A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 4, Agriculture. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1989.
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The period between the dissolution of the monasteries and the middle of the 18th century was an important one for the development of Shropshire agriculture, as it was nationally. There were vast changes in landownership. Many estates, especially in the first half of the period, were run more profitably. Shropshire farmers became more commercially minded and specialized in producing those commodities best suited to the areas where they worked. The growth of dairy farming on the north Shropshire plain is particularly noteworthy but other livestock and mixed-farming enterprises developed elsewhere in the county. Farm produce helped to supply more than the merely local markets and as inter-regional trade expanded new and more flexible means of doing business evolved; more trade bypassed the established markets and fairs. The agents of change, the middlemen, gradually tightened their grip on the market and if for long their efforts were largely unappreciated, they did a vital job in moving goods around the country.
Pressure on food supplies in the first half of the period increased the value of land, and in Shropshire thousands of acres of waste and common were brought into regular cultivation. Farming efficiency was also promoted by the tidying away of the strips in many of the residual open fields and by more systematic adoption of convertible husbandry. Some of the major landowners led the way in making improvements, hoping thereby to augment their income: higher entry fines were demanded and rack renting made some headway after the Restoration. Tenants in general had an interest in inclosure and if they disliked the rent rises of the late 16th and early 17th century, they seem nevertheless to have paid them.
Crises, however, did occur and harvest failures in the 1590s and 1620s were particularly severe. The agricultural depression which set in after the Restoration did not affect Shropshire to the same degree as it did those counties where mixed farming was more pronounced. Indeed more corn was grown locally, though much of it as animal fodder. Rent arrears built up from time to time, especially among the smaller farmers in the hundred years after the Restoration and that stimulated a move towards larger farms. Cattle plague in the 1740s led to the dislocation of Shropshire's livestock trade. Nevertheless the early modern period was in general one of progress for Shropshire agriculture and the benefits reached a wider section of the rural population than just the gentry and substantial farmers.
In mainly wood-pasture areas like Shropshire, where arable farming was subordinate to livestock husbandry, the open fields were less extensive and important than those in open-field mixed-farming communities. Much agricultural land had never been organized into open fields, having been inclosed directly from woodland. Normally laid to grass, those closes provided the basis of the largely pastoral economy. Accordingly there was not the same pressure to maintain the open fields and they tended to be inclosed early by private agreement. In Shropshire the attack on the open fields began before 1540 and intensified over the next two centuries so that by 1750 open-field cultivation had virtually disappeared, though in places a few strips remained until the early 19th century.
In some parts of England inclosure of the open fields was often a single cataclysmic event, whereas in pastoral areas it tended to be a more drawn-out and less convulsive business. To highlight differences in the timing and pace of the movement glebe terriers can be used, (fn. 1) and in Shropshire they show the gradual nature of the change. In 1612 the vicar of Montford's glebe lay largely dispersed in open-field strips, but during the 17th century they were gradually exchanged, consolidated, and inclosed, a process that was completed by the opening years of the 18th century. (fn. 2) Naturally there were variations between parishes, depending on social as well as economic and geographical differences. On the north Shropshire plain early inclosure was often associated with dairy farming and in villages like Adderley little open-field arable survived into the 17th century. (fn. 3) In south Shropshire the movement seems to have been initiated by the yeomen farmers and advanced quickest in places free of manorial control. Around the Brown Clee inclosure had been in progress since the 15th century and in townships with absentee landlords such as Cold Weston and Abdon the strips had largely disappeared by the early 17th century. At Ditton Priors, where the Cannings kept firm control, open fields survived until they were largely inclosed in the 18th century. (fn. 4)
Some large landowners, however, did begin to take positive action and their involvement was a major contribution to the acceleration of inclosure in the 17th century. (fn. 5) At Cantlop Thomas Owen owned the whole manor from 1587 and inclosed the open fields in the next few years. At Corfton William Baldwyn initiated exchanges with Charles Foxe, the manor's other major landowner, and by the mid 17th century the township was almost entirely inclosed. The family adopted a similar policy in Diddlebury and Siefton in the 1630s. On the Craven estate, however, little had been done by 1652–3 though some piecemeal inclosure had been carried out by the tenants. (fn. 6)
The inhabitants took the lead at Highley: c. 1626 the freeholders exchanged and inclosed their open-field land to 'their more commodious use' and the vicar joined in. Evidently the inclosure of the open fields did not meet the same opposition as was encountered in mixed-farming communities. At Lilleshall in the late 17th century William Leveson-Gower's tenants petitioned him that their field ground lay inconveniently dispersed and would benefit from inclosure; first, however, exchanges would be needed 'in order to lay their ground together and to make each others' farms convenient to them'. (fn. 7)
More common were the small-scale improvements made by peasant farmers and recorded in manor court rolls, such as those for which the inhabitants of Sleap and Eyton upon the Weald Moors were being presented in 1547. In 1588 John Harper alias Henson was said to have inclosed 'divers parcels of ground' in Kynnersley's leet fields; thirteen others from the parish were presented at the same time. The nibbling away at the edges of the fields continued throughout the 17th and early 18th century. At Longdon upon Tern in 1632 Jerome Bathoe was presented for taking in and inclosing part of the leet fields without the lord's licence. Six years later Hugh Wright was fined 6d. for encroaching on the open field in Muxton (in Lilleshall) at Alexander's dole. (fn. 8) The names of such closes often indicate their origin in the open fields. Thus among the fields farmed by William Bishop, who leased a holding in Broadstone (in Munslow) in 1652, was a 2-a. arable close called Long furlong, which abutted on Hill field. (fn. 9)
Manorial lords seem in fact to have condoned piecemeal inclosure of open fields, only unlicensed activities coming before the manor court. In 1579 a pain was laid on all tenants of Sheriffhales manor who inclosed land without licence; all who had already done so were to cast them open again unless they had obtained the lady's permission. Much later, at a court held in 1716, the main concern was to ensure that those who had inclosed land should keep their hedges and ditches in repair. (fn. 10)
One effect of inclosure was to reduce grazing on the aftermath and fallows. Smallholders and cottagers were hardest hit but even so the effects were not as bad as in mixed-farming areas where there was less common land. Stinting, however, was often necessary. Cherrington and Kynnersley open fields were stinted as early as 1551 and 1558 and around the Weald Moors other stints were agreed at Waters Upton (1611), Lilleshall (1617, 1652), Kynnersley (1654), and Leegomery (1664). The growth of fattening in the area exacerbated the problem despite the existence of so much inclosed grassland and open pasture. Local people bought stores for feeding and some overstocked the fallows and stubble. The same problems were experienced elsewhere in the county. At Uckington, a manor in the Severnside parish of Wroxeter, a professional surveyor was appointed in 1632 to work out a stint in Marsh field and land recently inclosed from it. (fn. 11)
The piecemeal inclosure of Shropshire's open fields during the early modern period accounted for only a fraction of the land that was inclosed. Far more important was the improvement of thousands of acres of waste by tree felling, drainage, and inclosure. In general the greatest amount of improvement took place on the heavier soils that underlay the woodland or on the wet peaty soils. Pools were drained too. Piecemeal inclosure was carried out in the less fertile sandy heaths and on the thin soils of the upland commons but large-scale undertakings tended to be carried out later at the time of parliamentary inclosure. (fn. 12)
Cultivation had long been extended by inclosure of waste but the period from the mid 16th century was especially important as population grew and many landowners began to improve their estates. The rise in agricultural prices in the late 16th and early 17th century and the pressure on land encouraged improvements, which raised rents and land values. There was an active land market in the county in the late 16th century, and many of the new owners were determined to exploit their investment. Some purchasers were new to landowning like the Levesons, Egertons, and Welds, who had made fortunes in trade or the law, but it would be wrong to assume that the old established families played no part in the movement. The Talbots, earls of Shrewsbury, the Howards, earls of Arundel and Surrey, and the Corbets, for instance, were also involved in considerable inclosure and drainage schemes. Other families were less enterprising: on the loosely administered Craven estates in south Shropshire, for instance, not only did strip cultivation survive in some manors well into the 18th century but also large areas of common remained untouched. (fn. 13)
Inevitably the larger landowners were responsible for major undertakings. At Myddle, once 'beautified with many famous woods', officials of the le Stranges and their successors the Stanleys organized woodland clearance. Inclosure began in the late 15th century with the felling of Divlin wood, followed by Brandwood and Holloway Hills wood a generation later. About the mid 16th century systematic clearance of Myddlewood began and so much wood was felled that by 1563 Myddle's 'many inclosures' were said to be likely 'to destroy the woods'. In Wem the felling of Northwood, begun in Henry VIII's reign by Lord Dacre (d. 1563), was completed by his grand-daughter the countess of Arundel (d. 1630). (fn. 14) At the same time the upland wastes were improved. In 1575–6 an octogenarian recalled over 600 a. of Clun forest, part of the FitzAlans' lordship, being inclosed and brought into severalty. (fn. 15) On Wenlock Edge much woodland was cleared in the 16th century and in Corve Dale the work was almost complete by 1600. (fn. 16) In 1625 the 2,300 a. of wood and common constituting Shirlett forest was divided among the surrounding manors; (fn. 17) some inclosures were made then but the pace of change varied and final inclosure came only in 1775. (fn. 18)
Parks too were being split up by landlords in the later 16th and 17th centuries to profit from the new high rents that could be realized. Disparkment was often foreshadowed by an increased emphasis on cattle rearing or dairy farming in the park, whether by the lord or a tenant; that happened at Cardeston in the mid 16th century and at Minsterley a century later. (fn. 19) In 1617 the Council in the Marches of Wales recorded that Sir Charles Foxe refused to show 'by what title he doth hold Oakly Park and keepeth more sheep and cattle than deer'. (fn. 20) In Shropshire, as elsewhere, lords were 'making their deer leap over the pale to give bullocks place'. (fn. 21) In such cases, little change in land use followed final disparkment. Sometimes, however, disparkment could lead to sudden and radical changes involving woodland clearance and the creation of a patchwork of hedged closes. That happened at Tilstock and the process is vividly caught on a map of c. 1600 that shows two tenants felling trees in the former park. (fn. 22)
Generally, however, many more parks were created than destroyed. In some cases imparkment seems to have been the seizure of an opportunity, when allotment of common wood or waste suddenly invested a landowner with exclusive ownership of a large tract of what was often marginal land. Thus when Shirlett forest was allotted and partly inclosed in 1625 John Weld of Willey immediately imparked his 410-a. share, although he already had one park barely a kilometre away; the new park's management went hand in hand with the old one's and Weld's investments in them demonstrate the economic role of parks at that time. It remained much what it had been in the Middle Ages. Separately inclosed within the pale were extensive tracts of valuable woodland, which were pannaged in autumn; they contained both coppices and timber. There were also areas of pasture, which could be grazed either by cattle or by the deer and horses that Weld was putting into the park. He also made fishponds, and bought swans and bees. (fn. 23) Hence one of a park's two main economic functions was to ensure a ready supply of food—meat, fish, and honey for instance— for the lord's table. The other was to provide as secure an environment as possible for demesne stock management and for the valuable reserves of wood: not surprisingly therefore, lords usually employed a parker who lived in a park lodge.
Nevertheless parks were invariably a drain on resources and a far from economic form of land use. Indeed they were not created for purely economic reasons. A park conferred prestige and drew attention to the owner's social rank; many in the later 16th century were made or extended to embellish new or remodelled houses, as at Plaish, Moreton Corbet, and Upton Cressett. (fn. 24) The work might involve the removal of tenants' houses or the diversion of roads and in such cases the park was designed to be more than protection for the lord's beasts and woods. It was also conceived as a wide surrounding paradise, almost invariably furnished with deer, the intended sport of the owner and his most favoured guests. (fn. 25) From the mid 16th century, moreover, there was clearly a growing appreciation of the aesthetic pleasures of a parkland view: at Frodesley a new lodge was built in the earlier 17th century on a rocky eminence, (fn. 26) while at Lilleshall a balcony overlooking the park was added to the lodge before 1679. (fn. 27)
Landowners were involved in drainage operations too, especially in north Shropshire. In 1539 Sir Richard Brereton, tenant of Harnage Grange, (fn. 28) bought Dogmoor, 200 a. of marsh in Prees, and reclaimed it. In Wem Lord Dacre was again the instigator: he began the drainage of the Old Pool, another enterprise completed by his grand-daughter. In Myddle Harmer Moss and Myddle Pools and in Ellesmere Tetchill Moor were among the marshy lands brought into regular cultivation during the late 16th and early 17th century. The largest project of all was the reclamation of the Weald Moors where by 1650—as the inhabitants of Wrockwardine claimed— 2,730 a. had been inclosed by tenants of neighbouring manors. The Levesons, as the major landowners, led the way, but other families participated too. (fn. 29)
Such improvements involved much expense and labour: Brereton spent 600 to 1,000 marks in buying Dogmoor and 'stocking, ditching, and mending' it. (fn. 30) Even if costs did not often run that high it was in the landowner's interest to involve his tenants in his projects, not only to reduce labour costs but also to head off opposition. The first attempts at draining Wem Old Pool were made by six of Dacre's tenants who had a joint lease of the land at a rent of 9d. for every acre made firm ground. Tenants of the newly improved land in Tetchill Moor had to make their own ditches and a road from Tetchill to Kenwick Park. The new ditches made in the Weald Moors were dug by the Sheldons' and Levesons' tenants. When Sir Walter Leveson had the Strine widened from Rodway to Crudgington he appointed that the river should be kept six yards wide and gave the men of Kynnersley a measure for the purpose. (fn. 31) To help with the felling of Northwood the countess of Arundel brought in outsiders but local labour was often used. It was normal, for instance, for tenants to grub up stumps and make hedges and ditches; in return they customarily had the stubbings and enough timber for fencing. About 1561 it was decided to inclose part of the Nether Marbury Heys, Whitchurch, and to let it for years, the tenant to stub it and 'have the rammel [barren earth] for his labour'. In 1590 Thomas Farmer acquired the lease of a farm at Cantlop (in Berrington) together with a 12-a. allotment in Cantlop wood, then being parcelled out; if Farmer inclosed this piece, the lease stated, the work had to be done at his expense. (fn. 32)
Clearly landowners hoped for a return on their investment and inclosure did raise the value of land. Dogmoor, which before reclamation was so 'miry and deep of water that no cattle could feed or pasture thereon nor any profit could be taken thereof', rose in value from 12d. a year to 40 marks. Similar improvements were made in the Weald Moors and rents increased. Nevertheless such low lying marshy areas needed constant attention, and in the Weald Moors some of the gains appear to have been lost by the beginning of the 19th century. (fn. 33)
In woodland clearances landowners benefited from the sale of timber, in increasingly valuable commodity as population grew and local mines and ironworks developed. On some estates that may have been a major stimulus to improvement. In the mid 16th century the earl of Shrewsbury had his wood at Diddlebury surveyed and sold the trees there, and William Savage did the same in Corfton wood in 1575. At Netchwood in the early 17th century much of the timber was cleared for the local iron furnaces; the same seems to have happened at Cleobury Mortimer and perhaps Shifnal. (fn. 34) Timber sales were important on the Bridgwater and Forester estates too: besides the power to raise occasional large sums Sir William Forester (d. 1718) enjoyed an average income of £250 a year from wood sales. To protect their position landowners normally reserved the right to the timber growing on their property whenever it was leased out. (fn. 35)
Landowners or their agents occasionally felt it prudent to justify inclosure as generally beneficial. About 1600 it was claimed that inclosure of commons and wastes in Whitchurch manor would do no harm 'for whereas before an acre of this waste did not yield 6d. to the commonwealth now being inclosed the farmer payeth 3s. 4d. the acre and maintaineth well a family on the same'. (fn. 36) Generally Shropshire attitudes to inclosure were quite favourable. In mixed-farming communities elsewhere in the country inclosure often meant conversion of open-field arable to pasture and caused depopulation and distress; loss of commons in those areas was also a cause of much concern as they were often small in extent and their extinction upset a delicately balanced economy. In Shropshire, on the other hand, inclosure did not change the rural economy and waste was still readily available. Many commons, especially upland wastes, remained largely unimproved partly because they were agriculturally unattractive but also partly because commoners preserved their rights by preventing total inclosure. Even in lowland parishes like Myddle, where much inclosure took place in the early modern period, patches of waste survived. Manorial lords might inclose their wastes provided they left their tenants sufficient common. (fn. 37) While not everyone observed that condition and disputes occurred, many did take the law into consideration. In 1639 it was said on behalf of Henry Powell of Worthen that, although he had inclosed 60 a. out of the Forest of Hayes, that was far less than a tenth of the common; that his family had held it separately from time immemorial; and that enough common remained for the tenants. (fn. 38)
Inclosure improved the quality of grassland, an important consideration in an area dominated by livestock husbandry, and many new meadows and pastures were created. The amount of arable increased too. Wastes had always been liable to intermittent cultivation—in the 1690s tenants of Ratlinghope and Stretton manors were ploughing parts of the Long Mynd—but yields may not have been very high, especially after a couple of years. Civil War grain shortages led to the cultivation of Myddlewood common where the first crop was a very strong crop of winter corn; the next was a crop of barley so poor 'that most of it was pulled up by the root, because it was too short to be cut'. After inclosure, however, a regular course of husbandry could be adopted and with improvement the land gave better corn crops. (fn. 39) When Albrighton heath, near Shrewsbury, was inclosed in the early 17th century the lord of the manor Thomas Ireland claimed to have used his 20 a. 'for raising of more store of corn and grain for the good of the commonwealth'. (fn. 40)
By and large tenants seem to have been treated fairly by landowners in their improvement schemes. Newly inclosed land was often incorporated into their leases in lieu of common rights or alternative common grazing was found. Sometimes a rent charge was added, as when the tenants in Myddle and Marton townships were allowed to rent clearances from Myddlewood for 1s. an old customary acre (i.e. 6d. a statute acre). Individual closes could be leased and the extra holdings formed provided access to land for a growing population. Thus in the 1560s when William Leighton inclosed 100 a. of Holt Preen wood (in Cardington) he divided the land and let it to a number of tenants. (fn. 41) Farms generally remained small in the early modern period and that made it easier for comparatively lowly men to obtain a lease. Some engrossing of holdings did occur, and the process seems to have accelerated in the early 18th century as landowners sought to rationalize their enterprises, but in general the problem was not a serious one in the period 1540–1750.
