The Farmers


The origins of Spondon farming are to be found in the Domesday Book that listed the holdings of Storii, a Saxon farmer. Afterwards, Earl de Ferrers was granted much of Derbyshire by William of Normandy including the Liberty of Spondon. Within the hamlet, certain land known as the demesne was retained by the Lord of the Manor. The remainder was distributed by him among the various grades of peasants. Free tenants held land in their own right from which they took the profits. Villeins had substantial holdings and bordars had smaller holdings in return for service to the lord. Certain charities, such as Gilberts Charity, held title under trustees to small pieces that were rented out for income. Others worked entirely for the lord and had no land of their own except perhaps for a cottage garden.
In the eighteenth century, farming in Spondon had hardly changed in character from the Middle Ages. Until 1789 all crops were grown in three very big fields, called Derby Field, Burrow Field, and Brook Field. These comprised about one thousand acres of arable land in a total of 2,693 acres for the parish. Each field was divided into strips, roughly 22 yards wide and 220 yards long, or ten per acre. There was a common meadow down alongside the Derwent used for growing hay for winter feed. Another two common pastures called the Leys and common land or 'waste' moor were north of Brook Field in the direction of Locko Park which could be used by all the villagers. It contained a wood for fuel, and grazing land for pigs, geese and cattle. Some of the fields had names, such as Cow Close and Stanbridge. There were several pingles where straying cattle would be impounded until the owner paid a fine to the constable for the release.
The names of the farmers and landowners of 18th century Spondon included names such as Antill, Ashby, Brown, Bailey, Barlow, Brentnall, Bradley, Bancroft, Birch, Byron, Cade, Carrington, Chambers, Clarke, Cooper, Coxon, Copestake, Dodsley, Dakin, Dalby, Fletcher, Freckleton, Goodwin, Gregory, Gretton, Grundy, Harrington, Hancock, Harrison, Haslam, Hebb, Holbrook, Holland, Holmes, Howton, Jerram, Jessop, Mee, Meakin, Middleton, Morley, Manlove, Nadin, Osborne, Parker, Parkyns, Parker, Peat, Porter, Piggin, Richardson, Rose, Rowland, Sales, Smith, Soar, Stenson, Summers, Taylor, Terram, Turner, Wilmot, Wall, and Wright. Some of these names appear on cemetery tombstones, and in parish registers as the bridegrooms of generations of Porter girls. A few of the names still remain among Spondonians of the present age.
In the reign of George III, a petition to Parliament called The Enclosure Act of 1789 surveyed the existing holdings and commons and then redistributed the land to provide for the concentration of holdings to eliminate the widely scattered and uneconomical small strips, and to form larger, more manageable farms. This caused the displacement of many crofters who had relied on the common for their smallholdings. As shown above, Mark Porter is named as one of the minor landowners in Burrow Field, near the Nottingham road, and the name "Porter's Piece" was used for it locally for many years. There were Porters in Spondon among the tradesmen who helped maintain the farming industry. In 1803, John and Joseph Porter, the blacksmiths, agreed with 140 other Spondon villagers to train for voluntary military service in the event of a possible invasion by Napoleon Buonaparte. John was born in 1771, and the register of St. Mary's (later re-dedicated to St. Werburgh) in Spondon, shows his burial on August 6th, 1845, aged 74 years. This was also the year of the great Irish potato famine that eventually caused 4 million Irish to emigrate to England and across the Atlantic.
In the nineteenth century revolutionary changes took place in the way farming was accomplished. From "Fatal Shore" authored by Robert Hughes we read, 'Never had there been deeper unrest among the common people of England than between 1810 and 1845; hopelessness, poverty and resentment were endemic to postwar Britain, and they expressed themselves in a rising sense of class crisis that traced the graph of England's economic malaise. The climax of this tension, between 1830 and 1845, saw more than 10 percent of the working population of England classed as paupers, thrown by the Poor Laws on the meager charity of the parish.
The impact of steam-driven farm machinery on unskilled rural labor was disastrous. One threshing machine, rented out and hauled from farm to farm, could put a hundred men out of seasonal work. Farm workers saw this as a cruel denial of a natural right to work and the result was rioting and burning of hay ricks in many counties. Most rural workers were below the poverty line at a shilling a day or less; some only earned three shillings a week.
The Tory politicians of those days saw the problem in Malthusian terms. It was futile to spend any money on poor relief, since it would only encourage the poor to breed and thus make the problem worse. If left to survive or starve, the poor would find their 'natural' level. And since the out-of-work did not, by definition, generate wealth, their survival was not an issue for the government rulers who were only elected by property-holders.
Aggravated by a slump in the economy in the 1820's, unrest was inevitable. The Corn Laws, framed to help English growers keep cheap European wheat off the market, naturally worked against the poor in times of shortage and by 1830 many farm laborers and families were deprived of bread. Protesters were ridden down by mounted yeomanry and imprisoned. Nearly 2,000 were tried in 34 counties, 481 were sentenced to transportation to Australia for terms of seven to fourteen years. Gradually the economy adjusted to mechanisation, and workers moved their jobs from farms to cottage-supported textile industries, and to work in mines, brickworks, canal and road building, carting of goods, or to factory industries in nearby towns, aided by the development of steam power and the rapid growth of railway transportation.
The farms of Spondon surrounded the village when I was a child. The farmers' children were my schoolmates and the production of the farms added to the local economy. The urbanization came with the building of large housing estates by the Derby Co-operative Society and Shardlow Rural District Council in the 1930's. A few Council houses were built on Willowcroft Road in 1923 and were supplemented by others in the early 1930's. Merchant Avenue was created by the Derby Co-op. and Cambridge Street was cut as an extension of Drury Avenue, intersecting Willowcroft Road.

Next came the building of Moult Avenue and Kirk Leys Avenue. The south-east farmlands disappeared, and time was fast running out for the north-easterly farms. After the building hiatus of World War II, Council housing estates were built between the Anglers Arms and Kirk Leys Avenue, and extending to Stony Lane. Private houses were built to fill any vacant plots in the village. Work resumed on the long-planned Borrowash by-pass, cutting the village into two halves. Another huge estate was built on Asterfields, climbing the hill slopes to Dale Road, and reaching Coxon's farm pastures where Dad and I had picked mushrooms together, so many years ago.