In 1856 Thomas Richard Clapham (1837 - 1910) inherited Austwick Hall, with its estate of over 600 acres, from his father, Richard Clapham (1) . Among the records that have survived are T. R. Clapham’s account book for the estate (2) and a journal titled ‘Domus’(3). These documents provide a fascinating insight into the management of an estate in the Yorkshire Dales in the second half of the nineteenth century. They also provide evidence, supplemented by census records, with which to evaluate the impact of the Great Depression, of 1875 to 1895, on agriculture in the Dales.
The Great Depression
From the mid 1870s British agriculture entered a twenty-year period of economic depression. In the first decade there was a severe and prolonged fall in the price of wool and cereals caused mainly by a rising volume of imports from America and Australia. For farmers this was accentuated by a run of bad weather which reduced output and increased costs. This was compounded in the second decade by falling livestock prices due to the rising level of meat imports made possible by the development of continuous refrigeration. This agricultural depression resulted in a decline of the rural population, with people moving to the industrial towns or emigrating to Canada, Australia and New Zealand (Hey, 2005).
Over the period three Royal Commissions were established and the causes and impact of the depression were much debated in Parliament. Life, economics and history are never simple. The falling prices impacted on arable and livestock farmers differently as did the adverse weather conditions. As agriculture in the Dales was predominantly livestock farming it is useful to differentiate the possible impact on the economy of the area. From 1850 the price of wool increased over the next decade and then fell until 1870. After an initial recovery in prices there was a steady decline until 1890. For example, the price of Lincoln Half Hog wool fell from 25 pence per pound in 1872 to just 6 pence per pound in 1900 (Figure 1). There was a wet autumn in 1875 followed by cold winters and wet summers until 1882. This resulted in a heavy loss of hill-sheep but was also associated with an epidemic of liver rot and an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. In England sheep numbers fell from 18.4 million in 1878 to 14.9 million in 1882. This resulted in an increase in mutton prices until 1883. From then to 1895 prices fell by about 20% for best quality fat stock and 25-50% for middling quality (Orwin and Whetham, 1964) .
We have little detailed evidence of the agriculture practised in Austwick in the latter half of the nineteenth century. It was probably a combination of sheep farming with some dairy and beef rearing, with the limited cultivation of arable crops such as oats, turnips and wheat (Lawrence, 2003). The survival of the account book for the Austwick Hall estate provides an opportunity to assess the impact of the Great Depression on agriculture in the area.
The Account Book and Diary
T. R. Clapham’s account book consists of 94 pages of mostly handwritten entries regarding his income from 1858 to 1903. The half-year rents, any deductions and the amount received are recorded for each tenant. Additional income from other property as well as that from stocks were also recorded. In his journal, ‘Domus’, Clapham made entries from 1860 to 1908 regarding alterations to the Hall, the gardens, and the weather, as well as family matters and local events. There are also inserted numerous newspaper cuttings. There are entries, over 393 pages, which supplement the material provided by his account book.
The estate, inherited by T. R. Clapham, comprised nearly 650 acres which were divided between seven farms. Two of these (Austwick Hall Farm and Wood End) were in the parish of Austwick whilst the remainder (Feizor, High Birks, Butterfield Gap and Routster) were in the neighbouring parishes of Lawkland and Giggleswick. In addition, Clapham held about two acres of Lawkland Moss, for turbary, and gaits on Oxenber. He recorded that his land ranged from 486 to 1050 feet above sea level. Just three of the farms were larger than 100 acres. From the 1851 census, which recorded farm sizes, it has been calculated that 87% of farms in north-western counties were less than 100 acres (Orwin and Whetham, 1964). Of the 39 farms listed in the census for Austwick 77% were less than 100 acres.
Austwick Hall Farm
The Hall estate extended over 210 acres in the 1850s. This included the woodland and the gardens associated with the house with the remainder, of about 200 acres, being farmed by the tenant, John Jackson.
