Crewood Hall & Cheshire Farming

wantingcaution !! this is an initial draft ... these notes are on my server for safe keeping !!





Crewood HallCrewood Hall.

In 1930 Crewood Hall Farm near Crowton on the banks of the river Weaver was sold by the Leycester family to Mr Joseph Edgar Shaw: 266 acres for £7,900. This was the first time the estate had been sold commercially after 650 years of continuous Gerard and Leycester ownership ... a 'giveaway'; £7,900 was the farm's lowest real value ever ... it followed a proud record of innovative technological success based on the specialist breeding of cows and the production of scrumptious Cheshire cheese.

So what happened to tarnish this jewel in Cheshire's agricultural crown?

Ormerod's history of Cheshire described how, immediately after the conquest, the lands around Kingsley were quite exceptionally reserved for the old Saxon possessor, a guy called Dunning ... this was a solitary example of continuity in the Eddisbury Hundred. Perhaps this happening encouraged a 'can do' independent Anglo Saxon spirit which, some say, persisted through to the present day? Whatever the reason for this initial aberration, the possession right was only enjoyed for a very short period before the Earl of Chester bestowed the lands to the ancestors of the Norman Baron Richard de Kingsley, Chief Forester of Delamere. Normality returned and the lands yet again became associated with the spoils of war. The estates concerned embraced Peel, Catton, Crewood & Kingsley and included the significant responsibilities for the Delamere Forest playground. The Royal Hunting pursuits were prestigious, this forest was renowned for sport & deer throughout the kingdom. Kingsley was near the top of the tree.

In the 13th century the irrepressible Anglo Saxon spirit was re-established when William Fitzgerard married Emma one Richard Kingsley's five daughters. In this way the Gerard family genes were introduced into Kingsley. The Gerard name was associated with 'spear carrying' and was recorded in the Domesday Book. The Fitzgerards of Bryn boasted an ancient ancestry going back to the times of Alfred the Great; solid Anglo Saxon stock. 

The Gerards originally resided at Catton Hall but after purchasing the Lancelyn Estate from Richard's second daughter, Agnes, they moved to the more robust Crewood Hall on higher ground.

'Crewood' was not recorded prior to 1240 but the name derived from the Celtic word 'cryw', a ford or fish weir ... surely named after the weir on The Weaver at Pickerings ... Crewood Hall enjoyed a commanding view of the ancient river crossing, a vista which went back a long long time.

Sir Alan Waterworth has told the story of the Gerard family who farmed the rich lands of Kingsley for around four centuries; where they pursued a relatively modest existence as minor gentry. But during this period, in 1604, a man of significance appeared, Gilbert Gerard of Crewood (1604-73). Gilbert was destined to play an fascinating role in the religious, military and political developments of the 17th century. A century of revolution which culminated in the taming of recusant monarchs and the glory of the constitutional freedoms of 1688. As Sir Alan suggested -

'Gilbert Gerard was a minor cog in the Commonwealth administration of Cheshire, he left no portrait, no dairy, no personal letters by which we could come to know him. His improvements to Crewood were not mere ostentation. He enlarged the accommodation because in 1622 he married into a well know family of very worthy Puritans, staunch followers of Calvin ... and within the next 20 years he had fathered 7 sons & 6 daughters. In 1652 Gilbert Gerard, JP, was the only one who voted against imprisonment of a Mr Harrison arrayed for blasphemy. Harrison had said,

'the soul within man was God, and there was neither heaven nor hell but in a man's own self'.

Dissent was rampant in the Frodsham parish before the middle of the 17th century and the influence of the Quakers was to persist there for nearly 300 years. Gilbert declared for Parliament at the earliest opportunity. He was governor of the garrison at Northwich, and involved in the Battle of Tarvin in 1643. Gilbert was competent not only as a soldier but also as an administrator. Money was desperately short and Gerard was successful in raising Proposition money and no doubt Gilbert Gerard marched into Chester with Sir William Brereton, feeling the exhilaration of victory after so long a siege. Afterwards he was assiduous in his attendance at Sessions and played a very active role in the functions of local government. There is more than a touch of drama in the vision of Gilbert Gerard, descended from the hereditary Chief Forrester, on the Bench in the Chamber in the Forrest, dispensing justice in the name, not of the king, but of the Lord Protector. Ormerod described him as one of the most energetic and celebrated nonconformists that the extraordinary times produced.
Gilbert acquired Cattenhall in settlement for  arrears of pay but sold it the same year; maybe prompted by the failure of some other business venture. As early as 1633 he recognised the importance of the Crewood estate and its position beside the Weaver, to the growing Cheshire salt trade. The cost of carrying refined salt overland to Frodsham and thence by water to London and to the growing town of Liverpool was considerable, and could be reduced at that time only by loading salt into flat bottom barges and floating them downstream from the ancient ford at Pickering, then part of the Crewood demesne. Gilbert built a quay and and salt house beside the river and in 1678, son Benjamin was described as 'citizen and Salter of London'. This trade was expanding so rapidly that in the following century it brought about the canalisation of the river Weaver between Frodsham and Winsford, thus effectively destroying the importance of Crewood as an entrepot in this flourishing trade.
He remained energetic, ruthless and totally loyal to what remained of the Commonwealth. The accession of Charles II marked the end of his public career, and he lived out his last days at his town house, Green Hall in Chester. The Hearth Tax returns revealed that 4 of the 14 hearths at Green Hall had been blocked up to reduce the liability for tax; not popular in Royalist Chester!'

