Woodborough’s Heritage

Woodborough, a Sherwood Forest Village, recorded in Domesday

History of Nottinghamshire Farming - by David Rose

David Rose was farm manager at the Manor Farm in the heart of Woodborough village between 1980’s and 1993 having worked there since the 1960’s. The following article covers farming in Nottingham, but it could easily be applied to farming in Woodborough.

1: The early farms and settlements of the County

The two great natural features of Nottinghamshire, the River Trent and Sherwood Forest, have played a prominent role in the life and history of the county since time immemorial.

The settlement of the area and the beginnings of agriculture are bound up with the river valley, which was a means of access for those in trading by boat and a barrier to those advancing overland; whilst Sherwood, though never an impenetrable forest, was a wilderness of poor land, not inviting for settlers to cultivate.

The early invaders were all land-hungry farmers, so a third deciding factor in the settlement of the area was the suitability of the land for cultivation. With only primitive tools for working the land, the river valley and its slopes offered easy working alluvial soils, whereas further west was heavy clay and thin sand.

There is little evidence of Stone Age farming left in the county so it is convenient to start an agricultural history with the Romans who were expert farmers.

The Romans, who came across the narrow seas from Gaul, built their invasion roads radiating from London. Their first frontier was the Fosse Way (c AD 47), just south of the Severn-Trent, on a line running through the county for 30 miles. On this length of road, they established four camps, Vernametum (Willoughby), Margidunum (East Bridgford), Ad Pontem (East Stoke) and Crococolana (Brough). Once settled their farming was based on large estates or villas and native hamlets under their protection. At Ad Pontem they bridged the Trent and built villas on the west side of the river at Thurgarton, Southwell and Cromwell. These villas were on good land and extensive arable farming (from arabilis, Latin for land that can be ploughed) was practised on the alluvial soils of valleys like the Greet, the Mourn and Meden, the Ryton and Idle, where sand and gravel areas are found with the clay. The Romans had a good eye for sites just above the flood level and they had knowledge of draining and had tools which could master some of the heavier land.

The sites of the Southwell and Thurgarton villas are good examples of the sort of position they liked sheltered, south-facing, well-watered and easy working soil. The Roman villas were self-supporting and grew surplus crops, particularly grain, for export. Spelt (Triticum Spelte) and Emmar wheat (T. Dicoccum) and Hullard barley (Hardeum Disticum) were the principal cereals, with some beans and rye in rotation. Oats were grown in the north to feed horses.

Aerial photography has revealed crop marks on the sand-land around Retford, Blythe and Worksop, showing systems of small fields in well defined patterns. Excavations of some of the ditches revealed have produced Roman-British pottery of approximately 3rd century origin. These settlements suggest smaller holdings of 30-50 acres mixed arable and grass, perhaps of native origin or for retired Roman ex-servicemen. Situated in the valleys of the Mourn, Meden, Ryton and Idle, the ditches may well have been for irrigation of the dry sand-land. The usual Roman plough was the ‘acatrum’ or sole and, similar to the ‘ard’ type of plough used in Ireland and the Western Isles until modern times. But a Roman coulter found in the gravel beds north of Newark, perhaps washed down the river, suggests that a heavier type of plough was known and used on the stronger land in the Trent valley.

Where ploughing erodes soil, archaeology - such as this prehistoric field system - will be damaged. Measures to protect soil will benefit archaeology. Photo right by English Heritage NMR 18460-19.

Cattle-rearing was well developed before the Roman conquest but animals’ remains show a great increase in both cattle and sheep under their occupation. It was mainly a pastoral economy which maintained free-grazing cattle and sheep with collecting pens and folds and some fed during the winter on roots and beans.

The cattle were for meat and hides and the sheep essentially to produce wool, with some milk, cheese and meat. Horses were for military use, not husbandry, and oxen and mules were used for ploughing.  

When the Roman administration failed in the early 5th century, the Roman-British farms and villas were there for the taking and invading Saxons moved into many of the homesteads surrounded by their cultivated fields. The continuity of the Roman and English systems of land management was not really broken and although the new settlers did not take to the towns and camps on the Fosse Way, they had no objection to colonising the farms and fields of the Roman villas and villages. Evidence of Anglo-Saxon settlement has also been found on or near Roman villas at Barton in Fabis and Bunny on the red clay, and at Cromwell and Mansfield Woodhouse on alluvial soils.

Above: An artists impression of a Roman Villa from which

we see the beginnings of a traditional farmyard and house.

The Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Danes and Normans were all looking for dry, fertile soils which they could farm, although all settlements were not by any means on the best land. Geological structure and soil types have not changed in the 1500 years that have passed since these early settlers farmed it. The Angles, Saxons and Danes coming from north Germany and Jutland to the east coast, worked their way up the rivers of the Wash and up the Humber, to the Trent valley. It is the settlements of these people which gave the county the pattern of villages, farms and fields which can still be traced in the modern landscape. When the Anglo-Saxon or Viking boats nosed their way up the Trent in the 5th and 6th centuries, looking for patches of good, dry land on which to settle, the estates of the Roman villa, smallholdings and hamlets, were still there, like islands of cultivation in the wetland and woodland which stretched from the Lincolnshire cliff in the east to Sherwood Forest in the west.

