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Guarlford History Group

Agricultural Timeline

Historical events and their local effects


Main influences on agriculture

Local effects

Early settlements

First records provided by tenth century Saxon charters and the Domesday Book, 1086.

Main settlements were at Powick and Hanley with hamlets and farms in wooded wastes, probably surrounded by their own field systems.

Norman conquest

Designation of the Malvern Chase as royal hunting preserve.

Administered by forest law, rather than common law, giving protection to game, and to some extent, from development.

Monastery founded in Great Malvern; work on the Priory began in 1085.


Increase in population until the Black Death in 1348, when it fell to barely 3.5 million in England, Scotland and Wales.

During this population expansion, woodland clearance took place and more land was cultivated.

Through this period, the Priory became the area’s principal landowner. Guarlford was specifically named as a Priory estate in 1291. At the end of the thirteenth century, the Priory had 500 acres of arable land in the manor of Great Malvern, 360 in the manor of Guarlford and 240 each in Newland and Woodsfield.


Ninety per cent of the population lived in villages, small towns or on farms. The rural populations were comprised of landlords, large tenant farmers who employed labour, and small tenants who did not, freeholders (large or small landowning farmers), smallholders, cottagers and squatters, who had no legal title to land but possessed customary rights to make use of common and waste ground.

Ridge and furrow at Cherry Orchard, and names of local fields such as Troughbridge and Stamperfield indicate that strip farming took place under the medieval open fields farming system. A farmer would own one or many scattered strips in open arable fields, and the stock would be grazed on common land.

The move away from the open farming system was gradual over the centuries in the Malvern area, and much of it was already enclosed by the time of the Enclosures Acts of the late eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century.


Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Population growth (3.5 million in England, Scotland and Wales in 1520 growing to 8 million by 1650) led to food price inflation, and population migration to the towns and social unrest.

Land owned by Malvern Priory reverted to the Crown and was gradually sold: many of the yeomen and peasant tenants in the Malvern area found they had new landlords; some tenants were able to purchase their farms.

Records show that wheat, oats, barley and much fruit were grown in the area. Cattle and swine were the main livestock, but few sheep.


Charles II sold hunting rights in exchange for one third of the common land, which he then sold.

The best of this common land became enclosed, often depriving small livestock farmers of a living. Over the next two hundred years, much of the remaining common land became eroded by enclosure by large landowners, cottagers and small farmers alike, until the 1884 Malvern Hills Act was passed, as a result of which the Conservators were set up.

The Hornyold family of the Blackmore Estate purchased land from the Crown at this time, and the estate grew until the end of the eighteenth-century.

Hopyards are recorded in Worcestershire by a map dated 1636.


Further expansion of the population, with Industrial Revolution from 1760-1850.

Efficiency of arable production improved with the invention of the seed drill. The total arable acreage expanded rapidly, much of it into previously uncultivated land.

A four-course rotation including forage root crops was introduced by ‘Turnip’ Townsend. Stock could be fattened over winter, making fresh meat available for the first time for most of the year.

Gradual enclosure continued leading to consolidation of holdings. This squeezed out the small independent farmers and rural poor without legal title.

As a result of population explosion after 1750, rural poverty increased. Records show that in 1744 overseers of the poor were distributing a bread charity from the tithe barn at Baldenhall.

A shortage of workforce, with increasing migration to the towns during the Industrial Revolution, drove increased mechanization on farms.

In 1741, Thomas First Lord Foley, a wealthy industrialist who had made his fortune in the Black Country and was owner of the Stoke Edith estate, purchased the manor of Great Malvern.

The Foley estate grew, and by 1800 comprised more than 3,000 acres; 1,363 acres lay within the Malvern area.


The Enclosures Acts saw the completion of the transformation of the open fields, commons and much of the waste land into a pattern of enclosed fields. This was a move to further improve agricultural efficiency. When land was enclosed, it was allocated to landowners who thereby had lost farmland.

Disafforestation of the Chase had already resulted in enclosure of some common land.

