Last updated on 31 August 2023
Farming is an important part of our village’s heritage. Reports in 1795 suggest that wheat and barley were the principal crops, followed by oats and beans. Potter (1929) said, “We get some knowledge of the crops grown in past days from the field names. The Hoplands tell their own story as do Pease Close, and the Barley Intake”.
Plan of the farms of Tollerton Compiled by Jayne Thompson
In Kelly’s Post Office Directory of 1876 it states that the soil is strong stiff clay and the subsoil the same; in agricultural terms, clay was always considered better land for farming. By 1876 the main crops listed were wheat, barley, oats and roots covering some 1,170 acres. Later there was much mixed farming and dairy farming and many residents would have had locally sourced milk and other dairy products.
A range of adverse circumstances combined to make the period 1877-1895 a dark time for British farmers, especially grain producers. There was a series of wet summers with the wettest season in living memory in 1879 which resulted in an alarmingly low yield in successive harvests. Farmers were also struggling to compete against the price of grain produced on the American prairies where harvesting machinery had been introduced, drastically cutting labour costs.
Around this time, the Government in England had refused to introduce agricultural protection which was one of the reasons that Disraeli lost the election in 1880. There was also a serious outbreak of foot and mouth disease and many farmers lost their stock and were unable to move animals from their farms to the markets. Such restrictions and problems resulted in some farmers giving up their jobs and migrating towards the towns to seek alternative employment.
According to data held by Nottinghamshire County Council, the South Nottinghamshire farmlands contain some of the highest quality agricultural land in the county and, historically, it has had a large proportion of land under cultivation. In this area over 80% of the farmland is planted with arable crops and Tollerton is no exception.
Tollerton Estate Farms
A significant amount of information about the Tollerton Estate farms is contained in the auction brochure when the Hall and estate went up for sale in 1928. Other evidence is held in newspaper articles and from the memories of former farmers and their families.
All of the farms in Tollerton, with the exception of Russells Farm, were clustered very close to the Hall and the Church. Originally all were tenanted farms until they were sold off after 1928.
In 1928 Hall Farm is described as ‘a fine dairying and mixed holding’ of around 145 acres in size, most of which was arable and pasture land. Indications are that this was sometimes called Home Farm. There were cow sheds to accommodate 27 cows, five calf places, stable for three and a harness room. There was also a Dutch barn and two implement sheds that had been erected by the tenant, Mr Brown.
This farm was tenanted to the Forse family prior to the arrival of Farmer Brown in 1923. William Forse occupied the farm in 1841 with his wife Sarah. With them were two farm servants – Elizabeth Aldridge and William Morris. It appears that between 1836 and 1843 they had four children, the eldest being Arthur and the youngest Louisa. It is interesting to note that, even in 1841, one of the daughters, Catherine Forse, born 1837 is with Susannah Davies at Tollerton Hall and appears not to be with the rest of the family. Quite why this should be the case remains a mystery. Another interesting fact is that Sarah Forse (nee Cash) – the mother – was born at St Martins in Shropshire where Mrs Davies of Tollerton Hall had been born. Perhaps they knew each other prior to them coming to Tollerton or may have been related in some way.
According to a genealogy site William Forse died about 1846 so this would explain why he is not listed with Sarah and the children in 1851. In that same year Sarah is listed as ‘housekeeper’ with a young farm labourer aged 12 years and an agricultural servant aged 80 years residing at the farm, along with three of her children.
By 1861 Sarah was listed as ‘dairy maid’. None of the Forse children were living at Hall Farm; two of the daughters were now housemaids with Mrs Davies at the Hall. Next door to Sarah lived William Shepherd, farm bailiff, and a William Russell, farmer of 83 acres, nearby. The farm bailiff was employed by the landowner who owned the farms and it was their job to ensure the tenant farmers kept the farms in a good state and paid the rent on time.
Sometime between 1911 and 1923 John Brooker held the tenancy of this farm and then in 1923 Alfred Brown arrived, referred to by many with affection as Farmer Brown and, in 1927, a year after he married Elizabeth, he bought the farm. Farmer Brown came from strong farming stock; his father had farmed in the Mansfield area of Nottinghamshire.
