Opinion polls

Posted on Friday 9th March 2018

An interesting lead article from the February 1948 Estate Magazine, on opinion polls measuring people's priorities at the time, and highlighting the difference between city and countryside 


opinion polling




Issued by


EDITOR:                                             EDITORIAL OFFICE :

Major G. W. Anderson, M.C.                         "C.G.A." Axtell House, Warwick Street, W.1


VoL. XLVIII                                         FEBRUARY, 1948                              No.2




THE straw poll-so called one supposes because a straw shows the way the wind blows-has become a feature with most newspapers. One is informed which is the favourite film for the year, the popularity status of the respective political parties, details of domestic budgets and all that sort of thing. One such questioning put to the public by the Daily Express tried to find the priority job for the Government in 1948. Among the nine items listed, food came first, followed by housing, economic finance, exports, foreign relations, taxation, fuel, Empire development . . . and the ninth? Well if you must know, it was agriculture and it polled exactly 1 per cent! Food led the list at 41 per cent, with housing as its nearest rival, 29 per cent. Empire co-operation was twin sister to Cinderella agriculture with 1 per cent.


What are people thinking about? If food polls 41 per cent, why should Empire development and agriculture be rated so low as 1 per cent? Do they really think that the Argentinos, the Danes and the Dutch are fairy godmothers? Ridiculous!


The people are ignorant but it is not their fault entirely, because so much spoon-feeding goes on nowadays, especially in the form of propaganda, that the art of thinking things out for oneself becomes more and more difficult. I am going to tilt at Goliath and blame the N.F.U. for the lack of public interest in agriculture. The N.F.U. allocates a large portion of its not inconsiderable funds, for publicity purposes, and if the officials of that organization would only interpret publicity as "city public" and enlighten the masses about the importance of British agriculture, the result would be beneficial to both farmers and townsfolk. The latter probably think that the N.F.U. is an organization something like the N.U.R. so, in any case, it is just as well to let them know that the Farmers' Union is almost the only union that has not achieved greatness by advocating a strike policy on every possible occasion, for if farmers did strike, the townsfolk would starve.

Fire Protection and the Art and Craft of Thatching

Posted on Thursday 8th March 2018

We've been advising our clients on thatch protection for over 90 years! Here's an article from our 1928 Estate Magazine (nb not up to date advice) - call 01985850706 to speak to one of our thatch insurance specialists today.

thatch property insurance

(click image for full pdf)


Fire Protection and the Art and Craft of Thatching.




FOR the small country house there is, perhaps, no roof so pleasing in its general appearance as "thatch " and it is to be regretted that the fire risk usually associated with this type of roofing not only demands a higher rate of premium in respect of fire insurance, but also compliance with the local bye-laws prohibiting its use for houses which are not in an isolated position. This danger from fire, however, is to be apprehended more in the case of new roofs compared with old roofs which have been exposed to the weather and have become covered with a protective surface of mosses and lichen. The present-day revival of thatch, therefore, calls for some means of fireproofing the straws or reeds which are used.




As a roofing material thatch has many advantages is light in weight, Impervious to moisture, and of good weathering qualities. The materials usually employed-wheat straw, rye straw and reeds -are also good non-conductors of heat, and the buildings thus roofed are warm in winter and cool in summer, a feature which is especially desirable in the case of cowsheds and dairies. Its liability to strip during high winds, if the verge and eaves are not properly secured, is often put forward as one of its disadvantages in addition to fire risk, and another is that to some extent it provides a harbourage for birds and for vermin from which it may be difficult to dislodge them. 


Of the straws used, rye straw is preferable to wheat straw; barley straw and oat straw should only be used if wheat straw is unobtainable. The produce of a fairly dry summer is also prefer-able, and the straw should be cut just before it is fully ripe, only unbroken straw (which has not been through a threshing machine) being of any use as a thatching material. In many districts hazel rods are used, in conjunction with twine, for securing the straw pieces being laid at the verge and eaves to consolidate the surface and resist the action of the wind. These rods also serve to break the surface of the roof, with good effect when skillfully fixed.


One ton of good wheat straw will cover about four " squares " of roofing (a total of 400 feet square) at a thickness of 12 inches and will repair from five to six" squares " of old thatch. The life of wheat straw thatch is usually 15 to 20 years; rye straw should last about twenty-five years or more, but oat straw will perish in seven or eight years. A reed roof, however, will last from sixty to seventy years, if properly cleaned down and " knocked-up " about once every seven years.




Reeds for thatching purposes are grown chiefly on the Norfolk Broads and in the Fen district but may be obtained at other places throughout the country. They are cut when fully grown at the commencement of each year, preferably after a sharp frost which tends to remove waste grass and rubbish, and are then dried and stacked ready for use. When the roof is raftered they are secured by tarred cord in much the same way as straw thatch, but when laid over closely-set boards, iron hooks are used in conjunction with hazel rods laid horizontally across the reeds. The ridge is made separately in the form of a hood fixed at the completion of the roof, firmly secured to stout ridge poles built up with reeds, the actual capping being of hazel or willow.