Commoners’ rights were allocated to local cottages, allowing the cottagers to continue livestock farming.


Population in UK rose to 21 million. Over 50% of the population now lived in towns.

The Corn Laws were introduced in 1815 to protect farmers from international trade. This led to higher bread prices.

Steam-driven threshing machines now began replacing other methods.


In 1836, the Tithes Commutation Act meant that payment of tax by produce was replaced by a money payment relating to acreage of land farmed. It led to the drawing up of tithe maps and awards, which show who farmed the land, and what was grown.

Lord of the Manor, Edward Foley, planted young elm trees along the Guarlford Road. (These died of Dutch Elm Disease and were replaced 100 years later).

In 1841, the Great Malvern tithe apportionment was drawn up (encompassing the area which became Guarlford parish). This shows that the 4,022 acres of the parish contained 1,700 acres of arable land, 1,613 acres of meadow and pasture (this acreage would have included orchards), 628 acres of commons, 36 acres of woodland and 48 acres of hopyards. Oats was the largest grain crop grown.

All but the smallest holdings in the Guarlford area were farmed by tenants. Landowners’ estates varied in size, from that of the Foley Estate, which owned approximately one third of today’s Guarlford parish, to Richard Benbow’s 26-acre farm, Cherry Orchard, which was farmed by Walter Haynes.


Abolition of the Corn Laws to allow grain imports to feed a growing population whose staple diet was bread.

This led to a move away from growing corn to more dairy, meat and fruit and vegetable production, which had ready local markets unaffected by imports.


Further improvements in agricultural methods: drainage; and improved plant nutrition. Horse-drawn reaper arrived in 1860, followed by the reaper/binder.

British farmers became at least twice as efficient as their European contemporaries. 80% of food consumed was produced in the UK.



The Great Agricultural Depression: after a series of bad harvests, grain imports arrived from Canada, and meat from Australia, New Zealand and Argentina arrived with the invention of refrigeration, severely depressing prices. Workforce moved to the towns.

Madresfield Estate planted most of South Wood for recreation, including shooting, and created employment for gamekeepers and woodmen.

Some parishioners of Guarlford are able to pass down the memories of their grandparents who suffered the great hardship experienced by the rural workforce at this time.


Around this date, the First Edition Ordnance Survey maps of England were produced, providing a detailed picture of field boundaries and other landscape features.

Dripshill Wood was the only large area of woodland in the area when the tithe map was produced in 1840 (it was in the Madresfield parish at the time), but by 1887, the First Edition OS shows the similarly sized South Wood (planted 1880, enlarged between 1912-1918). Cabinet Wood and Garter Wood were planted in 1912 and 1916 respectively.


Urban population of 80%.

Death duties and land taxes brought about land sales. A period when many farmers declared bankrupt.

Foley Estate sold in 1910 to pay Death Duties. Many farms were purchased by the Madresfield Estate, and many by sitting tenants, leading to more land in owner-occupation.

The closure of the malting business at the Malt House (now the Village Hall) just before the First World War may have affected local demand for growing malting barley.


First World War.

By 1914, almost all the corn harvest was cut mechanically, reducing harvest labour requirement.

The war increased demand for home-grown food as imports collapsed.

Virtually everyone in the parish was involved in farming in one way or another. Women were employed in the fields doing seasonal jobs: hoeing, fruit-picking, hay-making, and at corn harvest time.


Price support for agricultural produce introduced.

A return to more arable farming.


Forestry Commission set up to encourage woodland planting to reduce timber imports bill.

Death duties force sale of land on Madresfield Estate. Land and many houses were sold to new owners as well as to sitting tenants, increasing further the owner-occupation of farmland in the parish.

The Hornyold Estate was sold up in 1919. G Lane, A Bradshaw and D W Medcalf were tenants on land on that estate in Guarlford parish which came up for auction.


Return to free trade led to rapid rise in imports and decline in the agricultural industry. Many move away from producing corn towards livestock farming. Marginal farmland was abandoned.

