A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 4. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1959.
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AGRICULTURE c. 1793–c. 1870
In 1794 T. Davis wrote: 'The agricultural pursuits of the inhabitants of every county or district are directed, in the first place, to supply their own wants, and next, to enable themselves to purchase those necessaries which they cannot raise, by sale of those of which they have a surplus.' (fn. 1) This statement became less applicable as the 19th century progressed. The almost self-sufficient yeoman virtually disappeared; the capitalist winter dairyman and the corn and sheep farmer, dependent upon cash sales and substantial turnovers, took his place. Davis also said that 'good markets make good farmers'. (fn. 2) Changes in technique were dictated by the change in farming motive. The 19th century was the century of improvement: improvement fostered by agricultural societies and publications, and by exciting and disturbing semi-scientific experiments discussed or ridiculed on market-day or at rent dinners; improvement in seed, stock, equipment, buildings, in markets, transport, the laws of the state. (fn. 3) The spirit of improvement is the leading characteristic of the period.
Without the inclosure movement many of the subsequent improvements would have been impossible. William Marshall, writing of the area around Salisbury in the early 1790's, records much open field mixed with recent inclosure. (fn. 4) Similarly, in other parts of Wiltshire the work, both before and after the beginning of the Napoleonic Wars, was patchy in incidence. (fn. 5) Practically the whole of the Bradford-Melksham-Chippenham area had already lost whatever open fields and common pastures it had possessed. So, too, had the Vale of Wardour and the Grovely Ridge. At the other extreme, the Highworth-Cricklade-Swindon area was still almost a third open, despite a large amount of recent inclosure; and the time for inclosure in the Heytesbury-WarminsterWestbury area was still largely to come, for nearly half the area was still in extensive sheep and cow common. In most parts of Wiltshire, about 15 per cent. of the total county area, much inclosure had still to be done.
During the Napoleonic Wars the pace quickened. (fn. 6) Eighty-one inclosures were promoted, about two-fifths of all inclosures in Wiltshire after 1700. The fact that the south was too far from towns to provide a market for a surplus, or that it was difficult to raise quick hedges in high, exposed situations, proved less of an impediment than might have been expected. Likewise, in the north the spread of turnpike roads provided encouragement to inclosure in an area where the cost of new farm roads on wet deep soil had made it slow. (fn. 7) Activity, indeed, was almost universal and when the war ended perhaps less than 5 per cent. of Wiltshire remained uninclosed. Progress then slowed down for a while, but in 1836 there was a flurry of activity (fn. 8) until it was mainly wasteland only that remained uninclosed (Todmore Common in Shorncote, inclosed in 1858, provides an example). Even so, there were nearly 4,000 acres of open fields and as much common pasture left. Nineteen more awards were sufficient to finish the process known as the Inclosure Movement, but there were more than 3,000 acres of 'waste' in the mid-fifties (fn. 9) and nearly 2,000 in the early seventies. (fn. 10)
What had been accomplished ? It was an article of faith in the late 18th century that inclosure brought improvement. (fn. 11) As has been shown in the previous chapter, better use of common pastures by mutual agreement was possible without division in some places, although Davis considered that common fields could only be improved by that process. (fn. 12) Yet in the chalk country, away from good sheep downs, the typical three- or four-course of the common fields might be extended. Artificial grass might be sown with the barley or oats, and by partly feeding it off with sheep, and partly by mowing it, the best practices of farmers in inclosed farms could be followed. In other places some of the best land in each field was, with the same object, sown with vetches, peas, beans, turnips, or even potatoes in place of grass. (fn. 13) But these practices were not frequent enough to save the uninclosed fields. Generally, the chief improvement after inclosure in arable districts was the better use of soils. Barley was no longer grown on heavy lands in the Pewsey Vale, for instance. Sandlands, too, which had rarely been treated properly under tenantry, received their due. (fn. 14) In pasture districts radical changes were few, (fn. 15) although rents rose more rapidly than in the south. (fn. 16) Much unsuitable land which had been used for arable reverted to pasture, often very fine pasture, thus continuing a process which had been going on when small inclosures from the common fields had taken place. (fn. 17)
Any convincing estimate of the effect of inclosure on production is hard to make. Despite the encouragement to farmers that war prices provided, and contrary to what might be expected from the strictures of Davis upon hasty ploughings of down and other unsuitable land, (fn. 18) Sir John Sinclair, at the beginning of the 19th century, could find less than a 1 per cent. increase in wheat acreage in 37 Wiltshire inclosures. Small additions and contractions tended to cancel each other out. They might have taken place, indeed, in an open-field parish with its variation in the size of field to be sown to wheat. (fn. 19) Sinclair also estimated some decline in cattle and dairying, and in sheep, a tendency that bears out Davis's complaints. (fn. 20) Some increase in turnip, potato, and artificial grass acreages are recorded, but the Board of Agriculture figures do not indicate clearly the districts concerned.
There is some specific evidence of increased yields, (fn. 21) but most of the evidence is general. Yields of corn on all but the best lands improved; (fn. 22) the large farmer achieved this by reducing his corn acreage and increasing his green crops. (fn. 23) The consequently larger outputs of lamb, mutton, wool, and beef represented a complete gain in production. Real costs probably fell in the process and paid for the much enlarged rents.
Plough horses, for instance, might be reduced in number by as much as a third on a given acreage, although if the farmer also broke up downland he would have been unable to reduce his stables. (fn. 24)
On the other hand, there was some talk of worse farming as a result of inclosure. Even on inclosed farms, it was said that 'a turnip crop seems rather a matter of accident than of system'. (fn. 25) There was often too much haste to make changes, instead of caution towards new ideas, too great a readiness to experiment without enough forethought having been given. (fn. 26) Then again, systems which had been used in tenantry were taken over unthinkingly in the changed conditions of farming in severalty. (fn. 27)
Perhaps it was not in production that any real losses occurred. Davis saw that inclosure helped the large farmer more than the small, especially in the south. (fn. 28) The man with £20 worth of downland found that his rights to the down were too limited. Instead of taking an allotment of sheep down, possibly of only 20 acres in extent and situated several miles from his home, he took in lieu an additional allotment of arable. Deprived of adequate means to support his sheep, he was left with insufficient dung for his arable, unless the additional ground was suitable for pasture. Until the coming of artificial manures and the development of feeding cheap corn or oil cake, the smaller man suffered. Davis notes that in some inclosures the problem was met by putting the small men together, and directing them to leave their downland uninclosed, with common right of sheep on all land, thus, in some way, making up for their now uneconomic size and loss of stubble rights. (fn. 29)
In many cases, however, small men disappeared. (fn. 30) As has been shown in the previous chapter some consolidation was taking place in the open fields before inclosure, and the commissioners, therefore, only accelerated an existing tendency. (fn. 31) This consolidation was of two kinds: the running together of scattered strips by exchange, sale, and purchase to form something approaching workable units; and the amalgamation of holdings, with a consequent reduction in the number of independent producers. That the first was praiseworthy, whether as a result of personal initiative or as the result of inclosure, there can be no doubt. In 1790, for example, one farm of 75 acres had 89 separate parcels of land scattered throughout the six great fields, that is, on an average, in pieces of less than 1 acre each. In 1804 another farm of 146 acres was found to have 98 pieces. (fn. 32) While such morcellement might achieve rough justice in sharing out the good, bad, and indifferent land of the parish, it is hard to imagine that improved agricultural practices could have been followed on farms where it prevailed.