Smallholders and cottagers may have viewed inclosure of the wastes with less pleasure than more substantial men, for the commons were relatively more important to them. Moreover such people may not have been able to rent newly inclosed ground and, even apart from a reduction in the area of common, they were simultaneously faced with restricted grazing on the shrinking fallows and aftermaths. As in the residual open fields, stints were introduced on some commons and constant care was needed to prevent overstocking by the commoners or others. (fn. 42) There was opposition: Sir Richard Brereton's efforts to drain and inclose Dogmoor, begun in 1539, provoked a violent clash with locals and the matter was not settled until Mary I's reign. At Oswestry in 1602 the surveyor, recommending large-scale inclosure of the wastes, observed that, although the action would be 'to the great benefit of the country and profit of your lordship', 'some perverse people . . . will hinder the best course of common good'. (fn. 43)
Protest against individual exploitation of the common waste, however, was often incited by rival gentry disputing rights of ownership. (fn. 44) In a conflict involving Holt Preen wood (1627–41), partly inclosed by the Leightons, lords of the manor, Francis Wolryche, lord of Hughley manor, gained his own ends by successfully inciting his tenants to pull down the fences. (fn. 45) Most of the opposition to improvement of the wastes seems in fact to have been due to intercommoning disputes rather than conflicts between tenants and improving landlords. In the early 16th century many township boundaries in unimproved woodland and waste were marked by merestones and the commons were intercommoned by two or more communities. As population grew, and with it pressure on land, clashes were inevitable. That was the situation in the Weald Moors from the mid 16th century as each township adopted a more restrictive and exclusive policy contrasting with the casualness of earlier arrangements. (fn. 46) Similar cases elsewhere in the county are not hard to find.
In the lordship of Oswestry the motive behind the opposition to the inclosure recommended in the 1602 survey seems to have been one of self-interest. At that date 669¼ a. of waste had been inclosed, much of it as small encroachments by tenants and freeholders. They presumably had their eye on the remaining 5,596½ a. too! (fn. 47) Nor were they alone. Many peasant farmers and cottagers throughout Shropshire, acting alone or in concert with their neighbours, were responsible for a good deal of inclosure. Numerous cottages were built on patches of waste with an acre or two of land added to them. Such encroachments could amount to a considerable acreage. On Prees and Whitchurch heaths the tenants had encroached on and improved 133¾ a. by 1593. On the Craven estates, where seigneurial initiative was lacking, the same tenants and small freeholders who were encroaching on the common fields were also taking in pieces of waste. In Stanton Lacy a number of commons were gradually whittled away during the 17th and early 18th centuries. In 1732 there were fourteen squatters on Hayton's Bent and twelve on Rock Lane, six on Green Lane and two on Vernolds Common. Fifteen years later there were well over forty cottagers in the manor. (fn. 48)
Particular concentrations occurred in industrial areas. On the Clee Hills mining had been practised since the Middle Ages, though haphazardly, and the miners, often part-time farmers, dug bell pits and built squatter cottages on the commons. In Ditton Priors a rise in the number of squatters was associated with mining and quarrying: a 1728 rental included eleven cottages on the Brown Clee with 22 a. of land and eleven encroachments (totalling 7 a.) along Bent Lane, the road leading from Ditton to the quarries. On the east Shropshire coalfield a similar development took place. In 1650 there were 34 cottages in Pain's Lane and Wrockwardine Wood, and c. 1688 41 householders in Coalpit Bank (in Wombridge) petitioned for exemption from the Hearth Tax. (fn. 49)
Cottages were occupied not only by locals but also by immigrants to Shropshire, attracted by the availability of land and opportunities of employment. References to squatters can be found in court rolls and other records throughout the early modern period but there seem to have been several bouts of increased activity, namely c. 1600, in the Civil War and Interregnum period, and c. 1700. The earlier two waves, at least, coincided with periods of increased mortality, so the immigrants were likelier to be welcomed as useful additional labour. (fn. 50)
Landowners had ambivalent attitudes to squatters; they opposed unlicensed cottages and inclosures but reserves of common were ample and encroachments, once regularized, might keep the very poor from destitution or, in more favourable circumstances, yield additional income. Six cottages in Little Drayton in 1648 paid only 2s. 8d. a year altogether. Their inhabitants had taken in small pieces of common for gardens or closes but lived 'so lamentably poor' that they could be charged only an acknowledgement, though labourers or poor tradesmen might be got who could pay 10s. a year for a cottage. (fn. 51) Landlords were doubtless often reluctant to improve their rental so thoroughly that poor people were thrown on the rates; (fn. 52) at Whixall c. 1680, however, 16 cottages and 23 intakes (653/8 a.) yielded rent of £25 4s. 11d. (fn. 53) In mining districts landowners encouraged immigrant labour. In such areas cottagers were exempt from the Act of 1589 requiring new cottages to have at least 4 a. laid to them. (fn. 54) In 1729 there were c. 76 cottagers in the several squatter settlements in and around Barrow parish, where there were mines and ironworks. Of the 63 cottagers about whom something is known one had 3 cows, one had 2, seventeen had 1, and the remainder none. (fn. 55) The statute of 1589 was not regularly observed in Shropshire, (fn. 56) and that suggests a lack of concern for a situation which often caused great consternation elsewhere.
The agricultural labourer's wages, appropriate for consideration along with the provision of cottages, may have made some progress against prices during the 17th and early 18th centuries. In the Shrewsbury area by 1628 a male day labourer received 3d. a day with diet or 7d. a day without during the summer, the winter rates being 1d. lower. For mowing at the hay and grain harvests the daily rates were 6d. and 8d. respectively with food and drink, 1s. and 1s. 4d. without. Reaping, probably less skilful and productive, was paid at 1d. or 2d. less than the mowing rate, and the gathering rate was less than the mowing rate by 2d. or more. Haymaking was paid at about the ordinary rate for summer labour. The lower rates of pay had increased slightly by 1640. In January 1694 general labouring on the Newport estate seems to have been paid at 9d. a day, though whether that included diet or not is uncertain. Samuel Matthews had 1s. a day with ale and food for appointing the ploughteams that year 'and keeping 'em at work'; another man received 2s. a day for 3 days' carrying with his team. Two months later labourers at hedging were receiving 10d. a day, though they were apparently being assisted by workers paid 6d. a day. On the Bridgeman estates haymaking was paid at 8d. a day in 1697 and that was also the rate for general labour in the winter of 1703–4. The hay mower was paid 1s. a day in 1713. In the autumn of 1746 mowing hay on the Davenports' estate was paid at 1s. 2d. a day, general labour at 10d. a day. Men were reaping wheat as task work for 1s. 4d. an acre. Throughout the period many labourers, particularly women and children, received less than the prevailing rates even when at the same work. In 1746 women at unspecified work and at apple picking on the Davenports' estate received 6d. a day. Another female, perhaps a girl, received 3d. a day at haymaking. (fn. 57)
Landlord and tenant
While inclosure did not generally prove a socially divisive issue in Shropshire, pressure on land did create other tensions. As land values rose from the mid 16th century landowners sought to strengthen their hold over their tenants and increase their income from land. Inclosure and improvement apart, the landlord's readiest means of raising his rental lay in an attack on customary manorial tenures and, pari passu, the substitution of leasehold tenure or, in the last resort, rack rents. Landlords' use of their opportunities to pursue such policies, however, should be seen against the background of a period that opened with the redistribution of a vast amount of landed property. Between 1540 and 1640, perhaps to a greater extent than at any other time between the Norman Conquest and the 20th century, membership of the landowning class changed: some great estates disappeared or shrank, other new ones were created, and on a more modest scale many families substantially improved their position within the landowning hierarchy or entered it for the first time.
From the 1540s, following on the dissolution of the monasteries, collegiate churches, and chantries, their huge endowments in land and tithe were for the most part quickly sold on to the established gentry or newly rich merchants and lawyers. Few aristocrats bought ex-monastic lands in Shropshire. The last Lord Grey of Powis (d. 1551) bought Buildwas abbey, (fn. 58) the 5th earl of Shrewsbury consolidated his Shifnal property by buying former Wombridge priory lands in 1545, (fn. 59) and Lord Clinton and Say (cr. earl of Lincoln 1572) speculated in a small way, (fn. 60) but they were exceptional. There was indeed another redistribution in progress as the estates of the great aristocratic landowning dynasties, largely absentee, that had dominated Shropshire in the late Middle Ages (fn. 61) began to disintegrate. Well before James I's death their own Shropshire estates—in many cases, it is true, appendages to even greater estates elsewhere in the kingdom—had been largely sold off to those same classes which had so readily acquired the monks' and canons' lands. Unlike the dissolution of the monasteries this second process was only in part the result of royal policies. Lord Lovel (1485) and the 3rd duke of Buckingham (1521) had certainly forfeited their great possessions by falling foul of the Tudors, (fn. 62) but the dismemberment of other estates, most notably the earl of Arundel's in the mid 16th century, (fn. 63) flowed from those circumstances—failure of heirs, improvidence, re-settlement of estates—whose occurrence, though fortuitous in particular cases, seems nevertheless a recurring feature of the history of landed society.
The bishops' role as Shropshire landowners also diminished at that time as a result of Crown pressure and episcopal weakness. In the Middle Ages the bishop of Hereford had owned Bishop's Castle and the great manor of Lydbury North, while the extensive manor of Prees (which produced a considerable income in the late Middle Ages) had belonged to the bishop of Coventry and Lichfield. (fn. 64) In 1550, however, Bishop Sampson leased Prees to a Londoner for 80 years and his successors unfailingly renewed leases so that the see never recovered possession. By 1591 the leasehold belonged to the Mainwarings of Ightfield who kept it until 1708 when it was sold to Richard Hill, the owner of Hawkstone, whose heirs acquired the freehold too in 1794. Thus for almost 250 years Prees produced no more than £46 a year reserved rent (fn. 65) for the see, fortunate bishops scooping up the renewal fines for themselves. (fn. 66) In 1559 Elizabeth I annexed Bishop's Castle and Lydbury North to the Crown by an exchange of properties; (fn. 67) the forms of law (fn. 68) were observed but some of the odium for the see's spoliation clung, perhaps justly, to Bishop Scory's name. (fn. 69) Bishop Heath of Worcester acquired property in south Shropshire for his see by exchange with the earl of Warwick in 1549, (fn. 70) but the manors concerned (fn. 71) were subject to a 200-year lease that Warwick had granted to William Heath the previous year and they produced only a small reserved rent. The see never recovered possession, (fn. 72) though presumably from the earlier 18th century at least the prospect of a renewal fine became an occasional delight for a lucky bishop.
There is little doubt that one long-term result of these redistributions of land, though a difficult one to quantify, (fn. 73) was the further endowment of the substantial gentry, a class then, as always, composed of old and new families. Between 1540 and 1620, it has been calculated, sixty families improved their position in Shropshire landowning society or entered landowning for the first time. Over the period 1570– 1640, however, little more than a dozen families appear to have sold all, or a significant part, of their Shropshire estates without making compensating purchases. (fn. 74) It thus seems fairly clear that the gentry class improved its economic position relative to those classes above and below it in the social hierarchy.
