Extract from: I Like My Choice, Chapter 12, Management of the Estate, by Lord Holderness (1998)
All large estates are far more than a collection of farms and other property, brought together by one individual and perhaps added to by his successors in subsequent years. Estates acquire an identity of their own and those who live on them almost certainly find new relationships with one another. An estate, in other words, can claim to be a social organism. It has no government or commercial organisation to knit it together; it lacks the ties of a tribe or clan, but it shows clear signs of cohesiveness. Central to it is its “head', the owner with his family. These family ties within the estate may have a long history and, if so, the bonds formed over the years are likely to be very strong. Responsibilities of ownership are often applied to social goals, in schools, village halls and common worship in the parish church. Very often the estate exists far less for any commercial reason - although this may certainly have importance - than for its much less definable value as a prominent entity in the society of this country.
It will thus be only too evident that much depends on the attitude of the estate's owner. The impetus which he is able to give towards the unity of all he owns can be immense; and of lasting importance to the well-being and happiness of all who live in the neighbourhood.
The Garrowby Estate over two centuries has enjoyed two special marks of good fortune. On all five occasions when its ownership has changed, it has passed from father to son. Between the owner and his heir there has existed not only complete trust and confidence, but a broad agreement about the principles on which the Estate has in the past been administered.
Those principles have become very much clearer during this century than in the earlier years of the Estate's development. The valuation, carried out immediately after the purchase of land by Sir Francis Wood, contains interesting details and trenchant comments which are still of relevance to-day. There is, however, no trace after the valuation of any attempt by Sir Francis or his successors to decide the principle of administration. Such a principle remained
obscure during the whole of the nineteenth century. Even after the assumption of control by Edward in 1907 no clear principle was evident to those living on the Estate. It continued to be managed by Forbes and his son from their office in Stamford Bridge until the end of the 1939 - 1945 war.
The early valuation includes considerable detail about the soil, maintenance of tenancies and husbandry in general. It also includes a number of names still very familiar to us, West, Smith, Flint among others. Towards its end the valuer gives a personal view which probably produces a wry smile two hundred years later. His lurking sympathy with a tenant's desire to live off the rabbit population of his land would win very little favour in agricultural circles to-day:
'It seems extraordinary' he wrote that all the wold land in Garraby (sic) should have been laid to Wood's farm; surely Weatherill has an equal claim to a share, as it is the only proper sheep land on the Estate. Should Wood 'diswarren’ the Park, now stocked with rabbits (!) Weatherill should share by taking the part south of the spring, which I incline to think would pay as well for sheep stock. When the nuisance which rabbits are (and cannot be totally avoided) and the impoverishing of the land are considered - or should even a small gain in favour of the warren obtain - its abolition seems the most eligible. The tenant Wood says that having it as a warren (it now being nearly stocked and fenced) will prove more profitable to him than any other state.'
Later, in the submission to Sir Francis, the valuer probably rashly added the advice: ‘Landlord to pay Land Tax.’ By the side of it the new owner had pencilled firmly ‘By no means.’ Apart from these and similar details, the valuation cast little light on management policies, if such existed. Very little is known of them for the first half of the present century although the Forbes', father and son, kept closely and regularly in touch with the owner. Because of Edward's frequent and enforced absences from the Estate, these reports were of special interest to him, but they never diminished his wish one day to bring the Estate's management-nearer home.'
The depression in agriculture between the wars affected the whole country. Garrowby no more than any other estate could hope to avoid the grievous effects of the severe depression after the end of the 1914 - 1918 war. Now, nearly eighty years after that economic blizzard began to blow, it may be worth recalling for those, who have grown up in years that have been a little kinder to farmers, some of the reasons for its sudden and unexpected onslaught.
Ever since the 1870s, due to the massive imports of wheat from the prairies and other sources abroad, the acreage under cultivation in England and Wales had fallen. Fourteen and three quarter million acres had been under the plough in 1871; the acreage was only eleven million in 1914. Permanent grassland and the cattle carried on it had meanwhile increased considerably. Because of the urgent need in 1914 to increase food production at home, where only a small proportion of the need for wheat was being met, a large acreage of permanent and temporary pasture came under the plough. Wheat production rapidly increased.
