A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 4, Agriculture. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1989.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
The two world wars, each in different ways, marked the major watersheds in the agrarian history of Shropshire in the 20th century, though fundamental change had been in progress for almost four decades before the first of those conflicts. In the last quarter of the 19th century farming at county and national level was affected by a variety of influences, some reflecting changes in the domestic economy and others developments in the international economy. Imports of cheap food from North America, Australia, and New Zealand undermined the competitive position of British producers and led to sharp price falls across the whole range of agricultural commodities, with an initial and most severe impact on cereal prices. That development set in motion important shifts in land use within the county as farmers abandoned corn growing to concentrate on pastoral farming wherever possible. (fn. 1) In 1875, nine years after the first national agricultural statistics were collected, arable and permanent grass acreages were approximately equal at 326,758 and 369,364 respectively. Starting in 1873, however, thousands of acres were converted to permanent pasture so that by 1913 the arable acreage had declined to 226,755 and that of permanent grass had risen by a third to 489,284. (fn. 2) To some extent changes in the ability to compete in international markets were masked by a succession of unusually bad seasons in the late 1870s and early 1880s, so that not until the 1890s did all owners and occupiers entirely appreciate the forces influencing them. Those years were marked by a dramatic acceleration in the rate of rural social change determined by developments mainly, though not wholly, within the national economy. There were wide divergences of experience not only between the pastoral north and south of the county and the more arable central and eastern districts, but also within those areas and even within individual parishes. Tenants' and landlords' access to capital and variations in farming ability, to say nothing of differences in the size of holdings or the nature of the soil itself, could evoke different responses in terms of cultivation methods applied or produce raised even within relatively small areas.
Farmers and landlords regarded the time as one of agricultural depression, especially severe before 1896 but with some signs of revival and readjustment thereafter. The start of the depression is difficult to pin-point in the 1870s: long afterwards some remembered it as a sudden collapse, (fn. 3) and in 1885 John BowenJones recalled the 'acute stage' of the depression as having begun about ten years before. (fn. 4) In south Shropshire some estates had already granted farmers a 10 per cent rebate on their rents in 1879. (fn. 5) Initially farmers placed almost the entire blame for their difficulties on the wet weather. On the Sutherland estate farms bordering the river Tern had had their meadows and pasture land destroyed by flooding a number of years in that decade, and in mid August 1879 the lower portion of the whole estate, including the Weald Moors, was under water. (fn. 6) At the Shropshire and West Midlands Agricultural Society's 1879 show, held at the Quarry in Shrewsbury, the management committee's main anxiety was that the wet weather would damage the turf and reduce attendance. (fn. 7) Farmers' reactions to the deepening depression were twofold: an increased emphasis on the most profitable sectors of agriculture and an anxious search for ways to cut production costs. Both required a response from landlords in the forms of new buildings to accommodate livestock and lower rents to lessen the fall in farmers' incomes. In February 1881 the appearance of foot and mouth disease, with the declaration of the county as an infected area and the consequent closure of livestock markets for the next few weeks, added to current difficulties of low prices and wet seasons. (fn. 8) In the 1880s assistance by landlords took the form of a temporary remission of rent, particularly on cold, clay, thin-soiled lands, and of allowances in manures, payment of drainage charges, and other permanent improvements. (fn. 9) By the 1890s the allowances and improvements were continuing but on many estates temporary remissions of rent had been converted to permanent reductions amounting to around 15 per cent for grazing and 20 per cent on arable farms. There were regional differences. The northern dairy district was hardly affected but in the central and south-eastern divisions of the county there were very considerable reductions; in the mainly arable Bridgnorth district, which suffered most, they varied from 10 to 40 per cent. (fn. 10)
Both wars saw something of a revival of cereal growing as a result of the rise in grain prices, reinforced by the government's encouragement to farmers to grow more cereals in order to reduce the amount of scarce shipping space devoted to imported grain. The 1917-18 ploughing-up campaign had best response from the central parts of the county, and reaction from some rearing and dairying districts like Cleobury Mortimer, Ludlow, and Whitchurch was slow. (fn. 11) Nevertheless the First World War resurgence can be regarded only as an interruption of the longterm decline in cereal growing where the acreage fell from 173,000 in the 1870s to just under 76,000 in the 1930s (Table XI). The increase in the Second World War was more permanently established by the government's continuation of deficiency payments and price guarantees in peace time, so that in the 1970s the corn acreage of over 193,000 was the highest since statistics had started.
Whereas the First World War and its immediate aftermath were seen as a brief revival of prosperity, not only for cereal growers but for most of the major sectors of agriculture, the years between the wars were regarded by those old enough to remember as an era of depression even more severe than those before 1914. At the annual general meeting of the South Shropshire branch of the National Farmers' Union in 1931 the president said that in looking back over the past year he thought farming was in a worse condition than ever before, and the secretary, John Norton, noted that every year lower price levels were reached. (fn. 12) Products with relatively buoyant prices in the 1890s and 1900s, such as milk and cheese, felt the impact of falling demand from the home market with increased imports from overseas. More than 30 per cent of the milk produced in the county was made into cheese at individual farms or small factories. (fn. 13) On occasions the price of cheese fell so far that, even with the advantages of cheap family labour and the valuable by-products from the whey-tub, the returns from cheese making were less than could be obtained by the sale of fresh milk; when that happened a vast flood was ready to pour into the liquid milk market, as in 1920 and 1931, further to depress prices there. (fn. 14) Once more farmers reacted by reducing their expenditure to the lowest possible level. In one respect circumstances had worsened since the war: large sales of land between 1910 and 1925, for the most part to the sitting tenants, had left parts of the country without the presence of a landowner (fn. 15) willing and able to ameliorate the situation by a timely infusion of capital in the form of fertilizers or new buildings. In the 1930s the government did provide some limited assistance to agriculture under the Agricultural Marketing Acts, (fn. 16) and the schemes for potatoes, pigs, and milk had some impact on Shropshire producers. The greatest number were affected by the Milk Marketing Board, which they supported in principle though they often criticized the details of its administration and always complained at the level of contract prices. (fn. 17)
In April 1939 the government, faced by the threat of war, announced a subsidy of £2 an acre for permanent grassland ploughed up before 30 September. Initial response was slow and by August only 2,970 a. had been notified from 167 farms for inclusion in the scheme. The scheme was administered by the Shropshire War Agricultural Executive Committee (1939-47), chaired by Capt. Edward Foster (kt. 1950) of Newton (in Worfield). Once war was declared farmers acted with more urgency, and promises to break up over 34,000 a. had been received by the end of October. (fn. 18) Between May 1939 and April next year 40,000 a. had been converted to arable, whereas the 1917-18 ploughing-up campaign had increased the 1917 arable acreage by only 26,985 a. (fn. 19) In succeeding years, and with increased financial inducements, the response was more positive as the exigencies of war tended to iron out differences in farming systems and all districts were subjected to the common strain of finding priority crops and meeting the needs of their own stock. In the eastern part of the county potatoes became a major crop. Before the war only around 5,000 a. were grown, but by stages the quota was raised to 20,000 a. In the northern dairying district some potatoes were grown but the trouble and labour taken by the crop were disproportionate to the returns obtained. One problem was that there was little native skill in cultivation there and on some farms hardly any tools. Contractors, however, sprang up in great numbers and, while their early work was sometimes unsatisfactory, they quickly acquired the ability to turn furrows and bury grass on even the most unpromising land. By far the greater part of the increased arable grew oats and mixed corn, though green crops and especially kale were increased considerably to compensate for the hay that could no longer be grown. (fn. 20)
Although the war had altered the more or less traditional emphasis on grassland, the return to peace did not see a swing away from arable. Continued subsidies for corn after 1945 and their permanent incorporation into government policy in the 1950s (fn. 21) was one reason for that. Subsidies also encouraged a greater use of fertilizer in arable farming, which resulted in substantially increased yields of all crops. The expansion in output meant that farmers were not faced with a choice between horn and corn, and they could carry larger numbers of all types of livestock despite a reduction in the amount of permanent grass. Cattle numbers increased in the war though sheep and pigs became fewer. Sheep numbers fell because dairy farmers were encouraged to specialize in milk production and so did not keep flying flocks. (fn. 22) Nevertheless by the 1950s both pig and sheep numbers had recovered to record levels. In the late 1940s intensive dairying was typical of the northern part of the county; it was still based largely on grassland but with an increased reliance on silage depending on grass for both summer and winter keep (Table XI). (fn. 23) In the upland breeding and rearing districts of south Shropshire the coming of the crawler tractor and mechanical spreader, along with improvement grants under the 1946 Hill Farming Act, (fn. 24) allowed the conversion to regular grassland of tracts where previously only bracken had flourished. In that respect many of these post-war changes were merely a continuation of developments that had been initiated under the county's War Agricultural Executive Committee. (fn. 25) By 1955 there was a new spirit of optimism in the uplands and scores of farmers in the Clun forest area had adopted these measures to achieve a tremendous increase in their stocking rates. (fn. 26)
The growth of industry had relatively little direct effect on farming in Shropshire, the limited extent of urban development having only a small influence on land use. Piecemeal industrial exploitation meant that towns were small and usually separated from each other by farming land. Only in the neighbourhood of the east Shropshire coalfield, between the Weald Moors in the north and Broseley in the south, did the extent of colliery cottages, pit workings, and spoil heaps restrict agricultural acreage. (fn. 27) Nevertheless although the geographical demarcation between agriculture and industry was a sudden one, with industry following the mineral deposits, the two co-existed with few problems in places such as Kemberton, where the colliery in the early 20th century abutted on cornfields. (fn. 28) Indeed by the 1960s there were signs that as industry declined agriculture was staging a counter offensive. Much mining and quarrying waste south of the Severn had been re-absorbed into the rural landscape, so that throughout the area there were islands of agricultural land reclaimed from the waste heaps. (fn. 29) In some districts near to settlements farmers experienced the nuisance of vandalism and petty theft, such as the loss of poultry around Wellington and Market Drayton in the 1950s. (fn. 30) In the 1960s marauding dogs from towns and post-war dormitory villages caused some farmers on their outskirts to stop keeping sheep. (fn. 31) Isolation, however, did not necessarily provide protection from major losses, as demonstrated by the experience of John Williams and a neighbour, farming on the Long Mynd, who had over 300 ewes heavily in lamb rustled early in 1984. (fn. 32) Later that year George Pearce, a pig farmer of long experience, discovered that his pens at Nesscliff were being systematically robbed by a thief whose skill suggested that a good stockman was at work. (fn. 33)
Whereas about 10 per cent of England and Wales is covered by areas of outstanding natural beauty, in Shropshire the proportion is perhaps 20 per cent. At various times after 1945 suggestions to make the south Shropshire hills a national park worried farmers, for amenity use might conflict with commercial agriculture. Nevertheless the county did not come under great pressure from visitors, and the absence (until 1983) of a link to the national motorway system preserved its remoteness from major towns (fn. 34) until the later 1980s. (fn. 35)
For the century and more from 1875 the greatest emphasis on arable farming was in the central and eastern part of the county with its western limits where the Severn flows out of Wales, its northern boundary a line thence to Market Drayton, and its southern boundary being where the Severn valley gives way to the uplands of south Shropshire. It was there that the decline of wheat growing after 1870 had its greatest impact, but to some extent that was cushioned before 1914 by the maintenance of the barley acreage. That was a feature of the sheep and barley farming found on the highly cultivated light soils towards the eastern boundary. In 1911 Shropshire possessed a greater acreage of barley than any other county in the western half of England. The heaviest concentrations were found east and north-east of Bridgnorth and another band of barley land ran from Newport, curving round by Shrewsbury, passing towards Whittington. On the lighter soils around West Felton and Shawbury fine malting barley was grown. Barley prices did not fall after 1880 to the same extent as those of wheat, a fact which helped to shield the Shropshire farmer from the worst effects of foreign grain imports and to preserve generally high standards of farming. In root growing, often taken as a test of good cultivation, Shropshire was surpassed by only one county in average yield of mangolds and by two or three northern counties in that of turnips. (fn. 36) The livestock enterprises of the central and eastern district were shared between sheep and cattle feeding, the former suffering a reverse in the wet seasons of the early 1880s when sheep rot added to the difficulties of that class of farm. The precise balance between cattle and sheep varied from farm to farm, but in general the preference before 1914 was, wherever possible, to fold the sheep directly on the lighter soils sown with roots, thus avoiding the cost of carting. There is no doubt that that form of mixed farming was under some pressure before the First World War. In addition to the hazard of sheep rot, the decline in wool and mutton prices and the vulnerability of roots to fly infestations added further uncertainties. Barley growers complained of the competition from substitutes for barley malt allowed after Gladstone's Inland Revenue Act of 1880. (fn. 37)
In the years between the world wars the acreage of the traditional root crops of turnips, swedes, and mangolds fell sharply and their area in the 1930s was only 43 per cent of what it had been in the five years up to 1914. (fn. 38) There were two reasons for the decline: first a fall in the number of folded sheep and secondly the unprofitability of winter feeding of cattle in yards, which had increased in popularity up to 1914. (fn. 39) Part of the decline was offset by an increase in the acreage of sugar beet, a new root crop first grown in the county in 1922, but becoming significant only after 1925 when the government introduced a subsidy guaranteed for 10 years, though diminishing to zero in the last five. (fn. 40)
The history of beet cultivation in Shropshire was closely connected with the growth of the Allscott sugar factory built near Wellington by the Shropshire Beet Sugar Co. Ltd. in time to deal with the 1927 crop, which had increased to 10,007 a. The Allscott factory served as a nucleus for beet growing in the lower Tern valley, on the arable land immediately west and north of Newport, and in the High ErcallShawbury district. In addition beet growers in the arable region around Claverley, Worfield, Shifnal, and Albrighton sent their crop to a factory opened in 1925 just over the border at Kidderminster (Worcs.). (fn. 41) In 1934, when the beet acreage in Shropshire was 16,017, 55 per cent of that total was grown within 15 miles of the Allscott factory and 26 per cent 25 miles away. (fn. 42) A feature further emphasizing the importance of proximity to the factory was that some farms in the dairy district contained a considerable arable acreage with a large area of sugar beet. (fn. 43) In the mid 1930s the crop was grown in about half of the 270 agricultural parishes in the county, though in many the acreage was trifling. In 1935 only five had more than 300 a.: Worfield (857), Ercall Magna (766), Claverley (696), Shifnal (632), and Chetwynd (381 ). (fn. 44) The most notable decline in the acreage was in 1932, following the halving of subsidy from 13s. to 6s. 6d. a cwt.; the area under beet slumped to 9,441 a. The three major determinants of production costs for the crop were labour, manure, and carriage to the factory. During the 1920s farmers experienced some difficulty in growing their first crops but their problems were eased by research done at the Harper Adams Agricultural College, which demonstrated the value of the correct spacing of plants during singling and the accurate deposition of fertilizers along with the seed. In 1934 the Allscott factory was supplied with 177,592 tons by 1,689 growers. (fn. 45) In 1965 it received 249,225 tons. (fn. 46) The introduction of sugar beet was an important agricultural stimulus. Shropshire was the only county in the western half of England to develop a substantial beet industry. (fn. 47) It came at a time when agricultural morale was low and it encouraged farmers to pay greater attention to peculiarities of soil fertility and to their profit and loss accounts. It also involved new marketing arrangements, though it did not entirely alter existing farming patterns even among those most heavily reliant on the crop.
