The Modern Victorian Farm

Join me on my merry adventures in researching Victorian farms. For the next three posts, I’ve excerpted from The Farm Homesteads of England: A Collection of Plans of English Homesteads Existing in Different Parts of the Country, Carefully Selected from the Most Approved Specimens of Farm Architecture, to Illustrate the Accommodation Required Under Various Modes of Husbandry, with a Digest of the Leading Principles Recognised in the Construction and Arrangement of the Buildings. This book was published in 1865 and includes blueprints (pictures! pictures!) of farmyards, farmhouses, and laborer’s cottages. Great geeky historical fun.

The Woodhouse Farm

This Farm the property of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners of England and Wales is distant about two miles from the city of Ely. It is in the occupation of the executors of the late Mr. Allden. The rainfall of the district in inches is 21.95.

Description of the Homestead.—This Homestead was erected in the years 1861 and 1862, from designs by Mr. R. Wright, of Norwich, at a cost of about £2800, exclusive of the carriage of materials and the formation of roads and approaches. Mr. Freeman, of Ely, was the builder. It is occupied in conjunction with a set of outlying old Buildings. The Yards, Sheds, and Stalls of the new Buildings were designed for the accommodation of 100 head of cattle, of different ages; but the practice has been to feed only 50 large beasts in them, of which 20 are tied up and fatted with roots, chaff, and cake in the stalls, and the remaining 30 run loose in the yards. When the stalled beasts are considered fat they are sold, and their places are filled up by the best beasts from the yards.

From 50 to 70 head of growing stock are kept during the winter at the outlying Buildings. These are grazed during the summer upon about 60 acres of low meadow land, or “washes,” which do not belong to the Farm, but form a separate hiring, on which the beasts remain from May to Michaelmas, when they are removed to the highland pasture, and there fed with hay, early turnips, and sometimes with 2 or 3 lbs. of cake each. They are then put into the stalls or yards, and prepared for market as before stated.

Woodhouse Farm

There is Stabling for about 35 working horses and 8 saddle or harness horses; besides a Hospital.

 The Buildings were designed with a view of employing a fixed 10 horse power steam engine; but up to this time a portable engine has been adopted by the tenants to work their chaff and turnip cutter, corn and cake crushers, and other machinery.

The thrashing floor, in the central portion of the Barn, is paved with York flags and the two ends are boarded.

The Piggeries, and the cake and root stores, are paved with bricks but an alteration to asphalte is in contemplation as preferable.

The Granary occupies the upper story of the west end of the barn and is supported on iron columns. In it a crane is fixed by which the corn is raised in sacks from the floor beneath.

A Liquid manure tank is sunk in the pig yard, and the manure is pumped thence and distributed over the grass land by means of an iron cart.

The Water from the roofs is preserved in a tank to which a large force pump is attached to raise it into a cistern fixed on the tie beams of a shed, whence it is carried by means of pipes to the Buildings. The supply thus obtained is found sufficient.

Woodhouse Farm

Description of the Farm.—The Farm consists of 980 acres of which 170 are meadow and pasture land and the remaining 810 are arable. The arable land is of two sorts highland (so called in contradistinction to the fen land), of which there are 270 acres, and fen land amounting to 540 acres. The highland is a good arable loam, with a subsoil of boulder clay; and it is cultivated in a five-course rotation, which though somewhat varying with circumstance may be quoted as follows: 1st turnips and mangolds; 2nd oats, wheat ,and barley; 3rd, clover, peas and beans; 4th wheat; 5th, oats, beans, and barley. The fen land is a black vegetable soil, resting on a soft blue clay. This land is drained, and the water raised by a private steam-engine of 20 horse power, and a water wheel of a kind common in the Fens. Upon this description of soil the rotation generally adopted is as follows: 1st year, coleworts, mangolds, and kohl rabi; 2nd, oats, and barley; 3rd, wheat; 4th, clover, beans, and mustard; 5th, wheat.  Of the roots grown on the fallows, two thirds are consumed on the land, and the remaining one third is taken to the store beasts at the Buildings.

 About 300 half-bred ewes form the breeding flock the lambs are sold as soon as they are weaned. Up to Christmas the ewes are kept on the turnips, and subsequently on the kohl rabi in the day, and in the fold-yard on hay and straw chaff at night. In addition to an ewe flock, from 300 to 400 hoggets are bought in April, and fattened on the seeds, with cake. The latter are sold off as they become fat, and others are bought to fill their place until the clover hay is consumed; the whole are disposed of by the end of March.

Sanction Hill Farm

This Farm belongs to its present occupier, John Wells, Esq., of Booth Ferry House, Howden. It is situated on the sides of a deep and narrow valley in the East Riding of Yorkshire. The average annual rainfall of the district is in inches 23.12.

