Berrick Farms & Farming

Farming 1500–1800
The Sale of much of Chalgrove Manor to Magdalen & Lincoln Colleges had little impact on Berrick’s Tenancies or Farming, both Institutions taking over existing Manor Courts & Granting Copyholds for 2 or more Lives.  In 1508 their combined Berrick & Roke Estates totalled 19-Yardlands with a few additional Parcels & Cottages, divided amongst c.14 Leading Tenants. John Cotterell held 4¼-Yardlands partly in Roke, while other Large Tenants included William Cooper and Members of the Wise & More Families.  Freeholders included Henry Spindler (at Roke) & John Smith (d.1534), who held the ‘Berrick Manor’ Freehold and in 1523/4 was Berrick’s wealthiest Taxpayer, paying 40s. William Spindler paid 7s, and the Wises, Viccarys, Mores & Coteterells between 1s-6d. & 3s. each.  A few small Freeholds (including some Spindler Land) were subsequently sold to Magdalen, but otherwise the pattern was little altered in the 1580s when the wealthiest Taxpayer was Smith’s successor William Hambleden (assessed on Goods worth £10), followed by Thomas Spindler (£5) and the Viccarys, Wises, Talbots & Mores.

Contemporary Wills suggest the Mixed Farming typical of the area, focused on wheat, barley & pulses, with some dairying & sheep-rearing on a moderate scale. Cows, pigs, poultry, & bees were mentioned frequently, some Hemp was grown, and most larger Farmers were well equipped with Ploughs, Carts & Horse-teams.  Scarcity of Wood may have prompted 4 leading Tenants to cut down Tees without permission in 1504, although Timber for Repairs was allowed by Manorial Custom.

The 17th & 18thCs saw little major change, with relatively modest increases in most Farm sizes and continuation of both Copyhold Tenure & Open-field Farming. The Hambledens (probably of Lower Berrick Farm) remained by far the wealthiest Farmers in the mid 17thC, when John Hambleden (d.1672) left Goods worth over £1,100 including 137 sheep, 22 cattle, 14 pigs, 911 cheeses, large quantities of wheat & barley, some maslin, pulses & oats & £350 cash.  His Freeholds passed to the Berrick Yeoman John Barrett (a relative), who combined them with the Copyhold Roke Farm (later 68 a.).  Most Yeomen left more modest sums of c.£50£260,  and apparently retained more modest Farms: in 1678 Magdalen had 9 Copyholders still including the Mores & Wises, with some of its largest Holdings probably Focused (as later) on Grace’s & Allnutt’s Farms, Ivyhouse Cottage, and a later Demolished Farmhouse West of the Village Street.  Lincoln College’s 4 Copyholds (Focused on the later Parsons‘ & Malt House Farms, Shepherds Cottage, and a House opposite Parsons’) remained between 5 a. & 25 a. (¼–1¼ Yardlands) c.1771,  although most (like some Magdalen Farms) were Sublet or occupied with other Land. Parsons‘ in particular was held by James Kemp (d.1782) of Benson & Roke, a large-scale Farmer involved with Benson Inns & Coaching,  while Lower Berrick Farm was successively Leased to the Ansells, Jacobs & Coopers.  17th & 18thC prosperity was reflected in rebuilding of Houses & Farm Buildings,  although some Smallholders & Cottagers remained.

During the 1760s–80s both Colleges converted some Farms to Leasehold, but still Granted Long Tenancies for small rents & large Entry Fines.  Farming changed little, with wheat & barley still dominant and some sheep flocks of over 100 recorded into the 18thC.  Markets included Henley,  with whose Malting Industry some Berrick Farmers had Links.  Other Produce was sold to Buyers at Wallingford, Benson, Shillingford, North Stoke & Milton.

