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Agricultural Improver

This page is currently being revised January 2023

Farming in England, at least until the beginning of the 18th century, is often described as being ‘subsistence’ in nature. What is usually meant by this is that farmers grew sufficient crops and raised sufficient livestock only for their own use and no more. Subsistence farmers are unable to produce a surplus for storage or sale on the open market. A moments thought reveals that this could not have been the case except possibly in the earliest century’s. From the earliest times rural areas always provided food to the towns, the tithe had to be given to the church and there was never a shortage of Court hangers on who were unproductive and had to be fed. Then there was the Navy.

Britain’s main form of defence was the Royal Navy and this consumed vast amounts of stores. In a truly subsistence economy none of these things could have been accommodated.

There are in any case degrees of subsistence: between the 7th and 14th century surviving historical sources indicate that there were severe famines, affecting the whole country, every ten years or so9. Thereafter famines appear to die out, although there are still intermittent periods of hunger not amounting to famine. What caused this improvement is hard to define but it was not due to any particular advance in agricultural technique. Even as late as the 19th century there was always a risk that the harvest would be insufficient to support the population as a whole, there were food riots in the 1790’s and the decade was to become known as the ‘hungry forties’ even before the Irish potato famine started in 1845.

This relative lack of progress in agriculture was not through choice or laziness, as until the 18th century, the means to improve production were limited. Gradually, stimulated perhaps by the spirit of the enlightenment a new rigour was introduced into British agriculture, new techniques were developed [see below] and output began to improve. This was helped by the production of manuals on improving husbandry and authors such as Tull were not afraid to use continental ideas. Nathaniel Kents highly popular ‘Hints to Gentlemen of Landed Property’ published in 1775 reflected the opinions of the author after a three year sojourn in the Netherlands.

The effect was such that “England not only produced food for a population that had doubled itself,” but “during the first part of the period became, the granary of Europe.”10 The changes that led to this dramatic were often the result of careful observation and experiment but one immediate problem for the historian is, as C S Orwin wrote, that “it is impossible to date the great changes and improvements in agricultural practice with any precision” for “Even where dates can be assigned to certain events, such as the introduction of drill husbandry or of a new crop, or the invention of a reaping-machine which worked, the time lag between the perfecting of an agricultural invention, or of a farming system, and its adoption generally by husbandmen, may extend to decades or even generations.”11 A naturally conservative group of men and women such as farmers were not given to risking their livelihoods by adopting new techniques at a rush.

The first half of the 18th century was an optimistic time in the country side and according to Rowland Prothero, Baron Ernle, it was “one of the golden ages of the peasant”. In this happy time the majority of the population, still had to produce at least a part of the food itself. As the Hammond’s put it, “the normal labourer did not depend on his wages alone. His livelihood was made up from various sources. His firing he took from the waste, he had a cow or a pig wandering on the common pasture, perhaps he raised a little crop on a strip in the common fields. He was not merely a wage earner, receiving so much money a week or a day for his labour, and buying all the necessaries of life at a shop: he received wages as a labourer, but in part he maintained himself as a producer.”

The second half of the century was less happy. The surplus of food which had enabled the population to double was now dissipated by the need to supply the armies fighting the American colonists and later the French. More food was needed and one answer to this was to inclose the open fields and commons. Inclosing the commons brought new land into cultivation but had the unfortunate effect of depriving the labourer of some of his alternative sources of food. As the 19th century began the country was massively in debt, and in the ensuing three decades, banks were to fail, the weather turned bad and summer disappeared altogether in 1816 12. Paradoxically even when the harvest was good problems arose. In 1813 a bumper crop caused a rapid collapse in the price of wheat. The farmers receipts dropped by almost a half causing financial problems for farmers who had invested heavily in bringing the new land into cultivation. Subsequent years were similar and with wheat flooding in from Ireland and Scotland the result would be the infamous Corn Law of 1815.

With the end of the Napoleonic wars an agricultural depression followed which persisted for the next two decades. During this period many landed estates were sold and it is interesting that the Rampisham estate came up for sale during this period. From 1837 onwards conditions for the landowners at least began to improve, taxation was reduced, the problem of the tithe was addressed and the cost to them of the Poor Rate was reduced.

None of this however shook the basic faith that most people had in acquiring land and for every seller of an estate there was a purchaser. Many of these were people were new to landowning as for example Lord Eldon who Martin worked for in 1821.

The acquisition of land of itself was just the beginning for land is of little value unless it can be exploited and the options for exploitation, prior to industrialisation, were limited. Until transport infrastructure such as the canals and then railways were in place there could be no mass market for any manufactured product. If you owned land, to make a profit, you had little choice but to farm it. But how? From 1793 the Board of Agriculture commissioned a series of reports on the state of agriculture in the counties together with a series of recommendations on how to improve the course of agriculture. Three reports were produced for Dorset, one in 1793 by John Claridge, another, nineteen years later, in 1812 by William Stevenson and one in 1810 which was withdrawn following objections from the local landowners. Elements from Claridge’s and Stevenson’s reports are included in what follows.

Agricultural Improver

Much of John Martins work was concerned with inclosures. In the 18th century a rising population and wars in America and against France increased the demand for food necessitating a more productive form of agriculture. As we have seen the open field system of farming required a particular type of organisation and management and it was generally believed that it could not be adapted to the new agricultural techniques being introduced. In the open field system for example cattle and sheep were often grazed together and the farmers used a bull or ram common to all. Only by inclosure and the isolation of a farmers own stock was it possible to breed animals selectively.

Without altering the course, or way, that agriculture was practised , there could be no real improvements in productivity. During the course of the 18th century the population doubled and the farming community responded was able to increase output to feed the people. By the end of the 18th century the strain was being felt but this was as much due to the pressures on farming from the continental wars as from the increase in population. Tull’s “Horse Hoe Husbandry” is an excellent example of this spirit, combining as it does reasoned argument with evidence from experiments. It was also a highly practical manual.