Alfred Brown was a well respected member of the community and was a parish councillor, air raid warden and a pillar of the local Church, St Peter’s. During WW2 he allocated evacuees to their ‘new’ homes in Tollerton. Further insights into the requisitioning of the farm during the war are included in the chapter entitled ‘WW2’.
Jim Blackburn, Mr Brown’s nephew, came to Hall Farm in 1938 and assisted on the farm until he was ‘called up’ in 1940. In an interview given to the Imperial War Museum, Jim recalled that he always wanted to be a farmer though he recognised it was hard work. “In those days one man ploughing took up a lot of time; no tractors then just horses“. As well as learning on the job he studied at college and learnt much about crop rotation and farm husbandry. Jim later attended Sutton Bonnington College and specialised in poultry keeping since he had “always fancied keeping chickens“. At that stage there were a cowman and a horseman at the farm.
Mike Connelly, former Tollerton resident and others recall in the post war years, “we used to go to Hall Farm to watch the threshing of the corn, with huge traction engines and long belts connected to the machinery”.
In an article about the war years, Jim Blackburn recounted the following: “Life in the farmhouse was somewhat spartan. Water for drinking came from a deep well in the backyard. Water for washing came from rainwater collected in a tank under the kitchen floor from the roof”.
After ‘demob’ Jim came straight back to Hall Farm and resumed his farming career. His uncle, Alfred Brown, died in 1949 and Elizabeth, his wife, continued to run the farm until her death in 1972 when Jim Blackburn became the sole owner. After Jim Blackburn married, he and his wife, Joyce, and their children lived on Medina Drive but came to live on the farm in 1971. Many residents remember getting their milk delivered by Jim. Irene Power, a former resident, said “I remember Jim the milkman very well especially when I paid him for the dozen eggs that my dog had eaten, unaware he had ever delivered them! He was very pleasant and a quiet man.”
Bassingfield Farm, further down Tollerton Lane, was described in 1928 as a ‘capital farm’ and covered an area of about 240 acres. The farm buildings were arranged around two yards and included three cow sheds to accommodate up to 57 cows. There was also stabling for six horses, a five day cart shed, barn and a pigsty. The whole of the Bassingfield Farm, including four substantial brick cottages, was let to the Plowright family at a rental of £415 16s p.a.
It would appear that the Plowrights came to Tollerton sometime between 1895 and 1901 and had previously been farmers at Ruddington. The Census in 1901 shows that Henry (born 1851) was living at the farm with his wife, Frances, and their eight children. With them were Thomas Plowright, Richard’s brother, who was listed as ‘milk seller’; a general servant, a milk boy and a carter. All three servants were under the age of 19 years.
The most significant insights in to Bassingfield Farm come from a letter that Frank Plowright, Henry’s son, wrote to the owners of this farm in 1974 following a nostalgic visit back to this property. In this letter Frank described the boundaries of this farm and how it came to become called ‘Bassingfield Farm’.
“My father’s land actually ended at the Gamston boundary and followed the same hedge past one small Gamston field only, where we came to a wicker gate through which a footpath led to Machin’s Farm at Bassingfield. So our boundary was actually the hedgerow which separated Tollerton and Bassingfield all the way over the stream to the aqua-duct under the Gamston Canal with the stream separating us entirely from the Cotgrave boundary. Obviously this is the reason for the name ‘Bassingfield’ being attached to the old farm house.”
In the letter he goes on to say that there were three farm boys ‘living in’ and described the old wash house with its wash boiler, soft water pump and a baker’s oven. It turns out that the bathroom was “also our bacon room where the sides and hams of two of our pigs were always hung and lasted the family for a year“. Apples were also stored here.
Frank also informs us in this letter that George Bradley worked for his father from 1901 to about 1909 and he was given the milk business since Frank did not want this. It is said that George bought Jubilee Wood for less than £300 but Frank does not say when this happened. It appears that Frank’s brother was offered the rest of the farm including the buildings but chose to purchase parts of two farms at Langar instead. Frank was, at this time, in France (presumably fighting in WW1) and hence he missed the chance to have “the other farm between Tollerton Lane and Edwalton Turnpike.”