The Government of Lloyd George vigorously supported this expansion during the war in the face of the threat by German submarines to imports of food. By the Corn Production Act of 1917 farmers were effectively guaranteed against losses in the production of wheat and oats. Many between 1914 and 1918 had made substantial profits. World shortages, accentuated for Britain by the absence of supplies from Russia, encouraged the Government, not only to underpin the farmer and agricultural production but (through the Agricultural Wages Board) to fix an improved minimum wage for farm workers.
Early in 1921 wheat became abundant and its price began a catastrophic decline, dropping from over 80 shillings a quarter in 1920 to little more than half that figure five years later. In June 1921 the Cabinet had decided that the nation could no longer afford to guarantee minimum prices. The Corn Protection Acts (Repeal) Bill, against bitter opposition, passed
into law. Equally severe was the natural anger of farm workers when the offer of 42 shillings for a 48-hour week was reduced to 36 shillings for 50 hours. In many cases their weekly wage fell below 30 shillings.
The following years brought little comfort to agriculture. Immediately after the war any farmer who bought to sell on, for instance in stock or fertilisers, could hardly fail to make a profit. From the beginning of 1921 none could avoid making losses. No farmer could foresee the price he would receive for his produce; and, in many cases, while buyers not unnaturally held off, he had no certainty of selling at all.
Conditions improved little, if at all, in the 1920s; and in 1930 came a new fall in agricultural prices. Because of the weather the harvest of 1931 was a disaster and prices for livestock fell further that winter. The decline in arable acreage continued. Meanwhile, at Garrowby and no doubt on many estates, any improvements and all economic progress were held back by low income levels. In the 1920s there were some attempts to reduce the size of farms and increase the number of smallholdings. This seems to have been partly designed to offer agricultural income to builders and those with other businesses; in part also to the belief that big farms had become uneconomic. The aim was a 150-acre farm employing the farmer and one man. Any benefit offered by such changes was short lived; most of them created other problems. Smallholdings, for instance, became non-viable. Where they were ancillary to the tenant's main occupation they tended to be neglected and, in the case of the larger holdings, the introduction of more machinery soon showed the need for still more acres to improve the farm's potential.
Conditions on the Wolds were extremely severe. Before the installation of electricity and mains water, farmers depended on what they could gather from the roof of their houses. All had large underground storage systems, some quite elaborate with metal walls. There were very few cars. Stock were in many cases driven for quite long distances. Services frequently came to farms - the itinerant pig-killer with his creel; stallion walkers who walked the stallions to farms for service. In the villages there would be a carter who went to market regularly and would execute commissions for people, sometimes even buying their shoes.
Under such conditions farmers had to be independent and self-sufficient. Most farmers' wives met housekeeping and household costs from the farmyard poultry, eggs and dressed chickens, geese and turkeys at Christmas. Farming was very depressed and money was tight. At times it was difficult to let farms. One year at Garrowby there were six farms unlet which had to be farmed by the Estate. Partly because of these conditions there were more ‘characters' than there are to-day. Independence bred stubbornness, shortages induced frugality. One farmer's wife, if the travelling butcher offered meat half an ounce above the ordered quantity, would ask him to cut off the offending surplus.
Greatly to the credit, both of these hardy tenants and of the then management, the Estate’s condition did not suffer greatly between the wars. Some improvements, especially new foldyards and Dutch barns, were made even before the post-war legislation, introduced by the sympathetic Labour Minister of Agriculture, Tom Williams, greatly eased the position of farmers. With the rising prosperity of agriculture, it once again became possible for landowners to have some idea of the way ahead and work for an achievable goal.
Estate Policy under Edward, 1st Earl of Halifax
During Edward's life but before the arrival of Ian Watson and Allan Calder [Resident Agent and Assistant], the Estate in the opinion of them both (and no doubt of others too) was managed in the best tradition of a benevolent autocracy.' Edward took a close interest in the Estate and had an intimate knowledge of it. Management had been in the hands of an external agency, so that the policy was dictated very much by the personal feelings of the owner. He was a pragmatist. It was therefore unlikely that there existed any detailed policy in regard to estate management. Efforts were made to improve the Estate by ploughing back
income, and improving the landscape by chivvying tenants into tidier ways and increasing the tree cover where desirable.