Farmers, who could afford to, invested in intensive methods. The late 1920s saw the first battery hens, and pig fattening houses.

The 1927 OS map shows 26 acres of orchards at Cherry Orchard, New House Farm, Guarlford Court and the Homestead.

In 1920, Edward Corbett describes Guarlford at that time as "… mainly pasture, devoted to dairying; and the principal tillage crops are wheat, beans and roots".

Joan Bradshaw records that hop growing in the parish had ceased by the 1920s.


World-wide recession: further collapse in prices. Other European countries introduced agricultural price protection.

Locals recall that, so poor were the returns from farming, Madresfield Estate was unable to let five of its farms, including Clevelode Farm, Pixham Farm and Upper Woodsfield. So the estate opened up shops where they sold the produce from these farms, which were farmed ‘in hand’, i.e., run by the estate.


England introduced import controls and price support to help farmers through the worst times. Marketing Boards set up for milk, pigs, potatoes and hops.

Milk production increased by 30% between 1933 and 1938.

Hardship is recorded in the parish by many who grew up in this period. There were many cases of depression and suicide amongst the farming community, including one suicide at Cherry Orchard.


World economy recovers: prices improve.



The Tithe Redemption Act released obligations to pay tithes.



Second World War began.

Difficulties in importing food, caused by the war, led to food shortages, and rationing. Four million acres of grassland came under the plough in the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign.

German and Italian prisoners of war worked on farms in the parish, as well as Land Army Girls.

Local people who lived close to the land found they were better off for food than those in the towns.

The Ministry’s local War Agricultural Executive Committee, based at Hanley Swan and Deblins Green, provided machinery and contractors, who carried out the work at cost, to help farmers increase productivity.


The Agricultural Act was brought in to increase food production.

The Marketing Boards were re-established, and ‘Deficiency Payments’ were introduced to support cereals.

Improved confidence led to higher capital investment and uptake of new technology.

Hand milking was gradually replaced by a system of suction of milk into buckets. More and more work was carried out by tractors.


Agricultural output grew by 20%. By 1960, another technological revolution was underway, as government policy strived for increased output and greater security of supply.

The last person to plough and cut corn using horses in Guarlford was Charlie Williams. Charlie refused to replace the horses he loved with the little Fergie tractors, which appeared after the end of the Second World War.


Low world prices, and increasing cheap imports lead to high cost of agricultural support. To reduce these costs, the government introduced minimum import prices on imported food, and farmers’ deficiency payments were cut on over-produced food.

A change began whereby the farms, which had all been mixed farms producing many different crops and with a variety of livestock including a few dairy cows, began to specialize. Direct sales of milk to the customer from milk floats came to an end. Gradually, the dairy farms were producing more milk from larger herds, and the milk left the farms in churns, and eventually in the tanker lorry.


Food and Mouth Disease led to the slaughter of cattle, sheep and pigs. Ninety-four percent of confirmed cases occurred in north-west Midlands and North Wales.

The disease came as close to Guarlford as Kempsey, where infected livestock were slaughtered.


Britain entered the European Economic Community.

Increasingly, small-scale production became uneconomic. This led to further specialization and enlargement of holdings.

Guarlford’s farms gave up milking cows one by one. By the end of 2001, the last dairy farm in the parish, New House Farm, had ceased milk production.

More and more from the 1970s onwards, progressive farmers enlarged their holdings as others retired.


The MacSharry Reforms introduce arable production control in the form of ‘Set-aside’, and subsidies in new forms.



Foot and Mouth disease again: widespread outbreaks occurred, with two thousand and thirty confirmed cases between February and September.

Sheep grazing land on the Madresfield Estate, near the Old Hills, were slaughtered, bringing the threat of disease very close; and the countryside closed down for many months, affecting everyone.

The Guarlford Farmers’ Support Group raised £3,500 for the Addington Fund.


CAP reform: the Single Farm Payment is introduced, decoupling subsidies from food production.


From Appendix I (created by J Lomas) of 'The Guarlford Story' copyright GHG