Peter Brooker has been able to shed further light on George Bradley:
George Bradley, who owned Bradley’s Dairy at West Bridgford until approximately the late 70s owned Jubilee Wood (formerly known as Jubilee Plantation). It was used as a repair base for his milk trucks and manned by a lovely Polish ex-serviceman called Jan.
Frank Plowright goes on to say “In 1908 when l left school at 14 we had seven men who milked in the cowshed including myself at 5am. Before this time l had to light a fire and then milk my seven cows before breakfast at six. My father was very religious in his way and his constant expression was, ‘bring up the child in the way it should go’.”
Towards the end of his letter to the Mounseys in 1974, Frank described some of his other tasks at the farm:
“For so many years on a Sunday afternoon l had to turn a cream separator that was attached to a thrawl of our large dairy, which was lit up by the underground windows. One of our men carried the milk down steps leading from the large kitchen and l turned the handle and looked after the cream. I also had to draw a pint of ale from one of the two barrels in the lower beer cellar for the man. It was in doing this l satisfied my own curiosity about the taste of Shipstone’s brew, after which l kept well away from my father or he would have murdered me!”
It appears that beer was always kept in the cellar for the men, which in 1974 Frank thought would have been situated near the veranda that the Mounsey family had added to the property.
It is interesting that Frank should mention the cellar and beer for two reasons. One is that it has been suggested there once was a small brewery at Bassingfield Farm but perhaps it was just a beer store; secondly there is evidence that between 1952 and 1954, Mrs Mary Shipstone, wife of James Leslie Shipstone (of brewery fame), lived at Bassingfield House.
Apart from the insights that Frank’s letter gives about Bassingfield Farm, he also wrote a poem about life in Tollerton when he was a boy. This poem features earlier in this book since it gives an overview of village life at that time.
The auction brochure for the Tollerton Estate in 1928 shows that prior tenants at Bassingfield Farm had installed hot and cold running water in the bathroom and that the farm included four brick cottages in the village, each with three bedrooms.
Of course Bassingfield is no longer a farm and is now Bassingfield House, which is Grade II listed. On the British Listed Buildings website it describes some of the features of this property in 1986 as being late 18th century with red brick stretchers, pink headers; brick coped gables with kneelers.
This farm was the largest on the Tollerton Estate at around 405 acres. The auction brochure of 1928 describes it as, ‘the important and attractive farm’. It comprised of two homesteads, one situated in the village described as, ‘a superior brick built farmhouse’ and the Glebe or Barn Farm further down Tollerton Lane.
The main farmhouse was said to be suitable for a gentleman farmer’s occupation with extensive gardens and tennis court at the rear. Farm buildings included a trap house, stables, saddle room, cow sheds for 49 cows and a large covered yard. There was both a five-day Dutch barn and a six-day Dutch barn. Over the implement shed was a granary and there was an engine house too.
In 1925 the tenant was John Holbrook and evidence relating to WW2 suggests that the family could have still been here in the early 1940s since it is said that a Mr Holbrook bought the Tollerton WI a canning machine.
It is also known that the Holbrook family had strong links with Plumtree and Normanton-on-the Wolds so just how long John Holbrook was in Tollerton is unknown. Two farming related photographs, courtesy of Greg Franks of Bingham, appear to have been taken at the Holbrook’s farm in Tollerton in 1927.
First Prize Cattle at Holbrook’s Farm and Sheep Shearing at Holbrook’s Farm
It would appear that Hodgkinson Morris was at this farm in the mid-1800s. He died at Tollerton in 1875 aged 73 years and one of his children, John Morris, was baptised at St Peter’s Church in 1863, though most of the other children were born at Saxondale or Shelford in Nottinghamshire. The family must have been fairly wealthy as John Morris was educated privately and later was a member of the firm of Morris, Wilkinson & Co. that employed more than 400 people in the manufacture of art wicker-work. It is also suggested that he hunted occasionally with Earl Harrington’s hounds.
