The Staploe Hundred

One Parish, Chippenham, could show a remarkable story of reclamation since Vancouver had written. Arthur Young noted the improvements in his Annals. An Enclosure Act for Chippenham had been passed in 1791 and the owner Mr. Tharp had enclosed 2,240 acres of open-field arable and drained the fen.

"This before Mr. Tharp's improvement was constantly flooded; when fed, it was with cows and young stock to little profit: formerly there was a mill for draining, but it decayed, and the whole residence of snipes, wild ducks, and herons; cows and horses mired and lost, and their skeletons found when the drains were cut. By Mr. Tharp's effective draining the mill proved to be unnecessary, for a fall of five feet was gained; the copy-holders fed it and made nothing, their allotments now let at 20s. per acre. I viewed this drainage and cultivation with much pleasure; the cuts are numerous and deep. Powerful springs cut into, and the water conveyed away, and running now (August, 1800) after a long drought, a good stream. Plantations formed. Paring and burning, and cropping, and everything looking well and thriving. -A farmer had part of this fen, that was not common, which he offered at 2s. per acre, for which he would now give 20s. Sheep - before enclosing there were 2000 kept or rather starved, dying almost every winter by scores, todding fourteen to eighteen to a tod; now there are 2160 that tod tens, 400 are now fattened annually; before none, except a few crones for harvest; on the whole, not one fourth of the produce from sheep which there is at present. The breed Norfolks, except Mr. Tharp's whose flock is South-Downs, and he has some very good ones. Some half-breds with Leicester are mixed; which he intends weeding out, as they do not answer. Cows - certainly fewer kept now; there used to be sixty or eighty, now thirty; it is, however, a question whether there is any real defalcation in this article; as before they produced little. One respectable occupier assured me that he kept eighteen, and was forced sometimes to buy butter for his family's use, which he never does at present, keeping only four. - Bullocks before the enclosure none, now forty are fattened annually. Poor. - The only benefit the poor derive from the common-fen was to cut turf on it, for which use forty acres are allowed them. The cattle were the farmer's. Rates doubled, but this, as everyone knows, depends on other circumstances; militia men's wives, and increase of population - increased very much. The number to whom a charitable donation is given, is doubled in ten years; and there are twenty new houses built in the last seven. This astonishing increase in population must not, however, be attributed to the enclosure; the residence of a man of very large fortune must have had in this respect a much greater effect, but from this a conclusion of no slight importance is to be drawn, that there is a vast difference to the population of the kingdom between an income spent in London, or in the country". Gooch added to Young's account "The present state of this parish (1806) I found such as might be expected from this account of Mr. Young's; in short it is not possible perhaps to find an instance of such improvement in the value of property, or a farm, the management of which does so much credit to the director of it (Mr. Shepherd), as Mr. Tharp's Crops large. Sheep (South- Downs) - unrivalled in the county. Layers - capital. Land - improving; the whole arrangement masterly".

It is no accident that Mr. Shepherd's name appears again and again in Gooch's pages: "Mr. Shepherd of Chippenham has invented many implements ........". He supplies information on many aspects of local farming.


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