Unfortunately there is very little evidence today of Anglo-Saxon settlements, probably because centuries of cultivations and the sprawl of modern towns and industry have obliterated it. Apart from a few remains in churches and burial places, place names are therefore the most important guide. These suggest that the Anglo-Saxons, when they went beyond Roman sites, began with the occupation of sand and gravel terraces with good top soil, above the flood level in the Trent valley, such as Fiskerton, Hoveringham and Kneeton, together with the medium loams lying between the river plain and the wooded banks of the valley, such as Thurgarton, Lowdham and Kirklington (at the head of the Greet valley).

The Domesday Book of 1086 gives a list of settlements as the Normans found them and the names give a guide to the sites chosen by their Anglo-Saxon predecessors in the 5th and 6th centuries. The predominant Anglo-Saxon suffix in place names is   ‘- ton’ or ‘- tum’ meaning village or township of which there are more than eighty in the county, such as Carlton, Beeston, Elston, Leverton etc. This is closely followed by ‘- ham’ (German = heim), meaning homestead, e.g. Laneham, Kelham, Lowdham and Gotham. The Scandinavian ending ‘- by’, which is still Danish for a village, appears in over 20 names, e.g. Bleasby, Thoresby, Linby, Tythby and Willoughby. Thorpe, from ‘torp’, Norse for a small, outlying farm, is almost as frequent as in Granthorpe, Staythorpe, Gunthorpe and Caythorpe.

An artists reconstruction of a Saxon hall and farm, perhaps not as

elaborate as the Roman Villa but still in the ‘farmyard’ tradition.

Thus by the time of the arrival of the Normans we had a settled countryside of farming hamlets and villages covering most of the area first referred to by name in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as Snotinghamscire. The suffix ‘scire’ or ‘shire’, means something which has been shorn off or separated, the Midland counties were ‘shorn’ out of the great territory of Mercia between 997 and 1016 as a result of the Danish invasions. Nottinghamshire was the district occupied by the Danish army with its headquarters in Nottingham.

The Scandinavian settlement in this county introduced other changes, the Danes put arable husbandry in the foreground of their farming. All their calculations revolved consistently around the ox-drawn plough although it is not known whether the Danes used these measurements in their homelands.

In the Duchy of Normandy, founded by their kinsmen in 911 AD, grants of land were frequently expressed in terms of plough land. Latinised as ‘terra aratra’ and ‘terra carucaton’. Consequently in Nottinghamshire and other shires where the Danelaw predominated, the carucate (120 acres) rather than the Hide became the normal unit of tax assessment, being held to be the average start of 8 ox team per annum.

Freemen were the backbone of the Danish farming community. They were poor and owed certain dues and services to the head of the village, but the soil they occupied was their own property hence the strong tradition of small freeholders in the county which survived the Norman Conquest.


1. The place names of Nottinghamshire. Gower.

2. The Vikings. Johannes Bransted.

3. Thoroton Transactions Vol. 70, 1966.

4. The English Village, F. Seebohn.

5. The History of Nottinghamshire Farming, P. Lyth.

2: Changes in land tenure - Enclosure

From 1743 to 1869, 154 Enclosure Acts went through Parliament for Nottinghamshire. They were of different types; some re-arranged the open fields and created new farms, some enclosed waste and common [land] to increase the acreage of a farm, some included both open and common fields and some commuted Tithes into awards of land for the tithe holders. The type of enclosure was closely related to the type of land and farming practised.

A small segment of the post Enclosure map of Woodborough dated 1798

Earlier enclosures of the 16th and 17th centuries had largely been on land suitable for putting down to grass, for sheep and cattle husbandry. The enclosures in the 18th century were primarily to promote arable farming in parishes on the clay and heavier corn growing land and in the Trent valley.

Apart from Commissioners’ fees the costs of the enclosure were substantial. Parliamentary and legal fees had to be paid. A surveyor had to be employed to draw accurate maps of the parish before and after re-allocation of the land. Regular meetings had to be held and publicly advertised. New roads, fences, ditches and culverts had to be laid out and after the award the new owners had to fence their allotment, usually within 6 months. The type of fence, usually post and rail with hawthorn quickset hedge, was specified in detail. With an estimated average acreage per enclosure of 1162 acres the cost per acre was £1.42.

The greatest hardship fell on the owners of small cottages and tofts, who lost grazing rights on the common by which they had been able to keep a few animals and maintain a foothold on the land. Although usually re-compensated by allotments in the new fields, the expense of fencing and draining 1 acre or less was often too much for the new smallholders to find and many sold out at once to the larger landowners before even paying their levies.

After the enclosure of common land near Southwell [Nottinghamshire], in 1775, forty two recipients of land had sold them within a year, at an average price of £20 per acre. No doubt the prospect of a lump sum was a pleasant windfall to a cottage labourer, for which he gave up a remote strip of land. For the better placed the enclosure was an opportunity to acquire land and start farming.

Above left: Relics of mediaeval Britain can be seen on the face of the modern countryside in this example of ridge of furrow fields at Kilby in Leicestershire. Above right: This 2005 photo is of the ‘Leys’ field in Woodborough caught as the last rays of the evening sun highlight the tops of the ridges in the only example of this ancient method of drainage that is left in the Parish.

At the turn of the century Robert Lowe of Oxton [Nottinghamshire], in his “General View of the Agriculture of the County of Nottingham”, a survey prepared for the Board of Agriculture in 1798 “Inclosure is going on rapidly in this county, very little remains in permanent grass except in the bottoms near rivers or brooks for meadows, and homesteads about farmhouses for convenience. “The turnip husbandry prevails irreversibly in such inclosures. Where the land lies in four divisions the rotation of crops is: turnips, barley, clover, wheat”, i.e. Townsend’s Norfolk Four Course Rotation.