When Gilbert died in 1673 the Gerard's let the farm for the first time, the tenant was John Williamson, a Quaker. This was a good deal; the traditional Quaker culture was hard work and innovation ... and it showed ... in 1693 the 180 acres of Crewood were leased to Thomas Minshall and the details of the contract survived and provided a picture of successful mixed farming. In 1710 the farm under tenant Ralph Birkenhead, a yeoman from Kingsley, was enlarged from enclosures. In 1728 William Manifold, yeoman of Leftwiche, took over the tenancy and from 1861 this family together with that of Thomas Moreton, continued their toils at Crewood for 200 years! So when Crewood Hall passed by marriage to the Leycester family in 1728 it was in good nick, producing an abundance of renowned Cheshire cheese. The surviving Manifold leases indicated the parish obligations involved - overseer of the poor, surveyor of highways and of boundaries ... highways were generally in appalling condition and the bounds were still being 'beaten' ... in addition there were tenant cultivation and husbandry requirements ... nevertheless by 1808 agriculturalist Henry Holland noted that - 

'corn prices were improving and the famed Cheshire Cheese found a ready market in the growing industrial towns of Lancashire'.

Such commercial activity during the industrial revolution made these interesting times for farmers. Farmers prospered during the population explosion in the cities and during the Napoleonic Wars but a crunch came in 1815 ... and the infamous Corn Laws from 1815 to 46 didn't help. After the Corn Laws were repealed the growth of trade and population outpaced the corn imports from America and from 1850-75 was the last great period of agricultural prosperity in England.

In 1928 the last of the Leycesters died without a male heir and Crewood Hall was purchased by Joseph Edgar Shaw, a farmer from South Cheshire. But the farm was struggling and on Shaw's death it was sold to Sir Ernest Stacey, a Liverpool stockbroker. Then, Timothy Crook, a Kelsall farmer took over a depreciating asset.

In 1966 Crewood Hall passed to Sir Alan Waterworth who wrote his admirable history of Crewood in 1975.

But ownership titles tells us little about the economic activities on the land ... what was happening at the grass roots ... why the fall from triumph to tragedy?

Crewood, like most of Cheshire was originally forest. And the forests persisted longer than elsewhere in this neck of the woods because of the priorities of the Royal hunting pursuits centred around neighbouring Delamere.

Eventually population pressures and the heavy plough made the clays of Crewood attractive for farmers ... and there was a convenient ford across the Weaver at Pickerings. For centuries subsistence farming was the norm with some surpluses available for the local market.

Then British farming became the marvel of world, and from 1688 England became the granary of Europe ... but grain was not for everyone, Cheshire and Crewood Hall led the way in cow husbandry.

Crewood was a superb example of innovative farming, no farm history better illustrated the success of the Cheshire agricultural revolution - 

selective breeding

enclosures, drainage & recovery of wastes

new cropping systems, turnips, clover, rotation, wheat & barley and manures

cheese making technology & mechanisation

The productivity of the farm just got better and better - in 1750 the population working the land was 5.7 million, in 1850 from a population 16.6 million only 22% were employed in farming ... 3.6 million.

The country wide success of the agricultural revolution in England was capped by a pinnacle of technological innovation on the Cheshire farms ... the mass production of cheese for the London market and the Navy. Charles Foster suggested -

'In 1808, the whole of Cheshire was organised for cheese production', '11,500 tons were made in the county, but at least as much was made in the surrounding counties and identified as Cheshire', 'Stilton and Cheddar cheeses also reached London in the 18th century but only in small quantities, these cheeses were so scarce that even noblemen complained they could not get one'  ...

Cheshire was ahead of the game, an innovative juggernaut - farmers, warehousemen, factors, mongers, shippers & grocers had solved the transport & logistics problems and larger herds produced larger cheeses once the skewering and pressing technology had been developed ... the delectable 60lb Cheshire cheeses were the envy of the world ...

