History of Farming in Raglan, Cerian Avent, 1993
HORATIA DURANT MEMORIAL PRIZE
ESSAY COMPETITION 1993
HISTORY OF FARMING IN RAGLAN
BY, CERIAN AVENT
ANCIENT FARMING - INTRODUCTION
Farming is fundamental to our way of life. Without farming there would he no towns, no citys, no architecture, no craftsmen. The change from hunting was so great, it has been called a Revolution. This Revolution began in the Near East about nine and a half thousand years ago. It came to Britain in the new stone age or “Neolithic” period in about 4500 B.C.
Learning to farm meant learning many things – How to plant crops and look after animals. How to look after the soil. Learning how important the weather can be and learning what different sorts of crops are best for different land.
Farming has always been hard work. The early farmers worked just as hard as the hunters before them and probably had less spare time. The rewards were very great, farming meant farmers could get used to their new homes and look after their own land. It was much better than being a hunter who had to build his life around the animals, who could never settle down.
In Turkey, Syria and Palestine, the “Fertile Crescent”, wild wheat and barley grow. About 7500 B.C. People began realising that if you planted crops from the wild plants that grew naturally, you would get more crops and you could control where they grew.
Before that people hunted fish and wild animals. When people hunted they could never stay in one place. They always had to follow the animals. If the animals died they would starve. They were very dependent on the animals. When people hunted everyone had to hunt or there would not be enough food. But when farming began some people farmed while other people made tools and pottery because farming made enough food.
It was about 5,500 B.C. (two thousand years later) that farmers moved the crops down to the alluvial plains by Rivers Tigris and Euphrates; farmers realised that putting their crops on the rich soil near water would increase the size of the crops and produce more food. Permanent settlements grew up in Jericho for the first time, where there is a perennial spring. At the same time people were discovering how to keep animals, wild sheep, goats and cattle in the Fertile Crescent too. Farmers decided how to control animals to make them healthier and how to make their coats grow thicker. The earliest domesticated animals are sheep and goats. We think they were in Northern Iraq about 8.900 B.C. Domestic cattle of aurocks origin were introduced into western Europe by Neolithic farmers. Short horned cattle were only brought into Europe in 3,000 B.C.
Slowly farming spread through the Neolithic period from the Near East to Europe to Britain. At the time when farming started, plants like beans, peas and lentils grew and fruit like apples. It is quite possible that animals also were domesticated at the same time but in different places, such as cattle and pigs, so they may have domesticated in Europe. Farming reached Northern Europe at about 4500 B.C., and farms then had to learn how to farm in colder conditions.
They had to learn about the soil, they had to cut down trees to make bigger fields and they had to make tools to make farming easier. Most early farming tools were made of stone or bone. Iron was only used in the Iron age. By the Roman period lots of tools were used in Britain.
In Wales because of wetter conditions and heavy soils it was very easy for grass to grow, which feeds cattle on the lower land and sheep on the hills. Even in Wales there are different types of farming. Raglan has good cattle conditions, with wet weather and heavy soils. But sheep and pigs have quite good conditions too, and crops can be grown.
Most things about farming have stayed the same. The climate will never change or the soils. So many things have and always will stay the same.
We don't know much about farming in the Neolithic period in the Raglan area. We do know that people were living in the area in the Bronze age as there are standing stones at Trellech. So this gives us a fair idea that farming was probably brought to Raglan by 3,000 B.C.
In the Iron Age about 5,00 B.C. We still don't know much about farming but there are hill forts like the one at Penrhiw. People probably formed small farms around the hill forts, which gave protection to the farmers. They probably still did this in the Roman period although we do not if there were any Roman forts in Raglan. There were probably people living here because Raglan was the junction of the two roads leading to Monmouth, Abergavenny and Usk. These three places all have Roman forts.
After the Romans left came the Dark Ages when Christianity came to Britain and as Raglan Church is dedicated to Saint Cadoc, an early Celtic Saint, there were probably people living there who farmed too.
When the Normans conquered Britain they built castles to look after their land. The area around Raglan belonged to William Fitz Osborn. A timber castle was probably built at Raglan then. The farm land belonged to the Lord of Raglan. He would have given land to his friends to farm on but none of their farm buildings survived although there is a medieval moated farm at Llantilio Crossenny. Another timber castle was built at Penrhos; while this was soon abandoned, while Raglan Castle was rebuilt in stone.
