This gallery was designed and written by Paul Smith, whose home was Windwhistle Farm from 1921 until his retirement 62 years later, when he moved into the village. It represents a personal view of farming in Winsham, based on long experience, and of the farming industry over the greater part of the twentieth century.
The full story of his life between the two World Wars can be found in his book; 'Landing Gently' published by Wolfgang Publishing. It was a great loss to our community when he died in 2007.
For further descriptions of Farming in Winsham at the Millennium, refer to the Business section of the Millennium Book.
The maps that appear in this gallery are not drawn to scale, and are intended only to give an approx. indication of the position of boundaries, roads, rivers or farm locations. For more precise information, use other map sources.
Farming methods had not altered very much for hundreds of years, but towards the end of the nineteenth century, with the advent of steam, and the early part of the twentieth century, with the development of the internal combustion engine, things did begin to change.
First the big steam driven traction engines were used for powering such things as threshing machines, and transporting large loads. As the twentieth century moved into its second and third decades, the smaller and more versatile petrol driven tractor began to make its presence felt, although many of the lighter tasks continued to be carried out by hand.
Despite this, the use of the land for agriculture had always been governed by a number of factors, and these continued to be as relevant as ever. The soil, the aspect, the ownership, the markets and the subsequent adaptability of crops and livestock.
In this hilly Parish the existing top soils were laid down at the end of the last ice age (10,000 yrs ago). These are the 'clay and flints' overlying the Chalk ( mostly above 600 ft ), the Upper Greensand (mostly above 400ft) and the Jurassic sands and gravels right down to the Axe River. The soil acidity is usually above neutral (6.7ph). Within this general distribution, even within fields, the top soil varies.
For example, in the top four-acre comer of the last field before the Winsham road junction with the A30 main road there was a Gorse dividing-hedge and Bracken grew in profusion along the other hedges, providing signs of acidity (over chalk at depth). Further along that same field, all the stones are rounded like a pebble beach (at 773ft) . Other Parish fields display dark loams, sands or in one case, peat. A soil sample of 14 fields on one farm shortly after the War showed no two exactly alike. Few Winsham fields are flat. The Rothamsted Experimental Station 'generalised soil map (1974)' denotes the Winsham area soils as 'Palio-argillic Brown Earths and Stagnolley Soils'. The soils of Winsham are rated 'grade 3'. There are some 'Grade 1' Somerset soils to the north said to be 11 ft thick of loam. These grow potatoes and other market garden crops.
Winsham is tilted towards the south-west from the Windwhistle Ridge (772ft) down to the River Axe (200ft) and is only 7 miles due North from the sea at Charmouth. This leads to a mild climate. The clay from the chalk (blue and yellow) and the clay (gault) below the greensand (a good aquifer) leads to plenty of spring water. There are also 'sinks' into the base rock. The reputed rainfall grades from of about 37 to 29 inches from top to bottom of the hills. The prevailing wind is S.W.
On the older area maps the land North and East of the Winsham Parish boundary is shown a belonging to Lord Paulette (Hinton House) and the corresponding area South and West as that of Lord Bridport (Cricket House). In 1919 Mrs Hall - by then having bought The Cricket Estate from Mr Fry - sold off 827 acres comprising 5 outlying Parish farms, and the 10 houses comprising the hamlet of Purtington.
Mr Tom Corr bought Purtington House Farm, Lower Purtington Farm and the whole hamlet. The two Pile brothers each purchased Midnell Farm and Lue Farm. Mr Smith later bought Newhouse (Windwhistle) Farm. Puthill Farm was retained in the Cricket orbit.
A 1918 map in the Village shows several other Parish landowners. Manor Farm (Bishop sold to Saunders) is marked in green . To the west and south is Col.. H.C.Henley (centred on Leigh House). A section between is shown as owned by Robert Persey and William Raison (Stuckeys Fm). Not on this map were Hey Farm (Mr Dommett) and Paull's Ash Fm -later Broadenham - (Mr Budge). This section merits further research. The Map, for the purpose of identification of areas, does contain names of Farms that did not exist in 1918 -for example, Hazel Wood Farm
All the illustrations in this gallery were drawn by Paul Smith
History relates how important wool was to the economy of England and the West Country. One benefit still visible today are the many of our village churches. In the nineteenth century Winsham had its own woollen cloth factory, said to be four stories high. Small farms dotted the Parish and many made butter, cheese and bread. Many workers would have kept a pig or poultry in a garden or small orchard and in the past these would have been used for subsistence, with any surplus being used for barter or sold.
It was important that farmers could readily sell their produce, so local markets were vital. There were markets at Chard and Crewkerne. In the twentieth century, milk had to be taken to the 'Milk Factory' at Chaffcombe. (This was to became a cider factory -Bert Rogers' 'Bottled Sunshine'). It is now a Municipal refuse dump. Eggs were collected by the packing station (Salter & Stokes) at Chard Junction. Timber was taken to the 'Yonder Hills Saw Mills', the other side of the Axe River and railway line, situated near to J.R. Pratt's Quarry and Fowler's Feed Mill. There was a market for grain (wheat, oats and some barley) operated mainly by Bradford's and the Chard Trading Company.
