From the Wychwood 40 years ago

Volume 2 February/March 1981/82:

Readers may occasionally claim that an article in the Wychwood Magazine is full of bull…., however 40 years ago this was a serious subject for consideration by a rural readership.


Manure has long played an important role in farming, enrich­ing the soil and thus, hopefully, producing better crops. Its importance was not always acknowledged, though, for as great an agriculturist as Jethro Tull, writing in 1733, considered it unnecessary for growth and even fatal to plants. However, his ideas were soon discarded and by the end of the century manuring was common.

Arthur Young, in his ‘Oxfordshire Tour’, has left us graphic descriptions of such practices around Shipton and Milton.

Dung was the most common form of manure. This was carefully laid on the land and ploughed in “with a shallow furrow, lest it be buried”. It was used either on its own or mixed with straw, either fresh or rotten. There were vehement arguments over the latter point. The proponents of fresh manure maintained that by “turning and rotting”, the manure lost “most beneficial principles”. The contrary view, as expressed by a certain Mr Foster, claimed that “fermentation in a dunghill deprives the heap of nothing that is good, but adds something that is excellent”, just as “fermentation in malting barley turns some­thing that was inert into spirit”. What a comparison!

Everyone though was agreed on the value of dung as a fertiliz­ing agent. Such was the demand for manure that the town dung­hills at Chipping Norton were regularly auctioned at 20 shillings per cartload.

Sometimes pure dung was mixed with lime, earth or limestone scrapings, especially when employed on turnips.

Pigeon and poultry dung were also greatly used as a top dressing. Lime was common around Burford, Lyneham and Milton. Ashes too were frequently spread on the fields. Peat ash seemed the best for sainfoin, clover, peas and turnips, while coal and wood ash were used on wheat. Mud from the river “did no good whatever” when ploughed in and the experiment was soon dropped. Other manures included gypsum, rags and various composts. Shipton farmers favoured mixtures of dung with earth “road dirt”, lime or beech leaves. At Ascott, beech leaves were mixed with grass of new-mown lawns “kept sometime” before use.

October-November 2021