It is likely that Martin was probably always an improver, some of the earliest entries in the 1810 diaries suggest this. Martin probably had a copy of Tull’s work and he would almost certainly have seen the two Board of Agriculture reports. The family names of Mr Bridge, Mr Cox, Mr Pitfield, Mr Hennings and Mr Clapcott occur both in Stevenson’s report and the diaries. The latter are spread over some fifty years so it is doubtful that the men mentioned by Stevenson were necessarily the same individuals in the diaries but their families almost certainly were. How successful the Board of Agriculture report were is not known and in any case it was forced to close in 1822 because of the prevailing economic conditions. How then were the latest advances in agriculture to be disseminated? Writing in 1912 Ernle described that what was needed was “some agency which would raise the general level of farming by making the best practices of the best agriculturists common knowledge. The problem was not readily solved…To diffuse scientific and practical information among agriculturists was difficult seventy years ago. Books were expensive, and those for whom they were written were often unable to read.”24

Martin was not himself against book learning,

13th October 1827Paid Mr Penny for Loudens Agriculture £2 10s 0d

John Loudon’s life was contemporaneous with John Martin’s, having been born in 1783. He was a professional botanist and garden designer having trained at the University of Edinburgh. In 1825 he published his ‘Encyclopaedia of Agriculture’ a massive tome which ran to almost twelve hundred pages and in today’s terms cost Martin nearly £170.

The answer to Ernle’s problem was the establishment in 1838 of the Royal Agricultural Society. He waxed lyrical about its achievements, “Without exaggeration it may be said that the general standard of excellence to which fanning has attained throughout the kingdom has been to a considerable extent the work of the Royal Agricultural Society. For more than seventy years it has been the heart and brain of agriculture.”

In June 1844 John Martin was elected a member of the society which I think establishes his credentials as an agricultural improver.

The crucial first step towards improvement process, upon which all else depended, was to provide more fodder for the animals over winter. Hitherto in the average year there was only just enough hay or straw to maintain the draught animals and a small breeding stock over the winter. The rest had to be slaughtered, the meat then being salted for consumption over the winter and into the spring. By increasing winter fodder more, and better nourished animals were available to cultivate the extra land brought into cultivation by inclosure. These additional animals provided more dung and this coupled with other soil improving measures improved the output from the arable fields. Martin’s agricultural activities reflected all these various improvements and more as we will see.

The Boards of Agriculture were still driving improvement forward and Martin was looking to learn. Another example comes from the following entry,

1st – 3rd March 1810At Home“An Artificial called Lucerne The seed is about [3 a lb??] and 15 will sow an acre durable for 15 years good mown once the first year twice the second & 3 times a year after—”

It had long been recognised that to grow arable crops on the same patch of land led to a diminution in the productive capacity of the land. The traditional way to overcome this was known as three course crop rotation.25 In the fallow year no crops were grown on the land but inevitably vegetation of some sort grew up and as it was not ploughed until the next autumn it was sometimes possible to graze animals on the land after it had been harvested. Nevertheless it was seen as an unproductive year, which in many respects it was. In the 17th century a farmer, Sir Richard Weston, effectively abolished the fallow year by sowing that field with clover, this not only restored nitrogen to the ground but in time would produce a crop that could be harvested and grazed before ploughing. The three course rotation and its modification is shown below.

 Field 1Field 2Field 3
Year 1Winter Corn [Wheat]Spring Corn [Barley]Fallow [Clover]
Year 2Spring CornFallow [Clover]Winter Corn
Year 3Fallow [Clover]Winter CornSpring Corn

Lucerne was hardly a new crop, Jethro Tull had written about it26 in his Horse Hoeing Husbandry of 1731 but as Orwin pointed out the dissemination of new information was a slow business. In April there is a further reference to Lucerne but in this case it appears he was acting as an agent in buying the seed for someone else.

25th- 27thApril 1810Paid for Lucerne seed £1 Received of Mr Field for the Lucerne seed £1

However in 1838 we see him buying Clover seeds for his own land,

23rd October 1838Reced ½ Years Rent &c of Mr Bengefield for my Chilthorne Land due Michas 1838 £14 6s 10d Paid him what he paid for Clover Seeds &c as Bill £1 3s

There are no further entries for clover or lucerne in the diaries but there are several others to another legume family – the vetches. These seem to have been his preferred crop for use on the fallows in the long term,

11th May 1852Pd Mr Wm Henning for Vetches 6s
6th October 1854Went to Yeovil and purchased Six Bushels of Vetches at 12s per B of Mr Chard of Haselbury
11th October 1854IN PENCIL sold Mr Trenchard 3 sheep for £2 10s this day At Home on Various had Vetches sowed
18th October 1861Do Sow’d ½ an Acre of Vetches

Improving the provision of fodder began during the 17th century with the introduction of clover by Sir Richard Weston but perhaps the more famous man associated with agricultural improvement was Charles, 2nd Viscount Townshend. He was a politician who retired from public life in 1730 and devoted himself to farming his estate in Norfolk. He is most famous for his introduction of turnips into the course of agriculture earning him the nick name of ‘Turnip’ Townshend. By so doing he avoided a crop rotation which involved two corn crops in succession.

 Field 1Field 2Field 3Field 4
Year 1Winter CornTurnipsSpring CornClover
Year 2RootsSpring CornCloverWinter Corn
Year 3Spring CornCloverWinter CornRoots
Year 4CloverWinter CornRootsSpring Corn

So successful was this new rotation that by the late 1700’s turnips had become a staple crop throughout the country- except it seems in Dorset. Claridge in his 1793 report notes that the three course rotation, albeit with clover sown on the fallow, was still in use and recommended a swap to the four course system which included turnips. It is perhaps surprising not surprising then that the first diary entry that mentions turnips comes from 1852, quite late in Martin’s farming career,

29th May 1852Pd 12lb of Turnip Seeds 6s
16th June 1852“Pomerania Turnips” is entered on its own without any explanation in the accounts section.
16th July 1852Sowed Turnips in 9 acres

The next entries in this series raises some intriguing questions,

2nd August 1852Attending Turnip Hoeing at Westwoods
18th August 1852At Home on Various matters attendg Turnip Hoers at Westwoods Pd Jack Squibb Hoeing Turnips 14s 6d
26th August 1852Pd Women about Turnips 4s 6d
6th October 1852Pd Jack Squibb remainder for Turnip Hoeing Paid to Arthur 5s 6d

Tull had been very strong on the subject of hoeing, “the breaking or dividing the Soil by Tillage, whilst the Corn or other Plants are growing thereon.” Today we think of hoeing in connection with gardening but in his day it was done not so much to remove weeds but to improve the soil by reducing the tendency of the soil to compaction. As early as 1730 Tull had advocated the use of a horse drawn hoe but Claridge reported that “The bean crop here is always sown; never set drilled hoed or cleaned, nor is the hoe used on any crop whatever.” [My emphasis]. Stevenson noted only two farmers using the horse hoe and if the evidence from the diaries is taken into account hoeing of any sort was not in widespread use [at least in west Dorset] until the 1850’s and horse hoeing not until the 1860’s.