Most notable among the purchasers of monastic and aristocratic lands in Shropshire and the adjoining counties were three founders of families that must be accounted newcomers to the landed gentry: James Leveson (d. 1547) of Wolverhampton, a merchant of the staple; (fn. 75) Sir Rowland Hill (d. 1561), lord mayor of London 1549–50; (fn. 76) and Sir Rowland Hayward (d. 1593), lord mayor 1570–1 and 1591. (fn. 77) Leveson's Shropshire purchases, some of them soon conveyed on to others, included manors formerly belonging to Lilleshall abbey and Wenlock and Wombridge priories. (fn. 78) His son Richard (kt. 1553), moreover, had made a good first marriage with Sir Rowland Hill's niece Mary Gratewood and Hill had endowed her well with purchases he had made from the former estates of Lilleshall and Shrewsbury abbeys and Wombridge priory. (fn. 79) In fact Hill bought great quantities of ex-monastic property, manors formerly belonging to Combermere, Haughmond, Lilleshall, Shrewsbury, and Vale Royal abbeys and Wombridge priory; (fn. 80) with them, besides charitable works and foundations, (fn. 81) he endowed the Hills of Hawkstone, (fn. 82) the Corbets of Adderley and Stoke, (fn. 83) and the Barkers of Haughmond. (fn. 84) Hayward too bought monastic estates at first (fn. 85) but he later invested mainly in the estates of the earl of Arundel and the Stafford family, both being broken up in the mid and later 16th century. (fn. 86)
Few other families acquired lands on the scale that the Levesons did, (fn. 87) or so promptly, and probably none could have bought as lavishly as Hill or Hayward. Most purchasers of former monastic lands seem to have been established gentry or minor landowners improving their position by the careful acquisition of properties adjoining their own, or else they were newly rich merchants and lawyers establishing new or cadet landowning families. In the first category were such families as the Actons of Aldenham, (fn. 88) the Charltons of Apley Castle, (fn. 89) the Corbetts of Longnor, (fn. 90) the Herberts of Lymore (Mont.), (fn. 91) the Lawleys of Spoonhill, (fn. 92) the Lees of Langley, (fn. 93) the Mackworths of Meole Brace and later of Betton Strange, (fn. 94) and the Steventons of Dothill. (fn. 95)
Merchants, in the second category, were men such as Thomas Ireland (d. 1554), the Shrewsbury mercer who bought Albrighton (fn. 96) and other former church lands; (fn. 97) Thomas Lawley (d. 1559), merchant of the staple, who bought Wenlock priory site and demesnes in 1545; (fn. 98) Robert Longe (d. 1552), the London mercer who bought Condover in 1544, (fn. 99) Norton in 1550, (fn. 100) and some adjoining ex-monastic property; (fn. 101) Roger Pope (d. 1573), the Shrewsbury draper who bought Woolstaston (fn. 102) in 1544 and the three Shrewsbury friaries; (fn. 103) and Roger Smyth (d. 1557), the Bridgnorth burgess who bought much former church property around Bridgnorth. (fn. 104)
Notable legal families investing in land were the Bromleys, the Brookes of Madeley, and the Foxes. All were in fact established, moderately well endowed landowning families, the Brookes with a pedigree of some length. (fn. 105) Sir Robert Brooke (d. 1558), chief justice of Common Pleas, bought the manor and rectory of Madeley, a former Wenlock priory estate. (fn. 106) His contemporary Sir Thomas Bromley (d. 1555), chief justice of King's Bench, bought Aston and Eyton on Severn, Shrewsbury abbey manors, (fn. 107) but his cousin's sons, who both also became judges, (fn. 108) acquired land in other ways. Sir George Bromley added to the paternal inheritance (fn. 109) by marrying the heiress of Hallon; (fn. 110) and Sir Thomas, lord chancellor 1579–87, (fn. 111) bought much property in Shropshire from the earl of Arundel's estates, as well as lands in other counties, and founded a line long seated at Shrawardine and Holt (Worcs.). (fn. 112) The foundations of the Foxes' fortunes seem to have been laid by Roger Foxe, recorder of Ludlow in the 1460s, (fn. 113) and his grandson William (d. 1554) acquired two hospitals with property in Ludford (where his heirs were seated) and Ludlow. (fn. 114) William's second son Charles (d. 1590) was even more prominent than his great-grandfather: recorder of Ludlow and a greedy, none too scrupulous lawyer-administrator, he bought Bromfield priory and its estates, including Oakly Park, and the Carmelite friary in Ludlow. (fn. 115) Even a successful career in the new protestant church could raise up a new landowning family. In 1567 Archbishop Young of York, perhaps descended from minor landowners at Shelvock in the later Middle Ages, bought the earl of Arundel's manors of RuytonXI-Towns, Kinnerley, and Melverley and the advowson of West Felton as an inheritance for his descendants. (fn. 116)
It is by no means clear that the new families entering landowning from a mercantile or legal background were outstanding as a group in setting new standards of efficient estate administration to maximize their return on investment. Of the dozen or so identifiable gentry families whose Shropshire landed possessions shrank 1570–1640, half were from those new to landowning. The Haywards, among the most prominent mid 16th-century investors, also offer the most spectacular example of failure. In the 1620s Sir Rowland's second son, Sir John, dissipated all those of his father's acquisitions that had come to him; most went to the Cravens, (fn. 117) and thereafter Sir Rowland's only descendants among the Shropshire landowners were the Thynnes of Caus and Longleat. (fn. 118) Another London merchant dynasty that failed in landownership was that represented by Henry Vynar of Condover. Vynar (d. 1585) and his father-in-law (fn. 119) had worked hard to improve the value of the estate by buying up adjacent properties and attacking tenants' rights, but it was all in vain and the Vynars were forced to sell in 1586. (fn. 120) The Cromptons of Acton Burnell, another family that rose from obscurity in the mid 16th century, (fn. 121) sold up in 1597 (fn. 122) and the Youngs of Ruyton-XI-Towns did so in 1612–13. (fn. 123) In 1628 Sir Thomas Jervois sold the Shropshire estates (Chelmarsh and Quatt) that his ancestor, a London alderman, had bought round about the 1540s, (fn. 124) and the Foxes of Ludford, who could still afford to buy monastic land from the Crown in 1589, (fn. 125) had parted with their estates before Edward Foxe's death c. 1630. (fn. 126) The Foxes of Bromfield lasted longer but, racked by disputes and lawsuits, (fn. 127) fared little better in the end. (fn. 128) Some other prominent new families narrowly escaped a similar fate: the Levesons of Lilleshall, for example, were heavily in debt in the late 16th century and were saved only by a well discharged trusteeship in the early 17th century. (fn. 129) A similar number of old established landowning families suffered comparable decline 1570–1640: the Greys of Buildwas, (fn. 130) the Hordes of Hoards Park, (fn. 131) the Lacons of Willey and Kinlet, (fn. 132) the Leightons of Plaish, (fn. 133) the Mainwarings of Ightfield, (fn. 134) and the Vernons of Stokesay. (fn. 135) There were also others who sold Shropshire estates but retained land in other counties. (fn. 136)
The failure of some gentry families, and particularly that of the Haywards, with the continued erosion of the remaining aristocratic estates, released much land on the market in the early 17th century and facilitated the establishment of another generation of new landowning families. The most outstanding of them bought, or were granted, peerages and so founded a new aristocracy at the apex of landowning society. First and foremost were the Cravens who, from the City profits of trade and moneylending, (fn. 137) bought many of the old FitzAlan estates, (fn. 138) in particular most of those that had been acquired by the Haywards and Youngs; (fn. 139) £7,000 was laid out on a peerage in 1627. (fn. 140) Many of the family's purchases were made by the 1st Lord Craven's mother Elizabeth (née Whitmore), widow of Alderman Sir William Craven and perhaps the richest woman in England. She probably acted on the advice of her City relatives, the Whitmores and the Welds, (fn. 141) and her son was one of the richest English peers: in 1652 Lord Craven's estate was valued at a quarter of a million pounds. (fn. 142) Somewhat earlier than the Cravens Sir Thomas Egerton, lord keeper 1596–1603 and lord chancellor 1603–17, (fn. 143) began to buy up lands in his native Cheshire (by 1582), (fn. 144) in Shropshire, and in other counties. (fn. 145) In Shropshire he united the principal medieval estates of the Stranges of Blakemere and the Stranges of Knockin by buying first, in 1598, the Talbots' Whitchurch estate (including Blakemere) (fn. 146) and secondly, in 1600, the Ellesmere estate (including Colemere, Hampton, and Myddle) from his three step-daughters (one of them his daughter-in-law), coheirs of the 5th earl of Derby. (fn. 147) He was created Baron Ellesmere in 1603, and his son's Northamptonshire acquisitions (fn. 148) enabled Ellesmere to take the title Viscount Brackley on his promotion in 1616. In 1617 he died on the eve of being created earl of Bridgwater, a dignity immediately conferred on his son. (fn. 149) The Egertons' estates in Shropshire, Cheshire, Lancashire, and north Wales were organized in six receiverships (fn. 150) and there were estates in other counties too. (fn. 151)
The Cravens and Egertons, like the FitzAlans and Stanleys they supplanted, were absentee landowners in Shropshire, but the third newly ennobled family among Shropshire landowners, the Newports, were long established in the county and resident. By marriage and purchase they built up the largest landed estate in the county: (fn. 152) Sir Francis Newport was probably Shropshire's richest gentleman by the beginning of James I's reign (fn. 153) and in 1642 his son Sir Richard bought the title of baron from Charles I, pressed for money at the beginning of the Civil War. (fn. 154) Before the end of the century the Newports were advanced to the earldom (fn. 155) justified by their landed wealth.
The invention of baronetcies (1611) enabled the Crown to sell hereditary titles to those whose estates, though substantial, yet did not rate a peerage. There were safeguards to prevent corruption of the new order by those too newly rich—three armigerous generations and an estate worth £1,000 a year were required—and perhaps only three of the twelve Shropshire landowners so dignified before the Civil War (fn. 156) were recognizably newcomers to the landed gentry. Of the four creations of the 1620s Sir Humphrey Lee (1620) and Sir John Corbet (1627) were gentlemen of ancient landed descent, (fn. 157) while Sir Thomas Harris of Boreatton (1622) and Sir Thomas Harries of Tong (1623) were successful lawyers of no pedigree, the first of those two creations giving very great offence in the county. (fn. 158) In 1641–2 eight further creations dignified members of five well established landowning families, (fn. 159) two more who were apparently qualified by armigerous descent and wealth, (fn. 160) and one new one. The newcomer was Sir Thomas Whitmore (kt. and bt. 1641); (fn. 161) he and his father had invested their City fortune in a large landed estate in south-east Shropshire between 1605 and 1631. (fn. 162)
Thus in the earlier 17th century the aristocratic crust on landed society in Shropshire was being re-formed from new materials. To some extent, however, the changes were disguised by the survival or resurrection of the older families and their prestigious titles and names among the newcomers. Although, for instance, the last FitzAlan earl of Arundel (d. 1580) lost all his Shropshire inheritance, (fn. 163) the earls of Arundel remained substantial Shropshire landowners on and off for over three quarters of a century. The lordship of Oswestry passed to the last FitzAlan's grandson Philip Howard, earl of Arundel. He forfeited it in 1589, (fn. 164) but his son Thomas (d. 1646), the traveller and collector (to whom the earldom had been restored in 1604), (fn. 165) inherited a very considerable Shropshire estate (Wem, Loppington, and Hinstock) from his mother (d. 1630), a co-heir of Lord Dacre of Gilsland. The Dacre inheritance, with a capital value of £73,818 in 1648, (fn. 166) must have gone far to settle Arundel's debts (scheduled at £93,234 in 1641) as sales proceeded through the 1650s. (fn. 167) The earls of Shrewsbury also remained substantial Shropshire landowners in the 17th century and beyond. Despite the sales of the 16th century, (fn. 168) a period which saw a shift in the centre of gravity of the Talbot estates away from Shropshire, (fn. 169) and despite the settlements which split up the estate in 1618, (fn. 170) the earl's Shropshire lands were worth perhaps £1,000 a year c. 1640, more than any gentry estate in the county but two. (fn. 171) Some of the Talbot estates passed in 1618 to the 8th earl of Shrewsbury's niece Alethea, countess of Arundel (d. 1654), and in due course to her fifth son, created Viscount Stafford in 1640; as a result the Stafford title and name figure again among Shropshire landowners (fn. 172) after the death of the last male Stafford. (fn. 173)
The changes in landownership that had been so marked a feature of the later 16th and earlier 17th centuries were apparently succeeded—the events of the Interregnum apart—by years of greater stability. In the second half of the period few estates were broken up: (fn. 174) in the early 18th century Richard Hill, of Hawkstone, had to buy up a very miscellaneous collection of properties, whenever and wherever he had the chance, to build up the estate with which he endowed his nephews. (fn. 175) Few of the leading aristocratic or gentry families sold off significant parts of their inheritances to others, (fn. 176) though the Howards disposed of their manors of Bishop's Castle (fn. 177) and Clun (fn. 178) in the 17th century and Arthur Mainwaring sold Ightfield in 1707. (fn. 179) Such sales seem to have been exceptional. The Bridgwater, the Craven, and (despite the involved story after 1734) the Newport estates survived, (fn. 180) as did those of the earl of Shrewsbury (fn. 181) and Lord Stafford. (fn. 182) Lord Kilmorey's estate increased. (fn. 183) The survival of more modest landed estates was no less remarkable if the estates of Shropshire's twelve senior baronets (fn. 184) may be taken as typical. Only two of those estates were broken up during the period: the Harrises of Boreatton, whose creation had given such offence, sold up in the second generation (fn. 185) and the Littletons' estates were sold off after the death of the last baronet, childless, in 1710. (fn. 186) The ten other families who bought their titles before the Civil War prospered well enough to pass down their estates (if not always their titles (fn. 187) and names) in their families beyond the end of the period (fn. 188) and, in the cases of six (fn. 189) of the families (five of them old established when their titles were first created), (fn. 190) well into the 19th century or beyond.
After 1660 large, slackly administered estates like the Cravens' (fn. 191) survived as effortlessly as those whose efficiency and profitability had been fostered by improving landlords like the Levesons. (fn. 192) Perhaps not surprisingly in a period of agricultural depression, when profits from land were low and opportunities for non-landed investment were multiplying, some estates passed from the one condition to the other without breaking up. One such was the Welds'. The Whitmores' relative John Weld (kt. 1642, d. 1666), town clerk of London 1613– 42, laid out his fortune in the earlier 17th century on an estate around Willey, bought principally from the Lacons, the Slaneys, and the Jervoises. He ran it, as he had acquired it, efficiently and with an eye to profit, (fn. 193) but by the 1740s it had long been mismanaged and was heavily encumbered. (fn. 194) In spite of that it was carried entire by an heiress to the Forester family in the mid 18th century and, with the investment of Forester money, it was then restored to profit. (fn. 195)
Apart from the vicissitudes of the principal landed families, other shifts in the pattern of landownership were taking place at a lower level as freehold estates were broken up and sold piecemeal and copyholders purchased enfranchisement of their lands or fought to establish hereditary titles to them. The changes are hard to quantify over the county as a whole, nor was change all in one direction. In the 1560s, for example, the earl of Arundel and the Lumleys were able to sell off many small estates in the manors of Ruyton, Kinnerley, and Melverley before the manors themselves were sold to Archbishop Young in 1567 (fn. 196) while contrariwise, at the same period, Rowland Hayward (kt. 1570) was buying up small properties that lay convenient to the larger estates he was acquiring. (fn. 197) Some of the small properties sold by Arundel and the Lumleys were rejoined to the manor of Ruyton in the earlier 1620s when the Cravens bought it (fn. 198) (meanwhile probably depleted again by piecemeal sales of the Youngs) (fn. 199) as well as much Hayward property. (fn. 200) Around Church Stretton Bonham Norton (d. 1635) assembled a considerable estate out of small purchases, (fn. 201) while thoughout the period and beyond the Leveson-Gowers pursued a consistent policy of consolidating their estates by buying up smaller ones. (fn. 202)
In some areas the fragmentation of large estates was perhaps a more important long-term development than changes in the squirearchy and nobility. By the later 18th century, for example, the manor of Melverley (1,397 a.) had no tenantable land, only 171 a. of commons, cottages, and encroachments; Kinnerley manor (2,602 a.) had only 42 a. of tenantable land, with 587 a. of commons, cottages, and encroachments; and although Ruyton manor had 2,281 tenantable acres with 821 a. of commons, cottages, and encroachments, that was only a modest proportion of the manor's 9,238 a. (fn. 203) The lands attached to the manors of Broseley and Madeley were broken up in the early 17th and early 18th centuries respectively, after the failure of their lords to profit from their industrial enterprises; the lands were never reunited. (fn. 204) After 1660 Sir George Saville (later Lord Halifax) sold off his estate in Wrockwardine Wood in small lots to tenants, and about the same time the Hills sold parts of Walcot, in Wellington. (fn. 205) Wem, Loppington, and Hinstock were surveyed and valued for piecemeal sale in 1648. (fn. 206) In Wem sales of portions of the manorial lands continued throughout the 1650s and when Daniel Wycherley bought the manor in 1665 he became trustee for conveying the freeholds on to their purchasers. By then the manorial property was by no means the extensive estate it had been in 1648 (fn. 207) and Wycherley set about the 'improvement' of his own newly purchased manor by an attack on the copyholders. (fn. 208)
With regard to customary land, much depended on the copyholders' status since those holding at the lord's will had far less tenurial and financial independence than those who had heritable estates. (fn. 209) In Shrawardine manor tenure was for lives, renewable at the lord's will, and he could therefore obtain from the holdings a return related to their value. At a court held in 1639, for example, Richard Shorey was admitted to a messuage and 1½ virgate of customary land in Forton township for an entry fine of £100 and an annual rent of £1 2s. 10d; three years later his wife and son paid an instalment of a £125 fine for the reversion of the property. (fn. 210)