The advantage of consolidation lay in the increase in rent paid per acre. Farm rentals, which before inclosure might have been from £15 to £40, rose to from £100 to £400 after inclosure. Light lands capable of growing turnips increased in value especially. (fn. 33) This brought in a wealthier class of tenant, who could farm on capitalist lines instead of on a subsistence basis or with inadequate stock. The optimum scale of operation might well be greater than that allowed by the home farm and, as opportunity presented itself, a small-holding or two might be added. The farm buildings would then drop into disrepair, or be used for housing a wage labour force instead of a farming family. This system could easily result in farms of more than optimum size being created, and this was the first drawback of consolidation. An appetite for land might drive these 'traders in land' to reduce the scale of their operations in bad seasons, reducing along with them their demands for labour. (fn. 34) At such times men of capital could not be found for the over-large farms, (fn. 35) and the farm might be redivided. (fn. 36) Caird and Lavergne were among those who warned the over-large specialized southern farmer of his peril, amply proved when the Depression hit arable farming. (fn. 37)
There was also a social disadvantage in consolidating holdings. Small farmers might sink to be labourers or leave for the towns. 'Justice will not let them be dispossessed without their consent. Policy and humanity forbid they should be injured even with their consent', (fn. 38) wrote Davis, and although fine words could not always prevent injustice, many inclosure awards display a desire to be fair. Tenants could petition against inclosure proposals. At Mere, where rioting and the destruction of new fences took place, the final award was delayed by local opposition for fourteen years. (fn. 39) Again, Potterne Field was not inclosed because the procedure laid down in the Inclosure Act whereby small-holders could lodge objections was effectively used. There were also attempts to be just to squatters, a class of farmers that tended to be especially hard hit. Thus, at Heytesbury, encroachments enjoyed for 20 years without interruption were allowed a status of legality. Common rights of special economic concern for the small man might also be specifically protected, as in the Warminster and Corsley award where water rights were preserved. In other cases, the commissioners might take care to sell to small men a substantial portion of the land they disposed of to pay for expenses —as at Steeple Ashton, Hilperton and Trowbridge, and Westbury. The formation of a rectorial, or tithe farm, in commutation of tithes, as, for example, at Ramsbury, (fn. 40) while unpopular with some farmers, who saw scarce bottom land being carved out, (fn. 41) would create another medium-sized farm which had not existed before. Special allotments might be made in other cases, of which Great Somerford is an example. (fn. 42) Yet with all these devices consolidation proceeded, either because of or despite inclosure, especially in the south. (fn. 43) Here depopulation could not be prevented. It was for the northern parishes that the census returns showed increases after inclosure. Even there, however, there were falls in population after later consolidations. (fn. 44)
An examination of the land-tax assessments for 40 parishes, during the period 1781 to 1831, gives some indication of the extent of consolidation and depopulation. (fn. 45) In the first place, it shows that there was a decline during this period of about one-eighth in the number of farms. The decline was not universal. It was fairly evenly distributed between north and south, but in half the parishes there was no noticeable decline at all. In six parishes there was even a small increase in the number of farms. The decline was least marked in the parishes lying on the Clay and Coral Rag soils, most marked among those on the chalk. Parishes with no recent inclosure, for example Milston, suffered almost as much as those with new inclosures. Further, the reduction usually took several decades to become noticeable or serious. Large farms are seen to have increased at the expense of small and medium-sized ones. Secondly, a far greater change took place in the number of owners of land, whether free- or life-holders. In the south the reduction was as much as a third. In the north an increase was recorded. (fn. 46) The greatest decline came in parishes without parliamentary inclosure or in parishes inclosed before 1781. Once more it was the largest proprietor who gained at the expense of all other proprietors. Thirdly, many of these owners who were disappearing had occupied their own land, yet between 1781 and 1801 there was a substantial increase in the amount of land in owner-occupation (about a 60 per cent. increase, to a total of 20 per cent. owneroccupied). In the next 30 years there was stability. Again the experience of individual parishes was varied. In sixteen there was an increase, in eleven a decrease, and in the remainder practically no change in 50 years. Most of the gain in owner-occupation came in the small family farms of the north, although there was some gain in the south as well, chiefly as a result of proprietors taking land in hand. Lastly, the number of people interested in the land either as proprietors or tenants declined over the 50 years by as much as a fifth. The last 30 years accounted for most of the decline.
These changes were far from cataclysmic. No automatic decline in farms or smallholders took place as a result of inclosure. Indeed, many of the changes were independent of inclosure. Much the same could be said of the effect of inclosure upon population, and a study of the same 40 parishes has been made to measure this. (fn. 47) Three facts are obvious. First, in 34 parishes there was a clear rise in population between 1801 and 1831. In only 2 of the remaining 6 were there inclosures to account for the fall—one in 1781 well before the starting date of the present study, and the other in 1860 well after its closing date. Secondly, while crude population figures moved almost uniformly, figures for males employed in agriculture decreased in fourteen areas. A substantial rise occurred in only 9 parishes. In the remainder the fluctuations are small. If the changes in male agricultural labour are related to inclosure, only in 2 parishes out of the 11 where inclosure took place during the period, namely in Somerford Keynes and Stratford sub Castle, does the decline seem to be related to inclosure. In several other cases— Aldbourne, Alderbury, and Wilcot are examples—decline might have followed inclosure by a decade or more. At Biddestone decline started before inclosure. Lastly, in practically all parishes occupied houses increased during the period, irrespective of inclosure. In the two exceptions, there had been an inclosure at Fovant in 1792, but in the other, Collingbourne Ducis, there had been none in modern times.
Population evidence, however, is rather difficult to interpret correctly, particularly for males employed in agriculture—the category which it is most necessary to consider when reviewing the amount of depopulation caused by inclosure. So many other factors could affect the level of population that the singling out of inclosure or of any other one factor, even when there is a note appended to the census returns to indicate contemporary opinion in the matter, could produce 'evidence' for almost anything. Thus, the Poor Laws were often mentioned as the reason for rising population, as at Boyton and Corton, Downton and West Lavington in 1831, yet they operated in almost exactly the same way in inclosed and uninclosed parishes. Large-scale emigration might be caused by inclosure pressure, but the emigration was often noticed 40 or more years after inclosure (Longbridge Deverill 1831, West Knoyle 1851, Knook 1871). General agricultural depression (Bishop's Cannings 1851), scarcity of agricultural employment (Berwick St. James, Donhead St. Andrew, Winterbourne Stoke 1871), demolition of houses (Little Cheverell 1851 and 1871, Erlestoke 1871), incorporation of small farms (Edington 1851), the use of steam power and machinery in agriculture (Kingston Deverill 1871,) all were causes for a fall in population too general and too late in time to be associated with the inclosure movement. Prosperity or depression in wool, the shutting down of ironworks or other manufactories in otherwise agricultural parishes, the building of canals or railways (too numerous to single out), adventitious occurrences like the 'discovery' of saline springs at Melksham in 1813 (see below, p. 388), all served to cut across purely agricultural influences upon population.
When one looks at the changes in agricultural technique which took place after the main inclosure period the same regional pattern emerges. Agricultural progress is most noticeable in the chalk lands of the south where the biggest changes took place during the inclosure period. Where changes were least during the inclosure period, in the Cheese Country, there too least development occurred in agricultural technique. It is not for nothing that sheep and corn are the most readily remembered of the agricultural products of the county, or that the bacon and cheese of the north were quickly passed over by most agricultural writers of the 18th century. It was only after the fall in corn prices, caused by pressure from overseas producers, in the last quarter of the 19th century, at a time when demand for bacon and dairy products was rising, that the two regions of the county became more equal in prosperity.
As has already been said in the previous chapter, sheep and corn were the great products of the south, and for much of the period now under review they were inseparable. The common breed of sheep changed quickly. (fn. 48) The pure Wiltshire horned sheep rapidly died out during the wars, when an attempt was made to increase its weight. It was bred with longer legs, (fn. 49) higher and heavier in the forequarters, with underpart free of wool, altogether 'a more handsome animal'. (fn. 50) But the new Wiltshire type needed better keep than ordinary downland could provide. It allowed coarse grasses to overgrow the finer grasses, and this tended to reduce the number of sheep such pasture could carry. It was not hardy enough to walk far for its food and return to the fold. In fact, the purpose of the sheep, which was to dung and tread corn land, was inconsistent with the need of fattening sheep to stand still as much as possible. The new Wiltshire was also liable to the goggles and, although after 25 years the disease abated, the breed was discredited as being incapable of living economically in its existing habitat. George III experimented with imported Merino rams, another horned sheep, in an attempt to save the Wiltshire by improving its fleece. The rams were distributed through the Bath and West Society. They were, however, ill-adapted for cold hilly situations, the lambs being born at least a month too early, (fn. 51) but they had their defenders in the Pewsey Vale. (fn. 52) In the thirties Merinos and their crosses disappeared from the show lists of the Wiltshire Agricultural Society, (fn. 53) and by 1844 there was reported to be no Merino blood left in Wiltshire. (fn. 54) The Wiltshire sheep predeceased the Merino, its intended saviour; the last flock was disbanded in 1819, and by 1828 even its individual representatives were nearly extinct.
The Southdowns and their Leicester crosses, (fn. 55) which took the place of the Wiltshires, lasted only about 60 years themselves, and illustrate the subordinate yet essential posi tion of the sheep in the economy of the south. They are reputed to have been introduced into the county from Sussex by a Mr. Mighell of Kennett in 1789, although a Mr. Rickwood of Longbridge Deverill also laid claim to having done this. (fn. 56) Five years later Davis reported that there were 15,000 Southdowns, and that they were increasing rapidly. They were low and had light forequarters, but good backs and hindquarters, which grew plenty of fine wool, better than that of the Wiltshires, which was mainly used for a second cloth. (fn. 57) It was claimed that 300 Southdowns could feed where only 200 Wiltshires fed, (fn. 58) that there were more lambs, that the Southdowns were good mothers, and that, even if the old ewes sold for less at Smithfield, the wethers sold for 1d. a pound more. However, the Southdown wool too began to deteriorate in the twenties, when breeders concentrated upon size in the face of declining wool prices. (fn. 59) Attention now turned to producing lambs which could fatten early, and the Hampshires were found to answer this purpose best. In 1849 the catalogue of the Wiltshire Agricultural Society showed only Southdowns, but by 1855 Hampshire Downs were recorded and in 1857 ruled alone. (fn. 60) Yet Wiltshire breeders of Hampshires had been commended as early as 1844 at the Southampton show of the Royal Agricultural Society. In the sixties Hampshires were the most important breed in south Wiltshire. (fn. 61) Their lambs were sold to Midland farmers, and their three-year ewes to breeders of early lambs. (fn. 62) The older Southdowns declined until on the death of W. Sainsbury of West Lavington in 1884 the last flock was dispersed. (fn. 63) In spite of their popularity, however, the Hampshires were expensive sheep to keep since they were not grass sheep, but hurdle sheep eating roots and other special crops.