With the aid of older Villagers who were involved with farming, we can get a fairly accurate picture of farm life from almost the turn of the last century (1900 onwards). Whilst each farm would vary according to individual circumstances - there are 27 marked on the map (fig 1) -a snapshot of a typical Winsham farm over that period. It would be rented.
The size of such a farm might be around 130 acres. This would include 20 acres of woodland (including coppice, covers and shelter belts), and 20 acres of arable, 30 acres for grazing (steep, wet or watered), and 50 acres for hay. Typically it would have had about 10 buildings (garden, orchards mostly cider, and paddocks.) The people living and working on the farm would be the Farmer (and family) and four men (milker, carter and two labourers). There would be extra seasonal helpers as required (hoeing, haymaking, harvesting, muck-spreading, apple picking). About six miles of hedges would exist on the farm - needing to be laid every seven years -some stretches were let out to old men in exchange for the tops (stakes, spar-gads, spars and faggots).
The Wessex Saddleback was a hardy grazing pig . Five sows and their offspring (crossed with a Middle or large boar to give a 'blue' hybrid bacon carcass.
A small flock of Dorset Down ewes were kept for wool & meat production. A goat was also kept to eat weeds that were poisonous to other grazing animals.
Free-range hens run with a few cockerels. Usually derived from Leghorn or Rhode Island Red (eggs) or Light Sussex (meat). As people were often given odd Bantams, Barnivelders or other breeds, the resulting flock was very colourful. One farm even had Anconas. Ducks were either Khaki Campbell (eggs) or Aylesbury (meat). Often a few Geese and Turkeys would mingle with Galaneas (Guinea fowl).
The hopes of farmers for better times after the Great War were not met. Prices soon slumped. A horse would make only £50; cow values halved to £25, with milk price dropping to a fifth at 6d a gallon. Workers wages slumped to 25 shillings a week. On our hilly soils, very mixed farming relied on hard labour from both man and horse. All relied much from 'living off the land'. Rabbits were abundant, as were mushrooms, pigeons, nuts and blackberries.
With the threat of another war, prices gradually improved, but by 1939 many young rural men joined the Territorial Army as a means of earning a bit of pocket money. In May, Taunton's West Somerset Yeomanry - field artillery having shed its horses for gun tractors - accepted the author of this piece, a young Winsham farmer, to finally fill its battery quota. With the advent of the second World War, and the pressures placed on convoys by the German submarine fleet, the Government soon realised how much we would rely on home grown food. In peace time large acreages were devoted to parks and other uses. Permanent pasture was inefficient, as was the grazing animal that lived on it. Land which had not been built on was made produce 'primary' food.
So the County War Agricultural Executive Committee was set up to work through the District Committees, each covering some seven parishes. There were Ordinance Survey maps with every field numbered. Their task was to ensure that every possible field be ploughed and set to grow Wheat, Oats, Barley, Potatoes or Sugar Beet. Only steep, wet or tiny pastures could be reserved for dairy cows. Pigs, poultry and sheep were to be discouraged. Both purchased animal food concentrates and fertilisers - especially potash - were to be strictly rationed.
The extra arable machinery was supplied for hire at depots. One was at the Windwhistle Inn (landlord Mr Kidd). Ministry tractors - the Standard Fordson (petrol model), or a small Caterpillar Crawler( with drivers) did the ploughing and most cultivations. There were reports that ancient Titans and Mogul tractors were available. The self-binder did the harvesting of the grain. Additional labour was supplied by the Woman's Land Army, 'live-in' Italian POW's - or later - German POW's, arriving in truck loads for the day. Certain farming men ,serving in the armed services, could apply for up to one month's 'Agricultural Leave' per year if their Units could spare them. Threshing was done in the winter by Steam Traction Engines with the large mobile Threshing Machines.
All this sudden change of local practice meant that arable outputs decreased per acre. It became inevitable that crops were often sown late, or in poor weather. Harvesting was difficult. Farming on a war footing was declared a 'reserved occupation'. Despite every sort of problem, this drastic action was made to work. If it had not, the nation would have starved. Although the war ended in 1945, Food rationing lasted until the mid-fifties.
It is justifiably asserted that science won the second World War - especially the development of Electronics. Radar revolutionised observation and strategy, and the Atomic Bomb abruptly finished the job. With the peace that followed the end of World War II (1945) , science quickly turned it's attention to Farming. The Government Agricultural Development and Advisory Service replaced the old War Agricultural Committees.
The farm supply companies - from machinery to chemicals - soon bombarded the farmers with new ideas and the ways of increasing production. Farmers were then the 'blue eyed boys'. In the process, farming lost much of the its magic, and many an old head was shaken in lament.
Winsham parish was ideally suited to growing grass, and the advent of silage to replace most of the hay, and the use of the buck-rake and later the forage harvester, speeded the whole process of conservation. New varieties of rapid growing rye grass replaced the mixed swards of old, and the spinning fertilizer distributor meant three heavy cuts a year and a period of grazing from every treated acre.
