Thursday 15 April 2010
Farm sale poster, 1931
Since the piece below was written in 2010, more information has come to light about what happened at Manor Farm in 1931 via the descendants of Mr Ayre. The rather gloomy inference I drew from the stark detail of the poster is misplaced, notwithstanding the very difficult conditions for farming at the time. The sale of livestock and equipment marked not an end but rather a new beginning because ownership of the farm itself passed that same year into the hands of Mr Ayre's daughter and son-in-law, and the family have continued to farm there to the present day.
The key feature here is the date, 1931, because this is the story of a farm broken by the terrible agricultural depresssion of the inter-war years. The place is Manor Farm Redbourne, between Brigg and Lincoln, and we're told that Mr E.Owen Ayre's lease has expired, thus necessitating the coming sale of everything - stock and equipment - off the farm on April 1st. From that we can probably assume that the lease ran out on the previous quarter day which would have been 25th March, or Lady Day.
Mr Ayre can't be moving to another farm, because he's selling all he has, nor is he handing over to a son, because the lease is not being renewed. I suspect that he is getting on in years, and is a traditional type of farmer, perhaps a little old fashioned, who is unable or unwilling to carry on in the very severe economic conditions prevailing at the time. Why old fashioned? Well, it's a 370 acre mixed farm worked entirely with horses. There are six prime plough horses here - Prince, Daisy, Short, Duke, Turpin and Captain - together with some younger ones being brought on and for lighter work. Clearly, Mr Ayre was not dabbling with those new-fangled tractors and the list of implements for sale shows nothing that might be considered modern or forward-looking at the time.
Tough conditions in farming lasted through the 1920s but plumbed new depths in the period 1929-32, and the grain growing areas on the eastern side of the country were most severely affected. World markets were glutted with cereals and there was no money in trying to grow them at home. By the beginning of 1930, prices were below the level of 1914 and in the coming year fell by another third. The overall agricultural price index, which included all farming commodities, stood at 292 in 1920 but was down to 120 in 1931 and still falling. It was reckoned that the average cost of growing wheat was £8 per acre and the average return to the farmer no more than £3 or £4. No wonder that Mr Ayre decided that he couldn't carry on. He wasn't alone, for others also were cutting their losses and selling up. Landowners, often unable to let vacant farms even at a knock-down price, were left with little choice but to abandon them until conditions improved.