Coke and Honey

Long years ago, when I was at school, as part of our history curriculum we covered the British Agricultural Revolution. Living in Norfolk the focus, of course, was on the change from the open three-field system (which required one field to be fallow each year) to the revolutionary “Norfolk four-course system” (see below).

Bee and Nectar Mix

The “Bee and Nectar Mix” at High Ash Farm, Caister St Edmunds: Photo 21 June 2018

Coke of Norfolk

Coke of Norfolk (aka Coke of Holkham, aka Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester 1754-1842), was cited as the originator of this revolutionary agricultural system, able to provide food for the growing masses.

1st Earl Of Leicester

Coke of Holkham: downloaded from Wikipedia, and remastered by CP

In later years I discovered this wasn’t true. Though, true, he did much to improve his 30,000-acre estate at Holkham, in North Norfolk. To quote from Wikipedia

Coke has been described as “the real hero of Norfolk agriculture”, despite the fact that his land was so poor one critic is said to have remarked that “the thin sandy soil must be ploughed by rabbits yoked to a pocket knife”.

While Coke did much to promote the new system to his fellow politicians and landed classes, his interest was primarily stockbreeding.

A lamb at Venta Icenorum

A black-faced lamb, probably not of Coke’s breeding, but rather cute grazing at Venta Icenorum (Roman town at Caister St Edmunds): Photo 21t June 2018

The four-year crop cycle:

  • Year 1, wheat
  • Year 2, turnips
  • Year 3, barley with clover and ryegrass under-sown
  • Year 4, clover and grass grazed or cut for fodder

Developed in Norfolk (England) during the 17th century. I would argue an even earlier date.

Turnip Townshend

Today, the introduction of this revolutionary system of agriculture, crucial in its ability to feed the growing populations in the growing towns and cities, has been shunted onto the shoulders of Turnip Townshend, scion of the Norfolk Townshends of Raynham (aka Charles Townshend, 2nd Viscount Townshend 1674-1738; eldest son of Sir Horatio Townshend, 3rd Baronet & Viscount; and brother-in-law to prime minister Robert Walpole).

Turnip Townshend

Turnip Townshend: from Wikipedia

Charles Townshend was keen on turnips; he saw them as excellent fodder for his livestock.

But while the inclusion of turnips might represent an innovation, it wasn’t the turnips alone that allowed the fallow-field to fall out of use. Let me explain.

All Fodder to Me (or Organic Farming, aka Soil Fertility)

The use of turnips as winter fodder for the livestock had a double effect. With turnips as fodder more stock could be overwintered, which in turned produced more manure. Good for field fertility. Side effect of this was the “night-soil” man no longer called with his cart to collect the human “deposits” from towns and cities. (which might have had some bearing on the subsequent outbreaks of cholera).

But it was the inclusion of clover and rye-grass in the rotation that was the real innovation, and delivered a double whammy for soil fertility.

Hay field, overlooking Tas Valley

Recently cut hay field, overlooking Tas Valley, and Venta Icenorum: Photo 21 June 2018

Firstly, in grazing the fields the sheep provided fertiliser in situ.

Secondly, the clover, being a legume, converted the nitrogen found as a gas in the soil to a form those under-sown grasses could use. In addition, it further fertilised the soil ready for a bumper crop of cereals in the next year.

This was organic farming at its best.

vetch

Vetch growing in the “Bee and Nectar” MIx at High Ash Farm: Photo 21 June 2018

And who was responsible for the introduction of the clover and rye-grass?

Mostly the smaller tenant-farmers.

Calvinists and their Honeyed Gifts

And mostly in Townshend’s and Coke’s North Norfolk neighbourhood, those tenant farmers would have been recent immigrants from the Netherlands, fleeing religious persecution (aka Calvinists). They began to arrive in mid-1500s and continued in trickles and swarms during the next two centuries. Not only did they bring new strains of clover, they also introduced many of our now traditional market garden vegetables.

Which brings me to the honey …

A Pollen and Nectar Mix

These photos were taken on the walks around High Ash Farm (Caister St Edmunds, a few miles south of Norwich) where broad grassy walks invite the rambler in, and over 100 acres are devoted to the provision of a “Pollen and Nectar Mix” to attract endangered bees, moths and butterflies.

