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Way down on the fens

Sad tale of farming.

From 1604 until well into the 19th century, the Carre’s Grammar School’s only income was a share of the rents of the ‘estate at Gedney Fen and Gedney Hill belonging to the Trustees of Sleaford School’. [The residue was distributed to aged and impotent persons in New and Old Sleaford and Holdingham] The 1835 fire insurance policy with the Norwich Union also covered ‘a farmhouse, a barn and two stables adjoining with granary over one, a calfhouse, gighouse, bullock hovel and a wagon hovel’.

In 1841/2 a new kitchen. designed by ‘Robert Ellis Junior’ was put into the farmhouse, and subsequently, a tenant added a brew-house. At the time the tenant was recorded as Isaac Meatheringham. The tenancy passed to his son William, Isaac’s will being deposited with Edmund Clements, solicitor and clerk to the trustees of ‘Mr. Robert Carre’s Charity’. William Meatheringham recalled that, when he entered the farm, ‘everything was in such a wild and dilapidated state — there was not a fire grate in the House nor a bit of fencing, not a gate nor a quick hedge on the farm; there was about ten acres sown with wheat but it was … under water’. In the course of the 19th century. relations between trustees and tenants, and also between tenants were not always of the most cordial. Admittedly, farming at that time was just as hazardous as it remains in the 21st century. The extracts from the correspondence in the School archives will speak for them-selves. [The English is at times rather quaint!] One particularly unfortunate tenant was Mr. J. J. Laming. On 28 December, 1869, he wrote to Mr. Clements: ‘I have been to see Mr. Woods of Gedney Hill Mile and cannot make anything of him —he does not consider himself indebted to the Charity. There was nothing standing on the ground but a little Privy and that has been pulled down sometime since.’ Mr. Laming at times found it difficult to pay the rent. In the 1890s his letters include phrases like ‘I am having difficulties with the farm’, ‘I have no money left’, because of this most disastrous [sic] year’and’ I am glad to say that I have sold the wool just in time. You see by this month it gives me a better chance’. [We shall hear more of Mr Laming a little later on. ]

In 1849 William Meatheringham requested permission to plough up some six acres of grassland. ° the piece lying east adjoining the house on the road called Jiggle Bank’ and to cut down six poplar trees’ which are injuring the house’. The tenant before Mr Woods at Gedney Hill was one James Hurn. In August, 1853, Mr Hurn was served by William Meatheringham on behalf of the trustees with a formal notice to quit for non-payment of rent. In December of that year, William Meatheringham went there to collect Mr Hum’s share of the rent. The reception he received was. He will not pay me. He only laughed at it’. Moreover, ‘there was no stock on the land’.

Mr Meatheringham consequently stated his intention of taking Mr Hurn to Holbeach County Court. Persuading Mr Hum was not easy: after the aforementioned visit, Mr Meatheringham told Edmund Clements that he had been to see Mr Hurn seven times. However, finally Mr Hum wrote: ‘Tell me how much is due will send the cash by return of post

I remain, Sir, your true and humble servant’. Indeed on 17 December he did send the full amount due. But Mr Hum’s tenancy continued to prove problematic. There was the issue of an unauthorised chimney at the Gedney Hill Mill. Mr Meatheringham complained in December. 1856. That ‘the gateway and pigstye [are] quite a nuisance’ and Mr Hurn has ‘paid no acknowledgement for the chimney’. Nine days later Mr Clements declared that, if Mr Hurn ‘docs not do what is required of him. a person will be sent to lake down the chimney of the mill’ and an action will be brought for trespassing. The following June Mr Hum enclosed four shillings in stamps to Mr Clements ‘for four years’ rent for the ground the chimney stands upon and the flat toped [sic] code [sic] house’, and has requested that the pigsty should remain.

This sorry chain of events had ended by December, 1857. Mr Meathcringham wrote to Mr Clements to report: ‘James Hum has pulled down the pigsty but not bricked up the gateway and the hovel as the trustees specified… But now Mr Hurn who owned the Mill has fled to America’. Finally Mr Meatheringham ended his tenancy in 1863. His letter referred to the work he’d had done, and he ends: ‘I sincerely trust that my successor may enjoy the improvements that I have made for many years to come’.

The farm passed into the tenancy of the Mr Woods of whom Mr Laming could not make anything! And then to Mr Laming himself. Farming difficulties continued: ‘This last two days, the rain we have cannot see the land where the Horses where [sic] ploughing for water’. I have not made the rent off the land this last four years wet seasons. the land has not paid for seed and labour, [to] say nothing of the outlay [sic] of money, some fields [have I] been completely flooded [and I] could not get seed in to harvest it, and [in] other fields [I] had to fetch the stoukes [sic] out of the water … I am not the only one suffering. [The] other fields of my neighbours [are] in the same way –. 1 have spent a lot of money on the land in draining it and [doing] the dikes out.’ [26 December. 1880]

The following March Mr Laming told Mr Clements: ‘I have suffered my loss silently ‘[the writer’s underlining]. and ‘I must request a deduction of rent of ten shillings per acre… I have been very unfortunate with my sheep but not worse than my neighbours. Several of them [in] the next field to mine have not a sheep left -all dead with rot’. He felt it impossible to continue in that state of things: I have made it home for years and now [I] should not like to turn [my] wife and family out’. He was, obviously, anxious to know the decision of the trustees. Unfortunately the archives do not contain the trustees’ answers and reactions to the tenants’ letters. This small glimpse into conditions on the Gedney estates shows how the income from them remained small in the 19th century and why the school’s income had to be augmented from other sources.

Extract from Lincolnshire Past & Present winter 2001/2 by Douglas Hoare



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