Farming through the ages

After the Norman Conquest in 1066 all land belonged to the King.  All who held land whether Normans, Frenchmen or Englishmen held the land as tenants and ‘service’ was also required in return, such as feudal military service or help with hunting.

By the time of the Domesday survey in 1086 we find that, in Echentone, (as the village was then called), Ralph was the main tenant of Henry I with 4 hides and 8 ploughs.  The Demesne (Manor House or Estate) had 1½  hides and 2 ploughs.  There were also 32 acres of meadow and 2 mills.  All of this was given a value of £3.  This indicates how the survey measured wealth through agriculture by concentrating on tenants’ dues, ploughteams, pastureland and mills.  A hide at this time was about 120 acres.

The main economy of eastern England was its mixed agriculture which had been established by the Anglo Saxons in earlier centuries.  Agriculture dominated the lives of most of the people

in this area and it was the combination of arable and animal farming that provided the village people with meat and grain.  Furthermore, they had to produce more than was required for their own community in order to satisfy the demands of the Kings and their nobles as well as the clergy and the townsfolk.

The heavy plough was the single most important agricultural implement during the Anglo Saxon period and remained so well after the time of Domesday.  It required a team of eight oxen to pull this iron clad plough and by ploughing long strips of ridge and furrow, it created the pattern of the early fields, evidence of which can still be seen in quite a number of grass fields in Ecton to this day.

(Click here for a picture of the bottom of Back Lane (now West Street) around 1897 with Rectory Farm to the left - Back lane was a regular cattle route to and from the farms.)

Around 1290 Ecton only had three fields which were simply called West, East and North.  Presumably most of the land to the south was used as meadows for summer grazing, as this would have been quite wet in winter with poor natural drainage.  However, in 1609 six fields were recorded which by 1627 had changed slightly in name as follows:

1609                            1627

West Rye Field                       West Rye

East Rye Field                            East Rye

The Irons and Little Field            Thyons and Little Field

Nether Field towards Barton        East Clay

Nether Field towards Billing         West Barley

There is still a field called Thyons today at the north end of West Lodge Farm and one called Ryehill just east of Barton Fields towards South Lodge Farm.

The strip system of farming had evolved over earlier centuries when arable land was divided into blocks called hides and each hide was then subdivided into yardlands or holdings.  This was to ensure that everyone was able to share all qualities of land, as it would have varied then just as it does today.  From as early as the thirteenth century there was a fixed order of the way in which each hide was allocated.  Each full yardland always had the same neighbours on each side.  So the village people would have had their strips of cultivated land scattered  throughout the parish, and would have worked alongside the same people.  Obviously it was important for all concerned that they did not fall out or quarrel.  This system had evolved from similar systems that existed in the tenth century in both England and Denmark when the two countries had close ties.

Although some of the hides were mentioned in records as early as 1464, they were given in much greater detail on a magnificent Ecton plan dated 1703, which is one of the clearest examples of eighteenth century agriculture in Northamptonshire.  Ecton had 11 hides which were of different sizes and were usually split into 10 holdings also of varying sizes.  At the time of the 1703 map most of the land to the north was pasture.

Ecton Plan 1703

Hide names/possible variant    Origin of name

MARYS                                       St Marys, Delapre Abbey, Northampton


LAWRENCE                               Lawrence family 1357


DICKINS                                     Dykon family 1430

ABBITS                                       Warden’s Abbey, Beds

HALL                                           Contained the Demesne

BILLING                                     Billing family 1397


PARSONS                                   Partly Glebe 1464

HOLTON/Houghton                   Haughton family 1430

In 1731 Ambrose Isted inherited the Hall estate when he was only 14 years old and it was during the 1740s and 1750s that he began to develop his estate as well as buying any land that became available.  Around this time there were still a few cottages left in Little Ecton (towards the south-east) which were situated in view of the Hall, so land was offered in Little End, near the ‘World’s End’, in exchange for these properties.