There was a limited tendency throughout the county to replace root crops for animal feed by vegetables for human consumption, especially near the towns. Immediately around Newport carrots and parsnips were grown. The production of lettuces, peas, beans, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli was localized in the Whixall district where smallholders with less than 20 a. produced early material for markets as far away as Liverpool, but chiefly for the neighbouring towns of Oswestry and Whitchurch. (fn. 48) Small undertakings with cultivation under glass were scattered throughout the county. At Roden the Co-operative Wholesale Society opened a small factory for jam and bottled fruits before the First World War; practically the whole village was given over to this occupation partly in the open and partly under glass. Nevertheless the general verdict at that time was that, apart from farmers' orchards and the market gardens near towns, fruit was not much in evidence. The greatest concentration of orchards was in the extreme south-east of the county, where the south-facing slopes of the Clee Hills sloped down to the Teme valley. That area was really the northernmost extension of the Worcestershire and Herefordshire fruit growing region. The peak acreage of 4,846 was reached in 1900 but during the war it declined, to 3,545 in 1919. In 1937 the county had 2,986 a. of orchard. Cider trees predominated but cherries and damsons were also grown. (fn. 49)
The introduction of a wheat subsidy under the Wheat Act of 1932 (fn. 50) stimulated further change in arable farming. Between 1931 and 1935 wheat doubled from 16,100 a. to 32,300. Most of the extra wheat was grown in place of other corn and in those years there was a reduction of 12,200 a. in oats and barley. (fn. 51) The increased emphasis on crops for sale at the expense of fodder crops required changes in the customary rotations. In 1878 the most common systems on light land involved four or five courses. The former consisted of roots, spring sown barley, clover, and wheat. The five-field course was only a slight variation with the clover seed left down for two years instead of one. (fn. 52) In 1881 eight out of twelve farmers who submitted returns to the Royal Commission on Agricultural Interests were restricted to a four-course rotation and six were not allowed to sell off hay, straw, or roots under any circumstances. (fn. 53) That practice persisted until the the First World War and was the one most frequent in estate agreements, though there was some relaxation of restrictions on the sale of fodder crops. (fn. 54) In general the fourcourse rotation still provided the basis for cropping patterns, but most farmers were able to exercise their own judgement and be guided by circumstances over the precise details of rotations. (fn. 55) In the 1870s on strong land and inferior clays fallows were adopted and the pattern was generally fallow, wheat, clover, barley, fallow, wheat, peas or beans. (fn. 56) The commercial pressures of the 1880s reduced this less intensive cultivation and fallowing lost favour: in 1882 there were 13,188 a. of fallows or uncropped arable in the county but by 1895 land of that description had fallen to 2,286 a. (fn. 57) In the 1930s the ordinary four-course rotation was lengthened to increase the acreage under corn, beet, or potatoes. A five-course rotation of wheat, potatoes, sugar beet, oats, and clover was often used, giving a slight reduction in corn but an increase in roots which, in the form of potatoes and beet, increased total output of cash crops. (fn. 58)
The increase in cash crops both before and after 1939 required more machinery. For sugar beet the most economic way to grow it was on shallow ridges about twenty inches apart, and a local four-row drill, the Gower drill made by Gowers of Market Drayton, was used more widely than any other machine. (fn. 59) In 1942 there were 1,949 tractors, and 2,033 tractor-drawn ploughs. In 1944 those numbers had risen to 3,362 and 2,952 and in 1952 to 6,597 and 6,351 respectively. (fn. 60) The larger farms were usually the first and best equipped with machinery: combine harvesters, introduced into England in the early 1930s, (fn. 61) and combine drills became more common, and potato planters and lifters and sugar beet lifters came into general use. (fn. 62) Sugar beet was eminently suited to mechanization, and the introduction of precision drilling, pre-emergent spraying, and machine harvesting eliminated practically all hard work. In the 1950s harvesters were pulled by tractors, lifted single rows, and deposited the beet in a trailer driven alongside. Twenty years later the self-propelled beet harvester was a common sight on most arable farms, a giant that could lift as much as six rows at a time and cope with 10 ha. a day. (fn. 63) One consequence of the high cost of such mechanization was that in 1958 five farmers in the Edgmond-Newport district co-operated to purchase a harvester jointly to lift the 90 a. of sugar beet on their farms. (fn. 64) Even with such developments, by 1972 the crop was handled by fewer than 600 growers. (fn. 65)
The use of fertilizer rose over the 20th century, particularly after the Second World War. In the arable districts of east Shropshire, which had always used plenty of fertilizers, applications of nitrogen, phosphates, and potash rose by 31 per cent, 19 per cent, and 76 per cent respectively between 1944 and 1950. (fn. 66) This heavier use of chemical fertilizers was reflected in a substantial rise in grain yields after the Second World War, a sharp contrast to the virtual stagnation between the wars under the less capital-intensive farming systems that then prevailed (Fig. 21). The change was also apparent in livestock enterprises, and in the 1950s heavier stocking rates and high output of milk from grass were achieved only by the liberal and efficient use of fertilizers. (fn. 67) Nevertheless there was a perceptible growth of public unease about the strategy (fn. 68) and not all farmers adopted it. Sam Mayall, later joined by his son Richard, managed his 600 a. near Harmer Hill after 1947 relying wholly on compost and dung to maintain soil fertility and using no artificial fertilizers. He acquired an international reputation for such methods. (fn. 69) Another organic farmer was Arthur Hollins of Fordhall farm near Market Drayton, a farm that his father had almost ruined by the injudicious use of artificial fertilizers between the First World War and the early 1930s. In the mid 1950s, after almost 20 years' agricultural experimentation, Hollins and his wife began to sell yoghourt, cream, cheese, and other milk-based products from his herd of Jerseys at local markets. In 1972 he employed 40 people in his own dairy producing eighty speciality milk products, distributed to all parts of the country with London retailers taking three tons a week. (fn. 70) Such men, however, were exceptions earning special notice.