When the new management suggested producing a specific and detailed policy, Edward was in no doubt that this would be inappropriate. During the years immediately after the 1939 - 1945 war attention was rightly directed towards making good wartime neglect and carrying out suitable changes to meet modern techniques. The landowner was particularly interested in the provision of mains water and electricity over the whole Estate. Rapid progress in this was achieved. Radical innovations were meanwhile explored, like the provision by the Estate of a machinery pool for contract work.
There was at first a fairly heavy introduction of outside capital, but it was soon decided that the Estate must be self-supporting. Within that framework the whole of the profits could be ploughed back. To the relief of the Agents, Edward did not seek income for himself out of the Estate. He was content that any surpluses achieved should be ploughed back. This was naturally a great help in the planning of further improvements.
After the rent increase that took effect in 1948, Edward had been reluctant to strengthen the Agent's hand, in cases where agreement could not be reached on the proposed new rents, by allowing an arbitrator to settle whatever rent he considered fair and appropriate for the property. This honourable intention to settle such matters ‘man to man’ gave to tenants the power of veto on the whole issue. Few were prepared to take disagreements to such lengths, but there were some cases of discrepancy. This led to the co-operative tenant losing out in terms of rent to those who were less co-operative.
This unsatisfactory situation was corrected at the next rent review in 1953. Edward meanwhile made clear to all his tenants that the earlier arrangement had led to unfairness between them. If in future landlord and tenant could not agree on the rent to be paid, the matter would be referred to an arbitrator. Each side could then appoint its own valuer to represent them before the arbitrator, who would take an impartial decision binding on both sides.
In accordance with this decision the Estate employed an eminent land valuer to carry out the 1953 review. W.C. Farnsworth, senior partner of Berry Brothers and Bagshaw in Kettering, was meticulous in his appraisal. He walked every field on every farm, in many cases taking soil samples for purposes of comparison. His soil auger, a contraption like a corkscrew, was always with him. Put into what he thought an appropriate depth, its extraction was beyond the strength of one man on some of Garrowby's heavier clays.
The results of this work were satisfactory. Nearly all the tenants accepted the rents proposed.
No one ever suggested that Edward's policy, ill-defined as it remained, was anything but feudal. He looked on his tenantry as a sort of family. He was the Pater Familias. He had no intention of changing his style of management, but he was well aware of the great changes after two world wars and realised that, with the advent of Attlee's Labour Government, sympathy with the landowning classes had grown less. That Government had radical ideas for taxation; the development value of land was considered a national asset and no longer the property of its owner. Land could still be sold for development if the demand existed, but a complicated apparatus was set up to determine what proportion of any land transaction represented development value. That element, when known, was taxed. It was not surprising that enthusiasm to offer land for sale for development purposes grew cool. It was not long before the system found its way, like other bureaucratic nonsense, before and since, into the waste paper basket.
Edward was not only a statesman of stature but possessed a powerful intellect and a prodigious memory. This could be a source of embarrassment to those round him less well endowed. He never lost his enthusiasm for the countryside and Garrowby in particular. He strove to raise standards and attached much importance to tidiness. For many farmers tidiness enjoyed a low priority. They possibly argued with some sense that there was no
money in it. This point was not lost on Edward. He was usually ready to accept human frailties and realised that some of his tenants would be young, dynamic and thrustful; others would be less so, happy to do what was necessary to scrape by. Edward paid to many of them frequent visits. Some were no doubt more pleased to see him than others, but he thoroughly enjoyed his rural rides with Jimmy Barker. Meanwhile, his active mind was considering a number of possibilities, including the involvement of the Estate in contract work. This became an idea of even greater relevance some years later. The result of many of his visitations was a note to the Agent, a healthy practice since followed by his grandson, pointing to some area where improvement was badly needed. He was ever conscious of ill-kept hedges but realised that hedging, before the days of mechanical cutters, was a laborious business. It was easier to cut the hedge shoots close to the stem, where they were stiffer, than the more springy outer branches. The sad result of such ‘short cuts was a hedge composed of a series of stems and not much else. This was useless as a fence for stock.
The Estate, on Edward's direction, made a brave attempt at improvement by investing in one of the early mechanical cutters and making it available to tenants on a contractual basis. It was a remarkable machine, essentially a Fordson tractor with a long boom fixed transversely on it. It had a circular saw on one end and a counter-weight on the other. Its operator stood behind the tractor driver. A large wheel raised or lowered the boom. The drawback, soon learned, was that a slight sideways tilting of the tractor, with perhaps one of its wheels in a deep rut, caused a much larger movement of the boom and saw. If the operator could not anticipate these changes, which was often difficult, a large chunk could be entirely removed from the hedge. The machine was abandoned before long but was succeeded by other methods which have greatly improved the standard of Garrowby hedges.
