EXMOOR FARMING IN THE EARLY 19TH CENTURY
In 1801 arable crops covered at least 17 per cent of Brushford parish, 10 per cent of Dulverton and Winsford, and 6 per cent of Exford. Devon farmers reportedly under stated their crops for fear of higher tithe payments. Farmers may have grown more grain than usual because of the high prices. It was said in Exton that the crops within 20—30 miles were so abundant that high prices were due to ‘monopoly and perfidy’. The value of Exmoor’s livestock was recognised by the government. In the event of invasion Molland drovers were to take animals to Dartmoor or Somerton, avoiding roads.1
The new century at first brought little change. No doubt farmers watched the Exmoor experiment with interest but there is little evidence that they were influenced by it. One aspect that interested some was the cross-breeding of livestock. The mainstay of Exmoor at this period was the Exmoor Horn sheep. It is genetically similar to the Welsh Mountain sheep that were shipped into Porlock in the 17th century. The Porlock Horn was probably a cross between the old Exmoor and Welsh sheep and may be the ancestor of the present Exmoor Horn, a hardy animal well suited to life on the moors. In 1839 small Porlock sheep were kept at Dulverton on the exposed commons but the better flocks were put out to keep in winter. Desire for higher quality wool in the late 18th and 19th century led farmers in southern Exmoor to experiment with cross-breeding the Exmoor with imported Downs, Leicesters, and even Merino at Molland and Dulverton. George Peppin of Dulverton took his sheep breeding skills to Australia. At East Anstey in 1842 the horned sheep produced 5—7 lb. of wool each but the ‘knot’ or hornless breeds produced 6 ½ or 7 lb. At Great Champson farm in Molland, Francis Quartley improved the herd of Devon cattle, which his father had bred at Champson since 1776. Such was the enthusiasm for the improved breed that there were nearly half a million Devon cattle by the late 19th century. Many farmers in the area took an interest in cattle breeding as they obtained much of their income from selling stock at two to four years old to lowland graziers. In the Dulverton area there were herds of dairy cows.2
Although much money and effort was put into livestock farmers were still expecting, with the aid of lime, to produce heavy corn crops. New barns were built at Riphay in Brushford and Ashway in Dulverton in the early to mid 19th century. Riphay was also provided with a new linhay, barn and byre, a new mill was built at Garliscombe, Withypool, which had 1,000 a. of arable land, and several houses and farms were enlarged including Ashway in Dulverton. The tithe statistics of c. 1840 show that arable was still very extensive in some parishes notably Twitchen and Molland, which had 1,700—2,000 a. each. Most parishes had plenty of good grassland although common grazing still predominated in the high moor parishes. At East Anstey 9 ½ a. of furze was returned an indication that it was still valued. Dulverton still had over 1,000 a. of wood. Water meadows were recorded at Withypool and orchards at Molland and East Anstey.3
Between 1838 and 1842 the area was extensively surveyed in preparation for the replacement of tithes, a tenth of produce owed to the church, by cash payments. Most of the surveyors’ reports still spoke of the lack of capital investment in improving agriculture, the need for lime, the poor arable crops, and the absence of tithe barns. Only a fifth of arable in some parishes was cropped annually, chiefly for oats, wheat, turnips, barley, and potatoes. In most areas the arable lay above the treeline between the wooded valleys and the open moor. It was said that much grain was grown for the straw to feed stock as meadow hay was usually sold. Dairying was often recommended. Only at Exford did the surveyor refer to the common sheep walk as valuable and appreciate the healthy pasture used for breeding young cattle for sale. He noted that the road to Dunster had been much improved by the rector.
Some ancient labour services were uncovered. At Molland each farmer owed the vicar a day’s work with a man and a two-horse cart. He also waived tithe pigs from parishioners who would rear a hound for him. At Twitchen, a poor parish whose vicar had died, ‘the utmost has been exacted for tithes’ and yet the farmers were harassed for payment. The surveyors often referred to the harsh weather and difficulties of access. As in the late 18th century Withypool was inaccessible and the value of property depressed because of the difficulty in removing produce and the late ripening of crops. Much was spent on lime but the crops were light and 6 weeks later than elsewhere and the tithes not worth the cost of collection. Surprisingly few livestock were kept. Hawkridge at 1200 ft was in a similar state although 470 a. was under wheat, oats, and potatoes in 1840. The cost of collection and the difficulty of getting produce to market rendered tithe of little value. The commons were grazed only in summer and the stock was disposed of or sent to the lowlands in winter. At West Anstey the roads were narrow and steep and liming was expensive because it had to be brought in. At Brushford well over half the parish was arable (1,752 a.) growing wheat, barley, and turnips yet the crops were poor and the low prices threatened to throw much arable out of cultivation.
Nine parishes returned survey totals of 10,550 a. of arable, 15,368 a. of grass, and 14,592 a. of common. The amount of arable in the Somerset parishes was an underestimate, possibly it did not included fallow, as the tithe awards for the ten southern Exmoor parishes record 15,662 a. of arable. An estimate of livestock across seven parishes in the study area c. 1840 found 21,900 sheep, 800 cows and heifers, 2,785 young cattle and bullocks, and 1,123 horses and colts, presumably mainly Exmoor ponies.4 In 1844 Lees tenement in Twitchen was largely arable although the land was poor, stony, cold and steep and worth as little as 10s an acre compared with 30s to 50s for meadow and 30s for orchard on the farm. Wheat continued to be grown at Winsford in the mid 19th century despite the altitude and thin soil, which was often washed from the roots and was contaminated with a weed grass that often overwhelmed the crop. Oats were usually grown first, followed by wheat to improve yields, then turnips, wheat again, and finally grass which was left till full of moss and coarse grass. The ground was still broken up with mattocks after a preliminary ploughing. The poor arable could only be maintained by liming. Lime was produced around Molland and West Anstey in the late 18th century but not in sufficient quantity to supply demand. Lime for Exmoor parishes was shipped in through Barnstaple or brought up from Watchet, Bampton or Tiverton. A few local sources were found in the 19th century, sometimes in association with old lead workings including Gulland farm in Dulverton.5
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