The history of land ownership in Elston is extremely difficult to unravel and, even at the time of the Domesday Book, things are complicated. The greater part of the parish was owned by Ilbert de Lacy, Lord of Pontefract in Yorkshire, and his sub-tenant was Arnegrim, a Danish name ; The Bishop of Lincoln owned part of Elston and his sub-tenants were Arnegrim as above, and Ravensort, another Danish name ; Roger de Busli, Lord of Tickhill, Yorkshire, held 174 manors in Nottinghamshire, including Elston, and Norman the Priest is mentioned as holding land in Roger de Busli’s manor.
By the end of the 12th century the de Lacy land had passed to the Waleys and the lands of the Bishop of Lincoln were held by the Buseys, and even the Knights Templar owned a piece of Elston. The de Busli’s land passed to Galfrid de Staunton in 1100, whose descendents held it until the end of the 14th century.
By the end of the 14th century the de Lacy estate had passed to Sir John de Depedene and thence to the Leekes. An important family in Elston in the 15th and 16th centuries were the Methleys. In 1575 Elizabeth Methley, the only daughter and heiress of the last of them, married John Lascelles, 3rd son of George Lascelles of Sturton and Gateford in the north of Nottinghamshire. He held the estate of Kneeton, where he continued to live until his only son, George, married in 1599. On his marriage George was given the Kneeton estate and his father moved to Elston. John Lascelles died in 1616 and there is a tablet to him over the tower arch inside Elston church. The Lascelles association with Elston ended in 1692 with the death of his great-grandson, John Lascelles, although he left his mother with a life interest in the estate. She died in 1708 and the estate was purchased by the Darwins from the Lascelles family.
By the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th the Bromley family of East Stoke increased their property holdings in Elston, acquiring the manors of Stonhall and Golhall, However the principal landowners were the Darwins, who continued to purchase land and property in the village throughout the 19th century so that most of the property and farmland in and around the village belonged to the Darwins until the estate was sold at auction in September 1945.
Aside from the Darwin land, there were many other farms in and around the village, many of which are still being worked. On the corner of Top Street and Toad Lane was Firs Farm, where The Paddocks and Paddocks Close now stand, and at the junction of Old Chapel Lane and Low Street is Poplars Farm, still worked by Robert Lockwood. Continuing along Low Street is Hollies Farm (now a timber merchant’s) ; Tudor Farm became a mushroom farm, before Tudor Oaks was built on the site in 1999 ; and Chapel Farm was leased by the late Les Wright from Notts County Council. Devon Farm, Meadow Farm and Elston Lodge Farm were created after the 1801 Enclosure Act to manage the farmland outside the Village. Devon Farm was owned at one time by Robert Middleton of Elston Towers. On the death of his widow in 1903 it passed to her sister, Elizabeth Tansley and finally to her grandson, William Middleton Tansley, who farmed there prior to joining the R.A.F. He served on Lancaster Bombers based at Scampton and was killed on his second tour of duty in 1942. (see Elston’s War Memorial). His widow sold the farm and returned to her native Village of Abson near Bristol where she had him buried.
Farming has been the most important industry throughout the history of the parish, so two parts of the Project are being devoted to it. The first of these was to map the whole parish, showing – much like a patchwork quilt – the farms that lie within and, in part, beyond the parish boundaries. The second is to provide a brief history of each of the farms. Ordnance Survey maps show field boundaries and the names of buildings, but they don’t show the boundaries of the farms themselves. And there is very little that has been written about the farms : even the Elston Index doesn’t say much and it rather concentrated on the village itself.