Copyholds of inheritance, on the other hand, provided little income for lords since fines, rents, and services, fixed by custom, were inadequate, even derisory, in an inflationary period. (fn. 211) At Wrockwardine and Edgmond tenants fined half a year's rent, though at Edgmond there was also a surcharge of 12d. an acre for parcels of land that had anciently belonged to any other messuage. At Prees and Ford a year's rent was given and at Worfield £1 for a yardland and 10s. for half a yardland. (fn. 212) Even if fines were arbitrary, at the lord's will, they had to be reasonable enough not to hinder the heir's succession, and a fine's reasonableness was agreed by both parties and the manorial tenants; two, occasionally three, years' improved value of the holding came to be regarded as the maximum. (fn. 213) Of course copyholders tried to claim that their fines were fixed, and much scope existed for dispute and litigation. In 1600 21 Whitchurch tenants complained of an 'unlawful' increase in their fines. They alleged a custom of only one year's rent, whereas the officers of Sir Thomas Egerton, lord of the manor, claimed never to have taken less than two years' rent. The outcome is unknown but 17th-century surveys and rentals of the estate show that income derived from the copyholders, the largest class of tenant, formed a small proportion of total receipts. Significantly, the dispute occurred within two years of Egerton's purchase of the manor and perhaps reflects an attempt to maximize the return on his investment. At Wem and Church Stretton later in the century tenants fought similar battles with their lords, who were trying to establish that the copyholds were held at will. At Wem the dispute dragged on for eight years, ruining both sides; Daniel Wycherley, the lord, eventually won a pyrrhic victory through his opponents' exhaustion not because of any merits of his case. At Church Stretton on the other hand the copyholders won. The dispute had 16th-century origins, and more recently Sir Henry Thynne and his steward had attempted to undermine the manor's customs by preventing access to the court rolls and inserting words like ad voluntatem domini after secundum consuetudinem manerii in records of transfers. In 1670, however, a Chancery decree affirmed the security of, and the titles to, the copyholds of inheritance. (fn. 214)
The period was critical for the system of copyhold tenure in general and, in Shropshire as elsewhere, the amount of customary land declined as it was enfranchised or converted to leasehold. (fn. 215) At the same time extension of cultivation to commons and wastes further reduced the proportion of copyhold land since in many cases the new land was leased from the outset. (fn. 216) Many lords whose manors included copyholds of inheritance, as Whitchurch did, concentrated on improving the income from demesne and leaseholders, despairing of ever obtaining much from their copyholders. At Madeley in the later 16th century over 70 per cent of the lord's rent came from leaseholders, barely a quarter from copyholders. (fn. 217) Because of the poor returns some landowners raised capital by agreeing to clarify conditions of tenure such as the level of entry fines or the services due. In the late 16th century the lord of the manor of Ford tried to raise rents and exact higher entry fines from the copyholders but his failure led him to make an agreement with them in 1608, later embodied in a Chancery decree. In return for a composition of £1,880 13s. he confirmed ancient customs of the manor that gave his copyholders a virtual freehold interest. (fn. 218) Others enfranchised copyholds. At Pontesbury the lord's decision to enfranchise in 1615 ended half a century of dispute. The earl of Arundel's trustees gave the copyholders the same opportunity; some took it but many, to their later discomfiture, refused, believing that copyholds of inheritance were as good as, or better than, freeholds. At Whixall in 1704 the copyholders were allowed to buy out their fines, heriots, and services at three years' improved rent as an inducement to agree to inclosure of the common. (fn. 219)
The development of leasehold proceeded apace too. Even on copyhold estates held at will, the lord benefited from the change by the formalization of tenants' rights and duties, the better enforcement of good husbandry, the elimination of free bench, and the control of sub-letting. (fn. 220) Leases made in 1533 and 1541 of former copyhold land held at will in the manor of Whittington are early examples of the change. In the 1540s Robert Longe, the London mercer who had bought Condover manor, was opposed by his copyholders when he tried a similar transformation. The copyholders accused Longe of refusing access to court records so as to override customs by compelling them to treat anew for their holdings which were to be held by leases for lives and on terms decided by Longe. The Ellesmere copyholders had estates for lives at the lord's will but, though numerous in 1560, had disappeared by the opening years of the 17th century. Leaseholds were created either as properties fell in with the extinguishing of lives or—because that could be a long drawn out process—by forcing the tenants to come to terms whenever an individual life dropped. In 1602 the surveyor of the lordship of Oswestry advised the lord to 'grant no more copies but as they fall grant them by lease because the copyholders are so few, and upon their leases to reserve a heriot'. (fn. 221)
In order to adjust the level of their rents more effectively, from the mid 16th century landlords also shortened the period of their leases or copies. In Shropshire earlier in the century leases of more than 50 years had been common but thereafter they were rarely granted for longer than 21 years. (fn. 222) In Halton (in Bromfield) 21year leases were granted in the later 16th and earlier 17th century, (fn. 223) but in the county as a whole it was more usual to let for lives. The typical lease was for three lives but indentures for one or two lives were also sealed. On Earnwood manor in 1643 ten of the nineteen copyholders held for three lives, four for two, and one for one, while five of the eleven leaseholders held for three lives, three for two lives, and one for one. (fn. 224) Twenty-one-year leases were reckoned to equal those for three lives, and calculations were made on that basis, although when the Ellesmere estate was being re-leased in 1637 a multiplication figure of ten was used for the former and eleven for the latter. By the late 17th century improved life expectancy had lengthened the duration of leases and made them an even better proposition for the tenants. About 1640 John Gough took a three-lives lease of land in Myddle parish and sixty years later two lives were still in being. Moreover his grandnephew Richard, the historian of the parish, recalled hearing of a lease which had fallen in because the 99 years had elapsed and one of the three lives was still in being. (fn. 225)
Unlike the situation in the midlands and eastern England where economic annual rents were introduced at an early date, western landowners obtained the bulk of their income from large entry fines, with only small reserved rents and some rent chickens or bushels of corn coming in annually. (fn. 226) In 1652–3 tenants of 79 holdings on the Craven estate in south Shropshire were paying £197 5s. 4d. a year in reserved rents but had paid out £10,210 1s. 4d. in entry fines. Fourteen of the fines included an allowance for the surrender of an existing lease, a device which— with the adding of years or lives—enabled a landowner to update the terms he offered and a tenant to extend his interest: in 1729 a farm lease in Kynnersley allowed the tenant to exchange a life for £30 and add one for £60. (fn. 227)
Fines increased dramatically as land values soared, a rise due only in part to inflation. In Ellesmere in 1637 the re-leasing of the estate brought in £10,398 13s. 4d. in fines as compared with £660 19s. 11d. in 1602 and £404 7s. 2d. in 1560. Even that improvement did not satisfy Bridgwater and over the next four years his commissioners were ordered to get even better terms. On the Leveson estate in and around the Weald Moors receipts trebled in the years 1600–40. (fn. 228) The fact that tenants paid such greatly increased rents indicates the profitability of farming in early 17th-century Shropshire. (fn. 229)
As elsewhere in western England the system of life leaseholds persisted in Shropshire throughout the period. (fn. 230) A survey of leases made in the manor of Linley (in More) in 1699 shows that all but one of the nineteen granted in the previous fifty years were for three lives. In the mid 18th century the Foresters and the Lawleys regularly granted leases for three lives, and they were reintroduced by Lord Gower in 1755 in order to raise capital quickly from entry fines. In 1793 it was observed that Lord Craven's farms in Stanton Lacy 'as in other places in Shropshire' were let for lives at very low rents. (fn. 231) The depression that affected farming in the century after the Restoration may have helped to preserve the system for, apart from the short- and middle-term fall in receipts that would have accompanied a change to rack renting, it made it easier for landlords to maintain the level of their rents. Moreover a life leaseholder had normally to pay taxes and repair his holding, (fn. 232) so saving the landlord much expenditure. (fn. 233) Landlords who racked, however, could hardly avoid such charges. Thus in the early 18th century Richard Hill was told that 'tenants at rack in this country will not be tied to any repairs'. (fn. 234)
Letting at economic rent was not unknown in Shropshire in the early modern period. There were many tenants at will, for instance, though they tended to occupy smaller properties such as cottages, industrial premises, and parcels of land. That was the situation in Great Bromfield manor in 1635 where there was an obvious distinction between the messuages, normally leased for lives, and other forms of property. (fn. 235) A few of the messuages were being held at will but, as on the Bridgwater and Leveson estates at the time, that device appears to have been a temporary measure to bring recalcitrant tenants to heel. (fn. 236) In the manor of Cardington and Lydley Hayes too, a number of farms let annually in the early 1620s had been leased by the end of the decade. (fn. 237) On the earl of Bridgwater's Whitchurch estate, however, the number of tenants at will increased in the early 17th century as the landlord deliberately set about improving his receipts at a time of rising prices. Bridgwater was to some extent compensated for the loss of entry fines by the simultaneous introduction of leaseholds on the Ellesmere estate. Entry fines were reintroduced in the harsher climate of the later 17th century but, as they tended to be small, there was no abrupt change of direction. (fn. 238)
In areas where rents were not already racked the consequences of the Civil War may have stimulated an interest in economic rents. Much royalist land fell to the state and either because former leases were disallowed or because there were difficulties in negotiating new ones, many properties, as on the confiscated Craven estate or the Brookes' manor of Madeley, (fn. 239) were let at annual tenancies.
Development continued after 1660, though clearly the situation varied from estate to estate. The desire for modernization and greater efficiency seems to have been an important influence in favour of racking when it happened. From the 1680s the Leveson-Gowers' agent George Plaxton completely reversed the former leasing policy and insisted on letting only at will, perhaps influenced by practice on the family's Stittenham estate (Yorks. N.R.). In effect Plaxton showed that it was necessary to face severe short-term difficulties to secure a large and steadier return in the future. He also introduced modern methods of estate administration: tenants were encouraged to consolidate their holdings and general improvements of the estate were carried out. (fn. 240) The change can also be seen on Lord Kilmorey's estate in north-east Shropshire. A 1686 survey lists properties held for lives and at rack rents: it is clear that leases were not being renewed as lives ended for the vast majority of people named were over sixty. In Shifnal manor a similar change was being carried out in the early 18th century. (fn. 241)
Tenants often preferred rack rents in economically troubled times, such as the late 17th and early 18th century, since they did not have to spend on taxes or repairs and rent reductions were easier to obtain. Farmers in Shropshire, a mainly pastoral county, did not suffer the same degree of hardship as those in mixedfarming areas did. Nevertheless conditions did worsen: arrears of rent built up from time to time and in the late 1740s a severe outbreak of cattle plague (fn. 242) did much damage to the farming economy.
Shropshire was mainly pastoral: only eight out of the 297 holdings covered by inventories of the 1550s (fn. 243) had more capital in crops than in animals (Table VI). Most farmers, however, grew some corn and it would be wrong to think that arable cultivation was of little account. In the mid 16th century—outside the northern dairy area where the management of cattle predominated—corn was often grown on more than a purely subsistence basis. The greatest acreages were grown on the Eastern Sands and in the Severn-Tern area, for the seemingly high level of capital investment on the east Shropshire coalfield reflects the smallness of the sample and the lack of specialization by that region's comparatively modest farmers. Wills show that good crops were gathered in south Shropshire too. There were many legacies of crops in field or barn; thus in 1548 Margery Atcherley of Onibury made bequests of all her growing crop (except 4 a. of the best corn), while her son William was to take possession of her fallow ground as soon as she died. (fn. 244)
In 1612 Shropshire's soil was said to be rich 'and standeth upon a red clay, abounding in wheat and barley'. (fn. 245) The point was reiterated in 1673 when, besides its good cover of woods, Shropshire's fertile tilth was described as 'abounding in wheat and barley' and its pasture as feeding 'store of cattle'. (fn. 246) In fact arable production increased in the 17th century as land was inclosed and a more flexible husbandry developed. The change seems to have been triggered by a subsistence crisis of the sort that wracked the forest of Arden (Warws.), a similar wood—pasture region, in the early 17th century. (fn. 247) Certainly by 1649 Shropshire was said to be one of those woodland counties that before inclosure 'were wont to be relieved by the fielden with corn of all sorts, and now are grown as gallant corn countries as be in England'. (fn. 248)
Source: Probate inventories: see p. 141 n. 56.
The percentages of total farm stock do not amount to 100 because produce is excluded from the table though not from the farm-stock values on which the percentages are based; in different regions products like cheese and wool were often of considerable value. In the figures for livestock, poultry values are usually negligible. For the 1550s figures for the NW. Uplands (St. Asaph diocese) and S. Salop. and SW. Salop. (Hereford diocese) are not available.
In the mid 16th century, though the inventories give no acreages, it seems that a rough balance existed between winter and spring corn. At Edgmond in the summer of 1548 Thomas Rofe had 20 strikes' seedness (12 a.) of wheat and rye, 9 strikes' seedness (5 a.) of barley, and 11 strikes' seedness (6½ a.) of oats growing. (fn. 249) Later that year at Sutton Maddock John Littleford sowed 10 strikes' seedness (6 a.) of winter corn and the following spring 12 strikes' seedness (7 a.) of dredge, barley, and oats. (fn. 250) The normal sowing rate in Shropshire varied between two strikes an acre and 3 strikes over 2 a., though winter corn tended to be sown less thickly than spring grain. (fn. 251) Where the arable area was organized in three open fields the division between winter and spring corn was simple. At Cleobury North in 1600 winter corn was growing in Oakwood field, oats in Stable field, while Haymers field lay fallow. (fn. 252)
In the mid 16th century oats was the most prominent spring corn in all regions covered by the inventories. Barley was also common, except in the south-west region, and it sometimes alternated with oats. In a 1588 lease of the capital messuage of More it was stated that barley or oats was to be sown on land that had previously grown rye. (fn. 253) Spring corn increased in importance and during the 17th century barley clearly became the leading Lent grain, more widespread than oats, and often the most popular grain of all. Barley comprised 68 per cent of the cereals winnowed from the Barkers' demesne lands around Haughmond between 1623 and 1625, compared with 15 per cent oats, 6.7 per cent rye, 10 per cent muncorn, and 0.3 per cent wheat. (fn. 254) In the century up to the Restoration barley's increasing popularity was most notable in north Shropshire, particularly in the northern dairy and Severn-Tern areas and to a lesser extent on the Eastern Sands. Farther south it had to share the land with oats and pulses. Small acreages of French wheat and vetches made up the balance of crops growing in the fields.
In the Severn-Tern area barley's emergence as the most important spring corn can be seen in the cattle-corn parishes of Atcham and Wroxeter, and barley pushed oats into second position even in places like Great Ness and Fitz where oats had been prominent in the early 17th century. (fn. 255) Much barley was malted, especially in and around towns such as Shrewsbury, Newport, and Ludlow. On the Lilleshall estate the Levesons' agent reported in 1615 that all the barley grown was malted. (fn. 256) After bad harvests, when barley was used as a bread corn, maltsters tended to fall foul of town authorities who wished to keep the market supplied with grain to prevent unrest. In the early 1620s Shrewsbury corporation officers searched malthouses for barley and forced the maltsters to send it to market for baking into bread. (fn. 257) Barley's popularity in wood-pasture counties like Shropshire lay in its adaptability: not only was it used as a bread and malting corn but increasingly as animal feed too.
The cultivation of oats not only gave way to that of barley but also tended to lose ground to pulses, especially peas, as the 17th century progressed. 'Green' and 'grey' peas comprised an eighth of the total crops from the Barkers' demesne lands around Haughmond winnowed between 1623 and 1625. (fn. 258) Oats nevertheless remained popular in some places: one day in March 1677 forty teams, sowers, and harrowers were employed to sow 145 strikes' seedness (85 a.) of oats in Lubstree park, Lilleshall. (fn. 259) In certain areas oats was the most practicable cereal: it was well adapted to the inhospitable conditions of the south-west for instance, though generally arable farming was of little importance there.
In north Shropshire the commonest winter corn in the mid 16th century was rye. (fn. 260) Some wheat was grown but inventory references to it in the 1550s are outnumbered by those to rye by almost four to one. In Tudor and early Stuart England barley seems to have been the usual bread corn, and undoubtedly barley bread was eaten in Shropshire. Rye bread, however, was eaten by a larger proportion of the county's population than was the case in many other parts of England. In 1575 barley was sown as a bread corn but only because of bad weather at the time of the rye sowing; the substitution was made again fourteen years later when the rye harvest failed once more. (fn. 261) In the 1660s rye was naturally an important corn on the light soils of the Eastern Sands, the main arable area, though some wheat also was grown. Rye remained the normal winter corn in north Shropshire in the later 17th century, though wheat was more widely grown than before and the overall proportion of winter- rather than spring-sown crops was declining.
Some wheat had always been grown, especially on the south Shropshire clays: wills of the 1550s suggest that in some areas, including those where it was later to be prominent, wheat was more extensively sown than elsewhere in the county. In the century before the Restoration the acreage of winter corn held up better in the Severn—Tern area and south Shropshire (though the balance between spring and winter crops varied) than it did in the north. That is confirmed by the few inventories and other records that give acreages, even if often they relate only to rather small areas. In 1626 Edward Cressett had 140 a. of cereals at Coates, in Holdgate: 20 a. of wheat, 30 a. of mixed corn, 20 a. of rye, 20 a. of barley, and 50 a of oats. (fn. 262) Thomas Dun of Eyton on Severn had 8 a. of wheat, 5 a of rye, 6 a. of barley, and 9 a. of peas, oats, and vetches growing at the time of his death in 1662. (fn. 263) At Halford John Carter left 12 a. of corn, 6 a. of barley, and 13 a. of peas and oats in July 1669. (fn. 264) More wheat was sown in those regions and it improved its position generally in the late 17th century. Inclosure, felling of woods, and the draining of mosses and meres in the preceding hundred years had brought more heavy land into cultivation and that inherently fertile soil grew good wheat crops. Wheat was often grown as a cash crop, and improvement of the ordinary man's diet resulted from extension of the acreage under hard corn, a mixture of rye and wheat.