In those districts where heath and furze are available picturesque effects are obtained by employing them as a finishing coat. It should be borne in mind, however, that a solid underlayer of good wheat straw must be provided, as three or four years' exposure will strip these materials to the bare fibre, leaving but little protection against the weather in consequence. In some counties the long shavings or " chips " produced in the manufacture of wooden hoops are also used for thatching, the ridge capping being carried out in rye or wheat straw.




The fireproofing agents which are commonly used for structural timber cannot be successfully applied to thatch, for the majority of these chemicals are soluble in water, and would be easily leached out by the rain. The exposed position which it necessarily occupies as a roofing material, is, however, not the only factor which has to be taken into consideration in selecting a suitable method of treatment, for all thatch has a certain characteristic texture which would be marred by the application of fire-resisting paint.


Although alum water is often recommended as a fireproofing medium, it must be pointed out that there is little to be gained by spraying the completed roof, for a few good drenchings by rain will quickly remove the whole of the alum which has been deposited or absorbed by either straw or reeds. If the solution is applied from the inside of the roof, however, or whilst the roof is in course of construction, using alum water to damp the straw, there is little doubt that the inflammability of the straw will be somewhat mitigated, but no measurable degree of fire resistance is assured if other conditions are favourable for an outbreak of fire . A solution prepared by dissolving sulphate of ammonia (28 lb.), carbonate of ammonia 14 lb.), boracic acid (7 lb.), lump borax (7 lb.), and lump alum (r4lb.) in 50 gallons of water is, however, more satisfactory than plain alum water.


Silicate of soda, which has also been recommended, is liable to make the straw brittle, but this brittleness is not so marked if the silicate is used in conjunction with powdered asbestos, the necessary solution being prepared by treating solid silicate of soda (120 lb.) and powdered asbestos (120 lb.) with 50 gallons of boiling water.




So far as the actual fire risks are concerned, a certain amount of protection may be obtained by interposing layers of "slag wool " (sometimes known as " mineral wool ") between the individual layers of the thatch. This material which is produced as a byproduct in the steel-making industry, consists of a mass of very fine fibres which interlace in all directions with some resemblance to cotton wool, and is perfectly incombustible and non-conducting. On this account it has been employed in large quantities for the insulation of walls and floors, and for " casing in " hot flue pipes, but in connection with thatch its use is something of a novelty, and is to be especially commended in that it cannot mar the aesthetic appearance of the roof.




An insoluble fire-proofing body formed within the cell walls of the thatch, where it will retain its fire-resisting ' qualities under all conditions of weather, and give little or no indication of its presence in the treated thatch, is probably the most desirable method of treatment. Of such materials which are available, " alumina " is one which not only proves satisfactory, but is fairly easily applied.


The materials used are aluminate of soda and bicarbonate of soda, both of which (like the chemical products already mentioned) may be obtained (as can the other materials referred to in this article) from the " C.G.A.," or from a wholesale chemist and druggist, or by placing an order with the local dry-salter. Treatment is carried out by soaking the thatch in a solution of the aluminate of soda, which is freshly prepared and made up to a density of I.I3 (as tested with the aid of a hydrometer), allowing fifteen to twenty minutes' immersion so that the solution is able to permeate into the cell walls of each individual reed or straw. The thatch is then transferred to a solution of the bicarbonate of soda (of the same strength or density), allowing the same period of immersion as before, and the material thus impregnated is rinsed in clean water and subjected to the action of steam for the purpose of decomposing the chemicals which have been absorbed, and so produce the insoluble "alumina." The treated thatch is then spread out to dry and is ready for laying.


The strength of the solutions specified is important, and should be carefully checked, as the extra expense involved in the purpose, the purchase of a suitable hydrometer, need not exceed five or six shillings. Watertight tubs should be used as receptacles in which to soak the thatch. On no account should galvanized iron tanks be used. The steaming operation may be carried out by spreading the impregnated thatch on boards laid on the ground and playing over it for from five to ten minutes with steam from a hose.


The provision· of an adequate supply of steam is the chief difficulty associated with this work, but high-pressure steam is not a necessity. It is, therefore, advisable to hire a small vertical boiler where any large quantity of thatch has to be treated, although for a roof of, say, 1,6oo feet super a coke-fired boiler of the type used for central heating may be pressed into service. If facilities can be obtained for doing the work at some laundry where a proper steam plant is available or if it is possible to enlist the services of a stationary traction engine for the supply of the steam, so much the better.


In many cases the thatch may be treated in situ (for buildings which are already thatched), the respective solutions of aluminate of soda and bicarbonate of soda being applied by spraying, with the aid of a large garden syringe or a small spraying machine similar to those used for the treatment of crops with an insecticide. A spell of dry weather must, of course, be selected for carrying out this work, and sufficient time should be allowed for each application to soak in. Five good drenchings with the aluminate of soda, followed by one of clean water to rinse the surface of the thatch, and then five more drenchings with the bicarbonate of soda solution will give a good factor of fire resistance after the final treatment with steam.




As an alternate method of treatment (without the necessity for steam), the thatch may be soaked in a solution of common salt and sal-ammoniac, prepared by dissolving 2 lb. of each of these materials to every gallon of water used. After fifteen to twenty minutes' immersion, the thatch is air-dried, and placed in a second tub containing river " silt " suspended in water (using one bucket of silt, or mud, to three or four buckets of water). In this way the solution which has been absorbed becomes "fixed" within the cell walls of each individual reed or straw, so that it is immune to the action of the rain. The thatch is then spread out in the sun to dry, dipped into powdered asbestos which has been mixed with water to the consistency of a pulp, and allowed to dry once more. It is then ready to be laid.