Breeds of sheep thus changed quite rapidly as different subsidiary requirements arose. Carcass, wool, and early-lamb qualities, however, were not as important as the permanent requirement of the down farmer for folding qualities. Yet even here the emphasis changed, and folding became less important in the economy of the southern farmer. The system did not change a great deal immediately after inclosure except for the disappearance of the common ram and common stubble grazing. (fn. 64) The private down and unsown fields were open to the private flocks in summer and autumn, but at night the flocks continued to be folded upon the next year's arable fields, and fed with tares or other green food. When dung was available it was put out in a long strawy state and trodden in. Flocks were culled for the best wether lambs, which were then fattened on rape, and sold at Weyhill fair in Hampshire at the end of September. Culled ewes were sold into Somerset to feed on the marshes. The worst wether lambs were kept for store and put out with ewe lambs to winter on low ground. Here they were fed either with hay from racks placed on the ground or with turnips. Frequently this meant wintering some in the north of the county or in adjoining counties, where winter food was more easily obtained. Meanwhile, the rams were admitted to the remaining ewes in late September or early October. By the end of March, when all the ewes had weaned the new season's lambs, they were in time for the best of the watermeadows.
The water-meadows would have been in preparation since autumn when a 'drowner' would 'right up a pitch', mending ditches trampled by cattle, &c., in readiness for the first floods after Michaelmas, which brought with them silt from the hills and roads. By Lady Day 20 acres would be ready for 400 couples, the grass being mid-leg high, and would carry them 25 days until the end of April. They were then shut for hay and occasionally watered as the season required. A good meadow of 20 acres could be cut twice to produce 40 tons of hay, and the aftermath would be fed off till Michaelmas by cattle and horses, getting the former into good condition for stall feeding and the butcher. (fn. 65) The early use of water-meadows in Wiltshire has already been discussed. (fn. 66) They were probably brought to their greatest perfection in the late 1820's. (fn. 67) When Davis wrote, their value was considered 'almost incalculable', but clearly if other means could be found to provide winter forage their importance would decline. They were expensive to make (£3 to £20 an acre depending on the type of meadow, number of hatches, &c.) and maintain (5s. to 7s. 6d. an acre a year); in scarcity conditions they were worth about £3 an acre a year. The best meadow, the 'long grass meadow', was a mere 2½ acres at Orcheston St. George, constructed almost entirely on broken flints. Although this meadow failed sometimes in low summers, it fetched as much as 5 guineas for the tithe of the hay crop alone.
Estimates of the extent of water-meadows during the period range from between 15,000 to 20,000 acres. (fn. 68) They were constantly being remade and extended until there were few streams in the south without one. (fn. 69) Yet in the thirties and forties farms without water-meadows could also carry breeding flocks, and those with water-meadows could somewhat diversify the use made of them. This reduction in the relative importance of water-meadows was made possible chiefly by the introduction of Italian rye-grass to give an early bite, and partly by increased sowings of swedes and turnips. (fn. 70) A number of changes in the economy then occurred. First came a big increase in the number of sheep. (fn. 71) Britton thought that there were just under half a million sheep on Salisbury Plain and the Marlborough Downs at the turn of the century, possibly a somewhat lower number than there had been 50 years earlier (fn. 72) owing to the deterioration of the old Wiltshire breed. There may have been a further fall at the end of the 1820's (fn. 73) due to severe outbreaks of sheep rot, but in 1844 Little estimated that the sheep population had doubled since 1811. (fn. 74) Youatt, however, estimated nearly 600,000 in downland in 1840, (fn. 75) and the highest recorded total for the whole of Wiltshire, that in 1869, was only a little over 800,000. (fn. 76) The estimates of both Britton and Little were probably somewhat high, for certainly sheep increased after the 1840's, and, allowing 100,000 for the pasture country of the north, (fn. 77) this increase on downland probably numbered another 100,000. These numbers are not impossibly large, for on a 1,000-acre farm with 400 acres of downland 1,300 sheep or more could easily be clipped, and only three men and a couple of boys would be needed to look after them. (fn. 78)
The second change was connected with the reduced demand for horse corn after the coming of the railways. (fn. 79) Less attention had to be paid to oats and beans, and more could be devoted to green crops. This was especially true of heavy white land and sands. Even so Wiltshire grew fewer turnips and swedes than other counties because of her water-meadows. (fn. 80) From this change in cultivation came the increase in numbers of sheep, and also a change for the better in winter feed. In many cases either the ewe lambs were no longer sent away to grass districts, or else the wethers and barren ewes were fattened at home. (fn. 81)
A third change followed the rise in the numbers of sheep—more acres could be manured and broken up for corn. (fn. 82) This is the very reverse of what happened in the Napoleonic period, when downland had been broken up to improve the pasture to satisfy the particular tastes of the new Wiltshire sheep. (fn. 83)
The fourth change was in the use made of some water-meadows, particularly near Salisbury and up the Wylye valley, where dairy stock were now grazed. (fn. 84) This remedied one result of inclosure: the 'rage for fine sheep' had driven out the rather inferior cows from the old commons. Draught oxen were also superseded except where pasture was better, as for instance around Warminster. (fn. 85) Apart from milk for the house, what dairying there was tended to be sub-let to wholesalers or retailers of milk and butter, rather than carried out by the farmers themselves. This was as true of the end of the 19th century as when Davis wrote. (fn. 86)
The tillage for which the sheep provided dung changed too in the 60 years between the Napoleonic Wars and the depression of the seventies. Besides this, at all times within this period, rotations and management systems varied greatly throughout the county. Even in the days of Arthur Young (1778) rotations as separated in conception and result as the alternate cropping of wheat and turnips on newly broken down, the commonfield system of summer fallow, wheat, barley, and oats, and the rotation of turnip, wheat, barley, oats, clover, and two-year rye-grass, could be found. (fn. 87) The surveyor of the Savernake estates in 1867 suggested that even at so late a date the Wiltshire system was 'not by any means well defined and seems to vary much according to the whim and inclination of the farmer—mainly in the direction of a six or seven course rotation'. (fn. 88) Be that as it may, by the mid-nineteenth century some patterns had been established to solve the problem raised by the post-inclosure freedom to adapt traditional ideas to the different soils, and by the drive to break in new downland. (fn. 89)
On flint and chalk loams, that is, on most of the southern hillsides and the flatter parts which were thinnest and weakest, barley and turnips did best, and the ordinary Norfolk four-course was used. On light flinty soils, the ordinary loam or downland, the coming of bone fertilizer made a great difference. Instead of crops of corn raised until, according to one expression, 'an old corn would not produce a new one', and then laid down 'to rest', more regular cultivation was possible. This was a longer course— extra grass or rape being added to the Norfolk course. On heavy white lands, often on the level tops of hills where turnips grew with difficulty, a modified three-course was employed in which wheat and green crops predominated. The sandlands along the edges of the downs varied from a four-course on the poorer sands, through wheat and seed barley and green crops on the more loamy, to wheat every other year and a green crop, altered as much as possible, on the deepest and richest. Where land was cloversick, a six-, seven- or eight-course was adopted, introducing in a double rotation an additional root or other green crop in place of the second clover. Where land was turniptired, the turnip was replaced by rape or mangold-wurzel.
Cultivations were often even more flexible than these typical systems suggest. Most farms contained some 'up-and-down' land which was only ploughed in good years. (fn. 90) Spring-sown wheat, never liked on the higher and lighter soils because of its tendency to blight and because its roots were exposed by March winds, (fn. 91) fell off heavily when prices were low, but was sometimes used to increase the acreage under wheat when prices were favourable. (fn. 92) In bad years the grassland would not be laid down to sainfoin but 'let down' to natural pasture. (fn. 93)
This flexibility could be seriously hampered where restrictive leases were common. Throughout the county some stewards argued that farming leases should be simple, with enough definition to protect the landlord, and not, as was the general case, crowded with provisions. Much would depend on the proportion of grass and arable, the situation of the farm, and its quality and condition. No two farms could be expected to be managed exactly alike. These stewards tended to enter such notes in the valuations as that such and such a farm should always have 50 of its 600 acres in sainfoin, and that the rest should be employed at the discretion of the tenant; or their leases would carry some general clause only, to prevent the breaking up of ancient (i.e. older than ten years) pasture without consent. (fn. 94) Other stewards closely defined what farming operations were allowed, very much in the style of the old manorial courts, even setting days of the year when certain operations should start or finish. Meadows, for instance, were not to be mowed twice in one year, except to lay roads, nor later than 1 August. Sheep were not to be fed on the ground except at night fold. Only lambs and sheep were to feed grass after 1 January of the last term. A certain number of sheep only were to be kept in summer or in winter. Servants were to be all local men. Heavy penalties of £40 an acre were stipulated for some infringements. Services, such as the carriage of seven loads of coal from pits in Gloucestershire or wharves on the upper Thames at one week's notice—but excluding hay-time or harvest—could also seriously interfere with desirable flexibility. (fn. 95) Much, of course, depended upon the liberal or strict interpretation of such conditions, and even the strictest of leases would not prevent clever evasion. (fn. 96)
Two things worked to break down restrictions where they existed: the gradual disappearance of the long-term lease, and the coming of tenant right. When Davis first wrote, 14 years was the most popular term for leases, with variations of 7 and 21 years. Already, under the influence of Lord Pembroke at Wilton, these terms were being changed to multiples of 4 and 3, up to 12 years, to fit in with three- or four-course rotations. (fn. 97) This was still an advance upon copyhold, although the disappearance of copyhold was slow, and some landowners preferred as a matter of policy to maintain a certain proportion of copyholders on each manor. (fn. 98) The force making for the end of leases for lives, or long leases, was the general uncertainty about prices and taxes. (fn. 99) While such leases were still common in the late 1820's, (fn. 100) the bad years which followed ('the alteration of the times') tended to put them out of fashion since leases 'appear only to be binding on landlords'. (fn. 101) Yet many landlords gave abatements and had to cope with unilateral termination of leases by farmers. (fn. 102) However, the uncertainty was real. By 1849 in one area there was only a single 21-year lease, and only a few of more than eight years; most were yearly tenancies. (fn. 103) By the end of the period written agreements on a yearly basis were almost universal. (fn. 104)
The impulse towards long-term improvement on the part of the farmer suffered without the guarantee of enjoyment which a long lease could give. (fn. 105) The improvement of downland by artificial manures and by 'the great inclination to feed corn to stock', although it extended very rapidly in the 1840's, would have gone on faster if there had been a greater willingness on the part of landowners to grant longer leases or better tenures. The best farmers preferred to follow a man who had farmed high to the end of his stay, even if this meant a higher rent. But farming opinion was against compulsory tenant right and compensation, and for the landlord's right 'to do what they please with their own'. (fn. 106) Absolute tenant right to unexhausted improvements only became a substitute for long leases at the very end of the period. (fn. 107) Its voluntary basis was the longestablished payment of the incoming tenant to the outgoing for the tillages, which tended to favour the 'coming on' tenant. Nothing had been allowed for improvement or a higher-than-usual state of permanent pasture. (fn. 108) Gradually compensation for cake, corn, or turnips, fed in the last year or two, began to be arranged between incoming and outgoing tenants themselves, and this spread to agreements in leases for such, and other payments to be made to the outgoing tenant by the landlord. (fn. 109) The latter no longer had either the unearned income arising from increased rent on land which had been high-farmed until the end of the tenancy, or the fear of a run-down farm on which he would have to pay allowances to a new tenant. The land and all concerned received the benefit of maintained productivity.