Figure 2 shows the gross and net income from the farm from 1859 to 1903. The gross income was the agreed rental which was payable twice yearly. From this rental there were deductions, though these are generally not specified in the accounts. Until 1878 there is a fairly close match between the two figures with the deductions amounting to approximately 2% of the total. From then onwards the gap widens to about 8%. The nett income was £225 in 1859 and remained at about £250 per annum until 1873. It peaked at £400 in 1876 and then declined to £270 in 1889 and remained at this level until 1903.
In 1874 the tenancy had passed to William Harrison and the half-yearly rental was increased to £185. The previous tenant was aged 63 years so had probably retired from farming. Then in January 1875 Clapham purchased land from John Ingleby; some of this was incorporated in the farm with an associated increase in rent. This land, just over 7 acres, had been purchased for £1050 with a rental income of £34 per annum or a 3% return on the capital.
In May 1877 Clapham informed his tenants that he would pay one-half tithe on their behalf. Although he did not commit himself to this for future years he did in fact continue this practice and later paid all the tithes. In November 1879 ‘on account of the extra bad year’ he deducted the cost of oil cake for livestock which was equivalent to a 71/2% reduction in the rent. The winter of 1878/9, according to the Clapham journal, was particularly extreme. ‘Had a very hard winter, strong frost and snow set in Dec. 3rd and continued without intermission for 65 days. The thermometer reading 11o to 20o F, the storm lasted until Feb. 6th then thaw and easterly wind for 10 days. 18th Feb. snow and frost again till 27th Feb. when final thaw set in.’ Later that year the first snow arrived on 11th November and there was skating on Clapham pond. ‘On 20th November the gales carried away the flag pole on the roof of the Hall. The snow returned in December with further gales at the end of the month. Temperatures fell again for the second half of January 1880 and were followed by further snow and high winds in March’.
From November 1881 Clapham decided to return 121/2% of the rent to tenants ‘till times improve’. This was later reduced to 61/4% in November 1883. Earlier that year Harrison had refused to pay the full rent, arguing that there had been a permanent reduction in the rent. With the arrears being entered in the account book matters came to a head so they met in May 1884 to discuss the tenancy. They agreed that Harrison ‘should have the farm on the condition of the original agreement paying £360 a year, the landlord to pay the tithe. Offered him a lease of three years but he declined preferring he said one from year to year’.
In 1885 the Ecclesiastical Commission clarified the conditions regarding the payment of tithes. The Great Tithe was to be paid by the owner of the land whilst the Small Tithe or Vicarial Tithe was to be paid by the occupier. Clapham decided to pay both tithes from 1888. Mark Frankland took over the tenancy in 1886 with a reduction in the rent until 1888. Foster Metcalfe then took over the farm with another small reduction in the rent. He continued to farm the land until his son, Christopher, took over in 1901. The reasons for the frequent change in tenants in the 1880s is not known. However, one possibility is that despite the rent abatements and payment of tithes, the tenants were having difficulty making a living.
In summary, by 1900 the rent received by the landlord was essentially the same as that forty years earlier. Whilst the gross rental had increased, the deduction of income tax, the payment of tithes and the rent abatements had reduced the income generated even before any effects of inflation.
So how are the data to be interpreted in terms of the effects of the Great Depression? It appears unusual that the increase in rent coincided with the start of the depression in 1875. The increase in acreage of the farm cannot explain the full rise in rent. Perhaps Clapham took the opportunity to increase the rent with the change of tenant. The preceding years may have been perceived as boom times with the steady increase in wool prices so this may have been an opportunity for the landlord to benefit. Even so, the rents remained high for the first six years of the depression though Clapham voluntarily abated both rent and tithes. It is also possible that there was a lag in the start of the depression compared with other parts of the country. The fall in wool prices, which is linked to the start of the depression, may not have had an immediate effect on the income of the upland farmer. His main income may have been derived from the sale of livestock for fattening and for meat, the price of which continued to rise until 1883 (Orwin and Whetham, 1964). The bad weather in 1879 was perceived to be more serious and was the start of significant rent reductions. The fall in livestock prices continued the decline in the landlord’s income and from 1888 the rentals remained static over the next fifteen years. Perhaps the upland farms never recovered from the sustained low wool and meat prices.
