1825 — Thomas Rogers loses his family lands
A good place to begin the story of the building of Newmarket Farm is with the fifth in a long line of Thomas Rogers of Kingston. They first started farming in the vicinity of Kingston in the 17th century as tenant farmers. After a series of spectacular investments and accumulations, they eventually became the biggest landowners of the parish, and owners of the Manor of Hyde in Kingston. Not only did the Rogers’ acquire land, they also bought up as many of the cottages as they could afford in the parish. By the beginning of the 19th century the family owned more properties in Kingston than anyone else since the feudal system broke down after the Black Death.
It was therefore a big surprise to read that in 1825 he was forced to mortgage the whole of his estate. This was their second mortgage in just eight years. Many farmers got into financial difficulties during this time of war, poor harvests, over ambitious acquisitions, and a stock market crash. However, Charles Cooper has shown that these should not have been sufficient to have resulted in such high levels of debt. Their farming and property acquisitions were almost all made before these difficult times. They were experienced farmers and quite capable of weathering such hard times. There was also a stock market crash that year, but it was in August, three months after the 1825 mortgage was drawn up.
The most likely cause was that they were gentleman farmers, and a gentleman was not expected to work with his hands, but with his head. Money was increasingly made in deals and speculations in comfortable salons, not out in the fields. Therefore cartoonists of the day caricatured such individuals as being more interested in fashionable society than in farming. And Brighton held plenty of distractions. They may have been spending substantial sums of money on improving their social standing. Because particular steps were taken against his son, Thomas Attree Rogers, it is possible he had accumulated gambling debts from betting at the Brighton Racecourse, a favourite of the Prince of Wales and his hangers on. The mortgage documents (now held in West Sussex Record Office, Chichester) listed all of the Rogers’ property in great detail, but gave no mention of a cottage and barn that might have been Newmarket Farm. To protect the family financially, the ownership of the Rogers’ estate was then transferred to a trust. Its objects were to protect the family from debtors, and to do whatever was necessary to find a good buyer for the lands that their ancestors had worked so hard for. He chose his two son in laws to be the trustees, the most important of which (at least for this story) was the recently widowed James Hodson (just the year before, Thomas V’s eldest daughter Elizabeth, and wife to James, had died.) He was an important tenant farmer of Birling Farm, in the parish of Eastdean. His father had been active in promoting the newly improved breed of Southdown sheep. His other profession was that of a surveyor.
Of interest is that he owned some of the latest agricultural machinery, namely a 3-Horse Power Moveable Thrashing Machine. Such machines were part of the so called Agricultural Revolution that paralleled that of the Industrial Revolution. It has been estimated that one such machine could do the work of about 15 men. Even more importantly, threshing—the removal of the grain from the ears of the corn—was winter work, and conducted inside the shelter of a barn.
At this time, unemployment, food costs, and taxes (especially the church’s tithe tax), were high, but wages were low. This led firstly to the Luddite revolts by manufacturing labourers in the north of England, then, later, to the ‘Swing Riots’ by agricultural workers, largely in Kent and Sussex, in 1830. One of their targets were rich tenant farmers. A neighbouring tenant farm to that of James Hodson, in East Dean, owned by the Earl of Liverpool, of Buxted Park, had a barn full of wheat, and a threshing machine, destroyed by fire.
Many appear to have been sympathetic to the plight of agricultural labourers. Their wages were the lowest of any other sector, and well below the cost of living—literally starvation wages. Reactions by their employers were mixed; some, such as Lord Gage at nearby Firle, raised wages, and dismantled their own threshing machines, but others chose punitive measures. James Hodson’s neighbour, the Earl of Liverpool, offered a £500 award (about £75,000 in today’s money) for information sufficient to produce a capital conviction (death by execution). It is not known what James Hodson’s sentiments were. Fortunately the riots do not seem to have directly affected Kingston, or its neighbouring downland villages.
However that may be, Thomas Attree Rogers and his father became tenants, answerable to their trustees, and to the receiver appointed by their mortgagor. When Thomas Attree died in 1828, at just 43 years old, his younger brother Henry inherited the responsibility for farming the land they previously owned.
1830 — James Hodson and the Kingston Enclosures
Probably to encourage potential buyers of the Rogers’ estate, the trustees got together with the two other major landowners of Kingston to arrange for all of the landholdings of Kingston, including the sheep grazed downland which was ‘held in common’, to be ‘Enclosed’. This involved consolidating the remains of the old medieval agricultural field system, and dividing the ownership of the village’s downland between the three landowners. This would have been an extremely involved and expensive business. Perhaps they agreed because profits were hard to come by in agriculture at this time. The new farming methods were better suited to larger fields and required fewer people to work them.
Amongst the Kingston and Iford Enclosure documents held in the East Sussex Record Office, Lewes, is a map by William Figg at a scale of 3 chains to an inch, produced and verified at a meeting under the Kingston and Iford enclosure list held the 17th day of May 1830. It was signed by Thomas Partington. This map showed the newly enclosed fields and downland, and clearly indicated Newmarket Farm (unnamed) for the first time. The Newmarket Hill, at the far western end of the parish, was now owned by the Rogers’ estate. The estate maps of this period also showed parts of the south-western slopes of the hill were ploughed. This was probably to provide extra feedstock for sheep and cattle—part of the “modern” farming methods that would have been encouraged by James Hodson. The farm cottage and barns provided accommodation for a farm labourer, and his family, to work this isolated part of the estate, storage for farm equipment, stabling for draft animals, and winter quarters for cattle. The area of land occupied by this cottage and barns was 0 acres, 1 rood, and 1 perch.
Previous: Chapter 2. Early History