From some obscure reason the thin coat of asbestos applied in this manner shows no tendency to scale under the influence of the weather, and neither does it affect the appearance of the thatch in anyway.




To these remarks some notes on the actual operation of thatching with wheat or rye straw may be appropriate, more especially as there are, at the present moment, many rural cottages which are lapsing into delapidation for lack of pluck in organising the repair of the thatch. It is generally overlooked that this work may be taken in hand by any intelligent working gardener or farm labourer (with no previous experience) if the services of a professional thatcher cannot be procured.


The actual operation applied to ordinary shaped roofs is quite simple though seemingly laborious at first. The only materials needed, besides the straw, are round rods or battens, and a supply of stout hemp twine which has been well tarred. The tools comprise a pointed wooden bodkin about 2 feet long, with an eye large enough to take the tarred twine; a wooden " bat " for consolidating the straw, so that the bundles lie closely together; an ordinary wooden rake as used for haymaking; and a long, sharp curved knife for trimming the surface and edges, a tool ably provided by an old scythe blade mounted in a suitable wooden handle. To this equipment must be added a ladder long enough to extend from the ground to the top of the roof, lying parallel with the slope.


The straw is first prepared by being spread out, well douched with water, and turned over with the fork until thoroughly moistened. It is then drawn from the heap in bunches, grasped by the heads, and arranged in bundles by whisking it through the air with a circular motion. These bundles-which are known as "yealms "-are then tied near the head with a twist of tarred twine and are passed up to the thatcher for the thatching operation.


Assuming that the roof has been battened in the usual way-by nailing the rods to the roof timbers about 12 inches apart - the work is started from one of the gable ends or from a hip, and is carried on from right to left, working upwards from the eaves to the ridge in strips which may be conveniently reached without removing the ladder. These strips are usually about 2 ft. 6 in. wide. Throughout the operation the "yealms" are pressed and beaten sideways, so that they lay tightly against each other, and in position (laid one above the other, so that the fixings are covered) they are secured to the battens by the tarred twine which is thrust through the thatch, with the aid of the bodkin, by the worker on the outside of the roof to his assistant inside the roof, who passes the twine round the batten and secures it. A thickness of at least 12 inches should be aimed at, as this will diminish when the straw settles down.


The ridge may be finished in various ways, but the simplest is to lay a reversed top row of "yealms" with the butts uppermost, bearing one against the other on opposite slopes of the roof, and to secure these by hazel runners tied down through the thatch to the ridge pole. On completion, the roof surface is raked to remove any tangled or loose straw, cleaned up with the knife to a smooth, unbroken surface, and trimmed at the verge and eaves. The eaves should be secured against the effects of the wind by pinning or tying hazel rods on the surface, taking care to drive the pins into the thatch in a horizontal direction instead of directly downwards through the thatch.


The eaves should always be carried well over the face of the wall, and when cut on the skew, or at right-angles to the vertical, they should stand out 18 to 24 inches from the face of the wall, in order to throw the rain clear. In cases where they are within reach of cattle, damage may be minimised by tarring that part of the straw, or by covering it with galvanized iron wire netting. This netting, carried over the whole of the roof surface and fixed by staples driven into the thatch, will also prevent severe attacks by birds which are a menace to thatched roofs where they are relatively uncommon.

Educated Women and the Land

Posted on Thursday 8th March 2018

On International Women Day we've found an over-100-year-old article in our Estate Magazine, promoting women as farmers. Following Minette Batters's election as NFU President, we though this may be of interest.

International Women Day #IWD2018

(click image for full pdf)

Educated Women and the Land


THERE is a great and growing demand for educated women on the land. Lady gardeners, ladies to work in orchards, to attend to dairies and poultry, to assist in private and market-gardens and help in landscape work are being urgently sought from one end of the country to the other, and those who for the past twenty years have been suggesting that women should take up this kind of work are justified of their prescience.

It was in 1892 that the first horticultural college for women was established. This was at Swanley, in Kent. Later half a dozen other horticultural and agricultural colleges and County Council centres threw open their doors to women students; and a number of private teaching establishments were opened in various parts of the country, the whole capable of affording instruction to some 200 pupils per annum.

Yet up to seven years ago the demand for women thus trained was trivial. Indeed, writing in 1908, Viscountess (then the Hon. Frances) Wolseley, who had herself six years earlier commenced to give instruction to pupils in her garden at Glynde, Sussex, stated explicitly that the supply of women gardeners was then in excess of the demand; that while the number of women students at horticultural colleges increased annually, and while the profession appealed to many healthy, vigorous young women who sought an outdoor life, there were already many who, having completed their education, were seeking posts, and apparently failing to find them.