Robert Lowe emphasises the importance of drainage on the clay. “The necessity of draining wetland” he says “has of late years been much better understood and attended to than formerly. Liver fluke among sheep of 1792 has alarmed and almost everywhere brought forth exertions in this respect. In the new Inclosure Bills drains are ordered by the Commissioners and provision made for their being properly kept up, which is more effectual that the old law of the sewers”.  

In conclusion he says, “Many of the principal farmers carry on agriculture with a great spirit adopting the best practices of other counties. A very great difference may be seen from the face of husbandry twenty years ago. There is certainly room to make very fair profits on the farms in this county”.

With the end of the Napoleonic wars there was a slump in British agriculture. So sudden was the change that by 1816 rents had fallen in Nottinghamshire by 10-30% and on one farm near Southwell by 50%. Wheat prices, the indication used throughout the century for the state of farming, fell from 126 shillings per quarter in 1812 to 44 shillings per quarter in 1822. The depression lasted about 20 years and Select Committees of the House of Commons were appointed in 1821 and 1833 to investigate. They found that small corn farms on the clay land were the greatest sufferers because they still used bastard fallows. This involved 4-5 ploughings with 4-6 horses, which in turn needed 4-5 acres of grassland and oats to keep them, a very uneconomic system. The difference between them and the sand land farmers became very marked. In the Vale of Belvoir, heavy wheat and bare land went out of cultivation altogether, whereas on the light land farmers with 4-course rotations, growing turnips and feeding sheep and bullocks, prospered and increased production.

The result of the Select Committee of 1821 was that Government brought in legislation to encourage drainage of heavy land. In 1826 the tax on clay building materials was removed from drainage tiles provided they were stamped ‘drain’ late from 1826-1850.

In 1845 Thomas Scragg made an extraordinary machine to produce round clay drainpipes which became the standard in 1846, the Public Money Drainage Act gave 3½% loans for drainage work. Landlords took this up widely, making only small charges to tenants. The drainage problem which Robert Lowe wrote about in 1798 was almost resolved and clay land farming began to catch up with the sand land.

Nottinghamshire farmers maintained the improvement and reclamation of their clay lands until the end of the 19th century. Agriculture improved steadily and moved into what has been called the Golden Age of English farming.

Industrial growth in Nottingham and the coal mining districts meant increased demand for food and good prices for both corn and livestock products. Artificial fertilisers and new machinery came into use and improved breeds of livestock. In Lincolnshire and Leicestershire sheep and shorthorn cattle spread.

Mechanisation speeded up production, particularly barn machinery where steam engines were used to drive root choppers and thrashers. For cutting corn, first the scythe replaced the sickle, then the reaping machine replaced the scythe and finally the self-binder replaced the reaper. At the Great Exhibition of 1851 the first McCormack reaper was shown. In the barn the thrashing machine replaced the flail. In 1860 it was reported that every Nottinghamshire farmer had his own thrashing machine, fixed or portable.

Left: Threshing corn with flails, this practice continued well into the 19th century.

Above: McCormack’s reaping machine first shown at the Great Exhibition, London in 1851

Although the potato was advocated for the cottages and allotments of the poor, it was not yet widely grown on a field scale. Coupled with these arable changes was improve grassland management both in seed mixtures and stocking.

From 1870-90 our Free Trade policy brought increasing imports of corn from North America. Cheap corn flooded in and wheat prices fell yet again, to less than half the price it was in the 1820’s. But even before the collapse and the disastrous harvests, far sighted Nottinghamshire farmers were moving from the traditional reliance on wheat as the main crop. There was no sharp break between the Golden Age and the Depression, rather a long slide, varying in different parts of the county. The low wheat prices and bad seasons did not put an end to high farming in the county as the full effect was not felt by those mixed farmers with substantial livestock interests and good health in their herds and flocks. Livestock was of the best quality and well fed, on concentrates and fodder crops. A profitable market for liquid milk developed in Nottingham and more cheese and butter was made.

When the Royal Show was held in Nottingham in 1888 the county’s farmers swept the board in the farm prize competitions for the East Midlands. The judges in their report on the 25-100 acre farm class, wrote ‘it was gratifying in these gloomy days of depression, when much is heard of unprofitable farming, to find, even on land of not very high quality, farmers who are able to make their businesses pay and that these small farms can hold their own when managed by practical men’.

The 19th century was a period of change, expansion and depression for agriculture as a whole, but the adaptability of its farmers left Nottinghamshire in better shape than many counties to meet the challenge of the future.

By the beginning of the 20th century livestock farmers in the county were leading a recovery. Demand for milk, cheese and potatoes in Nottingham and the colliery districts led to further expansion of these commodities particularly on the grazing land of the Vale of Belvoir, the Trent valley and the limestone county in the west.

Over the turn of the century, the Midland Railway records for Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire show that milk transported increased from 940,000 gallons in 1872 to 7,092,900 in 1914, the bulk of it going to London, Manchester and Sheffield. From 1900 to 1914, together with the increased production of liquid milk, butter and cheese, the production of fresh fruit and vegetables developed in areas in Nottinghamshire close to towns such as Carlton, Arnold, Woodborough, Lambley and Lowdham and on the best soils in the north of the county, the corn lands round Misterton, Misson and Gringley. The principal crops were cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, carrots, celery, onions and rhubarb. Carrots were concentrated on the sand land around Collingham, Retford and Edwinstowe. Apple, plum and damson orchards were established on the red marl within reach of road and rail services for marketing.

