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

Agriculture of the County of Essex 1794 - part 2.

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 23 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

This document extends over two pages. This is page 2.

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book cover

General state of the County

From the information gathered, chiefly from the accounts which have been given in answer to the queries of the board of agriculture, copied and dispersed amongst the most communicative and intelligent landholders in the different parts of the county, and from our own knowledge and observation, it appears that the estates of individuals, are by no means so large, as in the northern, and other parts of the kingdom; few having more than six thousand a year in land, within the limits of the county of Essex.

The generality of the land is held in tillage, and produces abundance of wheat, barley, oats, beans, peas, turnips, tares, rape, rnustard, clover, rye grass, trefoil, and every other valuable sort of grain and pulse; besides the inclosures of hops, carraway coriander, teazel and the usual productions of gardens; which, in the neighbourhood of many of our towns, are cultivated to the extent of several acres; in the same occupation; and are more than sufficient to engage the time of the gardener and his family the year round.

The farmer, indeed, finds a good account in keeping a certain quantity of flock; and, wherever the soil will admit of it, has a portion of his land in meadow or pasture; but depends greatly upon tares, turnips, and artificial grasses, to help him through the winter and spring months; and endeavours to manage, so that the farming and grazing parts of his business may mutually assist each other. The size of our inclosures, which, except the marsh lands seldom exceed fifty or sixty acres, is determined by the extent of the farms; which vary from eight hundred, or nine hundred acres, down to twenty and under; and divided into ten, twelve, or fourteen parcels, according to the nature of them, and the convenience of the occupiers.

Wages of the labourers

The labourers are generally employed by the piece, and their work let to them upon such terms, as enables them to earn from eight and sixpence, to twelve or fourteen shillings a week, each man; and in the harvest month calculating all his perquisites of malt, hops, gloves, dinners, etc., from four to six guineas, according to the different parts of the county he is engaged in.


The manures most in request are, chalk, lime, dung, the produce of the farm yard, town muck, clay, marl, and maiden earth; of these, where it can be had, and the has not before been used to it, or where it has been well managed, chalk, on the colder lands, is preferable, and will continue its good effects for twenty years; which indeed it ought to do, as it often happens that it costs the tenant the full value of his land, to improve it by this manure.


Our meadows, or low grounds are seldom watered by art; nor is it thought profitable, that any considerable part of the county should have this advantage, without a greater expence than prudence will justify. No capacious caverns, or receptacles for large quantities of water, formed by barren mountains, are to be seen in this part of England. Nor are our streams so plentifully supplied, that, by damming them up for a few hours, a country could be inundated at pleasure.


Fallowing is universally found to answer, and the work is done by horses. The chief reasons for preferring them to oxen, are, that on heavy land thcse, in wet weather, will poach, so as to injure it very considerably, by treading down the manure and better soil, beyond the reach of the plough, and leave low places for the water to hang in and impoverish the soil, where horses will do no harm. Oxen move slower and have less strength, and of course do less work in the same space of time; and particularly where the land is short, and the turnings frequent, much time is lost, by their natural inertness; and to these may be added, the universal dislike the husbandmen have to all innovations upon old practices; which to those who are conversant with this description of people, will be known to be alone a very great obstacle to the introduction of oxen; though it has lately happened, that beasts, which the Welch drovers bring up ready broken to the yoke, have been made to work, in the hurry of feed time and harvest, and great advantage has been found to arise from it; as by the addition of one or two yokes of oxen, to the usual stock, no reason can prove too short for a farmer; and at more leisure times, the regular team may be sent out, for the various necessaries of fuel, manure, etc., without occasioning the plough to stand still: nor is any expence incurred by this assistance, beyond a rack of hay, which is given to the oxen to eat, till they have had time to cool sufficiently to be turned out with safety.

Implements of husbandry

Our implements consist of wheel and foot ploughs with iron breasts; the latter only used where farming is best managed: wagons large enough to carry two chaldron of coals; tumbrels; and small carts with broad wheels drawn, by two horses, are thought great improvements, where earth, clay, etc., is to be carried from one part of a farm to another, harrows and rolls, of different makes and weights, according to the land they are to be used upon.

Seed time and harvest must necessarily be guided, in some measure, by the season, but it is usual with us to sow our wheat in October and November, our oats and barley in March and April, and to cut them in July and August; beans are dibbed in February, and ripen early in September.

Our most intelligent farmers are of opinion, no substitute has yet been found out for fallows upon the strong lands: nor do they think any process is likely to be of that utility to the land, as giving it a year's rest with good and frequent ploughings, to keep it clean and expose it thoroughly to the different seasons; this, and laying it down with good spring corn, and feeding it one year, and then breaking it up again, is by experience, known to produce much more profit to the tenant, and less injury to the landlord in the course of a lease, than the dishonest method of driving or over cropping, or even the late boasted drill husbandry can pretend to.