The expansion of the spring-sown acreage was one of several developments which complicated the pattern of arable farming between the 1550s and 1660s as cropping arrangements—in any case complex in an old-inclosed county like Shropshire—became more flexible. The open-field system, never as extensive as in more champaign counties, was in full decline in the 17th century (fn. 265) and even where it survived reasonably intact there was often, as on the Craven estate in south Shropshire, a multiplicity of fields. (fn. 266) Inclosure of the open fields facilitated ley farming, and a form of convertible husbandry was often practised on inclosed land, especially that taken out of the open fields. In 1600 the inhabitants of High Hatton manor agreed that whenever Adam Peate's pasture called the New leasow, in Worrall field, was sown with corn no more than one or two persons at a time would go through with their oxen to get to the Wallbrook. (fn. 267) In a tithe dispute of 1602 the inhabitants of Eaton township (in Baschurch) claimed not to have ploughed part of their inclosed arable land, until then in the open fields, but had mown it for hay. (fn. 268) Land designated arable and pasture ground is listed in the parliamentary surveys of the Craven estate in south Shropshire. (fn. 269) Similarly at Lilleshall in 1683 William Leveson-Gower leased out a parcel of arable or pasture ground called the Upper Park field; the tenant covenanted not to impoverish it by over-tillage and to spread sufficient manure whenever the land was ploughed, though no part of it was to be ploughed during the last five years. (fn. 270)
The point of such covenants was to prevent loss of fertility by over-tilling in the last few years of a lease. Leases often included premiums to be paid if the land was so ploughed. It was known at the time that temporary grass leys renewed fertility. In 1637 it was said of land in Blakemere park, Whitchurch, held by Philip Cotton and 'wonderfully ill husbanded by over tilling', that the best way of restoring it was to let it lie 'five or six years with rough winter grass'. (fn. 271) Little is known about yields. Evidence is sparse and incidental, as is that revealed by the dispute between Thomas Adams of Barrow and John Weld, the tithe owner there. In October 1650 Adams sowed a 30-a. close with wheat, rye, and mixed corn; in 1651 Weld claimed the yield had been tenfold, but Adams said it had been slightly less. Whichever it was, such a yield was better than most contemporaries achieved. (fn. 272)
Thus by the mid 17th century convertible husbandry and ley farming were promoting a genuine form of mixed farming in places most suited to it. The Eastern Sands region, then Shropshire's leading corn district (judged by the value of the crops grown there), led the way with the development of an economy based on sheep—corn husbandry. Crops were important in the Severn—Tern area too and also in parts of south Shropshire, normally in conjunction with cattle keeping and sometimes with sheep rearing as well. In favoured parts of south Shropshire, especially in Corve Dale and in the Teme valley, mixed farming had taken hold, though in Lord Craven's manors much of the large arable acreages were still in open fields. (fn. 273) At Stanton Lacy, for instance, almost half (47.9 per cent) of the land surveyed in 1652 was arable. (fn. 274) Of course south Shropshire's hills and valleys gave rise to a considerable variety of farming practice, much depending on a farm's location, soil type, and access to commons and wastes. A similarly varied pattern seems to have characterized the north-west uplands.
By c. 1750 regional specialization had accentuated the difference between regions and the uniformity of farming practice within them. On the Eastern Sands the level of investment in sheep and corn remained the same as in the 1660s but the arable acreage had increased and its importance can be seen in the careful appraisals of crops. In 1739 the region was said to have a fine dry sandy soil suited to rye and barley, and so 'commonly distinguished by the name of the rye-land' from Shropshire west of the Severn. (fn. 275) Barley was certainly the most important spring grain and according to the acreages given, the most popular crop of all. Peas were probably the second spring grain but oats were extensively sown and a number of farmers favoured it. Clover had been incorporated in the rotation by 1700. Barley was used as a fodder crop but when in July 1737 the appraisers of the goods of George Smith of Bridwick (in Shifnal) valued his winter corn and barley at £16 10s. and the peas and oats and the hay at £11, (fn. 276) they may have been distinguishing crops meant for human consumption from those to be fed to the animals. Some of this barley was made into bread but mostly it was consumed as beer. Rye bread was generally eaten but increasingly in the early 18th century bread was being made out of rye mixed with wheat. In Albrighton, Donington, and Shifnal parishes (fn. 277) fewer references to rye appear from c. 1700 and there was a corresponding increase in listings of hard corn.
In the Heathlands arable cultivation spread to the lighter soils in the postRestoration period, a process typical of developments affecting similar land in the country at large. (fn. 278) As a result a system of farming was created akin to that practised on the Eastern Sands, (fn. 279) though with more emphasis on cattle and even dairying. Characteristically the post-Restoration period saw the beginning of heath inclosures, attention beforehand having largely been concentrated on the heavier soils. The stimulus in the country as a whole seems to have been the need for efficiency in an age of depressed corn prices, and it made sense to extend cultivation to the lighter and more easily worked soils. (fn. 280) Barley and rye were the commonest grains in the Heathlands, though wheat increased in popularity. Thus Griffith Spender of Great Sowdley (in Cheswardine) had a stack of wheat worth £18 in October 1740 and like many others also sowed rye mixed in with it. (fn. 281) By the 1740s clover was an established part of the rotation.
Elsewhere in north Shropshire cattle rather than sheep formed the basis of the mixed-farming economy, though sheep had some importance. (fn. 282) As there were fewer physical differences than in the south, so there was a greater uniformity of husbandry. In 1704 Wroxeter's black soils were noted as particularly fertile, (fn. 283) but there was excellent arable in many other parts. The relative valuations of winter and spring corn listed in inventories of the 1690s and 1740s indicate a move in the direction of the latter. Barley, already the most important Lent crop in the 1660s, steadily improved its position; oats had given way to pulses, especially peas. Farmers, however, did not neglect winter corn: wheat continued to expand its acreage at the expense of rye but, as elsewhere, a lot more hard corn was being grown.
In south Shropshire and in the north-west uplands large sheep flocks were kept on the hills (fn. 284) but mixed farming on the lower land was firmly based on a system of cattle—corn husbandry. That development was led by a class of prosperous yeomen who emerged in the mid 17th century and who invested much capital in the farms. They had large acreages under crops, ran substantial herds of cattle, and in many cases kept sizeable flocks of sheep too. The land was kept in good heart by dung and, as in the case of Thomas Stedman of Stanton Lacy, was also marled and limed. In July 1725 Stedman had 26 a. of corn and wheat (£26), 75 a. of lent grain (£30), and lime and earth worth £3 10s. His land was ploughed by 16 oxen while his herd of 50 head provided him with stores and dairy produce. He also reared and fattened pigs and sheep and bred horses. (fn. 285)
Where acreages were recorded, as in the above example, it seems that spring corn tended to predominate. Nevertheless a good deal of winter corn was grown and some farmers gave it equal weight. Edward Jones of Ruckley (in Stanton Lacy), for instance, had corn worth £18 (c. 18 a.), 12 a. of vetches, 6 a. of oats, 2 a. of beans and peas, and 19 a. fallow in March 1737. (fn. 286) Winter corn was particularly important in the Teme valley; there mixed farming had made a considerable advance and it was in many ways very similar to that being practised on the central plain of Herefordshire. (fn. 287) Clover had been introduced into the rotation by the turn of the 17th century and there are odd references to turnips as a field crop. Anne Cooke of Richard's Castle planted 5 a. of winter corn in 1689 and a few months later 18 a. of spring crops, including 2 a. of turnips. (fn. 288)
On the east Shropshire coalfield numerous small farms, normally pastoral, continued in existence, and dairying was of some importance. On the fringes of the area larger farms could be found and they provided much of the corn brought to market. In the summer of 1749 William Picken of Donnington (in Lilleshall), a cattle—corn farmer, had a mixed herd of 25 head and growing corn and grain worth £40. (fn. 289) Spring corn predominated; the leading grain was barley, followed by oats and then peas. Rye was still cultivated but, as elsewhere, increasingly mixed with wheat. Clover was introduced to the area in the early 18th century, being first mentioned in the inventories of farmers dying in the 1720s.
Over most of the northern dairy area arable farming counted for little by c. 1750; only the farmers of the south-west had a lower proportion of capital in crops. Rye and wheat were generally grown mixed as hard corn, though they were also sown separately. Spring grain was emphasized with barley the leading crop, followed by oats and pulses, especially peas. Barley was malted and Wem was noted for its excellent malt liquors. (fn. 290)
Of the industrial crops, hemp and flax were the most widely grown. Cultivation was normally on a small scale but many holdings had a hemp plot by the house. Continual presentments of individuals, and even of whole townships, for watering hemp and flax in streams show that the practice was common, and indeed the processing of the crops was an important cottage industry. (fn. 291) Of the dye crops such as saffron, woad, and madder, so much discussed by contemporaries, (fn. 292) there is little evidence, though saffron was being grown on reclaimed land in Prees by c. 1549 (fn. 293) and there was a 'saffron croft' among the fields of Cheswell Grange, Lilleshall, in 1580. (fn. 294)
Hop growing, though less common than that of hemp and flax, also developed from small beginnings: hops were grown in Prees by c. 1549, at Stoke upon Tern in 1588, at Chirbury in 1603, and at Madeley and in the Teme valley by c. 1650. (fn. 295) Inventories, however, suggest that cultivation was not very common before the mid 17th century; thereafter it began to expand more rapidly, especially in south Shropshire. Some hop growing was on a large scale. In 1746 Walter Pooler, a substantial cereal grower from Neen Sollars, had 12,000 hop poles valued at £30 on Mr. Carver's land (fn. 296) and four years later John Smith of Boraston (in Burford) had 20,000 poles worth £20 and hops worth £30. (fn. 297)
There were many orchards and in the early 17th century Shropshire hedgerows were stocked with fruit trees. Sometimes leaseholders covenanted to plant such trees. (fn. 298) Of course much of the produce was eaten as fruit—Edmund Mansell of Preston Boats (in Upton Magna) left a small quantity of apples, verges, onions, and garlic valued at 3s. 4d. in 1640 and seven years later William Brown of the same parish had apples and onions worth the same amount. (fn. 299) In south Shropshire, however, cider apples were grown and in the second half of the period a substantial brewing industry emerged which mirrored a similar development over the border in Herefordshire. (fn. 300)
Of the new crops, turnips (fn. 301) had made little impact on crop rotations by 1750 and their cultivation seems to have been largely restricted to the demesnes of gentlemen enthusiasts. Even in such favourable areas as the Eastern Sands there are few inventory references, though they were being grown at Coton Hall farm (in Alveley) in the 1740s. (fn. 302) Similarly potatoes were just beginning to appear by 1750, also, it seems, at the instigation of the gentry or with their encouragement. In 1738 potatoes were growing on the Davies estate at Brompton (in Church Stoke), (fn. 303) and in the 1740s they were being planted by the Davenports of Worfield (fn. 304) and the Waltons of Walton. (fn. 305) In 1756 the Foresters paid a labourer 6s. 4d. for nineteen days' work planting potatoes. (fn. 306) A problem common to all new crops was that of tithes and their assessment for such a purpose caused endless disputes. (fn. 307) In 1748, for instance, George Watson, a tenant on the Attingham estate, agreed to plant potatoes on a piece of boggy land that he wished to drain but only on condition that the vicar would waive his tithe on them. (fn. 308)
Oxen were universally used for ploughing in 16th-century Shropshire and the highest proportions of draught animals inventoried were in the chief arable areas: the Eastern Sands and Severn-Tern areas had most in the 1550s, and those two areas, with the Heathlands too, had most in the 1660s. Shropshire inventories often list considerable numbers of oxen, sometimes a reflection of the size of team needed to pull through the heavy soil. In June 1550 the team belonging to John Perton of Ledwyche (in Ludford) comprised eight oxen and two steers. (fn. 309) To acquire and keep that number involved considerable expense and smaller farmers naturally hired at least some of their draught animals. Thus in 1550 John Reynolds of Down (in Lydbury North) owed money to two men for the hire of two yokes of bullocks. (fn. 310) By the 1660s plough horses were occasionally recorded but they were rare. Robert Kilvert of Booley (in Stanton upon Hine Heath) left two draught nags as well as four oxen in 1627; (fn. 311) perhaps the horses led the oxen but they are just as likely to have pulled the harrow or cart. Richard Dabbs of the Wyke (in Shifnal) did use horses to till for in 1661 he left corn and draught horses but no ox. (fn. 312) Similarly Michael Thomas, rector of Stockton 1642–61, ploughed his glebe with horses. (fn. 313)
By the 1740s the move towards ploughing by horse is particularly apparent in the main arable areas. The change had proceeded furthest on the Eastern Sands and by the mid 18th century oxen had virtually disappeared. Indeed in parishes like Albrighton and Worfield the transition had occurred fifty years before. The median number of horses per farm, eight, was the highest by far of any region. Apart from draught horses the stock included brood mares and young animals. Unlike other mixed farming areas in the country, on the Eastern Sands horse breeding and rearing were not yet separate activities, though some people did buy in stock. Joseph Parker of Chesterton (in Worfield) for instance, bought good quality draught horses and trained colts in the collar; in 1746 he left five horses and two colts worth £35. (fn. 314) Some Severn-Tern farmers continued to plough with oxen but the move to horses is indicated by the rise in the median head per farm from two in the 1660s to five in the 1740s. Some of those draught horses were the large powerful animals that had appeared on English farms after the Restoration. (fn. 315) Thomas Calcott of Allscott (in Wrockwardine) had three mares and a horse worth £6 each in 1744, apart from a (riding) mare worth £7; they ploughed and took Calcott's corn to market in his two wagons. (fn. 316) Horses ploughed on some south Shropshire farms but, as in the south-west, the ox remained the main draught animal. That is reflected in the high proportion of oxen and working bullocks and steers recorded in the inventories.
Shropshire farmers in the early-modern period used various fertilizers. Farmyard muck was the commonest, though sheep were folded on the lighter soils. In the years 1600–60 almost half (45.2 per cent) of the farmers' inventories in Worfield, a sheep-corn parish, include references to hurdles or fold hatches. In the mid 16th century poor sandy soils were marled in Shropshire, (fn. 317) though fifty years later it was beginning to be realized that marl appropriate to the type of soil being treated had to be used. (fn. 318) At Moreton Corbet castle in 1623 there was an 'iron marling auger of three rods', which suggests that there at least good quality marl was systematically searched for. (fn. 319) According to Fitzherbert's continuator, 'if you manure your grounds once in seven or twelve years, it is sufficient, and look how many years he beareth corn, so many years he will bear grass, and that plenty'. (fn. 320) Many farmers dug marl from the wastes. In a suit concerning Meeson heath in 1576 the plaintiff Thomas Cherrington claimed to have carried away 'clods, marl, and mud to amend his other lands about six years last past'. (fn. 321) Shropshire was among the counties where farmers limed cold or moist ground, building kilns in the fields to burn the limestone and then dressing the land 'to great advantage'. (fn. 322) Lime's main function was to neutralize the acidity inhibiting the growth of most crops and widely prevalent in Shropshire soils. (fn. 323) To be effective, however, lime had to be used with manure since, like marl, it was not a plant food, a fact not fully understood until the 19th century. (fn. 324)
In the 1550s the main farm vehicle was the two-wheeled wain. Most farmers had one. A farmer who had two, like Thomas Townsend of Quatt in 1555, would use one to muck, the other to carry the corn. (fn. 325) Tumbrils were also used around the farm and those who had a cart, a mainly horse-drawn vehicle, used it inter alia to take produce to market. By the 1660s there were more farm carts, though wains remained more numerous. Thereafter carts supplanted wains for all farm work. In the early 18th century, moreover, the heavy four-wheeled wagon appeared in Shropshire. Far more expensive than cart or wain and rather cumbersome for use in the fields, its main purpose was to carry corn and other commodities to market. Naturally only prosperous farmers could afford it (and its team) and were busy enough to keep it fully used. With it they could dispose of their produce in bulk, marketing it as efficiently as possible.
Livestock and dairy farming
Animal husbandry formed the basis of Shropshire farming in the two centuries 1540–1750, even though many holdings grew considerable acreages of crops. Farmers' inventories (fn. 326) reflect the emphasis: livestock and animal products were almost invariably worth more than the crops (Table VII) and were listed in greater detail too. For most farmers the imbalance was quite marked: in the 1550s, for instance, four out of five farms (79.5 per cent) had three times as much capital in livestock as in crops. In the 1660s and 1740s only three farms out of five had the same 3:1 stock-crop ratio (58.5 and 61.6 per cent respectively) for the arable acreage had risen. Nevertheless livestock remained the most important commodity throughout the period.
Cattle were the most valuable animals in the 1550s and also the commonest on Shropshire farms. Even where sheep predominated, as on the Heathlands and the Eastern Sands, very few farmers had no cattle. In no region were cattle appraised at under 50 per cent of the value of farm stock. The picture is incomplete because of the absence of south Shropshire inventories, but cattle were clearly important there too. Many southern parishes had valley-bottom land as well as upland pasture and, according to the evidence of 16th-century wills, were well stocked with cattle. In 1548, for instance, Richard Browne of Stanton Lacy left, among other things, 36 head of cattle and 56 sheep. (fn. 327)
Cattle were used in various ways and, despite considerable overlapping of function, differences of emphasis can be glimpsed. Dairy farming was most pronounced in the northern dairy area (Table VII), especially in the parishes bordering Cheshire. Without doubt farmers there had been influenced by those to the north. Half (49.4 per cent) of the cattle consisted of cows and heifers, a figure approached only on the eastern coalfield (48.9 per cent): there the demands of a growing industrial population had already stimulated dairy production and incidentally provided a steady income for the many small farmers.