For the latter part of the 19th and the whole of the 20th century the area where dairy enterprises were most important was north of a line beginning just south of Market Drayton and passing westwards through Shawbury, Stanwardine, and West Felton but excluding the upland area in the extreme north-west bordering Denbighshire, where farming had more in common with the uplands in the south. There was no sharp division between the northern dairying district and the arable and cattle feeding district of mid Shropshire. Indeed in 1912 it was observed that 'the dairy area is gradually extending south', (fn. 71) and a report of 1930 noted that 'in Shropshire, dairying has been introduced comparatively recently into the farming system as a substitute for cattle feeding'. (fn. 72)
The size of the dairy sector was determined partly by inherent soil characteristics and partly by the relative prices of dairy (fn. 73) and other agricultural products. The general soil type was heavier than in the east of the county and thus more suited to permanent pasture than to arable. In most dairy farms the root area before 1920 occupied a larger proportion than that demanded by the four-course rotation but roots were seen as cattle food rather than as a means to clear the land before cereal planting; indeed in 1895 much of the winter butter marketed in Shropshire was said to have an objectionable, though not unavoidable, 'turnip-flavour'. (fn. 74) In 1875 the lack of suitable rail links to the large centres of population from this area (fn. 75) meant that, apart from a small proportion used to supply local towns including Shrewsbury, production was used mostly for butter and Cheshire cheese made in farmhouse dairies. From the mid 19th century the increased demand for milk from the south Lancashire towns had pushed the centre of the Cheshire cheese making district southwards from Cheshire into Shropshire. Local markets reflected the importance of the cheese trade. Some was sold at the farm to travelling dealers, and a number of large cheese fairs were held periodically at Ellesmere, Market Drayton, Shrewsbury, Wem, and Whitchurch. (fn. 76) In 1915 a quarter of all Cheshire cheese was made in Shropshire. (fn. 77) In the 1920s Shropshire was one of the four largest cheese producing counties in England (fn. 78) and more Cheshire cheese was sold there than in Cheshire. The largest cheese fair was at Whitchurch where an annual average of 1,411 tons was sold between 1925 and 1929. (fn. 79)
There were small pockets of dairying in other parts but they did not approach the northern district in importance. In 1858 Henry Tanner's rather patchy survey, taken before the collection of national agricultural statistics, identified the southeast corner, where butter was made 'for the manufacturing towns', as 'the dairying district of Shropshire', barely mentioning its existence elsewhere. (fn. 80) Indeed in 1919 Watts dismissed Shropshire as 'not a great dairying county', remarking only on that portion of the northern plain from Market Drayton to Ellesmere as having dairying of any importance. (fn. 81) Even in Tanner's Wheatland in the south-east the extent of dairying increased considerably after 1930, although rearing and fattening beef cattle and lamb production still retained a predominant position. (fn. 82) In the 1930s a few dairy herds, mainly Friesians, did occur in the valleys of the southwest and milk was produced around the small towns like Church Stretton, Bishop's Castle, and Craven Arms. (fn. 83) Improved motor transport eased the problem of carriage for milk producers, but soil and climate remained as constraints so that similar conditions existed in 1972 when dairy farms were found in every part of the county except the remoter uplands, but their greatest concentration was still on the heavy land in north Shropshire. (fn. 84)
Only a very small proportion of Shropshire's total milk output could be absorbed by the county's small population through local markets. In 1925 it was estimated that 23.7 million gallons was sold off Shropshire farms, but only 3.7 million gallons (15.6 per cent) went to supply the county. (fn. 85) Before and after 1914 a small amount of milk was carried to London and the railway companies quoted rates from the stations at Newport (145 miles) and Ellesmere (182 miles). Nevertheless the county was at the limits for supplying the capital's milk market (fn. 86) and in the 1920s producers relied mainly on the Birmingham market for the sale of liquid milk. (fn. 87)
A great increase in the sale of liquid milk was the most notable change in Shropshire dairying between the wars. (fn. 88) That happened as milk processing off the farm was facilitated by improved roads and the opening of new rural factories. Two or three small cheese factories had been operating since the later 19th century and in 1906 the Birmingham dairy firm of Wathes Bros. (later Wathes, Cattell & Gurden Ltd.) opened a small creamery at Minsterley employing three or four people. After the war the site was enlarged when the government forage depot there was bought from Lord Bath. In 1932 the firm was one of the first to make tinned cream, spurred on by a government ban on imports of the article, and two years later it installed plant for the production of condensed milk. By 1934 milk was collected over a wide area covering Bishop's Castle, Church Stoke, Montgomery, Ford, Builthy Rock, Longden, and Habberley; over 40 people were regularly employed in processing over 1½ million gallons into Cheshire and Cheddar cheese, creamery butter, and fresh cream, the last supplying the immediate neighbourhoods. Chocolate making provided another outlet for the increased quantity of milk produced: Cadburys of Bournville became one of the largest purchasers of milk in northeast Shropshire after their Knighton (Staffs.) factory opening in 1911, and the firm had another milk factory at Stoke upon Tern 1935-8. In April 1934 another Birmingham firm, with the rural-sounding name of Dingle Dairies, invited local farmers to make milk contracts. (fn. 89) In the north the Wem milk depot, taken over by the Milk Marketing Board in 1935, concentrated mainly on the production of Cheshire cheese, though butter was also produced and some of the milk was pasteurized for the Manchester market. It processed c. 1 million gallons a year. The link with farmhouse production was not entirely extinguished as the manager of the cheese making department, J. Craddock, was an ex-farmer who, in his former occupation, had produced prize-winning cheeses for shows in Liverpool and other parts of the country. (fn. 90) By 1939 'Kraft' cheese was made at Whittington. There was a large milk factory at Ellesmere and there were several other smaller depots, mainly in the north where milk was either bottled or made into cream or cheese. (fn. 91) The Milk Marketing Board established another creamery at Crudgington, north of Wellington, in 1936 and by the 1960s it was making a wide range of products including 'Dairy Crest' butter, full cream concentrate, and a number of skim milk products. (fn. 92) In the 1970s the Board rationalized its operations, closing the Wem cheese factory in 1975: though it drew supplies from 150 farms and employed 45 people, with a daily output of only five to eight tons it was too small to be economic. (fn. 93) In 1979, however, the Board's purchase of the Unigate group's creameries brought it the Minsterley premises. (fn. 94) Further rationalization closed the Ellesmere creamery, with a loss of 272 jobs, early in 1987 when some operations were transferred to the Maelor creamery near Wrexham. (fn. 95)
The expansion of milk processing off the farm was facilitated also by the comprehensive sales organizations of the milk factories. Moreover the factories offered farmers a guaranteed monthly income from their milk rather than a gamble with the hazards of manufacture, fluctuating markets, and the whims of cheese factors. Nevertheless most farmhouse Cheshire cheese, especially that produced in the early part of the year, was the short-keeping variety with a production time of eight weeks (fn. 96) and it is unlikely that the switch to liquid milk did much to save farmers any delay in the receipt of money.
The growth of the liquid milk market and of milk processing off the farm posed a threat to the survival of farmhouse cheese making. (fn. 97) Even before the First World War some farmers around Shrewsbury already had milk contracts and, as that allowed them to sell their entire dairy output as liquid milk, they soon abandoned farmhouse cheese making in favour of rearing and fattening as alternatives to combine with milk production. (fn. 98) In fact, however, farmhouse cheese making survived until the 1930s. The farmer's own family contributed most of the labour and for that reason cheese making had been fairly resilient to the impact of wartime shortage of hired labour. By 1931, although sales of liquid milk had grown and a certain amount of it was made into cheese at central depots, the county agricultural organizer noted that the amount of home-produced cheese was certainly not decreasing. The demand for cheese making instruction-either at ten-day courses at a farmhouse, or to help individuals who were just starting, or to assist those with some problem-indicated that, if anything, farm cheese making was experiencing a modest revival. (fn. 99) Four of the five towns with a cheese fair (fn. 100) were in north Shropshire and most cheese made in the county was sold in the north midlands and the north of England. Each fair was held every three weeks throughout the year and, as the fairs were designed for the sale of farm-produced cheese, their healthy state was further evidence of its survival. (fn. 101)
The collapse of the milk marketing system in the summer of 1932 (fn. 102) had a most serious impact on farm cheese making. The establishment of the Milk Marketing Board in September 1933 meant a nationally agreed system of guaranteed prices which, in Shropshire as elsewhere, removed one element of uncertainty from the liquid milk trade. The change in the farm routine of the northern districts was dramatic as former outbursts of seasonal activity were markedly reduced. Previously the cheese maker had calved his cattle in the spring, poured a great volume of milk into the dairy throughout the summer, and then virtually hibernated. By freeing the dairy farmer from heavy reliance on summer milk production, and from the need to find profitable outlets for the inevitable surpluses, the guaranteed price allowed him to develop a steadier level of output over the whole year and greater specialization in milk alone. Pigs had been an element in the farmhouse-cheese economy, but they survived its decline. Cheese production had been accompanied by the output of whey which, along with some purchased food, went to fatten pigs. In some years, before the advent of the Milk Marketing Board, pigs had yielded a bigger profit than cows, (fn. 103) and the sale of liquid milk and absence of whey did not necessarily bring a fall in the number of pigs. That came only in the Second World War with the general shortage of feed. (fn. 104) Up to 1939 pigs were still kept on many dairy farms as a relic of the days when whey provided plentiful pig food, but by then their owners had turned over to ordinary mash and dry feeding. (fn. 105)
By 1939 throughout the county most farmers with milking herds were committed to the sale of liquid milk. The change had been accompanied by an increase in the number of accredited herds and a move towards greater mechanization. (fn. 106) In 1942 there were 1,125 milking machines and their number rose steadily during and after the war and had reached 2,601 by 1950. (fn. 107) Farm cheese making still persisted on a few holdings but by then was on a very small scale. The change affected entries at the county agricultural shows. In 1933 the Whitchurch Dairy Farmers' Association noticed that the prize money offered at their annual show, which was mainly for cheeses, exceeded the entry fees by £40. (fn. 108) Disrupted during the Second World War farm cheese making declined further, although in the immediate postwar years it temporarily gained ground again. By the 1960s there were only some twenty cheese making farms around Market Drayton and Whitchurch. (fn. 109) In 1972 all were large milk producers and some took milk from co-operating farmers. (fn. 110) The character of the product, though not necessarily its methods of production, had changed markedly. A great deal of farm cheese in the 19th and (despite the Cheshire Cheese Federation's introduction of grading in 1927) in the earlier 20th century had been of indifferent quality; (fn. 111) after 1945, however, cheese makers found that unless top-grade cheese was produced farmhouse cheese making showed no advantage over selling milk. (fn. 112)
The post-war world saw a dramatic rise in the size of herds as milking machines allowed a diminishing labour force to handle increased numbers of cows. In 1942 the average Shropshire dairy herd was 16.5 but by 1965 it had risen to 29. (fn. 113) The number of registered milk producers in the county fell from 3,921 in 1963 to 2,502 in 1973 and 1,460 by 1983, but milk sales in those years were 87.9 million gallons, 100.2 million gallons, and 125.6 million gallons respectively. (fn. 114) The pressures within the industry, reducing the number of producers by 63 per cent in twenty years, were the move towards more intensive systems, involving greater capital outlay, and the use of larger herds to produce economies of scale and meet increased costs. Friesians were the most popular dairy breed and increased from 77 to 83 per cent of dairy cattle between 1955 and 1965. (fn. 115)
Dairy farmers were severely affected by the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 1967-8. Its first appearance in October 1967 was on Bryn farm, Nantmawr, near Oswestry, and the final case was not recorded until June 1968. (fn. 116) Only Cheshire experienced a worse epidemic than Shropshire, and around Ellesmere, Prees, and Wem more than half the dairy farmers whose stock was infected had not returned to milk production by 1970. Those who lost stock complained of inadequate compensation, but many who escaped suffered as much for they were forced to keep their cattle in the shippons for months, feeding them expensive hay, silage, and commercial feeds and actually watch them decline and lose market value. (fn. 117) Ministry and self-imposed restrictions on movement, in order to contain the epidemic, soon brought social and economic life almost to a standstill. Women's Institutes, Young Farmers' Clubs, and National Farmers' Union branches ceased to meet. All livestock markets were closed and trade was disrupted as country people stayed away from towns. Public houses, banks, toy shops, television suppliers, grocers, hairdressers, caterers all noticed a sharp fall in business before Christmas 1967, when Oswestry in particular became almost a ghost town. (fn. 118) The N.F.U. put the value of animals lost in the county at c. £10 million. In all there were 727 outbreaks in Shropshire, and stock losses, either from disease or slaughtered contacts, amounted to 65,722 cattle, 41,098 sheep, and 39,523 pigs. (fn. 119)