If the contractual encouragement for improvement was small, why did the improvements which everyone noticed occur ? The major factor was the enterprise of individual Wiltshiremen: some of their stories will be given later (see below, p. 84). The minor, but still immensely important, factor was the Tithe Commutation Act (1836). A local witness before the 1817 Select Committee on the Poor Laws argued that the chief hindrances to the cultivation of extra or waste lands 'proceed from the tithe system, and the taxes that affect the cultivation; the acreable taxes are the same on the poor land as on the rich land. The acreable expense of cultivation is probably higher on an acre of poor arable land . . . than upon the good arable land.' (fn. 110) (The expense might be as much as 36s. an acre just to break up the turf. (fn. 111) ) The Act, which established the cash equivalent of a tenth of the produce of the land as then farmed, and commuted it into an annual rent charge, removed the brake upon activity. Looking back, E. P. Squarey, of the firm of Rawlence & Squarey, land agents, insisted that next to the Inclosure Acts, commutation did most to raise production. (fn. 112) No longer was the ten-sheaf stock the feature of every cornfield, nor the quarrels between tithe-owner and farmer an annual event. (fn. 113) It is true that in many areas advantage had been taken of provisions in Inclosure Acts for the much earlier commutation of tithes, (fn. 114) but the effect of the general Act upon production was startling. Production in 1833 was reckoned to be no more than it had been 20 years earlier, (fn. 115) but in 1867 Squarey thought production had probably increased by 40 to 45 per cent. over 60 years, (fn. 116) so most of the increase must have come since the Act. Yields were less important than the additional acreage in accounting for this. Yields had only risen from 20 to 26 bushels between 1770 and 1850, (fn. 117) an estimate backed by Squarey's insistence that on strong wheatlands the mode of cultivation was as perfect 60 years before as it was in 1867, and that yields had not improved. (fn. 118)
The great problem had been to break in new downland. Davis had recognized that burnbaking could have very different results on different soils. On 'red land' (fn. 119) tillage could be continued after the first quick crops had exhausted the stored fertility of the downs. On 'black land' (fn. 120) the land would not be good even for grass after a few crops. In fact, results generally achieved were poor, (fn. 121) and Davis did not view the breaking up of downland with favour, arguing that the soils were usually too thin, and that, in any case, by depriving sheep, the mainspring of the southern economy, of their natural pastures, farmers were in danger of undermining their whole system. (fn. 122) We have seen how the latter objection was generally overcome—by the use of Italian rye-grass and green crops. The other objection was surmounted by better techniques and the use of artificial manures.
Burnbaking by itself continued to produce 'only an apology for a crop'. (fn. 123) Great skill was needed if breaking up downland was to be rewarding. In Davis's time the soil of the downs had been too much pulverized, and its texture too much loosened by repeated ploughings, bare fallowing, and the mere burning of turf and rubbish from lanes. (fn. 124) As the century moved on, consolidation was made easier by the enlarged flocks, and by the addition of various fertilizers. Indeed, the old name of burnbaking really covered an almost new process. (fn. 125) The area was still ploughed or half-ploughed (raftered), and then harrowed to allow the couch-grass and turf to be raked into heaps. Half to 1 ton of wheat straw an acre was added to the heaps, and the whole was fired, earth being shovelled on in great quantities. When the ashes were cold they provided good potash and were scattered and ploughed in. What was new was the additions to the potash. Bones (16 bushels to the acre) or yard manure were sometimes added, although the difficulty of carting manure up to the hills, (fn. 126) and the scarcity of cattle, often made this addition unavailable. Coal ashes, woollen rags, and soot were more traditional additions. (fn. 127) The improved process was introduced to the south of the county from the north in the early 1840's, when stall manures and bones were becoming more plentiful. (fn. 128) It came too late for the nitrate of soda vogue, but later guano and fertilizers made on the larger farms were also used as improving additions. (fn. 129)
From time to time commentators paused in praising this expansion of corn, and asked whether the specialization had not gone too far. (fn. 130) Over 30 per cent. of the county was under corn in 1870, (fn. 131) a very high proportion in view of the flocks of the south and the pastures of the north. When depression came in the 1870's, south Wiltshire was as hard hit as any part of East Anglia, although earlier if less severe crises had given warning. (fn. 132) It was argued that such a concentration upon corn was unsuited to the nature of the soil. (fn. 133) What was the pride of the south was also its greatest fault.
The north of the county is much more varied geologically than the south. (fn. 134) While arable and sheep-farming were carried on rather as in the south, especially in the northeast, the bulk of the north was given over to pasture. Around Cricklade Cobbett saw 'some of the very finest pasture in all England'. Malmesbury and Swindon he also singled out. (fn. 135) Later commentators echo him, and describe the Chippenham-MelkshamTrowbridge area as one 'where the largest oxen may be fattened'. (fn. 136)
The arable represented a shrinking area during the 19th century. Marshall had estimated (fn. 137) that even then two-thirds was in old pasture, and only a quarter in arable, mainly in the north-west and on the gravel where corn could be grown nearly every year. But first dairying and later cattle- and sheep-grazing began to drive out arable, a process hastened by inclosure. (fn. 138) As in the south, successful growing of corn depended largely upon sheep, and, in addition, upon drainage. The six-course rotation followed in the neighbourhood of Hullavington and Grittleton won Davis's praise because it met the needs of sheep folding. Nevertheless, the arable could have been reduced by cutting down on oats—which would have been quite possible with the consequential saving in plough horses—and the land given over to more cattle to supplement the sheep. Where there was insufficient animal dung, either from folding or from stall feeding, poor turnips were produced. The sheep then produced poor clover, and the economy suffered generally. (fn. 139) The tendency was to neglect the feeding of pastures in favour of the corn, and pastures did best where there was little or no arable to compete for manure. (fn. 140) On the other hand, the attempt to carry more sheep to provide more dung, even on clay which sheep tended to consolidate too much, was impracticable. (fn. 141) By the mid-century the arable in the north was not in such good shape as in the south. (fn. 142)
There need not, however, have been this inferiority. Cattle and hogs between them offered a prodigious source of dung. Yet cattle at the outset of the period were never confined in winter, and men carried straw to them on their backs; cattle huddled behind hedges for shelter, and urine and droppings fell unprofitably. (fn. 143) Soot, soap, and coal ashes, and town manures, where obtainable, were inadequate substitutes. The lack of arable made straw scarce, and leases were framed to prevent its sale. (fn. 144) Thus, in Davis's time, a field could expect straw manure once in eight or ten years. (fn. 145) The trouble lay in the insufficiency of buildings and the scarcity of covered courtyards. (fn. 146) Not until the middle of the century did feeding hay in stalls between November and April become common, nor yard manure surpass that made in the south. Too often it was misused, being thrown upon the land in a half-rotten state instead of being converted properly; many farmers regarded cattle, as distinct from dairy animals, as unprofitable, forgetting their indirect value. (fn. 147) Even sheep produced poorer manure than in the south, (fn. 148) and water-meadows could not help, for in the north there was only one, at Somerford. (fn. 149) Yet where proper buildings were provided, the production of dung increased significantly. On one farm, for instance, pasture, which used to get 300 loads, then received 576, to its vast improvement. (fn. 150)
To shorten the effective span of winter, bring forward the harvest, and generally increase efficiency, better drainage was needed—a need not shared by the south. Every commentator complained of slow progress. Some farmers attempted to avoid the problem by laying wet fields down to pasture, which could not be done with success on clay. (fn. 151) By the mid-19th century 'large amounts' of drainage had been done, but the lower lands were still greatly in need of draining. Until the making of tiles had been developed, turf or 'bush and stubble' drainage, which needed frequent renewal, was generally used in areas without stone, as at Steeple Ashton, for instance. A great deal of money was spent ineffectively, (fn. 152) for the science of draining was not far advanced. Moreover, wasted effort sometimes occurred because landlords allowed farmers tiles, and then left them to find the labour and decide upon the placing of the drains. (fn. 153) Works in the second half of the century were better managed, as they were often carried out under the supervision of an Improvement Commissioner. (fn. 154)
Terms of leases were no more generous in the north than in the south. At the time of Arthur Young, leases were rare and only for 3 to 5 years: 'a system which can only do where there are no expensive improvements to work, or where the landlord is at the whole expense of such.' (fn. 155) In Davis's time there were some leases of 14 or 21 years, (fn. 156) but not many leases continued into the second half of the century. By far the most were on yearly terms. The amount of rent to be paid in uncertain times was sometimes regulated by 'corn rents' in leases. Little mentions a scale based on the rent charge published annually by the Tithe Commissioners. (fn. 157) In the south in 1852 Lord Pembroke put upon a permanent basis arrangements sometimes made in individual cases, using an index of butchers' meat, barley, and wheat. (fn. 158) This was in the face of the 1847–52 depression, which threw many farms into hand in the north, (fn. 159) and which Squarey described as almost as acute as that which came at the end of the century. (fn. 160) Sir Michael Hicks Beach fixed rents on an index which added wool, butter, and cheese. (fn. 161) These measures introduced an element of security into the gamble of the longer lease and regularized rent abatements in time of distress.
