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Farming in Lancashire


Looking around the attractive countryside of Lancashire it is worth remembering that, over the centuries, the clearance of the forests, planting of trees and hedges, and the tilling of soil has helped shape the rural landscape.


In the past Lancashire was an inhospitable county, with lowland areas covered in scrub and forest, surrounded by meres and large areas of peat mosses.  The sparse population generally settled on the drier hills and moors in the east.  It is believed that Neolithic man was the first to bring agriculture to the area, sowing seeds and herding livestock.  Then, the Romans built roads and brought technical improvements such as the iron ploughshare, resulting in more land clearance and cultivation.


When the Doomsday Book was written, only small areas between the Ribble and Mersey were cleared for farming and land further north was considered ‘waste’.  Even so, agriculture was the main occupation.  Oats were grown on the strips of cleared land and plough and oxen were kept.  Scattered upland farms kept cattle and sheep.  The monastic orders influenced and improved farming, like the Cistercians of Whalley Abbey, who were expert sheep farmers.


Medieval Lancashire was still mainly forest-covered, with areas such as Bowland, Rossendale and Pendle used for hunting, Fairs and markets were organised and, despite the unfavourable conditions, farming was then the main occupation.  But many farmers were forced to supplement their incomes by spinning and weaving at home, especially as wool was readily available.  So, while the emphasis remained chiefly on cattle, more sheep farming did develop in response to the expansion of the woollen market.  Flax and hemp, used in the making of linen, were grown in the plains of west Lancashire.  Major inventions in the textile industry, however, meant that cloth production later became factory based.  Population growth forced more land clearance, including the Forest of Bowland.


Here and there you will see canals and their viaducts, once vital links in boosting farm production.  The Leeds and Liverpool Canal enabled easier transport of fertilizers, manure and grain.  Market gardens developed around Liverpool during the C19th and the Fylde became the foremost grain growing area in the country.


Today farming in Lancashire is still one of the most important and efficient single industries.  It produces a wide range of fresh foods for nearby cities and towns.  The farms, mostly family run, are generally half the average size of those in England and Wales, being around 36 hectares (89 acres) but many are even less and are tended by part-time farmers.  Most depend on soil type, climate, situation and farm size, with the higher uplands being used for sheep grazing.


Grass is a vital crop in Lancashire and grazing it you will see the black and white Friesian cows, or the Holstein, and some small herds of Jerseys, Guernseys, Ayrshires and Shorthorns too.  Milk production is higher than in many areas in England.  Beef herds of Aberdeen Angus, Charolais and Hereford will be found in the hilly areas, while sheep breeds may include the Swaledale, Herdwick or Rough Fell.


Peer over the farm gate and see familiar whiskered grain, barley, growing - the most widely grown crop here.  Wheat is important too, and both are used for livestock feed.  Perhaps the most noticeable recent change to the rural landscape is the vivid yellow fields of oilseed rape.  New, harder varieties mean these dazzling fields are now seen more often in the north.  The area is renowned for its horticultural produce and vegetables, as for under-glass crops such as tomatoes and lettuce.  Look out for pick your own fruit farms, offering strawberries, gooseberries and raspberries.


Today farming is changing.  The EEC is moving away from production subsidies, and putting greater emphasis on conservation.  Farmers have always planted trees, but in the last ten years, woodland on farms in the north west has increased by more than a third.  Ponds and other wildlife habitats have been created too.  These changes affect profits, and so farming has come full circle with the need to diversify again, as in the days of home weaving.  Remote upland farms, however, have less scope for diversification and new enterprise, resulting in some depopulation and loss of local facilities.


Agriculture has always held pre-eminent place in the economy and occupation of Lancastrians and visitors can enjoy the results that generations of farmers of the area have brought.  The Fylde Country Life Museum at Garstang spans the history of farming, and the many changes.


Links to Associated Articles on this Website:


John Fox of Scale in Roeburndale Home Page


Acknowledgements & References


Background to Fox Family 


Origins of the Fox Name


History of Melling & Roeburndale


Fox's of Scale Family Tree


Fox's of Highwinder Family Tree