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
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.