31st July 1861At Home & at Westwoods Began Horse Hoeing Swedes
Jethro Tull’s Horse Hoe

It would appear from Claridge that turnips were not grown in Dorset in his time. He recommends that they should be as part of the four course rotation. Nineteen years later Stevenson notes that “This kind of crop…is comparatively of late introduction in the county of Dorset.” It appears that the turnip had been introduced almost by chance when a local gentleman [unnamed] cultivated some turnips and then distributed them free to his neighbours. In 1812 “Swedish turnips have been introduced into perhaps all parts of the county, but the quantity of them which is cultivated is very trivial.” Some slight advance from the previous century was seen “it may be said that turnips are generally hoed, there are nevertheless many exceptions.”The first entry about turnips comes from 1854 when we find Martin sowing turnips for and buying a mechanical turnip cutter. The turnips were fed into a hopper and rotary blades chopped them up into pieces for feeding directly to the animals,

21st June 1854Finished the Turnip sowing
5th July 1854Pd Mr John Dunham of Bridport for a Turnip cutter £5 10s Chk W&D Dorchester

The following entry from October 1854 is of interest,

12th October 1854Pd Goldring Watching Turnips 2s

It seems that turnips were quite commonly stolen and this is the reason for him setting a watch over his turnips. Not that setting a watch necessarily worked for in 1855 a notice in the local paper read,

“EVERSHOT – TURNIP STEALING.- A barn belonging to John Martin Esq., was broken into a few nights since and a quantity of swedish turnips stolen therefrom. Mr Martin has offered a reward of £1 for the discovery of the thieves.”

He was not the only one to suffer as the same report noted the theft of turnips from his friend and neighbour; this time navvies working on the Wiltshire, Somerset and Weymouth railway were blamed,

“On Tuesday morning last two navvies were taken into custody, having been caught stealing turnips from a field of Charles Jesty, Esq., of Holywell. They were discharged with caution.”

A report in October of the same year names those responsible for the theft from Martin’s land,

“COUNTY PETTY SESSIONS – Sarah Sartin and Jane Groves were summoned for stealing turnips, the property of Mr John Martin of Evershot. The women said that they did not go out with the intention to steal, – they only picked up the turnips up [sic] as they passed through the field.- Ordered to pay the value of the turnips and the expenses amounting to 7s each – Allowed a week.”

Rural crime was not uncommon and Martin was a victim on another occasion,

11th October 1845Working a Little on Abbotsbury and on Farming works &c -some one stole two small Tubs from Marsh Orchard House [in which I fed my Cows with oil cake in] last night.

In the early 1830’s and 1840’s the turnip crop had suffered extensively from the turnip fly and although various chemical means such as ‘Downs Turnip Grower’s Friend’ were introduced, there was no effective treatment. This may be why that at the same time as he was planting swedes he had also diversified into planting swedes and manglewurzels or mangles as he calls them.

As with turnips, swedes appear in the 1852 diary,

24th June 1852Sowed 4 acres of Swedes at Westwoods

The next entry in June 1854 is interesting as it seems to refer to a mechanical drill being used to plant the swede seed. Tull had advocated drilling versus broadcast seeding as the latter was wasteful.

19th June 1854At Home & went to Ransom & Holywell Had 2 acres of Swedes drilled in 9 acres

The crop could be grazed in the field or taken up – a not inconsiderable expense in this case,

13th November 1854At Home on Various matters Rain Came attendg taking up Sweed’s [sic]
20th November 1854Attending taking up Swedes &c Paid women Swedes & Mangles 17s 8d Do Do 4s

Swedes also make an appearance in the 1861 diary and as we have seen show that they were hoed by horse.

14th June 1861[Sowed Swedes at Westwoods] Pd Labourers £ 1 7s 2d
18th July 1861Do at Westwoods about Swedes
22nd July 1861At Home & attending at Westwoods about Swedes Pd Labourers Swedes &c £2 12s
31st July 1861At Home & at Westwoods Began Horse Hoeing Swedes

Mangolds appear for the first time in 1854 and give the most complete set of entries, the entry from the 19th May refers to the work force clearing the land of couch grass. Note how Martin uses the word mangle as a verb. He appears not to have repeated the experiment for there are no entries for 1861 concerning mangles.

8th April 1854Pd Men Hauling dung &c for Mangle £1 10s
4th May 1854Went to Ransom in the forenoon & preparing Lines for setting Mangle in Afternoon
5th May 1854At Home Went to Ransom and attendg Planting Mangle in Garden
6th May 1854[Mr Fountain came as Servant] Planting Mangle in Nine Acres and settled Rent with Mr Bengefield Pd All labourers this week £1 5s
8th May 1854Attendg Nine Acres Planting Mangle ½ day rain came on
9th May 1854Do Finished Planting Mangle
19th May 1854Attendg in Nine Acres with People Couching &c
6th July 1854Attending People about the Mangle in Nine Acres & went to Ransom
11th July 1854Attendg Manglers in Nine Acres &c and Went to Ransom
12th July 1854At Home & went to Ransom Manglers worked till ¼ to Eleven when rain came on
10th November 1854At Home attending taking up Mangle
20th November 1854Attending taking up Swedes &c Paid women Swedes & Mangles 17s 8d
The Mangold Harvest 1887 held by the British Library. Public Domain licence.

If the first stage of agricultural improvement was to increase the winter feed of the animals the second was to improve the quality of the soil. Traditionally there were two ways of doing this. The first was dung.

