Articles on the History of Essex, Researching your Ancestors, and British History

Agriculture of the County of Essex 1794 - part 1.

At the end of the 18th century, the Board of Agriculture requested reports and submissions from throughout the country on the state of agriculture in their county.

The Board had been founded by Royal Charter on 23rd August 1793 and its aim was the encouragement and improvement of agriculture.

Messers Griggs of Hill House, Kelvedon, submitted a detailed report on Essex. It allows us a glipse into some of the farming practices at the time, and a little of the structure of the society.

The orginal document can seen on Google Books

Continues part 2

book cover

General View

THE COUNTY OF ESSEX is one of the maritime counties extending from Weft to East about sixty and from North to South about fifty miles, the boundaries of which are about two hundred and twenty five miles; comprehending fourteen hundreds and five smaller districts called half hundreds, four hundred and three parishes, twenty four market towns, about sixty two thousand houses, three hundred and twenty thousand inhabitants, and one million two hundred and forty thousand acres; and is bounded on the east by the German ocean, on the west by the rivers Lea and Stort with a part of Hertfordshire on the north by the river Stour and part of Cambridgeshire and on the south by the river Thames.


This county enjoys great advantages for all the purposes of agriculture. Its climate is mild; the face of it neither too flat, to retain the water longer than is necessary to promote vegetation, nor encumbered with mountains, to prevent the plough from going, almost wherever the farmer chooses to drive it.


Every species of soil, from the most stubborn to the mildest loom, is to be found; nor is the county without a portion of light gravelly land, or a good share of rich meadow and marsh ground, the major part of which, with management adapted to the different natures of it, is very productive. The near situation, the short and ready water carriage to the metropolis and the inestimable treasures of chalk along the Kcntish coast on the west and east parts, with the goodness of the roads, not only towards London, but in every direction throughout the county, insure a quick sale for every commodity, and enable the landholders to improve their farms with manure, most congenial to their several soils.


The inclosures, which from time immemorial have almost universally prevailed, make Essex greatly preferable to some of the neighbouring counties; here every man enjoys his own the year round, and accommodate his course of husbandry to the nature, size, and other casual circumstances of his farm; if his land is calculated for grazing, he can lay it down at his pleasure; or if he is unfortunate in a bad season, misses a plant, or has it destroyed by the worm, slug ,or any other accident, he is at liberty to plough it up, and sow it again with some different corn, or to alter the rotation of crops as best suits his convenience; his ditches carry off the water from his land; and the thick hedges of white thorn, which grow upon the banks raised by what is thrown out of them, serve to shelter his flock from the storms of winter, as well as to protect his corn from the intrusion of cattle; and by dividing his land into distinct parcels, enable him to support twice the quantity of flock he could other wife do; advantages an open country can never enjoy.


The greater part of Essex is also well watered, by the many brooks and rivers which run through its vales; nor is it air by any means so injurious to the health of its inhabitants, as has been universally reported. The two hundreds of Rochford and Dengey, called in reproach The Hundreds of Essex, so dreaded for their ague, are now, whatever they once might have been, not only the most fertile districts, but equally free from noxious vapours with any other parts of the coast.

Waste Lands

Our waste lands, including the forests, may be estimated at full fifteen thousand acres; the greater part of which is as capable of producing corn, after a certain time for necessary improvements, as the adjoining lands, and would in most instances, it is presumed, be made profitable to the community; could some method, such for instance, as passing a general act of parliament, to ascertain the rights of the lords of manors, tithe owners, and the several tenants, which, it is thought, might be done, by proportioning the tenant's claim to the nature and extent, or annual value of his tenements, held of the manor to which the waste belongs, and then enable the lord, who is most frequently more enlightened, and better able to advance the various expences of inclosing, and other necessary improvements, to purchase these rights, as a jury should value them, and thus make it worth his while to erect farm houses and other conveniences, as, without some such power of purchasing, the wastes would be found in most places, too small to admit of as many divisions, as there would be claims given in, or the ground would be allotted to people, unable, from a want of experience, or property, to render their little portions of much service to the public, or to themselves.

Or if this would be thought in any respect exceptionable if the 29 of Geo. 2. c. 36. by which the lords of manors are enabled, with the content of the major part in number and valuc of those who have right of common, to tinclose wastes for the purposes of planting them with timber and underwood, were made general for all other purposes it might, by degrees, have the same good effect.

System of farming

With respect to the particular questions sent down from the board of agriculture, it may be observed, that no one general system of farming can prevail, over to large an extent, in this country, varying in so many essentials of soil and situation, terms of tenure, abilities and property of occupiers, etc.

In the eastern part of it, the land is chiefly of a strong good staple, and, excepting the marshes, and here and there a small portion of meadow, is under the plough, and produces very considerable returns of every fort of grain and pulse. The most approved mode of treating the heavy land here, as in every other part of the county, is, to winter fallow it every third or fourth, and, in some parts, every second or third year, after which, in the eastern parts, oats or barley is sown, and thu land laid down with clover, trefoil and rye grass, and having lain one year, is again broke up soon after Michaelmas, and wheat is sown; after which, if the land is clean and in good condition, the farmer takes a crop of beans, and then fallows again.

The next rotation frequently is wheat, beans, well hoed, and then wheat again; on the lighter lands, are sown first turnips, for which, a fallow is always made, and the land manured. Barley-sown with clover, etc., which is fed the ensuing year, succeeds the crop of turnips, then wheat, upon the clover lay, and after that peas; but where the clover fails, a circumstance not unusual the land is considered unfit for wheat and peas are sown in its stead.