The next big change was in 1759 when Parliament introduced ‘The Act of Inclosure’.  This was required to tidy up the very widely spread system of farming at that time.  Apart from the inconvenience of farming bits of land all around the parish, fences and hedges were required  to keep the increasing amount of livestock from straying onto other peoples land.  So a surveyor was appointed who carried out a complete survey of all land within the parish, together with a full valuation.  This was then put before a body of five commissioners who were appointed from nearby villages.  Their task was ‘to divide and set-out, ascertain and allot’ all common fields, common pastures, common meadows, common grounds and all waste grounds.

The commissioners held their many meetings in the ‘World’s End’, which was occupied at that time by Thomas Hensman.  This all took about two years to complete and the total of the survey was given as 2145 acres, 3 roods, 26 perches, which was allotted to the claimants as follows:

Ambrose Isted - (The Hall)                     350 acres

John Palmer - (Patron of Ecton Church) 22 acres

John Palmer - In trust for Poor             12 acres

Eyre Whalley - (Rector) Glebe Land         340 acres

John Barker - (Baker)                        23 acres

Wm. Langdell - (Infant)                          8 acres

All other land already belonged to Ambrose Isted.  This meant that the Hall Estate now consisted of 1741 acres and ‘others’ owned 404 acres.

The total costs involved in the survey were £446.7s.6d. which included surveyors fees etc, certain fencing costs etc and the sum of £13.9s.6d. paid to Thomas Hensman for the expenses at the ‘World’s End’.

After Inclosure, more land was put into pasture to cope with the increase in cattle and sheep grazing, continuing the previous gradual change from the permanent arable system.  This meant that both grassland and arable land was used for the rotation of crops, which included wheat, barley, oats, rye, beans and peas.  This used to be known as ‘up and down farming’.

Now that ownership of land was less scattered about the parish, and more concentrated into enclosed blocks, Ambrose Isted decided to develop new farms away from the village so during the late 1700s he established five new lodge farms which were simply called North, South, East and West plus another just south of East Lodge which used to be referred to as South East Lodge or more generally The Lodge.  These all appear on a map dated 1800, as does Whins Barn which was just south of South Lodge and had fields of the same name totalling some 92 acres, of which 41 acres were in Earls Barton parish.

(Click here for a picture of North Lodge Farmhouse (now demolished), one of the farm houses which Ambrose Isted built after the enclosure of the fields).

In 1778, records show that there were eight main farmers with holdings on the Hall Estate which also included meadows sometimes shared with another tenant.  These were the tenants of the five new lodges, plus the Manor and two others who must have lived elsewhere in the village and were probably older - possibly the last of the old crofters.  In addition to these eight  tenants, there were 30 small holders on the 350 acres of old common land which was allotted to Ambrose Isted at the time of Inclosure, plus the eight acres that he had bought from William Langdell.  These smallholders would have struggled to scratch anything more than an existence from these small plots but their only other alternative would have been working for one of the larger farmers.  However, this was a way of getting started, with the possibility of improving their lot in life if they could achieve a tenancy of one of the large farms.  It was usual at this time for tenants to be granted leases of 7, 14 or 21 years and rent would have been required half yearly.  In the 1790s rent was about £1 (or 20 shillings) per acre and a ploughman would have been paid around £8.10s.0d. per year with board and washing; a young man or boy was paid £4.5s.0d. per year and a female servant £4.10s.0d.  Hours were long for most of the year but at harvest they started as early as 5 am and worked until 7 pm or later.

