Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Radcliffe Trust - Part IV: The Farms

The manor, which the Radcliffe Trust took over in 1713, was still largely an agricultural estate, as it had been for at least 800 years. Change there had been: the growth of commercial activity at Stony Stratford in the Middle Ages, and the forced abandonment of the old Wolverton village in the 16th century - but agriculture remained at the core.

Radcliffe assumed several major tenancies, which continued for the early part of the 18th century. Richard Wodell held the major part, about 550 acres which included the land around Wolverton House and what later became Warren Farm. William Harding was the tenant of Stacey Bushes Farm, which at the tim amounted to 289 acres. James Brittain held the 276 acres on the west side of the estate and probably lived near to the brick kiln. William Swannell rented 243 acres at the northern end of the estate and Thomas Scott rented 147 acres around the stone bridge on the Newport Pagnell road. There were also a number of smaller holdings - mostly closer to Stony Stratford.

Thomas Harrison was appointed estate manager in 1872 and served in this capacity for 36 years. he was succeeded by his son, Richard, who then put in another 49 years in the job. For 85 years the Harrisons loom large in Wolverton affairs. Not only were they agents for the Trust but also substantial tenants. Thomas Harrison farmed the land largely based upon Wodell's farm and between 1782-6 spent £1,840 rebuilding the farmhouse, which he named Wolverton House, and which still stands today. Harrison was paid an income from the Trustees as their agent and he also managed the Earl Spencer's estates in Bradwell, so he was a man of some resources beyond that of his income from farming, and it is thought that he employed a steward or bailiff to manage the day-to-day affairs of the farm and house him at some farm buildings in The Warren, later to be known as Warren farm. Harrison was a member of a new breed of farmer emerging in the late 18th century - the gentleman farmer.

During this period other families with generational continuity were emerging - the Ratcliffe family at Stonebridge House Farm and Park Farm and the Wilkinsons at Brick Kiln farm.

In many respects the best years of agriculture were over by the time of the Napoleonic Wars. Food prices had risen, but rents had also risen by 14%. Grain prices reached their peak in 1812 and then began to fall and farmers everywhere struggled. Rent reductions of 10% were allowed between 1820-24 and again from 1829-36. Farm labourers wages fell and unemployment was high. Desperate people responded by burning hayricks and destroying farm machinery. Everyone suffered in one way or another. Richard Harrison, probably the wealthiest man on the manor, was a partner in the Stony Stratford Bank, which failed in 1820, and he was left with considerable debts. The decline continued throughout the 19th century. In 1800, 80% of the population earned their livlihood directly from agriculture. At the end of the century that figure was down to 4% - an astonishing social change.

We can look back now and see that the coming of the Railways could not have been better timed in the case of Wolverton. Men who had been on borderline wages of 6s. a week, could now find work at Wolverton Station for 18s. a week. Had the London to Birmingham line gone through Buckingham, as first planned, Wolverton would have further declined, Stony Stratford, having lost the coaching trade, would have become equally poor, and I would not be writing this today.

4 comments:

kroma said...

I have just read your blog which included information about the history of Wolverton House. The Harrisons of Wolverton are ancestors of mine and I was so interested to read this. If anyone has any further information I would love to find out more.

Bryan Dunleavy said...

Most of the information I have comes from Dr John Radcliffe and his Trust by Ivor Guest, published in 1991. The book is probably available through amazon or alibris.
As agents for the Trust the Harrisons probably piled up a lot of correspondence. All of the Trust's papers are deposited at the Bodleian Library, Oxford. You may find things of interest there.
I also recall seeing the Harrison name on some plots sold on the Square, Wolverton - probably 1890s.

kroma said...

Thank you so much for that. As I live in Australia I will try Amazon and email the library at Oxford. From my research I believe the grandson of Thomas Harrison (Spencer Harrison)may have sold Wolverton House around 1900 but I haven't confirmed this yet. I am wondering what the Square, Wolverton is?

Bryan Dunleavy said...

I'll look into the Harrisons over the next few days and get back to you. The Harrisons were at Wolverton House until 1892. I don't know what the financial arrangements would have been at that time but the Harrison family never owned the property even though the family had built the house. I expect some financial compensation was made when the lease came to an end. The Trust documents would probably reveal the facts.
Unfortunately the Bodleian Library is not your ordinary library. You can get access for research but you have a long way to travel!
The Square or Market Square can be found on Goggle Maps. It was a development of the 1890s. The copy of the plan I have shows a block on the south side purchased by Jas. Harrison. This became the site for the Congregational Church which was replaced by the present building c. 1980.