The dairy was the chief concern of the north; the fattening of cattle, sheep, and pigs was ancilliary to it. There are several good accounts of the management of cheese, but every farmer's wife seemed to have had her own practice. (fn. 162) Marshall, who gives one of the classic accounts, states that 'at present the art [of cheese making] is evidently destitute of principle'. (fn. 163) Perhaps as a consequence, at the beginning of the period the North Wiltshire loaf cheese was less than a quarter of the total made, and the bulk of the product was sold as single or double Gloucester. (fn. 164) By the mid-century, Wiltshire cheese was no longer an imitation, but as good as the real Gloucester, (fn. 165) and when English cheese began to suffer from American competition, the best qualities of Wiltshire cheese were unaffected. (fn. 166) However, dairymen being farmers, they thought it proper 'to bear their share in the general grumbling', as had been said in an earlier crisis. (fn. 167)
The soft thin cheeses were generally made in the early spring and sent weekly to London. Others were kept until early autumn to mature, and were then sent to Reading Fair, young cheeses by land, old cheeses by water. The broad thick cheese was made later, matured longer, and only sent off the following spring. Only the largest dairies at first made winter cheese, and this produce was sent away in the autumn along with the spring make. This cheese was painted red to disguise its white scurfy coat, but other cheeses were allowed their own blue mould coats. All cheeses, however, were dyed with 'annotta' to give them an appearance of bees-wax, and to satisfy public taste in such matters. (fn. 168) The dye was still made in Chippenham about 1870. (fn. 169) At the turn of the century Marshall estimated an annual product of 5,000 tons of cheese, (fn. 170) and by the mid-19th century 400 tons passed through Chippenham market alone in some weeks. (fn. 171) Since yields per cow seemed to be fairly steady throughout the period at between 3½ to 5 cwt. a cow a year, yields an acre probably increased. In addition there might be a pound of whey butter after calving in March and April when the full-milk cheese was being made, or rather more of best butter in the winter, the time of the skim-milk cheeses. (fn. 172)
One of the chief factors in raising output was the change in the kind of cow pastured. Just as the breeed of sheep changed to meet different requirements in the south, so did the breed of cow in the north. Dairies of up to 100 cows (though some were as large as 200) were assembled in spring from Highworth, a centre for Staffordshire and other Midland stock. Davis estimated that nine-tenths of the farmers had these north-country long-horns. Others were raised from Midland bulls. (fn. 173) Later, when early fattening of cattle became more important, Devonshires gained in favour. (fn. 174) What stock-raising there was, tended to decline still further with the breaking up of common land and the extension of dairying. On inferior grasses there was some cross-breeding of Gloucesters and Herefords. (fn. 175) Finally, Ayrshires and Suffolks predominated among pedigree cattle for the dairy. (fn. 176)
The richest grazing was normally reserved for fattening cattle. (fn. 177) Originally the Midland cows were bought in calf; the calves were suckled and sent at 6 or 8 weeks as quarters, wrapped in damp cloths in hampers, to the London market. (fn. 178) Plough oxen were also fattened, taking as long as 18 months to prepare for the market. (fn. 179) Latter-day enthusiasts for the ox used to point out its remarkable economy, and swore it was worth more when fattened than it had first cost, despite its years of employment. As a beast of burden, however, it died out, for it was slow and needed a lot of attention. (fn. 180) These two types of fattening converged as the century continued. Herefords and Devons became rarer, and the fattening was concentrated in the Thames and Avon valleys upon heifers from neighbouring dairies. (fn. 181)
The other adjunct to the dairy was the pig. Young estimated that one sow was kept for every 20 cows. The usual kind was the long-eared Wiltshire-white, crossed with a black African, which was fattened up to 30 score. In summer pigs were fed on whey and corn, and in winter on potatoes and corn. (fn. 182) Here too the type changed. The Berkshire spotted pig, like the Leicester crossed sheep, came to be reared in the south and fattened in the north—that is, those not sold as stores to labourers, an important market. (fn. 183) It would be wrong, however, to believe from these changes that the modern dairyman was as alive to the possibilities of improvement as the sheep- and corn-farmer of the south. (fn. 184)
So far attention has been centred upon farming systems in the north and south, without comment upon either farmers or farm labourers. First, then, let us consider the unknown men who worked the systems already described. Jefferies described Hodge (fn. 185) in all his ways and days, but supporting details are hard to come by. So much of what was written about him was tendentious, serving some ulterior cause. Generalizations too are difficult. (fn. 186) Yet they must be made.
A passage written in 1867 conveys the true impression:
There can be no doubt that the county of Wiltshire, when compared with other counties, occupies a far less important position than it did some time (say a century) ago. The woollen cloth and silk manufactures were formerly actively carried on; these manufactures are now conducted on a far less extensive scale . . . but while the change has been going on, no new manufactures, except the railway work at Swindon, have been started in Wiltshire to give employment to those thus thrown out of work, and the surplus population has had to look to agriculture alone for their livelihood. . . . [Thus] the labour market in Wiltshire has of late years been, and is now, overstocked and . . . the wages in that county have consequently been low. (fn. 187)
In both north and south most men were paid by the day even if hired for a prolonged period. Wages were higher in summer than in the winter, (fn. 188) because of seasonal press of work. They were also higher in the north than the south, (fn. 189) for despite the fact that cheese needs less labour than the constant preparation of land for crops, (fn. 190) there were more family farms in the north and more industrial employment. Specialists like carters and shepherds received about 2s. a week more than ordinary workers. (fn. 191) Extras, in the form of a cottage, potato land, cheap bacon, or a cow, were added to the nominal wage of many married men. (fn. 192) A woman working in the fields was paid about three-fifths of a man's wage. (fn. 193) Boys were paid according to their strength and efficiency. (fn. 194) This then was the general structure of wage payments. It contained wide variations of family income: in 1843 the range was estimated to be between 8s. and 18s. a week. (fn. 195) Seasonal work could add 20 per cent. to the ordinary rate if averaged over a year. (fn. 196) These things must be remembered when reading accounts of hardship. Conditions were bad in Wiltshire but not intolerable. If comparison is made with other areas, the comparison is nearly always to the disadvantage of Wiltshire. (fn. 197) A carpenter, mason, or thatcher was paid during most of the year at about the same rate as a farm worker at harvest. (fn. 198) As a navigator or railway surface labourer, the former agricultural labourer might earn three or four times as much, or more if tunnelling. Against this higher wage must be set the hutted camp-life, tommy shops, and the money dissipation of boom conditions. (fn. 199) As a factory worker the premium would be less, and when the higher cost of living is taken into account, real wages might be little higher than those received by the agricultural labourer. (fn. 200) The agricultural worker was, however, the lowest-paid worker in the county.
The structure of wages can be examined in more detail. The winter rate in the south can be taken as the reference point for all other wages and its movement is reflected in all other rates. In 1770 it was 5s. a week. (fn. 201) In 1794 the rate had risen to 6s. (the summer rate rose earlier) or even 7s. (fn. 202) By 1804 the rate was 8s. and by 1814 12s. (fn. 203) This marks the end of the first phase. War had doubled the normal day rates. Then came a sharp decline. Wages, which in 1785 had bought the equivalent of fourteen loaves, would buy only nine loaves 30 years later. (fn. 204) By 1817 the wage rate was 7s. to 8s. 'and I believe at this moment if I were to reduce my labourers to 5s. a week they would not leave me; they could not get work'. (fn. 205) They fell further by 1823, rose a little to 8s. in 1825, and fell back to 7s. in 1828. (fn. 206) Thus, wages in 1823 were lower than in 1794 when Davis wrote. Cobbett called the Wiltshire labourer 'the worst used . . . on the face of the earth'. (fn. 207) The second phase, which began about 1815, ended in the 1830 riots and a forced rise of 2s. (fn. 208) The 1830 riots are noteworthy more for their general and concerted action than for their uniqueness. Rioting, or 'riotous assemblies', were the traditional method of raising wages or lowering the price of staple foods. (fn. 209) By 1833 prices of household goods were reported to have fallen 'materially' and wages were higher than 10 years before, but it appeared doubtful whether the farm worker was more contented. (fn. 210) By 1844 the rate had dropped to 7s. (fn. 211) Caird in 1850 reported that one village (probably South Damerham or Martin) had 'the lowest rate we met with in England' (6s.), but the general rate was still 7s. Wages were, in fact, little above what they had been in Arthur Young's time. (fn. 212) The mid-19th century saw the end of the third period—a period of stagnation. The last phase was one of gently rising wages. A few years after Caird was writing, local papers were reporting that about 150 to 200 men were going from farm to farm 'quietly stating their determination to get the advance' to 9s. (fn. 213) In the late fifties and sixties they were successful in raising wages to 10s., although it was rather less for older men. (fn. 214) Yet dissatisfaction remained—more dissatisfaction 'than in any other county I visited' as one observer said. (fn. 215)
There is some suggestion that more labour was employed for social reasons than was strictly necessary for economical farming. (fn. 216) But there are also suggestions which point in the opposite direction. Southbroom, for instance, in the 1834 Poor Law inquiry, reports that employers never hesitated to discharge a man, because from the existing excess of labour they could supply his place at any time. (fn. 217) The problem of labour supply and demand was that at certain times of the year work was very heavy. To make sure that there would be enough labour for harvest, &c., more people were required to look to agriculture for their livelihood than were needed during most of the rest of the year. To diminish the effects of this a combination of solutions was adopted.
