Farming in Wing

As Wing is a rural village, farming was the main occupation undertaken by the male residents. From landlord to farmer to agricultural labourer, this activity was responsible for putting food on the table, both literally and fiscally.

The map below shows the approximate locations of farms and farmers in the hamlets of Burcott and north of Wing (key farming families being ADAMS, SMITH, BIGGS, CULVERHOUSE and VALLENTINE), Ascott and east of Wing (PRENTICE, HART and GATES), Crafton and southeast of Wing, Cottesloe and northwest of Wing and other farms and farmers of Wing (detailed pages to come), and you can find more information about these farms and farmers on their respective pages.

View The Farms of Wing Buckinghamshire at Google Maps

Farming Before Enclosure

The term “enclosure” refers to a process in the late 1700s by which the current understanding of land ownership was achieved. Today if you own land you are for the most part free to do what you like with it – you can clearly delineate the borders with a fence, plant or graze on it, or build on it.

Before enclosure however, fields were not clearly marked off and owned by a particular individual. Any arable land was split up into long strips of approximately half an acre or so, although these strips were not fenced or even necessarily marked out in any way, and you could rent or own these strips. Renting or owning a cottage would often entitle you to rent or own associated strips. Unfortunately your strips would not necessarily be situated next to each other – this was deliberately done so that the good quality land was shared around.

Although you may own a strip, it was not yours to control. The decision over what to plant, or what to graze, and when, officially lay with the village group as a whole. This was a practical necessity as a strip formed part of a larger field and everyone had to agree (or be directed) as to what the grand plan was for the coming season.

There were also common fields where the land was generally owned by the lord of the manor but worked in much the same way as the arable land. Everyone was entitled to their share of the produce from this land. Commoners had the ability to earn not only their labouring wages, but income from grazing, cropping, cutting fuel or turf, and gathering up fallen produce after the harvest.

Despite not having the same level of personal control as you would today, it was a system whereby the poorer members of the parish could work their way up to establishing some wealth. A farm labourer would save his wages and eventually be in a position to rent his own cottage with a strip, and would thereby gain access to a greater proportion of the production and wealth of the village.

The basic heirarchy of farm workers at this time was as follows:

  1. Lord of the Manor [owned land]
  2. Freeholders/yeoman [owned land]
  3. Copyholders [long tem lease of land]
  4. Tenant farmers [rented land, sometimes as long as three lifetimes]
  5. Cottagers [rented cottage]
  6. Squatters [built own cottage on land no-one particularly cared about]
  7. Farm Servants [labourers living in employer’s house]

The Process and Impact of Enclosure

The consent of those holding 3/4 of the value of the land proposed to be enclosed was technically required in order to submit a bill proposal, but this was not always rigidly enforced (in Wing the bill doesn’t mention values but does state that the proprietors of 92.5% of the land by acreage gave their consent). Only landowners down to tenant farmers had a right to give consent, cottagers who held a share of common land by virtue of their rented cottage didn’t get a say i.e. those with the most to lose from enclosure didn’t get to participate in the decision.

Once the bill is passed, the commissioners would arrive in the village, determine claims, and publish the award (map plus details of who gets what). The existing lord of the manor and any titheholders got a portion by law, as do “the poor”, but any other awards were at the discretion of the commissioners. Anyone wanting a claim had to present their case to the commissioners, an intimidating process for anyone not familiar with legal processes, or even able to read and write (submissions had to be handwritten by the claimant or their agent). Those who were granted land had to pay a share of the legal costs involved in the enclosure process, as well as pay for fencing off their new bit of land – unless they had sufficient resources to afford this, the land would have to be sold.

Not surprisingly, enclosure was not popular with the lower classes who now became agricultural labourers only, with their wages as their only possible source of income. At least there’s no record of riots as a result of Wing’s enclosure, unlike some other villages!

It was noted by contemporary commentators that in villages where cottagers had been given land as part of the enclosure process, this also gave them a sense of self-worth and pride, and the increase in fortunes meant they were much less likely to require help under the Poor Law. Conversely, where cottagers had lost their previous level of independence they were much more likely to require and request assistance.

As smaller farms fell by the wayside, the larger farms started selling their produce to processors (e.g. millers) who would then sell their finished food items into the cities for a better price. It became harder and more expensive for villagers to obtain food and fuel, at the same time that enclosure produced a glut of labourers for hire which drove wages down.

While the Dormers had enclosed Wing Park in the early 1500s (this enclosure is noted in a survey of Buckinghamshire in 1620), and some further enclosure had subsequently taken place, the bulk of enclosure in Wing took place via Parliamentary Act of 1797, with the award being finalised in November 1798. At this time the existing strip farmland was divided up into properties and allotments, and ownership of individual properties was vested in particular individuals. There was also some land allocated for the provision of fuel for the poor of Wing, however this had been sold off by 1864, realising £268 which was then invested (it is recorded as the Fuel Allotment Charity in the Post Office Directory of that year).

Buckinghamshire Archives has the original enclosure award, plus map and supporting key listing the details of those who received land (as well as those who already held enclosed land). I have transcribed the award and key and hope to map out approximate boundaries of each plot of land onto a modern map, but unfortunately the photos I have of the enclosure map may not be clear enough for me to do this in full. I will also have the full text of the Act of Parliament itself in due course.

Farming in Wing

The crops grown in Wing were hay, wheat, beans, barley, oats and roots. In the 1801 crop returns (the earliest wide-spread statistical records collected by the government), a quarter of Wing’s land was devoted to arable farming. The balance of land would have been predominantly dairy farming. The number of acres per crop in 1801 were 448 in wheat, 381 in peas and beans, 235 in oats, 193 in barley, and 4 in potatoes, then 60 in turnips and rape and 82 in vetches – these last two numbers were fallow-season plantings to improve the soil and feed the animals.