Sainfoin

Sainfoin growing at High Ash Farm: Photo 21 June 2018

In just a small patch of field I was able to count at least six different species of legume (trefoils, medicks, clovers, vetches and sainfoin) not to mention bedstraw and oxeye daisies. I expected the farm to have an apiary. Maybe it has, but it advertises itself as horse stables.

Bee and Nectar Mix

“Bee and Nectar Mix” field at High Ash Farm: Photo 21 June 2018

Now I look at this vista, and imagine how our countryside looked in the days before chemical fertilisation.

About crispina kemp

Spinner of Asaric and Mythic tales
This entry was posted in History, Photos and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

35 Responses to Coke and Honey

  1. Dale says:

    That was most interesting to read, Crispina. I am hoping, when I sell this house and buy a new one, to have a small garden for myself…I know it’s not nearly the same as having huge lands of crops but I do want to stay organic and do what needs must!

    Liked by 1 person

    • crimsonprose says:

      Myself, I’ve been a supporter of organic since the 60s (O Aged Hippy Me). And it’s brilliant that so many of the farms to the east & southeast of Norwich value the ‘organic’ customer. I can’t say the same for West Norfolk, which since Roman times has exhibited a tendency to agro-business. It has a different soil, a different subsoil, even a different micro-climate. In Georgian times it was home to the great landowners. Wheat and sheep farmers. With EU subsidies, it raked in the euros while destroying the soil. Oh, don’t get me started. I’m sure there are farmers in West Norfolk who also farm organically. Even so, the prairie-like fields present an impersonal face with little space for wildlife.
      I wish you the best with your organic gardening. There are so many ways to raise high yielding crops. Studies in symbiosis over recent years have provided new inspiration.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Dale says:

        Well guess who I’ll be harassing when I need info… 😉
        And, even here in Quebec, there are some organic farmers, but I really need to search for them… It’s fine and dandy to go to farmer’s markets but what crap are you putting on your crops?

        Liked by 1 person

      • crimsonprose says:

        That is the question to ask. Also, to look around. And look deep into small print. In UK, free-range chickens are as likely to be squeezed thousands together with a small opening that allows them fresh air (but they’re not in cages, you understand) as to be free to run around in a wider environment. Last summer I came across true free-range chickens. Oh, there were still thousands, but certainly not crammed together. Their ‘run’ was enormous. Wide open spaces, it was a delight to see. And this past week I walked through a farm specialising in field-kept pigs. My God, they were dirty, dusty. I had to take photos, of course.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Dale says:

        Of course you did.

        Friends of mine raise chickens every summer – I buyg 6-10 of them. They have some room to roam and I would prefer they had a bit more but understand the situation. Better than what you can find in the stores…

        Liked by 1 person

      • crimsonprose says:

        The ironic thing for me is, while I’m surrounded by organic and free-range farmers, with the exception of one I can’t get to their farm shops to fill my larder. OK, so the supermarkets sell organic, but it comes again to what they define as organic. And that one I can get to, that requires 2 buses and an hour’s walk. Oh but they do sell fresh and healthy veg. And you can talk to the staff and ask pertinent questions, and walk around and . . . yea, but a bit far to go. Drawback of not having a car. But feet were made first, walking is healthy, and driving is yet another menace in this world. Sometimes, my values work against me. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      • Dale says:

        That is indeed ironic.
        And yes, walking is good… within reason. Can’t be carrying forty pounds of market produce for 5 km

        Liked by 1 person

      • crimsonprose says:

        Well, not on top of the 2 bottles of water (no, not litres), and my lunch, and my first-aid kit, spare socks, map, camera …………… No, I usually content myself with some fruit

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joy Pixley says:

        Butting in here — I am very lucky to have a farmers’ market on Saturday mornings within walking distance. All locally produced (certified so) and many organic. Vegetables and fruit but also flowers, meat, fish, honey, soap, breads & pastries. Very nice! (If expensive.) I go with my big bag or backpack and don’t mind the limitation, because if I bought more than I could carry, how would I possibly eat it all before it went bad?