From those early days after the war the Estate's policy, although seldom very precisely defined, has sensibly evolved. Agents have aimed to keep fixed equipment reasonably up to date to meet changing conditions. The 1958 Agriculture Act, by redefining the basis for rent assessments, greatly improved the income position and made possible larger investment. The introduction of farm amalgamation grants offered further avenues for progress. When opportunities occurred, advantage was taken of this provision. Two new farmhouses were built under these arrangements and substantial improvements made to the farm buildings involved.
Installation of Electricity and Water
Apart from these improvements [described above], obviously urgently needed, Edward, always pragmatic, thought it right to focus attention on the Estate's other pressing problems. He saw the urgency of providing the Estate with electricity and water from the mains supply. All would benefit - farms, cottages, the churches and Garrowby itself. Water continued to flow to the house from the reservoir in the Park after the reorganisation, but electricity was no longer supplied by the throbbing turbine housed in a corner of the stable-yard and lovingly tended for years by Harry Salkeld. Such was Harry's devotion to “his’ engine that he was probably a little disappointed when Garrowby's supply was modernised.
With farming now on the firm foundation of guaranteed prices and assured markets, the industry rapidly became a power-house of new ideas. Farming techniques changed. Many of these new developments had important investment consequences. Farmers needed new equipment; and existing buildings, inadequate for the new needs, had to be replaced with more modern structures.
Much of the new demand was only marginally agricultural. When electricity and water were installed most sensible wives wanted a bathroom and W.C. The old-fashioned kitchen range, now so highly prized where they can still be found, had then fallen out of fashion. Black leading and the polishing of brass hinges was thought a waste of time. New ranges with vitreous enamel finishes were available and they gradually replaced the old. They had back boilers and supplied the need for hot water. No longer need the lady of the house tend her side-boiler, having to keep it topped up so that hot water was available when needed, and then only from a tap at the side of the range. Other labour-saving devices followed - overnight burners for fireplaces or kitchen units; and, for the more affluent, the ultimate luxury of an Aga cooker in the kitchen. The Estate always made clear that those who so chose would have to provide the Aga for themselves. It was rather later that full central heating became the most desirable goal. This was sometimes based on a solid fuel kitchen range; sometimes on the less troublesome oil-fired boilers.
For the installation of electricity across the Estate a full time engineer was engaged. He visited all the farms and cottages, asked what the tenants wanted and prepared a suitable scheme for the contractor to implement.[.....]
For this great water and electricity operation in the late 1940s, rents were far from adequate to fund the work required. In the first years of the programme considerable amounts of cash were introduced from family resources. This went on for about five years. The results were certainly dramatic particularly on the Wolds where a shortage of water had been a constant problem. Now it was possible for farmers to adopt ley farming practices; stock could be watered in every field as required and significant improvements in fertility very quickly followed.
Water and electricity were not the whole story. Ian Watson had drawn attention to the urgent need for essential maintenance of farm houses; for buildings, fences and gates to enable farmers to achieve adequate standards of production; more accommodation for those working on the Estate; new equipment and transport to reduce labour costs; and catching up with arrears of work in the woods. It was only too clear that these objectives could be achieved only after the very necessary increase in farm rents.
Size of farms
It would be difficult, and certainly unhelpful, to try to define all the factors that determine the ideal size of a farm. Different conditions, different objectives and a mass of other economic factors, have made it difficult to agree where the advantage lies.
Soon after the first war, a farm of 150 acres was thought ideal. The productivity of the farmer and the one man working with him was certainly of importance; but of greater significance is the availability of capital, whether from the landlord or the tenant himself, in an industry which must depend increasingly on the machine. The need to invest in expensive machinery certainly points to units larger than were thought ideal eighty years ago.