In 1810 there were only a few smallholders left on about 100 acres, and the remaining 250 acres of the original block of old common land appear to have been shared between South Lodge Farm and Manor Farm.  Also at this time the Estate was farming the Manor itself, and a few fields were being let with the ‘World’s End’.  As a busy coaching inn it already had its own barns and stables which it needed to store fodder for the horses, so the fields across the road were very convenient.  So apart from the tenants of the five lodge farms, the Manor and the ‘World’s End’, there were still only two other tenants of the Estate recorded with any sizeable amounts of land.  One was Daniel Hooton, who rented 191 acres of land to the north and lived on the corner of the entrance to Manor Farm; he was also a churchwarden of Ecton Church.  The other was Edmund James, who rented 41 acres of land in Earls Barton, close to Whins Barn.  The tenant of West Lodge, Robert Fascutt, was the other churchwarden at that time.  As can be seen from the accompanying list of tenants for each farm, this was the only period of time that any part of Whins was let separately, whereas it was normally included with South Lodge, both before and after 1810.  This list is only a ‘snapshot’ of some of the tenants recorded at a particular time, and is not necessarily a starting and finishing date for each tenant.  Records for the period between the 1759 Inclosure and 1810 were very brief and whilst they were most comprehensive for certain periods after, it is difficult to form a complete picture and determine the exact length of tenure.  A total of 1764 acres of the Hall Estate was being farmed at this time plus 340 acres of Glebe land.

Nineteenth century changes

The landscape of the early 1800s would have looked somewhat different from that of today.  Almost all of the land was either cropped, fallow or down to pasture, and there would not have been many large areas of trees other than the new plantations around the Hall.  In John Cole’s The History and Antiquities of Ecton written in 1825, reference is made to a hill between Great Billing and Overstone, from where 45 different churches could be seen in a radius of no more than ten miles.  It would be difficult even to see the hill in today’s landscape.

Farming was entering a much more settled and prosperous period during the early 1800s.  The use of horses was by now well established and this required blacksmiths to look after their shoes as well as agricultural implements, such as harrows.  Records show that Thos Langdell was one of these blacksmiths in the 1850s, 60s and 70s and there was William Pettit also in the 1860s, 70s and 80s.  The population was also on the increase; it was 602 in 1841 and rose to 631 by 1851 and 640 by 1861.  The total of Estate land being farmed in 1850 was down to 1714 acres, with 154 acres around the Hall taken up as gardens, kitchen gardens and the extended shrubbery and a total of 12 acres of water.

One of the revolutionary implements to arrive on the farms in the mid 1800s was the threshing machine, powered by the new steam engine.  This would have been a spectacular sight as it rumbled up the lanes belching forth great clouds of smoke on its way to all of the farms during the winter months.  Ecton was fortunate to have had three generations of Geo Rands & Son as threshing contractors from the late 1800s to the 1950s.

During 1872, Northampton Corporation compulsorily purchased 114 acres of Glebe land from the Church and 117 acres of land from the Hall Estate for the new sewage farm at Great Billing.  Because the old road from Gt Billing to Ecton passed through this land, a new road had to be constructed along the new northern boundary, which is the present Lower Ecton Lane.  The Corporation had originally obtained powers to acquire a massive 570 acres, but having taken the 117 acres in 1872, the option to take the rest lapsed in 1876.

It would have been after the loss of land in 1872 that the tenant of the Glebe land, Samuel Sharman, decided to build a substantial brick barn with a large cattle yard that had big hovels on two sides.  This used to be to the north side of Lower Ecton Lane and was equipped with its own well so that water could be pumped for the animals.  Cattle were wintered here right up to 1979 and it was always known as Sharman’s Barn.

Farmers in those days liked to socialise whenever they could and would often arrange a get together at  fairly short notice at one or other of their houses.  Another ‘excuse’ for a gathering from the 1870s onwards was the increase in popularity of the new game of lawn tennis.  As a result of this, grass courts soon began to appear at several of the Lodge Farms and Manor Farm.  Although not the game that it is today, this would have provided much entertainment to the players and those watching as well.