The industrial revolution in the cities would never have happened without the agricultural revolution on the Cheshire farms ... innovative agricultural surpluses were essential to feed the multiplying mouths in the cities ... this was a cooperative effort of wealth creating synergies ... everywhere Cheshire cheese was sold in the exchange markets alongside Wedgwood's fine porcelain, Darby's pot & pans and Arkwright's cottons.

So why in 1930 was farming on its uppers?

Wise men said there would never be a living to be made again from farming in this country? Farms up and down the country were lying idle for want of a tenant, there were onerous effects of taxation and dilapidated buildings & equipment reflected the low incomes ... and there was a world wide depression as corn prices fell ... farmers in England were distraught ... as farmers overseas thrived.

Crewood only survived because Joseph Shaw and his successors turned the farm into a factory ... with larger herds, piped water, milking parlours, mechanisation and with progress in disease control in large flocks ... 25,000 Crewood Capons ... the innovations continued but what a struggle?

In December 1906 the London Times reported the ongoing decline in the agricultural population. Two 'causes' were identified. Firstly diminished demand for labour from cost cutting as farmers were confronted by lower produce prices. This had resulted in less arable farming with the plough and more land put down to grass and more labour saving mechanisation, 'forcing' labour off the land. Secondly there had been a reduction in supply of agricultural labour as more folk moved to the higher paid jobs in manufacturing which provided for growing aspirations for comforts and accommodation. 'Why should young enterprising men persevere in low paid farm work'? The decline was reported as a 'serious economic and social fact'. There was a call for subsidies and adaptation to new circumstances by moving to higher value fruit & vegetables and more poultry and dairy farming ... the so called 'other industries of a subsidiary character' ...

 A little later on January 6th 1907 the New York Times also reported on, 'the deplorable state into which British agriculture had fallen'. 'No other country shows so marked a falling off'.

What on earth was going on?

No one seemed to think that the changes of the industrial revolution were to be celebrated as an indication of economic success and progress ... change was almost universally decried as evil as dark satanic mills ravished an idyllic countryside flowing with milk and honey ... but no one had a clue about comparative advantage ... obviously not The London Times nor The New York Times.

Folk didn't seem to grasp the insights of David Ricardo. Who was David Ricardo and what was he mumbling about? ... and what was his difficult idea ... and why was it so difficult to get your mind round it?

Happenings happend, they were not a fiendish plan, the Frodsham & London markets for Crewood cheese were happily bustling ... this was not the laissez faire of the animal world where selfish greed was a behavioural norm; hard work, honesty & thrift were involved in the run away success of Crewood Hall. The market was responding to ordinary folk facing the consequences of their deals with other accountable human beings ... Crewood Hall produced nourishing Cheshire cheese which commanded a high price in London markets ... 'real' prices & 'real' wages at Crewood Hall depended on the quantity & quality of goods & services produced. Prices were fiendishly difficult to fix, the seemed to have a mind of there own, there was no way round that.

Everybody at Crewood remembered how in 1815 the Corn Laws attempted to 'protect' the farmers and fix prices, only to be ignominiously repealed in 1846.

Wealth creating Cheshire cheese production required specialisation (no way could scrumptious cheese be made without the dairy farming technology?), specialisation required trade exchange (no point in specialised manufacturing of scrumptious cheese if it couldn't be traded for other goodies?), exchange in the markets required confidence & trust (no point in doing deals with a con man?).  

The folk at Crewood Hall got on with the job while others became perplexed & greedily envious. The giant thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment in Edinburgh mulled over the events south of the border and in Mercantilist France and it was David Hume's mate, Adam Smith who had a go at trying to explain it all ... and then David Ricardo publicised his account of comparative advantage.

There existed a straight forward explanation of evolutionary economic change ... adaptation?

Crewood Hall was not alone in facing rising costs and dificult markets as cheap imports crushed their business.

Hafod Copper Smelting.

At the same time as Crewood was adding value to cows and the manufactories were adding value to wool, cotton and pots & pans, John Budd's young brother Edward was in trouble at Hafod, on the Tawe, just above Swansea.

There were fascinating parallels between the travails of evolutionary change at Crewood Hall and at the Hafod Copper Works.

The Bishops, Princes, General & bureaucratic majorities always promised salvation and taxation of others to pay for their hubris. As revenues fell short, they borrowed and when things get dire they clipped coins. But now there was a new opportunity ... businesses were creating wealth and accumulating capital ... in abundance ... the question was how to access these riches from new businesses?

