Fordhall Farm from 1866 to 1914

After Joseph Sillitoe’s death in 1866, the Buntingsdale Estate rented Fordhall to a succession of farmers who stayed for relatively short periods until Mary Helen Grocott- the great-grandmother of Charlotte and Ben – took over the tenancy, probably in the autumn of 1880. Mary Grocott was a widow aged 36 with two daughters: Agnes aged 10 and Elizabeth aged 7. She had farmed in Cheshire with her husband but had been born at Hodnet, a member of the Cartwright family, who farmed locally at Bletchley, Moreton Wood and Longford.
In 18881, Mary Grocott married John Clutton, a member of another local farming family – his parents had farmed at Moreton Wood and before that at Ash Magna. Mary’s brother, John Cartwright, had already married John Clutton’s sister Jane in 1877. Mary and John Clutton had two daughters: Edith born in 18883 and Lillian in 1884. Agnes, Mary’s elder daughter by her first marriage, died at the age of 16 in 1886 but the younger daughter, Elizabeth, lived and worked at Fordhall until she married Thomas Ravenshaw in 1911.
The Clutton’s continued to farm at Fordhall until Mary died in 1909 and John in 1913. Their daughter Lillian married Alfred Hollins in 1914; they were the parents of Arthur Hollins and the grandparents of Ben and Charlotte. Lillian’s and Alfred’s story is told by Arthur in the first part of the book The Farmer, The Plough and The Devil.
There were some changes in the pattern of farming at Fordhall between Joseph Sillitoe’s death and the early 20th Century. More land was laid to permanent pasture, as arable farming became less profitable; as a result, fewer labourers were needed to plough, weed and harvest. Otherwise, the pattern continued much as before, with the main jobs still being, minding the horses as they ploughed or hauled, milking the cows and making butter and cheeses in the dairy.
Two cottages were built at Fordhall in the 1860’s; these usually housed married workers on the farm – in 1911, James Chidlow, the wagoner, and George Hope, the cowman- while one or two young unmarried male farm-servants continued to live in the farmhouse until the 1890s, as did a female servant or two. However, by 1901, there was no need to have female dairy staff living-in, and the 1901 and 1911 censuses recorded only the family living in the farmhouse.The cottages still exist adjacent to Fordhall and although privately rented, our current stockman, Terry, still lives there with his family.
The farm at the beginning of the 20th century is described is described by Arthur Hollins in The Farmer, The Plough and The Devil. “Just before the Kaiser’s war, Fordhall had been a typical Welsh Marches’ mixed dairy farm. Much of the land was in permanent pasture to provide winter hay and summer grazing for a dozen cows, a small flock of sheep, some young stock and the few bullocks which were fattened for beef. The lowland by the river could only be used for grazing and some haymaking in summer, when it had dried out sufficiently to carry the stock.
“Most of the higher land was also devoted to meadows, but, from time to time, it was ploughed and sown in a rotation of crops – barley (for the cows), oats (for the horses), turnips (for the cows in winter) – in succeeding years before being sown in grass again. Potatoes grow well in light sandy soils and occasionally a few acres of the highland were planted with this crop.
“In good seasons, more oats and barley were used produced than were required to feed the stock and they were sold to supplement income. The principle earner was the cheese made by my mother in the dairy. Exquisite mellow, tangy, fifty-six pound barrels of Cheshire cheese, when matured at Fordhall found a good market in the nearby town of Market Drayton. A few breeding sows in the sties thrived on whey and skimmed milk.” Arthur Hollins. The Farmer, The Plough and The Devil.

By Richard Jones and Maude Gould, Volunteer Historians and Shareholders.

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