Sadly very little is known about these early farmers from this era.  Matthias White of North Lodge died at the early age of 57, and his widow was then helped by their son-in-law, Stephen Hawkes, to run the farm, before he eventually took over the tenancy.  His eldest son was John Hawkes and appears to have been quite a colourful character.  He left school at rather an early age, presumably to help his father on what  was quite a large farm in those days.  He rode with the Pytchley Hunt from the age of 15 for over 40 years, and was well known for his knowledge of the countryside and horses, which he not only  worked with but also bought and sold for other people as well.  He was a very hospitable and jolly man with a large ragged beard and a glint in his eye, who always had a tale to tell.  John Pell from West Lodge, a jovial fellow and John Baker of  East Lodge were both good friends of John Hawkes, and each sported large beards.

Thomas Dicks, who had married the sister of John Hawkes, moved from Isham to Manor Farm in 1883.  At  one time both he and John Hawkes were churchwardens of Ecton Church, until Thomas was kicked by his horse and died when he was only 55.  His widow carried on with the farm helped by her two sons and a daughter, all still teenagers when their father died.

In 1891 Northampton Corporation again tried to obtain powers to take over extra land for the sewage farm, but Major General Sotheby, who had only succeeded to the Estate in 1888, opposed this most strongly and also went before the House of Commons Committee.  Sadly this resulted in a further 202 acres being taken in 1895, which included Whins Barn and fields.  However, the sporting rights over all of the Sewage Farm were awarded to the owners of the Estate, with a condition that the shooting could not be let.  It was also at this time that Northampton Corporation took over the tenancy of Rectory Farm (Glebe) and farmed the land in conjunction with the new sewage farm.

It  was during these early years at Ecton, that the General worked in close association with his Estate Agent, Mr EK Fisher from Market Harborough.  Mr Fisher, like his father before him , had worked closely with the Estate, both landlord and tenants, on a personal basis.  The 1890s proved to be difficult years for farming generally and were the beginning of an agricultural depression that was to last for several decades.  However, Mr Fisher, who was well regarded by the tenants, was said to be fair and tried to divide any losses as best as he could between landlord and tenant during these difficult years.  His death in about 1900 was a great sadness to both the General and the farmers alike.  He was succeeded as Agent to the Estate by his son, Mr CB Fisher.

The twentieth century - mechanisation takes over

By the end of the 1890s the farmed land on the Estate was down to just over 1400 acres and the Glebe was down to 226 acres.  The population had been falling since its peak in the 1860s (640) to around 575 and even lower to 520 in 1901.  As a result of the forced sales of land for the sewage farm, quite a lot of improvements were carried out on the Estate.  An iron fence totalling 1,863  yards was erected between the southern boundary and the sewage farm at a cost of £700.  A new block of woodland called General Spinney was planted in 1894 along part of this new boundary.  In 1895 two cottages were built at North Lodge for farm workers.  In 1896 extensive alterations were made to the Home Farm (South Lodge).  The house was altered and extended and a large new range of buildings was added at a total cost of around £3000.  There were also quite a number of new cottages built in the village around this time and in 1902 two cottages were added to West Lodge Farm.

A further loss of land occurred in 1904 when the Higham Ferrers and Rushden Water Board acquired 37 acres of land near North Lodge Farm for a new reservoir.  One of the conditions of this sale was to preserve the availability of water for the sheep wash at the bottom of Washbrook Lane, which was still in regular use.

The steady decline in the village population slowed after the turn of the century; it was 504 in 1911 and farmed land on the Estate was down to 1340 acres.  At this time, a young blacksmith arrived in the village at the start of a remarkable length of service to the farming community.  His name was Frost Baker but he was always called ‘Fob’ after his initials. He was  a truly colourful character who worked as hard as any man and was renowned for his skill as a blacksmith through five whole decades.  Apart from his trade as ‘smithy’ he would also work on the farms at harvest as well as helping Harry Lester, the wheelwright, to keep all the carts and wagons in good repair.

