Farming in Sennen

 Farming in Sennen dates back to Neolithic times but we will start our journey at the time of the Civil War in 1656. A Round Head Captain Hugh Jones had purchased the Farm and land at Penrose in Sennen in the early 1600's. Other farmers in the area at the time were the Ellis, Jose, Wallish, Reed, Roberts and Vingoe families. We know of these because the Quaker "Book of Sufferings" records the way they were treated by Captain Jones. You can read about this on my Sennen Quaker page.  One of these Quakers was Jenkyn Vingoe whose family farmed at Escalls and Trevescan at the time and he had cattle, sheep and corn removed from him in place of fines imposed by Justice Jones.  

Jenkyn was the son of John & Jone Vingoe and when his father died in 1657 his freehold lands  were split dealt with in the following manner.

I John Vingoe of the parish of Stining in the County of Cornwall being sick of body and not of mind and the fore mentioned so mindful this is our last Will and Testament, I Bequeath my body ..... unto ministry..... and christian burial and this is my will as followeth.

From John to Jone Vingoe my wife all freehold estate of freehold living for remainder of her natural life. And the aforesaid John gives half of the tenement justly in trust to William Vingoe, Jenkyn Vingoe, Peter Vingoe, John Vingoe and Martyn Vingoe so long as the natural life of Peter Vingoe, Jenkyn Vingoe John Vingoe and Martyn Vingoe pass to William Vingoe enshrined on his living Heirs for ever.

One shilling to the poor of the parish.

One shilling to Henry.................

In 1662, William Shellinks recorded in his journal that "he and his companions left Penzance at 8 o’clock to ride to Land’s End, passing through Newlyn which is ‘low down by the sea,’ then on through St. Buryan, St., Levan coming finally to Sennen. ‘We saw there many animals grazing at the outermost end of the land, where the land is very narrow. We rode on our horses as far as the steeply descending ground allowed..." 

What William Shellink saw was a strip system of farming in which different people owned different sections or fields. This was due to the hereditary system adopted by the Cornish which was carried on  until the nineteenth century. 

When Jenkyns mother died in 1684 she left him a cow named Bloganian in her will plus her best board or Table. Captain Jones the justice sent him to prison at Launceston the same year but the "Book of Sufferings" does not mention if he also stole the cow. What the book does tell us, however, is that as well as milk cows, heifers, oxen and sheep they also grew rye and corn. 

We now move on the the 19th century where we learn a lot about agriculture from an unpublished book of letters which I found in the Cornwall Study Centre at Redruth. No one knows who the author was or indeed who the letters were sent to.

Farming in West Penwith 1826

I PURPOSE in the present letter to give YOU a few detached morsels of information about the state of agriculture in this quarter.


The plan of cultivation here is to sow one year with wheat, the next with barley; then the field lays in grass for four, and sometimes five years, and then come wheat and barley again.

They sow here three bushels of wheat (Winchester measure) to the acre; and they reckon an average crop to be 45 bushels to the acre. This is precisely the quantities sown and reaped at Worcestershire, as I was told by a farmer’s man on the coach.


Of barley they sow four or five bushels to the acre, and an average crop is reckoned 90 bushels. Of oats they sow six bushels, and the crop is from 90 bushels to 120 bushels. Of turnips they sow a quart of seed to an acre.


Upon an average the farms hereabouts are 100 acres. Some few are as large as 200 acres. I am told that the small farms are the best cultivated. A farm of 60 or 70 acres is called a handy farm, and is supposed to he better cultivated than one of any other size.


For ploughing they give 4s. or 5s. an acre and a “handy” man can plough an acre a day. But he ‘will drink a gallon of beer during the day, which will cost him 2s. For reaping wheat they give 5s. an acre, and, in some places, a lunch and beer besides. For mowing barley, oats, or hay, they give 4s. or 5s. an acre. In ordinary cases a man can mow an acre a day.


The present price of wheat is 7s. 6d. a Winchester bushel, and barley 5s. 4d. per bushel. This is considered a high price for barley in proportion to wheat; and is accounted for by the demand for barley to make malt.