Raglan Castle continued to be very important as the house of the Lord through the Medieval period. Other wealthy farmers would have lived in the area too but most of these farms have disappeared. One medieval farm house still stands in Raglan, it is called Pant Farm, this is called a hall house and it has a fine wooden roof.
In the Civil War Raglan Castle was destroyed. At this time, Raglan Castle belonged to the Herbert family who were Royalists. When they were defeated all the farm land went to Parliament. At about this time Castle Farm was built from brick. It may have been built by 5th Earl of Worcester.
Other Post medieval houses were built at Cefn Maen, Twyn 'y' Sherrif and Ty 'r' cos. Farm land continued as the estates of the Aristocracy. In the 18th and 19th Centuries, better farm tools were invented in the Industrial Revolution like better ploughs and seed drills. Conditions for farm workers slowly improved and the big farms of noble people were split up and ordinary people were able to farm their own land. This continued into the early 20th Century.
CHAPTER 3 - A FARMER'S YEAR IN RAGLAN
This is what a farmer would have to do all year and every year at about 1860 – 1900 in a small mixed farm in Raglan.
In Winter a farmer would have to plough the soil; this sort of plough would be made of wood and iron and was pulled by two horses. Another of his jobs is to sow the seeds of the winter wheat. He would use a seed drill, this was made of wood and metal. When some of these crops have been sown, some children under 12 would go into fields with a rattle and wave these rattles from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. to scare away the crows. They would take some bread and a flask of tea and then they would stay in those fields for 12 hours.
In Spring his job is to sow his spring crops. He would use a seed drill. Farmers who could not afford a seed drill would use a seed lip. These, people would hold around their neck and would scatter the seeds around the fields. Another of the farmer's jobs is to weed his fields, he would use a big hoe and mattocks.
Their main crops in summer were grass to make hay to make winter feed for the animals and wheat and barley to make flour, to make bread. All these were cut by scythes. Hay was left on the ground then tossed up by pitch forks to make sure it was dry all the way through. Then it was taken to the farmyard where it was stored in hay stacks. The wheat and barley was also cut by scythes, then bound together in sheafs, then they were taken to the farm. Then it was threshed in barn with a flail. Richer farmers could do the harvest with a horse drawn soil reaper or by the 1880s the reaper/binder. Horses were sometimes used to help with the threshing, and later threshing machines were invented.
In the Autumn the farmer's job is to trim the hedges. They would trim the hedges with a bill hook. They have to drain the fields with a draining tool to put earthenware drain pipes. Then they had to manure the fields. Dung hooks were used to rake manure from the back of the carts on to the fields. This keeps the soil good.
On a mixed farm the farmer would also keep sheep and cattle. The animals would have to be looked after all year round. The cows needed milking by hand. The farmers would then carry the buckets of milk into the dairy on a yoke. Then they would let the milk settle in a container called a keeler. The cream would float up to the top. Then the cream would be separated with a wooden skimmer. The cream was then put in a churn and beaten until turns into butter. Some cream would be turned into cheese. Cattle were also used for meat. Sheep were kept for meat and wool. Shearing time in the summer and lambing time in the spring was very busy for the farmers. They would have to shear by hand then. Pigs and poultry were kept. In a diary of 1881 kept by a farmer Thomas James (the great grandfather of the farmer at Castle farm) it tells us some prices of the animals and crops.
- 18 lambs were sold for £18.00
- 12 lambs were sold for £17.10s.0d.
- 2 pigs were sold for £ 20s.0d.
- 26 bags of oats £ 140s.0d.
- 2 bags of wheat £ 28s.0d.
- 10 hundred weight of apples £ 310s.0d.
This farmer must have been a mixed farmer because he grew wheat and kept animals.
Some farms were so small that the farmer had to have another job as well. C.T. Morris of Bryngwyn near Raglan was a travelling cider maker, who took his cider press to lots of farms. He made cider and then sold it. Other farmers were also blacksmiths, saddlers and carpenters.
CHAPTER IV - FARMING IN THE FUTURE
Farmers in Britain are now making lots of food but we don't need all the food that they grow. Farmers look after the country very well and they also look after our environment and this is very important. The Government is now giving money to farmers to farm so that the animals, birds and landscape are looked after.
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