Tull has mixed feelings about dung although he devotes a whole chapter to the stuff. On the one hand it must not be used in kitchen gardens “on account of the ill taste it gives to esculent27 roots and plants” on the other hand he recognises it as being necessary for the production of corn and makes a very interesting observation that in the country “very few Fields can have the Conveniency of a sufficient Supply of Dung, to enable them to produce half the wheat those will do near Cities, where they have Plenty of it.” This was presumably horse manure rather than from cattle or sheep but he does not distinguish the types of dung. Dung he believed “contain some Matter, which, when mixt with the Soil, ferments therein and by such Ferment dissolves crumbles, and divides the Earth very much: This is the chief, and almost only Use of Dung”. He had found from experiment that when he applied it directly to the roots of a mint plants it killed them and concluded; “this proves that it’s use is not to nourish but to dissolve the terrestrial matter”. The dissolving action led to a finer soil and thus brought the roots into closer contact with the soil thus increasing output.

The diaries contain numerous entries concerning dung none of them particularly illuminating other than to indicate the enormous effort that went into carting the stuff about,

3rd April 1821Pd Wm Miller for Dung 10s
19th February 1827David Childs and Son Wheeling Dung into my Garden and myself Pruning Bushes Paid David Childs in full of all demand 5s 6d

David Child was an agricultural labourer and in the 1841 census he and his wife have six children including a pair of fifteen year old twins. Like Martin himself.

25th January 1827John Beaten Hauling Dung
27th February 1832Hauling Dung to Ransom Land and Dined at Mr John Jennings’s with Messrs Jesty &c
10th June 1845Attending Hauling Dung and Work People about the Milk House
2nd July 1845Pd John Christopher for Dung 14s
1st April 1854At Home attendg Hauling Dung into 9 acres
3rd April 1854Attendg Hauling Dung into Nine Acres &c
8th April 1854Pd Men Hauling dung &c for Mangle £1 10s
11th April 1854Do Do at Melbury with Arthur examining Papers with Lord Ilchester Purchased Manure of John Christopher £3
31st May 1861At Home casting Dung to Westwoods bought of J Christopher
1st June 1861Went to Dorchester^ by Train still carting Dung to Westwoods
3rd June 1861IN PENCIL Cowslip to B Calve March 10th At Home – finished hauling Dung from Chris’s 20 loads £4 1 0d
17th June 1861Reced of J Chris for 13 Lambs £14 6s Pd him for Dung &c £4 16s 7d

The second method of improving the soil also had an ancient history and is mentioned by Walter of Henley in his “Dite de Hosebondrie” or book of husbandry from about 1280 AD and that is marl. The problem for the agriculturalist was that the definition and composition of marl varied, for it could be a calcium rich clay, soft rock made of marl stone or a clay rich in crushed shells. Peoples opinions also varied on the value of marling. Walter believed in it as did Fitzherbert in the 16th century but it appears to have fallen out of favour and Tull does not mention it at all. By the early 18th century the practice of marling had almost died out as farmers believed that marl was “good for the father, bad for the son.” It was down to Townshend in Norfolk to introduce the practice on his lands and in the process prove them all wrong.

Marl had three main effects, it contained calcium carbonate28, in varying quantities, which being alkaline, helped correct the tendency of soil to become acidic over time and in addition it replaced the calcium and other trace elements removed from the soil by grazing animals.29 Finally it also improved the physical structure of the soil. At some time, probably in the 17th century, farmers began to use limestone from chalk pits instead of marl from pits. At first this was principally in areas where the soil was already clay [it made little sense to add more clay to a clay soil when all you needed was the calcium] but it use then became more widespread. During the 18th century two forms of lime were used, the first was burnt lime, quite literally the chalk was burned by heating up in a kiln and the second was simply crushing and grinding the limestone into as small particles as possible. 30 As fuel was short in some parts of Scotland they landowners found by experiment that there was no advantage to burning the limestone, this was significant as burnt or quick lime was intensely caustic and crushed limestone was a lot safer to use. Despite this being known in 18th century Scotland the information had not reached Dorset where it was still being burnt.

Stevenson noted that “At Rampisham lime is made of chalk, and is possessed of the excellent quality of becoming hard under water. This lime has the quality of growing [as it is termed] under the water, by which is meant that it seems to increase at the joints and spread further than it was laid on. It is very probable that the chalk of which this is made, contains a mixture of the earth called magnesia.”

Given his close association with Rampisham it is likely that when he first uses it he bought it from the lime burners there,

27th December 1845Pd Mr Cooper for Lime 5s 5d
9th January 1852Pd Himbury for Lime 3s 9d

but later in 1852 he appears to be be engaged in making the lime himself,

17th – 20th March 1852Paid Men Ploughing Lime Burning &c £1 7s
25th March 1852At Westwoods attending Lime PitPaid Men Ploughing Lime Burning &c £1 7s

The second of April 1852 was not a good day for a variety of reasons,

2nd April 1852At home on Various matters [Took medicine] Bob Sartains Lime Burning turned out good for nothing

Nothing ventured nothing gained however for he persisted with the burning,

14th April 1852Pd Sartain Lime Kiln work 4s
1st May 1852Pd Men Lime Kiln 12s
5th May 1852Pd Men Lime Kiln work 15s

In May he seems to have given up on Bob Sartain and began to employ others,

12th May 1852Pd Wellman Lime Work 5s 4d
17th May 1852At Westwoods on Lime Kiln and Writing Letters &c
1st July 1852Pd Mr Reynolds for work turning Lime Banks £1 13s 10d

At the end of the day he had to have a new lime kiln built,

12th July 1852Pd Chedd Building Lime Kiln £7 15s 6d

and the work put into the hands of someone who seemed more professional,

11th May 1852Pd Lewis of Ransom 24 sack Lime £1 4s
26th July 1852Pd Lewis of Ransom for 14 Sacks of Lime & 6s towards burning Lime at Westwoods £1
28th September 1852Paid for two Lime Baskets 3s
7th October 1852Pd Geo Lewis on acct Lime Burning £1

Bob Sartain appears periodically throughout the diary and is worthy of mention at this stage. He first appears in 1832, and undertook many jobs for Martin. he was particularly good at hedge laying and hay ricking, but had a number of other roles often working in collaboration with others,

19th March 1832Paid Sartain for Pitching 6s
5th April 1838Paid Sartain for Hedging 15s 6d
14th April 1845Paid John Tompkins & Bob Sartain in full £2 6s 8d
2nd May 1845Pd Sartain Drawing Rick 5s

Whether or not the transfer of work away from Bob Sartain in May 1852 was relevant or not the next entry in November was when Sartain and his family entered the Beaminster Workhouse [the Union]. At the time Sartain was fifty one years old with four children between six and fifteen years of age.