Attempts were made to provide out-of-season work on the farm for the surplus labour. In the south there was little to absorb labour in this way once waste land had been cultivated, although, as was pointed out, 'he must be a bad farmer who could not find something advantageous for his labour to do'. (fn. 218) In the north, on the other hand, the drainage work which could occupy the men was often not being done. (fn. 219) The pasture areas provided the seasonal labour for the south, maintaining a reservoir and to some extent subsidizing the south. (fn. 220) For the south could offer a man 40 to 50 acres to cut in summer, and drew him from the north, which could offer only 10 to 12 acres. He returned to the north for the winter to parish relief, or possibly drainage work, (fn. 221) which was often carried out as public relief work rather than as a necessary farming practice.
Another way of providing stable employment conditions was to mechanize as much as possible of the summer work, reducing the exceptional demand, and so releasing labour completely from agriculture. It was not until the sixties, however, that much was done in this direction, but in a generation a revolution took place. Good mowing machines, self-delivery reapers, hay elevators, loaders, hay turners, and side rakes joined the existing horse rake, hay tedder, and small collector. (fn. 222) The reduced demand for labour showed itself in boys and girls going out to work later in life. In 1867 the age was nine (earlier than in most areas in England) (fn. 223) instead of seven or eight as it had been in 1843. (fn. 224) Women, too, from being universally expected to earn an income when married, were 'less disposed to work than formerly' in 1867. (fn. 225) The cry of Cobbett 'how can boys and men live if women and girls are out of work' (fn. 226) was answered by the improvement in wages due to mechanization and a smaller working force. Steam-plough engine men, for instance, drew 18s. to 21s. a week. (fn. 227)
Another possible solution was to get more work out of men during the seasonal pressure. The usual incentive was piece-work and unlimited drink. The drink was a recognized perquisite, but whereas it was available, if rationed, all the year round in the north, it was provided in the south only at hay time and harvest. (fn. 228) Work would begin at 3 o'clock in the morning and continue, with a break during the mid-day heat, until 8 o'clock at night. (fn. 229) Women, too, would lease (glean) from 2 a.m. to 7 p.m. (fn. 230) People, however thirsty or avaricious, could work no harder.
Sometimes surplus labour was encouraged to be self-employed in the off-season. When domestic manufacturing was more general, plaiting, spinning, or lace-making might provide this employment, (fn. 231) but it is interesting to note that even factories were known to close for the harvest. (fn. 232) As industry became more specialized neither town workmen nor even their sons were highly regarded as potential farm labour. (fn. 233) The provision of allotments for men to work and supplement their earnings developed. The Marquess of Lansdowne enjoyed a reputation for starting allotments. His experiment at Bowood in 1812, undertaken to relieve the distress caused by bad trade, resulted by 1835 in fifteen allotments over his estates, covering 600 acres. They ranged in rent from £3 12s. an acre for sandy soils suitable for early vegetables, to £1 19s. 9d. for Oxford Clay. Commercial rents were clearly expected. (fn. 234) The best land normally was found in villages, so allotments naturally were carved out of best land. (fn. 235) There are not many other examples before the thirties; Bishop's Cannings had nineteen quarter-acre plots and thirteen half-acre plots. Within five years three of these allotment holders had graduated to larger holdings, and only two had failed to make them pay. (fn. 236) After 1830 the system rapidly developed. It was found that few disturbances took place where allotments existed, that rates could be reduced, and that an appetite for land, starved since inclosure, could be satisfied. (fn. 237) Most holdings were small (not too much or 'you make him a little gardener instead of a labourer'), (fn. 238) but in some places men past regular work would be given 2 acres to keep them off the parish. (fn. 239) A ¼ acre would produce 20 cwt. of potatoes—enough to feed a family and fatten a few pigs. (fn. 240) It was estimated that pig-keeping yielded 6d. a week, and the pig was sold, not eaten. (fn. 241) By the end of the thirties Wiltshire had allotments 'to a greater extent than any other county', (fn. 242) and by the late sixties there were plenty. (fn. 243) Parallel movements, the adding of separate portions to cottages where no garden existed before, (fn. 244) and the parish farm to relieve unemployment, (fn. 245) were not so popular. Most schemes made receipt of relief a disqualification for an allotment. (fn. 246)
The last solution of the problem of seasonal labour was the one most usually employed—parish relief. Even in Young's day the poor rate might be as much as a quarter of the rent of a farm, (fn. 247) and in 1814 there were many parishes in the south where there was not a single labourer's family not on the poor rate. (fn. 248) The situation throughout the century was bad in Wiltshire; indeed, for many years after 1838 Wiltshire was the worst county in England. (fn. 249) In 1846–7 one-sixth of the total population was relieved, and as late as 1869 over £130,000 was spent on relief. (fn. 250) Relief was an integral part of family income as long as wages were deficient. This can be seen from the case of Jane Long, wife of a farm labourer: 'We had a little parish relief when our children were quite young [i.e. when the wife could not go out to earn] but none since the eldest boy went out [i.e. when he was seven years old].' (fn. 251)
Persistently low wages had varied effects on agriculture. Single men were usually the first to be turned off work in winter and this put a premium upon matrimony. Young men of seventeen or eighteen tended to marry girls of fifteen to avoid unemployment, or to get adequate parish relief. (fn. 252) Secondly, to avoid making a settlement, hiring for a year became less common. (fn. 253) Except for amusement, hiring fairs became rare. (fn. 254) In 1819 only one, at Cricklade, functioned as such. (fn. 255) Yet when a hiring fair was established at Chippenham through the enthusiasm of a Lothian man (fn. 256) in the late fifties, it covered an area from Avebury to Faringdon (Berks.) in the east, to Stroud (Glos.) in the north, and drew employers from Bath, Bedminster (Bristol), and Tetbury (Glos.). It was stopped by public protest on the grounds of 'immorality', and of its suggestion of a slave market, although apparently it had a useful function. (fn. 257) With the decline in long hiring went the decline in 'living in', although in 1867 boarding boys by the year was 'still practised to a considerable extent'. (fn. 258)
Low wages made many calls upon individual charity. These included an attempt by some landlords to subsidize hand manufacture of textiles, (fn. 259) a public appeal by the magistrates to reduce consumption of food so that prices might come down, (fn. 260) permission for leasing even before the corn was taken in (fn. 261) (which, in years when the corn was over-ripe, encouraged surreptitious threshing by shaking of sheaves), (fn. 262) remission of tithes by clergy, (fn. 263) large-scale disbursements of coal, meat, corn, clothes, and blankets, (fn. 264) and the part-financing of unsound savings clubs and friendly societies. (fn. 265) Lastly, emigration was stimulated to reduce population. Most people went of their own accord, but there are many examples of organized parties. (fn. 266) In 1830 William Tanner, a Lockeridge (West Overton) farmer, took 50 men with him to Australia. (fn. 267) Lacock sent a large party to Canada in 1832 with £240 borrowed from four local farmers. (fn. 268) Purton, with the aid of the local Poor Law Guardians and Poor Law Commissioners, sent parties to Canada in 1837 and 1844, made up from those who had been on the parish for a year and had lived there for three years. (fn. 269)
The story of Hodge in 19th-century Wiltshire is not a happy one. Ireland was not the only place in the British Isles where the potato prevented a population from starving. (fn. 270) There were, however, during this period a number of men, besides those already mentioned, who stand out as exceptions to a picture of general conservatism and decline, and who merit special mention as individual improvers.