Another son, also called Hodgkinson Morris, was born in 1858 at Tollerton. In 1861 Hodgkinson Morris is listed at Tollerton as a farmer with 272 Acres and employing six labourers and two boys.
Potter (1929) mentions Hodgkinson Morris saying “At the time of the Crimean War Hodgkinson Morris had a fine stock of wheat which he vowed he would not sell under £5 a quarter. He refused an offer for it at a slightly lower price; and then the war ended, with a collapse in corn values. The farmer obstinately held back from threshing his stack. When at length it was threshed it was found that the grain had been consumed by rats”.
It is also known that the Farnsworth family came to live at Manor Farm sometime after the Holbrooks. Photographs of the interior and exterior of Manor Farm are shown in the ‘Housing and Homes’ chapter of this book.
In 1928 this was certainly part of Manor Farm. There was a dairy and the farm buildings included a stable, barn, a cow shed for 10 cows and a Dutch barn. Two cottages were located here and in the village three further brick cottages were attached to this farm.
It is known that ‘glebe’ is an area of land within an ecclesiastical parish used to support the local rector. Rev. Abraham Welby managed this land whilst he was Rector at Tollerton.
Frank Plowright’s letter to the Mounseys highlights who might have been at Glebe Farm sometime prior to 1911:
“I remember a chap named Pearl who lived up at the Glebe Farm who had no less than 20 children at 40 years of age. I remember them as ‘Pearl and his string’. The labourer’s wage in those days was from 15 – 18 shillings a week. Funnily enough they looked healthy enough on bread and potatoes – however they could have been prosecuted for ‘streaking’ and l remember my mother occasionally handed them a worn out shirt”.
The 1911 Census shows that there were three families living at Glebe Farm, presumably one family at the farmhouse and the other two in the cottages on the farmland. None of them was called ‘Pearl’ and none had a large family. William Shaw was a waggoner on the farm and he had three children one of whom also worked on the farm. Frederick Goodwin was listed as ‘shepherd on the land’ and lived in one of the cottages with his wife and daughter. The third family was the Lane family; John is listed as a farm labourer and his wife and one son, Horace, born 1910 in Tollerton, were with him. John Lane sadly was killed during WW1 and further details appear in the WW1 chapter of this book.
The two cottages on Glebe Farm where these families lived no longer exist. It appears they fell into disrepair in 1965 after being heavily vandalised and they finally collapsed in the early 70s.
From Frank Plowright’s memories, we know that his brother, Richard Plowright, was at this farm and the 1911 Census confirms this. He is residing there with his wife and two young daughters. Their stay might have been quite short though as in 1916 the Brooker family moved in, having moved from West House Farm in Bestwood.
The family comprised Lizzie, her husband William and Albert their only child born, 1905. Albert Brooker recounted in 1994 in a village newsletter article entitled ‘Life on the Farm’, that the farmhouse was in a poor condition when the family moved in. He goes on to say:
“It had a labourer’s cottage attached which was almost derelict. There was no mains water, sewerage, gas or electricity – water was pumped from a deep well and the pump was operated by a temperamental windmill. Access to the farm was off the Melton Road, a rough cart track running somewhere between the present lines of Stanstead and Bentinck Avenues. The farm was mixed, part arable, part dairy and cattle, some sheep, pigs and poultry. The milk was collected in churns by Phillips on Wilford Road. William had the labourer’s cottage improved and had two labourers working for him, one occupied the cottage and the other lived in with the family“.
Peter Brooker, son of Albert, recounts:
“The annual hiring of all farm labourers and servants was at the Michaelmas Fair (Sept 29th) held in Melton Mowbray Market Place. Albert Brooker remembered it well as he went annually with his father to hire their labourers and housekeepers. He hated it as people degraded themselves as they were so very desperate to be hired”.
Potter (1929) refers to the employment of Irish hands at harvest time. He said: “During the rectorate of Mr Ward the rectory barn was yearly used by these harvesters as a sleeping place during their sojourn in the village”.
Peter also recalls his father telling him that, when the family moved to Russells Farm, one of their horses was sold to the Nottingham Post Office. It was used to transport letters from the Post Office to the Midland Station in a special trap with steel wheels.