During the last seven years, and particularly since July, 1914, we have changed all that. The war has given the outdoor woman worker her chance. Already the demand far and away exceeds the supply; and, judging from reports bearing witness to the very great satisfaction these women workers are giving to their employers, there is little doubt that the war is rapidly opening up a new avenue for the outdoor woman worker. Before the war she was slowly but surely making her way. The out break of war - the rush to the Colours of young men and the necessity for filling the places of at least some of them - has vastly hastened matters and given the outdoor woman the chance to prove her worth. Consciously or unconsciously she is taking advantage of the opportunity, and doing it so thoroughly that it seems more than probable that lady gardeners will in future be as much m demand as men, and will hence-forward occupy no inconspicuous place on staffs in both public and private gardens, as well as among commercial fruit growers, market gardeners, poultry rearers and dairy farmers.

To women of the working class this kind of life does not appeal. It is quite true the last census returns show that 94,000 women and girls were, in 19II, employed upon the land, of whom 20,000 are described as farmers and graziers, and 2,449 as market gardeners. But the majority of these are daughters and wives helping fathers and husbands. As to the rest, they are women relatives of farm labourers, and are chiefly to be found in Scotland and the north of England. South of the Humber and the Mersey scarcely a woman of the working classes - speaking, of course, by comparison - is to be found on the land. It is "beneath the dignity" of the wives of most farm labourers to help in any outdoor work, and very few indeed of them will have anything to do either with farm or garden life or animal industry. Most of the hop-pickers and potato gatherers are obtained from the towns rather than from the countryside.

The new recruits to land work are the daughters of professional men, successful tradesmen, or men of small independent means - young ladies who, having played hockey at school and enjoyed long cycle rides at the week-ends, and an outdoor life at the holiday season, abhor typewriting and office work, hate to bend their backs all day over useless "fancy work" which can be done better, quicker and cheaper by machinery, shrink from the monotony and indignities of a governess's existence, and see no use in art studies which lead only to penury and disappointment. An outdoor life, with freedom from the cooped confinement of four walls, with its strenuous work, its absorbingly interesting disclosures in connection with animal and vegetable life, makes much more effective call upon them. The propagation of plants from seeds or cuttings, the study of plant diseases and soil bacteria, the need of eternal watchfulness for the appearance, and care in preventing the spread of disease, and combating the multiplication of insect pests, arouses their interest in things scientific; the opportunities that present themselves in the preparation of garden beds and herbaceous borders for the exercise of artistic taste, and the joy of growing glorious flowers and fine un-blemished fruits, all add to the attractiveness of horticulture as a calling. Dairy work and poultry farming -where is there the woman who does not enthuse over newly-hatched chickens and fluffy little ducklings? - make equally clamant call on others. And so it has come about that the class from which the future women workers on the land is being recruited is that which can give its daughters a good secondary education, the class which is learning to free itself from the shackles of convention and is realising more than any other in the country that there is much to be said for the dignity of labour.

Whilst amongst men there has been a slackening of effort, an inclination to sneer at those who put their backs into their work and do the best of which they are capable, a deliberate teaching of "ca' canny" methods - in other words, slackness and idling - these women are realising that there is dignity in labour - pleasure in doing well and truly and to the best of their ability the work that lies before them; and they are, therefore, already succeeding, despite the fact that these particular fields of labour have only just been opened to them.

That many of them are so succeeding is beyond dispute. Mrs. Roland Wilkins, who has been conducting an inquiry into the subject on behalf of the Women's Farm and Garden Union, provides incontestible proof of that. To what she testifies reference will be made later. Within the writer's own knowledge are four typical instances. One is that of a young lady, the daughter of a merchant, who, tiring of photographic re-touching, sought work on a fruit and poultry farm. There was some little diffidence in employing her at first; but labour was scarce, and some one to cart the fruit to the local shops and to the station and to assist in managing the poultry was required. She was engaged. In a week she was quite capable of harnessing and controlling the cob, and from the second week was doing most of the work of one of the men who had enlisted, and the whole of that of a boy who had been entirely engaged on poultry work. Responsibility was placed on her shoulders; she shirked nothing, and now, at the end of twelve months, is leaving to start a poultry farm of her own. During the twelve months she has done all the carting work, has cleaned the harness, kept her pony and light lorry clean and spick and span, tended the poultry, making boilings of greenstuff and mixing the food, has gathered the eggs and set broodies, helped to attend to incubators and feed the chickens; and throughout has kept poultry houses scrupulously clean. She has learned also how to kill, pluck, draw and truss chickens for market; how to grade plums and apples and pack them for the railway, and innumerable other things likely to be of use in her own venture. Two other young ladies, "A," the sister of one of our gallant commanders in the Dardanelles, and herself a sculptor; and "B," the daughter of a professional man, after only a year's study at the Horticultural College at Arlesey, were appointed under-gardeners at a country house in the North. The wages to commence with were 15s each per week, with a neat and comfortably furnished cottage, with coals, light and vegetables free. They took the job. For the first week or two they were, at the end of each day, too tired to change or do anything but eat and go to bed. But they "stuck it," and in a few weeks were quite fit, and doing, with ease, as much work as any of the men under-gardeners had done, and doing it as well, if not better. Even the head-gardener - with a prejudice against women - admitted that they were "doing fairly well," the worst fault he could find being that at the start they "slopped water about" indiscriminately. On the other hand, the owner of the garden is delighted with all they do, and is glad that the war compelled the change. The fourth case is that of a young lady of independent means, a B.A. of Liverpool, who took up horticulture in a school, then worked as an under-gardener, and is now back at college teaching others and working with the freedom and muscular ability of a man, and with far greater delicacy, intelligence, discrimination and artistic taste than any ordinary working gardener could be expected to display. These are the only women outdoor workers with whom the writer has come in personal contact; each is in her way a success; each has gained in health and strength by the outdoor life, and not one of them has lost the charm of womanhood or the refinement which birth and education have bestowed. They have glorified their labour; their labour has in no way demeaned or degraded them.

