North Mymms - Parish and People
by Dorothy Colville
Chapter 28 - Arthur Young, 1741-1820
Arthur Young, who was so impressed with Mr. Browne’s new buildings and from whom we learn so much of the agriculture of the whole parish and of the methods of its farmers during the early years of the nineteenth century, lived and farmed in the parish for upwards of ten years.
Until 1968, when the patient research of Mr. Tomkins, of Sleaps Hyde, gave the answer, the whereabouts of Young’s farm had been a mystery. Various farms, in particular Parsonage Farm, had been suggested as having been his home, but it is now known that it was Bradmore Farm. It is strange that this farm should have completely disappeared, swallowed into neighbouring farms or forming part of the track of the railway line, but that Sheepshead Hall, only half a mile to the west, should have remained a dwelling house until the early 1950s.
Arthur Young, whose father was the rector of Bradfield Combust in Suffolk, was born in London. His godparents were the Bishop of Rochester and the Speaker of the House of Commons. He went to school in Lavenham and while still in his teens showed an aptitude for literary work. However, he became a farmer and two years later he married Martha Allen and took her home to Bradfield to live with his parents. A household does not always run smoothly if it has two mistresses, and within a few months of his marriage Arthur Young was seeking a farm of his own. The couple moved to Samford Hall, Essex, a farm of 300 acres, but the venture was not a success and he looked round for another farm.
This time he came into Hertfordshire, where he inspected the 100-acre Bradmore Farm. The soil did not impress him, but the "very neat and small house" did and Arthur Young and his wife moved into North Mymms in 1768. He was twenty-seven years old at the time. Who knows, if he had given more time to actual farming and less to his writing, Bradmore Farm might have been highly successful. As it was, this gifted theorist had no love for North Mymms and blamed all his failure as a farmer on to the poor soil of his farm, and for the rest of his life North Mymms and unfertile ground were synonymous terms.
He settled his wife into their new home and then he was away on a six-month survey of the agriculture of the north. This became the pattern of his life, and despite working like a horse - his own expression - he found himself getting deeper into debt although his writings at this time were bringing in a yearly income of £300. In 1773 he joined the Morning Post and his reporting of parliamentary debates added five guineas to his weekly earnings. It is on record that he walked to and from London to Bradmore Farm at the weekends and into the little left of the weekend had to fit the business of his farm. No wonder it was not successful. He was spending less and less time on his "vitriolic hungry gravel" and in 1779 finally left our parish.
Nearly a quarter of a century went by before he visited North Mymms again, and then he came on a fact-finding tour. In the meantime he had become the first secretary of the newly formed Board of Agriculture, had been commended by his king, George III, and was steadily issuing his Annals of Agriculture. He was considered the greatest authority on agriculture, was a pioneer of all kinds of improvements and was said to have been responsible for the introduction of chicory growing. The ownership of the North Mymms estates had changed during the intervening years and Arthur Young found himself among strangers, but his reports on Potterells are so complete that one wonders if he stayed with the new owner, Mr Casamajor, while inspecting the neighbouring farms.
Of Potterells he tells us that it "contains 200 acres arable, 140 acres grass mown, 60 acres feed, that it had a five-crop rotation of "turnips, barley, clover, wheat and oats or pease," and that there had been considerable crops of potatoes but "Mr. Casamajor found it exhausting, so gave up the culture." Mr. Casamajor kept South-down sheep and his bailiff, Roberts, approved of them, as they did better on grassland than Wiltshires. There were ten oxen and four cart-horses on the farm. The "oxen are of small size compared with many, said to be from Devonshire, used in harness, not yokes and bows, always shoes them. Mr. Casamojor had had twelve years’ experience of oxen and was strongly in favour of them, as he had hadTgreat losses in horses." His bailiff was not in favour of oxen, but it is interesting to know that towards the end of the century there were still oxen on Potterells estate. The barns on their "capt stones," the manures and the carrying of much hay to London, the draining schemes and the tools used are all recorded, and he goes on ... "There is a dell at Potterils … where strangers on opening their shutters in the morning have been astonished to see a fine lake where they had been walking the day before and seen no water. Mr. Keate digs up the earth brought by these floods and uses it as manure." Mr. Keate was the rector of Hatfield, a very successful farmer, but Arthur Young went on to say "The lady - Marchioness of Salisbury - was the better farmer."
The tithe rent was 2/6 per acre and was never paid in kind, while the poor rates "at North Mymms ten years ago were 1s. 6d. to 2s. 0d. and are now 5s. 0d … has the advantage of being the residence of people of fortune whose charitable attention to the poor in the past … keeping down the poor rate."
He draws on his experience as a farmer and relates that the wages of the labourers during October 1774 were seven shillings a week, but gives no amount for wages during the long summer days when men frequently started work at five or even four o’clock in the morning.
His "Map of the soil of Hertfordshire" which accompanied the general view showed North Mymms to be poor gravel. "Hatfield and North Mymms," he says, "are specimens of bad land abounding with blue pebbles … the most unfertile that we find in the south of England. I farmed this soil ... I know it well ... I hollow-drained many acres, but as I was obliged to employ the pick-axe the expense was too great … this soil is best adapted to wood -hedges thriving on land not worth cultivation in the lower parts of the parish." These hedges of crab-apple and hawthorn bordering the Mimmshall Brook were among the joys remembered by one elderly contributor to the Women’s Institute scrapbook compiled in 1953.
He declared: "I occupied for nine years the jaws of a wolf. A nabob’s fortune would sink in the attempt to raise good crops in such a country. "What would he say today could he stand in the lane between Sheepshead Hall and Bradmore and look southwards over fields of waving corn?
"If great zeal, indefatigable exertion and an unsparing expense in making experiments can give a man a claim to the gratitude of agriculturists, Arthur Young deserved it more than most men" (Irish Transactions, Kirwin) is a fitting epitaph to a hard-working but unfortunate farmer whose last years were afflicted with blindness.
Dorothy Colville, 1971
Chapter 29 - The Cottage Garden Show
Index - North Mymms Parish and People