In Albert Brooker’s memories he recalled how Government Inspectors used to visit all farms to ensure all land was being used and also instructed which crops should be grown. “They were also authorised to compulsorily purchase any surplus horses for use by the army, and also any hay needed as feed for those horses”.
Albert would “help on the farm doing milking etc even while he was still at school and his mother also worked on the farm, doing hoeing and helping with the animals, as well as doing all the housework and the baking on the coal burning range”.
“Every year a pig was killed for their own consumption and it was cut up and salted and stored in the coolness of the cellar”.
At the age of 15, Albert entered a ploughing competition at Stragglethorpe in the section for 15-18 year olds and won! He won the following year too and also entered the local hedge-layering competition for which he was given a certificate.
The photograph above was taken a few years after Albert was awarded his certificate.
When Russells Farm went under the hammer with the rest of the Tollerton Hall Estate in 1928, it was described as: “A compact little farm. The farmhouse, which lies well away from the road, enjoys good views and is brick built.” Farm buildings included two pigstys, cow sheds for 16 cows, stabling for 6 horses, large two-bay wood covered yard, barn and implement shed.
At this stage Sir Albert Ball became the Brooker’s new landlord at an annual rent of £166 for the 106 acres. After Albert married in 1934, he moved to Nicker Hill, Keyworth and to establish his independence bought a West Bridgford milk round and incorporated this with the round they were already running. The milk round developed and Albert changed the pony and cart for a motorised tricycle and eventually for a van.
Russells Farm had a much reduced acreage once Sir Albert Ball started to sell off land for housing and, fearing for their future livelihood, Albert persuaded his father – William, to purchase what remained of the farm from Albert Ball.
WW2 brought further regulations. The Ministry of Agriculture and the inspectors came round to inspect again though Albert Brooker recalled that they had little advice and knowledge. “One instructed a local farmer to plough up a field of what he thought to be grass only to be told in no uncertain manner that the crop coming up was wheat!”
Albert became very involved in village life. He organised the Coronation celebrations in 1953 and was chairman of the Parish Council for 17 years, insisting that the Parish Council should hold regular monthly meetings with regular and punctual attendance by its members.
When William became ill and was unable to continue running the farm it was made over to Albert who then retired himself in 1967. His two sons, David and Peter, took over the farm and the milk round.
Documents held by Rushcliffe Borough Council suggest that Chestnut Farm and farm building are of ‘special significance’ but they are not listed buildings. Located at the junction of Cotgrave and Tollerton Lanes, this farm was described in 1928 as ‘another good dairying and mixed farm’. The farmhouse was said to be ‘modern’ with a dairy, two maids’ rooms, office and wash house. Reference is also made to the fact that it had a good supply of hard and soft water. Farm buildings included a good yard that had a trap house, boiling house, stabling for 10 horses, a nag stable for three and cow sheds to tie up 44 beasts. There were also some wooden pigstyes, a five day Dutch barn and wagon hovel.
Situated nearby was a blacksmith’s cottage with old shop forge and standing. It also had living accommodation and offices. There were three more cottages with gardens at the north end of the village that ‘belonged’ to Chestnut Farm.
It is known from the auction brochure in 1928 that the tenant then was Cecil Kirk though no further details have been found to expand on this. A Barbara J Kirk, daughter of Mr and Mrs C W Kirk, was born in 1915 at Tollerton and married in 1939 and a Frank Kirk, son of Cecil and Mary Kirk, died in 1940 so this certainly places the Kirk family at Chestnut Farm between 1915 and 1940. Cecil Kirk died in 1951.
Exactly who resided here before 1915 remains a mystery. Some records seem to suggest it might have been the Wild family – Wild is a well established Tollerton name. Henry Wild was a farmer’s son and then a farmer himself between 1861 and 1911 in Tollerton but no exact farm is mentioned in the Census.
The other mystery surrounds the blacksmith. Thomas Crafte Edson was in Tollerton between 1891 and 1901 so perhaps he was at the blacksmith’s cottage at Chestnut Farm?