 Mrs. Roland Wilkins, in an exhaustive report, to which we have briefly referred above, published in the Journal of the Board of Agriculture, and reprinted by the Women's Farm and Garden Union, tells a similar story. It is a plain and unvarnished one, free from unwarranted enthusiasm or highlights, for she dwells just as much on the drawbacks and failures as she does on the advantages and successes. That there have been failures goes without saying. In every case the cause of failure is, however, definite; and it is difficult to imagine that even the cleverest of men could have succeeded under such handicaps as those with which the women who failed had started. The causes of failure amongst women who started holdings of their own were:-

(1) Insufficiency of capital, resulting in not being able to withstand a bad season; in not being in a position to put sufficient labour into the land; in trying to live on the business the first few years before a business connection was established.

(2) Insufficient experience, a start being made directly after a college training, before gaining further experience in the branch of horticulture to be taken up.

(3) Breakdown in health, which has often been an outcome of the first two causes.

Mrs. Wilkins investigated forty-three cases of women with small holdings, of whom five only had been obliged to give up owing to lack of capital or want of business habits. Of the rest, eighteen were working market or nursery gardens ; eight holdings in which gardening predominates, four are carrying on the gardens at their homes on a commercial basis; three have jobbing businesses ; four have private gardening schools, and one has specialised in seed growing.

In referring to the success achieved Mrs. Wilkins reminds her readers that nearly all the under-takings she investigated were the outcome of a training which was only instituted thirteen years ago; that very few of the holdings had been going more than seven or eight years, and a great many only four or five. In almost every case the garden has been made from a bare field, and the initial capital invested has been high, especially where much glass has been put up. It takes at least three years (she adds) before the land is fully developed and a connection established, and it may be much longer with bad seasons, or initial mistakes on the business side.

Bearing these conditions in mind it is, to say the least of it, encouraging to find that though the majority may be only supplementing a small income - and that is something under the circumstances referred to - some are making a decent living, and others are making money. One woman who has been established twenty-three years has in that time trebled her capital of 1,000l., and is making a profit upon it of 11 per cent.

As to women gardeners in salaried posts, Mrs. Wilkins investigated seventy-one cases and found that eleven were single-handed, thirty-eight had one or two assistants under them, sixteen had three or four assistants, and six had from five to nine under-gardeners. Of 100 trained women holding such posts, 31 per cent. received from 52l. to 70l.per year, 46 per cent. received from 70l. to 90l., 12 per cent. from 90l. to 100l., and 11 per cent. over 100l. Among teachers of gardening the salaries range from 70l. to 150l. per annum, and just as there is an increasing demand for lady gardeners, so also there is a decided opening for qualified gardening teachers, because proprietors of girls' schools are extending the scope of instruction by making horticulture a special feature of the curriculum.

As to openings in agriculture, Mrs. Wilkins-leaving out of account the widows of farmers and the daughters who are running the farms left to them, because obviously they have had a life-long training-holds out no very great hopes for women who may have nothing but a year or two of college or school instruction to guide them, though she is able to give four instances where women have, on holdings varying from 27 to 65 acres, made a living out of the land ; and other in-stances of women who are making a living out of cheese factories, small dairy holdings, and by taking salaried posts in large private dairies. The best incomes, however, from dairy work are those earned by lady teachers to County Council and other authorities.

Poultry farming is, she points out, a very risky occupation for anyone without full experience; but she gives three instances of women all working on different lines-one, who is producing eggs on the intensive system; a second, whose eggs are gathered from fowls kept on the open field system (that is to say, with 57 acres of land on the pasture of which the poultry have free range); and a third, who devotes herself almost solely to the day-old chicken business and runs thirty-two incubators, for the supply of eggs for which she keeps 500 stock-birds. All three are highly successful. On the other hand, "those who have failed to make a living out of it, or who have lost all their capital, are legion. This, how-ever, should be no more than a warning to anyone not to take it up lightly without adequate knowledge and experience, and, possibly, the right instinct."

