Farming in the 19th century on the Wimpole Estate

The map of Home farm on the Wimpole Estate 1828

The map of Home Farm on the Wimpole Estate, 1828, Cambridge Library

It is quite interesting what you can find in local record offices. I spent quite a bit of time looking through a whole pile of booklets that had been deposited in the Cambridgeshire Archives by Nash & Rowley- a veritable gold mine if you happen to be a bit inquisitive about land management. I was mostly interested in reading about woodlands and especially  trees and hedge laying in the landscape but it was quite obvious that farming was going to be the main feature in these books. What was very interesting were the valuations of live and dead stock of deceased farmers but there were also ten consecutive years of inventories at Home Farm on the Wimpole Estate which, along with the 1828 map, give us a fantastic insight into the arable and livestock farming of the time. The 1828 map has the Hall in the centre, the Walled Garden as it is today set to the north east and the Home/Mansion Farm east of that. The house was surrounded by a 243 acres fallow deer park (A4 and a dark green on the map) which had around 300 deer but I guess that in the summer farm livestock may have also grazed the Park . Of the other blocks of land the B1-29 was the in-hand farm, the light green part  (@ 190 acres) was permanent grassland almost definitely used for the farm’s livestock and the light brown part (@235 acres) was the arable land (all would have been organic so would occasionally the arable would revert to temporary grass leys). Below is one of the inventories of the in-hand Mansion (Home) Farm in 1824, it is worth noting that no scythes are present but hay forks and rakes are so my guess is that the mowers were hired in and the local men, women and children helped make the hay and bring it in, the same would be true of the corn crops.

Nash & Rowley SP296-B25 1824 held at the Cambridgeshire Archives.

Bring the sheep home

Bring the sheep home: George Soper

An inventory and valuation of the live stock, corn, hay and effects on the Mansion farm at Wimpole taken 2 June 1824

309 Southdown ewes
27 Fattening Down and Leicester wethers
81 Fattening welsh sheep
88 Store Welsh sheep
2 Old Southdown ram
1 Two sheared ram
1 Shearling Leicester ram
4 Southdown ram hogget’s
Total 443, £524

Milking in the farmyard George Soper

Milking in the farmyard : George Soper

13 Milk cows
3 Capital milk cows’ of the improved Shorthorn breed
1 Capital bull, rising 3 years of the improved Shorthorn breed
11 Fattening Welsh bullocks
2 Fattening Welsh heifers
3 Capital heifer’s in calf rising 3 year old of the improved Shorthorn breed
1 Home bred heifer in calf
7 Steers, 2 year old
2 Heifers 2 year old
11 Yearling heifers and steers
1 Yearling bullock
14 Weaning calves
Total 69    £700

And the little piggy went to market George Soper

And the little piggy went to market: George Soper

20 Fattening hogs
1 Sow, 8 piglets
1 Sow, 9 piglets
1 Sow, 5 piglets
1 Sow, 3 piglets
4 Sows
15 Store pigs
32 Smaller pigs
2 Boars
Total 77  25 £108


Having a rest George Soper

Having a rest: George Soper

Duke  chestnut horse                           Doctor black horse 10
Turpin black horse 9
Bull black horse 10
Snipe black mare 9
Diamond brown mare 9
Sergeant black horse 9
Black, old trotter black horse 4
Lion brown horse 6
Captain black horse 6
Boxer black horse 5
Fergus, grey colt 3 years
Punch, brown colt 3 years
2 donkeys

The gleaners George Soper

The gleaners: George Soper

8 cocks and 1  mow of Wheat in straw , say 242 loads  32/
Wheat threshed in barn, 78 32/
Barley in granary, 6 quarters 34/
3 stacks and 1 mow of barley in the straw, 120 quarters  34/
Oats in granary, 13 quarters  24/
1 stack and 1 cock of oats in the straw, 85 quarters  24/
Beans in the granary, 6 loads  21/
3 stacks of beans in the straw, 200 loads  21/
1 stack of peas in the straw, 80 loads  22/