Sanction Hill Farm

Description of the Homestead.—These Buildings were erected from the designs of Mr. Wells, during the years 1860, 1861, and 1862. By lengthening the period of operation, the haulage of materials and the levelling of the site were performed at such seasons as did not interfere with the regular working of the farm. The Cost of the Buildings in their completed state, including the Farm-house and Labourers’ cottages, was nearly £3900. This outlay, inclusive of the levellings and of the cartage of materials, was increased by the difficulties of the site, which involved more than ordinary labour in excavating and raising the ground to secure a level base.

The Buildings are of brick, and are slated; the bricks being made upon the estate in “force fire kilns” at a cost of fourteen shillings per thousand.

The present Stables accommodate 12 draught and 2 riding horses ; and there are, besides, 6 Loose-Boxes.

Accommodation, independent of the large Fold-Yard on the West, is provided for 40 head of cattle of different ages, and for 20 pigs.

Four cows only are kept, which are fed at the head, from a passage communicating with the root-house.

The principal Barn is divided into two compartments or floors. On the lower one are fixed a thrashing-machine and circular saw, both being driven by the shaft which drives the pulper in the adjoining root-house. The upper compartment, 18 feet high, has its floor on a level with the stack-yard, which occupies the higher ground, at the north side of the Homestead. From thence the stacks are brought by means of a tramway to the thrashing-machine, the top of which is raised about 2 feet above the floor level. As the corn is thrashed the straw is delivered into the adjoining Straw-barn, and the grain to the respective wheat and horse-corn Granaries, situated on either side. In the latter, stones and mills are fixed for bruising corn and crushing cake.

Mr. Wells writes :—“The corn, when thrashed, is raised, dressed, and deposited in either of these granaries by means of spouts and screw propellers, so that whatever description of corn is thrashed, it finds its way into the proper place without manual labour.”

In the Chaff-cutting room is fixed the chaff-cutter, driven by a separate shaft; and as the straw and hay are cut, the chaff falls into a room below, where the food is mixed and taken to the cattle without passing through the fold-yards.

The Fold-Yards are sloped, the centre of each being 6 feet below the thresholds of the doors, and covered with a layer of chalk 1 foot thick, well rammed down.

The Floors of the Buildings which contain cattle are paved with Bradford stonesetts, laid in pitch ; those of the barn, straw-shed, mill and cutting-houses, and passages, are of asphalte blocks, 18 inches square by 2 ½ inches thick.

Jules Bastien-Lepage  (1848–1884)
Weary
Jules Bastien-Lepage 
Weary

The Rain-water from the House and Buildings, which are spouted, is conducted to iron tanks, containing about 6500 gallons. Overflow pipes are provided to convey the surplus water from these into two large underground cisterns, one containing 13,000 gallons to supply the engine which pumps its own water, the other containing 10,000 gallons, which supplies the house. There are also two circular ponds, 30 yards in diameter, which are supplied by rain-water from the hills. In the Wolds a sufficient supply of water is a great desideratum, and these arrangements have never failed as yet to secure all that has been needed. The Drainage of the Homestead is thorough; each stable is provided with an iron cess-pit, which, in connection with the drains of the yards, empties itself into one large tank in the carpenter’s yard.

Ventilation is procured by the ordinary “ventilators” in the ridges of the roof, and by several swivel-windows placed over the heads of the animals, 12 feet apart.

Such walls as are only 9 inches thick received two coats of plaster, and the whole of the inside of the Buildings is whitewashed.

No paint is used to the woodwork. It is all stained with umber, and fixed with cold boiled linseed oil and varnish.

Sanction Hill Farm

Description of the Farm.—This Farm contains about 350 acres. It was formerly in two holdings, the old homesteads attached to which, according to the custom of the Yorkshire Wolds district, were situated in the village.

The improvements in cultivation which have signalised this district, especially the growth of turnips, have rendered it essential to complete success that the Buildings should be placed as near the centre of the farm as possible, and Mr. Wells has adopted this principle in selecting the site of the present Homestead.

The land is of a light loamy character, the surface soil for the most part varying in depth from 6 to 18 inches. The whole overlies the chalk, and when the superstratum is of considerable depth, it is usual to bring up the chalk from below, and spread it about the land at the rate of from 100 to 150 loads per acre.

Mr. Wells is a land-agent of considerable experience and wide practice, and farms nearly 1000 acres of land in addition to his own, which is here described.

Tattenhall Hall Farm

Tattenhall Hall Farm in the county of Chester, is the property of Robert Barbour, Esq., and is occupied by Mr. George Jackson. The average annual rainfall of the district is about 33 inches

Description of the Farm.—The Buildings were erected in the year 1860. Exclusive of House and Piggeries, the haulage of materials, the formation of roads, and the making of the necessary approaches they cost 1600l. This sum does not include a small portion of old materials used in them. The arrangements were designed by the tenant; Mr. J. Harrison, of Chester, acting as architect.

