Farming in Norfolk in 1800

Peter Dawson

Talk given at the Martham Local History Group AGM, September, 2019

Through the eyes of Thomas Francis, who lived and farmed in Martham all his adult life from around 1770 until his death in 1837, Peter Dawson introduced us to local farming during a period of agricultural change. Real local history that brought things to life.

Born at Ingham in 1743, Thomas married Elizabeth Proctor on 13th April 1769 at St Mary’s, Martham. Her father was the largest landowner in Martham at the time and lived at Martham Hall on Hall Road. Thomas’s son married into the Rising Family whilst other family marriages meant that Thomas became “well connected to all the great and good of Martham of those days”.

But Thomas, neither peasant nor gentry, remained a yeoman farmer who was very closely connected to the soil. Records and tithe maps show that he owned about 90 acres of land in and around his home, West End Cottage, which later was altered and became Grange Farm, at Cess.  He did however have the red brick barns built next to the house in 1797. He also laid claim to some freehold land in the manor of Scratby and may have rented more as his harvest yields of 1800 show that he had at least 137 acres in crop. He probably employed 10 to15 men and perhaps some boys.

Feeding a rapidly growing population forced farmers into greater efficiency and innovation. Thomas was amongst the leaders in increasing yields in the Flegg. He even invented his own sort of plough suited to the light, shallow soils. Fields were no longer left fallow and new rotations were adopted. Thomas’ rotation was turnips (which could grow in the winter and be fed to livestock); barley; clover (which fixed nitrogen from the air into the soil); wheat; and peas (another nitrogen fixer). He fattened bullocks, some Norfolk breeds and some brought by drovers from Scotland. Lots of muck from the beef cattle, and more from the farm horse population, was deposited daily in the yard, carted to the fields, spread and turned in by the men and boys, and later ploughed in. Fertile soil, but long hours.

This then was the life of a yeoman farmer from Martham in around 1800 and one that appears to have been very successful, but seems, sadly, little remembered as, Peter showed us, the tomb where Thomas and Elizabeth now lie is somewhat overgrown.

Noel Mitchell,
with help from Peter’s notes


Flow chart

(Above: Francis family tree)
(Below: Turnip field)

Turnip field

(Below: West End Cottage)

West End
[Return to home page]Cog