The Vivians and Budds had seized the opportunity of adding value to Cornish copper by smelting ores on the rich coalfields of South Wales. But then in 1847 Edward Budd had the unenviable task of trying to explain the difficulties in his business to the law makers. For his pains he was subjected to abuse from The London Standard in 1849.

On October 22nd 1849 The London Standard argued persuasively, against the synergies of specialisation & scale in trade, and demonstrated a complete misunderstanding of the economic principle of comparative advantage -

Swansea had collected for itself 13/14ths of the copper smelted in the United Kingdom.

Formerly it was a real British town.

Of late since the march of the intellect it has betaken itself to worship strange Gods and the feelings and interests of its people have been transferred to foreign lands.

Having become mesmerised by Sir Robert Peel and his assistants, Swansea stood forward as an ardent auxiliary to promote and spread the pestilence of free trade.

They seek to prostrate everything that is staple to our country, to transfer our capital and to prostrate the labour and the industry of Great Britain.

Amongst the singular host that Mr Ricardo collected to aid him in the destruction was Mr Edward Budd, the Ajax of the occasion and a copper ore smelter of Swansea.

The interests of highly taxed Britons were protected by the laws against the untaxed foreigners. He could get copper ore from his Chilean mines £1 per ton cheaper in a foreign ship than in a British ship. Thereby outraging political economy by purchasing at the dearest in order to supply the cheapest market.

There is nothing in nature like a free trader he is the great & true monopolist, he is all for self at the expense of others.

Mr Budd could remember the quantity of coals he consumed in his large works yet he could not give any opinion with reference to the number of people which were employed.

Now, as the whole quantity smelted is 28,000 tons pure metal it follows that 71% is British produce, and only 20% foreign, and it is to increase the latter and diminish the former that the principle is to be put in operation which goes to destroy every other existing British interest, every bone fide production of the British soil, and every exertion and application of British capital and labour in every part of our Empire? Most certainly not.

Mr Budd tell us he has nearly one third of the Swansea smelting trade, a kind and extent of monopoly wherewith we humbly conceive Mr Budd ought to be thankful and sincerely content, without seeking to grasp more, and that to foreign advantage at the expense of what is British; while whatever capital he may posses, we would advise him to employ it in future in British in preference to foreign possessions.

The free traders of Swansea and their organ will find themselves much safer encircled by British iron and copper than if encased in foreign copper ore, which the cannon ball striking would scatter around with effects most destructive to the encased.

These arguments, with my italics, were advanced after the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 (The Navigation Acts were repealed in 1849) ... and, inexplicably, continued to be advanced whenever and wherever protectionism and trade globalisation were discussed ... 

The repeal of the Corn Laws was a triumph for economic science. Business men Robert Peel & Richard Cobden knew what David Ricardo was up to ... unfortunately too few folk understood the issue ... then and now ... Paul Krugman in 2013

Nobel laureate Paul Samuelson was once challenged by the mathematician Stanislaw Ulam -

'Name me one proposition in all of the social sciences which is both true and non-trivial'.

Samuelson’s answer? -

'Comparative advantage. That it is logically true need not be argued before a mathematician; that it is not trivial is attested by the thousands of important and intelligent men who have never been able to grasp the doctrine for themselves or to believe it after it was explained to them'.

This was arguably the single most powerful insight in economics after Adam the Smith laid the foundations.

Suppose country A was better than country B at making automobiles, and country B was better than country A at making bread. It was obvious (the academics would say 'trivial') that both would benefit if A specialized in automobiles, B specialized in bread and they traded their products. That was a case of absolute advantage.

But what if a country was bad at making everything? Would trade drive all producers out of business? The answer, according to Ricardo, was no. The reason was the principle of comparative advantage.

It says, countries A and B still stand to mutually benefit from trading with each other even if A was better than B at making everything. If A was much more superior at making automobiles and only slightly superior at making bread, then A should still invest resources in what it did best — producing automobiles — and export the product to B. B should still invest in what it did best — making bread — and export that product to A, even if it was not as efficient as A. Both would still benefit from the trade because of higher production. A country did not have to be best at anything to gain from trade. This was the difficult idea of comparative advantage.

The theory dated back to classical economist David Ricardo. It was one of the most widely accepted principles among economists. It was also one of the most misunderstood among non-economists because it was confused with absolute advantage.

Comparative advantage was available to everybody, absolute advantage was only available to the skilled.

It was often claimed, for example, that some countries or some people had no comparative advantage in anything. That was quite impossible.

Think about it ... and understand how Adam the Smith and David Ricardo explained the mixed fortunes of Crewood Hall and Hafod copper ...

'Kingsley - the Story of a Cheshire Village' by W A Gibson & A W Waterworth, 1975.


Any corrections and additional information gratefully received contact john p birchall

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