Fifties Family Farming

Haymaking has changed dramatically over the last century and is set to change again under new agricultural legislation. Where once the aim was simply to preserve a good yield of summer sunshine to last the winter, the focus up now is increasingly on achieving an optimum balance between producing healthful fodder whilst also promoting biodiversity in our disappearing hay meadows. During the timespan shown in these three photos, some 97% of our wildflower hay meadows have been lost. Now is the time to start bringing them back.

Left: Haymaking in the early 1900s. Newspaper clipping from my grandmother’s scrapbook
Centre: My grandfather and great grandfather making hay in the 1950s
Right: Haymaking on one of my PhD study sites in 2020

The central picture shows my grandfather and great grandfather proudly posing with their hay crop on a small family farm in 1950s Sussex. This was during the post-war agricultural revolution where the move was towards increasing intensification. The small farm model didn’t fit with the grand agricultural dream of the time and by 1960, many small family farms like this had become unviable and the farm was sold. But the legacy lived on. I grew up fascinated by tales of the farm, learning to identify wildflowers and forage for edible and medicinal herbs from my mother. And now, sustainable haymaking is the focus of my PhD research.

My grandad painted this watercolour as a teenager living in Liverpool. It was only after he returned from the war that he moved to Sussex and took up the rural life.

Full circle

There is a modern move towards connecting ex-forces personnel with careers in farming, through organisation like Forces Farming and RuRUALink. This has been a fantastic idea for a long time – both my grandfather and great grandfather were war veterans who turned to farming and rural life after World War II. Neither of them came from a farming background, though my grandmother had been a Land Girl during WWII and was a member of Compassion in World Farming and a passionate advocate for farm animal welfare and nature friendly farming. A woman ahead of her time.

Farm sizes grew dramatically with intensification and there is now a call to move back towards a small farm future. So, the path of agriculture seems to be wending its way back towards a model of small family farms, operating in a low impact nature-friendly way. What goes around, comes around.

A family farming archive

The 2020 lockdown found time for searching through old family photos and I was delighted to find a stash of family photos from the farm. My grandmother was a keen photographer and scrapbooker and this collection gives a fantastic insight into life on a 1950s farm.

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