With the increase in herd size the other significant post-war change was from the delivery of farm milk in churns to its collection from farm vats by bulk tankers. (fn. 120) The change was completed by July 1979. (fn. 121) It was made easier by the presence at Ellesmere of R. J. Fullwood & Bland, who were major manufacturers of dairy equipment, producing both complete dairy systems and their range of 'Dari Kool' refrigerated farm milk vats. Progress in Shropshire was quite fast. The Milk Marketing Board began bulk collection in the 1950s and 27 per cent of the county's milk was handled in that way by 1966, (fn. 122) 45 per cent by March 1970. (fn. 123) In August 1970 the biggest single switch to bulk collection took place when 104 farmers in Shropshire and another 97 in Montgomeryshire gave up the daily chore of churn handling. That was made possible by the Express Dairy Co. which made major changes at the Minsterley creamery to allow it to accept bulk deliveries. (fn. 124)
Livestock rearing and feeding
Livestock rearing was heavily concentrated south-west of the Severn, with a smaller area in the north-west uplands where the lower slopes of the Berwyn Mountains extend from across the Welsh border. Practically all the districts were above the 122-m. contour, with areas over 244 m. and a few, notably in the Clun forest, on the Long Mynd, Wenlock Edge, and the peaks of the Clee Hills, above 366 m. There was little change in any of them from their traditional reliance on rearing, with the exception of the Clee Hills. They had formed the heart of the Wheatland where their strong loams and clay lands had, in the 19th century, been the most important wheat growing area, as opposed to the barley extensively cultivated on the lighter soils east of the Severn. Nevertheless the steep fall in wheat prices from the 1870s onwards, combined with high labour costs and only moderate fertility on the heavy soils, proved the region to be marginal for growing wheat. As a result the greatest part of the arable land was laid down to pasture, and raising store cattle became the major occupation. (fn. 125) During the depression's worst years, those before 1896, its effects were mitigated in Shropshire by the farmers' increased reliance on livestock husbandry. (fn. 126) The concentration on cattle breeding and rearing is shown by the fact that throughout the depression Shropshire had the greatest concentration of cattle under two years of age in all the west midland counties; their density rose from 7.8 per 100 a. in 1875 to 13.1 in 1914. (fn. 127) In all parts of the rearing country the tendency was to use cattle to stock the lower slopes while on the higher parts large numbers of sheep were reared. For the most part the upland sheep were either the Clun Forest or the Kerry Hill breed; the Shropshire breed, though widespread in the late 19th and early 20th century when many upland farmers kept pure flocks, was, like the other downland breeds, more properly suitable for the arable lowlands. (fn. 128) The numerical preponderance of the two former breeds over the Shropshires probably increased in the years between the wars, with the Clun Forest predominating. (fn. 129) Herefords were the chief breed of cattle: although the sprinkling of Welsh, Lancashire, Longhorns, Shorthorns, Ayrshires, and Devons of Tanner's day were also present in the 1880s and early 20th century, white-faced cattle were still the preponderant breed. (fn. 130)
Horse breeding was a further activity on rearing farms, though carried on in other places too. In the earlier 19th century 'the Shropshire type' of fine quality hunter had been produced to meet the demand from the abundant country seats around Shrewsbury and in the south, and for export to other countries. By the 1880s its reputation had declined because, it was argued, landowners no longer provided suitable stallions to cover for their tenant farmers at low fees. (fn. 131) Agricultural stallions and strong cart-horses were still produced, the latter highly sought after by the railway companies and brewers because of their ability to gain muscle when worked on good hard keep. Three societies-at Shrewsbury, Ellesmere, and Ludlow-were formed in the early 1880s to foster the breeding of such horses. (fn. 132) The emphasis on breeding was maintained into the 20th century. At the Ludlow Agricultural Society's annual show in 1906 it was remarked: 'Again the horses were the most prominent feature of the show'. (fn. 133) In 1885 occupiers of land in the county possessed a total of 32,323 horses, of which 19,377 (59.9 per cent) were used solely for agricultural purposes, the rest being young horses and brood-mares. By 1935 the total number of horses had fallen to 24,177 (a decline of 25.2 per cent) with 14,838 used for agriculture (a decline of 23.4 per cent). That represented only a slight rise in the percentage kept for agriculture (to 63.6 per cent in 1935) and indicates that the relative emphasis on horse breeding in Shropshire had hardly changed since 1885. (fn. 134) J. M. Belcher of Tibberton Manor near Wellington was a noted horse breeder. His Harboro' Golfinder took the King's Champion Challenge Cup, the Society's Gold Challenge Cup, and the £25 Champion Cup at the 1935 Shire Horse Society's Show at Islington, London. (fn. 135) Between the wars the heavy horse societies at Bishop's Castle, Bridgnorth, Chirbury, Craven Arms, Rea Valley, and Wem were in a position to serve the greater part of the county. They travelled several stallions subsidized under the Ministry of Agriculture's livestock improvement scheme. (fn. 136) A number of breeders took part in the scheme, but there were still those who preferred to use any sire to avoid the trouble of obtaining a better quality subsidized one. (fn. 137)
Ludlow had formerly been a marketing centre for horses but in the late 19th century its position declined in favour of Kington and Leominster in Herefordshire. In 1890 the borough council tried to revive the June and October horse fairs but without lasting success. (fn. 138) In the north the monthly horse markets at Oswestry suffered a similar decline; they were nearly defunct by the 1920s and attracted only a few nags of various kinds. Craven Arms and Shrewsbury remained substantial centres for horse sales, at Craven Arms on the first Sunday of each month with twice yearly pony sales; at Shrewsbury there was a well equipped repository next to the Smithfield with accommodation for 200 animals. (fn. 139)
The feeding that was the complementary, indeed at times the dominant, activity on arable farms in the central and eastern districts was also subject to changes in emphasis over the years. Store cattle were bought in either from the rearing areas or from further afield. Shrewsbury retained its position as the largest store market in the country and most of the beasts fattened in the county passed through it at some point in their lives. In the 1890s some 43,000 cattle were sold there annually and that number increased up to 1914 and into the years between the wars. In 1922-3 the annual total was 53,200 of which 85 per cent were stores. (fn. 140) In addition to Welsh animals many Irish Shorthorns were sold there. Large store sales were also held at Oswestry and Wellington and Wellington was in addition the biggest fatstock market. The important store sheep sales took place between August and October at Bridgnorth, Much Wenlock, Cleobury Mortimer, Craven Arms, and Church Stretton, and there were others at smaller centres. (fn. 141) In the 1940s some of them were known for particular breeds: the chief sales of Cluns were at Craven Arms, Clun, and Kington, and for the Kerry Hill breed at Kerry, Craven Arms, Knighton, and Kington. (fn. 142) The cattle used for fattening in central Shropshire were Herefords and Shorthorns in almost equal proportions, with Shorthorns becoming commoner further north. Fattening cattle were turned out to spring grass in April and May, and were mostly cleared off by October, by which time the yards were occupied by cattle for winter fattening. Up to 1914 yard feeding tended to increase. In very few cases was it possible to fatten entirely on pasture, and cake and corn were nearly always required to supplement grass. (fn. 143) The larger farmers engaged in fattening often organized their own sales, like Henry Pooler of Tibberton Manor (429 a.) and John Belcher of Honnington Grange (426 a.), both near Newport; their farm sales in the mid 1890s realized between £5,500 and £7,000 and attracted buyers from Coventry, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Tamworth, Stoke, Stafford, Hereford, and Craven Arms. (fn. 144) All that time more farmers were turning to fattening and that, together with the competition from imports, led to complaints from those in the area around Newport that the Smithfield there, which the smaller men relied on entirely, was overstocked. To relieve the situation local auctioneers arranged to hold the spring markets in 1895 and 1896 weekly instead of fortnightly. (fn. 145)
Between the wars there was some decline in the number of cattle and sheep fed off roots, (fn. 146) an inevitable consequence of the reduction in the acreage of turnips and mangolds. Nevertheless sheep still retained an important place in the livestock feeding economy and at 533,000 their average number in the 1930s was the highest for any decade since records began (Table XI). (fn. 147) The substitution of sugar beet for other roots did not constitute a total loss in the amount of home grown fodder available, since the tops formed a valuable food for both cattle and sheep. The practice of folding sheep on beet tops was very common in Shropshire, and progressive farmers regarded them as equal in feeding value to a crop of common turnips. By 1948 close folding on roots had declined so much that it was regarded as 'something of a spectacle', and open folding on beet tops and autumn catch crops was general. (fn. 148) The beet pulp, which until 1939 was available to growers at a reduced rate, (fn. 149) was also a valuable stock food used either alone or as Rowland W. Ward of Sambrook Hall farm, near Newport, used it: he took 75 tons a year from the Allscott factory and fed between 350 and 400 Herefords, mixing it with mangold to give even better results. (fn. 150) The tendency was for the old fashioned rations based on roots, hay, or straw to give way to a more modern feeding policy in which beet pulp, mostly blended with molasses, was used with concentrates and a reduced amount of hay to provide a balanced ration. (fn. 151) The change applied to both beef and dairy animals. (fn. 152)
In those years more emphasis was placed on feeding the livestock than on feeding the land. Shortage of capital as well as of labour may well account for the fact that, although the acreage of grass increased between 1920 and 1939, yields from both temporary and permanent grass were rather lower than they had been in the twenty years before 1913 (Fig. 22). Part of the explanation lay in the decline in liming after 1900. In the 1880s as much as three tons of lime an acre were applied to acid soils in the Ludlow and Much Wenlock areas every eight years. (fn. 153) There was a general belief in the early 20th century that chemical fertilizers made lime unnecessary. (fn. 154) The problem was most serious in the north where the soils were intensively farmed, (fn. 155) but by 1937 A. G. Street commented that 'Throughout the county the soil seems to be deficient in lime'. (fn. 156) Even when provided with the results of scientific soil analysis, farmers did not always find it easy to tackle the problem. When H. P. Reynolds of High Walton farm, Bromfield, in south Shropshire was informed by the county analyst that every field was deficient in lime to the extent of at least a ton an acre, and some as much as 55 cwt., he found that it took one man a whole winter to apply the necessary amount of burnt lime and slag. (fn. 157)
Wartime livestock policy was to avoid dual-purpose breeds as much as possible and encourage farmers to select cattle specifically suited to the environment and purpose. In the hill districts of Clun, Bridgnorth, Ludlow, and Oswestry the change was to rearing for the sale of heifers (or down-calvers) and beef stores, and to the discouragement of milk production in inaccessible places and on poor farms. For dairy animals the most popular breeds were Shorthorns and Friesians, and in the case of beef animals preference was given to pure herds of Hereford and Angus. In 1946 an artificial insemination centre was opened at Cheswardine with five Friesian and six Shorthorn bulls. (fn. 158)
After the war, although dairying crept further south into the more intensive arable districts around Newport, Wellington, Shifnal, and Bridgnorth, the winter feeding of sheep and cattle still remained the major livestock enterprise. (fn. 159) Here and there a minority of farmers gave up cattle altogether and adopted an unmixed arable system. Most, however, preferred to modify their style of management without abandoning the central emphasis on sheep and cattle feeding. (fn. 160) Lowland holdings based entirely on sheep farming could probably be counted on the fingers of one hand. (fn. 161) In eastern Shropshire the barley acreage, which had declined between the wars, recovered in the 1960s because, as a major source of cattle feed, it became the district's basis for 'barley beef'. (fn. 162) Even where livestock was abandoned, barley barons and single enterprises were not the alternative: fourcrop enterprises with wheat, barley, potatoes, and sugar beet were most common in the 1960s. Beef remained essentially a winter yarding exercise with stores from the south of the county and plenty of Irish. Sheep were mainly Cluns crossed with Down rams; much of their winter was spent on beet tops and kale and the summer on rape and turnips. Farms with pigs carried nearly all White, and the Old Spot had all but disappeared. In this branch, after a sharp fall in numbers 1940-7 (owing to government controls and shortage of feed), units tended to become larger; some specialized in breeding, others in feeding, but the really big units did the whole job. Even so, large numbers of store pigs were still brought into the county for fattening. Poultry, both for eggs and meat, were found over the whole county and that branch of farming, like pigs, increasingly adopted the modern features of the large unit. (fn. 163) In the rearing districts, whereas most of the cattle went as stores off grass, there was by the 1970s more finishing in good store condition for sale in spring or retaining to finish off grass the next summer. The reason for that particular break with tradition was the poor prices made by the lighter, less well grown, and late calves. On the arable farms, where it was formerly common to keep a resident flock of ewes for crossing with a Down ram to produce fat lambs, the ewes gave way to feeding tegs. (fn. 164)
Agrarian economy and society
