Researching wartime farming

“This young farmer seems to work hard and is somewhat queer-tempered but the land he is farming at present is enough ‘to give anyone the pip’. He pays 25/- per acre for land from the Groby Granite Co. and they should really pay him that amount to take it away.”

During the Second World War, Britain urgently need to increase its food production in response to a reduction in food and fertiliser imports. The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries reacted to the crisis by setting up War Agricultural Executive Committees in each county to survey and assess each farm and ensure that it was as productive as it could be.

The county committees had the authority to force farmers to plough up pasture, or to compel them to carry out improvements or face having their farms requisitioned.

A further, more detailed, survey was carried out by the Government between 1941 and 1943. Unlike the earlier survey, this second survey has survived more or less intact and provides us with detailed information about every farm over 5 acres in size in every parish in England and Wales. The maps alone took 15,000 person days to complete.

This remarkable source is of great value to local and family historians. The records consist of a set of forms completed by the farmers themselves and by the farm inspectors, and a set of maps showing the location of each farm. Together they provide information about individual farmers and their employees, farm size, location of land holdings, tenure, crops and livestock, conditions of the farm, buildings, farm equipment and services such as water and electricity and, most controversially, farm management.

In the process of recording the data for the thousand or so farms that were operating in the Charnwood Roots project area, we caught a glimpse of the varied lives of farmers: families that owned and successfully managed multiple large holdings; small market gardeners and poultry keepers; elderly farmers who had their tenancies terminated and their land taken away; farmers wives in Cropston and Nanpantan that had, in happier times, provided teas to hikers and golfers; part-time farmers who managed small plots and livestock when they weren’t cutting people’s hair in Anstey or mining in Whitwick; a female farmer in Maplewell who kept shorthorn cattle and took in evacuees; and Swithland Wood Farm with its 200 wooden bungalows.

National Farm Survey Map for Woodhouse, TNA, MAF 73/22

National Farm Survey Map for Woodhouse, TNA, MAF 73/22