Friday, 4 October 2013

Farms to Let

This advert was placed in the Newcastle Courant during 1798 by Colonel Ogle of Causey Park, near Morpeth in an effort to attract new tenants to his farms at Burradon, which is about six miles north of Newcastle.



To be LET by Proposals - And entered on at May-day next, TWO compact farms, at Burradon... The said farms adjoin each other, and will be let together or separate  according to the highest and approved offer. The East Side Farm, now in the possession of  Mr James Charlton, contains 260 acres; and the West Side Farm, in the possession of Mr John Lumsden, contains 274; making together 534 acres of rich arable, meadow and pasture land; with good houses and convenient Out-buildings on each farm. - The tenants will send a person to shew (sic) the Premises... NB This will be no more advertised.

Having studied Burradon's history to a certain extent this advert immediately struck me as curious. Why were long-standing tenants both wanting to give up their tenancies at the same time? John Lumsden, who occupied the West Farm, had been a tenant farmer since at least 1767. The Charlton family, occupiers of East Farm, had been resident as farmers since at least 1734. It seems, however, they did move on as in 1806 Thomas Spraggon and Thomas Bell are listed as tenants on the Land Tax returns.

Without further evidence we can only speculate as to what was happening. However I recently discovered the published diaries of William Brewis of Mitford, near Morpeth. William was a tenant farmer and a man of some social standing within the community. He kept his diaries from 1833 until his death in 1850 at the age of 72. The diaries have been transcribed by Joan Foster and Dr Michael Smith, edited by Hilary Kristensen and published by Wagtail Press. William was an overseer of the poor, magistrate and High Constable for the West Division of Northumberland. He writes of chairing meetings at parliamentary elections.

Location of William and Robert Brewis' Farms, Mitford (click to enlarge)

The diaries are of great value to historians for the insight William gives, and his outspoken views, on national as well as local affairs. He talks of the campaigning in local elections, the excessive allowance being granted to the "German" Prince Albert, the Reform Bill, repeal of the Corn Laws, chartists, his relationship to Sir Matt Ridley, and his hunting activities, and walking to Blyth for a fortnight's holiday every summer.

Most importantly he gives great detail of the struggle that farmers in the area were having at the time.  This was a time of transition in England, technologically and socially. There had been a rapid shift from agriculture being the largest industry and employer to that of extraction and factory production. The weather at the time was exceptionally wet and cold, with snow lying on the ground often for weeks at a time, farms were not as productive as in former times and landlords were were being inflexible and unrealistic in the high rent-charges they still continued to demand.

These extracts from the diaries give some illustration of this:
Jan 1833 - State of country most alarming. Only half prices for wheat. Price of land must come down by one half.
A great number of farms to let all over the county and really the prices are so very bad that the farming interest is not worth following. 
Apr 1833 - The markets grow daily worse. I do not know what will become of the county without the landlords take it into consideration. If not the game must be up. 
21 May 1833 - [William paid his half yearly rent to the landlord's new steward on this day. He seems to have been more conscientious than his contemporaries and complains of being tricked by the steward and not having enough capital left to pay for lime needed to spread on the fields] Therefore I have been left in the lurch which is a great shame when times are so bad, all gentlemen are making handsome returns and I pay out of my own pocket for other gentleman property. 
Dec 1833 - To be let on May Day 1835 belonging to the Dean of Kirkley Savile Ogle esq... [William then goes on to list fourteen farms in need of new tenants in the Kirkley area to the west of Morpeth. And note the landowner was a member of the Ogle family who also owned Burradon] 
Jan 1834 - A great number of farms all over the county to let. I think there should be a premium for bad lands given for industrious tenants. 
11 Jan 1834 - Rain! I never saw a greater continuance of wet weather. 
Week 7 1838 - Six weeks of snow and really it becomes serious. I do not know what will be done if it continues any longer. 
Aug 1838 - Rain, rain, rain forever! The fruits of he earth will never come to perfection. 
Week 51 1839 - Land is letting just as high as ever. So ends the year 1839 which I am sorry to say has proved the worst I ever saw. 
1846 - [A valuation of his farm was undertaken. Newton Park was the nearby farm tenanted by his brother] We have all taken again at high rents. Newton Park was in the papers to be let by proposals. A prospective tenant withdrew his £273 per annum at the last minute. [His brother retained the farm at £235 but only for one year. William does not mention the usual duration of the lease on the farms he mentions in the diaries. Earl Grey, in the north-east of the county let his farms on a twenty-one year lease basis, which offered a sufficient incentive for farmers to invest in improving their holding allowing enough time to see a return on their investment in capital and labour. The Duke of Northumberland on his vast estates did not offer a formal tenure arrangement, but it was customary to re-let the farms automatically on a yearly basis, which Prof Norman McCord has argued did not lead to a marked improvement in farming efficiency.] 
June 1846 - [The Repeal of the Corn Law was passed which ended the high tariff on imported corn and allowed for free trade. It also caused a great agitation which split the Tory party] ...The prices of corn is expected to fall and it is likewise expected that the land must be taken at 30% lower and that the landlords must submit they have been enjoying much more rent than they were intitled (sic) to...
 21 Dec 1846 - Newton Park Farm has been offered to let by proposals which day passed on Tuesday last and no offers was made... They then applied to my brother Robert to retake, not saying at what rent. 
Jan 1847 - The farms are all unlet and are all advertised since the snow. The gentleman are justly served because they have been robbing the country since 1815, the termination of the French War. Sir Charles Monck, Belsay, has never had a bid for his and I hope that he will have to farm them himself. Newton Park is given up at the reduced rent of £200 (the effect of free trade). 
Feb and Mar 1847 - The farms are still appearing in the newspapers and cannot be let. [Earl Grey quitted a long-standing tenant who didn't have the capital in reserve to carry on] Seldom are any of his lordships farms are advertised as he lets 21 years leases with an offer at the end of that time if the tenant survives. [William writes that farms were being let in a "shabby state" obviously not much improved in recent times]
According to Norman McCord, in North East England: The Region's Development 1760-1960, at the end of the 18th century North East England was an important centre of agricultural development and regarded as a place where farming was superior to most parts of England. However, a large amount of the good reputation enjoyed was based around the work of the Culley brothers, who were hugely successful innovators based in the north of the county. McCord states:
...fertile soils of North Northumberland such as Millfield Plain were much more susceptible to improvement by existing techniques [than the] boulder clay of SE Northumberland.
The Times, in 1851, published an account of south-eastern Northumberland which dispelled a few myths that Northumberland was uniform in its superior farming:

It must surprise many who have hitherto been led to consider the agriculture of Northumberland as a model for the rest of the kingdom, to learn that a great portion of the county, extending from near Newcastle-on-Tyne on both sides of the railway as far north as Warkworth, is as little drained and as badly farmed as any district we have yet seen in England, and that the occupiers of the small farms can only eke out a scanty subsistence by careful parsimony and by employing no labour except that of themselves and their families.
Does anything of what we have learned from the 1830s help in understanding what was happening in 1798 Burradon. At this time England was preparing for the impending war with France.  Fourteen men between the ages of 15 and 60 are listed on a muster roll of 1798 as residing at Burradon with four carts and eight horses available. The landlord Col Ogle died in 1804 to be replaced by a namesake. A map and survey of the lands was produced in this year.

Was it the economic conditions or a dispute between landlord and tenant that was the catalyst for the change of tenants? Perhaps all three parties involved felt they were getting too old to carry out improvements and innovations needed to remain competitive in the rapidly changing farming environment?