In the mid 16th century dairy farming was closely connected with cattle rearing (fn. 328) and in the western part of the northern dairy area, in parishes like Baschurch, the link is more apparent. In the Severn-Tern area and on the Heathlands and Eastern Sands dairy farmers mingled with rearers, the difference of emphasis varying according to who had first call on the milk, the milkmaid or the calf. Cattle were least important on the Eastern Sands with its emergent sheep-corn economy, but the two largest amounts of cheese were recorded there: the farmers, adding dairying enterprise to their sheep—corn farms, left cheese worth £4 and £5. (fn. 329)
A mixed form of cattle management seems to have been followed by south Shropshire farmers too, though the popularity of bequeathing cows and calves might exaggerate the importance of dairy farming there. In the south-west the raising of stores certainly predominated. South Shropshire wills do show the widespread custom of cow hiring, a device enabling smallholders to obtain milking animals cheaply while at the same time reducing the owner's need for pasture. In 1552 John Mytton of Kinnerton (in Wentnor) had his kine and heifers set either to parts or at hire, and he made specific bequests of all of them except five kine in Henry Davies's hands and a heifer in Richard Bullock's custody. (fn. 330) Cattle were also agisted. In 1551 Roger Gynnell of Bishop's Castle had two three-year-old steers in the custody of William Phillips of Kerry, (fn. 331) an example of the annual westerly movement of large numbers of stock from the west midlands to Montgomeryshire's extensive open pastures. (fn. 332)
Source: Probate inventories: see p. 141 n. 56.
Types of sheep are not distinguished regularly enough to permit classification. For the 1550s figures for the NW.Uplands (St.Asaph diocese) and S.Salop, and SW.Salop. (Hereford diocese) are not available.
By the 1660s there had been a tremendous increase in dairy production in the northern dairy area and output there must have approximated to that of the county's more famous neighbour, Cheshire. In fact it formed part of the same dairying country. (fn. 333) By the 1720s 'great quantities' of Cheshire cheese were made in the parts of Shropshire, Staffordshire, and Lancashire that bordered Cheshire. (fn. 334) In the eastern part of the northern dairy area, the earliest and most thoroughly affected by the development, the median value of cheese listed by the appraisers rose from 10s. in the 1600s to £2 13s. in the 1650s and 1660s. (fn. 335)
The median-sized herd in the region in the 1660s, as well as the proportion of capital in cattle, remained the same as it had been in the 1550s; in fact the figures reflect the continued involvement of small farmers in the dairy business and the wider section of rural society who were leaving inventories. Dairying did attract small farmers because of the lower capital investment needed in stock and equipment and also because it provided a regular income. Such people, however, had at most only a small surplus to sell, and the expansion of dairy production was brought about by the substantial farmers. (fn. 336) How large the scale of operations could be is shown by the inventory of Richard Furber, a yeoman from Shavington, in Adderley, the foremost cheese-making parish in the region: in May 1660 he had several tons of cheese in store, worth £168, and a dairy herd of 62 cows, a bull, 3 bull calves, 30 sucking calves, 25 yearlings, 15 two-year-olds, and 2 oxen. (fn. 337) Such men could provide the capital needed to maintain the comparatively high standards of stock breeding and careful grassland management necessary for effective dairy farming. That was best done in inclosed pastures rather than on open commons, and Adderley had been inclosed by the end of the 16th century. (fn. 338)
Dairy farming took longer to establish itself in the western half of the region. At the beginning of the 17th century the rearing of stores for market was probably the most widespread pursuit, though dairy production and the fattening of old and barren cows were associated interests. Towards the mid century, however, the emphasis shifted from stock rearing to a greater concentration on dairy production. Although the rearing of stores continued, the change is discernible in the greater number of milch cows grazing on the farms and in the larger stores of cheese. (fn. 339)
There were dairy farms elsewhere in the county, especially on the eastern coalfield and around Shrewsbury, where it was quite important, if on a lower level than in the northern dairy area. They existed in south Shropshire too and some inventories record reasonable stocks of cheese. In that region, however, it is difficult to assess the value of the dairy produce because appraisers commonly lumped it together with other provision. In south Shropshire more butter was made and near towns like Shrewsbury and Wellington liquid milk was important. (fn. 340)
By the mid 17th century more cattle were being fattened on riverside pastures and in improved peaty areas like the Weald Moors. Around Shrewsbury there were excellent feeding grounds (fn. 341) and the Newports, for instance, used the Severnside and Ternside meadows of their estate to fatten cattle. (fn. 342) Many cattle and sheep were grazed on pastures along the Severn and the Tern, in places like Atcham, Upton Magna, High Ercall, and Wrockwardine and the other Weald Moors parishes. (fn. 343) Hercules Felton, who left milch kine, barren cows, and stores in 1668, combined dairy farming with rearing and fattening, using the lush grass of the Weald Moors. (fn. 344) The moorland hay there was said to 'feed an ox to admiration'; (fn. 345) inhabitants of the surrounding manors therefore brought in stock from outside to fatten over the summer, though the resulting pressure on the common meant that it had to be stinted. (fn. 346)
The attention Shropshire farmers gave to their livestock led to improved grassland management, for which there is considerable evidence from the mid 17th century. First and foremost there was much inclosure, which enabled farmers to improve the quality of grass and livestock. (fn. 347) The technique of floating meadows may have been known in the county before the end of the 16th century, (fn. 348) even if the first real evidence of it occurs only fifty years later. In 1649 Shropshire was among the counties in the woodland part of England where much progress had been made by this innovation. (fn. 349) Significantly, in that year meadows were being drowned in Little Wytheford. (fn. 350) The expense could be considerable and gentry like the Davenports, Harrieses, and Whitmores took the lead in the development of water meadows. (fn. 351)
Clover seems to have been introduced to north-east Shropshire in the mid 17th century: in 1663 a great part of the land in Worcestershire, Staffordshire, and Shropshire was said to be fit for its cultivation. (fn. 352) The earliest known inventory reference shows that in 1673 Richard Minton, a Felton Butler yeoman, left 'clover and other hay' worth £5. (fn. 353) At first it was largely grown on demesne land or on the farms of substantial yeomen but by the mid 18th century, partly as a result of landowners' encouragement, it was being planted by a wider cross-section of the farming population. (fn. 354) In December 1739 Sir John Bridgeman told his Shropshire agent to look at a tenement whose lease was shortly to fall in to ascertain those pieces of arable most suited for sowing with artificial grasses for the last three years of the term 'that the farm may come to hand in good heart to any succeeding tenant'. (fn. 355) Of the other rotational grasses there is little evidence, though they were clearly being grown. The Kynastons of Sundorne planted rye grass on their demesne in the 1720s (fn. 356) and, at a humbler level, Richard Shukar of Horton Lane (in St. Chad's, Shrewsbury) grew it in the 1740s. (fn. 357) In 1745 sainfoin was sown on Coton Hall farm in Alveley and had no doubt long been known in the county: almost eighty years earlier it had been grown in Denbighshire and seed had perhaps been shipped via Shrewsbury. (fn. 358)
Improved grassland management, together with the development of spring-sown fodder crops, helped to provide additional feed for the rising animal population of the county. Cattle were the main beneficiaries. Rearing had long been the traditional cattle enterprise of Shropshire and continued to provide a major focus of interest throughout the whole period. Dairy farmers were often engaged in cattle rearing as an ancillary occupation, but with increasing specialization there was a tendency to sell off all animals surplus to requirement, keeping only dairy replacements. Stores left Shropshire in considerable numbers for fattening but with the increase of grazing in the county there was a corresponding rise in local demand. Animals had always been valued for their carcass—beef and bacon are regularly inventoried— but until the 17th century the meat market was largely supplied with old or inferior animals. Greater numbers of fatstock were listed after 1660 and the trend continued to the mid 18th century. The gentry were among the first to be involved, naturally developing an interest in commercial grazing as an extension of the fattening of stock for their own households. (fn. 359) Nevertheless others took part too. Samuel Wood for instance, a prosperous cattle, sheep, and corn farmer from Bockleton, reared and fattened his own animals and in 1749 left a herd comprising a bull and 16 cows (£80), 12 oxen (£54), 11 yearlings (£21), 11 rearing calves (£10), and 16 feeding beasts (£60). (fn. 360)
Although there was no distinct county breed, the Shropshire ox was remarkable for a large dewlap. (fn. 361) Shropshire lay across the drove routes from north Wales and north-west England and the local stock contained the blood of cattle from both. (fn. 362) About 1750 the cattle of north-east Shropshire were said to be 'middle size somewhat less than the Lancashire, but much larger than the Welsh breed'. (fn. 363) The milk of the black cattle of Cheshire and the other northern counties was excellent for making cheese, (fn. 364) and those Longhorns played a major part in the development of Shropshire dairy farming in the period, especially on the northern plain. (fn. 365) At Shrewsbury fair, a major centre for the sale of animals from Wales and the Welsh borderland, most of the cattle were black. (fn. 366) In south Shropshire, where dairy farming was less prominent, the stock varied more, black cattle mingling with red and brown animals from Herefordshire and central and south Wales. (fn. 367)
By the 1740s dairy farming had taken an even firmer hold in the northern dairy area's core parishes bordering Cheshire. About 1750 the pastures and meadows there generally produced good grass and hay 'and thereby maintain great dairies, which supply the markets with plenty of butter, and the factors with vast quantities of cheese, in goodness not much inferior to those of Cheshire'. (fn. 368) Stocks of cheese were on average far larger there than elsewhere in the county. Surprisingly, only a third of the farmers had produce inventoried, perhaps an indication of the efficiency of marketing facilities. Farmers did not rear so many young beasts, concentrating instead on increasing milking herds and keeping only dairy replacements. Herds were nonetheless larger than before: despite the absence of stores the median herd doubled from nine head in the 1660s to eighteen or nineteen by the 1740s. John Harries (d. 1732) of Adderley had a typical herd comprising 14 cows and a bull, 4 heifers coming up to three years old, 3 calves a year younger, and 3 young calves perhaps of that year. (fn. 369) Towards the west, around Baschurch, the edges of the dairy region had become a little blurred and the soils supported good mixed farms. (fn. 370)
Dairying was also significant elsewhere. It was important on the eastern coalfield where the size of herds and the number of dairy animals in them were rising in the 1730s and 1740s. In the parishes around Wellington cheese was made by a large number of farmers and it was a valuable product on the bigger farms. In Wellington most of the milk seems to have been drunk or churned for local consumption. The area's dairy farmers, however, were not always as single minded as those farther north and were likelier to rear stores as well. The small farms on the industrial belt were normally pastoral. In the Severn-Tern district too, with an agricultural economy based on cattle and corn, herds generally comprised dairy animals and stores, while along the banks of the Severn and Tern they included fatstock. Smaller farmers gave greater emphasis to dairying and around Shrewsbury that continued to be a widespread activity. (fn. 371)
Cattle also remained numerous in most other areas of the county, where dairying was not of the first importance. In the south Shropshire vales a system of cattlecorn husbandry continued to grow. Apart from the draught oxen, still employed in large numbers on the land there, many stores were kept. Indeed inventories suggest that rearing became more prominent in the area during the earlier 18th century; herds increased in size but the proportion of dairy animals fell. Prosperous yeomen like Thomas Stedman of Stanton Lacy (fn. 372) had the largest herds but virtually all farmers possessed at least one or two beasts.
Pig keeping on a commercial scale began to develop in the 17th century partly in association with the increase in dairy production. (fn. 373) Already in the mid 16th century, however, many pig keepers were rearing more than they needed for domestic consumption and were selling at local markets and fairs. The largest herds even then tended to belong to substantial farmers with a dairy interest, though pig keeping as revealed by inventories of the 1550s, varied from region to region. Every inventory in the eastern coalfield lists them, though the median valuation was low; in the Heathlands, on the other hand, they are recorded in only two out of every five inventories.
Most people used their pannage rights on neighbouring commons, and in wood— pasture areas such as Shropshire swine had long been reared on acorns and mast. Many presentments for the perennial nuisance of unringed swine appear in court rolls: in 1586, for instance, Thomas Thomas had seven unringed swine rooting in the fallow field and on Prees heath. (fn. 374) In Elizabeth I's reign the tenants of Ellesmere manor could put their pigs into the woods, paying the lord their third best swine. (fn. 375) Nevertheless shortage of pannage in some manors in the early 17th century did lead to an abridgement of rights. In 1622 the inhabitants of Myddle manor were forbidden to gather mast or acorns or to pannage 'any swine other than such as were . . . there reared or bought the winter before'. (fn. 376)
Pigs were kept elsewhere in the county and on the large south Shropshire commons pannage was still available. In 1652 the inhabitants of Edgton manor could put their swine on the common, paying 1d. for every pig over a year old and ½d. for every younger one. (fn. 377) Pigs were important on the Eastern Sands and in south-east Shropshire in parishes such as Clee St. Margaret, Coreley, Stottesdon, and Wheathill. (fn. 378) The most valuable herds tended to be kept on larger farms, where cattle and corn formed part of the agricultural economy.
Inclosure was reducing the commons, wastes, and woodlands but later in the 17th century, as dairy farming developed and more fodder crops were grown, pig keeping increased again. The incremental value gained in feeding pigs (inclusive of costs) can be gauged from the inventory of William Lovekyn, a tanner and farmer from Tilley (in Wem), drawn up in December 1639: apart from his sow and 4 pigs worth £1 3s. 4d., he left 2 lean hogs (18s.), a hog feeding (12s.), and 2 fat hogs (£2 14s.), (fn. 379) an indication that about two months' feeding trebled values. Smaller men also fattened pigs for market, taking advantage of the reputation of the local product. Of course many of them did confine themselves to domestic production, and they included retired farmers like the elder John Butcher of Hopton Wafers. At the time of his death in 1664 he was growing one or two acres of corn and keeping a couple of cows; he also had beef and bacon worth 2s. and a hog worth 15s., (fn. 380) presumably next year's provision. By the 1660s many of the larger dairy farmers, like Richard Furber of Shavington (in Adderley), kept pigs as an integral part of their operation—he had swine worth £6 6s. 8d. (fn. 381) —and, apart from dairy waste, pigs were also fed on fodder crops, especially peas. About 1750 Shropshire hogs were claimed as England's best: those of the north-eastern part of the county were 'large, broadset, and weighty, which may be owing to their being fed with peas'. (fn. 382) For brawn (fn. 383) pigs were fed on barley mash followed by raw malt and dried peas, washed down with sweet whey or the dregs of ale barrels. (fn. 384) Those who took most pigs to market were large-scale farmers who fitted pig keeping into their overall enterprise. Some, like John Cureton of Hordley, with (in 1741) a sow and 8 pigs (£1 15s.), 15 (feeding) swine (£26 5s.), and 34 store swine (£11 18s.), (fn. 385) were commercial dairy farmers. Others were sheep—corn farmers such as Edward Baker of Hilton (in Worfield), whose stock of pigs in 1749 comprised 2 sows with their pigs and a boar seg (£3 15s.), 11 store pigs (£3 10s.), and 4 feeding pigs (£5 12s.). (fn. 386)
Shropshire sheep were nationally renowned for their very fine wool. The best wool was produced around Shrewsbury and Bridgnorth and at the time only the product of the Ryeland sheep of Herefordshire was deemed superior. Shropshire wool maintained its fame throughout the period, (fn. 387) though the development of the new draperies, requiring coarser long-stapled wool, affected demand. (fn. 388) At the same time a growing interest in mutton production helped to maintain flock sizes, as did the development of a sheep-corn system of husbandry on the county's lighter soils. The old Shropshires were horned and had black or mottled faces and legs. They were about as large as the Southdown with rather longer necks but a less compact carcass. Extremely hardy, they never needed dry food except when heavy snow lay a long time. Another indigenous sheep was the Longmynd, nimble, hardy, and black faced. (fn. 389)
Many kept sheep in the various regions of the county in the mid 16th century, and flocks were grazed wherever there were commons; even smallholders and cottagers might graze animals on patches of waste. In 1557 Thomas Nagelon, a small farmer living on Wytheford Heath, Shawbury, left a flock of 12 old sheep and 8 lambs. Typically he was also engaged in dairy farming, pig keeping, and horse breeding on a small scale, (fn. 390) using the heath to keep his animals. Even in parishes where sheep were not very numerous inventories occasionally reveal much larger flocks. In Adderley, for example, only one inventory in five mentions sheep (fn. 391) and fourteen was the highest number kept by anyone, except for John Curdworth who left 58 head in 1624. (fn. 392) Flocks of over 50 head were not uncommon in mid 16th-century Shropshire and some were much larger. John Stringer, a sheep—corn farmer from Stockton, had a flock of 300, (fn. 393) the largest recorded, but others had over 100. Farmers with access to the vast commons of north-west and south Shropshire must also have kept large flocks but they are only hinted at in their wills. Thomas Adams of Barrow, for instance, disposed of 60 of his best sheep in 1546. (fn. 394)
The median-sized flocks are remarkably similar in the areas covered by the inventories but undoubtedly there were regional differences in the emphasis placed on these animals. They were proportionately most valuable in the Heathlands, being the best suited of all farm stock to the sandy commons. On the Eastern Sands sheep were folded on the arable, on farms like Thomas Thomas's in Hopstone (in Claverley): in 1558 he left a flock of 60 sheep worth £5 and corn valued at £10; he also had four draught oxen and kept two kine for milk and a heifer. (fn. 395)
Most flocks comprised breeding stock and stores. John Hill, a gentleman from Buntingsdale (in Market Drayton), had 62 ewes, 42 lambs, and 135 wethers in 1558, (fn. 396) and on a humbler but more typical level Richard Cowper of Sheriffhales had 20 couples and 20 wethers in 1559. (fn. 397) John Davies of Clungunford kept a similar flock, leaving in his will (May 1544) 10 couples, 2 lambs, 5 hog sheep, and 21 others. (fn. 398) In the Eastern Sands sheep may have been valued primarily for their dung but the farmers prized the wool clip too. Thus Humphrey Hallon of Beobridge (in Claverley) left rye, barley, and oats worth £10, 60 sheep, and wool appraised at £2 13s. 4d. (fn. 399) Similarly graziers gained additional income from the sheep they fed. John Young, gentleman, of Helshaw (in Stoke upon Tern), had 87 wethers grazing at Cherrington cote in the Weald Moors in 1551 and they had provided him with the 30 stones of wool (£21) listed in his inventory. (fn. 400) Few references to wool, however, appear in the inventories, an indication that it did not stay long in store: the Newport wool staplers, for example, regularly sent their agents round the farms. (fn. 401)
By the mid 17th century sheep breeding and rearing was carried on most notably in the uplands and on the Heathlands and Eastern Sands. In the south-west only one farmer in a sample of twenty-six had no sheep (fn. 402) and in terms both of flock size and capital investment, the area stands out from the others. Charles Edwards of Pentre Hodre (in Clun), whose farm stock in 1665 comprised a mare worth £1 10s. and sheep worth £12 10s., (fn. 403) illustrates the husbandry practised by hill farmers throughout the county. Others with valley-bottom land kept cattle too. William Harris of Bettws-y-crwyn ran a flock of 137 sheep and also a mixed dairy and rearing herd of 21 head; he grew no corn but bred horses on a small scale. (fn. 404) In the north-west uplands dairying was commoner than it was in the south-west, (fn. 405) doubtless owing to the influence of the neighbouring dairy district. There was a higher median flock on the Coal Measures but fewer than one person in three (31 per cent) kept them and, apart from the northern dairy area, there was less capital tied up in them than in any other part of the county.
