A Steeple Claydons’ History


Claydon’s soil has always been better suited for dairy-farming than for sheep or corn .It was natural therefore for the farmers to allow much  of the arable land to revert to grass, when the village no longer required,  as in the Middle Ages, to grow all its own food. This is why Claydon retained almost longer than any parish in England what is known as the Two-Field System, i.e. the division of the cultivated land into two large fields, one of which was always fallow. By the eighteenth century most English villages had adopted the less wasteful Three-Field or Four-Field systems, by which only a third or a quarter of the land was lying fallow at any one moment. In Claydon, however, where about half the old arable strips had been turned into permanent grass, such economies (all designed to grow more corn) were irrelevant. The farmers main concern was to produce butter and beef for the London market, and for this the old fashioned Two-Field system was actually more efficient than the Four-Field system, because it permitted more pasture to be available each year. But towards the end of the eighteenth century the price of wheat rose so rapidly that the Claydon farmers decided to change over to the Three –field system, so that they could grow more wheat.

Two attempts were made. The first, in 1785, failed owing to the selfishness of one of the farmers who “turned in his cattle upon the crop of beans, oats and barley and the crops were in consequence totally destroyed on that part of the field, which, agreeable to the ancient custom, would have been fallow. A second attempt in 1792 was cut short by the passing in April, 1795,of An Act for Dividing and Inclosing the Open and Common Fields, Meadows, and Pasture of and in the Parish  of Steeple Claydon, in the County of Bucks, which abruptly extinguished the open-field  system  altogether and substituted the modern privately  owned compact farms and hedged farms. The Act was steered through Parliament by George Hardinge, a London lawyer and wit, M.P for Old Sarum,   who owned land in Steeple Claydon. New roads were laid out and many of the old roads (including the one-time main road from Aylesbury to Buckingham) were erased. Farms, which had previously been dependent on working for the bigger farmers, were substituted for the modern agricultural laborer who has nothing to live on except his wages.