Bramley Grange Farm 1841The Ancient Kingdom of Elmet

Bramley Grange Farm 1841

from The Barwicker No. 39

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Until relatively recently the prosperity of the parish depended upon agricultural. Therefore an understanding of the state of farming in the parish tells us something of the state of the parish.

The land in the parish to the north of what is now called the A64 was among the last parts of the parish to be enclosed and converted from moor to farmland. A description of the area in the first half of the 19th century. can be found in Burlend's novel "Amy Thornton" which takes place largely in Barwick-in-Elmet, which is thinly disguised as a village called Elmwood. In the novel is a description of the landscape seen from the road from Bramham Crossroads to Leeds. Burlend describes seeing the land being enclosed with hedges and the gorse being dug out prior to cultivation. We have an actual account published by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society of an early move to improve the quality of the land at Bramley Grange, in that part of the parish. Bramley Grange is situated on the extreme northern edge of the parish. The Skelton family connection with the farm is marked today by the naming of the road passing Bramley Grange as Skelton Lane.

The Yorkshire Agricultural Society was founded in 1837. It played an important role in the encouragement of the adoption of improved methods throughout the county. In 1843 Henry Skelton of Bramley Grange, Whinmoor entered the "Best Kept Farm" competition organised by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society in conjunction with its Annual Show held at Doncaster in that year. The judges' comments were written up in the proceedings of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society 1841.

The competition was open to farms less than thirty miles from Doncaster. Bramley Grange must have just squeezed into this radius just as it also just squeezes into the parish.. No overall winner was selected and all entrants were commended for their enterprise. The report of the competition referred to Whinmoor Grange as being 203 acres of clay but well drained land.

The farm's system consisted of "taking the largest possible produce of hay and straw to Leeds Market and carting back manure." The judges commented that such a course could only be pursued in the vicinity of a large town.

The report commented :

Originally this farm was a poor barren waste of similar nature to adjoining lands; but by proper enclosures, by planting and careful management of fences, the cutting of drains, tapering down the adjacent land to the bottom of them, where practicable, and thereby obtaining materials to raise the more distant hollow places, with which such land frequently abounds, he has enabled to lay the whole dry; and by judicious management of vast quantities of manure and compost......he has made the whole rich. The adjoining lands are of a similar soil, but do not yield one fourth of the value in produce.  

This was the only recorded evidence of farmers from the parish being sufficiently confident of their abilities to enter into any competition organised by the Society in its first twenty years. As the judges comment, Henry Skelton was well in advance of his neighbours in getting the best from his land. It is almost certain that others in the vicinity would have followed him quite soon afterwards and that the parish would have started to catch up with the best developments in agriculture.

Within ten years, both the lands of the Rector and of the Gascoignes was being drained using the latest methods. This heralded in what has been called the golden age of agriculture in the mid-19th century. The golden age lasted for some twenty years before a string of summers with bad weather and the opening up of the prairies of North America brought a decline in farming in the parish in common with the rest of the country.

Advertisement from the Leeds Mercury 23rd October1841  
BARWICK IN ELMET - TO BE LET with immediate possession the STEAM CORN MILL consisting of One Engine of eight Horse Power, two pairs of French Stones, one pair of Grey Stones with all their working gear, Corn Screen and Flour Cylinder together with a good DWELLING HOUSE, Stable, Cow House, Cart Shed and four acres of grass land adjoining. For further particulars apply to Mr. James Waide, Methley near Pontefract.  

Harold Smith

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