The Weald Moors had become a notable summer fattening area for sheep, as well as other stock, by the mid 17th century. In the 1650s the Wrockwardine copyholders complained about the practice of buying in stock from outside to fatten over the summer: the graziers who did that (fn. 406) oppressed the common 'by putting in great store of sheep' on it 'and suddenly eating up the grass upon the ... common not keeping their sheep upon their several tenements in the wintertime'. In fact large numbers of stock were being bought in the spring, fattened, and sold before winter. It seems to have been a long standing practice for in 1615 Kynnersley manor court had laid a pain on all who put more sheep on the commons than they could winter on their tenements. (fn. 407)
Regional systems continued to diverge as farmers specialized and by the mid 18th century sheep contributed in different ways to the local economies. The largest flocks, as always, roamed the upland commons of south and north-west Shropshire, parts of which had been turned into extensive sheep walks. The Stiperstones, the Long Mynd, Clun forest, the Clee Hills, Morfe forest, and surviving fragments of the Long forest, for instance, had all long been intercommoned by farmers from neighbouring manors. (fn. 408) In a dispute over grazing rights on the Long Mynd in the 1690s, involving the lords of Ratlinghope and Stretton, it was stated that one Ratlinghope tenant had kept 900 sheep there. (fn. 409) Elsewhere substantial flocks were folded on the arable land of the heathlands and of the Eastern Sands.
In the south-west the sheep-oriented economy had intensified. Even fewer acres were devoted to crops. The median flock of sheep rose to at least 79 and of the twenty entries in the inventories of the 1740s, nine (45 per cent) were of over 100 head. Roger Bryan of Bicton (in Clun) left the largest flock, of 800. He farmed on a big scale, keeping cattle worth £228 as well as his sheep, (fn. 410) and the combination was typical of the class of farmer whose inventories survive. It is left to John Jones of Clungunford with his flock of 23 sheep to represent the way the area's smallholders lived. Apart from his sheep, Jones cultivated a hemp plot and kept a breeding mare. Four swine rooted round the yard and last year's animals appear as 108 lb. of bacon at 3d. a pound. He also had an old gun, perhaps for a little shooting on the hills. (fn. 411) On the hills of south Shropshire and the north-west uplands too there were large flocks of sheep. Prosperous farmers with valley land combined sizeable flocks with a system of cattle—corn husbandry. (fn. 412)
The importance of sheep in the sheep—corn economy of the Eastern Sands can be seen in the size of flocks. The average number was 69 and of the nineteen entries, six were of at least 100 head. Edward Baker, a large sheep-corn farmer from Hilton (in Worfield), had 500. (fn. 413) Sheep naturally formed an essential part of the farming system of the Heathlands too and fine wool was produced around Stoke upon Tern. (fn. 414)
In the Severn—Tern area three quarters (76.3 per cent) of the holdings carried sheep and provided valuable income for many farmers. About 1700 Great Ness and Baschurch were singled out as the parishes producing the best wool. (fn. 415) The average flock size increased between the 1690s and the 1740s, probably to meet the demand for mutton, (fn. 416) but in general sheep were given less prominence than on the uplands.
Poultry keeping was universal: it was so commonplace that appraisers increasingly ignored it or lumped fowl in with other items of small value as 'things forgot'. Even the poorest peasant had one or two chickens scratching round the yard. The usual stock were chickens, though there were many ducks and those with common rights could rear geese too. On some estates the tenants customarily gave rent chickens or capons at the half-yearly audit and thus families like the Corbetts and Levesons obtained useful provision. Turkeys, introduced to Europe from Mexico in the early 16th century, (fn. 417) were kept by a few. In 1605 William Bettinson, yeoman, of Woodcote (in Sheriffhales), left 8 geese, 9 turkeys, 8 chickens, and a cock, altogether worth 13s. 10d. (fn. 418)
Some farmers living near commons kept goats. Occasional references in wills and inventories suggest that they were most popular in the south-west, though they were never numerous. In many places a strong prejudice persisted against the animal, whose close cropping and voracity was said to ruin the commons and prevent regeneration of vegetation. (fn. 419) In 1546 Baschurch manor court laid a pain on any who kept goats and owners were to get rid of them before All Saints'. (fn. 420)
Small game, though its preservation and culling should perhaps be seen as no more than an adjunct to agriculture, yielded a significant amount of provision and occasions of social conflict. Much poaching went on, and numerous presentments to manor courts testify to landowners' concern to preserve game. In 1593, for instance, the inhabitants of Crudgington were forbidden to shoot or trap wildfowl in the Weald Moors. (fn. 421) After 1660 legislation aimed at tighter control and so the legal pursuit of game was effectively restricted to the upper classes. (fn. 422) Offenders against the law included farmers such as William Patshull, John Davis, and Edward and William Harris, presented at the manor court of Hernes, Chilton, and Atcham in 1693 for owning fowling guns illegally. (fn. 423)
As the county was well endowed with rivers, streams, lakes, and marshes, fishing and fowling were vigorously pursued: boats, nets, fowling pieces, and a variety of other devices are listed in inventories. The poorer countryman had a chance thereby to supplement his meagre diet. In some places the inhabitants had the right to fish the local waters, in others, as on the Leveson estate, the privilege could be obtained only by buying a lease. (fn. 424) In 1575 the commissioners of sewers noted 28 fishing weirs and a bylet (barge gutter) on the Severn in Shropshire. By then the number of weirs may have been in decline, possibly hastened by a major flood in 1634 which 'broke all the weirs on the Severn'. A few weirs continued to stand until the later 19th century, but increasingly freshwater fishing was on a more personal, less commercial, basis. (fn. 425) Throughout the period and beyond fishponds continued to be a normal provision of any house with any pretensions and even of many farmhouses. (fn. 426)
Free warren normally belonged to the lord of the manor and because warrens were usually located on sandy heaths, rabbits generated income from land that had little other value. Inevitably the stock was stolen, a practice that was encouraged by the widespread belief that poaching was no theft. (fn. 427) In 1602 John Norden, surveyor of the lordship of Oswestry, noted that in the Traian 'every man spoiled the game and that hares, pheasants, and partridges would be plentiful if they were preserved'. (fn. 428) Manorial juries were induced to pass bylaws against poaching. In 1570 the inhabitants of Longden manor were forbidden to kill the lady's rabbits or to dig out any of their earths under a pain of 1s. For their part the inhabitants not only objected to the creation of warrens on common land but were also aggrieved at the rabbits' depredation of their crops. (fn. 429) In 1610 the tenants of Cold Hatton complained of great destruction of their fields by rabbits bred and kept there; they also presented the warrener for unstopping earths in their corn fields and for refusing to allow them to be stopped up again. (fn. 430) The inhabitants of Stoke upon Tern had a similar problem at the end of the century and therefore agreed with Sir Robert Corbet that he might inclose a corner of Stoke Heath in return for the destruction of his warren. (fn. 431)
Horse breeding was widespread though normally small in scale. Many breeders were small farmers with access to commons where they could keep the animals cheaply, making good use of marginal land. Horse breeding thus provided them with useful additional income, even if they sold only one or two animals a year. Inventories of the 1550s record numerous mares and young horses, a pattern persisting for much of the 17th century. By the 1740s the higher proportions of horses and colts recorded suggest greater use of horse power on the farm rather than any decline in breeding. In general the largest herds were kept by the substantial farmers, men such as Edward Griffiths of the border parish of Church Stoke, who could make use of their extensive common rights: in 1740 his stock amounted to 16 mountain colts valued at £16, apart from 5 working horses and 3 sucking colts (£25), 2 grey riding mares (£16), and 4 yearling colts (£7). (fn. 432)
In 1540 the government, fearing that the size and strength of the native horse stock was being diminished, legislated to forbid the keeping of stallions over two years old and under fifteen hands on any common or waste outside the northern counties. (fn. 433) Shropshire court rolls record numerous offenders— in 1581 William Murroll, for example, was accused of grazing an undersized colt on Prees Lower Heath for two years (fn. 434) —but the Act did not stop the practice. Indeed with the growth of trade and industry such animals were needed in greater numbers.
Many caples, small horses found throughout the county in the 16th century, (fn. 435) were bred in the Weald Moors and they may have resembled the rough hardy horses that roamed the uninclosed Lincolnshire fens. (fn. 436) The largest herd recorded in the 1550s numbered seven; it was kept by Thomas Adams of Buttery (in Edgmond), a farm partly inclosed out of the moors. (fn. 437) Similar stock grazed the upland commons around the county. In Hogstow forest horses were kept throughout the summer but had to be off the common by Martinmas. (fn. 438) Farther south the inhabitants of the whole of south-west Shropshire pastured their beasts in Clun forest. Horses and cattle of the freeholders of Kerry (Mont.) were regularly found there too, straying off their own contiguous uninclosed commons. (fn. 439)
Most farmers kept one or two horses in the mid 16th century, owners being most numerous in the Severn-Tern area, especially in the Weald Moors where only one farmer in ten had no horse. Most farm horses would have been allpurpose animals, employed for the saddle as well as for work. Some farmers did keep a riding nag and of course the best animals belonged to the gentry. In 1551 Thomas Colfox of Merrington (in Preston Gubbals) had three geldings, valued at £3–£4 each, (fn. 440) well above the average price for the time. Apart from the riding nag, horses on farms before 1660 were cart or pack horses rather than plough beasts. Many of the pack horses that carried produce to market were of the border type: very small, hardy, and agile. They resembled the famed Montgomeryshire merlins, semi-wild mountain ponies that roamed the vast open commons of that county and were rounded up and broken in at the age of three. (fn. 441) Many other such pack horses took cloth to be finished in towns like Oswestry or Shrewsbury or were used extensively in trade, carrying goods across country. (fn. 442) In the 1580s, for instance, over a hundred householders in and around Oswestry and Shrewsbury lived wholly by the weekly carriage of Welsh cloths from Oswestry to Shrewsbury and thence up to London; some kept 12, 16, or even 20 horses or geldings. (fn. 443)
Larger horses were also bred in Shropshire, especially in the vales and on gentry estates. The gentry valued their superior horses both for use and ostentation. The Bridgemans and the Levesons were among those families interested in racing, (fn. 444) while others had fine coach teams. (fn. 445) Many leading families bred their own horses. Sir Walter Acton (d. 1665) of Aldenham left a herd of 23 worth £122 3s. 4d. and consisting of 3 mares and followers (£25), 3 old mares (£7 10s.), 2 twinter colts (£6 13s. 4d.), and 3 yearlings (£6), as well as 4 stallions (£60) and 5 geldings. (fn. 446) Gentlemen and dealers could also buy and sell good stock at local fairs such as Bridgnorth and Shrewsbury, (fn. 447) at Penkridge across the Staffordshire border, (fn. 448) or even farther afield in the east midlands: (fn. 449) in the 17th century numbers of Shropshire dealers appeared at Market Bosworth and Derby fairs and Leicestershire and Derbyshire remained the county's chief source of draught horses beyond the close of the period. (fn. 450)
In 1540 Shropshire's main outlets for farm produce were its regulated markets and fairs. Two centuries later the situation was far more complex; many markets and fairs still functioned but there had been an undoubted decline as more flexible means were developed to deal with increasing commercial activity stimulated by a rapidly growing population. Some places fared better than others, drawing trade to them; those that failed fell into disuse or insignificance. The main agents of change were the specialist middlemen, increasingly numerous and important as inter-regional trade developed.
