The Welney Website
Farming in Welney
page created Jan 2006, amended/updated Wednesday, 05 August 2015
In the "Old Days" - 1880 to 1980This page describes some of the main changes in farming in this small part of the fens during the period covered - who owned and who farmed the lands, which crops were grown, what livestock reared, and the tools and implements used.
It would need a book to tell the story in full; here is just a glimpse of farming life in Welney, using mostly local photographs and reminiscences.
The picture at top right shows what many of us will think of as a typical farming scene of the past, the first part of land cultivation with a large powerfull
'draught' horse pulling a manually controlled plough. The first ploughs ('plows' in medieval England and modern America) were wooden, later with
iron edges, then completely of iron, but by 1880 they would have been of steel like the single furrow one on the right. This would have been used by a
smallholder with just a few acres in late Victorian times (and probably up the 1950s in some cases).
Larger farmers would have typically used a 3 furrow plough drawn by a team of four to six horses or maybe a six furrow plough hauled by steam powered machinery (as shown further down this page) until internal combustion farm tractors were introduced in the 1920s and 930s.
The fertile arable land would have been used to grow wheat, beans and root crops such as potatoes and mangles, and the pastures in the Ouse washes provided good summer grazing for cattle and sheep.
For older site visitors, especially those with a rural background, do you recognise any of these items? This quiz was published in a Cambridgeshire Times farming review in 1973.
Answers at bottom of page
In East Anglia generally the largest landowners at the start of this period were the Church of England; The Crown; Cambridge colleges; aristocracy;
yeoman farmers; successors of the 'adventurers' (venture capitalists in todays jargon) who financed the draining of the fens; the authorities
that maintained the drainage; private landowners large and small; and charities.
However, that does not seem to be the case in Welney. In 1880 the parish of Welney was split almost evenly between the counties of Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, which makes research a little complicated, but the census of 1881 give an indication of the farmers at that time, but not necessarily whether they were owners or tenants. Kelly's directory of 1883 listed the largest landowners as three members of the Beart family; James Morton of Welney House; William Little (mostly at 100 Foot Bank); and James Failes at Lakes End. The William Marshall Charity owned 440 acres rented out in 18 lots to the highest bidder. Earlier records (1850s) show the predominant landowners to be the Townleys, with the Huddlestones also substantial owners. (See the Church pages for more on those).
In 1890 the Government recognised the difficulty for working class people to buy land and the shortage of holdings to rent at a reasonable price, and appointed a Select Committee to inquire into the creation of [more] 'small holdings'. The subsequent report led to the passing of the Small Holdings Act in 1892 which aimed to provide land for labourers and encourage them to become small-holders (ie small farmers) so raising their status and slowing down migration from country to towns. Throughout much of England implementation of the act was slow, and a further act was passed in 1906.
In Norfolk, the Norfolk Small Holders Association (NSHA) was set up with private finance and bought three farms totally about 330 acres in 1900 which was rented out in small lots of up to 1 to 5 acres, but the County Council (NCC) was rathy tardy and didn't make its first purchase until 1904, a 90-acre farm at nearby Nordelph, and only then following a petition organised by NSHA. It was not until February 1910 that land was acquired in our area when the NCC bought White Hall Farm at Tipps End (a property in the region of 400 ? acres of which nearly half was actually in the county of The Isle of Ely). That land formed what became known as the 'Welney Estate'. Norfolk CC also acquired land at Manea Fifties in the Isle of Ely, bought (I think) just after the end of WW1.
Note: The Isle of Ely was a division of Cambridgeshire until 1888 but was then separated and given County status. It remained independant until 1965 when they re-merged as 'Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely'. In 1972 the new county was merged with 'Huntingdon and Peterborough' under the single name of Cambridgeshire. The merger of these four areas had been originally proposed 25 years earlier in 1947!During the early years of the 20th century the average holding was around 15 acres (6 hectares) with 30% of the tenancy applications coming from agricultural labourers, of the rest most were from small farmers seeking more land for their sons. In 1914 only 20% of the landholdings included a house. Virtually every smallhoder would have kept livestock. Horses to haul implements and carts; at least one cow to provide dairy produce for the faimly, maybe a small herd to earn income; chickens of course, usually tended by the holder's wife, and posibly a few pigs. Many smallerholder's would have had another job, maybe labouring for a larger farmer, or as a publican, carter or blacksmith.
George Smart's steam-powered threshing engine, c1915George Smart was a son of the famous fen skater William "Turkey" Smart.