10th November 1852Bob Sartain & Family went to the Union

The winter months were always the worst for a labourer as there was little work to be had. We don’t know how long the family spent in the workhouse but he reappears in Evershot in the 1854 diary and Martin employed him periodically thereafter,

14th January 1854Bob Sartain making Courtland Hedge 8s 2d
19th January 1854Pd Bob Sartain for work 10s

occasionally Sartain’s son John worked for him as well,

27th January 1854Pd Bob Sartain 14s Sartains Boy 1s
5th February 1854Pd Bob Sartain making Hedges in Three Cornered Ground & Pipers Hay sideling } over leaf
7th February 1854Bob Sartain Hedging 17s 2d
15th February 1854Pd Bob Sartain making Hedge in Piperhay 15s 7d
28th March 1854Gave Bob Sartain makg Cow Crib 1s

Oddly he does not appear in the 1861 diary although he was still in the village ; he died in 1875.

Back in 1852 meanwhile the lime burning enterprise became a success and people were soon buying lime from him,

12th November 1852Paid Mr Collins a Yrs Coal & Clothing Club due Xmas 1851 £1 Reced of Mr Collins for Lime 10s
6th February 1854Mr A Young Mr Coker for Lime & Reed £3 1s 8d chk Yeovil £1 12s 6d Reced of Farmer Brett for 30 Sacks of Lime
2nd October 1854Reced of Maria Ellis a yrs int on £70 due 23rd Sept last £3 10s Do for 30 sacks of Lime & a Calf £2 5s 6d Pd her for Ploughing Land £4 19s

Nor was this a flash in the pan for he was still burning lime some seven years later,

25th April 1861Do Hauling Lime Westwoods
30th October 1861Began Lime burning again

In 1814 a man called John Bennet Lawes was born to a farming family at Rothampstead in Hertfordshire. His father died when Lawes was eight years old and the young Lawes inherited the estate. He appears always to have been interested in agronomy and after studying chemistry at Oxford returned to his estate where he began a series of experiments on various forms of artificial manure. In 1842 he patented the worlds first artificial fertiliser – calcium superphosphate- made by treating ground animal bones with sulphuric acid. Martin always seems to be just a little late to the party for the first and only record of him using using it comes from 1861. Still it is to his credit that at 81 yrs he was still prepared to try new things.

16th October 1861Pd Mr Darmen for 6 cwt of Superphosphate £2 0s 6d

“Nothing, perhaps, has done so much indirectly for the improvement of farming and the increase of food production as has efficient land drainage.” This bold statement by Orwin may come as a surprise, after all drains generally don’t excite much interest. Of all the techniques of agricultural improvement however drainage had the longest history. Water logged land creates numerous problems. Wet ground is heavy, difficult and sometimes dangerous for animals to walk through, and almost impossible to plough with oxen or horses. Even if ploughing and sowing were possible , evaporation of water from the surface cools the underlying soil and so delays the germination, growth and eventual harvesting of corn crops. Excess water also dissolved the nutrients in the soil which were soon washed away, in the days before artificial fertilisers more dung was needed incurring more cost. In the days of open field strip farming some form of drainage was achieved by ploughing so as to form a convex shape with a central ridge and furrow either side of the strip which acted as a drainage channel.

The strips were grouped and ploughed in what were known as furlongs which were arranged so as to further aid drainage. The strips generally pointed down hill, either directly or at an angle, but as can be seen in the picture below at the ends of the strips were baulks of land used for access and all to often these trapped the run off within the furrow. Even if proper drainage ditches were provided, the fast run off took away the nutrients, organic matter and fine soil particles that supported the soil’s structure. These would accumulate in the ditch and then have to be dug out and redistributed over the strips. This type of drainage dealt with surface water but did not deal with water welling up from below.

These old strips are now pasture land. The strips comprise a central ridge from which water would be thrown off. The strips are separated from each other by furrows which acted as drainage ditches. The disadvantages of this approach are described in the text.

The first modern approach to the problem of drainage was described by Walter Blith in 1649, he advocated deep trenches three to four feet filled with elder boughs or stones and then turfed over. These trenches were ploughed across the field in a straight course to meet a properly formed outfall ditch. Since ground naturally undulated the depth of the ditch varied in relation to the surface and to ensure it drained away the declination to a properly formed outfall ditch was to be measured against a “true exact water levell”. This more or less was the system of drainage that obtained for the next two hundred years although as ever its adoption was patchy. It avoided the problem of run off as the field did not have to be shaped to effect drainage. There were some disadvantages to this system as organic matter such as elder, thorn and so on would rot away in time and if stones or slate were used soil particles would obstruct the passage of water. The next big advance was in 1843 when a gardener, John Reade, developed the porous clay pipe. So successful was this that and so important was drainage that the government established companies such as the “General Land Drainage and Improvement Company” which lent large sums of money to the landowners for drainage purposes. Whether this was why Martin embarked on his own program of drainage but it was a fairly comprehensive program of drainage. Aside from the land at Somerton that was tenanted, the only land of his that was not drained was at Chilthorne Domer.

17th January 1852Went to Coker resp draining Pd further drainage at Coker £1 11s 4d
26th January 1852Went to Coker and paid off Men draining and cutting Emmet Butts &c
11th February 1852Tom Childs draining in Yarn barton on a/ 10s
18th February 1852Went to Coker respg draining &c
23rd February 1852Tom Childs draining in Yarn Barton on a/ 10s
25th February 1852Pd Tom Child remainder for draining in Yarn Barton 15s 6d Do diging [sic] ditch Do 2s 6d
3rd March 1852Pd Trask on a/ of draining at Coker £1
9th- 10th March 1852Pd Trask remainder for draining at Coker £2 10s 0d
11th March 1852Went to Coker respg draining
15th March 1852Went to Bluntsmoor respg draining
7th February 1854Pd Trask on A/ for draining £2
23rd March 1854Pd Trask further draining £2
12th April 1854Pd Goldring draining 3s 5d
19th April 1854Pd Trask Bal of Bill for draining [Coker] £1 7s 5 ¾ d
22nd October 1861Pd Draining Westwoods £2
24th November 1861Paid Draining in Marsh Orchard 14s

All the men involved with drainage were local labourers; at Evershot Thomas Childs aged 50, at West Coker Thomas Trask aged 62 and either John or Jonathan Goldring of Rampisham aged 38 and 29 respectively.