It has been suggested that in the long term, sheep farmers adapted by selecting better breeds of sheep for meat production and by sending their stock off to market at a younger age. Traditionally lamb was a luxury product with a limited market. Mutton was produced by sheep which were seldom less than 15 months old while the hill and mountain wethers might be 3 or 4 years old. The falling wool prices diminished the value of the older wethers so sheep were now sold younger, having consumed less food (Orwin and Whetham, 1964).
Austwick Hall Estate
The home farm contributed nearly half of T. R. Clapham’s income when he inherited the estate. At this point land provided 99% of his income with other property supplying the remaining 1%. Figure 3 illustrates the gross and net income for the entire estate from 1859 to 1903. For the first decade there was a steady increase in income. By 1870 property still provided just 1% of Clapham’s income whilst stocks contributed 4% with the remaining 95% coming from land rentals.
The increase in income in 1873 was due to the notice to quit in 1874 of one of the tenants, Jonathan Morphet, with the receipt of the full year’s rent. In 1875 High Birks farm was sold for £2,850 and this was used to buy two lots of land from John Ingleby. The land was divided between existing farms and produced a rent of £101 per annum (3.5% annual return on the capital).
The following year Butterfield Gap was sold for £4,500 and stocks purchased for £4,648. By 1880, 25% of his income came from stocks, that from property remained at 1% whilst income from land had fallen to 74%. From 1881 onwards Clapham reduced his tenants’ rents and he also paid their tithes. In 1886 the family visited the United States and the Hall was rented out in their absence. The following year there was a further increase in his income when he inherited part of his sister’s property in Feizor.
From 1888 to 1892 Clapham’s income dropped to around £700 per annum. His income from property remained at about 1% and the income from stocks remained the same but now contributed to over 30% of the total. What had fallen significantly was the value of the land rental income.
From 1893 Clapham’s income increased following the death of his brother-in-law. Family land in Feizor finally reverted to Clapham with the associated rental income. By 1900 his income from property was still insignificant at 2%, while that from stocks remained at a similar level of just over £200 or 24% of the total. The rentals from land brought in £658 per annum, which was similar to that received in 1870 and 1880 despite the increase in acreage.
The Village of Austwick
The analysis so far has focussed on a single farm and the larger estate of Austwick Hall. The next level to consider is that of the village or parish of Austwick. The census returns of 1851 and 1891 provide an interesting comparison. Figure 4 is the population pyramid for Austwick in 1851. The total population recorded was 649, with almost equal numbers of males and females. Of those aged fourteen or older 25% of men and 14% of women were engaged in farming. The rest of the parish was employed in a diverse range of occupations which included cotton weavers, grocer, carrier, baker, china dealer, blacksmith, mason, butter carrier and shoemaker.
Figure 5 is the population pyramid for 1891. Again there are approximately equal numbers of men and women. However, the total population had fallen to 439. In each age group there were fewer people in 1891 than 1851. This is particularly noticeable when considering the number of children under 10 years of age. Of those aged 14 and older, 128 were engaged in farming, or just a single person more than recorded in the earlier census. The occupations of people living in the parish were still diverse but there had been a significant decrease in the number of weavers (who had often also been described as paupers in the earlier census).
This fall in the population, by about a third, was probably due to a movement of people to the industrial towns of West Yorkshire and Lancashire. It is also likely that the paupers were moved to the local workhouse, outside the parish. There was no such decline in the number of people engaged in agriculture. There appears to be no evidence for the amalgamation of farms into larger units nor the movement of people from the land.
The enumerator for the 1851 census not only provided a record of the size of the farms but also the number of employed farm labourers. In only about a third of the farms were labourers employed. In the majority the work was undertaken by the farmer and his wife, assisted by their children. Where labourers were employed there was usually just the one, who generally lived with the family. In some instances the additional labour was required because of the size of the farm, whilst in others it was needed because of the advancing age of the farmer and his wife. In the case of the Austwick Hall Farm the head of the household was a widower aged 71 years. Both his sons were single, aged 42 and 40 years and an additional three labourers were employed.
