Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Soil fertility - mid C16th to C18th

Clover, the main soil improver, was recorded in the Dodderhill inventories from 1716. Andrew Yarrington of Astley, near Stourport had introduced clover into Worcestershire. He published a book in 1663 giving his views on the uses of clover and its value as feed for cattle and sheep. In spite of his book and his offers of help, it was not until 1673 that it appeared in inventories in Chaddesley Corbett and 1680 in Bromsgrove. The benefits of clover seem to have been spread by word of mouth, reaching Telford in Shropshire in the 1720s.

Before clover was grown the soil was also improved by growing other leguminous plants, mainly beans, peas and vetches. They were grown as a food crop and as cattle fodder but improved fertility by fixing nitrogen in the soil. In the 16th century peas and beans are listed on 24% of the inventories but vetches were on only 8%. In 1669 John Dugard had 22 acres of peas growing, worth £65. The numbers of farmers growing peas and beans remained about the same in the 17th century, increasing to 29% by 1750. The numbers growing vetches fell but then increased to 12.7% in the 18th century.

The main soil improver used historically was dung. As the animals wandered over the stubble and the fallow fields they manured the land, which would eventually be ploughed and planted with seed. Most farmers must have had dung or muck heaps but only 5% of the inventories in the last half of the1500s list dung. It is not recorded at all in the second half of the 17th century, possibly because the appraisers did not consider it as a commodity worth recording. However, in 1729 Humphries had a sizeable amount in the form of 6 loads of muck valued at £3. From the Calendar of Quarter Sessions we know that in 1635 James Parker, the constable of Wychbold, presented Gilbert Glover alias Penrice of ‘the Hill parish for not carrying away a dunghill from before his door to the great annoyance of the neighbours thereby’. This was an offence, for which he could be fined, as dung was only appreciated in the right place. Dung heaps seem to have been a preoccupation of the Glover family as the vicar, Robert Penrice alias Glover, objected to the alterations made to the church grounds and the position of his dung heap.

Next page – Agriculture – Other crops & comparative crop prices

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