This page describes some of the major changes in agriculture in this small part of the marshes during the period covered – who owned and farmed the land, what crops are grown, which raised livestock, and tools and instruments used.
It would take a book to tell the whole story; here is just a taste of country life in Welney, using photographs and memorabilia mostly local.
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The image on the top right shows what many of us will think like a typical farm scene last, the first part of the cultivation of land with a large powerful ‘project’ horse pulling a plow manually controlled. The first plows (‘plow’ in medieval England and modern America) were wooden, later with iron edges, then completely of iron, but in 1880 would have been the only steel groove right. This would have been used by a small farmer with a few acres in the late Victorian era (and probably until the 1950s in some cases).
Larger farmers have typically used a plow 3 furrow drawn by a team of four to six horses or maybe a plow pulled by six machines vapor grooves (as shown below on this page) until agricultural tractors combustion internal introduced in the 1920s and 930s.
The fertile arable land would have been used to grow wheat, beans and tubers such as potatoes and mangroves, and pastures in summer Ouse washes provided good grazing for cattle and sheep.
For more site visitors, especially those with a rural background, do you recognize any of these items? This contest was posted on agriculture Cambridgeshire Times review in 1973.
Answers at the bottom of the page
steel plow manually controlled
In East Anglia in general the largest landowners in the beginning of this period were the Church of England; The Crown; University of Cambridge; aristocracy; smallholders; successors of the “Adventurers” (venture capitalists in today’s lingo) who funded the draining of the marshes; authorities maintained drainage; large and small private owners; and charities.
However, that does not seem to be the case in Welney. In 1880 the parish of Welney was divided almost equally between the counties of Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, which makes research a bit complicated, but the 1881 census gives an indication of farmers at the time, but not necessarily if they owned or tenants. 1883 Kelly Directory listed as the largest landowners Beart three members of the family; James Morton House Welney; William Little (100 Bank especially in the foot); James and shoot them in Lakes End. The Charity William Marshall had 440 hectares leased out in 18 lots to the highest bidder. Past records (1850) show the predominant landowners be Townley, also with substantial Huddlestones owners. (See pages from the Church for more of those).
In 1890 the Government recognized the difficulty of the working class to buy the land and the shortage of farms for rent at a reasonable price, and appointed a Special Committee to investigate the creation of [more] ‘smallholdings. The subsequent report led to the adoption of the Law on the small property in 1892 which aimed to provide land for workers and encourage them to become smallholders (ie small farmers) and elevate their status and reduce migration from country to cities. Throughout much of the implementation of the act England was slow, and another act was passed in 1906.
In Norfolk, the Norfolk Association of Small Holders (MSHA) was established with private funding and bought three farms completely around 330 hectares in 1900, which are rented in small batches to 1-5 acres, but the County Council (NCC) Rathy was late and not make your first purchase until 1904, a farm of 90 acres in the near Nordelph, and only then, following a petition organized by MSHA. It was not until February 1910 when the 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 almost half was actually in the region of Island Ely). That land is formed what became known as the “Welney Estate ‘. Norfolk CC also acquired land in 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 then separated and the situation of the county is given. It remained independent until 1965, when they returned to merge as ‘Cambridgeshire and Isle of Ely’. In 1972 the new county was merged with ‘Huntingdon and Peterborough’ under the single name Cambridgeshire. The merger of these four areas originally proposed 25 years earlier in 1947!
During the early years of the 20th century was the average holding of about 15 acres (6 hectares) with 30% of applications for lease from agricultural workers, the rest were mostly small farmers looking for more land to their children. In 1914 only 20% of the land included a house. Virtually all smallhoder have kept livestock. Horses and carts to transport implements; at least one dairy cow to provide for the faimly, maybe a small herd of earning; chickens, of course, usually tended by the wife of the owner, and posibly pigs. Many of smallerholder have had another job, maybe work for a larger, or as a tax collector road or blacksmith farmer.