Thursday, 26 March 2015

18th Century Eton Wick: Some background agricultural information

Some background agricultural information which may have influence the Lord of the Manor and 18th century tenant farmer of Eton Wick

Charles Townshend, 2nd Viscount Townshend
Pupil of Eton College


At the beginning of the 18th century people living in Eton Wick like many other citizens no doubt suffered hardship especially for those scraping their existence from agriculture, but the century witnessed vast improvement in husbandry and in the development of farm machinery One of the main advancements is well shown by one Historian who has calculated that in the early 1700's each person engaged in farming fed 1.7 persons but by the end of the century one agricultural worker fed 2.5 persons. The late 1600's and early 1700's saw scientific improvements in the management of the soil which gave increased harvest for cereal and root crops. This resulted in better fed cattle producing higher yields of dairy and meat also the healthier animals produced more dung which in the cycle of things helped to put more humus into the soil thereby increasing its fertility.

The introduction of the turnip root crop was brought about in 1730 by Charles "Turnip" Townshend, a British politician, who imported Dutch-grown turnips. He wanted to see if his livestock could survive in good health throughout the winter on a diet of turnips. In those days it was expensive to grow and store hay all winter so most people killed their livestock in the fall. This practice left people with too much meat, all at one time. Townshend proved that with turnips, easy to grow and store, farmers could fatten cattle through the winter and slaughter only as needed. This was a great step forward but the adoption of the new ideas in agriculture may have been slow in coming to the farmer of Eton and Eton Wick as it is well known that real country folk are suspicious and do not take kindly to change, although Eton Wick may not have been so rustic as some folk in the county due to its proximity to Eton and Windsor. Records show that in 1700 the Court Baron* permitted every farmer within his jurisdiction to grow two acres of turnips for every twenty acres he farmed. The introduction of this root crop whilst beneficial to the husbandry of the sheep and cattle, was not easy for the toilers of the land, the digging of the crop, storing it against frost into clamps together with the trimming and cutting up of the roots was a hard winter task, an occupation often assigned to the women, who also with the children, had hoed and thinned the crop during the Spring.

 The improvements in animal husbandry together with new agricultural tools, like Jethro Tull's development of his seed drill, were publicized in books such as the Annals of Agriculture by one Arthur Young in 1784 to be read by the progressive farmer and landowner. It also led to the birth of the agricultural engineering industry .which also spawned the industry's catalogues for seeds, plants and machinery. Similar books were published by Eton Printer and Bookseller, Joseph Pope, one title being 'Gentleman's Farriery', (Horse Doctoring) which could have been a rewrite version of the 'English Farrier printed and published in London in 1636 by John Beale and Robert Bird. It is doubtful if any of the horse drawn mechanical aids appeared in the village before the end of the 18th century and manual labour as illustrated fulfilled most of the task

This is an extract from research undertaken by John Denham for at lecture to the WEA at Windsor entitled "18th Century Eton Wick within the environs of Eton."


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