The number of records available for a study of farming multiplies substantially from the 1790s, partly due to better record survival, but also because central government was beginning to pay more attention to the productive capacity of the land.
The documents can be considered in two categories:
- Records which cover a whole parish, but do not identify individual farms
- Records for individual farms
Those which do not identify individual farms are still a vital resource for parish studies, as they can give you an idea of what a ‘typical’ farm within the parish was like.
Annual agricultural returns (from 1866)
Crop returns for 1801
Other classes of record can provide information on individual farms, and will be of interest to family historians as well as local historians, but are not very well known. These include, chronologically:
Tithe records (mostly 1830s-50s)
Trade directories and the census can provide a limited amount of information about individual farms and farmers. Directories (many of which are now available online) list the names of farmers, will often indicate whether they are tenants, and will sometimes also give the name of the farm and its size, particularly for the larger holdings. Land tax returns from the early 19th century will reveal if they were owners or tenants. The decennial census schedules of 1841-1911 provide the names of farmers, may indicate the location of the farm, and can also give details of the acreage and number of employees. Land tax returns and the census can be consulted at the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland.
For a few lucky researchers, there may also be other original sources, such as farm diaries or stock books, or a farmer from the parish might have given evidence to a parliamentary committee, or to one of the agricultural visitors appointed by central government to investigate the state of agriculture around the country. Three such visits were made to Leicestershire between 1790 and 1809. Each of these three published reports has been digitised and is available online:
William Marshall, The Rural Economy of the Midland Counties: including the Management of Livestock in Leicestershire and its Environs; together with minutes on Agriculture and Planting in the District of the Midland Station (London, 1790)
John Monk, General View of the Agriculture of the County of Leicester, with Observations on the means of their Improvement (London, 1794)
William Pitt, A General View of the Agriculture of the County of Leicester, with Observations on the means of its Improvement (London, 1809)
The fastest way to search the many later parliamentary reports on agriculture, which may contain evidence from Leicestershire farmers, is through the digitised copies, for which you would need to make arrangements with a University library.
Records covering a whole parish
1801 crop returns
In 1801 parliament requested details of the acreage of every crop being grown. These records summarise the returns completed for each parish … [read more about crop returns]
In an attempt to understand the pattern of arable and livestock farming, in order to prevent future outbreaks of disease, the government began to collect agricultural statistics on farms, crops and livestock each June from 1866 … [read more about agricultural returns]
Records giving details of individual farms
1795 crop returns
Three types of record may survive: tithe files, tithe apportionments and tithe maps, although the latter two will not exist for parishes where tithes (a tax to the church) were extinguished through parliamentary enclosure of the land. Tithe records give information about the size and ownership of individual farms and about land use … [read more about tithes and tithe records]
1910 Finance Act records
The Finance Act of 1910 ordered a full valuation to be made of every property in the country and created a wealth of material about land ownership, occupation and land use … [read more about 1910 Finance Act Records]
National Farm Survey of 1941-43
A detailed survey of all farms of five acres of more was made between 1941 and 1943 … [read more about the National Farm Survey of 1941-43]
Details of farm sales, whether by auction or private treaty, can be found in newspaper advertisements, auction catalogues and in the sales particulars prepared by valuers, auctioneers and estate agents. We are fortunate in Leicestershire as the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland holds good collections of sales particulars, including a large collection deposited by auctioneers Warner Sheppard and Wade of Halford Street, Leicester, covering sales of farms and other properties across the county between 1916 and 1963. These are all listed in the card index for individual parishes, as are many other sales particulars. They can contain information about the buildings and their condition, the type of farming practised, total acreage, farm location (sometimes including the Ordnance Survey numbers for each of the fields), the separate amounts of arable and pasture land and details of any tenancy. Many farms have been placed on the market more than once, and will have more than one set of sales details, allowing their farming history to be traced at regular intervals through many years, perhaps to the present owner or until a farm was sold for housing development.