Part of a porous clay land drain pipe found in a garden in Child Okeford. At the ‘male’ end of the pipe is the inscription ‘Child Okeford Brickworks’. Water saturated through the clay and dripped into the interior where it drained away.

Perhaps the most well known and controversial form of improvement was that arising from the introduction of machinery such as Jethro Tull’s famous seed drill. There is remarkably little in the diaries about any form of agricultural machinery. The only references come from 1861. The first relates to Peas being planted with the Gooch drill but I have been unable to find any details of this particular implement,

10th April 1861At Home attending Westwoods Drilling Peas [Gooch Drill]

This was not the first time that he had grown peas,

13th February 1832Gardening Setting Pease [sic] and Beans

in all probability he continued to grow both peas and beans but there are no further entries until 1861, when they suddenly appear again,

7th April 1861Pd drilling Peas 5s
7th March 1861Sow’d two rows of Peas Sangsters No 1
8th June 1861Do Sowed a Row of Peas [the last] [Champion of England]
24th June 1861Pd Mr Guppy for Beans £2 16s Pd Mr Caines for Peas &c £3 17s
19th August 1861Cutting Peas
29th August 1861At Home Began carrying Peas when rain came Pd men about peas 14s
30th August 1861At Home carried Peas &c

When Claridge prepared his report in 1793 he reported that,”The general practice and management of the arable lands in this county, is less attended to, than any other part of agriculture…..the idea universally prevails of planting all crops into the ground, with as few ploughings as possible.” It is not clear from Stevenson’s report that matters had changed much but Claridge had reported that the standard means of ploughing was to use four horses, two a breast, or eight oxen also yoked two a breast whereas Stevenson noted that it was done by three horses. There are several entries relating to ploughing but none are particularly interesting,

21st May 1832Paid J Frampton for Ploughing Ground 8s
28th April 1852Went to Coker and Paid for Ploughing &c [Little Man better] Pd Mr Ginge for Ploughing &c £5 18s 6d Do Mr Young £9
26thPaid Mr Young £22 and Mr Ginge £2 7s for ploughing } £24 7s

Mr Ginge and Mr Young are both mystery men. A baptismal record for Sarah Ann Ginge in West Coker 1854 gives her father as Edward, a labourer and her mother Ann. She subsequently acquires two more siblings but of her parents nothing can be found apart from this. As for Mr Young there are none listed in the 1851 census that fit the bill and by extending the search yields too many to be reliable. Tull and Claridge had both recommended repeated ploughings to get rid of weeds but as can be seen from the above it was an expensive business and probably a lot cheaper to pay workmen to dig or pick up the weeds, in this case couch grass, by hand.

18th May 1854Pd Labourers- Women and Hoskins and Boy Ploughing in 9 acres & Picking Couch £1 10s
19th May 1854At Home on Various matters Attendg in Nine Acres with People Couching &c
21st September 1854Attendg in Nine Acres people picking Couch &c
25th September 1854Attending in Nine Acres -Labourers Burning Couch &c

One person who can be reliably traced is Maria Ellis. John Beater appears in the diaries occasionally and he appears to have been a small holder in Rampisham married to Maria. Martin must have known him well and trusted him as he lent him money on one occasion,

19th December 1827Lent John Beater £6

John Beater died in 1835 at the age of 36 leaving her with three sons and a daughter. She is recorded on the Tithe Apportionment of 1839 as holding nearly four acres and is first mentioned in the diaries in her own right in 1838 where she appears to be paying down a loan that she had from Martin. At some stage between 1845 and 1852 [no marriage record can be found] she married John Ellis of West Chelborough and she moved her family to live with him. By 1854 she has reduced her loan by a small amount and seems to be providing a number of general agricultural services to him. This is the most complete record we have of his money lending role and since there is nothing for 1861 it may be assumed that she had paid off the loan.

25th September 1838Received a Yrs interest of Maria Beater due 23rd of this Month £75 4s 1 ½ d } £3 10s
23rd September 1845Reced of Maria Beater a Yrs interest of £75 4s 1 ½ d due 23rd instant £3 10s 0d Pd her for Eggs 5s 6d
14th December 1845Pd Maria Beater for Coals £1
5th October 1852Reced of Maria Ellis a Yrs interest due Sept Last £3 10s 0d Paid her for hauling ### £2 5s 0d
2nd October 1854Reced of Maria Ellis a yrs int on £70 due 23rd Sept last £3 10s Do for 30 sacks of Lime & a Calf £2 5s 6d Pd her for Ploughing Land £4 19s

Imagine for a moment that you are only allowed to go to the supermarket once a year to buy food and then imagine further that the amount of food that you can buy is determined by the weather in the weeks and days preceding you visit and that once you have bought the food, no more will be forthcoming until the next year. Each year, for the majority of the population, this was in effect the situation they faced. Every August they would have a fair idea as to whether they would survive the year. It is true that by the end of the 18th century there was generally a sufficiency of food and that some food was being imported at this time but after the collapse of the market in 1813 the introduction of the Corn Law Act in 1815 blocked off even this avenue should food be short. Martin’s comments then in August 1852 were more than a comment on the weather.

16th August 1852[A Bad Wet day for the Harvest]

A more happy entry is that from October 1854,

1st October 1854At Home Thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest

Claridge was critical of the way that corn [wheat] was grown in the county and recommended that “the growth of corn should be more attended to in Dorsetshire”. He found that “the proportion of land sown annually is not so much as it ought to be and obliges it to import from other countries”. He probably meant counties. The preoccupation with sheep farming was the probable cause of this relative neglect but nothing stands still and by the time we get to Stevenson’s report huge strides in handling the corn crop had been made particularly in the field of machinery. Quoting the report of Mr Batchelor from 1810 [which had been withdrawn] some twenty two farmers in the county were using threshing machines, many of these farmers [or their descendants] were known to Martin and some are named in the diaries. There were two types of threshing machine widely available, the first was driven by oxen or horses and the second by water.

threshing machine 1
threshing machine 2
The horses were yoked on the left and the wheat threshed on the right.