Major General Sotheby sadly died in 1909 and the Estate was then administered by his widow.  Farming was still in a depressed state and there was little change to the Estate before or during the First World War.  Like most other villages many young men lost their lives and never returned and by 1921 the population had fallen by 28 to a new low of 476.  In this same year Mrs Sotheby died and so the Estate was inherited by Lt Colonel Sotheby, another distinguished military man.  However, because of some legal ‘mishaps’, the Colonel had to find considerable funds from the Estate in order to settle a bequest to another relative.  So certain assets, which included the most valuable part of a very fine collection of books and the ‘Three Horseshoes’ public house, were sold to raise some capital.  Also at this time South Lodge ceased to be the Home Farm and was let to John Dicks at £2 per acre - such was the depression of the 1920s, bearing in mind that land was let at £1 per acre back in the 1790s!

Most of the farmers either milked cows for their own use or sold the milk to meet  the increasing demand from the nearby towns.  This meant that more hay and straw was needed as winter feed and litter.  Grass and corn had always been mown by scythe, which was very labour intensive as well as slow and hard work.  New horse drawn machinery had been developed back in the late 1800s but had not really become very widely used due to the depression and the First World War.

Gradually, new grass mowers began to appear on the farms and large areas were mown much quicker.  The new reapers merely cut the corn and left it in rows, so that it still had to be tied into sheaves by hand but again it was a lot faster.  This mechanisation was the start of the gradual decline in the role of the farm worker and some began to drift away to other employment and to the towns.  The census of 1931 records the population down again to 447.

In 1930 Northampton Corporation decided not to continue with farming at Rectory Farm.  It appears that there had been a lot of disputes over the farming policy at their Council meetings and especially over the amount of capital needed to finance it.  So they concentrated their efforts on the land at the Sewage Farm.  The rest of the 1930s were still in a depressed state as far as agriculture was concerned and two tenants left their farms during these very difficult years.  One was Harry Coley who had struggled at North Lodge for a few years before he moved on.  The other was Edgar Dicks who had been at the Manor Farm for over 50 years.  For many years he had supplied the milk for the village with the help of his sister Nellie, but after the death of his wife and then his sister he decided to move to a smaller farm at Grendon when he was over 60.

(Click here for a picture of threshing at South Lodge in the 1930's).

In 1939 war loomed once more and this brought the formation of the Home Guard, which was led by Colonel Sotheby and manned by able-bodied men mainly connected with farming and providing the nation’s food.  Another feature of the war was the introduction of the Womens Land Army - they were recruited from far and wide to help on the farms and proved to be a valuable labour force.

The main problem facing the Government in 1939 was how to replace the 60% of the nation’s foodstuffs that had previously been imported from overseas countries.  The call went out for the farmers to produce all of this requirement and in the late summer of 1939 a frantic struggle began, a lot of old grassland being put to the plough, sometimes for the first time for several centuries.  Other poor quality land that had been unused through the depressed years was reclaimed and put to use again.

 A few tractors had already appeared on the farms and they, along with old teams of horses, soon began the battle to get the ploughing completed and as much winter corn drilled as possible.  The winter of 1939/40 turned out to be one of the most severe in living memory, especially in early 1940.  Work was held up for weeks on end and when the thaw finally came, ploughing restarted with a vengeance seven days a week and at night as well until all was completed in time for the spring.

The need to mechanise and thereby speed up the process of arable farming in this country was made very evident by the war.  There was already a high stage of development in the vast wheat belts of America, Canada and Australia.  Raw materials were scarce here, but somehow tractors and other new implements were produced in larger quantities than before.  Many others were imported from the wheat producing countries.  The binder had already replaced the old reapers and this now tied the sheaves of corn as well.   So the 1940s saw a tremendous upsurge in food production and in comparing the years before with those towards the end of the war, we find that wheat, barley and potatoes increased in tonnage by over 100%.  Other crops were increased by between 30% and 60%.  Obviously there was a lot of extra land which had been brought into productive farming but this heralded the start of a new era for agriculture and finally ended the depressed years that had existed almost continuously since the 1890s.

(Click here for a photo of a hay wagon in the 1940's).

(Click here for a photo of sheep dipping in the 1940's).

