Farming in Norfolk in 1800

Peter Dawson

Given at the Martham Local History Group AGM, September, 2019

Through the eyes of Thomas Francis, who lived and farmed in Martham all his adult life from around 1770 until his death in 1837, Peter Dawson introduced us to local farming during a period of agricultural change. Real local history that brought things to life.

Born at Ingham in 1743, Thomas married Elizabeth Proctor on 13th April 1769 at St Mary’s, Martham. Her father was the largest landowner in Martham at the time and lived at Martham Hall on Hall Road. Thomas’s son married into the Rising Family whilst other family marriages meant that Thomas became “well connected to all the great and good of Martham of those days”.

 

But Thomas, neither peasant nor gentry,

remained a yeoman farmer who was very

closely connected to the soil. Records and

tithe maps show that he owned about 90

acres of land in and around his home,

West End Cottage, which later was altered

and became Grange Farm, at Cess.  He did

however have the red brick barns built

next to the house in 1797. He also laid

claim to some freehold land in the manor of Scratby and may have rented more as his harvest yields of 1800 show that he had at least 137 acres in crop. He probably employed 10 to15 men and perhaps some boys.

 

Feeding a rapidly growing population forced

farmers into greater efficiency and

innovation.  Thomas was amongst the leaders

in increasing yields in the Flegg. He even

invented his own sort of plough suited to the

light, shallow soils. Fields were no longer left

fallow and new rotations were adopted.

Thomas’ rotation was turnips (which could

grow in the winter and be fed to livestock); barley;

clover (which fixed nitrogen from the air into the

soil); wheat; and peas (another nitrogen fixer). He

fattened bullocks, some Norfolk breeds and some

brought by drovers from Scotland. Lots of muck

from the beef cattle, and more from the farm

horse population, was deposited daily in the yard,

carted to the fields, spread and turned in by the

men and boys, and later ploughed in. Fertile soil,

but long hours.

This then was the life of a yeoman farmer from Martham in around 1800 and one that appears to have been very successful, but seems, sadly, little remembered as, Peter showed us, the tomb where Thomas and Elizabeth now lie is somewhat overgrown.

Noel Mitchell, with help from Peter’s notes

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