Englefield History

Into Modern Times

 

The formal enclosure by Act of Parliament between 1809 and 1829 had seen some of the landowners selling to Richard Benyon and this was despite the fact that some like John Horn had, with additional rented land, a reasonable acreage in a consolidated block, though with some outlying fields at considerable distance resulting from the enclosure of Tilehurst parish. The reasons why they or their heirs decided to sell may be varied but it is probable that economic reality played a large part.

 

In 1793 Britain had gone to war with France, a war that would last for over 20 years. This made import of food from Europe difficult and the price of bread rose. There was also a series of poor harvests to make matters worse. The Berkshire Magistrates devised a system of poor relief, known as the Speenhamland System, that was widely copied across much of the country. Unfortunately, the scheme had many disadvantages and may well have led to some smaller farmers giving up.

 

The situation did not improve after 1815, in fact it got worse. Interest on the national debt was a heavy burden on taxpayers and when, in 1816, Income Tax was repealed that burden shifted to indirect taxation which relatively benefited the rich and penalised the poorer people. Harvests in 1816 and 1819 were poor but after the war corn prices fell by almost a half due to the renewed import of foreign grain, leading to the imposition of the Corn Laws. These kept the price of wheat artificially high but led to fluctuations in food prices at a high level and led to distress among the working people.

 

While all of this did not much affect those large landowners who had still received rents from their tenants and also had income from other sources, the smaller landowners and tenant farmers (many, like John Horn, being a combination of both) were seriously affected and it must be no surprise that they opted to become workers on the landlord’s farms rather than suffer the problems and hardships of trying to make a living on their own account. This would be especially the case in places like Englefield where the landowner provided security, good housing, an effective local welfare system and alternative jobs as carpenters, bricklayers and so on for those of their children who do not want to work in agriculture. We note that in 1830/31 when the Swing Riots were causing disturbances and machine breaking in the nearby parishes of Bradfield, Bucklebury, Stanford Dingley, Yattendon, Basildon and Thatcham, Englefield seems to have escaped such unrest. Even those who opted to remain as tenant farmers benefited for in October 1860 after a wet harvest season, Richard Benyon announced that the rent audit due the following January would be postponed for four months. This he felt would give the farmers more time to dry cereals and fatten livestock so as to get a better price than they would if they had to sell in poor condition to meet an earlier demand for rent.

 

Matters may have been made worse by the tendency for the smaller landowners to leave shares in their holdings to several of their descendants. While the upper classes stuck fairly rigidly to a policy of primogeniture the yeomen tended to practise a modified form of gavelkind which, while it didn't necessarily involve equal shares, mean that individual holdings got smaller with each generation until becoming too small to support a family. Something of this can be seen in the case of the Horn family.

 

The survey of rents and tithes from 1844 shows us that while most of the land was now owned by Richard Benyon, there were still some small portions to which others owned the freehold. As was the usual case two maps were produced, one for the lord of the manor and one for the Church. The one for the church shows only the ecclesiastical parish but the lord of the manor’s map reproduced below shows also those parts of the estate that were outwith the parish boundaries, such as John Horn’s former farm at North Street and the six acres in Theale Meadow.

 

The coloured areas on the map show how the land was divided between the estate farms of Chalkpit, Mare Ridge, Wickcroft and Malthouse and that held in hand by Richard Benyon. The uncoloured areas show land the freehold of which was held by others. The majority of this land was still owned by the Rector of Englefield, then Edward Berens although Francis Eyre carried out the duties in the parish, the Rector of Wallingford and the Corporation of Reading, including the piece that still bears the name “the Corporation” today. Other freeholders at this time were: Caroline Hopkins (with some of the land belonging to Thomas Horn in 1762), George Appleton (with his house at Appleton’s Corner), John Price, Sophia Sheppard, John Blagrave, Sophia Draper, Edward Atkins, William Stone, John Welch, John Hall’s Charity and the trustees of the Englefield poor. Only George Appleton and Sophia Draper occupied their land themselves, the remainder lived outside the village and rented their land to others.

 

Over the rest of the century this land gradually came under the ownership of the estate.

 

The Farms

The Land

The tithe map of 1844

© 2020 Richard J Smith

Englefield History
Englefield History
Englefield History
Englefield History