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Farming in 1861 in Barwick-in-Elmet

From the Barwicker No. 99
September 2010

In The Barwicker No. 7 Arthur Bantoft wrote an excellent article looking at the comprehensive information about the land in the village in 1861 using the Rating Assessment Book held in West Yorkshire Archives at Sheepscar. The purpose of this research is not to go over what Arthur found in 1987 but to add to it.

Although the Rating Assessment gave information about the size of each of the farms in the village and the rents the tenants paid, Arthur pointed out that the lives of the farmers were not easy to reconstruct. In 1987 when he wrote the article it was difficult to obtain copies of the census; since that date however, microfilmed copies of each census (taken at 10 yearly intervals) became available in Records Offices and Archives, followed by several commercial companies selling them on CD. Now copies of the census can be found on internet on sites such as or Find My Past. They are a very welcome resource in trying to reconstruct such families as the farmers who are listed on the Rating Assessment.

In 1861 the twelve farmers 1 who appear in the Rating Assessment were tenants and thus they actually worked the farms on behalf of the landowner. Although the Rating Assessment and census were taken in the same year the total acreage of the individual farms differed in some instances between the two documents. See the table below. However it must be remembered that the census is only a snapshot of one particular date viz. 7 April 1861 in this instance. The census also tells us how many people lived and, were employed, on each individual farm at that time.

Farm Name Tenant Acres in Rating
Acres in 1861
No. of labourers
employed in total
Lime Tree Farm Margaret Perkins 102 103 2
Rectory Farm Matthew Wilkinson 179 173 2 plus 1 boy
Church Farm Thomas Robshaw 88 93 1
Glebe Farm George Robinson 67 70 1
Low Farm John Hemsworth 34 32 0
Gascoigne Farm William Knapton 53 50 0
58/60 Main Street William Thompson 91 91 2 plus 1 boy
74 Main Street Thomas Barton 136 137 2
56/58 The Boyle William Varley 49 44 1
30-36 Main Street William Connell 110 160 2 plus 1 boy
16 Main Street Richard Newby 30 No acres stated 0
Syke House Farm Zechariah Appleyard 109 112 0

What it can’t tell us is how many day labourers were employed at busy periods. Easter Sunday had fallen on 31 March 1861 and it was the time of year for crops viz. potatoes, peas, beans and barley. April 25th was regarded as the latest date for getting these crops sown. Winter wheat would have been planted much earlier. The farmer who had the largest acreage was Matthew Wilkinson at Rectory Farm with 179 acres. The mean household size was 5.5 persons.

The farmers had between them a total of 8 male servants and 5 female servants. If we look at the compilation of the households it is apparent that the female ‘Other Kin’ go some way to bridging the discrepancy between the male and female employees. There were 9 ‘Other Kin’ living in these households viz.
Male Female
1 Uncle 1 sister
1 Grandson 1 mother
2 sisters-in-laws
3 Granddaughters
Family would help out on the farm with the knowledge that they were being fed and housed and also they may get a small wage. Younger children would have to be prepared to work on the farm doing small jobs to help out where necessary.

The mother of William Varley (widower) was aged 80 and shown as ‘housekeeper’. Her age does not stop her from being able to run a house although it may just limit the amount/type of work she could do. As William Varley was a widower with two daughters of 12 and 10 respectively it is likely that his mother did quite a lot of the work around the house.

Richard Newby was another widower although he was 80. His son lived with him and worked on the farm and also part of his family was his 21 year old granddaughter. As she was the only female in the home, looking after the household would have been her responsibility.

George Robinson was unmarried as was his sister, Emma, and there was only a male farm servant living with them so the household chores would have been carried out by Emma. One of the hardest working women must be Isabella Hemsworth, wife of John Hemsworth, who had five children from 9 months to 6 years. She appears to have no help whatsoever yet still had the household to run. What we can’t see from the census is how many of these farming households had ‘indoor’ help from local girls who came to work for them on a daily basis.

However, the census can’t tell us about the more personal aspect of the lives of the farming community. Tragedy struck Zechariah Appleyard and his wife just under a month after the census was taken as their young daughter, Zinai Mileta, aged 8 months died 2. Zechariah and his wife, Susannah, did not stay in Barwick long and by 1871 he was a farm bailiff at Bowling near Bierley.

The largest farming household consisted of ten people and the tenant was William Knapton who, as well as having a 50 acre farm, also ran the Gascoigne Arms. However, six of his household were visitors, being one female and her five children. His granddaughter was also one of the household and although only 12 she was classed as a ‘servant’.

Of the twelve farmers, only eight were born in Barwick-in-Elmet. The other four namely George Robinson, Margaret Perkin, Zechariah Appleyard and Matthew Wilkinson were born in South Cave, Ripon, Eccup and Tadcaster respectively.

It was hard work for the women in those days especially those whose husbands were farmers. Many of them would have to work in the dairy, look after the poultry, make their own jams, preserves and pickles, as well as doing the normal inside household tasks without the aid of modern labour-saving utensils. They would provide their men folk with two cooked meals each day and do the baking for the family. At busy times in the farming calendar they would probably feed extra labourers and even help with other farming tasks.

The farmers also worked exceptionally hard in the mid-1860s, days long before the combine harvester. It was back-breaking work often involving extra labourers brought in from other farms to help. Many farmers would be on a rota system at harvest time going from farm to farm using all the possible labour available, including the women, to ensure that the harvest was gathered before the weather turned.

Once all the local harvest was gathered in ready for winter, a special celebration would be held with all families invited and sharing the food and drink. Following on from this the annual harvest thanksgiving service in the local church would be held. Harvest Festivals have been held since pagan times and the tradition is to hold it, if possible, on or near the Sunday of the Harvest Moon. Normally this falls around September 23rd but sometimes it can fall in October.


1 For the purpose of this research only the farmers mentioned in Arthur’s previous article have been included.
2 Leeds Mercury 2 May 1861

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