Thursday 4 June 2015

Manor of Eton cum Stockdales at the end of the 18th Century – farm animals and practice

The total numbers to be allowed for Eton and the Wick were 610 sheep, 41 (cows), 48 oxen and 18 horses; in addition, any inhabitant of the town with no land to farm might keep one cow in the common pasture. There were set fines for putting too many beasts to graze from two pence per sheep to eight pence per horse; and any foreigner or traveler who had the nerve to try to feed his own beast on Eton pasture might find himself fined up to 3s.4d.

It was decreed a crime to put animals onto the Great Common between the feast of the Annunciation (March 25) and the Invention (discovery) of the Holy Cross (May 3) as this is the time when the grass begins to grow and thicken up and to graze the common meadows or fields after February 2, (the Feast of the Purification of Our Blessed Lady) until 29 September ( the feast of "Saint Michael the Archangel or Michaelmas).

It was unfortunate for those that kept a pig as this useful animal was banned from the common because their sharp hoofs cut up the ground and any tenant caught doing so would have to forfeit the pig. So the pig was condemned to life in the sty to be fed on the kitchen scraps and fodder gathered from the hedgerow until its day of slaughter when its bacon, hams, sausages and lard would help see the family through the winter, together with eggs from the few chickens and maybe the goose at Christmas. The keeping of rabbits was also another source of meat.

Animals were also a source of revenue by the sale of the dung (manure). The 1798 diary of farmer John Edgson owner of Upper Britwell Farm, Burnham records the purchase of 133 bushels of rabbit dung from Steven's of Eton and a later entry records taking 32 bushells from Mr John Atkins. This John Atkins could have been the tenant at Saddocks farm, a member of the family who were shoe makers in Boveney and Eton or a John Atkins who was a baker in Eton at that time. The only known Stevens in Eton at that time were William who was a grocer and James who was a shoe maker; John Edgson seems to have had a requirement for a good quantity of dung as his diaries refer often to fetching dung from Windsor, it could have been from the stables of the coaching trade, for by the 18th century good farming practice realized that the ground became hungry and needed nutrients and humus to re-establish its productivity.

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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