An account of the farmers, farm buildings and farming of the depression years of the 1930s, and later as observed by C.J. Lamb, who was born in Sibford Gower in 1924 of a widespread farming family, most of whom were at that time struggling for a precarious living because of the disastrous agricultural policies of a Society to which industrial export and a need for cheap food for industrial workers was the only consideration.
The parishes of Sibford Gower, with Burdrop and Sibford Ferris, are each roughly triangular in shape, together forming a rectangle with the largest area of the Gower lying to the North of the compass and the Ferris largely to the South. The two parishes are each bounded by the infant River Stour to the South and by a tributary of the Sor Brook to the North, with the parishes of Hook Norton as neighbour to the South and Epwell and Shutford to the North.
Sibford Gower’s Western boundary with Brailes, which is also the Oxon Warwickshire County boundary, is formed by a centuries old British road known as Ditchedge, which follows the escarpment from Rollright to Edgehill. Sibford Ferris has as its Eastern boundary with Swalcliffe parts of two small streams running to North and South over the watershed between Severn and Thames, but drawn largely in a more or less straight line, not dictated by any natural feature. The boundary between the two Sibfords, however, is almost completely formed by a tributary to the River Stour and another to the Sor Brook, separated only by a few hundred yards over the watershed at Tyne Hill.
The configuration of the land extends from 400 ft above sea level at Temple Mill Sibford Ferris to 750 ft at Heath Farm Sibford Gower. Sibford Gower will be described commencing from the River Stour to the South following the long spur of ground to Sibford Heath over the watershed to Blenheim Farm and returning on the shorter spur to Sibford Gower Village.
Approximately 30 acres of land, mainly of limestone, Bunkers Hill, Bunkers Ground, Traitorsford Meadow and Lady Bell Hangings, was fanned by Will Tustain, a wealthy bachelor grazier of Milcombe, who also owned Hook Norton Leys Farm adjaceent across the River Stour. Another 30 acres of pasture opposite the Colony brought this man’s local holding to approximately 260 acres, which was run by only one man, George Waterman, who lived in Sibford Gower, walked to and from his work, and by hard work and exposure to the elements was crippled with rheumatism at early middle age and yet continued to carry out his duties.
The standard of farming, of course, was appalling. The land, entirely pasture, was covered with thorn bushes, rushes, thistles, etc, but it was probably one of the few holdings producing more than a bare living. Hook Norton Leys Farm and the Bunkers Hill land had, within the memory of an old friend of mine, Fred K. Dyer, who worked there as a young man, “Been entirely under arable crops except the hangings of the tanks”.
College Barn and New Barn together about 100 acres was farmed by Lewis Poulton, Master Builder of Burdrop, where he also farmed the Park and Burdrop and Wheathills Farms. All these farms, predominantly arable and probably well farmed in the more profitable past, had degenerated by the 1930s to growing crops more remarkable for its content of poppies, moon daisies and couch grass than grain. This holding decreased in the 30s when J. Salmon Pettipher purchased College Barn and Lewis Poulton‘s son, Will, purchased Burdrop Farm.
Haynes Barn Farm was farmed by Joseph Sabin of Temple Mill together with other land near College Barn, approximately 15 acres known as Shaws and Whitemoor. Ryehill Farm of 50 acres was in the occupation of Walter Davies, who after years of hard work was unfortunately to have to admit defeat just before the outbreak of the 1939 war, which would no doubt have enabled him to continue farming.
Stickleys Farm, approximately 35 acres stretching from Sibford Gower to Ryehill, was owned by my mother, who came of a farming family, the Bishops of Whichford, and farmed by my father, who was hard put to provide a living for his wife and f0ur children from this acreage.
He kept a large number of poultry on the farm, was a member of the Scientific Poultry Breeders Association and produced sex linked Rhode island Red and Light Sussex chicks for sale, but unfortunately, in company with many others, the then prevalent diseases of fowl paralysis and Bacterial White Diarrhoea, combined with undue competition from other returned service men to defeat this enterprise. He turned his attention then to part time house thatching, which enabled him to survive until the outbreak of war when he was able to increase his holding of land by renting College Barn and Gautherns Farm, Sibford Ferris, from J.S. Pettipher, who was retiring mainly because he hated to see pasture, however worn out, broken up for arable farming.
(To be continued in a future issue)