The lead given to farming by the landed proprietors was already well established in the 1870s and their role was, if anything, enhanced during the difficulties of the next twenty years or so. From the repeal of the corn laws in 1846 most finance for British agriculture was provided by landlords and tenants. Government grants to land improvement companies for drainage works after 1846 never amounted to substantial subsidies. Only in the later 20th century did the state provide significant long term assistance to agriculture. In the late 19th and early 20th century landlords were often personally concerned to nurse their tenants through the adversities of disastrous seasons and poor prices, even though those events squeezed landowners' incomes harder than either tenants' or labourers'. (fn. 165) Large landowners were most likely to have enough money to finance such assistance, and Shropshire was comparatively well endowed with them. In 1874 peers and commoners with over 3,000 a. owned 51 per cent of the county, compared with 40 per cent of England and Wales as a whole. (fn. 166) The fact that so much of the county was in the hands of large landowners was certainly a stabilizing influence. In 1891 R. J. Barber of Barber & Sons, the Wellington auctioneers and estate agents, reported that property in that locality was unlikely to alter much in value because it was mostly in the hands of large landowners. (fn. 167) In 1872-3 eight men owned over 10,000 a. (Table X). They were Lord Powis with 26,986 a.; the duke of Cleveland, 25,604 a.; Lord Brownlow, 20,233 a.; the duke of Sutherland, 17,495 a.; Lord Hill, 16,554 a.; Lord Forester, 14,891 a.; Lord Windsor, 11,204 a.; and Lord Bradford, 10,833 a. In all there were 52 owners with over 3,000 a., and there were a further 65 'squires' who possessed estates between 1,000 and 3,000 a. and accounted for 110,500 a. or 12 per cent of Shropshire, a similar proportion to the 13 per cent that such men owned nationally. (fn. 168)
Besides the most familiar form of assistance, reductions in rent, (fn. 169) landowners also provided new buildings or paid the cost of adapting existing ones to meet changed requirements. The general standard for the county was high, but in the 1880s Lord Brownlow's properties were noted as especially creditable; some of his homesteads verged on the extravagant. Those of Lord Powis, the dukes of Sutherland and Cleveland, Lord Stafford, Sir Thomas Boughey, and Mrs. Stapleton-Cotton came close in excellence. Nevertheless the relationship was one in which each side had duties, and tenants were encouraged to spend their own money too and take a pride in doing justice to the land. (fn. 170) In that respect landowners would offer guarantees to tenants that if they left their farms they would receive compensation for the unexhausted value of their improvements, and even where nothing existed in writing farmers were often satisfied that where an improvement was made with the owner's consent their interests would be protected. (fn. 171) There is also evidence that those farmers who practised a high standard of cultivation were able to get rent reductions greater in proportion to the fall in prices than could be obtained by those who let their farms go down. (fn. 172) Nevertheless the absence of legally enforceable rights to compensation was regarded with some disquiet by a number of farmers in the county, particularly those who gave evidence to the royal commissions on agriculture in the 1880s and 1890s. (fn. 173)
The social and economic position of landlords required them to take a part in the various local agricultural societies and the other public bodies representing the farming interest. The most important in Shropshire were the Chamber of Agriculture founded in 1866, (fn. 174) and the Shropshire and West Midlands Agricultural Society which had started in 1875; (fn. 175) in the 1880s Lord Powis attended meetings of the former and was president of the latter. Sir Baldwyn Leighton, M.P. for South Shropshire and with an estate of 4,085 a. at Loton Park, was a tireless campaigner to reduce the burdens of the poor law on farmers and landowners alike; he served a term as president of the chamber. (fn. 176) It is not known if such division of offices between aristocrat and politician was planned or fortuitous, but it was certainly appropriate, for agricultural societies were principally devoted to the improvement of livestock whereas chambers of agriculture mainly concerned themselves with legislation. In the 1900s Lord Windsor was elected president of the Ludlow Agricultural Society and in the 1920s Lord Kenyon was president of the Whitchurch Dairy Farmers' Association. (fn. 177) Where a landowner was not normally resident in the county his estate agent provided the familiar regular contact with tenants, as John Mackrory did when, in the 1880s, the 3rd duke of Sutherland's personal circumstances forced him to forsake his Scottish castle and his two English houses and live abroad. Contact with the estate agent meant that most farmers noticed little difference between periods of residence and absence. The 4th duke's succession in 1892 was followed by a more personal interest in the farming problems on the Lilleshall estate. (fn. 178) In 1896 he discussed with his Shropshire tenants how to alleviate the economic problems which all faced. One scheme seriously considered was the formation of a co-operative for the sale of farm produce. Although it proved impractical, (fn. 179) the duke and his tenants did form the Newport & District Agricultural Co-operative Trading Society Ltd. in the autumn of 1904 to obtain the advantages of bulk purchasing and also to combine small quantities of produce like cheese and eggs and so obtain cheaper carriage from the L.N.W.R. It was an advantage that the duke was a director of the railway as well as president of the society, and the railway provided the society with a warehouse next to Newport station at a moderate rent. At the end of the first year the society had 79 members and the year's trade exceeded £7,000. (fn. 180)
Many of the great estates in the county were sold during the great national land sales in the years immediately following the First World War. If owners were disenchanted with their properties and tired of such responsibilities, those feelings were not translated into action much before the 1890s. The poor market for land may have partly accounted for that. In June 1878 the Howards' Middleton Priors estate of over 4,000 a. in the south-east of the county was offered for sale, but the same London auctioneers were still trying to sell it in 1881, then specifying an upset price of £82,000. (fn. 181) As late as 1894 the Shrewsbury Chronicle confidently asserted that 'such a thing as a Shropshire estate offered for sale is an absolute novelty'; that of course was not true, but the sluggish land market of the 1880s and 1890s had faded recollections of the brisker times before that. (fn. 182) In the later 1890s there came the first indications of what was to follow. The 4,000-a. Condover estate, which in the 1870s had been 5,525 a., was auctioned on Reginald Cholmondeley's death in 1896. In 1895 the break-up and sale of Lord Hill's 16,554-a. Hawkstone estate began, but in that case the estate had been heavily mortgaged to finance the extravagances of two previous generations. (fn. 183) The process of dissolution was already at work on Lord Powis's south Shropshire estate when Rider Haggard visited the agent in 1901, as he recorded that the earl then owned only 21,000 a. in the county. (fn. 184) Powis's decision to sell the 5,800-a. Montford estate came in 1912. Made nervous by Lloyd George's 1910 Finance Act, (fn. 185) with its increased taxation and death duties, he felt compelled to disinvest in land. Although he was willing to sell to the sitting tenants, provided a majority would purchase their farms, he found too few were willing to incur the burdens of ownership. He was also unable to find a buyer for the entire estate at an asking price of £147,000, so it remained on his hands for the next five years. (fn. 186) When Montford was sold in 1917, with vociferous protests from the tenants (then eager to buy), it went over their heads to T. E. Dennis. (fn. 187) A 3,000-a. estate at Culmington was being broken up in 1911 and a sale effected in 1912 was of 8,600 a. on the western boundary of the duke of Sutherland's Lilleshall estate, for £278,000; the major part was sold to the sitting tenants. (fn. 188) In 1878 the estate was 19,714 a., (fn. 189) or 2,219 more than was recorded in the 1873 Return of Owners of Land. Moderate reductions had been made in 1894 when 834 a. at Ketley had been sold, but they were partly industrial or residential properties. (fn. 190) Some of the Lilleshall estate's remaining farmland was offered at a second sale in July 1914, and the remainder, including the House and the estate yard, at a third in 1917. (fn. 191)
A number of the early post-1914 sales were those of outlying portions of large estates that left the central portions intact. Sales from the Stanmore Hall estate began during the war but continued until five or six years after it, the central portion (1,300 a.) being offered in 1920. (fn. 192) In 1918 Lord Acton announced the sale of c. 3,600 a. of outlying parts of the Aldenham estate in Oldbury, Morville, Acton Round, and Aston Eyre parishes. (fn. 193) In 1873 the whole property had amounted to 6,321 a. (fn. 194) In 1920 a second portion of the estate amounting to 1,757 a. was sold. (fn. 195) Also in 1918 Lord Forester's Dothill estate (including the Little Wenlock manorial lands) and 1,325 a. of outlying lands of the Sparrows' Church Preen estate were advertised, (fn. 196) though the large Willey estate remained in the hands of Forester and his heirs. In other instances sales were complete and severed a long family connexion with the county. That happened in 1919 when H. D. Corbet sold the Sundorne Castle estate of 8,162 a. ending a descent in the Hill, Barker, Kynaston, and Corbet families dating from 1542. (fn. 197) The same year Mrs. Baldwyn-Childe put up for sale 4,930 a.: 14 sizeable stock-rearing and dairy farms, with several smaller farms, that formed outlying portions of the Kinlet estate. (fn. 198) Among small estates sold in 1919 were Market Drayton, 980 a. for £46,260, and Astley Hall near Shrewsbury, 666 a. for £45,345, equal to £68 an acre. (fn. 199) Later that year part of Lord Barnard's (formerly the duke of Cleveland's) Shropshire estate, which the Newport family had built up before 1734 as the largest landed estate in the county, was sold for £130,314. Most of it was disposed of privately to the sitting tenants but 1,400 a. were sold under the hammer for £30,314. (fn. 200) Another estate mostly sold by private treaty to the sitting tenants was Lord Bath's Minsterley estate. (fn. 201) In north Shropshire the Whitchurch portion of Lord Brownlow's Bridgwater estate, 4,000 a. out of 20,233 originally owned in the county, was sold for £150,000 in February 1920, over 3,000 a. going to sitting tenants. (fn. 202) Brownlow was in fact one of the most prominent vendors of land in the county and realized some £190,000 from sales before his death in 1921. (fn. 203) A conservative estimate of land sales in the county, based on surviving catalogues and press reports, suggests that over 80,000 a. were on offer between 1918 and the early 1920s. (fn. 204)
After 1921 the extent of property sales was reduced though they still continued in the years between the wars. Some properties were resold within a few years. In 1921 the trustees of the late T. H. Ward, a successful former tenant who had collected 1,700 a. around the parishes of Kynnersley and Lilleshall in the two Sutherland sales, offered his lands under the nostalgic title of the 'Lilleshall estate'. (fn. 205) In 1926 an outlying 1,200 a. of the Walcot estate was on offer. (fn. 206) The Hawkstone estate, reduced to 5,810 a., was resold in 1915 by the Hon. W. T. and the Hon. R. G. Whiteley when the Hall and adjacent farms and parkland, which amounted to 1,265 a., were bought by W. C. Gray. (fn. 207) Most of the section comprised the much reduced 'Hawkstone estate' of 1,102 a. that was for sale again in 1925. (fn. 208)
Transfer of ownership had considerable economic and social consequences. Tenants viewed the prospect of becoming owner-occupiers with much disquiet, and in 1919 the county branch of the N.F.U. spoke of farmers being saddled with farms for the rest of their lives at figures far beyond their true commercial value. (fn. 209) Landowners were anxious to take advantage of the buoyant real estate market after a generation of low land values and farmers' unwillingness to pay true economic rents. In many cases the money from sales earned more when invested in government and other securities than rents had yielded, and it was without the expenses and uncertainties of landowning. (fn. 210) In 1919 Lord Powis sold 4,400 a. of the Clun Forest and Bishop's Castle estates for £38,900. The gross rents had been £1,695 but the interest on the sale receipts, invested in government stock, came to £1,946, an increase of £251; in addition the cost of repairs and upkeep to the properties, estimated at £380, was also saved. (fn. 211) After the decline in prices from April 1920 farmers were extremely anxious not to lose the protective shield of those owners that remained. In December that year tenants on Sir Beville Stanier's 4,000-a. Peplow estate asked if there was anything they could do to avert the calamitous prospect of the sale of the Hall and estate. Stanier expressed concern for their welfare but maintained that he had no alternative but to sell the Peplow end of the estate, where costs were heavy, and move to a smaller house and less expensive surroundings. (fn. 212) Time was not on his side and the Hall was still in his family's hands on his death in 1922: it and 1,000 a. remaining were put on the market by F. A. H. Stanier in 1923. (fn. 213)
The decline of the gentry families and the country house was probably more obvious than that of the great landowners, a number of whom had seats outside the county. When the Sandfords of Sandford sold their estate of 950 a. near Prees in 1928 they severed a family connexion with the area dating from just after the Norman Conquest. (fn. 214) Of c. 90 country houses standing in the 1870s at least 35 had no trace left in 1952. (fn. 215) Land sales did not by any means eliminate the landlord from the county, though they did reduce the size of surviving estates. Nor did the surviving landowners entirely abandon their former functions. In 1934 when the Newport & District Agricultural Society was revived, after suspension during the depths of depression in 1931, the president was Lord Bradford. (fn. 216) The loss of many long-established proprietors, together with the generally depressed state of farm incomes, meant that buildings, hedges, drainage schemes, and the standard of cultivation as a whole often declined between the wars. Some of the loss was countered by the extension of the county council's activities to river and land drainage work and campaigns against injurious weeds and against vermin like the musk rat. (fn. 217) Nevertheless those efforts did not prevent a net deterioration in the fabric of the countryside.
