Victorian County History|
A History of Dorset
AGRICULTURE in Dorset passed through many vicissitudes during the nineteenth century, and the lot of the agriculturist, bright as were its prospects in the earlier years, is now cast in very hard places. Indeed, so great has been the change that the farmer of 1800, were he alive now, would scarce recognize his county. The number of sheep kept has dwindled, the corn area has become less, dairying is more general, the area of permanent and rotation pastures has increased, and many small minor industries, productive of great profit as they were, have completely died out. The period of depression which commenced in 1879 and culminated in 1895 and 1899 has left its mark on the county's chief industry, and it is not going too far to say that agriculture in Dorset is by no means in a prosperous state.
Fortunately the ill effects which the period of depression has left behind it have had the contrary effect upon the farmer himself. Whereas at the beginning of the century the Dorset farmer was looked upon by his neighbours as a man slow to change his primitive and antiquated methods of cultivation, there is now no farmer in the land who is so keen to essay improvements or who follows the progress of science in relation to the pursuit of agriculture with greater interest. But the depression has had its ill effect in so far that it caused many farmers to sell their land in order to provide capital for the continuance of their industry ; and so Dorset, which at one time was pre-eminently the county of the yeoman, has seen this most useful class of men almost extinguished within its borders. In his place has risen an excellent type of tenant farmer. The days of the I three-bottle' man are past ; the farmer of to-day is a keen, hard-working, practical man, who by dint of early rising and late retiring, and by constant supervision and close application to his work, manages to snatch a hard-earned livelihood from the land. Conservative he has always been, and this trait of character is exemplified in his attitude towards a new-comer in the county. A practical man is welcomed, but years must pass before he is admitted into the fold of the Dorset farmer. Decades pass before he becomes `one of them' ; he is regarded, thought of; spoken of as a I foreigner.' This is not a charge of inhospitality, and the stranger who makes the acquaintance of the native farmer is pleasurably gratified by the hearty welcome he receives.
The climate of Dorset is dry and salubrious rather than mild and bland, and the seasons, except in spots very sheltered or possessed of very warm soils, are less forward than those in parts of England not so far south. In the neighbourhood of the coast the rainfall is heavier in the winter than is needed, whilst conversely there is too little rain in the summer. As a necessary concomitant there is very little snow or frost during the winter months. Sea fogs, too, hang over the hills, with, it is suggested, prejudicial effects on the corn.
Dorset, unlike many, perhaps the majority, of our English counties, shows no one soil so predominant as to constitute a county characteristic. Towards the west on the lowlands it is mostly a deep rich loam ; on the more elevated land it is a sandy loam intermixed with silex. In the northern and western parts, the vale of Blackmoor, 19 miles long and 14 miles broad, contains on various substratal clay foundations, limestone, &c. some fine arable land as well as rich pasturage. Orchards here produce excellent cider. On the south, in the Isle of Portland and most parts of the Isle of Purbeck the soil is a stone brash. In the centre of the county the soil on the lowlands is a deep rich loam. The soil of the downs is generally a light calcareous earth covered by a remarkably fine turf. It is difficult to apportion the areas covered by the different soils, but some good judges put the percentages at :- Deep rich loam ten per cent. ; a somewhat cold clay is credited with twenty per cent., and chalk with twenty-five per cent. ; sandy formations occupy about fifteen per cent. and almost uncultivable rock is reckoned at ten per cent. This leaves twenty per cent. or one-fifth where the soils are very mixed even in a single parish or for that matter on a single farm. Serious geological disturbances and, geologically speaking, of no very remote date
Source: Victorian County History - Dorset (1906)
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