The last fifty years

As we entered a new decade and the 1950s, George Rands’ old steam engine, towing the large threshing machine, rumbled down the Back Lane to the rickyard for the last time.  Once it was all set up and in place it would then ‘puff’ away all day, with the hum of the thresher and the rattle of the straw elevator filling the air of a cold winter’s day.  A sight and experience not to be forgotten.

After that the threshing machine was sold to Tom and Peter Dicks, who shared it between them for a few more years, when it was towed and powered by tractor instead.

Then came the combine harvester which would change the whole way of harvest.  Gone for ever were the binders, the fields of sheaves lying in rows, then fields of stooks, the days spent pitching the sheaves onto wagons, and carting the loads to the barn, building the ricks and finally the winter days spent threshing it all.  Gone also were the extra workers needed at harvest and threshing times.  These early combines would now deal with most of this work leaving only the sacks of corn to be picked up and the straw to be baled and carted.  For a few years, not many farmers were able to buy their own combines straight away, so they used local contractors who had them.  When George Rands got rid of his threshing machine, he replaced it with a combine, so in a way he was still doing the same work.  Another casualty of the 1950s was the cart horse.  They had been well suited for many jobs such as pulling the wagons whilst being loaded with sheaves and others but the onset of tractors really caused their decline and only a few were used on the local farms at this time.

One of the early difficulties that the combines had to face was the presence of weeds in the crops.  Whereas the old binders easily cut the crops including the weeds, there was always plenty of time for the corn to ripen and for the weeds to shrivel and dry out before threshing some months later.  However the combines would easily become blocked if the weeds were still a bit green and their seeds being unripe would also add unwanted moisture to the corn.  As a result the sacks of corn would often have to be turned over when being stored so that these seeds would dry out quicker.  This obviously led to the next stage of trying to prevent the weeds from growing in the first place and the advent of weed control by spraying.

(Click here for a photo of farming in the 1950's).

Another phase of the Estate ended in 1954 when the last occupant of the old Hall, Colonel Sotheby, sadly died.  He had loved Ecton and Ecton had loved him, just like the Major General before him.  The Estate was then inherited by the Colonel’s nephew, Commander Sotheby, who lived in Shropshire, and so began a different type of era altogether.  There was little alteration on the farms at this time and one of the changes of tenancy in the 1950s was the retirement of John Dicks after 32 years at South Lodge.  He had grown up at Manor Farm and then farmed at Mears Ashby for a few years before returning to Ecton.  His youngest son Peter continued after him.  The other change concerned the fields opposite the ‘World’s End’, which had been farmed by Fred. Mallard from Earls Barton for about eight years and were then let to Tom Dicks.

Machinery was now being improved quite rapidly into and through the 1960s.  Tractors which had previously been used just for pulling were by now much more versatile sources of power and were now operating the machines as well.  Combines had now been fitted with tanks to hold the grain so that it could be carted from the field in trailer loads to the barn.  These changes all altered the needs of the farm buildings, which were now required to hold large quantities of bulk grain and have drying facilities so that it would store safely.

Remarkably there were changes on all of the farms except West Lodge between 1963 and 1966.  Jack Ward having farmed at The Lodge since 1931, retired in 1963 and his son-in-law Ken White, who had farmed with him for some years then took over.  Two years later he made another move to East Lodge, when Ernest Bainbridge retired after having been there for about 37 years.

Ken Humphrey at North Lodge also finished, having farmed here for about 17 years and moved back to Kettering.  At  South Lodge Peter Dicks died at the early age of 48 after only 12 years on his own and the farm was then taken by John Beesley  from Rothersthorpe.  As a result, The Lodge and North Lodge farms were both discontinued and their land was re-allocated in the main to the East and South Lodge farms.  The other change was at Manor Farm when John Campion left to go to a farm in Wales, after about  27 years at Ecton.  As a result, Tom Dicks then moved to Manor Farm and continued to farm Rectory Farm as well.  This meant that in 1966 there were just 4 farmers who farmed all of the land.