Bringing in the hay George Soper

Bringing in the hay: George Soper

Part of 3 stacks of Meadow hay, 60 tons
fioron grass in cocks 5 acres
Mangle wurzels about 300 tons
Potatoes, 3000 bushels
Swedish turnips 10 acres
White turnips 10 acres

6 large corn bins
5 sheep racks on wheels
1 bean rack on wheels
25 sheep troughs
2 iron spades
9 iron shovels
7 wood scoops

The scythe George Soper

The scythe: George Soper

1 corn screen
12 wicker sieves
2 wire sieves
2 corn fans
4 dung forks
16 barn and hay forks
2 corn bushel measures
27 hoes
4 turnip pickers
4 wheel barrows
9 hog troughs
2 hay knives
2 chaff troughs with two knives
A tarpaulin with pulleys ropes and pole

The hoe George Soper

The hoe: George Soper

1 corn dressing machine
77 corn sacks
3 iron lanthorns
2 wire lanthorns
10 cart ropes
A pair of steelyards
1 pick axe
3 dung drags
1 barley chopper
2 sack barrows
3 donkey panniers
2 donkey halters
1 set of draining tools

A barn full of implements George Soper

A barn full of implements: George Soper

2 loading ladders
1 sack jack and pulley
2 iron teeth corn drags
4 wood hay drags
2 long ladders
1 short ladder
8 cart frames
2 dock drawers
1 iron rake
5 stone hammers
2 corn gathering forks
1 potato fork
1 corn tub
1 grease tub
10 sheep brands
5 clod beetles
12 potato baskets
8 pails
2 chaff baskets

The work bench gEORGE super

The work bench: George Soper

12 dozen sheep hurdles
4 iron Scotch ploughs
6 wood gallow ploughs
4  seeding ploughs
2 paring ploughs
1 moulding plough
1 large iron roller
1 wood roller with frame
1 smaller roller with carriage
1 cast iron scuffler
4 pair of four beam harrows
1 pair of large harrows
1 set of rising beam harrows
1 broad wheel wagon with hoops and tilt
10 small body dung carts
2 broad wheel dung cart
1 long body cart (new)
2 long hay carts (one of them new)
1 London carriage
1 four wheel pony cart
8 cow cribs with tops
2 snow ploughs
2 hand swill barrows
1 turnip drill

The cart George Soper

The cart: George Soper

3 bean drills
1 horse hoe
3 iron road scrapers
2 wood road scrapers
1 levelling machine
1 horse corn drag on wheels
24 hay rakes
1 grindstone with frame and winch
1 new corn drill with three barrels etc. complete
1 pair of dibbling irons
1 turnip planter
1 elastic cattle tube
1 elastic tube for calves and sheep
8 hedge knives
1 corn grinding mill with—- stones and case
1 flour dressing trough with corn sieves tub and cover

The harness George Soper

The harness: George Soper

12 bit halters
12 collars with 12 pair of harness
12 harnesses
4 old collars
11 wagon and cart saddles with breechings
7 pair or cart traces
7 back bands
13 pair of plough traces
7 pair of old harnesses
12 horse nets

Bringing in the hay George Soper

Bringing in the hay: George Soper

5 curry combs
5 horse brushes
8 pair of furrow traces
26 bullock straps
3 whips
5 plough lines
1 donkey collar
1 pair of reins

Slaughter house
A pair of steelyards
2 sets of pulleys and ropes
A gallow with pulleys and rope
1 hog rack
1 tallow bin
1 scalding tub
2 Gambrills
1 Pritchard

12 iron bound bell butts
4 harvest bottles
3 brass taps
2 tin funnels

Days end George Soper

Day’s end: George Soper

Implements 460.2.0
Harness 40.10.0
Slaughter house 5.0.0
Cellar 18.14.0
Horses 345.0.0
Sheep 524.7.0
Cows and beasts 700.0.0
Hogs 108.10.0
Corn 1188.0.0
Hay etc 512.10.0

