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 The history of land use in Hartley
Last updated 27.1.08

Early 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.

Middle Ages
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 in 1392 of the lands owned by the manor (Hartley Court). 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 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.

Early Modern Period
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.  This suggests quite heavy cropping, as the farm was only 100 acres in size.  

Three probate inventories from the 1600s give a good impression of farming then, Thomas Young's farm at Fairby was 140 acres in size, with 80 acres devoted to arable.  By 1852 the amount of land given over to arable at Fairby had increased to 104 acres.

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.

The greater preponderence of sheep is characteristic of the waterless chalk area.  Figures from Australia show that sheep can get by on as little as 2 litres (½ gallon) of water a day, although ewes with lambs need 4-10 litres (1-2½ gallons).  Young cattle need a minimum of 25 litres (5½ gallons), and milk cows require 40-100 litres (10-25 gallons) - ten times the water requirements of a sheep.

Some clues to farming can also be gleaned from field names.  Where Chantry Avenue is today was once two large fields called Rye Croft.  Also New House Farm had a field called Sainfoin.

19th Century
The Agricultural Magazine of 1804 contains a 5 page description of the state of farming in Kent.  The author praises the northern part of the county for following the best modern farming practices.  He notes that the county is especially noted for hops, beans (for fodder), and, in the area nearest London, potatoes.

At the time of the Tithe survey in 1844, the age of "high farming", arable predominates.  The acreages devoted to each crop were:




Yield - tonnes/hectare
(2006 figures in brackets)



22 bushels

1.48   (8.0)

Beans & Peas


20 bushels

1.35   (3.3)



32 bushels

2.16   (6.0)



28 bushels

1.89   (5.9)



16 bushels


































The 1844 figures for tonnes/hectare are not exact, as the bushel was a measure of volume.  To convert this the current US equivalent of 60lbs per bushel is used.  But they do show the fantastic advances in crop yields over the last 150 years.

The parish also had 9 ploughteams of 4 horses each.

The high farming period continued until the 1870s when a nationwide depression set in. Like elsewhere Hartley's farmers responded by increasing land devoted to pasture and orchards, reflected in the 1901 land use map.  From the annual farm statistics, we can see that permanent grass for pasture increased 5 fold between 1867 and 1897.  Hops were grown on a smallish scale until the 1890s, as well as the Fairby Oast House, New House Farm had a hop kiln. 

Land Use Map of Hartley 1844 Land Use Map of Hartley, Kent 1901
Click on image for larger versions of land use maps of Hartley

The 19th century saw great advances in mechanisation, although its extent in Hartley is little known.  As early as 1862, the Illustrated London News was reporting on a demonstration of 11 steam ploughs at Farningham.  One engine achieved 5½ acres in five hours, traditionally an acre is the amount one plough team can plough in a day.

20th Century
The first decades of the 20th century saw changes that were fundamental to the future of farming in Hartley.  The coming of mains water in 1901 seems to have encouraged farmers to breed more cattle.  In 1897 Hartley had 36 cattle and 552 sheep, but in 1907 the figures were 109 cattle and only 295 sheep (see farm statistics).

The sale of land in smallholdings by Smallowners Ltd from 1911 led to a big increase in Orchard and small fruit production, as well as poultry.

A Hartley poultry farmer (1915)

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 25 acres. 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.

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.

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