At the time of all these changes, the general landscape of the farms was also beginning to alter in certain areas.  Whilst the many blocks of old established woodland around the Estate farms retained their size and character, there were still odd casualties within them which were replaced with new trees.  In addition several new plantations of quick growing poplars also began to appear, one of which was next to the bridleway near the sewage farm and called Commander’s Spinney.  However, on the old glebe land of Rectory Farm there had only ever been a few mature trees in the hedgerows, apart from the admired avenue of old elms that lined much of the main road between Great Billing and Ecton.  In the autumn of 1967 the majority of these remaining trees were considered unsafe and had to be felled.  A few years later, any remaining elms were soon overcome by the ravages of dutch elm disease, which quickly swept across the country.  As a result, Rectory Farm was left with only a few mature trees and so, gradually, new trees were planted around the farm over the next 20 years.  Now there are around 70 trees in the hedgerows alone, most of which are broadleaf with a few scots pine, in various sizes, plus about 150 others in two small areas all of which can be seen from the several footpaths.  So this landscape will continue to change again in the future.

Major change was also under way at the old meadows below the sewage farm, which for generations had been shared by most of the farms.  By the 1970s gravel extraction had already extended from the old Billing Gravel Company lake, which was at the western end of the meadows, by consuming the land as far as the bridleway.  The rest of the meadows were then quickly swallowed up as far as Earls Barton and beyond.  The only piece of old meadowland to escape untouched is the large field next to Cogenhoe locks which is surrounded by the river and the backwater.  This used to be reached by going through the ford between the weir and the old stone pack-horse bridge, but it is now entered from the Cogenhoe side.  Improvements over the years to the drainage of the river system have prevented the flooding that was quite common in the meadows up until the 1950s and to a lesser extent the 1960s.  There were times when the floods rose quickly and any livestock still there had to be reached by horse and cart through water two feet deep and more.  Great care had to be taken as there were a number of drainage dykes within the fields which needed to be avoided - otherwise the end result was a very wet one!

(Click here for a photo of sheep shearing in 1979).

Farming through the 1970s proved to be very mixed and was not favourable to both the arable and the grass  farmer at the same time.  Most of the agriculture here was mixed so when ‘corn was up - horn was down’.  Inflation also reared its ugly head which put prices up everywhere.  Machinery was still being developed and improved at a fast rate, but it still needed to be paid for.  In 1979 work started on the new A45 road, which was to cut its way through the land to the south.  It left the main part of the sewage farm intact, but Whins barn and some of its land disappeared for ever, as did Sharman’s barn off Lower Ecton Lane.  Another casualty of the road was the northern half of the General Spinney, although the remainder was also cleared at the same time.  The only change to the four farmers of the 70s occurred when Tom Dicks died suddenly in 1979 whilst driving his tractor with his son.  He had farmed all of his life at Ecton, first with his father at South Lodge and then at Rectory Farm after Canon Jephson offered him the tenancy of the glebe land in 1930 when he was only 21.  Later in life he always fattened a lot of beef cattle throughout the summer and winter.  His family continued with the Manor and Rectory Farms until 1983.  Another long-serving tenant was lost when John Line died in 1982.  He had always farmed at West Lodge, first with his father and then with his brothers and sisters.  He had also been a mixed farmer, always keeping sheep and cattle.  Furthermore, he was church organist for over 50 years at Ecton Church.

(Click here for a photo of ploughing in the 1970's).

In 1983 the Estate bought part of Rectory Farm, which they farmed themselves with the Manor Farm and West Lodge Farm, as they were now vacant.  Although this was mostly arable land they kept a flock of sheep for a few years on the grassland but then decided to let the grazing.  Eventually most of the work was carried out by Roger Kirton, a local contractor.  In 1986 Robert White moved into East Lodge as tenant.  His father, Ken White, had farmed at Ecton for most of his life as a livestock farmer, and always had beef cattle about the farm and meadows.  He moved to Earls Barton but still took an active part in the farm for some years after.  With the break up of Rectory Farm, some of the old buildings also disappeared but the two large stone barns survived and were converted into houses.  This also brought to an end the many years of wintering beef cattle in the yards of both Rectory Farm and Manor Farm.  Apart from the cows and calves that graze these fields during the summer, there are now only sheep and cattle to be found at South and East Lodges plus the horses at the riding school at East Lodge.