Having looked at the other inventories there was an average of about 500 sheep, 70 cows, 70 pigs and around 10 working horses with 2 donkeys to take on errands each year. Cambridgeshire seems to have had Leicester Longwool sheep which were crossed with Southdowns although Welsh sheep were bought at market to fatten. In the east of England  (Norfolk & Suffolk ) farmers were crossing Norfolk Horn sheep with Southdowns which made the commercial Suffolk breed seen today. We also see that the Dairy Shorthorn was the most popular milking cow but again Welsh cattle were probably bought at market to fatten. As to the pigs, it’s anyone’s guess as to their breed although Neapolitan boars were used from time to time. There was 190 acres of grassland and the old rule of thumb for grazing land was four sheep to the acre in the summer and two during the winter. So theoretically they could have had 760 sheep (excluding cows) in the summer and 380 in the winter (lambs would have been sold or taking elsewhere over the winter. However today for every 25 acres you can graze 15 cows or 25 horses or 100 sheep,  so 500 sheep (ewes and lambs) and 70 cows (of all ages) and 10 horses seems about right when you also consider they would have also used the arable land once it was harvested plus any leys

mu240The horses would appear to be mostly of the Shire kind but from the Rev. Gooch’s book on farming in Cambridgeshire in 1805 it appears that most heavy horses came from the Fens and had a strong Dutch bloodline (probably due to the Dutch horses left behind after the fen drainage). With the six horses now at the Farm we could almost farm the land without using fossil fuel!!! As a general rule a pair would farm 100 acres but with this heavy land  we would probably require three for every 100 acres. Guess that’s about right then!

As for corn crops, well these are of the usual kind for our type of heavy clay soils (which incidentally have been termed three horse land rather than two horse land, two horse land would be of the lighter soil type like those in Norfolk). The main crop was wheat followed by barley then oats, beans and sometimes peas.

Hay crops included all those that were fed to the livestock such as meadow hay, sainfoin and tares but also included potatoes, swedes, turnips and mangle wurzels.

Implements were of their time although new equipment was coming in- ‘hooped wagon’ is a term for iron shod wheels that were not straked (not a continuous ring of iron).

The next bit of information is about the value of work done on Wimpole Farm (which I suspect is actually Valley Farm). The numbers before the field name are acres (4000m2), rods (100m2), and poles (5m2).


Three horse land

Three horse land

Valuation of tillage etc. from Mr Robt Withers to Mr John Pearse at Wimpole (old farm) taken February 3 1824

16-2-0 Dove house close
sown with red clover

22-3-0 Mill field
ploughed once

9-0-0 Dean field for wheat
ploughed twice
harrowd 3 times
4 boys 6.5 days each forking up pea stubble & pitching twitch
2 men 1 boy with 3 horses a day  & half drilling
use of drill  1/6 per acre
2 days 1 man openg ditches & furrows
27 bu of wheat for seed (best sort)

Having a break

Having a break

29-0-0 Great reservoir field
sown with wheat
ploughd twice
harrowd 3 times
6 boys & girls 14.5 days forking of pea & bean stubble & picking twitch
2 men 1 boy with three horses half day drilling
use of the drill on 4 acres
5 boys & girls 7 days springing wheat
1 man 3 days water furrowing
12 bu wheat for seed drilled in
100 bu do springed in

9-0-0 New field for barley
ploughed twice
harrowd twice



7-1-0 in same field
ploughed once
1 man with 2 horses drawing out furrows 2 days
1 man 2 days shorching at lands end

12-3-0 for wheat
ploughed twice
harrowd 3 times
1 man with 2 horses drawg furrows
2 men 1 boy with 3 horses 2 days drilling
use of drill 1/6
1 man 2 days shorcking lands end

The manure cart George Soper

The manure cart: George Soper

10-0-0 of this piece dressed with gravesing (?)
2 men 2 horses 3 days carting and spreading grares (?)
38 bu 1 peck wheat for seed
8 tons of grares sown cost £2 per ton in London
breaking of grares cost 4/- per ton
carriage of the grares from London cost  per cwt

1-0-0 in same field for wheat ploughed in with the other land
2 men 1 boy 3 horses drilling
use of drill 1/6
3 bu seed wheat drilled in

