Englefield History

The Land


For centuries Englefield, like most of the rest of England, was based on agriculture and to a great extent this continues today, though in a very different form and employing far fewer people. While a crucial factor in the continued existence of Englefield was the consolidation of land ownership under a single family this only became the case just in time. Prior to the later years of the 19th century the land was still held in a variety of ways: much by the lord of the manor for himself with a bailiff in charge, some by tenants and lessees of the lord of the manor but some by other freeholders in their own right. The strips in the open fields that existed until the end of the 18th century were, of course, owned by the individual villagers who also had rights of common over other land.


The story of how agriculture developed in Englefield might, at first sight, support the sort of sentiments expressed by John Clare:


“Inclosure, thou’rt a curse upon the land,

And tasteless was the wretch who thy existence plann’d.”


and by an anonymous writer:


The law locks up the man or woman

Who steals the goose from off the common

But leaves the greater felon loose

Who steals the common from the goose.



For the many smaller landowners we see at the end of the 17th century had all gone by the end of the 19th in what might seem to be a "riches to rags" story in which some became tenant farmers and at least some ended up employed as labourers on land they once owned. They were not unwillingly dispossessed as the rhyme above suggests, though, but seem to have realised the sense of the changes taking place and sold up to exchange the often precarious business of making a living on their own account for the greater certainty of a guaranteed wage and accommodation.


Whether tenants or labourers they seem to have been treated well, with good quality accommodation provided and, after 1854 certainly, a landowner enthusiastic to try out all the latest improvements at his own in-hand farm (Chalkpit Farm) and to support like-minded tenants such as Jenkin Davies. Large new farmhouses were built all over the greater estate in the 1860s and 70s with sufficient room to accommodate the unmarried farm workers as well as the farmer and in October 1860 Richard Benyon postponed the annual rent audit from its normal date in January until April because the harvest season had been particularly wet.  He considered that the extra four months would give the tenant farmers more opportunity to bring their crops and animals into good condition and so get a better price than they would do if they had to sell them sooner in poor condition in order to pay next year's rent.



The aggregation of the estate under a single owner in the 19th century must have been one of the significant factors in retaining its almost unique characteristics through the 20th and into the 21st. On a much wider scale, had the national economic development brought about by the symbiosis between the industrial and agricultural revolutions which this represents happened it is certain that Britain would not have been able to create its empire, whose citizens volunteered in their millions to help  overcome the threats from dictators bent on European domination.


From Domesday to Ballard


In this picture the men on top of the load are F W (Jim) Smith (1911-1994) at the front and William "Billy" Cooper (1915-1986) towards the rear. So this picture may have been taken in the 1930s, 40s or even 50s.

© 2021 Richard J Smith

Englefield History

Englefield History

Englefield History
Englefield History