Possibly the most important among these men were the inventors and makers of agricultural machinery, and foremost among these was T. P. Reeves of Bratton (d. 1848), the founder of the firm of agricultural engineers. (fn. 271) From the beginning of the 19th century this firm did much to improve the implements used by Wiltshire farmers, especially by introducing the lighter one-wheel plough. (fn. 272) By the mid-century the twowheel plough was used on flints only, where it was steadier, (fn. 273) although it came back into favour when it too was made lighter. (fn. 274) The firm helped to bring out a range of equipment unknown at the time when Davis was writing. (fn. 275) Another Wiltshireman interested in improving the plough was J. Fowler who was born in Melksham in 1826. He experimented first with a drainage plough and later invented a steam plough. (fn. 276) A drill for corn, not unlike the modern one, was invented in 1789 by Moses Boorn of Barford, near Downton. (fn. 277) It was not, however, very successful. Britton, (fn. 278) writing at the beginning of the 19th century, reports the use of drills with great success, but late in the twenties corn was still mostly sown broadcast by hand. (fn. 279) Beans were sometimes dibbled, or sometimes a drill plough was used. There were also seed machines for turnip and clover. By the mid-19th century drills were universally used with artificial manures, but not on heavy land covered with yard manure, nor with beans. (fn. 280) Drills were often hired out by men who kept five or ten machines, and even some of the larger farmers preferred to hire. (fn. 281)
The threshing machine attracted the attention of several improvers. J. Trowbridge, of Amesbury (d. 1823), invented the 'Amesbury Heaver', a winnowing machine, (fn. 282) which was still used when Little was writing. (fn. 283) A Mr. Rider, a small farmer near Westbury, is said to have invented in 1829 the portable threshing machine which became the object of attacks by the rioters. (fn. 284) Farmers were said sometimes to have destroyed their machines publicly, (fn. 285) and in 1833 there was reputed to be not one where there had formerly been a hundred. (fn. 286) A travelling threshing machine was invented by a Mr. Cambridge of Market Lavington in the early forties, (fn. 287) and although successful this did not attract hostile attentions. His machine and others like it became common about the farms.
Next to be considered is a remarkable group of men who installed steam ploughs and attempted to bring mechanical techniques to farming. J. A. Williams, of Baydon, was perhaps one of the earliest users of the steam plough, and he is said to have squared his hedges, enlarged his fields, removed gores, filled in seventeen chalk pits, and excavated three field tanks to enable his engines to manœuvre. (fn. 288) Mr. Middleditch, of Blunsdon, near Swindon, spent large sums in attempts to grow corn continuously on the same land. By 1875 he had 600 acres of arable all in corn, and 100 acres of pasture. He had spent £70 an acre buying the land and another £20 an acre (borrowed from the Lands Improvement Company) on drainage and adaptation. In the process he grubbed up 11 miles of hedgerow (which would have met with the approval of Caird, who declared that north Wiltshire had too many hedgerows), (fn. 289) and created one field of 240 acres, another of 150 acres, and two of 50 acres. (fn. 290) All these he cultivated by steam plough, and, indeed, he well might have been Jefferies's 'man of progress'. (fn. 291) G. Pocock of Bourton, near Shrivenham, was another pioneer of steam cultivation. It was not until 1866 that the double plough was used with horses in Wiltshire. (fn. 292) In 1859 Pocock purchased a 10 h.p. Fowler engine, an anchorage, and a three-furrow plough. He ploughed four-horse land several inches deeper than had been possible before. (fn. 293) E. Rush, of Castle Hill Farm, Eisey, near Cricklade, was a mechanically minded farmer and an early user of the steam plough. (fn. 294) In 1859 he purchased a 14 h.p. engine and sold seven four-ox teams. Operations, he found, cost only a third of what they had done previously, despite high wages and costly fuel. He had 5 miles of fences pulled down and 36 fields reduced to nine. A hundred men came from Cricklade to cut his corn, although he used machinery extensively at the critical times of the year. (fn. 295) Wiltshire probably had at least a fair share of farmers with capital, (fn. 296) and Squarey thought there were more steam ploughs in Wiltshire than in any other county. (fn. 297) Their 'superior excellence' in deep ploughing is said to have raised yields of grain by 8 bushels an acre. (fn. 298)
There were also a number of farmers deserving special mention as breeders of highgrade stock. Such a one was T. Ferris, of Manningford, who bred sheep. He is said to have been the first man in the county to farm over 2,000 acres. (fn. 299) Stephen Mills, of Elston, near Shrewton, also farmed on a large scale and owned almost 5,000 acres. On his death in 1858, 4,180 prize Southdown breeding sheep were auctioned at one of the biggest sheep auctions ever to have been held in the south of England. (fn. 300) He also employed much labour on the improvement of waste lands. (fn. 301) Mention must also be made of J. White of Zeals, the owner of a large herd of Herefords, (fn. 302) J. D. Willis who founded the Bapton herd of Shorthorns in about 1854, (fn. 303) and W. Hewer, of Sevenhampton, a noted breeder of pigs. (fn. 304) Without such men the general level of stock in the county would not have been so high as it was.
Wiltshire had a number of notable farming families in the 19th century. Here two dynasties are singled out for brief mention. Probably the most remarkable was the Stratton family. During the Napoleonic Wars they were small dairy farmers. The then head of the family offered his landlord £1 an acre for downland. He then broke it up, sold the produce at high prices, invested the proceeds in the funds and sold the investment at great profit when peace raised the funds to par. In 1828 he bought a large arable farm in the Pewsey Vale, and his stock fetched prices 'the fame of which lasted for at least a generation'. When his two sons were 25 years old he provided them with enough capital to start farming on their own. (fn. 305) The eldest, Richard, became a noted Shorthorn breeder at Calcut Farm, Cricklade. (fn. 306) His fortune was assured in 1838 when he bought 'Phoenix' and raised a herd of well-shaped, instead of big-limbed, heifers. (fn. 307) 'Moss Rose' from this herd had won 6 gold medals before 1872. (fn. 308) William, a son of this Richard, became first chairman of the Cattle Diseases Committee of the Central Chamber of Agriculture, and in 1879 was a member of the Royal Commission on Agricultural Distress. (fn. 309) Another branch of the family at Broad Hinton grew corn on an extensive scale during the Napoleonic Wars, and is reputed to have introduced the first mowing machine, the first steam threshing machine, and the first steam plough brought to Wiltshire. (fn. 310)
George Brown was the head of another large farming family flourishing in the mid-19th century. (fn. 311) There was a tradition that it was almost possible to walk from Horton, near Devizes, to Wantage, in Berkshire, on ground belonging to some member of this family. George Brown was one of the pioneers in a movement to grow flax in the Amesbury area, and organized a sufficient guaranteed acreage to open a flax factory in 1847. The factory was burnt down in 1861, but by then the crop had exhausted the soil too much to be commercially successful. The same George was chairman of the North Wilts. Agricultural Protection Society; a nephew became head of the agricultural engineering firm of Brown & May at Devizes, (fn. 312) and another member of the family farming at Burderop and Baydon was a pioneer of steam ploughing. (fn. 313)
The names of Rawlence and Squarey occur frequently in the agricultural reports of local newspapers of the mid-19th century. R. Rawlence, of Heale Farm, near Salisbury, was a breeder and frequent prize winner of sheep, and in 1852 was a founder of the firm of Rawlence & Squarey, land agents. He took Bulbridge, one of the Earl of Pembroke's prize farms, in 1854 and became a consulting agent to the earl. He continued to farm high until his death in 1894. (fn. 314) E. P. Squarey (d. 1911), of Teffont and Odstock, studied under Rawlence and farmed on a big scale. In 1860 he became an original director of the Land Loan and Enfranchisement Company, lending money on security of rent charge to improving landlords. His other services to the community were in connexion with the Wilts. and Dorset Bank, the Board of the Small Farmers' and Labourers' Land Company, and the Surveyors' Institution, of which he was a founder. (fn. 315)
These men, breeders, innovators, and successful farmers, represent the outstanding men in Wiltshire agriculture in the 19th century. There were, of course, others, but only a few of their names are recorded. A Mr. Crook of Tytherton and a Mr. Gale of Stert are mentioned by Davis as experimenters with steamed potatoes instead of corn as fodder for oxen. (fn. 316) H. J. Marshall, farming about a hundred years later at Poulton, near Cricklade, was a noted drainer whose work on laying down land to permanent pasture was reported to the Royal Agricultural Society in 1875. (fn. 317)
To this account of some of the outstanding men in Wiltshire farming must be added some mention of the societies which were dedicated to the same spirit of improvement. Mostly they grew from local clubs and only gradually, if at all, covered a larger area. The first after the Bath and West of England Society was perhaps the South-west Wiltshire Farming Society, which started with a trial of ploughs in 1811 at Market Lavington. (fn. 318) Close behind it was the Wiltshire Society for the Encouragement of Agriculture and the Rewarding of Faithful and Industrious Servants in Husbandry (1813), which held ploughing matches at Upavon, Devizes, Lavington, and Marlborough. (fn. 319) These matches and shows did much to raise standards by competition and exhibition. (fn. 320) How long these societies lasted is hard to tell. In 1841 the South Wiltshire and Warminster Farmers' Club debated the employment of women to tread soil to repel wireworms, the relative merits of broadcasting and drilling, and the current rumours that landlords were coming to expect too much from farmers. An interesting example of collective action comes from this club when it considered raising a subscription of one pound from each member for the purchase of machines at the Liverpool Show of the Royal Agricultural Society, and thus safely test machines, which if impracticable would have been a big loss to any one member. (fn. 321) An agricultural society for the north, among family farmers, was slow in coming, perhaps because of the nearness of the Bath and West Society. A North Wiltshire Agricultural Protection Society existed between 1844 and 1852, (fn. 322) and in 1850 the Chippenham Hundred Club was founded by a small group of gentlemen after a rent dinner. In its early years it was largely inspired by J. Neeld, member for Chippenham, and his agent Mr. T. C. Scott. (fn. 323)
Some clubs had a limited interest. For instance, a Wiltshire Mutual Sheep Association was founded in 1862 at Devizes, to combat 'the new disease' of smallpox. (fn. 324) A South Wiltshire Chamber of Agriculture sprang from the East Knoyle Farmers' Club in 1871. (fn. 325) A second society to represent the whole county was not formed until 1885, after the first Wiltshire Agricultural Society petered out in 1860. (fn. 326)
At the back of the farmers stood the landlords. Three estates in particular will be used to illustrate three different types of landlord—those of the earls of Suffolk and Berkshire, who drew back when the cost of improvement seemed too great, those of the marquesses of Ailesbury, whose misfortunes at a critical time prevented necessary action, and those of the earls of Pembroke, who reacted perfectly to the needs of the times.