Tattenhall Hall Farm

The dairy cows, 80 in number, occupy the principal building (the Cow-house), in close proximity with which are the Food-chambers, Machinery, and Barn. The cows are placed on each side a central feeding passage, along which the cut food is carried by a truck to the troughs ; while a constant stream of water passes along the two lines of stalls, and furnishes each with an ever fresh supply. The central portion of this large building is higher than the two ends, and contains a lay-loft, into which hay is brought direct from the field, and there stored. Ventilation is gained by an air-shaft, in the shape of a centre cupola, and by side openings.

There is accommodation for 14 calves, and 12 store stock, in addition to the dairy stock.

Stabling is provided for 9 working horses, besides which there is a Nag-stable with three stalls, a Loose-box, and a Hospital for cows.

The Piggeries, which are supplied with whey by means of a pipe-drain direct from the Dairy, are fitted up for about 50 breeding, store, and fatting pigs, and are very complete.

The Machinery consists of a portable steam-engine, with a thrashing apparatus; also a small 6-inch cylinder fixed steam-engine, which drives a chaff-cutter placed in the straw dépôt, and a root-cutter and cleaner in the room below. The latter is supplied by the engine-boy from the adjacent store, and the roots, when cut, are taken by elevators and mixed with the chaff; the whole being sprinkled with hot water, or oil-cake gruel, as it descends to a chamber, the floor of which is perforated, in order to allow the waste steam from the engine to ascend and sweeten the mass. The cows are kept on this steamed food throughout the winter; as spring approaches an addition of oil-cake, bean-meal, and a little chopped seeds and clover, is made to it.

Jules Bastien-Lepage  (1848–1884) 
Hay Making
Jules Bastien-Lepage 
Hay Making

The milk, when brought from the Cow-house, is collected into two cheese-tubs, or vats, placed on the kitchen floor, and capable of containing 240 gallons. Each tub is provided with a 3-inch plug, and a strainer guards the opening through which the whey, when separated from the curd, passes into one of four slate cisterns. When all the cream has been removed from the whey, a valve is raised, which allows of the escape of the refuse whey into any or all of the pig-troughs, a little meal from the corn-flour bin being added to it. The curd, when separated, is passed through the curd mill. It is then salted, vatted, pressed into the proper cheese shapes, and elevated into the cheese drying room, and after four months’ detention, the cheeses are lowered by the same contrivance, and sent to the London market.

The buildings are drained into two large Liquid-manure tanks, the contents of which serve to irrigate about 14 acres of meadow land.

The Rain-water and the wash of the house is conducted to suitable reservoirs, and is made to flow over a small meadow at pleasure.

The Buildings are supplied with water from a pond, which receives the drainage water from about 15 acres of land.

The corn crops are well housed in Skeleton Barns having clay floors, the crops being preserved from contact with the clay, by means of an intervening layer of brushwood.

In addition to this Homestead, which has the disadvantage of not being at the centre of the holding, 24 cow-stalls, a food house, and labourer’s cottage, have been erected at a distant part of the farm. At this Steading the barren cows are fatted and the calves are kept, the latter being supplied with roots and fodder. By this means much cartage is saved, and manure is made where it is wanted.

Description of the Farm.—The Farm consists of about 320 acres, of which about 100 are arable, the rest being pasture and mcadow. The land consists mostly of clay, resting on a substratum of New Red Sandstone.

The arable land is cultivated partly on a five-course, and partly on a four-course system.

All the land requiring drainage has been drained, partly by the landlord, partly by the tenant.

During the present tenancy many old fences have been levelled, and about six miles of new and straight quick hedges have been planted ; by which means, and by filling useless pits, the productive area of the farm has been increased by more than 12 acres. Eighteen or twenty acres of swedes or mangolds are annually grown, and carried from the fields-part to the home, and part to the outlying farmstead.

A flock of 200 sheep is usually kept.

Below are some plans from the book. Click on one to enlarge and scroll through the other images.

Jules Bastien-Lepage 
The Grape Harvest
Jules Bastien-Lepage 
The Grape Harvest

If domestic life in rural Victorian England is your passion, then I highly recommend the BBC series, The Victorian Farm. (But you’ve probably already seen it if you’re on my blog.) Much of the information in that series comes from Henry Stephens’ The Book of the Farm.

2 Replies to “The Modern Victorian Farm”

  1. It’s a joy to read these, you really a get a sense of the fact that these were the exciting new advances of the time. The real modern up to date stuff. And the detailed complexity of running a big farm.

  2. This book really helped me visualize a scene in a WIP. The details are great. The next post is on farmhouses and the last is on laborer’s cottages.

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