Above left: Brassicas setting in 1947. Above right: Harvesting cabbages in 1950.

Both photos were taken at Grimesmoor Farm, Woodborough.

In 1915 the Royal Show returned to Nottingham, the last show to be held during the war years. The judges’ reports on the Farm Prize competition give a good description of the types of farming going on in the county. War time farming on the sand land was exemplified by the Lamin brothers at Bestwood near Nottingham. They were both tenants on the Duke of St Albans’ estate and farmed neighbouring farms. William Lamin was at Bottom House Farm and John at Top House Farm. They were both on the same land but tackled it differently.

William Lamin maintained fertility and soil structure by using long leys, the Clifton Park mixture; this was made up of deep rooting plants such as Coxfoot, Chicory, Trefoil Burnet and other herbs and grasses. On this he kept no sheep or cows but fattened bullocks. John Lamin grew three-year seeds and kept dairy cows, pigs and sheep, making a lot of farmyard manure. Both grew large acreages of potatoes for Nottingham Market, getting plenty of pickers from the nearby city.

After the war, when corn prices fell dramatically again, both the Lamins gave up corn growing for grass and went into buying store cattle to fatten on silage and roots. They also gave up potatoes as they could no longer get the casual labour for picking. Instead they were among the first Nottinghamshire farmers to grow sugar beet.

To sum up, it is fair to say that in the ups and downs of its farming history, Nottinghamshire has had its share of progressive and articulate farmers. In the 19th century, just the sand land farmers led the way with turnips and livestock production; in the Golden Age the clay land farmers led the way with drainage and wheat growing; during and after the great depression both types adapted to the market for milk and livestock products, potatoes and then sugar beet, while in the 20th century all played their full part in corn production during the two wars.

3: Farming 1939-1946

The Second World War and the resulting sea-blockade of England which started in 1939 meant that once again food had to be home produced (at the outbreak of war only thirty per cent of the food consumed was in this category) and farming and farmers returned to a period of prosperity. The forty million inhabitants of England had to be fed and the tragic losses of the North Atlantic convoys, in both men and materials inspired farmers to produce more and more food. Land that had never seen the plough was ripped up by the all-mighty gyrotiller powered by steam engines and was sown with corn.

Above left: A steam cultivator on a farm in Sussex in 1934. It is one of a pair positioned at opposite sides of the field and the cultivator is hauled across the field between the two by means of a cable running from a winding drum under the boiler. Above right: Real horsepower worked alongside the new-fangled tractors and at last the £2-an acre subsidy for ploughing up land that had been introduced in 1936 began to be taken up. Farmers who before had only farmed with stock and grassland had to learn the complicated techniques for growing grain, and this they did with great success.


Young women were drafted into the Women’s Land Army [see right] and the production on England’s farms increased by over forty per cent during the six years of the war.

By 1946 nearly half the food consumed in England was home grown. Woodborough farmers and market gardeners were among those contributing to the war effort.

4: Mechanisation of Farming 1950-1960

After the war more efficient and modern machinery helped the British farmer on his long haul back, first to solvency and by hard work to a reasonable prosperity.

 1: Early farms and settlements

 2: Changes in Land Tenure - The enclosure

 3: Farming 1939-1946 - during WWII

 4: Mechanisation of farms 1950-1960

 5: Growing potatoes (1960)

 6: Farming 1908-2008


 7: Rise and decline of horsepower

 8: Shoeing and saddlery

 9: Stooking

10: Carting and loading

11: Thatching and corn stacking

12: Sheep washing

At this time there were over 60,000 tractors on British farms a large proportion of them being the little grey Ferguson, the first combines were also seen and the days of the self-binding reaper with its attendant army equipped with pitchforks and wagons were numbered and corn growing was slowly becoming mechanised nearly everywhere.

Only the livestock man had perforce to pursue his old ways, dairy farmers were besieged by advisors, the scientist and the engineer who showed them how to extract the milk from their cows in hygienic and mechanical ways and to cool the milk effectively. The pig was amenable to mass production and eventually the farm poultry too.

This was the scene when the author came into farming at the age of fifteen as a pupil on a farm training scheme, I was placed on a 400 acre mixed farm (livestock and arable) named Barn Farm in the parish of Lambley, although some fields were in the Woodborough parish. The farm had a staff of six men, one of which was the foreman.

Taking Barn Farm in Woodborough as an example as in September 1952, three tractors were used for ploughing, cultivation and carting and two horses were used for lighter duties. The corn was still harvested by the reaper binder and the sheaves stacked outside and thatched. These would be threshed out during the winter months by a contractor who travelled around with his threshing drum and tractor and, if needed, a baler for the straw or a chopper which chopped the straw very fine so that it could be mixed with oats or barley for beef or dairy cows.

Left: Filling the hopper of a corn-drill with seed.

Sugar beet was grown and this had to be harvested by hand (e.g. pulled up and the tops chopped off) before being carted off the fields by tractor and trailer and then re-loaded on a lorry before being transported to the sugar beet factory at Colwick.

Pigs were kept in small sties and had to be cleaned out daily and during the winter months any cattle reared for beef were housed in what were called crew yards, which basically meant where half the yard is covered over for shelter and the remainder left open for ventilation.