The Heritage Project is not only about recording the past : it’s also about recording the present for the benefit of future generations. In another ninety years, our grandchildren will be grateful that we made such efforts. We began by writing to the farmers and tenants in the parish. With the help of a couple of farmers, Robert Lockwood and Ray Horner, we identified the various plots across the parish and wrote to the tenants attaching a map and a short questionnaire, asking them if they could mark the outline of their farm on the map with a coloured pen so that the exact boundaries were clear. This would be copied and used to produce a “patchwork quilt” map of the parish. The questionnaire asked :
1. The approximate acreage of the farm,
2. Whether they were the tenant or owner, and if not the owner, who was ?
3. When they first occupied the farm,
4. What were the principal activities, crops or animals,
5. Who was the previous owner,
6. Whether the size of the farm had changed in their tenancy, and
7. Whether they had any photographs of farming activities.
Regrettably there was a far from complete response to most of the questions but sufficient to have identified all the owners and tenants and to construct the patchwork quilt map as at August 2008. While some had given information about crops there was insufficient data to compile a history of each farm.
A great deal was known about the land ownership in Elston in historical times from a lecture given in 1970 by Mr. K. S. S. Train of the Thoroton Society and from The Elston Index by Christopher Blackamore and Frederick Thomas (1997), but there was little or no knowledge of current land ownership. The days of the great land owners are gone and most of the parish is occupied by comparatively small farms. Ordnance survey maps show individual field boundaries and farm buildings but they do not delineate the extent of the farms. Farming has been the main activity in the parish for centuries and it would clearly be wrong for the Project to concentrate on the buildings in the village itself and neglect the major role that farms had in Elston’s recent history. Many of these farms have disappeared since the Second World War but the names of a dozen or so, commemorated in the names of houses which can be seen in even the most cursory walk round the village, bear witness to the sheer number of farms that once flourished within Elston itself, quite aside from the wider parish. And so a short term project was undertaken to identify the current ownership of all the land in the parish.
Using the expert knowledge of a couple of local farmers to identify the land ownership as far as possible, a questionnaire, a map, and a covering letter was drawn up and sent out to each farm. The questionnaire asked the farmer to delineate his own farm and to indicate the names of his neighbours so that any gaps could be filled in where we didn’t already know the names of the owners. The responses indicated that little seemed to be known by current owners about the history of their farms, however the information was sufficient to compile a list of owners and tenants as at August 2008. As tenancies changed fairly frequently the exercise would be a snapshot which we would not undertake to update regularly.
Mary Peatfield, Elston's second oldest resident, had produced a copy of the 1945 Darwin Auction catalogue which included some elegant colour coded maps of the lots. She was also able to relate from memory all the buyers at the auction, thereby creating a snapshot of ownership of most of the land in and around the village in 1945.
Following the analysis of the questionnaires a patchwork quilt map of the parish was created with a key showing the owners and tenants as at August 2008.
Schedule of farm and other land ownership as at August 2008.
