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Farming

Stone Age Celtic Roman Saxon Medieval
Tudor Stuart Georgian Victorian Modern
Haymaking Grove Farm 1926 Farming is still a major part of the village even though it now only provides work for a minority. This picture may appear to be from the long distant past but at least one person pictured in it is still alive. The this picture of the Speed family making hay at Grove Farm in 1926 is courtesy of Norah Weeks and Mervyn Speed. Farming
Stone Age
The first human visitors were probably hunter gatherers attracted to the shelter and water provided by the small valley of Chew Head. There may have been some form of rock shelter to persuade some people to stay. Pathways tended to follow the ‘combes’ or valleys that lead from the base of the hill to the source of a stream or river that created them in the first place. The presence of flakes of flint suggests that people were working flint as well as using flint hunting implements. It is general believed that farming developed in the Middle East and it is possible that some plants and animals now assumed to be native to Britain. Return to the top of the list.
CelticSome field systems can be dated to the bronze age but it is more difficult to date the Mendip stone walls because the local rock fractures easily and has to be replaced frequently. The presence of items such as buttons and coins from the bronze and iron ages suggest that there was a mixture of activities in the area which would have included farming and probably mining . Hunting would have continued even if the hunters lived elsewhere but ploughing is a sign of permanent settlement. It is possible that what later evolved into the ‘Chewton Hundred’ started as the hunting territory of a local clan.
RomanMining has left more of an impact in the area of the Roman era but one introduction made by the Romans which became closely associated with Chewton Mendip was rabbits.
SaxonThe division of Chewton Mendip into tithings was in place during the Saxon era and many farms probably existed as self-contained units consisting of several households, perhaps surrounded by a defensive fence. A Royal Hunting Forest was established by this period.

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MedievalThe Doomsday Book of 1086/1087 stated that Chewton Mendip consisted of 29 hides, land for 40 ploughs, one riding horse, 35 swine, 800 sheep and 50 she goats. It also stated there were 5 mills and 100 acres of meadow. It also stated that the Abbot of Jumieges held half a hide of land with the church. The detail in the record is taken as proof by some people that there was no lead mining in the area but the rounded figure of 800 for the sheep shows the audit was not as thorough as it first appears.The mixture of units of measurement also causes confusion. An acre can be defined in exact terms whilst a ‘hide’ is described in many ways. The simplest description was that it was the amount of land required to support a family but that does not tally. Assuming that each family had one plough, there should have been 40 hides. The anomaly can be explained to an extent by the 100 acres of meadowland and the grazing rights for the 800 odd sheep. It is also possible that the families could supplement their agricultural earnings through some tax-free lead mining. Mendip lead had a high silver content so it could be very profitable. There were the large open fields in the area but enclosures of land was recorded in the medieval period. There are also records of conflict between farmers about boundary rights and examples of near warfare between farmers and lead miners.The creation of the Royal Forest for hunting is the an early example of resources being dedicated to sport
TudorThe dissolution of the monasteries caused upheaval in agricultural matters. Land ownership was dominated by the ecclesiastical orders of various types. The Bishop of Bath owned Litton and many other manors. Bruton Abbey owned Ston Easton and Emborough, Witham Friary owned a large sheep farm at Green Ore, the centre of Chewton Mendip was owned by Sheen Monastery. The medieval Lord of the Manor of Chewton Mendip was restricted to owning the farms and a few houses in the centre of the village. Some farmers benefited from low rents but rising food process and were able to benefit from the sale of the former monastic lands which had the added attraction of being free from tithes.
StuartThe fifth John Hippisley introduced agricultural reforms a century before ‘Turnip’ Townshend and the agricultural revolution of the 18thcentury. The Mendip Hills are mainly made of limestone and some of the land is steep with thin soil that is only suitable for sheep grazing. The local name for such pasture is a ‘sleight’ but the term ‘wasteland’ was also used to describe open land that was not improved.One impediment to the improvement of the marginal land was that it would attract tithes once it had been improved. The vicar would have been entitled to his personal, or small, tithe of 10% of the lambs from the sheep who grazed the sleights but the rector would have had the right to 10% of the corn grown on the improved land. ‘The Husbandman’s Plea’ of 1647 changed the ruling that former wasteland and marshes were liable for tithes if they were improved which encouraged the expansion of arable farming in some areas.Building dry stone walls has been one of the skills of a Mendip farmer since time immemorial and it serves two functions at once. It helps to remove rocks from the arable land and helps to maintain boundaries. Not all stones are suitable for building walls and the local limestone fractures and has to be replaced so it is difficult to date some walls. Some walls are the result of documented enclosures of former wasteland. One example is Newlands Corner enclosed by John Hippisley in 1609. The walls built at the time may have followed straight lines but sometimes they followed the natural contours of the land to create various odd-shaped fields and spaces.
GeorgianCharles (Turnip), second Viscount Townshend was a Norfolk aristocrat who introduced agricultural improvements including the use of root crops such as Turnips. This was also the time of wholesale enclosure of land. Most of the remaining common land was enclosed as part of the Agricultural Revolution of the late 18thcentury. The mangel wurzel was probably introduced to Somerset during this period. Hunting in the form of killing animals considered to be vermin was encouraged and the 18th century.
VictorianThe 19thcentury saw the decline of Chewton Mendip. Corn Laws were introduced during the Napoleonic wars to protect farmers but this made everyone else poorer. The repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 by Sir Robert Peel was popular with the majority but bought financial hard ship to many farmers. Some farmers prospered by branching out into related industries. One farming family, the Blannings, enjoyed such an improvement in their financial position that they were able to buy the former vicarage house in 1859.Steam power made its mark on farming but horse power continued to be the main form of transport. The railways reached Hallatrow and Chilcompton but not Chewton Mendip. This did not prevent agricultural waggon makers turning into motor vehicle manufactures at Cutlers Green.
ModernThe decline in population continued but Chewton Mendip was predominantly an agricultural village. Farm boys went to fight in World War One and inevitably some failed to return. The great depression of the 1930s had its effect and the population of Chewton Mendip continued to decline but life continued. Several photographs provide a visual record to add to the memories of the few people who remember what farming was like in that time. A copy of a catalogue for the sale of goods farm Sages Farm in lists the items a typical farm would have at the time and not very different in earlier periods.The strength of the farming community at the time was shown that it was able to organise a private ball where attendance was by invitation only. The casualty figures in the Second World War were not as great and the farming and hunting skills continued to provide benefits. Many locals were able to supplement their rations by hunting rabbits. They may have hunted other game as well but there was a game keeper to stop them. Horse power continued through until about the 1950s but horses were finally replaced by tractors after WW2. The pages about ploughing  and haymaking demonstrate the transition. The post war years were still dominated by agriculture and several photographs show the farmers who were tenants of the Waldegraves in 1955. Most of the farms are now private houses. Bloodsports are no longer seen as the core of the social calendar and is a source of contention amongst some peopleFarming no longer dominates the village as it used to but it is still a rural community.

Please refer to the acknowledgements page for a list of the contributors to this website.

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