As well as sugar beet other root crops grown were stock feed (e.g. marigolds and swedes). During their growing period they had to be singled out and hoed for weed control by hand, and again the roots would be harvested by hand during the autumn.

Wheat and barley and some oats were grown, some were drilled (e.g. sown) in the autumn and the remainder in the spring, no chemicals were used for weed control and any thistles or docks chopped out with hand-hoes during the growing season. Wild oats were a problem too as these had to be pulled out by hand after walking through the crop a few weeks before it was harvested.

Grass was cut for hay with a tractor and grass mown and turned with hay turner or what was called a tedder which spread the grass out to dry. Some hand work was required in awkward corners of the field and when drying conditions were poor thick swathes had to be shaken out with forks. When the hay was dry, usually after four or five days, all the staff would work together to gather and stack the loose hay. First of all a site in the corner of the field was chosen, then a hay sweep was fitted to the front of a tractor which swept the hay to the stack site for stacking, an elevator being used as the stack got higher. After the majority of the hay had been swept up the field was raked, usually with a horse rake, the resulting stack was left for a few days to settle and breathe. Some stacks could catch fire through internal combustion; the stack was checked daily with a stack needle, this needle being thrust into the stack and withdrawn daily to check the heat.

When it was thought all was well, any dips in the sloping roof would be filled by more loose hay added before being finally thatched with straw and left for winter use. When the hay was required for feeding part of the thatch was removed and then a special cutter called a hay knife was used. It was sharpened with a carborundum stone, then using strong downward thrust with arms and shoulders, cut out a block of hay approximately 2½ feet square, it was then bound with 2 strings of thick baler twine and could then be stacked on a cart or trailer and transported to the farm-stead. This process was known as trussing. By the mid-fifties this process was phased out at Barn Farm when a new tractor was purchased (David Brown crawler) and a Class E baler that would truss and tie the loose hay mechanically.

Even in the mid-fifties many corn crops were still being harvested with the reaper and binder machine which cuts and ties the crop into sheaves, the wheat, barley or oats are cut just before the grain is ripe and the straw is becoming yellow from the bottom upwards, cutting need not be stopped for a light shower, but if the corn is wet, it should be remembered that it will dry more quickly standing than tied in a sheaf. Dews are heavy during harvest, and it is best not to start cutting too early in the morning. Three good horses were required to pull a binder, and a fourth needed when the crop is heavy or laid, when the ground is soft or when the field is hilly.

Barn Farm used a Case-Dex tractor that had come over from America to this country on a lease lend scheme during the war. This naturally was a great advantage, with two teams of horses 10-12 acres is a good day’s work, with a tractor 20-25 acres can often be covered.

5: Growing Potatoes (1960)

In April the land is made ready for potatoes. The potatoes like to grow in loose open soil or it may be loosed with a cultivator or harrows, the land would have been ploughed during the winter months, the frost helping to make the soil more friable.

Main crop potatoes are planted in April or early May with a heaving dressing of fertilizer. They are planted behind a tractor which ridges up the soil usually twenty-seven inches wide, the workers planting the potatoes sit above the ridger dropping the seed potatoes down a spout into the soil, the seed is then covered by the ridger as the tractor moves slowly along.

Harrowing and tractor-hoeing are done at intervals during the spring and early summer, so as to kill weeds and keep the soil loose. Only about the beginning of July, when the tops are getting very tall, does cultivation cease. The crop is often sprayed with copper sulphate in July, and again in early August, to prevent the attacks of fungus or mould which causes ‘blight’. In October the potatoes are ready for harvesting and a good number of pickers are required to pick up the potatoes by hand behind the tractor and spinner which digs under the ridges and are thrown out in a row, then they are gathered by hand into baskets, carted to long steeply sloping ‘clamps’ and covered with straw and soil to keep out the frost. The clamp is opened when potatoes are required for sale, first they must be riddled and sorted and weighed into 1cwt hessian sacks.

The autumn was always a busy time at Barn Farm, for no sooner is the potato land cleaned, then it must be ploughed and sown with wheat, the land is rich and clean after the well-manured and well-cultivated potato crop and will generally grow a very good crop of wheat. Some fertiliser rich in nitrogen will be scattered over the plants in the spring, especially if the winter had been wet and the spring is cold.

So the field is left until August and as the plants turn from green to golden, and when the grains are full and firm, the binder or combine harvester is set to work and once again there is another busy scene.

Right: Harvesting potatoes.

6: Farming (continued) 1908-2008: An Overview

The last century has seen the revolutionary change from horse power to tractors. Mechanisation brought with it a colossal reduction in the workforce. Farming in Nottinghamshire in the first half of the century would have required a considerable number of labourers.

The men who cut the corn with scythes were gradually replaced by reaper binders followed in later years by combine harvesters which now have on-board computers with a 30ft wide cut capable of harvesting over 12 acres per hour.

The county’s dairy herds have grown considerably too, from five to ten cows 500 cow units. Milking by hand a man was doing well to get through six or seven cows an hour, in a modern rotary parlour we are looking at 100 cows an hour and one man for every 200 rows.

The old breeds of dairy shorthorn, British Friesian and Jersey were cast aside for new Holstein breeds which revolutionised the sector and changed milk yields from 2000 litre averages to 11,000 litres in the top herds.

