Home » Articles » Recollections of the Land Settlement at Low Fulney by Monica Ilett

Recollections of the Land Settlement at Low Fulney by Monica Ilett

In the years between 1934 and 1939, at the height of the depression, over 1100 small-holdings were established within 26 settlements around the country. This was the Government of the time’s response to massive unemployment, especially in the Industrial North East of England. The scheme was set up with the help of the Plunkett Foundation and the Carnegie Trust charities.


(The Plunkett Foundation was set up in 1910 by Sir Harold Plunkett. It helps and supports rural communities and enterprises. The Carnegie United Kingdom Trust was founded in 1913, with a £10 million endowment from Andrew Carnegie. He defined its purpose as “the improvement of the wellbeing of the masses of the people of Great Britain and Ireland by such means as are embraced within the meaning of the word ‘charitable.’”)


The settlements were established in rural areas of Britain. Unemployed men with no background in agriculture could apply to be tenants. Successful applicants came from the heavy industry areas of Northumberland, Cumberland, and Durham. The men were vetted, given a medical, and — providing they passed — were given some rudimentary agricultural training. Once approved, they and their families would be given a small-holding of about 5 acres of productive agricultural land, with a small, newly-built, Dutch-style cottage, a large, wooden barn with a pigsty, and a large, coke-heated glasshouse. The men — with the support of their families — were expected to run their holding as a cooperative with the other smallholders within their settlement.



Fruit, flowers, and vegetables, especially salad produce, from all the smallholders in each settlement would be collected and taken to a central packing shed, where they were graded, packed, and loaded onto transport to go overnight to Covent Garden for sale. Each tenant then received notification of their produce sales. Smallholders purchased implements, machinery, seeds, and fertiliser from the central stores of their settlement’s office and packing area. Many of the original applicants didn’t make a successful transition from factory employees to self-employed smallholders and fell by the wayside.


By the 1950s, the smallholders’ produce was collected daily by tractor and trailer from the road accessing their land and taken to the central packing areas, where each member’s produce was graded and packed before being sent overnight to Covent Garden, in the capital. Each tenant had access, via a booking system, to the settlement’s tractor driver and equipment such as ploughs, harrows, and seed-sowing machines. Although some of the ploughing and heavy fieldwork was still done by horse in the 50s, the women were often to be seen in the fields, hoeing out the weeds from the growing plants.



By the 1970s, the number of settlements had reduced to eleven estates, and the viability of such a small acreage was becoming difficult to produce an acceptable standard of living for many families. In 1983, the Land Settlement Association (LSA) was abandoned, with all the small-holdings being privatised or sold off. Some tenants bought their small-holdings, and others were helped with purchasing theirs if they wanted to.


My family’s association with the Land Settlement began in the war years, when my mother, then still single, was a secretary in the Land Settlement office at Low Fulney in Spalding. Working often with the company accountant, she was so successful at mastering double-entry book-keeping, the accountant gave her the task of keeping the settlement’s accounts up to date along with her normal, secretarial duties. It was while she was working in the offices, she met a young man who worked in the central distribution area of the estate, and they married in 1942.


Some years later, in 1953, my father applied and got a job back on the estate. He was the foreman responsible for seeing to all the agricultural requirements of the tenants. In the early years of his job, he had a lovely, old shire horse to look after, called Boxer. He had a cosy stable in the old, brick outbuildings of the original farm, and a large paddock to use when he wasn’t ploughing.


Mum never had a “paid” job after she married Dad, but she was often found working alongside the women employed in the packing sheds, packing produce for the markets. Other times, she would be found pricking out some of the thousands of tomato seedlings for the tenants to plant out in their greenhouses.



Dad’s job entitled him to have a newly-built house, and so for the next 6 years I lived and often had holiday jobs on the settlement at Fulney. Our house had a large garden which Dad put to use growing produce not just for our use, and often he had us kids up early picking produce ready for collection by the tractor and trailer to send off to be sold. With the fresh fruit and vegetables from the garden and the estate, along with Dad’s aim with his shotgun producing rabbits, pheasants, and pigeons, Mum’s grocery bill was much smaller than it would have been and we had a fairly healthy diet during the post-war rationing.


I also had to deliver the estate’s weekly newsletter to all the tenants. Rain or shine meant Saturday morning saw me trudging around the estate on my bike, delivering the newsletters for my half-crown pocket money. Twelve and a half pence in today’s money!


The estate had a large, wooden community hall, where a weekly religious service was held each Sunday morning, followed by a Sunday school for us kids. There was a thriving WI group, which coerced my reluctant mother to be their local secretary. Whist and beetle drives, parties and dances were often held there, and each Christmas a children’s party for all the estate’s children, complete with Santa (usually one of the estate’s tenants), and a sack of presents for the children. My present was often a book.


Close by the community building was another large, wooden hut —the estate shop. It sold everything you could think of to do with horticulture. Seeds, hoes, spades, wellies, fertiliser, and pest control. My Dad ran the shop in the 50s whilst we lived on the estate. It was well known that if you ventured into the shop, you didn’t emerge until you had bought something! Arkwright had nothing on my Dad!


There was also a large pond near the Community Hut, possibly an ancient fish pond left over from the medieval Vetchery. The pond froze over most winters, and I used to be able to ice-skating with a friend and a pair of Fen skates, but only after Dad had deemed the ice safe.


Christmas also brought other benefits, as the lorry drivers who called each evening to collect the produce to take to Covent Garden brought boxes of treats from the workers in the capital. There were boxes of oranges, apples, nuts, dates, and sweets all divided up between the tenant and estate workers with children. Christmas 1959 saw me pack my case and leave the Land Settlement forever. My parents and siblings remained there until 1964.


The Low Fulney Estate Office was located in an ancient, historic building called Thornholm Grange, but it was also known as the Vetchery or the Vaccary, a medieval term for “Dairy.” The building had its origins in the 15th century and was thought to be the dairy farm for the Priory. By the 16th century, it had become a private residence. In 1823, a painting by a renowned, local artist depicts the building as a grand, three-storey, thatched farmhouse. Many alterations occurred in the following years, until the LSA purchased it for its estate office. Despite the many changes and additions of recent centuries, there still remain two brick-vaulted rooms dating from medieval times. During the 50s, that area of the building was strictly out of bounds, as it was deemed unsafe. Tradition has it that the building contains some of the last remnants of Spalding’s historic Priory. Today, this Grade II listed building remains in a derelict, neglected condition.




  • A Full History of the Land Settlement Associations by Peter Clark: https://www.severne.com/lsa
  • There is a YouTube film about a family from Northumberland’s journey to becoming Land Settlement tenants.


Vistor comments

4 Responses

  1. Yes Monica lots went on there & a great place to live. The monks house should be renovated
    a lot of history to it. Besides all the work that went on it was such a fun place to live for us kids we did always ice skate on the pond.You were so good at catching eels too. I have often gone back like everywhere so different

  2. Do you do talks for the woman’s institutes could you please let me know Thankyou Mal collishaw

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