With such evidence before us it is quite clear that young ladies of the middle and upper middle classes can, given the necessary training, make as good a living on the land as, and a much more healthy one than, they could expect to make as typists, bank clerks, at post office counters or in Civil Service appointments. It is quite true that in the colleges and schools the fees are comparatively high when the ultimate remuneration is borne in mind, but, as Mrs. Wilkins points out, there are certain advantages in outdoor work to which a money value cannot be attached; and to many women the important point maybe, not so much whether gardening or farming pays, but whether an intelligent woman, coming into it from the outside with certain qualifications and having had sufficient training, can hope to supplement a small income, or, alternatively, be able to live after having invested in it the few hundred pounds she possesses. The answer is that quite a number of women are doing this; they find the work congenial though hard, and the life healthy. Those who have not invested all their capital in the business, but retain a small private income, are not involved in an actual struggle for bare existence. They have their own homes and live an independent life; they get many of the necessities of life thrown in which in another sphere on the same in-come would be regarded as luxuries: such as fresh air, fresh eggs, butter, vegetables and milk, and possibly a pony to drive, and they can wear old clothes. The life is not monotonous to those who understand it, but full of change with the varying seasons of the year and the different work the changing seasons bring. A money value cannot be put on these things; but to women who prefer the country to town life, and to whom a rural career, even if at-tended by a reduction in income, would be preferable to more highly paid but uncongenial work in town lodgings or private situation, the advantages are priceless.

It is good to find that the Government is also realising that women may play a not unimportant part in rural development. Some time ago the Board of Agriculture requested the Conference on Agricultural Education for Women to consider " the pro-vision made in England and Wales for the agricultural education of female students of sixteen years of age and upwards, and report whether the existing facilities are sufficient, and if not, to what extent and in what direction these should be developed and improved."

As we go to press we learn that the Conference has presented its report and recommendations. These latter are comprehensive, and if carried out should help to educate women, for whom the demand already exists, and prepare them for the work that is awaiting them. They recommend, among other things, that farm schools, or fixed courses of instruction in lieu thereof, should be increased so as to provide one for every county or two counties; that at one or more of the existing agricultural colleges a systematic long course for women should be instituted, covering all branches of agricultural work, practical and scientific; and that scholar-ships should be provided. Other recommendations are that domestic economy should always be included in the curriculum, and the institution of a national examination in poultry management. It is "up to" women to see that these recommendations are not suffocated in unsympathetic official pigeon-holes, but are carried into effect.

Dartington Hall, 1928

Posted on Wednesday 7th March 2018

An article on the fascinating history of Dartington Hall from our 1928 Estate Book


Dartington Hall(click image for full pdf)

Dartington Hall, Devonshire.



" GLORIOUS Devon," as its loyal inhabitants love to call their shire, can boast of many noble houses, but few are so remarkable as Dartington Hall. It has been in a ruined condition for a long period, and appealed in vain for some kind hand to raise its fallen fortunes, but in vain. The task was too enormous for anyone without unlimited wealth to attempt. At long last a benefactor arose in the person of an American millionaire, Mr. E. K. Elmhirst, who has purchased the property, and is carefully restoring the mansion, not for his own pleasure alone, but partly for the establishment of an agricultural college on lines of his own devising.


Dartington is one of the oldest inhabited sites in the county. In Saxon times it was known as Derentun. It commanded the approach to the two main fords of the Dart. Across these fords was brought the tin mined on Dartmoor and conveyed in panniers by ponies. In the Register of Shaftesbury Abbey there is a record that in 833 A.D. a Dorset-Saxon lady named Beorwyn, resigned her share in her father's estate near Almer in exchange for a site at Derentun-homm in Dommonia, the ancient Darting-ton. The Saxon King Cynewulf was the conqueror of Devon in the eighth century, so that we may conclude that there was a Saxon homestead at Dartington about the year 765. The lady Beorwyn was probably the ancestor of Alwin who held the estate just before the Norman Conquest and was dispossessed by the Conqueror in favour of his friend William de Falaise, and Dartington became the head of a Barony or Honour. The Norman Baron had no son, and the estate passed to Martyn de Tours, Lord of Camois, in Wales, and of Combe Martin. For six generations it was held by the FitzMartins, and failing a male heir it passed by marriage to James Lord Audley.


Dartington seems to have been unfortunate in losing its heirs. Lord Audley left no issue and it was escheated to the Crown; and Richard II granted it to Robert de Vere, Earl of Exeter and Earl of Oxford, whom the feeble monarch created king of the half-unconquered Ireland. After the success of the revolting Barons at Radford Bridge against the royal forces led by de V ere, he fled the country. Richard then gave Dartington to his half-brother John Holland, Duke of Exeter, who erected a magnificent mansion with walls of black marble in all the beauty of the decorated style of English architecture.


Fate has not always been kind to the owners of Dartington. This Duke, in 1399, met his on the scaffold, but his wife, being a sister of Henry IV, retained the estate, and her son Henry, Duke of Exeter, in spite of his sire's treason, inherited it. His wife was the sister of Edward IV, but left no children. The estate hanged hands rapidly. The powerful Devonshire Courteneys, the celebrated and munificent Margaret, Countess of Richmond, founder of St. John's College, Cambridge, resided there, and then came Sir Arthur Champernowne, a valiant soldier and Vice-Admiral who, when Queen Elizabeth reigned, helped " to singe the beard of the King of Spain," fought in Ireland and was a favourite of the Queen. His mother had been governess to Her Majesty. His sister, Katherine, by her two marriages, was the mother of Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Humphry Gilbert.


So they were all a very brave and martial family, and established the fame of the gallant sea-dogs of Devonshire. Sir Walter Raleigh's memory is associated with Buckland Abbey, and also Sir Francis Drake, and there is kept Drake's famous drum, of which the poet sings:-


" Take my drum to England, hang et by the shore,

Strike  et when your powder's running low;

If the Dons strike Devon, I'll quit the porto' Heaven,

An' drum them up the Channel as we drummed them long ago."