Left to right, on ground: Tom Carter, Jarman Smart, George Smart, George Cutting, Bob Gordon, Fred and Jim Carter.
Above: Ike See at wheel, Herbert James Smart (George's son, K.I.A in France 25 March 1918 whilst serving in the Army Service Corps as an engine driver), anon and Daniel "Doddy" Rudland (engine driver).
Steam traction engines like these were built from the 1850s up to about 1937 by many companies including Gibbons & Robinson, Fowlers of Leeds, Foden, Aveling & Porter, Ruston Proctor, Robey & Co, Chas. Burrell of Thetford, Garrett, Ransomes Sims & Jeffries of Ipswich, Ruston& Hornsby, and Wm.Allchin.
This one powered threshing machines (see below). Others had a drum-winch underneath and were used in pairs as ploughing engines.
photos & names above courtesy of Miss Amy Markham, OBE and Mr Tony Smart.
Threshing machine, or thrashing drum, somewhere in Welney, possibly mid-1930s?These machines were driven by a leather belt from an engine such as the one above, or by a tractor, as here. It needed a team of eight men to operate it, and more to look after the power source.
The sheaves, which would have been stacked for several months to dry out, were pitch-forked up to the top of the machine and fed into the threshing drum.
The grain poured into sacks which held 2 cwt (224lb or 102kg) and the much lighter chaff was collected separately. The straw passed out of the front of the machine on a series of mechanical ratchets called 'straw-walkers' and built into stacks. This machine was built by Marshall, Sons & Co. Ltd of Gainsborough, Lincs. Note the metal wheels on tractor and thresher.
photo above from the Welney MAP 2000 Welney Archives CD. Text © Welney Webmaster 2006.
Later note, 12th March 2010. Alan Mitchell e-mailed from Shepton Mallet in Somerset to point out that "sacks of barley were 2 cwt, but wheat was in 18 stone (252lbs, 114 kg) bags and oats 12 stone (168 lbs, 76kg). This follows from all grain being sold by the bushel and quarter which were volume weights. Grain sacks were hired – all one size – from Sack Hire companies who had bases at the Railway stations across the country. These hessian bags were designed to hold half a quarter of grain with barley being 32 stones to a quarter, wheat 36 stones and oats I think 24 stones; the oats were certainly held in 12 stone weight. This did not change until mobile weighing machine became available in the 19th century."
Threshing mustard at Cecil Mott's farm in the Littleport fens, in 1930sThreshing machines were not just for cereal crops. The machine was driven by a leather belt from the steam engine on the right
The mustard would probably have gone to Colman's in Norwich
The Mott family had (and still have) a number of farms on the east side of the Hundred Foot River with lands in both Welney and Littleport, including Dairy Houses Farm and Four Balls Farm
Carting and stacking sheaves in 1935Possibly at the Markham's NCC holding at Manea Runs.
This photo was taken in 1935, but many smallholders were still using horse drawn carts in the 1950s. After horses were retired, the carts would still be used, modified to be towed by a tractor.
Two-wheeled carts were drawn by a single horse, and 4-wheeled waggons (like the one behind the front cart in this photo, and in the ones below) would need a pair.
Move mouse pointer over picture to see different view (may take a few seconds to load, and on some computers you may have to allow "running scripts") with a very young Amy Markham in a non-farm vehicle. Was the woman in the wide brimmed hat in the first photo her mother?
photos above courtesy of Miss Amy Markham,MBE. Text © Welney Webmaster 2006
Cissie Bedford and her brother with horse drawn waggonBut where and when? If you know, please let me know.
Carts and waggons (wagons if you prefer) were often ornately decorated and sign written with owner and makers names, and many counties or regions had their own standard of sizes and construction.
I assume the Bedford's waggon was a Norfolk design. If so, I'm told it would have been cross boarded, with side panels and wooden axles, but if anyone knows differently, please e-mail. On the right, the top drawing is of a waggon from a neighbouring county, Northamptonshire, which by contrast has spindle sides, is long boarded and iron axles. and below is a Lincolnshire one, similar construction but with timber axles.
I don't know if the same applied to wheelbarrows!
photo above left from the Welney MAP 2000 Welney Archives CD. Text © Welney Webmaster 20010.
On the left is a tipping cart. The tipping mechanism is not clearly visible, but the body (or 'buck') appears to be held down by two hinged metal staples on the shafts which fit over lugs protruding from the body.
