Corn growing - mid C16th to C18th
The grain most often recorded in the inventories was ‘corn’ but it is difficult to know which grain this actually was. It was described as ‘brush corn’ (1694), ‘fallow corn’ (1694), ‘hard corn’ and ‘malt corn’. In the 16th century 83% of the inventories studied list corn. In the case of malt corn it was probably barley, although corn is generally thought of as wheat. Richard Wylde of the Ford (1585) had ‘hard corn’ and barley worth £24. It is suggested that hard corn was mixed wheat and rye. Walter Saunders had 5 acres of lent corn ‘upon the ground’ in April 1564, worth £2 (8s. per acre). Corn growing in February 1575 was worth 6s.8d. per acre and the price had increased to 13s.4d. per acre in December 1593 (based on inventories for Richard Crompe and John Richards respectively). In the 17th century the number of inventories listing corn fell to 23.5%.
Rye appears on 16% and barley on 11% of the inventories made between 1550 and 1600. Rye grows on poorer soils, as does barley, which would suggest that some of the corn listed in the inventories was in fact, barley. Barley could be used to make bread as well as malt for brewing but also as winter feed for stock. In March 1720 Grace Selvester had 5 acres of barley described as ‘fallow barley’ and valued at £1 per acre.
Wheat and oats both appear on 14% of the inventories in the 16th century. Wheat was used to make a superior bread and biscuits, and was much preferred to rye bread. In the last half of the 16th century three farmers grew ‘muncorn’, which was a mixture of grain, usually wheat and rye, grown together. The percentage of farmers growing this mixed grain remained the same at the end of the 17th century, but in the 18th century there is no mention of muncorn in any of the inventories studied.
By the 1600s, in Worcestershire as elsewhere, there was a change in the pattern of crops being grown, with wheat being sown alongside rye as a winter crop, and oats and pulses being grown in the spring. By the middle of the 17th century there was very little rye being grown in Dodderhill (4% rye, 6% wheat) although it continued to be grown in preference to wheat on the much lighter soils of Chaddesley Corbett and Bromsgrove (13% rye, 3% wheat). Rye was grown as a crop in Bewdley until 1741, but in Dodderhill it is only recorded once between 1650 and 1725, when Humphrey Tomes of Pipers Hill left 2 bushels of rye. This was worth 2s.6d. a bushel compared with wheat at 3s. and oats at 1s.6d. a bushel. Rye and oats were, therefore, grown by only half the number of farmers that grew them in the previous century, which suggests that the soil had improved dramatically as the century continued.
Next page – Agriculture – Soil Fertility