The increasing commercialization of agriculture affected especially those Shropshire farmers who concentrated on producing the commodities best suited to local conditions and aimed at a wider market. In 1597, when Sir Thomas Coningsby secured Shropshire's exclusion from the Tillage Act, (fn. 451) he put the case in effect for regional specialization and economic interdependence. Shropshire he said, consisted 'wholly of woodland, bred of oxen and dairies' and he hoped that 'as Herefordshire and the other countries adjoining, were the barns for the corn, so this shire might and would be the dairy house to the whole realm'. (fn. 452) Even allowing for hyperbole, dairy produce and cattle were certainly two of Shropshire's most important exports but to them must be added horses, sheep, and pigs as well as commodities like wool, woollen cloth, linen, skins, and leather. (fn. 453)
Animals could easily move long distances on the hoof but other goods had to be carried. Land carriage was expensive and wherever possible water transport was used. Thus Shropshire skins, linen, and cheese went down the Severn (fn. 454) and the river ports of Bridgnorth (where a fair-day's sales were alleged in 1597 to reach £10,000 on occasion) and Shrewsbury became markets for dairy produce. Other loads went down the Trent or through Cheshire ports. Goods also travelled overland and in the early 18th century the Davieses of Brompton regularly sent cheese to Hereford fair and occasionally to Leominster and Kingsland too, (fn. 455) neatly illustrating the point Coningsby had made in 1597. Cloth, especially linen, went down the Severn but textiles were as likely to go by road: they were light and of high value, so transport costs were more easily absorbed and damage by damp avoided. Thus packhorses took wool to the south-western and East Anglian textile areas and cloth to Blackwell Hall in London. (fn. 456)
Animals were traditionally sold at fairs, and those that flourished did so because they had geographical or economic advantages and were well stocked. Fair towns normally kept several fairs during the year and extra ones were often added. Ludlow obtained a third fair in 1596 (extended in 1604), a fourth in 1604, and a fifth in 1692; Shrewsbury obtained a fifth and sixth in 1638 and a seventh was established in 1702. (fn. 457) Specialization helped to maintain their position and the commodities sold changed with the seasons. In the mid 18th century Albrighton's fairs were held on 23 May, 18 July, and 9 November and horned cattle, sheep, and swine were sold 'at the proper season'. Stores and breeding stock were sold at spring and early summer fairs, while fatstock predominated later in the year. The pattern is clearest in the cattle trade but apparent too in the sale of other animals. Thus swine were usually killed in November and the Martinmas fair at Wem and St. Andrew's fairs at Shrewsbury and Oswestry were important for fat hogs. Other specializations included wool and cheese at Shrewsbury, cheese at Bridgnorth, and linen cloth at Wem. So trade concentrated at fewer centres despite a rise in the number of markets. By the 1750s many places with formal market rights were unimportant: thus the May and October fairs at Hodnet and the Easter Monday fair at Halesowen were said to be insignificant. (fn. 458)
Fairs, dealing largely in animals and held seasonally, had wider catchment areas than weekly markets. In 1552 Ludlow wanted ratification of Monday as market day, not Thursday which conflicted with Knighton and Kidderminster markets, ten and fifteen miles away; the only other Monday markets in Shropshire, Herefordshire, Radnorshire, and Worcestershire were at Oswestry (32 miles) and Evesham (36 miles). (fn. 459) Evesham's May-day fair, however, was thought to be near enough to clash with Ludlow's, and in fact Ludlow's were being held 9–11 August and 24–6 November—much better dates, it was claimed, since they did not coincide with any other within fifty miles. (fn. 460) Differences between fairs depended on the reputation of individual centres and the number of alternative outlets in the area. Shrewsbury was particularly important, drawing custom from afar. (fn. 461) South Shropshire fairs like Ludlow and Bishop's Castle tended to serve wider areas than those in the north because settlement was more dispersed. (fn. 462)
Some of the animals sold at fairs were from outside the county. Cattle regularly came along the drove roads from Wales for sale in Shropshire, notably at Shrewsbury, Bishop's Castle, and Ludlow. Others came from north-west England, (fn. 463) or from Ireland until legislation suspended that trade 1664–79 and abolished it in 1681. (fn. 464) The gentry, with their scattered estates and their agents working for them, added to the county's stock of animals by integrating their activities and buying at widely separated fairs. Leveson agents from Trentham bought animals in Staffordshire, Cheshire, and Derbyshire, some of which were sent to Lilleshall for fattening in and around the Weald Moors. (fn. 465) Most animals sold, however, were Shropshire bred, a fact reflecting the importance of livestock in the county's economy. Over five sixths of the cattle sold at Shrewsbury fairs in the 17th century came from north Shropshire; at Bridgnorth almost two thirds of the beasts sold in 1631 and 1644–79 were from south Shropshire. Many of the horses were home bred too, though some large horses originated in the north midlands or Montgomeryshire. Montgomeryshire men also brought small work horses to the fairs. Similarly Shrewsbury, Wem, and Oswestry fairs, which specialized in the sale of pigs, drew on local supplies, especially hogs. (fn. 466)
Many buyers were local and they included the gentry who obtained stock at nearby fairs. The Bridgemans and the Newports, with estates centred on Knockin and High Ercall in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, bought store cattle primarily at Shrewsbury but also at Albrighton, Newport, Oswestry, and Wellington in Shropshire as well as at Welshpool (Mont.) and Leek (Staffs.). Sheep were bought at Shrewsbury and Oswestry and at Llanfyllin (Mont.). (fn. 467) Nevertheless buyers did travel farther than sellers, attracted to the leading fairs by the quality and number of stock. At Shrewsbury and Bridgnorth the proportions of buyers from that half of the county where each town lay were less than a third and just over a quarter respectively, (fn. 468) virtually the converse of the proportions of sellers. (fn. 469)
In the 16th century purveyors acting for the king (and themselves) travelled down from south-east England. By the following century such men, 'being found a great nuisance to the king and country, were laid aside'. (fn. 470) Nevertheless the metropolitan link survived, for estate records like those of the Tokes of Kent refer to Welsh and Border animals. Dealers serving those distant markets tended to be local men living near their sources of supply. Thus Thomas Johnson of Chester and Richard Higginson of Wem, early 17th-century droving partners, bought cattle in Wales and at Shrewsbury, Whitchurch, and Newport fairs and took herds of eleven score and more up to Epping and Blackmore fairs in Essex and to other places in the south-east. Higginson, probably the drover of that name licensed 1615–28, would almost certainly have employed servants to drive his animals; such a man was Samuel Lloyd, a Shrewsbury labourer employed c. 1600 in 'driving cattle into the nether country'. (fn. 471)
Other animals went in easy stages and the livestock trade was 'a flow rather than a once-and-for-all single move'. (fn. 472) In the 17th century dealers from Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, and Berkshire regularly came to buy cattle at Shrewsbury. William Brounker, a yeoman from Whaddon (Wilts.), stated in 1623 that he frequented Shropshire and Radnorshire fairs to buy cattle to stock his ground, as other local graziers did. Some of the animals would have stayed in the locality but others went to Thames-side meadows to fatten for the capital. Richard Ebourne operated in a similar manner. He was a large-scale cattle and sheep dealer from north Warwickshire and at the turn of the 17th century, he bought stock at Bridgnorth and Wellington and at Derbyshire and Staffordshire fairs; some was moved on to fairs in the south and east midlands or farther to the Home Counties but most of his customers seem to have been local butchers and graziers. (fn. 473) Such people supplied fatstock to the developing west midland industrial areas, probably the most important external market for Shropshire farmers. Other buyers from that area patronized fairs—at Bridgnorth, Ludlow, and Shrewsbury for instance—to acquire store cattle, sheep, and small work horses. Larger draught horses on show were taken elsewhere, notably to the mixed-farming horse-rearing districts of southeast Worcestershire and north Oxfordshire. Draught oxen, the speciality of Shrewsbury's midsummer fair, attracted buyers from south Shropshire and Herefordshire. (fn. 474)
Livestock was sold at weekly markets too. The numbers involved were smaller than at fairs and people did not travel so far, but the markets evidently did reasonable business. In the 1750s 'Rig Fair', the Ascension day market at Wem, was 'not much inferior to a fair in terms of concourse of pigs and the great variety of cattle and goods'. There were also good livestock markets at Shrewsbury, Oswestry, Market Drayton, Bridgnorth, and Ludlow. In 1673 cattle and all sorts of provisions were sold at Shrewsbury market 'in great plenty' and the same had been true a century earlier, when cattle, sheep, and pigs were sold and local butchers were among the buyers. (fn. 475)
The staple commodities of the markets, however, were corn and provisions. In 1673 Oswestry, Wem, Newport, Shrewsbury, Church Stretton, Much Wenlock, Bridgnorth, Bishop's Castle, and Ludlow were notable centres for those goods. Ludlow had a very good market for corn and provisions (and cattle) on Monday and its eminence was based on its proximity to the mixed farms of the south Shropshire vales and north Herefordshire. On the border Bishop's Castle market served the surrounding area of Shropshire and also the adjoining part of Wales. Conversely families like the Davieses of Brompton, with estates along the border, sent grain to Welsh markets. (fn. 476)
Towns in particular relied on the weekly market for essential foodstuffs, and the maintenance of a regular supply at reasonable prices became a matter of growing concern as population rose in the late 16th century. Until the Restoration there must have been very little surplus grain in the county and when harvests failed supplies had to be brought from outside. Shropshire, like most of the country, was affected by the series of disastrous harvests in the 1580s and 1590s, for instance, and if conditions at Shrewsbury were typical there was much distress in the county. The corporation often had to act urgently to keep the market supplied with corn during those years and to see that the poor did not starve. In 1586 and 1597 foreign imports were needed to alleviate the situation. About 1600 Richard Gardiner, a prominent burgess, urged the growing of more vegetables as a way of helping to employ and feed the poor; in the earlier 1590s he himself had fed hundreds from vegetables he had grown on 4 a. (fn. 477)
Suppliers of grain to the markets varied greatly in their scale of business. At a modest level were the three women who sold eight strikes of oats at one of Shrewsbury's Saturday markets in 1606. (fn. 478) Larger amounts were brought in by the servants of gentlemen and yeomen. In the 1740s Thomas Hill's steward, Thomas Bell, kept a close eye on corn prices at local markets so as to get the best price. (fn. 479) Badgers—dealers in corn and victuals licensed under Acts of 1552 and 1563 (fn. 480) — were particularly important in predominantly pastoral counties like Shropshire since they sought out supplies wherever they could be found. Ralph Guest of Myddle, 'a sober peaceable man', was one, buying corn in one market town to sell in another 'which is called badging'. Under the early Stuarts badgers could be found all over the county. Shrewsbury naturally had most. Shropshire badgers were evidently active in Herefordshire in 1556–7, replenishing their stocks at Leominster, a noted corn centre, in the aftermath of two years' dearth. In 1631 they were buying corn and grain at the well provisioned market at Caerwys (Flints.) for sale at Whitchurch and Ellesmere. (fn. 481)
Internal trade increasingly came under the control of such middlemen, entrepreneurs alert to the opportunities created by growing commercial activity. Hampered, at least until the late 17th century, by legislation and by public hostility, they nevertheless throve, extending their contacts and filling the gaps in the trading network. They ranged from wholesalers dealing regionally or even nationally down to humble badgers and broggers active in one locality. Together, however, they made the market more efficient and ensured that supplies moved round the country in greater quantities. Many of the cattle sold at Shrewsbury fairs in the late 16th and early 17th century were taken there by country drovers who had bought stock from farmers or at other fairs. They achieved a dominant position in the horse trade too. Horse dealers living along the Montgomeryshire border or in the southern uplands brought hill ponies to centres like Shrewsbury, Bridgnorth, and Ludlow, while others living near the county's north-eastern boundary supplied the fairs with larger horses brought from the north and east midlands. (fn. 482)
Dealing was often a family business. Families like the Dickens of Ellesmere and Loppington, the Grooms and Tilers of Myddle and Wem, and the Moodies of Ellesmere brought many of the large numbers of cattle from those parishes sold at Shrewsbury fair. Similarly the Bradleys of Lilleshall, the Walkers of Newport, and the Skitts of Lilleshall, Prees, and Newport had long-standing connexions with the horse trade. Dealers also established business and personal links with each other and reliance on trusted kith and kin was a characteristic of the way trade was conducted to minimize commercial risk. (fn. 483)
The dealers recorded in toll books represent the solid, respectable traders who had standing in their communities. Many had an agricultural holding, often similar in scale to those farmed by small yeomen or middling husbandmen. Richard Winsor, a prominent early 17th-century horse dealer, lived at Donnington (in Lilleshall) and leased a cottage, yard, garden, and orchard and five days' math of meadowing there; also in his lease was pasture of six beasts' gate (8 a.), formerly part of the moors, which his father had had to rent separately. (fn. 484) Unlike the substantial dealers, the poorer ones did not specialize in a commodity but traded in anything they could profit by. Thus at Shrewsbury in 1600 Joyce Clark, a seamstress, sold her own wares and travelled from market to market 'to buy and sell to get a penny to help to maintain her'. (fn. 485) The government was concerned about such people and a proclamation of 1618 complained about the number of vagabonds with trifles to sell, like pedlars or petty chapmen. (fn. 486) Nevertheless small dealers continued and, if some were disreputable, in general they did useful service, particularly in providing country folk with cheap items not made locally.
Middlemen continued to use markets and fairs but fewer commodities went through the traditional outlets after the Restoration as private dealing, away from the market place, was found easier. Shops, houses, and particularly inns became the scene of great activity. As early as 1618 Shrewsbury corporation proclaimed that strangers not keeping scot and lot in the town and bringing malt to sell 'should sell the same in the open market but not in the shops nor houses'. Shrewsbury cloth market was held on the first floor of the new market house; only the drapers were allowed upstairs, but their rivals tried to lure the clothiers to nearby houses and inns for clandestine sales and in 1645 the drapers sought legal advice. In other market towns too the authorities were concerned for the integrity of the open market; at Whitchurch, for example, bylaws governing the marketing of corn, malt, dairy produce, and hides were made in 1636. (fn. 487)
Corn badgers could buy grain privately and many did. In 1635–6 Richard Higginson of Creamore, in Wem (licensed as badger and drover in 1628), agreed with his fellow parishioner John Sherratt to buy 300 measures of wheat at 5s. a measure. (fn. 488) Until the regulations were relaxed after the Restoration the intention was that corn would be sold in the market place and, as noted above, middlemen did good service in that respect. Nevertheless, given the importance of grain in the diet and the great fluctuations in its price, there were golden opportunities for profiteering. Hoarding was a problem, especially during shortages. When the harvest failed in 1621, for instance, Shrewsbury corporation sent round the farms in the Liberties to ensure that all surpluses came to market immediately. In 1629 Thomas Carpenter, a Rushbury corn badger who bought at Ludlow, was accused of hoarding 40–50 strikes of wheat until the price rose. (fn. 489)
At Shrewsbury, Whitchurch, Market Drayton, and Newport—towns in or near the northern cheese-producing area—measures were taken against the forestalling of dairy produce. The market in dairy produce was particularly vulnerable because of its great importance in the area and the intrusion of a whole class of middlemen organizing distribution on a national rather than a local scale. (fn. 490) Thus Shropshire factors acted as agents for cheesemongers in London and elsewhere. They frequented local fairs but also toured the countryside to make contracts with farmers like John Archer of Dudleston: he left household provision worth 15s. and cheese for the factor worth £4 5s. 6d. in 1687. Agents took large quantities of cheese from the farmers of Wem. In fact the dairy trade was organized similarly to the wool trade, whose staplers, living in towns like Newport and Shrewsbury, had long employed factors to buy parcels of wool, generally in small lots, from farmers. (fn. 491)
The by-passing of markets and fairs in the 17th century is discernible in the livestock trade too. In the early 17th century unlicensed drovers like Cowper of Cymmerau ferry were alleged to have pushed up cattle prices in Shropshire and Montgomeryshire markets. At the 1654 Shrewsbury midsummer fair 221 cattle were sold, well over four fifths (85.9 per cent) of them at three suburban inns, the Swan, the Hatchet, and Widow Harper's. Such inns, with ample feeding along the Severn banks, probably attracted drovers who needed pasture on the eve of the fairs. Buyers doubtless came to the inns to inspect the stock, so avoiding the press of the town on fair day and also the payment of toll. The trade in Shropshire hogs at Wem followed a similar pattern; in the early 18th century dealers sending hogs to London for the navy forestalled the market on the eve of the Martinmas fair. (fn. 492) Nevertheless fair days were the occasions of such transactions. When Celia Fiennes visited Shrewsbury in 1698 she found the fair thriving, as did Thomas Hill's steward Thomas Bell in the 1740s. (fn. 493) So they remained important dates in the calendar even if buyers and sellers found more flexible means of dealing.
The wholesale market was more thoroughly affected than the retail one with its typical pattern of small transactions; nevertheless large scale purchases did affect the level of supplies for retail. The trend to wholesale dealing was particularly evident in commodities influenced by industrial demand, like wool, barley, and hops. Brewers were among the biggest buyers in many corn markets and there must have been constant temptation to forestall. In the harvest crisis of the early 1620s the Shrewsbury authorities, concerned to avert unrest, clashed with the town's large brewers and maltsters. In St. Julian's parish a search of malthouses revealed much malt and barley and one of the purchasers was Mr. Rowley, said in 1635 to have a 'vast' brewhouse with vessels 'capable of 100 measures'. Maltsters and brewers also fostered a futures market, buying corn before harvest: one farmer involved was Joseph Parker of Chesterton (in Worfield), who in June 1746 had barley (£8), peas (£4), and winter corn (£6 10s.) sold on the ground. (fn. 494)
Credit underpinned the expansion of internal trade and was used by all sections of the community. Farmers habitually gave and took credit and some indication of the amount of business they conducted in that way can be gauged from probate records of the 16th and early 17th century, particularly informative when they discriminate between money debts and commodity transactions. Much casual trade took place in the village street. In 1546, for instance, William Clempson's neighbours in Wroxeter parish owed him 4s. 2d. for a horse, 3s. 4d. for barley, and 1s. and 4d. as part payments for oxen and a mare respectively. Most of the debts owed to William Weston of Shawbury, on the other hand, seem to relate to dealing at Whitchurch market: in 1545 he was owed £3 11s. 9d., of which Whitchurch men owed £1 17s. 11d. for cattle, corn, cheese, and hay. Middlemen also got credit at the farm gate or at markets and fairs, and such arrangements grew in importance as the trading network filled out. In 1646 William Browne, a Newport badger, owed John Lockley of Sheriffhales £4 18s. 4d. for barley. It was not unusual for drovers to take animals on trust from farmers, paying after the stock was sold: the £8 owed by John Higginson, drover, to Richard Leyte of Weston-under-Redcastle in 1553 may have been such a debt. (fn. 495)
To minimize the risks in credit dealing it became common for a buyer to give the seller a bond, though the bills, bonds, and specialties mentioned in wills and inventories are rarely described in sufficient detail to discern their purpose: such, for example, are those of William Skitt, a noted horse dealer from Willaston (in Prees), who died in 1670 leaving specialties worth £210. (fn. 496) Often the bulk of the money owed was to be paid on a specified day, frequently on an important calendar date, or at a fair, and perhaps only a small earnest was given at the sealing of the bargain. Easy terms could be arranged, especially for small transactions or those between friends and neighbours. Thus people of fairly humble means could get goods they needed—perhaps corn or even a horse to help them earn a living. Richard Wells of Wem accepted both forms of repayment: in December 1602 three of his fellow parishioners owed him for horses and of these Humphrey Pinsell had until Whitsun to find £3 12s., the price of the animal, while George Higginson the younger was being allowed to clear his debt of £2 6s. in weekly instalments of 1s. (fn. 497) Debts for part of the price of particular items (fn. 498) indicate other examples of the latter practice.