Tag Archives: farming

From my (virtual) bookshelf: A General view of the agriculture of the county of Sussex

4 Oct

For anyone with ancestors who were farmers or agricultural labourers in Sussex this book makes fascinating reading, and provides a valuable insight into almost every aspect of farm life at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century.

A General view of the agriculture of the county of Sussex is available on Google Books, but I have also seen a relatively recent reprint in second-hand bookshops. It was published in 1808 and written by the Rev. Arthur Young for The Board of Agriculture and Internal Improvement.

The book occasionally mentions individual farms or farmers and it is not really a how-to book, but more a general survey of virtually all aspects of farming. An idea of the topics covered can be seen from the list of chapters.

  1. Geographical state and circumstances
  2. State of property
  3. Buildings
  4. Mode of occupation
  5. Implements
  6. Enclosing, fences, gates
  7. Arable land
  8. Grass lands
  9. Orchards
  10. Woods and plantations
  11. Wastes
  12. Improvements
  13. Live stock
  14. Rural economy
  15. Political economy
  16. Obstacles to improvement
  17. Miscellaneous observations

It is fascinating to just dig into sections at random and get an insight into farming life, and there are many unexpected and unusual descriptions such as the section below on opium, which comes under the heading of crops not commonly cultivated:

The largest quantity of this invaluable drug that was ever cured in this country, was raised in 1797 from the Earl of Egremont’s garden at Petworth; and the fact now indeed thoroughly ascertained, that all the foreign opium is highly adulterated, renders it an object of immense consequence to encourage the domestic growth. Mr. Andre is convinced, that in all his practice, he never made use of any of this drug that could be compared with this. The operation of collecting the produce, is effected by a gentle incision on the heads, as they grow, with a knife or other sharp instrument, which is frequently repeated; and the juices which exude from the wound, are scraped into an earthern vessel, dried by the sun, and preserved for use.

I know that farmers are have been encouraged to diversify, but I suspect this might be frowned upon slightly these days. Less controversial, but nonetheless interesting is the description of how lime was obtained for use ‘manuring’ the fields in the eastern part of the county:

As the chalk-hills extend no further than Eastbourne, in order therefore to supply the rest of the county, the chalk is shipped in sloops from Holywell pits at Beachy-head, from whence it is carried to the Bexhill, Hastings, and Rye kilns: here it is burnt into lime, where the farmers come with their teams and take it away at 6d. per bushel. In this trade 16 sloops are considerably employed from April to the month of November. Nine of these belong to Hastings, and seven to the port of Rye. The total quantity consumed at these kilns, for one year, amounts nearly to 633 sloop-loads of chalk, each containing 550 bushels, or about 350,000 bushels.

These are just two examples of the contents of this book, there is quite a large number of tables of figures, and a few illustrations, although many appear to have folded out and they have not been reproduced in the Google Books version, still it is well worth reading if you have an interest in the history of agriculture.

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