The inevitable conclusion seems to be that the average
price of wheat from 1876 to 1906 did not make it a profitable crop to
grow even under circumstances in the main favourable. The difficulties
of sending produce to market which so often modify the situation in
other counties have not here prevailed; the uncertainty of market demand
which so often discourages production does not apply where at hand we
have an exchange placing for actual food wants nearly five million
quarters of bread-stuffs annually. One may even add that the demand
for bran and middlings would be more constant in Middlesex than in an
The area under barley is thus returned:-
This practical wiping out of barley as a Middlesex crop is wholly deplorable, for the area devoted to it was never excessive, and consisted of
the less heavy soils on which it did well. Of the moderate area in 1876,
2,405 acres, it may be said with fair safety that not a single acre was of
unfit land. That the cultivation of barley in Middlesex has been all but
wholly abandoned is therefore a very evil sign. The farmers who have
given it up were not incompetent; the prices ruling since 1876 have
made it unprofitable.
Oats are thus returned:-
Long-stricken wheat and all but eliminated barley cultivation will
have prepared readers for even worse figures for oats than those which
we are now printing. The decline is very serious, but it leaves oats in
the position of the leading cereal crop of the county. The large demand
for good heavy English oats for good horses kept in London is probably
the reason why the decline has not been greater than that actually
Rye has not been largely cultivated in Middlesex since the great
war with France, when the universal desire to grow wheat was born of a
belief that the whole country was likely to find itself on short commons
and that wheat 'went further' than rye. There is no great difference
in point of fact, the ideas of 1794 being exaggerated. Still, there is
some difference, rye weighs a little less to the quarter as a rule and yields
a little less to the acre. Areas devoted to it in Middlesex are:-
Seeing the extreme usefulness of rye as a crop which can be fed off in
the green state if food for stock runs short or allowed to ripen into grain
which is 'safe' for say 24s. per quarter, seeing, too, that its straw is of
high quality and in constant demand the rye area ought to reverse the
figures of the thirty past years and revert to a good figure.
Areas under beans are:-
The bean crop is a capricious one, but Middlesex is a county where it
should do well. Foreign production has declined so materially for the
past five years that prices are steadily advancing. Farmers to be 'in the
movement' should grow more beans.
Peas are returned as follows:-
The fall in peas may be due to a too exclusive cultivation of maple and
dun sorts which seldom fetch a very adequate sum at Mark Lane. Highclass peas pay well, but this branch of agriculture touches on market
gardening, and will probably produce its most paying results in the hands
of those who understand the kitchen garden.
Potatoes have a large and steady sale in London, but Middlesex has
never cultivated the crop so freely as might have been expected. Acres
have thus varied:-
Early potatoes from the Scilly and Channel Islands, the Canary Islands,
and Portugal have been inimical to high-value cultivation in Middlesex,
and the main potato crop may safely be left to shires less fortunately
situated than the privileged little district within five and twenty miles of
the Borough market.
Roots, such as turnips, swedes, mangolds, carrots, cabbages, kohl-rabi
and rape, were in 1876 thus returned:-
Turnips and swedes
|All other roots
The returns of 1906 show a somewhat different division:-
Turnips and swedes
Carrots appear to have lost their special market. Why turnips and
swedes have gone out of favour so much faster than mangolds is a little
difficult to determine. The cultivation of cabbages has evidently increased materially, for 'all other roots etc.' in 1876 represented a much
smaller figure than cabbages by themselves stand for now. Kohl-rabi
wins favour very slowly. It is a hard root and not easy eating for cattle
even when sliced. The net decline in roots doubtless corresponds to
some degree with the large decline in the number of sheep kept within
Tares, lucerne, and 'other green crops except clover and grass'
were returned in 1876 at 5,503 acres, while 674 acres were in bare
fallow. In 1906 some 515 acres were under tares and 106 acres were
devoted to lucerne. The decline in tares is curious, for in 1906 the
price was seldom under 40s. per quarter, and in 1905 it was for some
months at 60s. per quarter. The soil of Middlesex is by no means unfriendly to this crop. The cultivation of lucerne cannot be exactly
estimated, because in a hot, dry season the grower makes money, in a wet
or chill year he loses heavily. Lucerne cultivation is a speculation in
Pasture pure and simple was thus represented in 1876:-
In 1906 the figures were:-
The declining area of rotation pastures is peculiarly discouraging, for
such pastures are nearly always a sign of progressive and scientific agriculture.