In 1809 there appeared a handbill giving particulars of certain farms and lands situated in Wiltshire, the property of the Earl of Suffolk and Berkshire, 'now to be let to husbandmen from the more improved counties of Great Britain and in particular from Scotland and Northumberland . . . with a view to improve the agriculture of the country'. The area in the north-west being advertised was stated to be near canals and market-towns, inclosed with hawthorn hedges, and well watered. The roads were not good—they could not have been worse than those in parts of the south of the county (fn. 327) — but would be repaired. There were situations where water-powered threshing machines could be erected, and others where wind-machines could be used. The farms at the time the handbill was printed were small dairy farms, mostly with old pasture. Few were more than half arable, and the rest had 'seldom more than one-fifth part under the plough'. The rent was less by 20s. an acre than would be reserved on similar land in Scotland. A 21-year lease, at under double what was then paid by tenants holding from year to year, would be granted to improve the 'miserable houses and roads', and the farming, which was 'the most unprofitable system of management imaginable'. There were to be no restrictions in the leases except during the last three years. The landlord was to bear the expense of remaking roads, erecting buildings and fences, and supplying the threshing machines; the tenant was to pay no interest (another departure from usual practice), but would have to repair the capital equipment. The landlord was to advance money for drainage and the expense of digging and burning lime. The tenant was to pay only 5 per cent. on these outlays. The landlord would pay taxes and poor rates up to a certain maximum—an unusual practice—and above that maximum the cost would be shared. (fn. 328)
The terms have been set out in some detail to show what a thorough-going revolution was intended. Here, 50 years before his time, was a landlord prepared to go to great expense to convert pasture to arable—on terms more reminiscent of complete reclamation (as on the Braydon estate of the Duchy of Lancaster in 1805) (fn. 329) than on land already occupied. The terms also demonstrate why Scottish farmers were so disliked by local farmers, for the terms are exceptionally generous. (fn. 330) Six farms in Charlton and three in Hankerton were quickly taken up on these terms, although only one obvious Scottish name appeared on the lists. There were no takers for farms in Brokenborough and Brinkworth, but one-sixth of the estate had been relet. (fn. 331)
Inspection of the Land Tax assessment in the years which immediately followed this scheme reveals no significant change in tenants' names from those in 1808, (fn. 332) the rent rolls were not significantly larger, (fn. 333) and by the time of tithe commutation (the first time acreages of crops can be checked is 1841) the land was still predominantly pasture. (fn. 334) A bold attempt had failed. A note in Loudon's Encyclopaedia provides the reason. The earl in his enthusiasm had set the scheme in motion, but his family so alarmed him at the consequences of destroying old turf that he bought up the leases of the new farmers almost as soon as they had been granted. (fn. 335) Was it not also possible that insufficient men came forward to make the large-scale works worth while, particularly in the face of local dispossessions ?
In this case there was lack of conviction. In the case of the Savernake estate, of the marquesses of Ailesbury, there was a lack of capital. This estate was engaged in building a large new hall at Tottenham Park after the Napoleonic Wars with the inflated income of the period. (fn. 336) In the early thirties the estate was found to be in financial difficulties and trustees were appointed to administer it. In July 1832 Lord Ailesbury agreed that in order to reduce expenditure and increase revenue the land tax should be left on the rents of farms, and no more farm buildings were to be touched than was necessary to keep the estate tenantable. Repairs were to be kept to £3,000 a year. (fn. 337) In 1839 the steward was instructed to examine farm homesteads and cottages annually to determine the proper amount of estate timber to be felled each season for repair. The remainder of the timber was to be sold at public auction, 'as adopted on other great estates', to reduce the amount of peculation by estate officials. (fn. 338) The steward reported that too many of the repairs had been done in the past with unseasoned weather-boarding, not a durable material at the best of times, but rendered even less so by the ad hoc nature of the repairs authorized. A stock of seasoned timber was to be built up for use in future years. (fn. 339) In 1840 farms were being leased for eight or twelve years so that tenants could repair their own buildings, and some of the sitting tenants who were unable to do this were given notice to quit. (fn. 340) By 1844 tenants were reported to be leaving because of damage to crops caused by preserved hares. (fn. 341) In 1849, £700 was allowed to tenants for this reason. (fn. 342) Tenants could not face 'the pressure of the times' while their landlord failed to help them. (fn. 343)
It was decided to rebuild insanitary and overcrowded cottages on the estate at the rate of £1,000 a year, using slate from Portmadoc (brought via Bristol and the wharf at Burbage), which had been demonstrated to be cheaper than thatch on the Pembroke estates. Thatch was to be retained on the ornamental cottages near the drives of the property. (fn. 344) In 1845 it was sadly reported that £5,000 a year would have been allowed for repairs in 1833 instead of £3,000, had it been realized that most of the expenditure was only going to buildings and farms where they were likely to be seen. (fn. 345) In 1867 an independent valuation was made, and the results of the confusion and inefficiency of the past 40 years were laid bare. Buildings were insufficient and of bad construction— bad bricks, made on the estate, bad estate mortar, and careless workmanship had been employed. Most of the barns were three times too large and situated in the villages instead of higher up the hillsides in the fields themselves, and there were insufficient cattle sheds. Buildings had been reconstructed and patched up where they stood, rather than replaced on sites which took more account of changed farming practices and needs. Was it any wonder that with all the natural advantages tenants on the second largest (fn. 346) estate in Wiltshire should be bad farmers, the good ones having gone elsewhere, (fn. 347) and that rents should have increased by less than a quarter after 1820 ? (fn. 348) Most of that increase had been since the estate had transferred the land tax and had borrowed £13,000 from the Improvement Commissioners to provide the capital of which the estate had been starved. (fn. 349)
The last example was the largest estate in Wiltshire (fn. 350) —the Pembroke lands controlled from Wilton House. The administration of this estate during the century shows clearly what could be done when an adequate supply of capital was ensured. As early as 1807 rents were being raised to persuade farmers to change their systems of farming so that they could pay the new rents. (fn. 351) It was not surprising that many new men came in, bringing reserves of capital. (fn. 352) Although they might expect to make 10 per cent. on capital, (fn. 353) they could also pay high rents out of capital in bad years. (fn. 354) In 1814 rents had nearly doubled and £7,000 of capital was needed by a farmer for 1,000 acres, half of which were arable. (fn. 355) Much the same was needed throughout the rest of the period. (fn. 356) Farm and estate capital went hand in hand. To assist in the process of modernization, large sums were paid by the estate towards the expenses of inclosures. In 1815, for instance, nearly £1,350 was paid in respect of inclosures chiefly at Barford St. Martin and Grovely, and the expenses of these inclosures were still being incurred long after the inclosure actually took place. (fn. 357) As the result of such an inclosure, rents at West Overton were raised immediately from £655 10s. to £915 17s. 6d. (fn. 358) The increased rents were then available for improving the cottages and buildings. (fn. 359) It was not for nothing that Pembroke cottages were singled out for commendation. (fn. 360) Although much was spent on repairs to existing buildings, large sums were also spent in building anew at more suitable sites, higher up the strip zones, as the cultivation of downland was taken in hand. (fn. 361) Blocks of hard chalk, (fn. 362) or cob, served in places such as the district east of Warminster where there were no bricks or building lime. (fn. 363) Tenants' capital also helped the landlord. When threshing machines became general, barns were less necessary, the corn being stacked in the open, and proprietors thus spent less on the upkeep of barns. (fn. 364) Regular allowances for depression were made until 1851, but then the allowance was made for manures. In 1858 the allowance was limited to 10 per cent. of rent. (fn. 365) This was a positive incentive instead of a negative security payment. The effect of the 1846 Drainage Act on these estates can be easily seen. From 1847 improvement expenditure started on a big scale with drainings at Fovant. In 1848 there was grubbing of roots at Grovely and tile drains at Dinton. Next year there was draining at Netherhampton, the planting of quicksets, thorn, and the improvement of grasses. And so it continued—withy beds at Bulbridge, hatches at Broad Chalke, new roads from Wishford. One interesting feature of this work was the amount of planting (fn. 366) —often neglected in favour of keeping land for corn (fn. 367) since the enthusiasms of the late 18th century— although mainly as wind breaks. By 1870 the mortgage payments on rent income were £7,219, but rents had gone up more than £12,000, and the land, the estate, and the tenants were in good heart. (fn. 368)
Plain farmers are supposed to react strongly against innovations, and their men to be fearful for the harm that might come to them. Nineteenth-century farming with its expanding markets, its rapidly increasing store of technical knowledge and resources, its prestige and returns that brought in new men of enterprise, or caused others to spring from the ranks of their fellows, constantly responded to the challenge for improvement. In Wiltshire, however, the results by 1870 were disappointing because of the large amount of conservatism that remained. They were also vulnerable, especially in the south, in the face of the challenge presented by changed market conditions, and they were marred by the poverty of ordinary Wiltshiremen and their homes. That much the same might be said of other counties is no consolation for a vision only half fulfilled.