        Liked by 1 person

      • crimsonprose says:

        Nice one, Joy. And let’s be honest, fruits and veggies do have weight.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joy Pixley says:

        Indeed — a bag of fruit and veg can get awfully heavy awfully fast! But since it’s just me eating, and I have only so much room in my freezer, it’s good to have a rein on how much I’ll buy.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Joy Pixley says:

    This is really interesting, Crispina, thanks for sharing this bit of history! When I think of technological change over time, I realize that I forget about how agricultural production kept evolving long after the original agricultural shift. Part of the problem being that I can’t seem to keep these concepts in my head: I learn about legumes and fertilizers and rotating crops and then boom, by the next week it’s all fallen out of the back of my head somehow. It makes me wonder how I’ll ever get farms and crops that make sense in my fictional world, being so ignorant of all these details. Maybe good world-building can only really happen with a team of people, each good at some aspect — after all, how could any one writer know *everything*? Hopefully I’ll get a few basics right and gloss over the rest with a broad brush and nobody will notice.

    Liked by 1 person

    • crimsonprose says:

      I think it’s fair to say that most fantasy writers focus most on just one or two aspects of their fantasy world. With me, it’s textiles, and yes, agriculture, and myth, but I struggle with transport systems (Lo, first came the feet), with weaponry (I’ve made spears and longbows and arrows, but beyond that …) And while I can hack social systems at their less developed level, I’m a total non-starter when the society becomes multidimensional. And I struggle to get to grips with trade. But it’s the same for all writers. Focus on what you know, and wing the rest. Good old wiki is a great help there.
      I’ve always had a thing for the history of agriculture, perhaps because much of my childhood was spent on working farms, perhaps because going to school in Norfolk (very much an agricultural county) with the likes of Coke and Holkham and Turnip Townshend, not to mention Robert Kett and his rebellion (told these days as being against the enclosure of common lands, but really it was about the rights of the common man), then there’s the fact of the wool industry so evident around us, with the ‘wool churches’ … you get the drift. It was everywhere about me.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Joy Pixley says:

        You make an excellent point, that people who grow up around more historical experiences have an advantage from day one. But I think you’ve done much more research and reading –and remembering– than most, which puts you in great stead for world building. I read all these books about, say, castles or textiles, and then just forget all the details by the next week. I’m coming to realize what a profound disadvantage my poor memory is, but ah well, no sense complaining. Obviously I just have to write *everything* down!

        Liked by 1 person

      • crimsonprose says:

        If you are a kinetic and/or visual learner, then taking notes is an excellent way to remember things. And I bet that’s what you did when studying for a degree. I’m fully useless remembering anything anyone tells me. Telesales worst nightmare! I’m not even that brilliant at remembering things I’ve seen. But combine the kinetic act with the visual, and … well, you see the results. Plus, of course, you can always go back to your notes. I think this is where people who rely too much on sites like Wikipedia are doing themselves no favours. How easy to cut and paste. And the next day, all is forgotten. Okay, I’ll get off that hobby-horse now.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joy Pixley says:

        Yes, I’m lousy at understanding and remembering what I hear (versus read) also. But it’s worse than that. I can’t remember most things that I definitely knew at one time. For instance, I thought it was just normal that I couldn’t remember almost anything from my high school or college days or 20s. but then all these old friends of mine remember tons of details that I don’t. Sometimes I have to ask my friends things about my *own* life, like where I lived, and who my housemates were, and even the names of men I dated!

        Liked by 1 person

      • crimsonprose says:

        Cripes, I thought I’d had a major memory loss with CFS. Could yours be health-related? Thyroid or something? Or over-indulgence of recreational substances (by which I also mean alcohol.) At least it doesn’t sound like alzheimer, that affects recent memories; longterm memories remain intact. Maybe you were so distracted, focused on something else, high stress etc. There are loads of reasons.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joy Pixley says:

        I think probably a multitude of causes but yes, almost certainly not Alzheimer’s. It could be worse — at least it’s not one of those serious psychiatric disorders where the person literally cannot recognize faces. I recognize them, I’m just awful with names (which I realize is not that unusual, mine is just to a bit higher of a degree).