Move the mouse over the photo to to see a drawing of a tipped cart (a Suffolk tumbril). The body on this was held in position by a rod (shown removed and leaning against a wheel) which went through two fixed staples and over the protruding parts of the body.
Fordson tractor towing a reaper-binder with Len & Keith Markham at White Hall Farm in the 1950sThe tractor here is a Fordson model N, produced between 1939 and 1945. In 1940 the rear mudguards were changed to the shape in the photo below, so this is an early version.
I think it would have been a bright orange colour all over with the 'Fordson' names at the top and sides of the radiator in black.
It had a 28 hp engine and two fuel tanks. It was started using petrol, and when warm was switched over to a cheaper fuel known as "TVO" - tractor vaporising oil, a type of paraffin or kerosene.
Here it is towing a machine that cut the corn and bound it into bundles called 'sheaves'.
photo above courtesy of Miss Amy Markham, MBE. Text © Welney Webmaster 2006
Fordson Major tractor with reaper-binder, 1950sTrevor Loveday on tractor, with various Markham children by the reaper (Keith on top).
This tractor was a model E27N introduced in 1945 and was the first Fordson "Major". It had a dark blue engine, chassis and bodywork and dark orange wheels. The 'Fordson' names at top and sides of radiator were also orange. The engine and gearbox were the same as the earlier model N.
The Webmaster has fond memories of the Fordson Major. He learned to drive on one while on holiday from London aged 12 on his uncle's smallholding in Crowland, Lincs. He drove one every Easter and harvest time for the following 10 years.
photo above courtesy of Miss Amy Markham, MBE. Text © Welney Webmaster 2006
Trevor Loveday on tractor, Fred Markham on reaper, machinery as above, 1950s.The cutting and binding mechanisms on some reaper-binders were powered via a drive shaft from the tractor's rear PTO (power take off) to the reaper gearbox. Others were chain driven from a large wheel under the reaper.
If you know, please e-mail the webmaster.
The sheaves in the foreground would later have to be picked up and stood upright in small groups known as 'stooks' to dry out before being carted off to the stack yard, or rickyard. Many of these tractors would have had another PTO in the form of a drum on the right side of the gearbox used to drive threshing machines via a long leather belt, but this tractor does not appear to have one.
photo above courtesy of Miss Amy Markham, MBE. Text © Welney Webmaster 2006
Women fieldworkers, 1950s ?From the previous photos you might have thought that farming was a man's world, but women played a big role too.
This was particularly so during the two world wars when women from urban areas were recruited into the "Womens Land Army" to replace men called up to fight.
Local women, often the wives and daughters of farmers and smallholders, had of course worked on the land throughout this whole period until mechanisation took their jobs away, or they found easier and better paid work elsewhere.
Pictured here are (left to right) Blanche Markham, Elsie Gordon, Miss Trower, Hilda ? and Grace Bedford.
The baskets may look like modern-day supermarket ones but in fact the ladies were picking potatoes.
photo above from the Welney MAP 2000 Welney Archives CD. Names supplied by WASH Committee as shown in the Welney News, issue 55.
At the end of the period covered on this page, the largest landowners in our area were probably conservation
organisations. In 1964-65 the Cambridgeshire Wildlife Trust and the Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB) began
acquiring land in the Ouse Washes between Welney and Earith (now they own most of it) and in 1970 what is now
the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) established a 900 acre reserve in the Washes a mile or so north of Welney.
The rivers and embankments enclosing the Washes have been owned and controlled by regulatory bodies primarily concerned with drainage, navigation and water supply (including irrigation). For many years this was the Great Ouse River Board which became the Great Ouse River Authority in 1965 (under an act of 1963) then the Great Ouse Water Authority in 1973. (Ownership has changed again twice since then, as will be shown later on another web page). Throughout those changes the washes and river banks continued to be grazed (usually between May and November) and the RSPB actually provide stock management for over 2,000 cattle on behalf of the owners. These conservation and regulatory organisations would have owned about 80% of the Washes in 1980, the remainder being in the hands of wildfowling clubs and private owners.
Outside the washes, it is still difficult to determine land ownership. The biggest farmers on the east of the Washes included the Lees and Motts, whilst the the Headings and the Hartleys farmed much of the land to the west of our area, and the Norfolk County Council (NCC) still owned a large small-holdings estate in Tipps End. In 1980 there were I believe five main NCC tenants each with a holding of 50-60 acres and an NCC house or one of the 4 bungalows built c1958 (and several more holdings of 2 to 11 acres without a home). Few would have had any livestock.
Answers to quiz:
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