Mechanisation and technology have enabled the production of good wholesome food to feed a rapidly growing population.

Livestock can now be inoculated for some of the killer diseases which previously would have incurred serious animal losses and we have access to the best veterinary care if it should be needed.

7: The rise and decline of horsepower


This chapter records the service of the farm horse in farming from the eighteenth century to the twentieth when tractors came on the scene.

The dominance of horsepower and its decline in the face of the tractor’s advance.

By the 1920’s the finely developed management of horsepower on the land was already beginning to break down under the pressures of the economy in labour and then of the introduction of tractors.

By 1936 the tractor had proved itself as a reliable and efficient machine, ideally suited for the heaviest work of the farm, such as ploughing, harvesting and heavy cultivation. But doubt remained as to the economics of the tractor for light work, for which it was overpowered.


The sight of horses drawing the plough is now rare in Great Britain, but the service of the horse in farming was long and honourable. From the eighteenth century to the twentieth, when tractors came on the scene, horses were the prime source of pzower on the land.

The passing of the farm horse seemed to many to be the end of something that had lasted since time immemorial. In a sense that was so, for horses had been used in British farming for a thousand years or thereabouts.

In another sense the age of horse-powered farming was remarkably short lived, for it reached its peak with the agricultural revolution and mechanisation of arable farming of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Above: Horse meets tractor - This was commonly argued to be a good complementary

arrangement, with the tractor drawing the heavy seed drill, and the horse on the lighter harrow.

By 1946 however, the number of agricultural horses in Great Britain had fallen by more than 150,000, and the farm horse was clearly in irreversible decline. The Second World War had so speeded the course of mechanisation that by its end, almost all those farmers who had not already bought a tractor were probably considering it.

Over the next ten years the number of horses in British farming dwindled further. The Ministry of Agriculture took its last regular census of them in 1958, effectively marking the end of the era of horse powered farming in this country with the recording of only 84,000 horses.

The horse had been used in agriculture since at least the time of Domesday. Then, however, it was very much junior to the ox as a draught animal. Oxen did all the heavy work of ploughing, yoked together in large teams, most often of eight. Horses, on the other hand, were employed for lighter work, such as harrowing. During the later Middle Ages, as estate managers and farmers placed greater value on the speed and stamina of the horse, it began to displace the ox at the head of the plough. In many parts of the country including Woodborough there are still visible signs of land which was ploughed by oxen, known as Medieval Ridge and Furrow. These ridge and furrows often were ploughed with a curve at either end where a large team of oxen, maybe eight or more, had to be turned around at each end.

While there were still farmers throughout the country who preferred oxen for drawing their ploughs, the horse had otherwise achieved supremacy. It was a skilled job to guide the plough, but if you had a trained team: say a good pair of horses; they would know what to do on their own. They knew the command to turn either left or right when they came out at the end of a furrow. It was “ov” and “gee” one word meant turn right and the other meant they turned left. They didn’t need to use the reins to turn them, they would turn with a command and of course they stopped when you said “whoa!”.

A ploughman working on a big farm would take his horses out first thing in a morning, then would perhaps plough eight hours and he could plough an acre in the day if all went well. In that time he would walk sixteen miles, plenty of exercise!

The harness the horses wore was quite complicated, first you put the collar over the horse’s head, it had to be slipped on upside down, since the collar had to be wider at the throat than at the neck, whereas the horse’s head was the opposite, wider across the eyes than the nose, the collar therefore, had to go on the wrong way up and be turned around on the horse’s neck, followed by smoothing the mane down comfortably.

Next to be put on was the harness, which formed a frame around the collar to which the ropes or chains of the harness were attached. Harnesses were originally made of wood, ash or beech for preference, and were painted for protection. Further developments introduced harnesses of steel and brass.

The next task was to out the bridle on, that carries the bit in their mouth and also the leather shields round their eyes called blinkers to stop them being scared by objects to the side of them which might frighten them, and then across their back are the plough pads that support the chains going back to the plough.

The chains on the plough are attached to swingletrees that keep them the proper width apart so that they don’t rub on a horse’s back legs, and then they are anchored to the plough to haul it along.

Ploughing could be difficult even dangerous work both with horses and tractors, the old fellows sometimes got broken ribs with the plough shafts. If the horses were going pretty well and pulling well and the plough hit a solid stone, it would throw the handles up, and if they swung up and over so hard and hit him on his ribs, they could break with impact.

Ploughman used to dread hitting a stone and tree roots, that was another nasty thing. The plough would go under a tree root and probably wedge, then he would have to try and drag it back and get it freed again.

These ploughmen usually wore leather leggings fastened with a strap and a buckle top and bottom, they went just over the top of the heavy boots and that’s all they had to keep their legs dry. Their hands would be frozen holding the plough handles although they were wooden. The workers were completely exposed to the elements and their fingers weren’t doing anything particular because the horses would follow the furrow with little need to steer them with reins.

They would know the job, you had got to hold the plough and drag it about, and you would certainly keep warm doing that job. While ploughing took up the greater part of a horseman’s time during the autumn, the season had other tasks to be performed. Potatoes were being lifted, and the horseman had to lead with the potato-raising plough and potato spinner to open up the ridges while a gang of pickers followed behind gathering the crop by hand.

The other root crops, turnips, swedes and later, sugar beet, were lifted at this time, and all of those had to be carted to the clamps where they were stored. Meanwhile the seed drills were out getting the winter wheat and beans sown.