Towards the middle of Essex, and the northern part bordering upon Suffolk, the soil varies considerably; some being light, with chalky clay or gravely sand, at a foot, or a foot and a half below the surface; other parts are moist and binding affording a quick vegetation, and requiring constant attention in the summer months to prevent it exhausting itself by a spontaneous produce; the plough is seen to occupy the larger part of this district, as little more meadow or old pasture grounds are found, than will supply hay and feed for the horses on the farms, and feed for a few cows kept for the purpose of suckling, and dry cattle an sheep which are principally bought in one year, and sold out the next. Here, every common sort of grain, pulse, and artificial grass is found with some well managed and productive hop grounds, which, from the vast expence of cultivating, and uncertain produce, are kept in the hands of the most opulent landholders, to whom they are upon the whole lucrative.

The center of Essex, is too distant from the pits, to procure chalk, but lime, clay, and the other manures, which arise upon the spot, fertilize the soil.

Population and Poor

Very extensive woollen manufactories of bays, sayt, etc., are carried on at Colchester, and the towns in this part of the county, in times of peace, and occasion a great increase of population, and of course consumption of the produces of the land; but when one considers the heavy and almost unsupportable burden, of innumerable poor falling upon the land, the instant a proclamation for war is heard, and see the rates rise to three fourths of the rent, and sometimes even exceeding it, it seems to strike at the very root of a farmer's industry, and to act almost as a prohibition to all hopes of success, whilst the opulent manufacturer, who alone has grown rich by the labour of the pauper now seems, from custom, released from distributing any part of his gains, to support the instruments of his wealth, when trade declines, and they are com to apply to their parish for relief.


In the north west part, the land is found from experience to yield most, if one crop only and a fallow is taken, except indeed where it will bear turnips or clover, which answer particularly well here. Very little meadow or pasture is seen, but good crops of wheat, oats, peas, and beans are grown by means of these frequent fallows, besides a very considerable quantity of excellent barley, malted upon the spot for the London market where it is said to be in high esteem.

In the south east corner, farming seems to be as near, if not nearer perfection, than in any other part of Essex. The land is in general of a deep, rich, tender, loamy quality, and, as in other parts, rather farmed than grazed. The crops of wheat, beans, oats, coleseed, or rape, mustard, and in short of any thing that is sown, afford a great return, compared with the common produce of land. The wheat is not unfrequently found to rise to a load an acre; oats (particularly the Poland), to eleven or twelve quarters, and beans and other corn in proportion. Some of this land has been known to produce five or six of the most exhausting crops successively, without a fallow or other particular usage, affording large crops of each. Wheat has been sown three successive years upon the same field, and the crops, upon an average, have amounted to four quarters per acre, the first from the too great richness of the soil, being the least, though this, ii, must be confessed, is by good managers seldom put to the test, as it is a maxim in Essex, that land, when used well, that is fallowed, kept free from weeds, and properly ploughed, drained and manured, is a most grateful and sure friend, but if abused, or run out, as our phrase is, in a few years it brings its improvident occupier to poverty.

This part of the county in particular is tilled with great spirit and judgment, though at a very great expence; labour of all kinds is extremely high, occasioned in some measure by a scarcity of hands, which indeed is every successive year less to be complained of, as population is rapidly increasing.


Our largest dairy farms are at, or in the neighbourhood of Epping, so deservedly famous for the richness of its cream and butter. The farmer even here confines himself to no particular sort of cows, but keeps up a stock of promiscuous cattle, bought in as opportunities offer, though indeed the more provident of them say, where the land is particularly good, thus Derby and Leicestershires have a preference. These in the summer are fed with the natural and artificial grasses, and in the winter with hay (which is in general of the best quality) and grains. The dairies are built on the north side of the farm houses calculated to be always cool; and are furnished with square troughs, lined with lead, sufficient to hold nine or ten gallons of milk, which is seldom suffered to be more than five or six inches deep; this, in winter is skimmed four, and in summer, two or three times; and the cream, after being kept three or four days, is churned into butter, and the milk after it will afford no more cream, is given to the hogs, which it fattens to most delicious pork.

Nearer London, their grass land is mown twice, and, upon an average, will produce three loads an acre, at 1800 weight a load; which is mown, made, and stacked in four days, if the weather will permit; for, as soon as it is cut, the field is filled with women and children, who spread it, and turn it three or four times in the course of a day; which expeditious method is almost sure to make the hay good.

Potato Culture

Near Ilford are some very extensive potatoe grounds, which are cropped year after year with this root, and produce a very lucrative trade in Covent Garden: the practice is, in the spring of the year, to select the very small potatoes of last year, or cut the larger ones into pieces, leaving one, two, or three eyes in each, and plant them regularly; these will shoot at each eye; and, unless some accident prevents it, produce a considerable increase, by October, when they are taken up and housed ready to be carried to market as the demand is made for them. This species of husbandry, cannot be carried on with success, except in light lands, where the situation is such as to afford a constant supply of town, or other good manure, to keep the land in the best condition.

Lands near London

In the more western parts, towards the Thames, lie a considerable range of marshes and rich arable land, cultivated in the usual way practised within the influence of the London market; a detail of which, could be of no use unless, where a universal market equal to that can be found.

End of page 1. Continues part 2

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