As can be imagined from the plans of these machines, these were substantial machines requiring a considerable amount of space.

threshing machine 3
Water driven threshing machine.

They were also not cheap, Mr Goodenough of Frampton [known to Martin as he is mentioned in the diary] spent over £400 on one and it required five men and two women to use it. At first sight that seems an incredible amount but surprisingly it turns out to be about £18,000 in today’s terms. Compared with much modern farm machinery not an unreasonable price. This machine was at the upper end of the market and several that he mentions cost no more than £50 [about £2500] today. It managed about twenty sacks a day. Another machine belonging to Mr Spears cost £120 and he had worked out the economics of machine threshing viz,

“Two Men £0 3 0

Four Women £0 2 8

A boy £0 0 6

Four Horses £0 12 0

The machine is supposed to work 100 days in a year, and is oiled every hour while at work. The expense of oil, repairs, interest, rest of capital &c per day’s work about,

£0 2 10

£1 1 0”

however he noted that that this was a third the price of men thrashing the same amount of wheat.

Given the capital expenditure it is perhaps not surprising that at first only a few farmers adopted these new machines and a further disincentive was that the labourers new that they were designed to do them out of a job. Threshing machines were to become one of the principal targets of the “Swing” riots in 1830. The first entry about harvesting comes from 1845, a particularly bad year for the harvest which led many to seek relief from the parish,

23rd September 1845Attending Harvesting Wheat &c

Next comes, threshing of the wheat in order to separate the grains of corn from the straw

19th April 1854Attendg Lord Auckland at Melbury & went to Coker in the Afternoon to see the Thrashing of my Wheat [slept at Broadstow] [Unknown]
22nd April 1854Went to Yeovil & thence to Coker when found my Wheat finished thrashing -The Heifer there had Calved Pd Vine a Week at Coker Thrashing 10s

It may seem rather late in the year to be ‘thrashing’ as he calls it but threshing appears to have been carried out throughout the winter. Even at this late date hand flailing was still common, one of the arguments being that without this work the labourers would have virtually no work to do in the winter. On the other hand there was a risk that the workmen would do the threshing “in a slovenly manner so that a quantity, perhaps double of what was required for seed, was lost upon many farms; an evil that did not escape the notice of intelligent men, by several of whom attempts were made to construct machines that would do the work more perfectly”31. Having got his wheat he then had to sell it, in this case to Mr William Patch of Bow Mills in Merriott [Somerset],

28th April 1854Went to Yeovil Market & sold Heifer & Calf at £14 and 37 Sacks of Wheat to Mr Patch of Bow mills at 10s a Bushel
3rd May 1854Reced of Mr Patch for Sacks 37 of Wheat Coker £73 15s

As he mentions no threshing in Evershot in 1854 the assumption is that his arable lands at this time were solely in West Coker. At the end of 1854 he appears to have been buying wheat from Farmer Peach to tide him over the winter. Wheat was normally sown in the autumn.

17th December 1854Pd Farmer Peach for Wheat £5 14s 3d

Farmer Peach is one John Peach who was born in 1786 and farmed at Rampisham, certainly from 1841 to 1861 and almost equally as certain for a long time before. His wife had six children, including a set of twins which seem to be a feature of our story. In 1851 he was living at Manor Farm but the census of 1861 says he was living at the Manor House so perhaps he had stepped up in the world. He had substantial holdings [one hundred and ninety five acres] but we may assume that by 1861, when he was 77 yrs the majority of the work was being done by his son Peter. He was to outlive Martin by four years dying in 1865. John Martin was of course the Steward to the Manor of Rampisham and his relations with Peach went back a long way, at least until 1832 when we find them in negotiation over the rent of Burl farm near Holywell.

17th September 1832Went to Rampisham with Mr Trenchard respg letting him the Glebe Allotment on the Hill waiting on Farmer Peach at Burl respg his Rent and went to Ransom again in the Evening

Relationships at Rampisham were not always good as is seen in this entry from 1832,

31st October 1832Reced Letter from Mr Johnson Respecting Floods distress and Farmer Peachs arrears written in an arbitrary manner which I did not like & I answered it by saying I should decline the affairs of Ransom

The Reverend Arthur Johnson had married Elizabeth Clark, the only daughter of John Daniell of Hendford House Somerset in 1829. Johnson had been Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Wadham College and Daniell had been the Lord of the Manor at Rampisham but had died and on his marriage Johnson became the new Lord of the Manor. It is not clear what his nature was like but in 1843 newspaper reports appeared to accuse him of being indifferent to the state of the poor in his parish and he entered a public debate in the Dorset County Chronicle over the matter. John Flood was an agricultural labourer in the parish living with his mother and sister [both named Mary]. It appears they had fallen on hard times and that John Peach was himself in rent arrears. The problem does not appear to have between Martin and Peach and the problem seems to have sorted itself out fairly rapidly,

1st November 1832Pd Farmer Peach what I owed him 3s 9d
2nd November 1832Working upon Ransom accounts -settled with Farmer Peach &c

Peach then is mentioned periodically,

23rd May 1854Pd John Peach for Cheese 7s
16th September 1854Pd Farmer Peach for a Pig £1 10s 0d
17th December 1854Pd Farmer Peach for Wheat £5 14s 3d

but the bulk of the entries come from 1861 when the new year opens with an innovation,

8th January 1861Thrashing my Wheat by Machine [Peach]

By this time the heat seems to have gone out of the arguments over using machines to replace humans, although by this time they were powered by steam.

19th century threshing machine with power source seen at Great Dorset Steam Fair.

Later machines not only separated the wheat from the straw but also the grains of straw from the surrounding chaff. In ancient times the wheat/ chaff mix was thrown into the air and the wind blew the chaff away but by Martin’s time ‘stand alone’ machines existed which used a fan to create the air flow. It is not known if Martin used one of these or not.

