Census returns of 19th century Fovant show that the majority of men, boys and even some women, described themselves as ‘agricultural labourers’. This was hardly surprising, for there were several farms in the area and farm work was the chief means of earning a living in Fovant during this period.
Almost without exception the Fovant farms were of the mixed variety. Not only were different crops grown and harvested, but beef and dairy cattle were kept and sheep, poultry and pigs were reared. There were many and varied tasks to be undertaken: ploughing, sowing, planting, harvesting, haymaking, forestry, thatching, hurdle making, milking, sheep shearing, pig killing – the list is endless. Within all these areas were the various ‘specialists’, such as shepherds, cattlemen, carters, and each had their underlings. The complexity of the cultivation of the soil, the tending of animals and land management argued the need for a large workforce before the days of mechanisation.
However, by the mid 19th Century mechanical innovation was starting to be introduced into farming practices. Fearing for their livelihood, riots broke out in nearby villages as agricultural workers broke up farm machinery. Resistance to farm machinery may have delayed its use, but it could not halt progress. Gradually, with the development of the internal combustion engine, machine power inevitably replaced manpower on the farm. As the 19th century progressed, workers engaged in agriculture adapted to the use of farm machinery and a new hierarchy of farm workers evolved in which the ‘specialists’ were just as likely to be ‘traction engine drivers’ as the more traditional skilled categories.
In addition to the major farms, many Fovant residents had smallholdings where they raised crops and kept animals for their own use. Most cottages had large gardens and some villagers also had the use of fields, orchards and allotments within the parish boundary. Cider making and pig killing were communal activities and, from the beginning of the 20th century, there were thriving watercress beds in the centre of the village (view on the left), which became Millbrook Trout Farm
(view on the right).
One village resident Charles Turner, a woodman on the Fovant estate of the Earl of Pembroke, kept a diary between 1899–1900. These entries were mainly concerned with the weather, but he also entered items such as:
- ‘Finished tying up A. Lever’s drift’
- ‘Began spar making for R. Simper’
- ‘T. Raymond carried the hay at the Elm’
- ‘Planted broad beans where the French beans used to be’
This diary gives an insight into a whole year of a working man’s life in the village of Fovant. His experience, typical of many of his fellows, was one of an ordinary villager who not only tended his own plot, but also assisted others to look after theirs.
Currently Ing’s and Gerrard’s Farms are private houses. We have one ‘new’ farm in Dean Lane Farm and Manor, East and West Farms are still in operation. They are all still mixed farms. West Farm, however, also has a prize herd of Blonde d’Aquitaine cattle, some members of which, in order to accustom them to people and noise they might encounter at cattle shows, have in the past been taken for walks through the village. There is more on Mechanisation and the Fovant Blondes on the following pages together with an extensive report on Water Meadows.
It is all agriculture.