Land ditching

One of our most beneficial and permanent modes of improving land, not universally known, is, by land ditching or under draining Where this process is intended, it must first be considered, whether the soil is sufficiently porous, to receive benefit adequate to the expence of it, as, in very strong ones, this sort of drain is not found to answer. But where the water can readily sink eighteen or twenty inches in the land, the farmer draws a furrow from the highest to the lowest part of his field, then digs out a spit, twelve or fourteen inches wide, and again with an instrument three inches wide made for this work, digs four or five inches deeper, and with a bent scoop made for the purpose, takes out all the loose earth, and thus makes a narrow channel along the center of the furrow leaving a sufficient shoulder on each side to support a quantity of wood and straw, which is put upon them to prevent the earth, which is now replaced, from falling into the narrow passage left for the water.

These ditches are made it various distances from each other, from one, to two or three rods, and of depths, from one to two feet and upwards, according to the necessity there is for them, and the nature of the soil, through which the water has to make its way, to get at them, and are made to empty themselves into deep ditches at the bottom of the field; or where the field is large, one or more leading land ditch is made sufficiently large to receive the water from several of the smaller ones, which are then contrived to flow into them; where wood is scarce small round stones have been successfully substituted for it: to make these ditches of more permanent use, they should be cut straight, and the passage for the water made of an equal depth throughout, or it will stop in the lowest parts, and occasions the sides to fall in and choke the drain.

Where the soil is adapted to it, this work will last twenty years; but where there are squails, with sand or drift gravel, the passages are apt to choke in a short time. The plough, waggons, etc., over these drains without doing them the least injury; and, in parks, and old pastures, it is not uncommon to turn the sod over the water channel, without either wood, stones, or straw; and the ditches are seen to work, or draw, as we call it, as well, after running thirty years, as they did at first. The better appearance and real improvement of the land are too obvious to be a moment doubled, by those who knew the land before and after this method has been used.

Wood Lands

The woodlands of Essex are extensive, and would supply a vast quantity of well grown straight timber, could the proprietors be induced to suffer them to land till they arrive at their full size; but the very distant prospect of seeing young trees become fit for his Majesty's dock yards, the late high price of bark, valuable in proportion to the sap, or growth in the tree, and the real injury they are to the underwood ,which we fell every twelve, fourteen, or sixteen years, together with the increase of rent paid for land, preclude all hopes of keeping up our stock of the most necessary timbers, and even seem to threaten the destruction of most of our woods, which are yearly lessened to convert the land into farms.

The management of underwood, particularly where the stubbs are young, might, it is presumed, be improved by obliging the woodman to cut it even with, if not rather below too surface of the ground, by which means the stubbs would produce more plentiful shoots, and afford a quicker growth, besides that the quantity cut would be considerably increased, as it is no uncommon thing to see the old stubbs left a foot or two high ,after the wood is felled; and if more attention were paid to the draining of woodlands, the owners would find a good account in it, when the wood next came in course for felling.

Farm houses and convenant leases

The houses upon the Essex farms are good and conveniently constructed, and the stables, barns, cowhouse, and other buildings, more numerous, than in most other counties. These, after being put into repair by the landlord, at the commencement of the lease, are generally to be kept so at the tenant's expence, at least as far as workmanship goes; this clause, with others to prevent meadows and old pastures from being broken up; to oblige the tenant to fallow every second or third year, to prohibit the growth of hemp, flax, wood, and such exhausting crops from being sown; to forbid the disposal of any of the hay, straw, or manure arising on the farm, are generally inserted in all leases, though particular covenants are entered into in almost every grant, according to the particular circumstances of the case.

Our farmers of the present day, are much more enlightened than their predecessors half a century ago, and the more equal division of landed property than once prevailed, has brought the landlord and his tenant upon a nearer level, by which means a sort of friendly intercourse is kept up, and the tenant's mind expanded by the more liberal ideas of his landlord, would induce him to incur any expence in such improvements as his reason and experience could justify, were he sure of reaping all the benefit of them.


If Essex fails in any part of husbandry, it is in the kind of stock it sends to market, which seem to be brought in without any sort of preference to this or that particular breed. In the course of a few miles ride, you will see North and South Wales, Irish, and most other sorts of cattle ,Norfolk, Hertfordshire Lincoln, Wilts, etc., sheep, and not uncommonly two or three different kinds in the same field, though of late the South Down sheep, or this with a cross of the Norfolk, have been in great request; and it is to be hoped that an infant agricultural society, established within a twelve month under the patronage of our worthy representatives, will tend to correct this great error ,and be of very essential service to the interest of the farmer, in all other particulars capable of improvement.