19th January 1861At Home & went to Westwoods about finishing winnowing the Wheat Had Ten Sacks of Good & 3 & half of Tailing

When he tried to sell this wheat at Metford Mill in Cattistock he met with little success as the Miller Edward Williams was not inclined to buy,

24th January 1861At Home and went to Metford Mills to try and sell Ten sacks of Wheat [nil]

Instead he took it down the road to Rampisham where Miller [Emmanuel] Hodges milled it for him,

28th January 1861Pd Miller Hodges Bill £12 1s Received of him for Wheat £11

As he did again in April 1861,

1st April 1861At Home sold Miller Hodges Five Sacks of Wheat & sent it Home at one pound a Sack £5

More late thrashing took place in April before the whole cycle began again in August,

5th April 1861Pd Farmer Peach Machine Thrashing £1 2s 0d Pd Labourers £1 6s 8d
15th August 1861At Home on Various matters IN PENCIL Took £5 Check of Mr Hodges & sent it to Bank Reced of Mr Hodges for Wheat £10 [sic] Pd his Bill £6 11s 10d Pd Labourers 19s
21st August 1861At Home Began cutting Wheat in Nine Acres Pd Men cutting Wheat £1 17s 6d Pd Labourers £1 2s 6d
23rd August 1861Do finished cutting the wheat
24th August 1861At Home Tying Wheat
26th August 1861At Home & went to Ransom [Tying Wheat]
27th August 1861Do Do [Tying Wheat]
28th August 1861Attendg Lord Aukland at Ransom [Finished Tying Wheat]
31st August 1861At Home carrying Wheat raking &c

After cutting the wheat it will be seen that he tied it into stacks but he did not yet remove it from the field immediately turning it instead into windmows,

19th September 1861At Home took into Barn 4 Windmows of Wheat
4th October 1861At Home & went to Ransom [Finished taking in Windmows]

The only description I have found of a windmow comes from the Farmers Journal from 1848. It appears that it was not then widely used and the following description is taken from the journal. The wheat was first tied into stacks or mows and then three or four of these were laid together with the butts of the stacks on the ground. Gradually more stacks were laid on top with the ears of wheat always upwards and meeting in the middle. The eventual height reached being some 10-15 feet high although from the description of its construction it was only two or three sheaves deep. From a drawing of one that I have seen it looks something like this.

The purpose of the windmow was to dry the wheat, “and if it rains a month it will not hurt it. They sometimes remain thus for several months here, but then they substitute a bundle of reeds for the large sheaf on the top, and should fine weather set in before all is done, that which is not done is hauled first, and the windmows being safe, are left till a more leisure time. They have not only the advantage of being safe from wet, but being only two sheaves in diameter, the air draws through and effectually dries it when settled weather comes, as every butt is outside in the air.”32

After drying threshing began again, presumably by Farmer Peach.

8th October 1861At Home Thrashing Wheat with machines
11th October 1861At Home Winnowing Wheat at Westwoods
14th November 1861At Homestead Threshing remainder of Wheat by Machine Pd Labourers Threshing &c £1 8s 6d

This time he had more success selling his wheat to Mr Williams,

26th November 1861At Home went to Rampisham sold 14 sacks of Wheat to Mr Williams 27s a sack

Finally in this section we must mention his garden. The tithe apportionment for Evershot shows that he owned three quarters of an acre of “Dwelling House, Stable Offices, Garden &c”. He paid four shillings tithe on this which suggest that his garden was not simply for pleasure, but for raising titheable produce -vegetables. More evidence for this comes from this entry from 1854,

5th May 1854At Home Went to Ransom and attendg Planting Mangle in Garden

There are numerous entries about the garden, most of them it must be said are concerned with paying others to do the work for him, most of these entries have been omitted.

26th February 1821Pd for Garden Seeds 3s
23rd March 1821Paid Plashing Garden Hedge 3s
26th March 1821Pd for Garden Seeds 3s
15th May 1821Pd for 1000 Laths from Weymouth £1 Pd Man Gard[enin]g 1s 2d
A plashed hedge.
19th February 1827David Childs and Son Wheeling Dung into my Garden and myself Pruning Bushes Paid David Childs in full of all demand 5s 6d
22nd March 1827Gardening
26th March 1827Sowing Seeds 7c in the Garden Pd Gardening 15s 6d
19th May 1827Pd Man Gardening & cleaning out Pond 8s
21st May 1827Paid John Sibley Shearing my Hedges 1s
14th June 1827Savoy Plants 9d

This entry is unusual but probably relates to his garden,

9th July 1827Paid Man Cracking Stones 13s

Weeds seem to have been a recurring problem over the years,

21st July 1827Pd weeding garden &c 4s
1st June 1832Paid weeding Gardens 2s 6d

Entries are sparse during the busiest years of the tithe commutations their being only one entry in 1838 but become more frequent again in the 1845 diary, when he had the added excitement of building a new garden walk,

29th March 1838Attending my garden the whole of the day and calculated the Value of Little Maine Tithes for Mr Talbot of B Maine
4th April 1845Gardening &c Sold Two Calves to Mr Trenchard at £3 10s 6d
16th April 1845Looking after work People Gardening &c Paid Ground dressing 5s 4d
19th April 1845Pruning Apple Trees &c in Garden and looking after Work People
1st May 1845Looking after work People &c & gardening
17th June 1845Attending to Workpeople in Garden &c Susan the Girl Servant came
28th June 1845Attending Men Making New Garden Walk

In making his new walk he bought some 1500 bricks and eight loads of gravel. Unfortunately I have not been able to identify a brickyard at Rampisham nor a “Newberry” who fits the bill. The only one there is a carpenter. Likewise ‘J Bishop’ has not been traced.

30th June 1845Pd Newberry of Ransom for Bricks 1500 18s 9d
1st July 1845Pd J Bishop for 8 Loads of Screened Gravel for Garden Walk £1

Thereafter the entries are fairly mundane,

23rd August 1845Working the Theodolite and attending to Gardening
25th August 1845Cleaning up the Office and doing Various Jobs in the Garden & Farming works
15th October 1852Attending work people in Garden & Westwoods
23rd March 1854Pd John Squibb Plashing Garden Hedge 8s 4d

The last entry about gardening comes in April 1861,

18th April 1861At Home in Garden &c