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Agriculture and Landscape: Shepperton in 1941 By Robert Gant

Faced by the prospect of serious food shortages, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries launched the National Farm Survey (NFS) (sometimes referred to as the Second Domesday Book) in September 1941. The objective was to raise farm- ing standards, intensify crop production and mini- mise food imports from overseas. NFS records for 18 holdings (over one acre in size) around Shepperton include a copy of the confidential 4th June Agricultural Census Return completed by the occupier. These documents give the answers to 115 questions on the acreages of different crops, numbers of livestock, labour employed and work- ing horses kept. Although several small family-run nurseries and market gardens are omitted, the census provides an informative snapshot of farm- ing and horticulture in the early years of World War II. Crops and grass covered 982 acres. Seven catego- ries of agricultural land use were dominant: vege- tables produced for human consumption (223 acres), permanent grassland (219 acres), permanent grassland for mowing (80 acres), wheat (76 acres), potatoes (76 acres; including 61 acres of first earlies and 15 acres of main crop), oats (72 acres) and barley (68 acres). Fodder crops (turnips and mangolds) for cattle covered a further 20 acres. Several farms kept pigs and poultry for domestic use. Even in wartime, flowers were still grown on one of the nine quarter-acre plots at Russington Nursery in Green Lane. Several holdings had specialised in crop and live- stock enterprises. These included the large-scale production of vegetables for human consumption at Staines Road Farm (159 acres) and Hetherington Farm (43 acres), dairying at Duppas Farm (63 acres) and The Mead Dairy Farm (81 acres), and poultry at The Cottage Poultry Farm (1 acre) in Charlton. Arable farms, typically, grew a mixture of brassicas, root crops and salad vegetables. Dairy farms were self-sufficient in stock feed, producing hay, fodder crops and cereals. Intensive agriculture sustained local employment. Full records on paid labour are available for 14 of the 18 holdings. These cover 48% of the farmland. Statistics reveal a full-time workforce of 90 (49

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Part of the census from Hetherington Farm, 1941

males and 41 females) assisted by 38 casual (seasonal) workers (11 men and 27 women). We cannot tell from the 4th

June Census Returns how

and where The County War Agricultural Executive Committee had allocated tractors and farm machinery. We know, however, that these farms kept a total of 35 working horses. Hetherington Farm (43 acres) gives an insight into local circumstances. The occupier, William Clements, kept one working horse. This supported a permanent workforce of 6 (3 men and 3 women) in producing 9 vegetable crops: cabbage (14 acres), peas (8 acres), lettuce (4 acres), runner and french beans (4 acres), turnips and swedes (3 acres), rhubarb (2 acres), onions (2 acres), carrots (2 acres) and cauliflower (1 acre). An additional 5 women were employed, part-time, on a seasonal basis. Tractors drawing various kinds of tillage equipment would have been needed to support such labour-intensive production. Participants in the NFS would be overwhelmed by changes in the agricultural landscape during the past seventy.years. Swathes of residential develop- ment over farmland and nurseries, the imprint of gravel extraction, designation of land for recrea- tional purposes, major road developments and intrusion of industrial land uses have transformed the scene. In short: ‘metropolitan edgeland‘ has replaced the wartime ‘farmscape’.


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