Berrick Farms & Farming Since 1800
A Tithe Commissioner commented in 1838 that while most Lands at Berrick were in ‘good cultivation there was ‘no particular instance of High Farming’, and given the initial continuance of Open-field Agriculture the over-all pattern changed only gradually. The 2 largest Farmers in the 1830s–50s (both predominantly Tenants) were Thomas Weller of Roke Farm & Edward Belcher of Lower Berrick Farm, each with over 200 acres. Weller’s holdings included Allnutt’s Farm in Berrick, Let separately until not long before. Smaller Tenant Farmers c.1840 included Thomas Spyer (c.68 a.) at Malt House Farm, the Bonners (c.60 a.) at Ivyhouse Farm, and a few Smallholders, while Outside Farmers included Harriet Parsons of Benson, Lincoln College’s Tenant at Parsons‘ Farm. Amalgamation continued, and by 1861 Weller & the Belchers Farmed a combined total of 800 a. from Roke, Lower & Ivyhouse Farms, employing 46 Labourers. The Parish’s only other remaining Farmer was a Lincoln College Tenant with 18 a., the rest of the Population comprising chiefly Labourers’ Families and a few Shepherds or Craftsmen.
Berrick Salome Tithe Map 1842
Controversial attempts at Inclosure in the 1820s–30s were opposed by Weller & some other Berrick Farmers, despite a Partisan assertion in 1837 that ‘most of Berrick‘ was in favour.  Inclosure finally came in 1863, creating more compact Farms and ending Common grazing. Even so much of the former Common remained Grassland, and no new Berrick Farms were created.  Successive members of the Weller & Belcher Families continued to dominate Berrick’s Farming until the end of the Century: in 1881 Sophia Weller Farmed 300 a. from Roke & Benjamin Belcher 90 a. from Ivyhouse, while Jonathan Weller ran 270 a. from the combined Parsons’, Allnutts’ & Grace’s Farms, held under Lincoln & Magdalen Colleges on conventional Short-term Leases. Jonathan drained some of the wetter Land on his Lincoln Holding, but faced difficulties during the Agricultural Depression, which the College blamed on his alleged poor Farming & insufficient Capital. His rent was reduced to 235. an acre, and following his premature death his Widow continued into the 1890s.  Probably in response to the Depression the Parish’s over-all proportion of Arable (excluding Fodder crops) fell from 52% in 1866 to 47% in 1889 and 49% in 1902, when wheat covered 138 a., barley 67 a., oats 35 a., & beans or peas 47 acres. Cattle numbers rose from 31 to 64, although sheep (typically for the area) fell from 970 to 419 & pigs from 76 to 29.  Several Smallholders remained, one of whom Carted his Produce to Chiswick (near London) every week, while Portable Steam Power (hired from Firms in Wallingford & Cowley) was in regular use on Berrick’s larger Farms by c.1900.

steamploughing
Steam Ploughing

The early 20thC saw several new Tenancies, with Lower Farm briefly run by Bailiffs for the prominent Newington Farmer John Deane. G A Weller continued as Magdalen’s Tenant in the 1940s, however, when he farmed 455 a. comprising Grace’s, Allnutt’s, & Ivyhouse Farms. Lower Farm (185 a.) was then run by W F Surman & Parsons‘ Farm (76 a.) by the Edwards Family (Tenants since 1901), who combined it with Home Farm in Crowmarsh Gifford and bought the Freehold in 1943.   Pasture accounted throughout that period for over half Berrick’s Farmland, supporting (c.1941) 248 cattle, 57 pigs & 95 sheep; the latter (on Parsons‘ Farm) were a recent reintroduction, Sheep-Farming having otherwise disappeared from Berrick by 1930. Wheat, oats & barley remained the chief Crops, with a few potatoes, mangolds & turnips or swedes, while over 450 poultry were kept on the Main Farms & 3 smallholdings. All the Farms were well run and Lower Farm had a Tractor, although Lincoln Colleges Land was suitable only for Summer Pasture.

In 1960 there were still 3 Farms over 100 a. and one over 500 a., alongside several Smallholdings. Arable had increased to 65% (with more barley grown than wheat), and there was some large-scale pig & poultry rearing. By 1988 Arable was back down to 31|%, with Pastoral Farming marked by continued cattle rearing & by resurgent Sheep-Farming.  During the 1970s-80s, however, Berrick’s Farmland was almost entirely sold to outsiders and its Farmhouses to Private Owners, leaving only Berrick Prior’s Manor Farm still functioning (as a small Sheep Farm) in 1999.  Stonehaven Nurseries, a Fruit & Market gardening centre established in 1962, closed c.1991.

Berrick Prior Manor Farm