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Farming in Great Bowden
Within Living Memory
2001-2006

Great Bowden is predominately a farming area and we had contact with local farmers right from the start of our group and recognised there was much concern amongst them about the future of their industry.  The Heritage Warden with help from a member of the group who had a background in farming and that of a farmer, outside the parish, produced a questionnaire to not only let them express their concerns but to find out how farming in the parish had changed over the past 50 years or so.

We wanted to talk to working farmers not just landowners and found there were 15 farmers, all men, who actually worked in Great Bowden but only three who lived within the parish.  Of these 11 completed the full interview and in several cases their wives added comments too.  The early interviews were done during the Foot and Mouth outbreak, with all necessary precautions.  Fortunately no farms in the parish were infected. 

We asked about farming families, why they became farmers in the first place, how long they had worked as farmers in their own right, how long the farm had been worked by their family and if there was anyone from the next generation who would take over. We asked about the acreage of the farm today, the acreage 50 years ago and how the field sizes had changed.  A complicated system of letting to other farmers emerged. 

We asked about the types of livestock and the types of crop grown. They all had sheep and nearly all had beef cattle but there were now no dairy cows or pigs in the parish.  The largest acreage was under wheat with barley, rapeseed and beans also grown. Most of the land in the parish is pasture. 

Most significant was the reduction in manpower over the past 50 years.  In 7 cases the farmer was managing on his own although they were mostly using contractors for certain tasks.   Some of the older farmers could remember just after World War II when they would have been 4-5 full time workers on the farms.  

Finally we asked for their views on the future of farming, organic farming, genetically modified produce and farmers’ markets.  All their comments were recorded and edited to appear in the booklet.

The survey part of the project was completed by spring 2002 and the group decided to make our findings public and celebrate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee with a farming exhibition over the long weekend in the mud barn in the village.  Permission was granted and we cleaned out the barn.  The floor was knee deep with muck including straw from an old roof.  When it was clean an interesting cobble stone floor was revealed.  

The floor was rather uneven but along with memorabilia, photographs and farming tools from past we displayed our findings from the survey and recent photographs.  There was a lot of interest in the mud barn and its history.  It is the last remaining vernacular mud building left in the village where once mud was a common material used for dwellings and barns.  Once the exhibition was cleared away the group settled down to an atmospheric feast in the barn, sitting on the straw bales and lighting the barn with lanterns.

The booklet Farming in Great Bowden Within Living Memory was finally published by Great Bowden Historical Society in 2006.  Requests should be made to their website.