Membership of the Shropshire branch of the Central Landowners' Association rose in the 1930s. In 1931 it had 109 members but through the activities of an official organizer in the county a further 64 were recruited in 1932. (fn. 218) By 1938 membership numbered 239. At the start of 1938 the president, Maj. E. R. T. Corbett of Longnor, noted that there were no instances in Shropshire where whole estates had been broken up to meet the cost of death duties, though there were several where portions of estates had been sold to pay such duties. (fn. 219)
After the Second World War there were further sales and break-ups of the older properties. The remnants of the Bridgwater estate, amounting to 2,000 a., were sold by Lord Brownlow to the duke of Westminster after 1951 but were resold by the 4th duke's executors in 1972. Lord Barnard sold some of the Cressage section of his estate before the war and the rest after, and land at Harley was sold in the 1950s and 1960s. (fn. 220) In 1947 Lord Acton, dispirited by the bureaucratic entanglement of farming, sold the 930-a. Aldenham estate to his father-in-law, Lord Rayleigh, and went to farm in Southern Rhodesia. Almost immediately Rayleigh disposed of 260 a. of the outlying farms. (fn. 221) Acton was not the only Shropshire landowner impelled by the atmosphere of post-war Britain to seek a more congenial residence or a more secure future overseas. (fn. 222) Col. C. R. Morris-Eyton, who sold his remaining Shropshire and Staffordshire estates in 1948, also went out to Southern Rhodesia, (fn. 223) and the 7th Lord Forester, though not under the necessity of selling his Shropshire estates, had an extensive tobacco plantation in the colony, where he died in 1977. (fn. 224) In 1954 Ronald Knox noted dryly that Southern Rhodesia 'seemed to be peopled entirely with Shropshire county families and Central European refugees'. (fn. 225) Some found other havens. At the end of the war Galfry Gatacre locked up Gatacre and went out to his estate in British Columbia, returning only in 1961 to find his property in a dismayingly dilapidated state. (fn. 226)
Some of the older families nevertheless remained substantial landowners in the 1980s. Among them were Lords Bradford (whose family estate had been increased by the purchase of the Leaton Knolls estate in 1947), (fn. 227) Forester, Harlech, and Plymouth. By 1972, though many of the large estates had been broken up, over a dozen representatives of the established landed families remained: beside the peers mentioned, they included Sir John Corbet, Sir Michael Leihton, Sir David Wakeman, and the owners of the Apley Park, Longnor, Onslow, Orleton, Plowden, Shavington, Stokesay Court, and Wenlock Abbey (fn. 228) estates. Many of the owners tended to take farms in hand as they became vacant and so were among the larger farmers in the county. (fn. 229) In south Shropshire Lord Plymouth's 8,000 a. in 1978 embraced the villages of Bromfield and Stanton Lacy, and the work on three dairy farms with 560 cattle was carried out under the direction of the estate manager and two assistants. (fn. 230) In 1981, after a successful career as a London restauranteur, Lord Bradford returned to manage the 17,000-a. Weston Park estate, not all of it in Shropshire. (fn. 231)
By the later 20th century some large agricultural estates were owned by institutions (fn. 232) rather than individuals or families. The county council smallholdings estate, for example, extended to just under 9,000 a. in the mid 1980s (fn. 233) and the National Trust owned several thousand Shropshire acres, including the valuable agricultural estates centring on Attingham Park and Dudmaston. (fn. 234) The Trust also acquired the lordship of the manor of Stretton-en-le-Dale in 1965 and with it one of the largest surviving open commons in the county-the Long Mynd (5,470 a.). (fn. 235) The Long Mynd illustrated the extremely difficult problems of managing an estate so as to reconcile the interests of numerous commoners possessing generously registered grazing rights, the general public in search of recreation, and the landlord as custodian of the land and its delicately balanced ecology. (fn. 236) Such problems were by no means confined to the Long Mynd, where they certainly antedated the Trust's ownership of it. The management of open commons indeed had become a progressively more difficult general problem as manorial management broke down, government aid made hill farming more profitable, and more of the public sought outdoor recreation in their leisure time. In 1987 the government was said to be preparing legislation to improve commons management. (fn. 237) About 1985 there were some 11,700 a. of uninclosed commons (1.2 per cent of the 1891 county area) in Shropshire, mostly (82.7 per cent) on the Long Mynd, the Clee Hills, and the high lands in the west around the Stiperstones. (fn. 238)
One development that had been causing increasing concern in the farming community for some years before 1980 had been the covert acquisition of agricultural land by financial institutions. From the later 1960s pension funds, insurance companies, unit trusts, and similar investors had been buying up large acreages, and Shropshire farms-for example in Onibury, Longford, Lilleshall, Crudgington, and the Ellesmere area-had not been exempt. The faltering of farm incomes in 1984, however, was followed by a sharp depression in the capital value of agricultural land. That brought problems for farmers who had borrowed when land values were high but it also served to reduce the financial institutions' interest in farm land as an investment. (fn. 239)
An important accompaniment of land sales was the growth of owner occupation. In 1911 its extent in Shropshire, as might be expected, was below the average of 13 per cent of holdings in England and Wales: 10 per cent of Shropshire farms, covering 8 per cent of farm land, were occupied by their owners. The greatest difference between county and national figures was for holdings over 300 a., of which 15.3 per cent were farmed by their owners in England and Wales but only 7.6 per cent in Shropshire. (fn. 240) By 1919 there had been a slight increase to 11 per cent of all farms and total acreage. Thereafter the rise in owner occupation was much more rapid and by 1922 16 per cent of farms and 18 per cent of farm land were wholly or mainly owned by their occupiers. (fn. 241) Between the wars the trend continued with some fluctuation so that 34 per cent of farms and 30 per cent of the acreage was owner-occupied by 1940-1. (fn. 242) After 1950 owner occupation increased rather faster than between the wars. By 1979 government statistics showed that 52 per cent of farms, covering 42 per cent of the acreage, were wholly owned by their occupiers and a further 13 per cent of farms were mainly owned by their occupiers; 60 per cent of the total acreage was occupied by owners. The proportion of wholly rented holdings in the county had shrunk to 28 per cent with a further 7 per cent mainly rented. (fn. 243) The buoyancy of the land market in the 1960s was enhanced by purchasers who were farmers from Lancashire and further north and had been dispossessed of their holdings by public works developments. (fn. 244)
Changes in the number and size of holdings again reflected national developments. In 1875 the average holding was c. 60 a.; in 1935 there had been a small increase to c. 66 a. By 1979 the average farm size had more than doubled since the 1930s to c. 122 a. (fn. 245) With the increase in the size of holdings there was naturally a fall in the number of farms. The only groups to increase in number were those of 300 a. and above. In 1935 they made up only 3.6 per cent of farms but by 1979 they accounted for 10.4 per cent of the total. Farm sizes varied between districts. In the 19th century the largest were among the sheep walks in the central and southeastern divisions, the smallest in the dairying districts of the north. (fn. 246) That distribution persisted in the 20th century and was reflected in the fact that the majority of the county council's smallholdings schemes, established after 1908, were north of the Severn. (fn. 247) In 1950, of the 35 farms over 300 a., 30 were in the Southern, Bridgnorth, and Wrekin districts. (fn. 248) By 1970 there were 14 farms over 1,000 a. and 10 were in those districts. (fn. 249)
The numbers engaged in agriculture, both farmers and labourers, fell greatly. In 1871 there were 21,165 labourers and 6,102 farmers. By 1911 the number of labourers was 13,497 and the number of farmers was 5,543, which represented falls of 36 per cent and 9 per cent respectively. (fn. 250) At the beginning of the 20th century the farmers' main concern was not the weather, prices, or landlord-tenant relations but the general shortage of labour. (fn. 251) In 1881 the Shropshire Chamber of Agriculture complained that conditions of cleanliness and cultivation on many farms were 'defective'. That was partly due to a lack of juvenile labour owing to the legislation of 1876 and 1880 that made elementary education compulsory, but it was also caused by a loss of adult labour from rural areas to industrial ones, though a reverse flow could still be detected during periods of industrial slump. (fn. 252) Nevertheless that source disappeared after 1881 as Shropshire experienced an absolute decline in population from 248,111 in 1871 to 243,062 in 1921. (fn. 253) Emigration from the county is explained by the limited urban and industrial base within its borders. Shrewsbury, the largest town, remained an administrative and marketing centre throughout the whole period, with the industrial population concentrated in the slowly growing, and sometimes stagnant or declining, small towns between Wellington and Broseley. Agriculture therefore remained a major employer, but with wage levels too low to compete with those of other types of work. Sometimes changes in the farming system were blamed. In the Chirbury and Ellesmere districts in 1906 loss of population was ascribed to less capitalintensive methods with more arable land laid down to grass and the consequent employment of fewer hands. Although around Ellesmere the growth of Cheshire cheese making had maintained the demand for men capable of attending to stock and willing to milk, such men were scarce and commanded good wages. At Newport the small extent of such labour-intensive activities as fruit farming and poultry had failed to check the decline in the agricultural population, though vegetable growing did provide some seasonal increase in employment. (fn. 254) Shortage of new recruits became more serious between the wars, though in the eastern arable areas the lack of alternative employment gave school-leavers few chances of esape from farm work. (fn. 255) Near to towns, however, parents encouraged their sons to seek employment in other occupations and advertised vacancies on farms were sometimes filled by boys from other counties. (fn. 256)
Sources: Agric. Returns G.B.; for 1890 Return Agric. Holdings [Cd. 3408], p. 4, H.C. (1907), lxvi, which does not include holdings over 50 a. In 1940 and 1942 slight changes were made in the official classifications, but they do not materially affect the figures from 1940 until 1967. In 1967 and 1968 many holdings under 10 a., with little production, were deleted: Agric. Returns G.B. 1968-9, page xii note a, and table 63A, notes a and b.
The two wars each added to labour problems. The trend in favour of grassland was reversed after 1914 and 1939 with the result that the partial revival of corn growing demanded more labour while military service reduced the supply. In the First World War attempts were made to plug the gaps with soldiers stationed locally who were temporarily released for agricultural work, with members of the Women's Land Army, and, during the latter stages, with prisoners of war from the camps at Bromfield and Wem. The labour from all those sources, however, was not equal to the numbers of regular workers lost, and in many cases farmers said that the quality was poorer. (fn. 257) Before the outbreak of war in 1939 arrangements were made for recruitment into the Women's Land Army (1939-50), and a committee was formed with Lady Boyne as chairman. (fn. 258) By 1944 there were 888 members on farms in Shropshire. The war years saw an increase in all groups of agricultural workers, and as late as 1950 the total agricultural labour force was larger than it had been in 1939.