Obstacles to husbandry

As the honourable board has condescended to ask our opinion of the supposed obstacles to improvement in agriculture it is humbly submitted to their attention whether this most useful science would not be greatly assisted if the opulent rnanufacturers were made to contribute in a larger proportion to the necessities of their weavers when driven to their parish by distress than is the case at present; for although it may be replied that there is already a law for this purpose it is found so difficult to be put in practice that is not attempted here at present.

Other obstacles may be the total want of leases or short terms and strict and penal covenants sometimes insisted upon by gentlemen of property which prohibits that return which is necessary to induce a man to disburse his property in the improvements of the natural soil; and were the land owners to consider, that except in a very few instances of converting meadows and old leas into tillage, destroying timber, etc., their and their tenants real interests are the same, for the greater part of a lease, they would see it to be to their own, and the public advantage, to suffer their tenants to manage the land in such way, as would best enable them to pay their rents with punctuality, and almost give them their own covenants, till the term came within five or fix years of its expiration; when, perhaps it might be nothing more than policy, to guard against the possibility of abuse, by laying down some rules to govern their conduct, in those particulars, where their interest militates against that of their landlords; but any certain fixed method, or rotation of management, will ever be disadvantageous to the growth of corn, so long as the seasons are uncertain, and the many casualties a farmer is liable to (which no art or industry can prevent) continue to perplex him.

If it should be thought this liberal conduct on the part of the landlord, might lay his good nature open to the designs of an artful tenant, who might think himself at liberty to crop his land as long as it would pay him for the tillage, and then resign or sell his lease; it may be answered, that, if the certainty of losing his character, would not operate sufficiently upon him, to prevent such impolitic measures in a tenant, they might easily be provided against by a clause in the lease, calculated for that end; or, by an indemnification or of some other sort, before the lease was granted.

Another circumstance which would aid the plough, it is conceived, is liberty to the poor to seek a livelihood where ever work offers, or inclination leads them to seek for it, instead of being subject to be taken up, if found out of their own parish, and carried to what is called to their place of settlement, at the caprice of an overseer, to sit at home, or what is worse, while they have any credit left, at the alehouse, for want of employ; labourers will then, it is presumed, naturally be led to reside, where they could render most service to the community, and have a prospect of supporting themselves and families, without being reduced to the mortifying application to an unfeeling parish officer. The rates would be less heavy, the land better tilled, at a smaller expence than at present, and both the rich and the poor would feel the benefit.

Another hindrance to the improvements, which men of property and spirit might otherwise make, particularly in regard to wade and uncultivated land, is the present mode of rewarding the labours of the clergy. Could the honorable board suggest some fair equivalent, which would make that most valuable member of society, the farmer, secure in all the just gains of his laborious endeavours, without injuring the legal rights of the church, it would confer the most substantial benefit on the landed interest in general, assist morality and good neighbourhood, and give comfort to the tithe gatherer, as well as to the landlord and the husbandman, all of whom, were the subject properly understood, it would not be difficult to satisfy.

A further improvement, which seems to follow that of a commutation of tithes, and would increase the growth of the necessaries and conveniences of life, would be, empowering the clergy, to grant leases of the church lands, for such terms, as would insure their tenants a reasonable time to reap the fair returns of the best modes of husbandry; for as they are now circumstances, no permanent improvements are attempted, the land lies half cultivated, and seems, in a most every parish you go through, to plead for better treatment, by the unexampled poverty of its appearance.

An object, not perhaps beneath the notice of this most useful institution, is thought to be a general commission of sewers, for the repairs and preservation of the sea walls along the coast, which protect the lands most capable of improvement, from the destructive inundations of the salt water, which is known to leave such fatal effects behind it, that the land is not worth the tillage for several years after it has been overflown; besides, that the expence and trouble which may have been laid out upon it are for ever lost. At present, it is common for the owners of land, to manage their own walls according to their own discretion, by which means, the neglect of an individual, may cause not only ruin to himself, but to many of his more careful neighbours, and spread a general distress around him.


It cannot we flatter ourselves be thought foreign to the present subject to remark that as the justice done to the labourers by those with whom they lay out their little earnings must in some degree affect the price of work here officers are appointed to secure that desirable end not known in every county in the kingdom Two men are nominated for that purpose at a certain annual salary (25l. Each) whom we call public weighers whose business is to go to the several parts of the county and examine the weights of all millers and shopkeepers and make returns of those in whose possession any light weight is found to the quarter sessions by whose authority they act and whenever complaint of this sort is made the suspected dealer is summoned to appear at the following sessions where if he is unable to acquit himself of the charge alleged against him he is sure to be exposed and otherwise punished in proportion to his demerits.

Report ends. Back to part 1

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