A 20th Century Domesday Book

March 1, 2006
Aerial view of Fontmell Magna

FONTMELL MAGNA FARM SURVEY 1941
Entering the third year of WWII, Britain had to grow even more food – especially grain – to counteract the U-boat menace. The Government set up the War Agricultural Executive Committee (the ‘War Ag’) with legally enforceable powers to demand that farmers plough up pasture for crops and concentrate on certain livestock for meat and eggs. (Please remember to click on the pictures to enlarge them.)

Aerial view of Fontmell Magna

Aerial view of Fontmell Magna

Every farm in Britain was inspected and surveyed – an agricultural Domesday Book, in fact. There were 30 farms and smallholdings in the Fontmell Magna parish, recorded on 185 forms. Copies of all these forms are now in the Village Archives. The ‘War Ag’ was somewhat unpopular among farmers. As a small boy living on a Somerset farm at the time and helping out on another, the author of this article well remembers the remonstrations. The War Ag officers had a difficult job to do but only occasionally was it necessary to have a policeman present for a repeat visit. Most farmers buckled-to at some inconvenience and cost to themselves when they realised the loss of life of merchant seamen in the Atlantic, but this didn’t prevent vociferous grumbling amongst themselves at market.

THE SURVEY

Middle Farm buildings

Middle Farm buildings


Each farm description was intended to consist of six pages, four of which had to be completed in great detail by the tenant on the acreage of various crops, vegetables, livestock, hay and straw, labour employed, etc., all of which forms a marvellous snapshot picture of the farming in our parish at the outset of the 1939-45 war. Two confidential forms were completed by the local WAEC officer (War Agricultural Executive Committee). These were never shown to either owner or tenant and contain a wealth of information about the condition of the fields, weeds, infestation by vermin, the water supply, and also the standard of management. Here the classifications were A, B or C. Farms in the lower two grades also had to have notes written on the occupier – whether the failings were due to old age, lack of capital or ‘personal failings’. These latter also had to be described, which can be quite amusing with certain individuals.

Harold Woolridge

Harold Woolridge planting swedes or turnips by hand

ANALYSIS
The data (78 categories alone) reveals some interesting details. Total farmed acreage within the parish was 2092 (847 hectares), plus 402 acres (163 hectares) of downland grazing. There were 72 acres wheat, 47 acres barley and 78 acres of oats (this is quite high – oats are much less popular now) and 31 acres of ‘mixed corn’; 42 acres of turnips/swedes, 21 of mangolds, 20 of potatoes, 14 kale, 12 of lucerne; 728 acres were of permanent grass for mowing; and 866 acres for grazing.
There were 411 cows and heifers in milk with 115 in-calf heifers

Horse drawn plough

Horse drawn plough

and 134 followers plus 127 calves. Some of the followers could have been beef animals, of course. Surprisingly there were only 613 sheep and 4 rams. There were 15 goats, 25 sows, 4 boars and 140 other pigs, 2320 layers and 1951 fowls under 6 months, and 312 ducks and 50 geese. There were only 3 tractors in the village, all of 22 horsepower. Only two of the farms had no horses, most had one but 2 had 4 and one 6, totalling 41.

Farm tractor in 1940s

Farm tractor in 1940s

Labour (full-time) was, excluding the occupier, wife and servants – 26 males over 21, 3 between 18-21 years, 5 under 18 and one full-time woman. Thus, assuming the occupier worked full-time, the regular staff per farm averaged 2.21 people. Of the 30 farms, eight (one in 3.75) failed to make Grade A (Farmed well) but readers will be relieved to hear there were none in Category C (Dreadful). Of these eight ‘B’s, three were down to old age/lack of capital/part-time, but the comments on the other five make interesting reading.
Only 3 farmers (10%) returned sheet C69/SSY which asked

Collecting sheaves of corn with a horse drawn cart

Collecting sheaves of corn with a horse drawn cart

details such as rental value, how long occupied, oil and petrol engines, etc., all fairly ‘touchy’ subjects at the time – in view of petrol rationing, for example. We have visions of many a disgruntled discussion in The Crown or elsewhere where it was decided to ‘forget that one – let the b’s mind their own business!’ Nearly a third of occupiers had other jobs. Market Assistant (M5); Carrier (M7); Blacksmith (M8); Flax Miller (M11); Haulage Contractor (M17); Coal merchant (M18); Odd jobs (M36).
It is sad to reflect that virtually every one of the 14 acres of apple orchards recorded in the parish – all within the village envelope – have gone. What a delicious smell of fermentation must have hung around in the autumn!