Shropshire, like all other counties, experienced a rise in the number of regular and part-time workers in the early post-war years: demobilized men returned more quickly than prisoners of war and members of the Women's Land Army left. After 1949 the labour force declined yearly. In the sixteen years to 1965 the number of full-time workers fell by 39.6 per cent to 8,134 and part-time workers by 5.7 per cent to 2,979. The decline in full-time workers was the seventh lowest out of 60 county divisions of England and Wales. Nevertheless 40 counties lost more parttime workers, and Shropshire contradicted the national pattern that where counties lost more full-time workers they suffered smaller falls in the part-time labour force, which filled the vacuum left by the departure of full-timers. The relative stability of both sectors of the farm labour force was a reflection of the slow growth of secondary and tertiary employment in a decade and a half when such opportunities experienced greater growth elsewhere. (fn. 259) In 1969 the number of farmers, at 6,191, was superficially greater than a hundred years earlier, but 1,231 of them were part-time. The total of workers was 6,636 full-time and 1,446 part-time. (fn. 260) Greatest reliance on hired labour was in the arable districts, but on most hill farms family labour remained essential to success. In upland districts when extra hands were needed it was usual to seek assistance from neighbours and return the help when required. (fn. 261)
In the 19th century the standard of Shropshire farm workers' cottages varied but was mostly bad. (fn. 262) With a few glaring exceptions, those for which great landowners were directly responsible were better than average. Those sub-let by farmers ranged from good to deplorable. All agreed that the worst class of cottages were those belonging to tradesmen or speculators or owned by the labourer himself. Rents ranged from 1s. 3d. to 2s. a week in the 1880s, and from 2s. to 3s. by the end of the First World War. That included an adequate vegetable garden. Very often pigs and hens, and commonly a cow, were kept; they were mostly for home consumption, but in the 1890s Wellington retailers advertised cottage-fed bacon. (fn. 263) Owners and farmers blamed the poor housing on prevailing rent levels, which made building cottages an unprofitable investment so that many cottages were old and out-dated. In the Oswestry district shortages were caused by colliery owners who bought any offered for sale for their own workers. (fn. 264) By the Second World War cottage rents at around 3s. a week for the farm labourer compared favourably with the 6s. to 10s. paid by town workers, (fn. 265) but that was almost the only feature of the farm worker's life that was more eligible; local authorities had done little to improve rural housing. (fn. 266) The relatively uniform earnings of farm workers meant that living standards were markedly low in those families with three or more dependent children, though they rose once the children started work. Among families containing four or five people 50 per cent of the children were well clothed, but among families containing six people the proportion was only 24 per cent. The largest single weekly expenditure was on food, while such items as clothing were paid for by the man's harvest earnings and, when available, potato and beet lifting by the wife. Cottages were sparsely furnished and social life was limited by lack of time and money. The weekly shopping trip to town was often the only break for housewives and attendance at church or chapel was unusual. For the men there were few social contacts outside the pub, which the majority visited only occasionally. The most popular entertainment was the wireless, often bought on hire purchase, which was preferred to magazines or books because of the smaller mental effort involved.
Agricultural wages rose in the 46 years after 1875, but progress was not constant. Average Shropshire earnings were 12s. 3d. a week 1867-70, rising to 17s. 5d. by 1898 and 18s. in 1908. Lowest wages were paid on the western side of the county. (fn. 267) Specialist workers earned most. In 1894 at Montford Bridge 16s. a week was paid to ordinary labourers, but between 18s. and £1 to waggoners and stockmen. (fn. 268) In north-east Shropshire in 1918 average wages had risen to 27s. a week, both for ordinary labourers and stockmen, whereas in the south-west traditional grading was still preserved with ordinary labourers at 25s. 3d. and stockmen at 27s. (fn. 269) During the war payments for harvest work increased also, though by then the groups of migrant Irish workers, employed every summer in the 1870s and 1880s, had ceased to appear in the county. The 'Irishman's Bothy' at Leighton, built to house migrant workers, was taken over in 1917 for the Women's Land Army. (fn. 270) The county Agricultural Wages Board was able to fix minimum wages 1917-21 but the power was then lost until 1924, (fn. 271) and meanwhile wages had been reduced in the wake of farmers' economic difficulties. (fn. 272) The usual hours throughout the county before the war were 59 in the summer and 52 in the winter, excluding meal breaks. Those long hours persisted as late as June 1918. (fn. 273) In the months immediately after the war the wages board reduced the weekly hours (for which the highest post-war county minimum of 46s. a week was paid) to 50 in the summer and 48 in the winter. (fn. 274) After 1921 farmers wanted to increase the hours of work to 54 and in many places that was achieved. In addition, between 1921 and 1924, wages were pushed as low as 30s. a week. In February 1925 there was some recovery and the wages board raised the county minimum to 31s. 6d. for a standard 54-hour week, increased to 32s. 6d. in June 1926. Further pressure for a reduction came with the fall in prices after 1929, and in August 1931 wages fell back to 32s., and 30s. a week was reached again in October 1933. A revival took place from June 1934 and 32s. 6d. was achieved by June 1936, (fn. 275) and 35s. by the Second World War. (fn. 276) There is evidence that in many cases farmers paid less than the legal minimum. In 1932 ministry officials inspected 30 farms in the county employing 96 workers, and they found 19 workers underpaid. (fn. 277) Wages increased during and after the Second World War. In March 1945 the county minimum for full-time workers over 21 was 70s. a week (fn. 278) and by 1958 it had risen to £7 10s. a week. (fn. 279) In the inflationary 1960s and 1970s increases were accompanied by further reductions of hours, so that by 1983 the national weekly minimum for a 40-hour week was £79.20, (fn. 280) equivalent to a real wage of £11.44 (£11 8s. 10d.) at 1958 prices. (fn. 281)
The amount of union activity in the county fluctuated with wage levels. The North Herefordshire and South Shropshire Agricultural Labourers' Mutual Improvement Society was formed in 1871. Its slogan was 'Emigration, Migration, but not Strikes', and it specialized in dispatching surplus labour from low-wage areas to better paid employment in northern England. At its peak it claimed a membership of 30,000 in six counties. (fn. 282) In spite of that pioneering venture Shropshire did not play an active part in the early history of conventional agricultural trade unionism. A county representative attended Joseph Arch's inaugural meeting of the first national union of farm workers at Leamington on Good Friday 1872, (fn. 283) but he was Sir Baldwyn Leighton, a sympathetic landowner who believed that the union movement could 'effect great permanent good, without inducing any feelings of hostility between employer and employed'. (fn. 284) Arch's Agricultural Labourers' Union had little initial success in the county, which had only very slight unionism in 1874, and even that had died out by 1881, though membership of friendly societies was quite common. (fn. 285) The first record of the National Union of Agricultural Workers (fn. 286) was in 1913 when Tom Mackley was appointed organizer and visited Shropshire to help in the formation of a number of branches. After the war it was the tenth largest county in the country in terms of union organization, with a county subscription of over £1,600 from 70 branches. The fall in wages 1921-3 affected union membership and, although there were only three fewer branches in 1923 than in 1919, total conributions were then markedly less. Some branches ceased in the 1920s and by 1931 there were just over 40 branches with a total income of well under £1,000. The renewed prosperity of the industry after 1939 saw an improvement in union organization and by 1946 there were 85 branches in Shropshire. The 1950s saw a continued strengthening of union activity so that by 1958 the number of branches had risen to 120 with a subscription income of over £4,700. At local level the main activities were recovering arrears of wages and obtaining damages for members injured at work. (fn. 287)
Farmers too discovered the advantages of organization, and in 1908 Shropshire took a leading part in the formation of the National Farmers' Union. That year the National Federation of Meat Traders demanded that farmers should give them a warranty with their fatstock, indemnifying them against loss through condemnation of diseased carcasses. After a series of meetings beginning at the Wellington Smithfield, the county's largest fatstock market, Stephen Ward proposed to a gathering in the Shrewsbury Corn Exchange on 12 September that a farmers' association be formed to resist the butchers' demands. The Shrewsbury and District Farmers' Association held its first meeting a week later. Shropshire farmers contacted Colin Campbell, of the Lincolnshire Farmers' Union, and associations in other counties. As a result the butchers eventually withdrew their demands. Other farmers' associations were formed at Wellington, Oswestry, and Craven Arms and those, with the Shrewsbury branch, were among the earliest branches when the National Farmers' Union was formed the same year. (fn. 288)
Pioneers of the N.F.U. in Shropshire included William Everall of Forton, T. Powell Davies of Lydbury North, Stephen Ward of Kynnersley, T. C. Ward of Sambrook, Richard Kilvert of Kempton (later of Culmington), and Richard Evans of Shawbury; T. W. Bromley of Ford Mansion became its first county chairman. Initially progress was small and by 1914 membership was under 500. Growth was slow and sometimes faltered between the wars though in the 1920s the branch exerted itself to fight for cuts in county expenditure. In 1920 the paid-up membership in the county was 2,225, (fn. 289) but by the end of the Second World War there was a membership of 3,500. Progress was more spectacular after 1946 when a new policy of county and local branches staffed by full-time secretaries was inaugurated. A drive for new members, under the guidance of the then county chairman, Rowland W. Ward, of Sambrook Hall, was begun. Shropshire membership was brought up to 6,000 by 1958, with 20 local branches staffed by nine fulltime secretaries with offices in the main market towns. (fn. 290) The county executive in Shrewsbury took responsibility for presenting a general voice on common issues, though that was not always an easy matter with the division between the arable and dairying north and the mainly livestock interests of the south and also the greater militancy of farmers in the north. (fn. 291)
The first Young Farmers' Clubs in the county were started at Bridgnorth in 1928 and (by T. C. Ward) at Newport in 1929, and a Shropshire Federation of Y.F.C.s operated after 1945. (fn. 292) By the later 1980s there were 29 clubs in the county. (fn. 293)
The years between the wars saw the decline of the Chamber of Agriculture, as farmers' interests were covered by the N.F.U. and landowners' by the C.L.A. In 1932 the chamber had 271 members and, though still lobbying parliament on agricultural matters, devoted more of its attention to organizing lectures. (fn. 294) Nevertheless the chamber did have staying power. When it celebrated its centenary in 1967 it was the only one left out of 67 county chambers formed in the 19th century; by then, however, it was entirely an educational and social organization. (fn. 295) In the later 1970s the chamber (revivified in 1977) had about 200 members and the C.L.A. over 1,200. (fn. 296)
Private co-operative enterprises were also part of farmers' reactions to difficult economic circumstances. One of the earliest was the Wem Cow Club, a cattle insurance society formed in 1866 and having 68 members in 1913. (fn. 297) In 1929 there were seven co-operatives based in the county with a combined membership of 2,219 and a turnover of £218,032. They ranged from the Market Drayton & District Agricultural and Small Holding Society, with 43 members and £13 worth of sales, to the Shrewsbury-based Shropshire Farmers with 1,226 members and £99,655 of sales. Other groups included the Llangedwyn Farmers' Co-operative Cheese Association, Oswestry, which manufactured dairy products, and the Burwarton Poultry Society marketing eggs and poultry. (fn. 298) Not all survived the war. Those that did and that expanded tended to be trading societies supplying farmers with a broad range of agricultural goods at a discount. Such was South Shropshire Farmers Ltd., formed by a group of N.F.U. members in 1917. Their first dividend was paid in 1926 and by 1979 they had a turnover of £11 million and supplied virtually everything that members needed from fertilizers, cereal seeds, and feedstuffs to heavy machinery. (fn. 299) Another organization with over £1 million turnover in the 1970s was Wrekin Farmers, which provided members with grain drying and storage facilities and was also agent for various fertilizers and feedstuffs. In 1977 their sales were £3.5 million. (fn. 300)
One way in which the county council attempted to stem the flow of labour from farming, albeit initially with some reluctance, was by the operation of the 1907 Small Holdings and Allotments Act. (fn. 301) In the first year of the new legislation 395 applications for 5,963 a. were received. There was little response to advertisements placed in the local press inviting offers of land, and as most applicants desired only to lease their holdings the council did not at first intend to purchase. When the Board of Agriculture pointed out the advantages of purchase, that soon became the preferred method of acquisition. By the end of 1909 land had been bought at Albrighton, West Felton, and Baschurch and further amounts leased at Llanyblodwel, Rodington, Lee Brockhurst, and Ellesmere. Most properties were in north Shropshire and the council was among the first to use the new powers of compulsory purchase. By 1909 it had been granted orders for 261 a. at Whixall and Wem and 80 a. at Hadley. The greatest progress before the First World War was made in 1909 and 1910. In 1909 the council undertook to acquire 1,056 a. At the start of 1910 there were only 11 smallholders settled on its schemes; by the end of the year there were 70. War slowed progress, but by the end of 1914 there were 11 properties covering 2,064 a., divided into 93 smallholdings. (fn. 302) Between the wars another 30 properties were acquired, and 3 after 1945. (fn. 303) In 1957 the council owned 9,220 a., divided into 250 holdings over 15 a., which accounted for 7,902 a., with the remaining 1,318 a. in holdings under 15 a. (fn. 304) In the 1960s the council had c. 340 tenants (fn. 305) and the average size of holdings in 1965, excluding 39 cottage holdings of less than 2 a., was 32 a. (fn. 306)
