Project info

River Wye


history: post-medieval agriculture

The project area lies within the 'Ryelands' which has lighter, sandier soil than most of the rest of Herefordshire. In the 17th century it was considered unsuitable for wheat, peas and vetches and was used for growing 'rye, hemp, flax, turnips and parsnips'. The area gave its name to the Ryelands breed of sheep. There is some evidence of changing land-use right at the beginning of the post-medieval period when in 1501 Llanthony Abbey converted arable land into sheep pasture in Fawley.

The soil was particularly suited for growing turnips which were used as a supplementary feed for sheep and cattle.

The introduction of lime to the fields improved the land and allowed a wider range of crops to be grown. By 1809 the bulk of the 4,000 tons of goods unloaded from barges below Hereford was lime. A 17th century innovation was the growing of clover. In the 1670s local farmers sent their cows north to grazing on the Wye around Letton from May to November. Twenty years later, thanks to clover, they had enough good grazing of their own and no longer needed to do this - it was claimed that clover doubled the value of land in the area.

In the late 17th century few farmers seem to have maintained large flocks of sheep although Thomas Davis of Pengethley in Hentland had 380 in 1690.

Because of the lighter soil the area was able to utilise the improved agricultural century methods, introduced in the 18th century and broadly known as the 'Norfolk system', earlier than other areas.

By the beginning of the 19th century rape was widely grown in Herefordshire and potatoes were beginning to spread.

Unlike much of the county, the area was not suitable for the cultivation of hops, although there was a hop-yard at Ballingham in 1780. Demand for hop-poles would have benefited coppicing in the area.

In the 1790s century Herefordshire was was primarily an area of arable farming, pasture being largely confined to areas which could not easily be ploughed.  Ploughs were either horse or ox-drawn, about half each.

See also agricultural labour

Reaping a century ago


Sharpening a scythe


Threshing at Brampton Abbotts in 1914
traditional hedging, January 2006

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Wye Valley History pages

maintained by Archenfield Archaeology Ltd


This project was part-financed by the European Union (EAGGF) and DEFRA through the Herefordshire Rivers LEADER+ Programme.