The 1891 census contained no record of the number of employees for each farm. However, the pattern is similar with the farm labourer living with the family. Again most of the labour was provided by the farmer and his immediate family. There is one caveat: the censuses are records of a single day. They do not record any seasonal employment of additional workers at peak periods such as hay-making and shearing.
Both the account book and journal contain a wealth of data. However, there remain major gaps in the evidence: there are no accounts for the tenants and no data on T. R. Clapham’s expenditure apart from an extract from his ledger (which appears in his journal). Whilst one can speculate on the impact of the depression on farming in the Dales, the evidence is mostly from the perspective of the landowner rather than his tenants.
One rare survival of an account book is that for Dod and Duerley farms in Wensleydale (Hartley and Ingilby, 1992). William King’s accounts, from 1889 to 1902, show that on average he made a profit of £47 per year. In good years he made a profit of £247 but this was countered by losses of £180 in other years. He not only faced a falling market for his sheep and cattle but he also had to pay interest on the initial loan to stock the farms. With diminishing profits he finally sold up.
It has been suggested that the agricultural depression was mild in the north compared to the predominantly arable farming in the south (Hallas, 2000). The mixed and pastoral farm economy, coupled with demand from the industrial cities meant that during this period the north was probably the most prosperous farming region of the country (Hallas, 2000). There is evidence that Lancashire livestock farmers flourished in the 1880s and 1890s and the demands for remissions of rent were negligible (Fletcher, 1961).
The evidence for Austwick is not so positive. At least one landowner, T. R. Clapham, found that his income from land and farming remained static throughout the period. He not only reduced his tenants’ rents but also contributed to the payment of their tithes. He was clearly aware of his tenants’ predicament and his assistance enabled them to maintain their holdings. It was only through acquiring more land through inheritance and by diversifying his income, through the purchase of railway stocks, that he managed to maintain and increase his income. Even so, as is clear from the ledger extract in Clapham’s journal, he had significant surplus monies throughout the years of the depression. For example, he paid £17 for a water closet, and £63 for a new roof on the south and west sides of Austwick Hall. A piano was purchased for £45 in 1877 and an astronomical observatory was built in the garden for £26 in 1884. So despite the depression Clapham still had surplus funds to make improvements to the Hall and indulge his family’s interests.
Although there is no evidence for a decline in farming in Austwick it is possible that the smaller farms kept going through the worst of the depression only because of the unpaid work of sons and daughters. Others were not so fortunate. A newspaper cutting of 1891 was pasted into Clapham’s journal reporting on a court case. William Greenwood, 46, farmer, pleaded guilty to stealing 31 ewes from Ingleborough common. The prisoner handed the magistrates a statement in which he explained his actions: ‘I hold a very dear farm, the rent for 15 years having been 30 per cent above the rateable value. People may say “How very foolish to give such a rent.” Gentlemen, it was the place where I was born, and I stayed there until I was brought away by two police officers. Things have been gradually going bad. I have lost about £40 worth of stock within the last nine months. I could not face my landlord with the rent and other parties pressing me, so I was tempted at a weak time to take what did not belong to me. I took them in broad daylight, fearing nothing, putting my brand on them right away. I regretted afterwards, but could not undo what I had done’. The prisoner appealed to the magistrates for leniency ‘for the sake of his broken-hearted wife and six children, unprotected and unprovided for, adding that their home was likely to be broken up and they turned into the world to do the best they could.’ Despite supporting testimonials the farmer was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment. The chairman of the bench said ‘The magistrates would have been glad to have inflicted a less punishment if they could have seen their way to do so; and reminded him that not so many years ago he would have been liable to be hanged for the offence of sheep-stealing’.
1. Richard Clapham’s will, National Archives PROB 11/2252
2. T. R.Clapham’s account book, North Yorkshire Record Office PR/AUS 34
3. Clapham family papers
Fig.1: Price of Lincoln Half Hag Wool
Pence per lb
Fig.2: Income for Austwick Hall Farm
Fig.3: Income for the Austwick Hall Estate
Fig.4: Population of Austwick 1851
Fig.5: Population of Austwick 1891