A certain amount of fine weather hay was field baled for collection. To eat this was the 100 cow dairy herd, equipped with the 'herringbone'-milking parlour, pit silage and cubicle housing. Ideally, this included the large Friesian or Holstein, specialist milking breeds, together with, perhaps, a few Ayrshires to improve quality (butter fat). All were housed in giant metal wide span buildings. Artificial Insemination (A.I.)- in our case from Horlick's Cattle Breeding Centre at IIminster - meant the highest quality pedigree bulls were used for pure breeding or cross-bred beef. The Charolais bull largely replaced the old Hereford, Devon or Aberdeen Angus for beef crossing.
For poultry, the Battery House replaced, with cages in tiers, the old poultry flock found around the Farm yard . One bird per cage (later two). The hens were bought as day-old chicks (sexed) from a specialist breeder. The breed was modelled on the old white Leghorn. With the eggs laid on sloping wire floors, broodiness was no longer a problem.
Pigs were bred from sows living in arks on grassland, and were brought into gridded pens for farrowing.The boar would be now a Landrace for bacon production.
There was a revolution in machinery. Tractor rear lift arms took the wheels off the ploughs and the
mowers. Ever larger tractors, forage harvesters, the fore loaders did the 'lumping'. The six-ton tipping trailer hauled the grass. Hedge slashers replaced the cutter.
Government subsidies were paid on quantity. The large machinery required large fields. A bulldozer with grab could level one hundred yards of hedge in an hour. Winsham had its own Agricultural Contractor at Whatley. Another Winsham farmer had joined a silage machinery syndicate run by The Cricket Estate who had four large dairy herds to feed. There were soon rumours of Somerset farm millionaires!
Maize - as silage - replaced green and root crops for cattle feed. New chemicals as pesticides, herbicides or medicines continually appeared as did purpose mixed fertilizers in larger packs. The A.D.A.S. arranged lectures and demonstrations for farmers. The BBC 'Farming Today' (Jimmy Thorburn and Ralph Whitman) with farming guests (occasionally from Winsham) appeared twice a week in prime time Radio. There were even farming coach trips abroad. The cry was for gross output, specialization, expansion, and guaranteed prices! Subsidies from U.K. Governments, and later from the E.E.C made the farmer's life a happy one. As expected farming output rocketed, but by 1980 surpluses began to build the legendary surplus 'mountains' of Milk, Meat and Grain. Wine (on the Continent) even had its own 'lake'. The bubble had to burst! Farming had to return to earth!
The effect that over-production, since the War, had on the farming community was rather like engaging reverse gear when going fast-forward. Except for some cereals, no commodity was ever over produced for home consumption here, but by joining the European Union, we shared their surpluses. The existing system had been changed. All this in a world where half the population were starving. The farming difficulties were also compounded by the outbreaks of BSE (Bovine SpongiformEncephalitis) and Foot & Mouth disease. Winsham farming is changing.
For the connoisseur it takes about ten minutes in a light aircraft out of Dunkeswell Airfield (Honiton) and flying at above 500 ft. to circle the boundaries and bisect the whole Parish of Winsham. Winsham is clearly seen as a Parish of small fields (few above twenty acres) and even fewer that are really flat. Woodland (copses, coppices, spinneys, woods, covers and hummocks) are richly sprinkled over the undulating landscape indicating its parkland and sporting origins. and the small mixed enterprise policy which formed its farming base.
To try to ease matters and preserve the ethics and viability of the countryside the Government has now introduced subsidies for 'Set Aside' (unused) land and 'Stewardship' (pro wildlife) policies. There is also limited help to set up 'organic' farming and 'farm shops'. Many believe that not being near a city or on a high-grade soil these changes are not feasible at the moment. Indeed diversification usually requires much extra capital. Many facilities are already offered on the Cricket Estate. Even there, three out of four dairy herds have closed down.
The map shows how agricultural land is currently used in the Parish. For the sake of record the key also gives the names of people who have been associated with the farms, for the most part over the twentieth century. Each Farm has its own history, and in many cases more information can be obtained from the Businesses section of the Millennium Book.
Many farms have now given up dairying in favour of grazing (sheep, young stock, bullocks, horses) and baled silage. Farms are splitting or getting larger and young people - workers or sons - are becoming a rarity. Villagers this year are missing the baby lambs that are usually born in the mid village small fields.
|Names Associated with Farm
|Sawyer, Smith, Churchill
|Snell, Sweeting, Forward
|Pile, Warry, Conachie
|Dommett, Wheaton-Smith, Bullivant
|Peacock, YSJ Seeds
|Fields in village
|Marshwood (now outside Parish)
|Scriven, Down, Glanville
|Perham, Lawley, Hebditch
|Spence, Goodlett, Harmes, Hebditch
|Leigh House Farm
|Leigh Dairy Farm
Winsham is a prize-winning village of dynamism and change. Its farmers are ever optimists for a healthy agriculture that is the basis of a beautiful countryside.