Blog - Building Beginnings

Farming yesterday

P1070985Anyone wishing to discover how their farm was run in the 1940s would surely be fascinated to explore the National Farm Survey conducted during the Second World War by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries to assess how the country’s food production could be improved. This nationwide survey was extremely thorough and provides details of every aspect of farming life in the mid-20th century. The outline of each farm was plotted on Ordnance Survey 6” scale maps and given a unique reference number, and survey data was recorded on several forms by the assessors. The whole collection is stored and accessible at The National Archives in Kew.

P1060548_3The starting point was to establish the occupier of each farm, length of occupancy and the number of family members employed there, and for tenanted farms, the rent paid and the name and address of the owner. If the farmer occupied other land he was obliged to say where it was. Farmer categories were full-time, part-time, spare time, and hobby.

The condition of the farm was assessed as good, fair, or bad in regard to its farmhouse, buildings, roads, fences, ditches, draining and access to road and railway. Percentages of the soil as heavy, medium, light or peaty had to be given. Infestations of rabbits and moles, rats and mice, rooks and wood pigeons, other birds, and insect pests were also to be reported. Water and electricity supplies to the farmhouse, farm buildings and land were recorded.

The acreage of every type of crop and grass was recorded: cereals, potatoes, turnips, mangolds, sugar beet, kale, mustard, flax, hops, clover to name some of the 32 categories. Orchards, fruit and vegetables, hay and straw were similarly examined. The number and type of livestock included cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry and goats. Horses were a separate category divided into those used for agriculture, unbroken horses, stallions, yearlings, etc.

hopesay common foal1‘Motive power’ was broken down into water wheels, steam/gas/petrol engines, and electric motors with numbers of each and their respective horsepower. Tractors were a separate question asking for model numbers and horsepower and whether used for field or stationary work.

From all this information the surveyor had to classify the management of the farm as A, B or C where A was the best. Reasons for choosing B or C were to be determined as old age, lack of capital, or personal failings. There was plenty of room for further detailed comments to support these assessments.

As well as serving a valuable purpose at the time, this comprehensive record is a wonderful resource for agricultural – and house – historians.

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