Some changes were made in the mansion by these Tudor owners. The gabled front is Elizabethan, but some sad alterations were constructed in Georgian and Victorian times, when sash windows came into fashion. Sir Arthur Champernowne and his friends loved the game of bowls, and a bowling-green was made, and the sunk garden was probably the mediaeval tilting yard.


Large as it is, the mansion was still greater when John Holland, Duke of Exeter, first built it. It then consisted of two quadrangles divided by a range of buildings consisting of the great hall, with kitchen, buttery, and other offices. The west quadrangle has disappeared, but the east is tolerably perfect. We will first examine the great baronial hall, which must have been one of the finest in the kingdom. It is now roofless, but the present owner has determined to remedy this defect. The roof was of hammer-beam construction of carved oak resembled that of the great hall at Westminster, and embellished with arms, including those of Richard II and Duke Holland.


It was removed about 1810 by Archdeacon Froude, rector of Dartington and tutor to the young owner, as it was considered unsafe. The hall is approached by a very fine porch, crowned by tower and clock erected in Georgian times, which is well vaulted and bears on the keystone the White Hart chained, the badge of Richard II. The measurements of the hall give some idea of its size, being 70 ft. long, 40 ft. wide, and 50 ft. high. The roof was supported by beautifully carved corbels in the form of angels bearing shields. All these are early fourteenth-century work, which is evidenced by the clipped hair of the angel supporters, a fashion prevalent in the fourteenth century as in this twentieth century, which fashion we now call " bobbed." The hall was heated by an open fire in the centre of the hall, as cinders and ashes have been found under the floor, while a louvre in the roof would let out the smoke. This ancient form of "central heating " scarcely resembles the modern style. The Tudor owners wanted a little more warmth, and a huge fireplace, 18ft. wide, was erected, probably by Sir Arthur Champernowne. The solar has been splendidly restored by Mr. Elmhirst, the mansion beams having been cut out of timber grown on the estate. Our ancestors used to watch secretly the conduct of their retainers and domestics in the hall, and here there is a secret squint arranged for that purpose. The plan of a baronial hall has been preserved with the screen and its three doors.


The mediaeval kitchen is still in existence though not yet restored. It has two huge fireplaces, and on the sides of each are corbels for the support of beams to which the spits were attached and several whole carcasses could be cooked at once. Some of the old bedrooms have been restored, including the Countess's room. This lady is supposed to have been the daughter of Count de Montgomeri, the Huguenot leader, and was married to Gawen Champernowne. She does not seem to have inherited the piety of her family and was divorced in 1582. How-ever, after the divorce had taken place, the couple discovered that they were really very fond of each other, and came together again and had several children. Dartington is haunted by a countess ghost, who may be the same erring wife of whom tradition speaks.


Returning to the eastern quadrangle, which is nearly complete, we see a long range of buildings on the north side, formerly divided into tenements, and on the east side a large building . containing a cider press, while on the west was formerly the entrance gate to the courtyard of the mansion, which will be reconstructed when the transformation of this wonderful house is complete.


Formerly, as in many English houses, the parish church stood close to the mansion-too near, as many of the owners of old houses deem. So here, the old church has been pulled down, and a new one erected in r88o about a mile away. The old tower and churchyard remain, and happily much of the furniture and fittings has been removed and placed in the new building, which is a mixture of several styles, and will puzzle immensely the architects and antiquaries of future ages when they try to read its history writ in stone.


Such is the story of this noble Devonshire hall. Some American citizens have robbed the Old Country by transporting across the Atlantic some of our ancient dwellings, such as the Priory at Warwick. Mr. Elmhirst is repaying the debt by restoring Dartington to its ancient beauty and glory, and the nation should be grateful to him, and especially the County of Devon, which otherwise might have lost one of its greatest treasures.


Timber Houses

Posted on Tuesday 27th February 2018

An article from our 1938 Estate Magazine by Baron Knut Bonde, a Swedish aristocrat settled in Scotland, on a possible solution for Scotland's housing crisis.


Could this be part of a solution to our current housing difficulties?


Insurance for timber framed buildings is available through our experienced insurance team.


timber house

(click picture for full pdf of scan)


Timber Houses

A Scottish Experiment


FOR various reasons there is a great shortage of houses in Scotland and according to official figures 250,000 are required before even the most crying need is satisfied. As nothing approaching the number of houses which should be built yearly are being constructed, this formidable figure grows every year, and as numbers of houses are condemned owing to the higher standard set by the authorities, little is being done to end the house shortage.

When I came to live in Scotland ten to fifteen years ago conditions were already bad, though not as distressing as they are at present, and when I heard of the great housing difficulties in Scotland I wondered why houses could not be built of timber as in Sweden.

When we Swedes talk of a timber house we really mean a solid house, not an "army hut," "portable house," or a "wooden shack." Our houses are solidly built to last for centuries. There are in Sweden large country houses built in solid timber in the seventeenth century, and many of our old barns are hundreds of years old. In Norway there are churches eight and nine hundred years old, dating back to the pagan days.