Ploughing had to be finished by Christmas. That was the tradition, and one that that had a practical point, for the ground was likely to be harder by January. After Christmas things were quieter for a few weeks, the horses would have some rest while the horsemen might assist with threshing and other general work about the farm, although the head horseman, as befitted his status, was often exempt from such labours.

There were likely to be several winter days when snow, frost or heavy rain prevented arable work and the horses had to be confined to the stables. None the less there was work for the horses even during the winter months; for the amount of haulage work in farming was considerable.

There was muck to be taken out to be spread on the fields, feed to be taken to the fields where the sheep were folded, and sacks of seed corn to be taken out to replenish the drills. During hay time and harvest, of course, the wagons were fully occupied carting to the stacks. Finally there was road work, taking produce off the farm and bringing supplies back.  

Right: Winter feeding.

Below right: Shoeing by an assistant farrier.

8: Shoeing and saddlery

The blacksmith was one of the country craftsmen vital for the support of farmers with horsepower. Most of his work to their feet, and shoeing provided the steady, bread and butter trade for the smith. On top of that he had repairs to the plough, harrows and other implements of the farm.

‘No foot, no horse’ ran an old adage, and attention to the feet was an essential part of the horseman’s work. In particular he had to see that the horses were well shod. Shoes were worn to protect the horny part of the hoof from being broken or worn down too much by contact with hard or stony ground, the shoe also shielded the horn from its natural process of wear, thus allowing the horn to grow behind and over the shoe, and this had to be checked by changing the shoe and paring the hoof every so often.

The smith would start his examination with the fore feet. The horse was more likely to keep calm throughout the proceedings if it could see what was going on at the beginning.

Having made this initial examination the smith would take a buffer and a pair of pincers from his farrier’s box in which were kept all the tools reserved for shoeing. The buffer was for breaking off the heads of nails. Having removed the nail heads, the pincers were then used to prise away the shoe from the hoof. The feet were then cleaned and pared before being re-shod. The excess growth of horn was pared using rasp, paring knife and the pincer-like hoof clippers. The sole of the foot was given a thorough clean, with care being taken not to damage it or the frog, the triangular shaped pad of fibrous material at the rear of the sole which acts as an elastic cushion against the ground. New shoes could then be fitted, the old ones put back if they were not too worn. The nails, too, were by tradition made at the smithy, to a particular design, countersunk so that the head did not stand proud of the shoe. There were different sizes for the different horses, cart horses needed the biggest, about three inches long, whereas the shoes on a hunter required nails about two inches long.

During the winter times of hard frost and snow, horses needed some extra grip on the slippery roads and tracks and for that they were brought along to the smith’s for roughening, which involved either shoeing with rough shoes, or putting some temporary grips – frost nails, or sharps – on ordinary shoes. A sudden frost could result in the smith being rushed off his feet for a day, as every horse in the neighbourhood arrived at his door to be roughed.

The saddler and harness maker was another craftsman upon whom the farmer depended. He made and mended all the harness for the farm and supplied almost all the accessories for managing horses – whips, buckles and brasses for the harness, pastes and polishes for both leather and metal in the harness. Whether making or repairing the saddler’s skills were the same. Indeed they were, perhaps, put more to the test by some of the repairs, when the saddler was presented with some worn specimen of leather to which he was expected to impart new life.

Saddlers used a great variety of leathers, for farm harness cow hide became the main material. The best part of the hide, the back, was used for making new harness. Long strips cut down the middle produced the reins, breeching and other straps. The thinner and weaker hide of the belly was mainly used for repairs and linings. Heavy cart harness was usually dyed black.

Left: Saddler repairing a well worn collar

Spring time brought another build up of work. There was more ploughing to be done, as well as cultivating, harrowing and rolling in preparing a seed bed for spring corn and clover. Ten acres a day was reckoned to be the usual amount of harrowing that could be accomplished.

Drilling was also heavy work. Many of the big corn drills needed three, even four horses to pull them and two or three men in attendance. It was precision work to set good straight drills and there was often a rush to get all the corn drilled during late March and early April, so the horsemen had to push his horses to their limits.

Late spring and early summer could be relatively unhurried. There was cultivation to be done in preparation for the sowing of most crops. There were the after cultivation – rolling the early growth of cereals, chain-harrowing of clovers and top dressings of fertilizers. Horse hoeing was also important. It was common to have one or two horses especially reserved for this job – the steadiest horses that could walk between the rows and not hit a single plant.

Hay making was the climax of activities in the early summer. Until the second half of the nineteenth century work for the horses in the hay field was limited to carting. In the later period the power of horses became very important, for they pulled the mowing machine, hay turner and horse rakes. A horse was also used to power the gearing to drive the elevator at the stacks.

Working through the hot days of summer the horses could quickly get out of condition especially during the corn harvest. The days could be at their hottest then, just when the work was particularly busy, and in consequence the horses tended to tire easily. The binders, which became the standard harvesting machine from the early twentieth century, were heavy, regularly requiring three horses, sometimes four. To keep the work in the harvest field going as late into the evening as possible – until 7 or 8 o’clock and maybe later on large farms, a fresh team of horses would take over the binders halfway through the day.

Carting the corn to the stack was just as busy, it was often organised into teams of two wagons drawn by two horses. A boy did the driving while the horsemen directed the loading.