        Liked by 1 person

      • crimsonprose says:

        You have obviously found a workable system of coping; you write and have a good, if stressful, career. Many with a problem like yours would simply cave in.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joy Pixley says:

        Well to be fair, I don’t think I have that bad of a problem. I think probably a lot of people have bad memories — at least, relative to the people I’m comparing myself to — and just don’t realize it. It doesn’t affect my day to day life much, although boy, it would be useful at work if I could remember all those names and figures off the top of my head!

        Liked by 1 person

      • crimsonprose says:

        The secret is to have the information written in a convenient form in a convenient place where you can quickly access it without it being obvious!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Brian Bixby says:

        Also tossing my two cents in: one reason some knowledge won’t stick is because the learner has no framework into which it fits. I can pick up almost anything in history because I have the background and framework for it . . . except when I don’t. Textiles, like Crispina? Don’t know enough about them to organize the information. Same with many styles of architecture: is that Art Nouveau or Art Deco I’m looking at?

        Liked by 1 person

      • crimsonprose says:

        I have the same problem with coinage, even if it’s British money, but especially if it isn’t.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Brian Bixby says:

        How could you ever possibly have trouble with a system that includes pounds, shillings, pence, florins, crowns, and guineas? 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • crimsonprose says:

        Not to mention farthings, halfpennies, threepenny-joes, and sixpences. Oh, and half-a-crowns.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Brian Bixby says:

        Thanks to my Scottish mother, I’ve got some of the old pre-decimal currency from before 1948, mostly copper but some silver.
        And I do remember being amused when I stopped in Jedburgh, being asked when I made a purchase whether I was going north or south, because they didn’t want to give me Bank of Scotland 1-pound notes if I was going into England.

        Liked by 1 person

      • crimsonprose says:

        That’s cos Bank of Scotland notes weren’t (aren’t?) legal tender. I remember getting smacked wrists when I was doing a spot of bar work cos I’d accepted a Scottish note. I hadn’t even noticed the difference. Hells, I think it had a thistle on it. But then, so had many of our coins.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Brian Bixby says:

        I looked this up. The current view appears to be that Scottish (and N. Irish) banknotes are not legal tender anywhere, but that’s “legal tender” in its narrowest, most specific sense — satisfaction of a debt. Whether a business will accept ANY bank note (even Bank of England) is a private matter between the business and the customer.
        Now, whether this was always the case and the old business about Scottish 1-pound notes was a myth, or whether the law has changed in recent decades, I do not know. Suffice it to say, if most English businesses won’t take a Scottish note, then it’s effectively not valid money in England.

        Liked by 1 person

      • crimsonprose says:

        Surely it’s whether the Bank of England will accept it? The unsuspecting woman behind the bar in an English pub might accept the note. Her boss, the landlord, might pay account for it in his books. and pay it into the bank. But will the bank accept it or refuse it? I don’t know the answer. This isn’t my area of expertise. I was told, no the Bank of England will not. But did the person who told me this really know the answer? Or did they repeat what they’d been told? In other words, was it fact, or factoid?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Brian Bixby says:

        A quick read of various articles indicates that Scottish banks have to have money to back up their bank notes, that that money is often Bank of England bank notes, and that this is one of the mechanisms whereby the Bank of England (by far the largest of the currency-issuing banks) regulates the others.
        So, I suspect that the Bank of England has no problems at all with accepting Scottish bank notes.

        Like

      • crimsonprose says:

        Ah well, that solves that. (I knew my mention of coinage would get you working) 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Lynn Love says:

    Such lovely photographs, Crispina! Love those wild flowers. In our new garden, we’re trying to improve the lot for visiting insects – we dug up the front lawn and now have foxgloves, borage, knapweed, nicotiana and lots of other lovely things growing. It’s astonishing the difference it makes and so quickly. Two months ago, you would hardly have seen an insect in our front garden, now it’s buzzing with bees, butterflies, damsel flies. Out the back we;ve left some grass to grow long, sown some wildflower seeds and the place buzzes. If you make the environment, nature will step in. Lovely, fascinating post

    Liked by 1 person

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