The number of horses kept in Middlesex has been returned as
There is an extraordinary stability about these figures, thirty years
having made no appreciable modification in the total. The number of
well-to-do private residents who keep horses has probably increased, that
of farmers keeping ordinary cart-horses diminished, and the two changes
may be taken to balance each other. Middlesex has never been a horsebreeding county, and it is not likely to become one. The increased use
of steam machinery on go-ahead farms has told against the number of
Cattle are thus returned:-
These figures are smaller than would have been expected, for they include the large herds of dairy cattle kept by Sir George Barham and
other dairy kings, and they also comprise the beautiful if more or less
fancy cattle kept by noble and wealthy residents like the owners of
Osterley and Gunnersbury and Syon Parks. The number of cattle kept
for non-dairy purposes has almost certainly retrograded very fast. Yet
London every Christmas gives orders for many thousand tons of prime
Of sheep the number before 1870 probably exceeded 40,000, but
from about 1871 the keeping of sheep in Middlesex tended to decline.
In 1876 the number was 36,770. The returns for 1906 were:-
The revival of sheep-breeding, which is in progress in England generally,
has thus far failed to touch this county, although it is in close contact
with a market always willing to give a good price for good mutton.
Any of the Down breeds will flourish in Middlesex.
Of pigs the returns are as follows:-
This is an interesting return. The small owners who are a feature of
the county evidently tend to keep pigs, and the fact that the figures for
swine have increased while those for cattle and sheep have diminished is
one which the critic can hardly fail to associate with the fact that in
Middlesex the average agricultural holding is a third smaller than for the
kingdom as a whole.
In the Report of the Royal Commission on Agricultural Depression,
1897, Middlesex is included among the Eastern Counties, in 'the arable
section,' but it is not mentioned separately. Certain causes of the general
depression affect this county, such as foreign competition and the fall in
the prices of farm produce. On the other hand, high railway rates do
not constitute a grievance, and 'land in proximity to favoured markets
has maintained or even increased its value.'
The following special and very valuable return was issued in December last, and gives the number of agricultural holdings in the county:-
||Petty occupiers (under 5 acres)
||Small " (" 50 ")
||Medium " (" 300 ")
||Large " (over " ")
The average size of agricultural holdings in Middlesex is 44.7 acres
against 63.2 acres for Great Britain. It is only half that of the average
holding in the neighbouring county to the north, Hertford, and it is
eleven acres less than in the county across the Thames, Surrey. The
number of large holdings is curiously limited, for, the great estate holders'
home farms being omitted, the number of actual working tenant farmers
holding 300 acres and upwards must be extremely small. What is it, in
a county still under primogeniture, which makes this division? It seems
to be that property divided into several lots (the ideal unit is seen to be
44 acres in Middlesex) sells better than larger undivided properties.
What keeps an owner from offering 440 acres in ten separate lots elsewhere is the fear that some may remain on hand, but in Middlesex
the land appears promptly to be taken up, and of course the rent of
44 acres would almost anywhere exceed the rent of 440 acres divided
Percentages of acres under agriculture in Middlesex are as follows:-
The heaths, like that of Hounslow, appear under the heading of nonagricultural land; the small area of commons described as agricultural
consists of agricultural inclosures as in Bushey Park, where the public are
by no means allowed to roam over all the public or quasi-public land.
The large area of non-agricultural land is mainly a consequence of the
extension and expansion of London.
In 1873 there were in Middlesex some 11,881 landowners and the
average rent was £135 13s. a year from 11 acres, 3 roods, and 32 perches.