It is known, however, that this farm was acquired by the Gadd family, firstly Sampson (Sam) Gadd who died in 1982, the son of a farmer (John Gadd born 1841) who farmed at Hill Farm, Edwalton. Later Sam’s son John (born 1942) took over the business from Sam. When John died in 2009 it was said that he had farmed here for 50 years and was a well known person within the farming community in South Nottinghamshire.
John Gadd was a Parish Councillor in Tollerton for nearly 25 years. One of his ambitions was to get the village pinfold moved to its original position, more about this later.
Evidence of the farm’s former use is now difficult to perceive though the farmhouse looks much the same externally. Many of the farm buildings have now been converted into residential properties – Chestnut Mews. An archway here in the mews development frames All Saints Church in Cotgrave in the distance with its distinctive spire.
Homestead Farm was not listed as part of the Tollerton Estate in the 1928 auction catalogue. It did not exist then as a separate entity and the fields here were previously split between Manor Farm and Chestnut Farm.
Newspaper articles suggest that in 1943/44 Noel Watson worked this land off Little Lane. There was a fire here in 1944 that destroyed an 8 ton stack of hay and a 40 ft long chicken house with incubators. In 1947 Bert Hoyland bought this land for £4,500 and his son Steve now farms it. Much of the land was arable but the family also established a pig farm. Pigs are no longer raised here but porkers are boarded here for another owner.
There was once a mill in this area but it was totally burnt down when a man called Hickling discarded a match when lighting his pipe in 1810.
Farming was once far more labour and time intensive. Jim Blackburn, former Tollerton farmer, recollected that it could take a whole day to plough an acre of land. The first combine harvesters were developed for the vast wheat lands of America. It was not until the period after 1945 in England that combine harvesters really began to increase in numbers and then only on the very large farms. Here are a couple of photographs showing local farming practices in 1927, courtesy of Greg Franks of Bingham.
The Village Pinfold
A pinfold was essentially used to impound stray livestock until they were claimed by their owners or sold to cover the costs of impounding.
Information provided by Denise Amos on the Nottinghamshire Heritage Gateway website states that the pinfold at Tollerton was originally situated opposite Chestnut Farm for more than a century but was removed when the road to Cotgrave was diverted at the time of Enclosure in 1804. It was then rebuilt around 1830 across the road on Tollerton Lane, the cost of which was borne by the old squire who ‘gave the workmen such liberal potions that a drunken orgy at the smithy marked the completion of the new building’.
It was later demolished in 1966 when Tollerton Lane was widened and the grassy bank on the west side of the lane, extending from opposite Bassingfield House to opposite North End Cottages, was named Pinfold Bank to remind parishioners of the village pinfold. In more recent years it was rebuilt on its original pre-1804 site opposite Chestnut Farm and was constructed using reclaimed material. The pinfold is now an information point, giving some brief history about our village. The design of this ‘new’ pinfold was based on the original one.
Tollerton Plough Play
No chapter on farming would be complete without a reference to the Tollerton Plough Play. A Plough Play is a type of seasonal, symbolic folk play performed on Plough Monday, the first Monday after the twelve days of Christmas, which was an important date in the rural calendar and used to be a public holiday. The play includes a mixture of song, verse and prose and traditionally the ploughmen would blacken their faces and wear white shirts. The performance would focus on the dragging of a decorated plough by bands of young men who would knock on doors seeking money, food and drink. In medieval times it was common for ploughs to be blessed by the Church on Plough Sunday and farmers would resume their work in the fields after the twelve days of Christmas.
Farmer Brown of Hall Farm, Tollerton was instrumental in reintroducing this tradition in 1947 and in a press article in December 1948 he explained that, “it had previously been revived in 1922, after a lapse of a century, but was discontinued during the war“. This article also quoted the ‘Gentleman’s Magazine’ of December, 1872 saying that, “men yoke themselves and draw a plough about with music“. 150 years earlier the money was used to pay for keeping the ‘plough light’ lamp burning in the parish church throughout the year.
In Tollerton the play stopped in 1952 but was revived in 2002 with performances in various private houses in the village and then a final rousing performance at the Air Hostess.