Farming in Hartley


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Agricultural Stats 1867-1947

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Farming in Hartley - a Brief History

The earliest evidence of agriculture in Hartley dates back to Roman times. A farmhouse of 1st/2nd century AD date was discovered when the Wellfield Estate was being built. Bones of pigs, sheep and cattle were found in a ditch.

From the Domesday Book we learn that the village had a cultivated area of 600 acres and "wood for10 pigs". It is clear from place name evidence that the land in this area had to be won by the new settlers. The "ley" element in Hartley, Idleigh and Ridley suggests clearance of land, as did the names of some of Hartley's fields.

We can gain a glimpse of the crops grown in Hartley in 1296, because the taxes in that year were paid in corn, to be taken to the king's army in Gascony. The collectors received 18 bushels of wheat and 4 bushels of oats from Hartley. A reflection of the predominance of wheat locally (historically people have always preferred wheat bread to that of any other grain).

The first detailed description of farming is a survey of the lands owned by the manor (Hartley Court) in 1392. The picture is one of mixed farming with an emphasis on arable. It mentions 206 acres of arable land, 5 acres of grass for hay, an orchard, garden and pasture land. Wheat is likely to have been the main crop.

This survey also suggests that Hartley once had two great open fields: (1) The Rede, which probably included all the land between Ash Road and Church Road; and (2) Northfield, which appears to have lain to the north of Church Road and Manor Lane. Kentish open fields were not like the so called "classic" open field system, for it is believed that the farms owned blocks not strips and that they were subdivided by temporary brushwood enclosures (mentioned in a 14th century survey of Hartley manor). It is certainly striking how most of Hartley's farms owned land on both sides of Church Road, with the exceptions of Hartley Wood Farm and Fairby, both on the edge of the manor.

What evidence there is suggests that mixed farming (weighted towards arable) continued up to the last century. In a court case in 1560 William Middleton, the tenant of possibly Hartley Wood Farm said he had planted 60 acres with wheat, barley, oats, beans, peas and tares. And three probate inventories from the 1600s give a good impression of farming then:

Henry Middleton (?Hartley Wood Farm, 1666): Wheat (51 acres); barley (17a); oats (18a); peas (15a); grey peas (11a); "pease more" (8a); 10 horses, 10 pigs, 4 cattle, 76 sheep.

Thomas Young (Fairby, 1688): Wheat (35a); barley & oats (28a); peas and tares (17½a); clover and sainfoin for mowing; 38 sheep; 12 cattle; 4 pigs; 8 horses.

James Burrow (New House Farm, 1695 - part of?): wheat in fields and in barn; also barley & peas, 6 cattle, 5 sheep, 4 pigs, 1 horse.

At the time of the Tithe survey in 1844, the age of "high farming", arable predominates, and this continues until the 1870s when a nationwide depression set in. In common with elsewhere Hartley's farmers responded by increasing land devoted to pasture and orchards, reflected in the 1901 land use map. Hops were grown on a smallish scale until the 1890s, as well as the Fairby Oast House, New House Farm had a hop kiln.

Between the wars there was a massive decline in arable acreage - the result of the lowest grain prices for 150 years, by 1937 arable crops covered just 10 acres. The sale of land in smallholdings by Smallowners Ltd form 1911 led to a big increase in Orchard and small fruit production. The war years saw this trend reversed as farmers were encouraged to plough up grass fields and to plant crops previously imported (eg. 3½a of sugar beet in 1944). There were new sources of labour too - land army girls and prisoners of war.

A Hartley poultry farmer in 1915

Since the war much land has been lost to housing, most notably when New House Farm (which was good agricultural land) was lost to New Ash Green. At the turn of the century, about 900 acres were cultivated, but now there are little more than 250 acres in farming. This is a figure set to fall further, for later this year the land known to New Ash Green as Northfield is to be developed as some sort of park, cutting farm land in Hartley by a quarter.

In 1987 there were 11 agricultural holdings in the parish, but only Hartley Bottom Farm and Thamesview Farm are of any size.