Not all county council smallholdings sufficed to provide a full livelihood, and roughly a third of the tenants had part-time and cottage holdings. (fn. 307) The most favoured enterprise was intensive dairying with more than two thirds of the land under grass. (fn. 308) Typical of such holdings was the Shropshire Farm Institute's 36a. smallholding at Baschurch, managed by one man, which initially carried 22 Ayrshire milkers and 8 followers. Such heavy stocking rates were achieved with silage making, heavy fertilizer applications, and high fixed costs. (fn. 309) In later years silage making was abandoned and the stocking rate raised to 50 milkers through intensive grazing and buying in all winter fodder. (fn. 310) The council encouraged its tenants to move to larger farms, either on its own estate or on privately owned estates, in order to make room for new entrants. Nevertheless in the years 1959- 61 only 23 moved to larger county council holdings and 6 to private farms. (fn. 311) In 1965 the waiting time for applicants was 3 years and it seems that a number of suitably qualified agricultural workers did not apply for smallholdings because they believed the delay was even longer. (fn. 312) For most of the council's tenants progress up the farming ladder was blocked by the scarcity of farms to let and the high price of those for sale. (fn. 313)
For most of the 19th century there was little enthusiasm for rural education and even considerable opposition. That state of affairs hardly altered after elementary education was universally provided under the 1870 Act (fn. 314) and made compulsory from 1877. (fn. 315) Between 1879 and 1899 school attendance rose only from 61 to 65 per cent, and magistrates, conscious of the priorities in a farming county, were unwilling to convict parents for infringements of by-laws. Even in the 1950s the problem still remained, especially at harvest which, in the potato and beet growing areas, extended well into November. (fn. 316) Small attempts at agricultural training were made in the 1880s, before the Technical Instruction Act of 1889 (fn. 317) empowered county councils to provide post-school agricultural education, and in elementary schools gardens were begun in 1885. (fn. 318) The first interest in agricultural education at a higher level was shown by Sir Baldwyn Leighton. In 1880, in evidence to the royal commission, he had deplored the fact that Oxford and Cambridge colleges drew income from tithe rent charges but that neither university had seen fit to establish a school of agriculture. (fn. 319) In 1888 a privately organized Agricultural and Dairy Conference was held at Ludlow as part of a national campaign to arouse interest in better cheese and butter making. It was followed by a series of demonstrations, including one held in Willey park in 1889 for Lord Forester's tenants. (fn. 320) The county council was relatively slow to take advantage of the 'whisky money' offered for technical instruction of an agricultural or horticultural nature. (fn. 321) For the first four or five years the council adopted a policy of experiment. (fn. 322) In 1894, under the auspices of its Technical Instruction Committee, classes in butter making were conducted at two centres and classes in cheese making in five districts. In addition horticultural and veterinary lectures were given and a grant of £50 made to Childe's School, Cleobury Mortimer, (fn. 323) which had an agricultural curriculum. By 1896 the council extended similar grants for agricultural education to Oswestry and Ludlow grammar schools and had begun to support the proposed Harper Adams Agricultural College. Expenditure on all agricultural education, however, amounted to only £1,246 out of a total of £7,160 on all technical education. (fn. 324)
The provision of agricultural education was significantly extended by the opening of Harper Adams College at Edgmond, near Newport. Endowed under the will of Thomas Harper Adams (1816-92), the college was opened by the president of the Board of Agriculture in 1901. (fn. 325) The first principal was P. H. Foulkes. (fn. 326) Previously the west midland counties had been unable to consolidate the several schemes of agricultural instruction that each organized for itself. (fn. 327) At its outset the new college was primarily a centre for Shropshire (where it was the main channel of agricultural education) and Staffordshire, but eventually it played an important part in coordinating agricultural education for the region. The original endowment, providing rather less than £800 a year, was too modest to provide more than a fraction of the necessary support. In return for grants and scholarships, students from the two counties were admitted at reduced fees which, in the case of farmers' children, were less than half the usual amount. In 1915 and 1932 similar arrangements were made with Warwickshire and Herefordshire. (fn. 328) By 1938 the major part of the college's finance was from Shropshire, Staffordshire, and Warwickshire county councils and Ministry of Agriculture grants. (fn. 329) Between 1899-1900 and 1910-11 the county spent £25,560 on agricultural instruction. Over 60 per cent of that expenditure (£15,232) was for scholarships and grants to colleges and schools. (fn. 330) Between 1903 and 1908 Shropshire spent only £93 a year on agricultural education for every 1,000 males over 10 years old engaged in agriculture, but even that modest outlay made it the fourteenth highest out of 49 English counties. (fn. 331) From 1904 the council passed its responsibility for travelling lecturers on agriculture to the college staff, who developed that aspect with classes on dairying, horticulture, poultry keeping, and veterinary instruction. In 1910 the college's success induced the Technical Instruction Committee to engage its own lecturing staff again. (fn. 332) In 1913, to co-ordinate the lecturers' activities and to promote the investigation of farm problems by Harper Adams, the council appointed Edric Druce as its first agricultural organizer, a, post he held until his retirement in 1937; his successors were called chief agricultural officer. (fn. 333) Although the war saw a fall in the numbers attending the various classes arranged by the county council, as well as a reduction in staff, its travelling courses in dairy instruction and poultry keeping were maintained throughout. (fn. 334) Even with those difficulties, between August 1914 and September 1918 the staff gave 751 lectures and demonstrations at day and evening centres to a total audience of 16,240, and they made 214 visits to secondary schools. (fn. 335)
Between the wars the county agricultural organizer's staff offered advice to farmers on general agricultural matters, horticulture, dairying, poultry, farriery, and beekeeping. They also continued to work closely with the advisory service at Harper Adams College. (fn. 336) It was felt that the needs of students from the larger holdings were well catered for by day classes, evening lectures, and the travelling dairy schools. Druce, however, found it was more difficult to assist the county's 9,600 smallholders, (fn. 337) who were slow to ask advice and often not easily able to afford to act on it when given. (fn. 338) By 1939 there were 10 members of staff besides the chief agricultural officer. (fn. 339)
The First World War curtailed the work of Harper Adams College even more severely than that of the county's agricultural advisory service. Staff numbered 17 in 1913 with over 70 long-course and c. 14 short-course students, (fn. 340) but staff and student numbers and income fell sharply after 1914. In the spring of 1915, at the Board of Agriculture's request, a series of fortnightly courses for women recruits to agriculture was begun, and in 1917 women were admitted to the college's standard courses. In spite of financial stringency, the college's educational activities expanded between the wars and staff numbers rose from 12 in 1922 to 26 in 1932 and 50 by 1939. (fn. 341) At its establishment the college had a home farm of 178 a. (fn. 342) The farm was extended over the years to c. 240 a. in 1910, (fn. 343) and 340 a. by 1938 with 110 a. arable, 210 a. of grass, and the remainder as gardens and orchards; 70 a. were devoted to poultry and experimental work, leaving c. 270 a. for ordinary farm work. (fn. 344)
The college extended its experimental work between the wars. That work had begun in 1911 when the Harper Adams egg-laying trials were started, and continued in an unbroken series of thirty years. (fn. 345) In 1925 the National Institute of Poultry Husbandry, occupying c. 50 a., was established on the college farm. (fn. 346) Although the greater part of the college's work was instruction, some experimental work on crops and livestock was conducted in association with other bodies. In 1926 a pigfeeding experimental station was established as part of a co-ordinated pig-feeding research programme developed by the Rowett Institute at Aberdeen and the Cambridge Animal Nutrition Research Unit. (fn. 347) Experiments in dairy husbandry and extensive series of trials of different varieties of corn and root crops with the National Institute of Agricultural Botany, Cambridge, were conducted at Edgmond and various sites in the west midlands. The experience thus gained was of value in the college's role in the 1920s and 1930s as the specialist advisory centre for Shropshire, Staffordshire, and Warwickshire. In that work it supplemented the county organizer and his staff in each of the three counties, through whom the college's services were available for particularly difficult problems of cropping or livestock management. (fn. 348) In 1939 the full range of courses offered was: London B.Sc. (Agric.), Intermediate and Final; National and College Diplomas in Agriculture (three years); Agricultural Certificate (two years); National Poultry Diploma and Institute Senior Certificate (two years), and Institute Junior Certificate (one year). Staff and student numbers fell again after September 1939. Residential accommodation was put at the disposal of the Women's Land Army for 4-8 weeks' practical training courses, but after two courses and 90 trainees the scheme was abandoned. (fn. 349)
The history of post-war agricultural education was one of steady growth. In 1945 the county council's Education Committee took responsibility for agricultural education and found itself with no general educational staff. Earliest efforts were concentrated on technical agricultural subjects, and in the first two years classes on tractor maintenance were established at a dozen centres in the county. In 1948, after consultation with the N.F.U. and N.U.A.W., a series of general courses was arranged on crop and animal husbandry, farm machinery, farm management, and manual skills; more specific courses were directed at the smallholder and hill farmer. Over a thousand attended, the programme ranging from mid-week and weekend to full residential courses at Harper Adams, Shrewsbury Technical College, and the new residential Shropshire Adult College at Attingham Park. In the autumn of 1949 the committee opened the Shropshire Farm Institute at Walford Manor 6 miles north-west of Shrewsbury to provide a focus of technical agricultural education. (fn. 350) It had 750 a. bought from the former Morris-Eyton estate for £75,000. (fn. 351) From its inception the institute pioneered the development of an extensive network of part-time courses in agriculture and related subjects. In the very early days, with money and manpower in short supply, much of the instruction was on an ad hoc basis. Some of the county's leading farmers provided practical tuition to supplement the work of the small team of lecturers. As more staff were appointed a more formal course structure was developed. (fn. 352) The institute played an important part in agricultural training in the county. Particular attention was paid to livestock regimes most suited to the small farmer, such as heavy dairy stocking and barley beef feeding. (fn. 353) In 1975 over 90 per cent of school leavers taking up farm work in the county attended day-release classes at Walford and various outlying centres, a proportion approached nowhere else in the country and well above the national average of 40 per cent for similar institutions. Nevertheless it is symptomatic of the small extent of agricultural employment that entry of county school leavers amounted to only 150, compared with 450 students when the institute opened. (fn. 354) The main foundation course, offered at seven centres in the county, was for one day a week over 30 weeks of the year, lasting for three years. In addition to the principal, the institute had a staff of 24 agricultural and two horticultural instructors: eleven were wholly engaged at the institute teaching fulltime students; the remaining 13, including the two horticulturalists, were employed in extra-mural work in the county and were based at the Shirehall in Shrewsbury. (fn. 355)
The Farm Institute forged close links with the county's 50 secondary schools, giving careers advice, arranging visits to the Walford farms, and publicizing agricultural education courses available in the county. Older school pupils were also offered a five-day residential course at Walford on 'Learning from the Land', and adult non-vocational courses were offered on horse riding and country sports. (fn. 356) The one-year course for the National Certificate in Agriculture, introduced in 1954, was particularly popular. By 1975 just under 1,200 Walford students had been entered for it, more than from any other centre in the kingdom. In 1963 the institute offered a Regional Course in Farm Business Management and Advanced Husbandry, primarily intended to serve the needs of students from Shropshire, Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Warwickshire, and Staffordshire. In 1969 the Ordinary National Diploma in Agriculture was introduced. (fn. 357) From the start the institute had forged close links with Young Farmers' Clubs, providing, for instance, training in stock judging. (fn. 358)
In 1975 the county council opened an agricultural museum to illustrate farm work and rural life of the period 1875-1925. Uniquely it was a working farm: 23 a. leased from Acton Scott home farm (where appropriate buildings, hedgerows, and unsprayed pasture survived) were farmed according to local traditions of the pretractor age. Over 400,000 visitors were attracted 1975-85, many of them in school parties, and the museum's educational potential soon led to the appointment of an education officer. (fn. 359)