Agriculture has changed beyond all recognition in a single lifetime.  It has gone from the almost silent working of the horses, whose speed was hardly variable, to the ‘new  Fordson Standard’ tractors that you could almost keep up with at walking speed, to the latest ‘breed’ that is specially designed for road use and can travel up to 50 mph!  Even the modern combines now have their own computers that monitor, among other things, the weight of the crop as it goes through the machine.  Most of the farms also used to employ three or four workers as most of the work was then manual.  Many village men spent their whole lives on the farms.  What will the next changes bring in the future?

As we start 1997 with just two tenants on the Estate land, and John Beesley prepares to hand over to his son David, it is worth comparing the scene with that of 1086 - 911 years ago.  Then there was only one main tenant called Ralph.  We have come a very long way since then, but will we perhaps find that one day there will be just one tenant again?


David Dicks
January 1997


Tenants of the Parish Farms - c1778-1997

North Lodge Farm

c1778                                John Lovell           250a.

c1810                 Thos. Fascutt          218a.

c1825-37                           Matthias White         307a.

1837-77                           Stephen Hawkes     364a.

1877-1902                       John Hawkes             296a.

c1902-23                          Arthur Rickett         258a.

c1925-32                           Harry Coley

c1932-48                            Harry Youlden

c1948-65                            Ken Humphrey

Land re-allocated to other farms.


South Lodge Farm

c1778                                Thos. Walton                        200a

c1810                                Thos. Walton                      397a.

c1825                                Mary Walton                        412a.

c1840-60                          Thos. Walton                         399a.

c1860-78                            Wm. Whitehead                    399a.

c1884-95                             Estate - James Payne             399a.

c1895-1921        Estate - John Earl                 313a.

1921-53                             John Dicks                          305a.

1953-65                              Peter Dicks

1966-97                              John Beesley

1997-                                David Beesley


East Lodge Farm

c1778                                Wm. Childs                                             176a.

c1810                                Anthony Childs                                    174a.

c1823-42                         Arthur Childs                                          194a.

c1851-78                          Josiah Dawes                                           194a.

c1884-93                           John Baker & Wm. Dawes 194a.

c1901-28                          Wm Robinson                                        146a.

c1928-65                          Ernest Bainbridge

1965-86                 Ken White

1986-                                Robt. White


West Lodge Farm

c1778                                Edward & Thos. Cole               259a.

c1935-48                                Frank & Arthur Mallard

c1948-56                                Fred Mallard (Earls Barton)

1956-79            Tom Dicks                                 44a.

Land now farmed by the Estate.


Whins Barn

c1810                                Edmund James                     41a.

Land re-allocated to South Lodge.


Other Estate land

c1778                                Ann Lovell                                   128a.

c1778                                Arthur Childs (Elder)                 198a.

c1810                                Daniel Hooton                             191a.

Land re-allocated to other farms.


Glebe land (Rectory Farm)

c1825-47                                Wm. Fascutt                                          340a.

c1850                                Wm. Sharman                                          340a.

c1860-72                                Samuel Sharman                                     340a.

c1872-85                                Samuel Sharman                                     226a.

c1890-1915        N’pton Corporation
Thos. Goosey                                        226a.

c1915-30                      N’pton Corporation
Bert Timms                                        226a.

1930-44                                Tom Dicks                                                  226a.

Land sold to the tenant

1944-79                             Tom Dicks

1979-83           Maud Dicks & family

1983-                               Part retained David Dicks

Part retained Margaret Keggin (daughter)

                           Part sold to the Estate