3-3-30 in same field
sown with swedish turnips at per acre

Burning twitch

Burning twitch: George Soper

24-2-0 Great sheep walk sown with wheat
ploughed 4 times
harrowd 4 times with large twitch harrows each time 6 horses a man 1 boy
harrowd twice with light harrows
rolled twice
5 men 10 horses 6 days filling & spreading dung
4 boys 6 days driving carts
1 man 6 days laying down dung
5 men 10 horses 2 days filling and spreading soap ashes
4 boys 2 days driving carts
carriage of 25 tons of soap ashes from London
1 man 3 days water furrowg
1 man 3 days shorching lands ends
73.5 bu wheat for seed
2 men 1 boy with 3 horses drilling in the wheat
use of the drill 1/6


Harrowing :George Soper

25-0-0 in the same field for barley
ploughed twice
harrowed twice with large twitch harrows with 6 horses and man & boy
1 man 1 boy with 4 horses 8 days hoeing thistles
1 man 2 horses 4 days drawing of ridges
1 man 3 days water furrowt etc.

7-2-10 Little dean field with winter tares
ploughed once
harrowed 3 times
2 men & 1 boy with 3 horses 1 day drilling
1 man 1 day shorching lands ends
paid for opening ditches (?)
25 bu of tares for seed
cost 6/6 per bu
use of the drill 1/6

The two horse plough land George Soper

The two horse plough land: George Soper

2-1-20 in same field
ploughed once

14-0-0 Great dean field
ploughed once

3-0-0 Horse pasture
crop of scotch haile turnip & small pail turnip cabbages per acre
3 men with 5 horses & carts 3 days filling dung carting out of the yard into the lane
2 boys 3 days driving carts
paid men for turning up dung
1 boy 8 weeks keeping of crows
paid for cutting 66 acres of halm
carting home & stacking the same (cash in all)
1 man 11 days washing & liming of seed wheat
1 man 1 horse & cart 11 days carting seed wheat
1 man 1 boy with 4 horses 5 days ploughing up hedge greens
2 men 3.5 days grubbing up roots before the plough

Time for a pint George Soper

Time for a pint: George Soper

2-0-0 Eight acre field
laid with lucerne each year viz
ploughed once
harrowd once
rolled once
60lb lucerne seed
15d pence per lb
sowing the same


In the above document you’ll see terms used that I am not too sure about- ‘gravesing’ and ‘grares’. My suspicion is that it might well refer to bones used for phosphate fertiliser; it’s well known that the English mined mass graves and battlefields to get all sorts of bones including human bones to process and make into phosphate fertiliser. (Europe considered the English the ‘ghouls of Europe’ because of this practice.) I could be wrong though so, if anyone knows, let me know… There is also another term used- ‘soap ashes’ which I think was probably a mixture of predominately wood ash which would supply Potassium to the soil. Another term used is ‘shorching’… no idea, but it may well be clearing the edges ploughed land to aid water drainage. I also noted that they even used seed dressings- it appears that seed was first washed then treated with lime probably to prevent  smut and bunt fungi. Stinking smut smells like rotten fish and apparently was the reason why some bread was flavoured with ginger to mask the smell and taste hence gingerbread.

About Sadeik

You may ask why "Sadeik" well it means friend in arabic. Worked in Jordan a lot doing tree surgery you see. I have worked in forestry since I left school with a two years in Telecom. Went back to forestry and tree surgery as it may not have paid as much but was far more interesting and dangerous. Spent a lot of years mountaineering, caving and canoeing too. At 29 I went to Bangor University to study Forestry and soil science then did an MSc in Water engineering all very interesting. By a quirk of fate in 1995 ended up helping sort out the woodland and park at Wimpole, funny thing was then I only intended to stay six months or so, but 18 years later I'm still here learning all the time. That's the best bit, if I wasn't able to learn something new every year I would not have stayed and as you get older you realise that the grass is not so green in the next field after all. In fact my patch is getting greener while much of the rest is getting browner.
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