Other considerations seem to point in the same direction. All estates must choose broadly between an “extensive' or an “intensive’ farming policy. The first looks to land; the second to buildings, for the generation of farm income. The “extensive’ policy, which Garrowby has always followed, combines more easily with larger farms, especially as pressure on margins drives tenants to take advantage of developments in machinery and new techniques. Garrowby’s preference for “extensive’ farming is justified on a number of grounds. It demands less capital; its methods fit more easily into a traditional rural area, where the landscape can avoid the clutter of piggeries and other such buildings that intensive' farming needs; and the attitude of Garrowby to the ‘intensive' farmer, who is sometimes (but not always) a businessman, suggest that the cohesion of the Estate will remain greater if its present policy continues.
It would be foolish to divorce discussion of the ideal size of farms from the equally important matter of the granting of tenancies. Soon after his arrival at Garrowby [in 1947] Ian Watson [Resident Agent] recognised that much of the equipment on the farms was old-fashioned and run down. This almost inevitably had an effect on the standards and attitudes of farm tenants. There was a need to bring in new blood - young, dynamic farmers who could be relied on to set a high standard. He wisely thought that this was the way to improve general standards of farming on the Estate. Other farmers, perhaps less enterprising, would ‘look over the hedge’ and see what could be achieved with different techniques. As opportunities allowed, several such tenants were brought on the Estate, mostly on the Wolds, and undoubtedly the desired effect was achieved.
The system, however, did have an inherent disadvantage. The new tenants were introduced on to existing farms. This tended to fix the size of farms into existing size patterns. Allan Calder [Assistant, then Resident Agent], confronting the situation ten years later, thought that the need then was to enlarge farms wherever possible - and particularly those on the Wolds. In order to achieve this, it was essential to amalgamate some farms as opportunities offered. This need, it was felt, should take precedence even over the introduction of new tenants. It was inevitably a slow process, dependent on the ending of a tenancy and where there was no son anxious to follow in his father's footsteps. There was nonetheless a considerable reduction in the number of tenancies between 1960 and 1990.
Such considerable changes illustrate one of the advantages of managing land through estates. Agents are more able to “design' changes of this kind than is possible where land is owner-occupied. There, farmers can expand only when land comes on to the market; and that land will not always be contiguous to their existing holding.
Allan Calder was well aware that security of tenure and the improved health of the agricultural industry, with consequently long tenancies, made it difficult to move as quickly towards the larger holdings that an optimum use of capital would require. As a result, farmers have had to run ever faster in order to stay in the same place. On the wolds it might have been wise to aim for a minimum acreage of three hundred acres, but there were few wold farms on the Estate which achieved that. On the low ground the problem was even more difficult. The desire to cash in on relative cereal prosperity could involve a substantial drainage investment; and the validity of that investment had to be justified.
Certainly over the years the size of farms has been far from static. The general trend was towards increase, but there were wide fluctuations. In England as a whole there were in 1965 fewer farms over three hundred acres than a hundred years earlier. The Industrial Revolution did encourage holdings of five hundred to a thousand acres in the corn-growing areas, but the trend after 1875 was for the number of smaller family farms to increase at the expense of the larger units. Forbes, believing in the 1930s that the ideal farm size was 150 acres, took steps to divide some of the larger wold farms like Martinholme and Wilton Wold. Although right then, this policy became manifestly wrong in the years after the war. The restoration of holdings to their original size was then hindered by the infrequent appearance of opportunities to do so.
The close relationship between any estate's policy on tenancies and the size of its farms is inescapable. The Garrowby Estate, as has been shown, generally favours the succession of fathers by their sons (though much less happy with a grandson's succession). On the whole this policy seems good for the Estate's health, although it precludes to some extent the introduction of new tenants who could bring fresh ideas and new enthusiasm.
In the last few years there has been a small increase in the size of farms on the Estate, but averages always disguise more relevant figures. The smallest holding in 1997 was 55 acres; the largest nearly one thousand. Amalgamations, which have followed the death or retirement of tenants without successors, have resulted in the creation of more viable units, which benefit from economies of scale. South Breckenholme and Fotherdale, for instance, have been joined with North Breckenholme.
Until quite recently the farms on the road between Bugthorpe and Kirby Underdale, Primrose Hill, Goman Castle and Pasture Farm were all let to separate tenants. The farm in the middle of these three is generally pronounced Gorman, but the old maps show it as spelled above. Recent amalgamation of these farms, together with some land at Baffham to form a holding of 421 acres [...] is part of the Estate’s present policy. Changes are slow for the reasons explained, but the trend is certainly towards larger farms.