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Agricultural Change


The end of the Manorial System of Ownership

From about the 13th century there were pressures on this agricultural system for two different reasons. One was the wish to rationalize the use of the land by changing each peasant's rights from scattered strips to a unified plot surrounding a family cottage. There was considerable resistance to this, because it eliminated the old safeguard by which good and poor land was evenly shared out.  The other motive was the greed of lords of the manor, who regularly attempted to enclose the common land and incorporate it in their own demesne. 
Enclosure of common land caused particular unrest, not only for the loss of an ancient right but because the poorest peasants (those who lack a share in the open-field system) relied on these pastures and woods for subsistence.  


The 14th century was an unhappy one; during the first half of the century, there was a period of bad climate with cold wet summers over a number of years. By 1341 large area of north Hertfordshire had gone out of cultivation: in that year only about half of the land in Wallington, Sandon, Clothall and Ashwell was cropped. At the same time, the manorial system was breaking down, which meant farm workers were no longer tied to the local manor but could move away to seek work and a better life elsewhere. Sometimes tenants were required to pay the Lord of the Manor a fee in return for their freedom to leave. In the 1340s, many local people must have moved away or else faced starvation. There followed worse; in 1349, the Black Death or Bubonic Plague, which had been sweeping through most of Asia and Europe, reached Hertfordshire. At least one-third of the population died. Even the parish priests of this time resigned.


Enclosures, tenant unrest and rebellions such as The Peasant’s Revolt of 1381 effectively ended the manorial system in England at least, by 1500. 


Fortunately, things seemed to pick up toward the end of the century, and local churches were enlarged and improved, signifying new optimism or at least hope. It would also signify the return of agricultural prosperity. Land ownership had also changed from a feudal system wherin peasants were tied to the local manor to one of ownership and tenant farmers.


The majority of people were engaged in farm work, and for the most part through history, there was more than enough work to go round. Infact, good labour was in short supply, and on several occasions between the 14th and 18th centuries, efforts made to legally limit wages failed owing to the effects of supply-demand. However, by the end of the 18th century something had changed: most farm labourers were underfed and many were practically paupers. The change was probably a combination of factors, including the increasing mechanisation and efficiency of farming combined with price uncertainty.  Pay was kept to a minimum and the Poor Rate was used as a buffer against fluctuating food prices (the Poor Rate was a tax collected on property and which was used to pay farm labourers who applied for 'Poor Relief' when the cost of food was high). These payments were then reduced when the cost of food fell. This did little for the quality of life and self-respect of the rural population. Things got worse for the rural poor in the 19th Century, with the replacement of this system by the Workhouse. 


A parliamentary report of 1777 recorded a parish workhouse in operation at Sandon with accommodation for up to 25 "inmates". Later, a larger workhouse was operated in Buntingford under Buntingford Poor Law Union, which served its 16 constituent parishes: Anstey, Aspeden, Broadfield, Buckland, Cottered, Great Hormead, Laystone, Little Hormead, Meesden, Rushden, Sandon, Throcking, Wallington, Westmill, Wyddial, Yardley. The Buntingford Workhouse was designed to accommodate 160 people. Little information is available on how many people from Wallington found themselves in the workhouse. In the 1881 National Census, there were 70 residents of whom only 1 was from Wallington. It closed in 1933, with part of the building surviving and later housing the local district council offices. 


Early 20th Century

Fifteen young men from the small village of Wallington went to fight for their country in the First World War; only ten returned alive. The War impacted families directly but also effected great changes in rural life. Farming had become immensely valuable and profitable during the war, resulting in farmland attracting investment money from the city. Both Manor and Bury farms, plus the lordship of the Manor of Wallington and Monks, were acquired in 1919 by a land investment company called Agrar Limited. In 1922, an Act of Parliament removed most of the rights associated with such lordships. Despite seemingly efficient management, Agrar Limited went out of business in the great depression of the 1920s. A large part of Manor Farm was acquired by the Crown Estates and was turned into a wireless telegraphy station for the General Post Office. The remaining southern portions of Manor and Bury Farms were combined to create one farm, and in 1929 a buyer was found and a young local farmer, Rodney Wilson, appointed as manager. Rodney Wilson continued to manage the farm until his death in 1976.



The Farmland Today

Today the farmland is divided into five holdings, each part of larger farm businesses extending over adjoining parishes and further afield. Financial pressures mean that farms today do not easily support tenant farmers, and all farms are owner-occupied. Few residents of Wallington village are engaged in farm work.

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