FARM SURVEY

Manor Farm, Compton Abbas

Manor Farm

Manor Farm (M15), Owner: S. Davey, Keighley, Yorks, Tenant: M. Harding
Binegar Farm (M4), Owner: S. Browne, Compton, Tenant: S.G. Brown
Hurdles Farm (M25), Owner: J. Foot, Colnet Hill, Holwell, Tenant: R. Warr
Smallholding (M23), Owner: Mr Barrat, Crown Inn, Tenant: S.J. Smith
Greens Farm (Fontmell) (M10), Owner: Dorset County Council (D.C.C), Tenant: C. Foyle
Greens Farm (Margaret Marsh) (M2), Owner: C. Foyle, Tenant: C. Foyle
Woodbridge Farm (M8), Owner: F. Day (blacksmith), Tenant: E. Day
Little Hartgrove Farm (M13), Owner: A. E. Gillett, Tenant: A.E. Gillett
The Elms, Bedchester (M5), Owner: D.C.C., Tenant: C. Brown
Blandford’s Farm (M6), Owner: Canon Edmonds, Tenant: H.G. Chick

Delivering milk, winter 1962-63

Delivering milk, winter 1962-63

Black Ven (M26), Owner: T & F Jesse, Tenant: E. Holloway
Copples Farm (M1), Owner: D.C.C., Tenant: E. Andrews
Moors Farm (M19), Owner: Mr Davey (per Senior & Godwin), Tenant: A.J.E. Ryall
Smallholding (M17), Owner: Miss Beck & others, Tenant: E.W. Merefield
Middle Farm (M9), Owner: C. Mullins, Melbury Abbas, Tenant: A.H. Foot
St Andrews Farm (M28?), Owner: A. & H.E. Bridle, Tenant: A. & H.E. Bridle
Blatchford Farm (M20), Owner: W. Goodfellow, Glanvilles Wootton, Tenant: R. Rebbeck
Yew Tree Farm (M16), Owner: S.G. Mansfield, Broadstone, Tenant: G.O. Mansfield
Bedchester Farm (M12), Owner: C.A. Green, Compton Abbas, Tenant: G.A Green

Romain Parham hitching up his mare

Romain Parham hitching up his mare

Smallholding (M18), Owner: R. Parham (coal merchant), Tenant: R. Parham
Cowgrove Farm (M3), Owner: Mrs. E. Hull, Shaftesbury, Tenant: G. Bealing
Gears Farm (M22), Owner: H. Johnson, Shaftesbury, Tenant: J.S. Lodge
Lower Hartgrove Farm (M29), Owner: A.G. King (c/o Dickson & Son, Poole), Tenant: R.J. Kiddle
Springhead Farm (M11), Owner: Execs J.S. Day, (c/o Senior & Godwin),

Joe Fry, shepherd at Springhead Farm

Joe Fry, shepherd at Springhead Farm

Tenant: R. Gardiner
Blackhorse Farm (M27), Owner: H. Johnson, butcher, Shaftesbury, Tenant: F. Joad
Gore Farm (M14), Owner: H.P. Gardiner, Tenant: S. Godeseth
Smallholding (M24), Owner: B. Thomas, Tenant: B. Thomas
Smallholding (M7), Owner: D.C.C., Tenant: R. Cutler
Crofts Farm (M36), Owner: Mr Davey, Tenant: Sidney Cannell
Smallholding (M21), Owner: Miss Thomas, Tenant: Mr H. Roberts

There were 9 ‘owner-occupiers’ and at least 11 owners lived outside the parish.
All the above entries appear on 3 maps MAP 73 / 11/ 8 Sheets SW & SE 1936 Edition. Each holding is outlined in coloured pencil and distinguished by the Map Reference No (e.g. Manor Farm is M15). Where the 6 inch sheets were used (as was the case for Dorset) the Ordnance Survey parcel number was taken from a 2 inch sheet and added to the 6 inch sheets in manuscript – which could lead to cluttering and confusion. Regrettably the Dorset sheets were not completed to a very high standard and there are frequent crossings-out and additions. The original forms are at the Public Records Office, Kew.

AND TODAY?
There are still faint traces of enforced wartime ploughing of downland to be seen – above the Lynchets on the south slope of Netton (Nitton) valley – horizontal furrows; on the western slope of the Fontmell ForeTop – vertical (and only seen with a light dusting of snow); and on the south slope of Longcombe under Orchid Bank – horizontal. The Netton and ForeTop slopes are very steep and must have been done with horses for safety reasons.
There are now 11 working farms in the parish and probably 9 independent farmers. The remaining lands or properties still called ‘farms’ on the large-scale Ordnance Survey maps are now either private dwellings or have been absorbed by adjacent farms. The site of one major farm has become an award-winning housing estate and another a well-known resource centre. The smallholdings have either been built over or have disappeared. In 1941 the average size of a farm in the parish was about 68 acres – now it must be around 188 acres. While the present day farmer may think he is bedevilled by Defra’s forms and bureaucracy, at least he doesn’t have two forms on his competence and possibly personal failings in their records… or does he?

Author: John Gadd