Land therefore brought in a little over £11 per acre, and if we capitalize
freeholds at 30 years' purchase, had an average value of about £340 an
acre. There were, however, only 1,263 farmers and country gentlemen,
the remaining owners possessing less than 10 acres apiece. Large estates,
over 100 acres, numbered 276. The largest landowner was the earl of
Strafford, who held 4,436 acres.
The owners of a thousand acres and over were as follows:-F. D.
Cater, esq., Enfield, 1,364 acres; All Souls College, Oxford, 1,814 acres;
Christ Church, Oxford, 1,132 acres; King's College, Cambridge, 1,097
acres; the Crown, 2,383 acres; F. H. Deane, esq., Ruislip, 1,449 acres;
the earl of Jersey, 1,982 acres; the Lady Delpierre, Greenford, 1,051
acres; the duchy of Lancaster, 2,273 acres; the Church (Ecclesiastical
Commissioners), 1,309 acres; D. A. Hamborough, esq,, Ventnor, 1,252
acres; the earl of Strafford, Barnet, 4,436 acres; Sir C. Mill, Hillingdon,
2,710 acres; C. Newdigate, esq., Warwick, 1,492 acres; the Lord
Northwick, London, 1,260 acres; General Wood, Littleton, 1,572 acres;
here we have sixteen owners of 28,576 acres, or 1,786 acres each.
There is great and obvious need of a new Domesday Book. Since
1873 the changes have been many, and it would be a very useful thing if
with every third census a return of landed and agricultural properties was
secured according to the precedent of 1873.
Shorthorns are professionally bred and sold by Mr. George Taylor
of Cranford. He is a great upholder of the Bates strain, which he regards
as producing deep milkers of the very first quality. Such famous prize
animals as Beau Sabreur 74094, Melody, and Barrington Duchess 31st
might in 1906 be seen on his farm. The last-named had an extraordinary record, winning the first prize inspection, first prize milking,
first prize Shorthorn Society, and prize for best pure-bred animal at the
Islington Dairy Show in October, 1906. This was the only time she
was shown. Beau Sabreur is a stud bull with a splendid record, and
other stud bulls are Drumcree, Rowbury, and Kirk Charm. Seeing the
great success of Mr. Taylor at Cranford it is somewhat surprising that
Shorthorn breeding does not develop faster in the county.
Channel Islands cattle are kept by all the chief landowners for dairy
purposes, but there is not such strict observance of purity of strain as
might be expected. The very best places, such as Osterley and Syon, are
an exception to this remark. No flocks of sheep or herds of pigs are
professionally bred for sale in Middlesex, but excellent Down sheep may
be seen on the leading farms, and the best breeds of pigs are kept. Horsebreeding is but little carried on in Middlesex, yet in no county can finer
dray horses be seen, or finer carriage horses. Here we have the advantage
of population; the brewer is sure to have the best heavy horses by
emulation with a neighbouring brewery, and the county gentry are
numerous enough and wealthy enough to be healthily critical of each
A very interesting poultry establishment at Lower Edmonton is kept
by Mr. Bowater of Bury Hall, who not only supplies birds to many
poultry keepers within the county, but ships to foreign countries. His
fowls are chiefly the Cochin China cross-breds known as Orpingtons,
from their first specific differentiation on Mr. Cook's farm, Tower House,
Orpington. The Aylesbury duck does as well in Middlesex as in the
adjacent county of its home, and Mr. Bowater has also had much success
with Toulouse geese. His prosperity is of good promise for advanced
and scientific poultry keeping in Middlesex generally.
A few old agricultural words still surviving in rural Middlesex are
'farren' for half an acre, 'fale' for marshy land, and 'fat' for eight
bushels, the modern quarter. The word 'ever' as a substantive is also
heard, and means a sort of meadow. In Devonshire the word is in full
use for rye-grass, but the writer has been unable to fix a like definite
meaning in Middlesex. Old labourers evidently use the word with
reference to the general aspect of the grass. 'Fagging' is the term
applied to the use of the smaller scythe, but this implement is not called
a fag as we might expect.