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Changes in agriculture

The pattern of fields and roads that we see around Wymeswold derives almost entirely from the Enclosure Act of 1759. This was carried out by an Act of Parliament which laid down to guidelines.

Firstly, one-eighth of the land to be enclosed was to be granted to Trinity College, Cambridge, as compensation for the loss of the rectorial tithes. This would amount to nearly 400 acres; but as they were important landowners they received about 800 acres in total.

Then, at least 60 acres was to be allocated to the vicar in lieu of the small tithes. This was to be worth at least 30 a year. The fact that the vicar received 73 acres.

The rest of land was then divided amongst the other 'proprietors' according to their rights in the common land. The lords of the manor, Thomas Allsop and John Davys, were awarded about 575 acres in some 56 fields which were most into the north and east of the village. Ten other persons received amounts in excess of 50 acres. A similar amount was granted to 'Wymeswold Town'. The residue amounted to just over 600 acres and was allotted to 57 other people in amounts ranging from 40 acres down to plots of less than one acre. Cottagers who had only grazing rights were granted a share of the strips of land extending along Narrow Lane.

The roads leading to Melton and Willoughby were to be 50 yards wide and the grass of the wide verges was to be held in trust. Two-thirds of the income from this was to be given to the poor of the parish. The remainder could be used as a village officials, churchwardens, constables and overseers of the poor saw fit.

One indirect results of this enclosure was the building of farmhouses and buildings away from the village in positions more convenient to the new fields. Several farmhouses date from this period and some are still in use as farms e,g, Wymeswold Lodge and Cripwell Farm. It must have been a period of increasing prosperity as a number of houses in a village (some of them farmhouses) appear to have been built or rebuilt about the same time, giving Far Street and Brook Street their pleasing appearance.

There is no real indication of what farms in Wymeswold produced before the 19th century so we must assume subsistent crops like wheat, barley and beans were grown and that sheep and cattle were reared. Ae tax levied in 1608 raised by 5/19s/4d from 1-1/2d per beast and 6d per score of sheep.

The first returns of crop acreages were made in 1801 when the Home Office required vicars to make a return for their parish. In 1869 the 'June Returns' were started and these continue to the present day. The table below shows a selection of these returns and illustrates some of the fluctuations in farm production in Wymeswold.

1801 1869 1938 1949 1987
acres acres acres acres acres
wheat 230 466 189 474 612
barley 130 166 8 53 380
oats 187 98 42 183
peas 95 85
roots/turnips 30 57 95
beans 120 38
potatoes 79 63
TOTAL ARABLE 677 1245 388 1060 1241
TOTAL PASTURE 1963 2639 1978 1362
head head head head
cattle 658 1160 1102 1343
sheep 1446 1366 382 3897
pigs 251 236 201 2474
poultry 8685 6855 21804
Number of holdings 90 51 41 28*

* 17 part-time

Parish of Wymeswold today extends to 3,950 acres (1600 hectares) and, excepting the compact built-up area and one modest industrial side, is all farmland. It is mostly owner-occupied, farmed from premises outside the district, and is a fair mixture of arable and grass.

Cattle and sheep are grazed are there are intensive units for pigs and poultry. Only two farms now produce milk for sale. The crops on arable land are varied and add interest to the scene. One farm includes a pick-your-own fruit enterprise. Apart from the loss of a few hedges the field patterns are not much altered from the time of enclosure.

With so few people now employed in agriculture its impact on village life is limited, being confined to the movement of tractors and other machinery, large and small, through the streets and lanes.

All this is a very great contrast what one would have seen throughout the 19th century and the first half of the 20th. Throughout that period the majority of farmers would be tenants, land being owned by such absentee landlords as Trinity College, the Church, and some of the local estates.

There were about a dozen small working farm yards along the village streets, with sheds and covered yards to house stock of all sorts and farming up to 100 acres (in a few cases more) around village. Most of these employed labour outside the family.

Apart from these there were at least as many smallholders making a living off smaller acreages, all with some buildings around their homes to house livestock. Hardly any livestock is now housed in the village and without the existence in a few enthusiasts the call of a domestic bird would not now be heard.

Until the start of the Second World War the majority of the land was laid to permanent grass and income derived from the production of milk and meat. At least three premises produced cheese on a regular basis from milk delivered them in all sorts of quantities – sometimes just a bucketful. Most of the larger farms grew some corn and there were stackyards at all of them where the refreshing drum could be seen in winter time.

The land in the parish is mainly heavy clay and was difficult to work with horses but the advent of the tractor and ever-more sophisticated machinery saw a lot more land put to the plough. Wymeswold lies in an area loosely known as 'the hunting shires' and foxhunting would have had influence on the way farms were managed, as it still has to some extent today.

Originally published in A Portrait of Wymeswold 1991.

Copyright Wolds Historical Organisation.

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