Well trained and experienced horses were put to these wagons, for they could be relied upon to walk steadily to the stooks waiting to be loaded. Leading the wagons back to the yard, the boy walked with the shaft horse, driving the trace horse with a plough line.  

Harvest brought the horseman’s year to its busy climax, and then following a short break the autumn ploughing of the stubble began again.

Right: Hay making in Woodborough 1932

9: Stooking

The object of stooking (or stocking) is to expose the sheaves fully to the sun and wind and to get the ears off the ground. The crops are stooked as soon as possible after cutting. If however, there is much green material (weeds or clover) in the butts (bottom) of the sheaves it is common, if the weather is fine, to leave the sheaves a few days before setting them up.

Two sheaves [see photo below right] are set to form an arch, their butts about two feet apart, and other pairs are added each side to lengthen the archway. It is important to set each pair down firmly with their head pressed together.

With wheat, barley and rye, stooks may have 10 or 12 sheaves each but not more, otherwise those in the centre will dry too slowly. Oat stooks should not be too large, because of slowness of drying, though six sheaves will really stand firmly, and eight is more common. All stooks should be kept well away from hedges, so that they are not sheltered from the wind. If the stooks get soaked, it may be necessary to move them, turning each sheaf round to bring the original inner surface outside for drying. The time required for a crop in stook depends on its ripeness when cut. It is said that wheat should hear the church bell ring twice – this would mean two Sundays – in their stook. If the crop is cut fairly ripe and the weather is fine, a week or ten days suffices. The times refer of course to dry weather; crops may have to remain in stooks for several weeks in wet seasons.

10: Carting and Loading

The grain should be quite hard before corn is stacked. In judging the dryness of sheaves, particular attention should be paid to the butts and to the inside of the sheaves beneath the bands. A hard-won harvest deserves good stacking. Corn is precious and demands the careful preservation that only good thatch can give.

11: Thatching a corn stack

Thatching a corn stack was a specialised job for a skilled member of the farm staff. The work starts with a cart full of straw butts (straw so called is wheat straw that has been threshed and the straw kept straight and re-tied in two bundles for thatching).

A thatching ladder is also required which usually is forty staves long (steps) in a continuous length. You also need a good supply of thatching pegs (usually hazel if possible) some 18 inches long, 1½ inches in diameter and pointed at one end. [see photo right] If the thatcher is right-handed you lay the ladder on your left at the same angle as the roof. Starting at the base of the roof place your bobbin of string at the end of the stack, after combing the straw butt with your fingers lay the straw on the roof of the stack. Bring your string over straw and peg it down firmly with your string fastened to the top of the peg, this sequence is repeated to the top of the stack roof overlapping each straw butt.

This is continued across each side of the roof keeping the ladder against the angle of the stack each time the length of butts are laid.

Finally when both sides are covered a capping of straw is laid across the ridge, again pegging and tying down firmly. A job done well will keep the sheaves dry until the stack will be threshed by a mobile threshing drum during the winter months.

12: A description of sheep washes

Sheep are mentioned in Woodborough history as early as 1567-1742 when there were twenty flocks which contained 38 or more sheep, the average number of the flocks of eight husbandmen from 1567-1667 was 50. Rearing sheep for wool was the major income source from sheep breeding, in the early 1900’s importance was the sale of wool.

Today, it is the other way around, whilst wool is still important on many sheep farms fat lamb production almost always contributes the majority of income. To provide a clean fleece at shearing time the adult ewes and rams were washed a few days before being shorn. As a plentiful supply of clean water was required, a small river or stream was dammed to restrict the flow, pens were erected to hold the sheep next to the water and the ewes and rams placed in the water and persuaded to swim towards a shallow ramp and into another pen on the opposite bank.

The shepherd and helpers with dipping crooks would hold the sheep in the water for a minute or two, to thoroughly wet the fleece and wash out any soil, dust and grit from the wool.

This was a slow laborious job and very tiring as sheep are reluctant to enter deep water and we must remember that years ago men had no waterproof clothing or waders and had to reach out from the bank of the river or stream, or work from a wooden barrel that was fastened to a post at water level in which to stand.

Left: Aygrum Well, as seen from Lingwood Lane looking due west towards Wood Barn Farm.

Right: Position of Aygrum Well relative to Woodborough Village, Sanderson 1835 map.

Studying old maps of the Sycke Dyke in Woodborough parish, it is noted in two places there were sluices and to this day one can see traces of a dam, it is constructed with large slabs of local water stone, the bed of the dyke has been meticulously laid in brick and some wooden posts remain on the bank side. The Sycke Dyke was chosen because it never dried up during the summer months as it was fed by a spring known locally as Hagram’s Well [also known as Agram’s Well, Aygrum Well, Haygerham Well] in the corner of Wood Barn Close.

NB. Sheep washes are not to be confused with sheep dips in which chemicals are used to protect sheep from fly strike and sheep scabs etc. These dips are constructed away from water courses to eliminate water contamination.



One important outcome of the First World War was the move to home grown sugar production. Sugar had been coming almost entirely from the West Indies and was disrupted by the blockade. The Kelham Sugar Factory was built in 1921 and was the second in the country, followed by Colwick in 1924. Kelham also pioneered the growing of the crop on its own land around the factory and Newark has remained the most important area in the country for sugar beet until the present time. By 1924 just over 1000 acres were grown: 1926 – 3231 acres: 1939 – 7800 acres and the end of Second World War – 17,500 acres.

Left: Hand hoeing sugar-beet

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