I decided to show the people of my new home country what we meant by solid timber houses in Sweden, and in 1926 four timber houses designed by British architects, so as to suit the conditions over here, were erected at Charleton.

It took a couple of months to prepare the ground, bring over the building materials and erect the houses with British labour, but as soon as they were ready the representatives of local authorities in this part of Scotland were invited to view the buildings and were urged to solve their housing problems by building similar houses. Yes, they found them very nice and cosy, but how would they stand the climate? Surely there was no climate in the world as damp and as bad as the Scottish. It was no use my assuring them that the Swedish climate was, if anything, worse, that Norway which is one of the dampest countries in the world, has hardly anything but timber houses, no, it was impossible to convince any of these housing committees, architects and surveyors that timber houses would do for Scotland. Finally, I pointed out how solid they were and how they had been roughcast to look like brick houses, as is done in Swedish country towns, but this almost made my case worse, for the visitors assured me all the roughcast would come off in a year or two, since it could not possibly stand the damp winters of Fife. Nevertheless, it was admitted the houses were solid-almost too solid.

"Out of the timber you use for one house, four houses could be built," one builder assured me, and when I see what some-times passes under the name of timber houses in these days in England I can quite believe his statement. There the matter seemed to end.

Conditions grew worse, from every quarter of Scotland there were complaints and lamentations, no houses were being built, and what could be done? Steel houses were tried, concrete houses were built, but were very expensive in upkeep, bricklayers became more and more scarce and the situation seemed almost hopeless. I continued to urge everybody to try timber, real, solid timber houses. Finally the Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr. Walter Elliot, listened to the Swedish suggestions. In July 1937 experts from the Department of Health for Scotland were sent to Charleton to examine the timber houses which had then been up for eleven years. They found that the four houses, on two of which nothing had been spent in upkeep {the other two had only been repainted) were as good as when they were built. The roughcast had not come off and the inhabitants were extremely pleased with their warm, comfort-able homes. This was reported to the Secretary of State, and later he stated in the House of Commons that the Department of Health were examining the possibility of the use of alternative methods of house construction, that the setting up of the Special Housing Association would give opportunity for experimenting in new methods. In connection with wooden houses the Department were in touch with representatives of certain new methods of construction.

The new method of construction was the solid timber house.

The next step was to interest the Swedish Government in the exportation of material for prefabricated timber houses. Swe-dish manufacturers of timber houses have a slack period in winter when building is at a standstill, and it was in the interest of the Government to keep the factories going all the year round. This could be done by exporting material to Great Britain where builders can put up houses at any time, owing to the better climatic conditions.

The Swedish Government sent over a couple of sample houses, designed in collaboration with the Department of Health for Scotland, and presented them to the British Government. The houses were built for demonstration purposes on crown land in Glasgow. Representatives from all over Scotland came to see the houses and so did local manufacturers and Canadians, who were quick to follow the idea. The possibility that housing difficulties could be solved by the building of timber houses soon spread like wildfire, and local authorities were particularly enthusiastic.

The advantages of timber houses are many. First of all there is speed of construction. The sample houses in Glasgow were built and completed in less than a month. One firm is prepared to put up 500 houses complete within six months in various districts of Scotland.

Secondly, there is less risk of fire. Statistics collected from U.S.A. and published by the Timber Development Association have shown that there are fewer fires in timber houses than in brick houses. This is owing to the fact that timber houses are easier to heat than other forms of dwellings, and therefore need not be overheated. Fire insurance companies in this country now insure wooden houses at the same rate as other houses. Another advantage of the solid timber house is that there is less risk of vermin than in so-called timber-framed houses. Should vermin occur, they are easily fumigated. But experience has shown that when timber houses have been vermin-infested, this has been around the brick fireplaces and in the ventilators where the hot air escapes.

There is an idea that a timber house should be cheaper than any other house. Why ? The extra timber is only I2 per cent. of the whole value of the house. In every house there is a great deal of timber in the construction, floors, rafters, joists, doors, windows and other joinery. All this is not cheaper just because the walls happen to be made of timber, too. Nor will this fact reduce the price of plumbing, painting, roofing, glazing, wiring, fencing and paths. Where a saving can be made is in the foundations, which can be lighter, and, above all, in the speed of erection. A brick house may take a year longer to erect than a timber house in certain districts and this means loss of rent, to say nothing of the delay to the prospective tenant. Still, timber houses, even solid ones, cost less than brick houses and one can safely say they are about 10-15 per cent cheaper.

The full Government grant is now given for solid timber houses in Scotland and loans are obtainable from building societies as for other houses.

In Sweden it has been found practical to put up partly pre-fabricated houses. This means less work on the building site and less waste. This method is therefore suggested also for Great Britain. Available joiners could then be employed for putting up the houses and finishing interior work. Last winter objections were raised against the importation of prefabricated houses, but when it was found that the demand was so great that only a small part could be supplied from Sweden, the opposition died down. Looking at the subject from a general point of view it would be more reasonable to object to the importation of agricultural and dairy produce which could be produced in this country than to the importation of timber which is not grown here and which cannot be grown quickly.

For rural districts timber is the ideal building material and it lends itself with great advantage to farm buildings, steadings and cottages. It is to be hoped that this country may soon be converted to the advantages of timber buildings, especially on estates.