1 Booth's Charities 1 Michael Sheldon
2 The Bilton Family 2a Peter Onions
2b Peter Onions
2c Peter Onions
3 Barons Holdings 3 Eden Hall Spa
4 Alan & Linda Matthews 4 Alan & Linda Matthews
5 T B Horner & Sons 5a T B Horner & Sons
5b T B Horner & Sons
5c T B Horner & Sons
6 Trent Skip Hire 6 Frank & Peter Lee
7 Ken Gresswell 7 Ken Gresswell
8 Notts County Council 8 Ellen Wright
9 Ian Price 9 Michael Sheldon
10 St Leonard's Trust 10a Ivor Walker
10b T B Horner & Sons
11 Mark Brennan 11 Mark Brennan
12 Ivor Walker 12 Ivor Walker
13 H Wright 13a F E Lockwood & Son
13b F E Lockwood & Son
14 Hardy Bros. 14 Hardy Bros.
15 Richard Stone 15 Richard Stone
16 Elston Parochial Church Council 16 Elston P.C.C.
17 Darren Wilson & Erica Church 17 Darren Wilson & Erica Church
18 Ian Montgomerie 18a Ian Montgomerie
18b Ian Montgomerie
19 F E Lockwood & Son 19a F E Lockwood & Son
19b F E Lockwood & Son
20 R H Hardstaff & Sons 20 R H Hardstaff & Sons
21 Elston Parish Council 21 Ellen Wright / Village Allotments Committee
22 The Southwell Diocese 22a John Walker
22b F E Lockwood & Son
23 Richard Ogden 23a Richard Ogden
23b Richard Ogden
23c Richard Ogden
24 David Knight 24 David Knight
25 Everard Snowden 25 Richard Ogden
26 Robert Earl 26 Robert Earl
27 Kathleen Speir 27 Kathleen Speir
Ivor Walker, lifelong Elston resident, recalls the changes that have taken place in farming over his lifetime :
If you were to stop and dig a few feet under any rural housing estate you would probably see evidence of farming. It is no different in Elston and the names of houses in the village commemorate the farms on which they were built. When I was born there were ten – Chapel, Manor, Tudor, Stokefields, Hollies, Poplars, Firs, Rectory, Hall, and Lineham House, not counting Grange Farm on Brecks Lane and Devon and Meadow Farms on Cross lane and a few others in the wider parish. Today Lineham House, run by Robert Lockwood and his son Martin, is the only remaining working farm in the village itself.
My seventy years in Elston have seen many changes in farming. When I was a young lad, all the farms had livestock, mainly dairy cows. Now there are no cows, no sheep, no pigs and no poultry. The grass fields have disappeared except for the odd small field for horses. No longer is there a cricket ground in Stokefield Homestead that was once provided by T B Horner or a soccer pitch at Lineham House Farm that was provided by William Poucher and later by Robert Lockwood.
Looking back at how the village was organised and run you would see that every important institution such as the Parochial Church Council, Parish Council, School Governors, Methodist Church, Women’s Institute, Mothers’ Union and Village Hall had a farmer or his wife totally involved. They had the village interests at heart, their workers lived in the village, their children went to the village school, and they worshipped at the local church or chapel.
The other things that were an important part of villagers’ lives were their three pubs -- The Horse and Gears, The King William IV, and The Chequers Inn – and the shops. The Horse and Gears became a shop and there was Beeston’s (later Smith’s) Shop, both in Low Street, another in Toad Lane next to The Chequers and latterly The Old Post Office in Top Street. The village also had two bakeries, a blacksmith’s and a saddler. Today only The Chequers remains of our three pubs and we have one small shop next to the Village Hall, both of which struggle to survive.
In 1945, when much of the world changed, so too did life in Elston. Agricultural machinery had improved and began to replace horses and older, less efficient, machines. In the two decades that followed we saw the gradual disappearance of mixed farming and the rapid reduction in the labour needed to work the land. To put this into context, between 1946 and 1976 the numbers of full-time farmworkers in the UK fell by approximately two-thirds from 695,000 to 213,000. And the total number of holdings declined by about 40% while the average size of farms rose by 59% to 70 hectares.
In the 1960s and 70s we saw the introduction of winter barley and in the mid 1970s oil seed rape, originally planted just as a break crop as part of the rotation system, became much more widely planted as a valuable source of vegetable oil. Bigger farm machines meant that hedges had to be removed and stock had to be sold off as grass was ploughed under. As you traveled around the country you would have seen these changes -- larger fields, and corn driers and grain stores rising in the farmyards. Farming was surely leaving the villages and becoming big business. But while some small farms tried to survive by specializing, many sold out and their land was snapped up by other farmers who were becoming businessmen. And that is how it is today.
So much for the past. But I believe the future of farming is not settled yet. With costs and the environmental effects of transport and shipping, and public fears about chemical crop sprays and fertilizers, we are already experiencing a return to more traditional and organic ways of providing food. There is mounting pressure for restaurants and households to source food locally and an increase in the popularity of growing your own food. In Elston we see the increase in land use for allotments although it is unlikely that such local enterprises will ever reintroduce the working horse. We may even see a change in our food-eating habits, but this will take many years and much education and world changes. Whatever happens, we can be confident that British farmers will be able to produce temperate crops and that we will not starve.