A Steeple Claydons’ History


The immediate effect of the enclosure, according to an estimate made in 1812, was an increase in the amount of beef and butter produced and a decrease in the amount of grain. This meant that fewer farm-workers were required, and owing to a sudden rise at this time both in the cost of living and in Claydon’s population, the farm-workers who were employed received very low wages. A single man only got 3/6 a week; a married man got 6/-, or 7/6 if he had children.

  Until early in the eighteenth century the population remained roughly constant between two hundred and four hundred. Then only 164 were ‘chiefly employed in Agriculture), in 1831 it was 881. One result of this was appalling overcrowding. In 1801 were only 104 houses ,most of them two-or three-roomed cottages, in the whole parish; that is , an average of six or seven  persons in each cottage, by1832 things had improved a little, as there were then 189 houses (of a sort) in the parish.Another result was unemployment. The Poor Rate went up steadily after the Enclosure: in 1812 it was 6/-; in 1832 it was 12/- (which meant an annual tax of £1,596, or £1/15/- per head), when it was one of the highest in the country. Sir Harry Verney, who was asked by the Poor Law Commissioners in 1833 to comment on this state of affairs, reported that fifty able-bodied labourers were then in regular receipt of parish relief. They were, in his opinion, worse workmen than their fathers had been, partly because of the ‘low wages, and consequently bad food, which does not give the requisite strength,’ and partly for ‘want of constant employment. A labourer has said to me, “I had much rather have parish work which does not exhaust my strength, than farmers’ work, and another shilling a week”. Moreover, the labourers were continually changing their masters, “because when tired of their places, they know that the parish gives them as much for doing nothing as for working hard, which gives them time for working in their garden, wood-stealing, poaching, etc”.   

In November, 1830, the Buckinghamshire labourers’ smoldering discontent broke into something like rebellion. Ricks were burnt, threshing machines and other machinery were wrecked, and riotous crowds forced the farmers to promise higher wages. Details of what happened at Claydon are not known. All that is known is that Claydon rioters were so far successful that the unmarried farm worker’s pay was raised from 3/6 to 5/- a week which, according to Sir Harry, made the farmers far more angry and discontented than the labourers had been.