What they call a bushel here is equal to three Winchester bushels. A Winchester bushel they call a strike, but throughout this letter, when I say bushel, I mean the Winchester bushel


Some land is let by the year, though it is common to grant leases for 7, 14, or 21 years. It is also usual to grant leases for three lives. All land let for buildings is let in this way. The tenant builds a house, and nominates three lives. When all these three people are dead, the house belongs to the owner of the land. But generally, when the lives get old, or one has died, the tenant makes a new agreement with the landlord, and puts up three new lives, on condition either of giving the landlord a sum of money, or of laying out an additional sum on the premises. I think this a bad plan; for when the lives are pretty far advanced, the tenant never makes any farther improvements, because he knows not how soon the house may fall to the landlord; and if the tenant intends to buy the reversion (that is, to put up three new lives), he knows that the landlord will demand a higher price in consequence of their improvements. But land is let in the same way;  If a man has a lease of a piece of land at a rent of 40s and the lease is to expire at the termination of three lives, the tenant has a right to vote as a freeholder for a member for the county as long as he is named as one of the lives. But I am told that if the lease is to expire at the termination of three lives, or at the termination of 99 years, then the tenant has no vote. It has been usual to put in the deed this clause about 99 years, in order to prevent the tenant voting. But the contrary practice now prevails. Previous to the last county election, several hundred voters are said to have been made in this way. However, the candidates did not go to the poll, as one of them did not like the expense.


Here they often plough by oxen; they are also yoked to carts. In paying turnpikes, they reckon two oxen equal to one horse; and their force in pulling is reckoned to be in the same proportion. The only way in which the ox is attached to the plough or cart, is by means of a wooden yoke round his neck. I asked whether the ox could not pull more if he were harnessed like a horse, or had a collar against his shoulder. They said no, as the chief strength of an ox is in his neck. The reasons which induce the farmers to employ oxen are, first, they cost less to keep. In summer they live on grass; in winter they live on wheat-straw—scarcely any hay. Secondly, they are useful after they are dead. I in­quired whether the flesh of a working ox was as good as that of one which was not worked. I was told it was better. When they intend to fatten an ox they work him down thin. They then turn him into the pastures, and he gets fat. All his flesh is then new flesh, and makes excellent beef. The great objection to the use of oxen is, first, they are much weaker than horses. At Monmouth I saw six oxen and a horse yoked to a small cart. Secondly, they move more slowly. It must consequently take more time and more men’s wages to plough any field.


About twenty years ago the farmers used to keep large quantities of mules, which they let out to carry copper ore from the mines to the wharf; and coals from the wharf to the mines. Twenty-one mules were called a pair of mules, and these would carry three tons of copper ore, 21 cwt. to the ton; that makes three cwt. to each mule. Each mule carries two sacks, thrown across a saddle; the upper part of which was wood, and came up in the middle to a point. Twenty years ago, I used to see many pairs of these every day, but I have seen but one pair since I have been down. Various causes have concurred to reduce their number. First the roads are very much improved. These mules were useful to go to mines which could not be easily approached by carts; but so many new roads have been made, that most mines can now be approached by a four-wheel waggon. Some waggons will carry six tons, a pair of mules only three tons. Secondly, many of those crofts and commons on which the mules used to be turned to feed, are now enclosed and cultivated. Thirdly, the expense when compared with that of horses, is pro­portionally greater. A mule will cost £20, and for that money you might buy a good horse. They do not breed mules in this part of the country, all are purchased.


Though mules are turned upon the commons, and live hard, yet in the winter they will eat almost as much oats as a horse. A mule being of light weight, is unfit for draught. From these causes mules are by no means as numerous as they were twenty years ago. Mules are much used in Jamaica, and are exported from England to that island. From this I should infer that in Jamaica they have but indifferent roads.


The farmers here mow their oats and barley like hay, but the barley and the oats are bound up in sheaves, like the wheat. The oat and barley straw is used in the winter as fodder for the cattle, instead of hay. The horses have hay. There is a great demand for wheat-straw by the shipwrights, who employ it in blazing the bottom of the ships. I mean they burn it under the ships they mend; I hardly know for what purpose.


Manure is by no means abundant. Lime and salt have been occasionally employed by some farmers, but not generally. They very highly value the sea-weed, which by a north wind is sometimes thrown on the shores near Penzance in great abundance. But the demand is immediately so great, that if a farmer gets two loads, he thinks himself lucky. Manure is called here dressing. It is customary to have piles of dressing on the fields. Yesterday I passed through a field which has just yielded wheat, and which is to be sown next spring with barley. In this field were nearly a dozen piles of dressing. These are raised in this way. They bring out their stable dung and straw, and sometimes, sand, and place them in heaps. They then plough several furrows (called here voors) across the field. They take up the earth from these furrows, and throw  it over the heaps. They tell me, that the longer these heaps stand the better (or, as they call it, the stronger) it gets. When they sow, they scatter this dressing over the field.


Some farmers, the year before they intend to sow a field with wheat, allow poor people, for nothing, to plant (called here, to teel) potatoes in it. This is supposed to pay the farmer well; for the wheat crop will the next year be more abundant. But the increased crop is supposed to arise not from any virtue in the potatoes, but from the quantities of manure brought by the poor people who plant the potatoes.


Some time ago, the farmers used to get from Sennen Cove vast quantities of fish, which made excellent manure, but the catches of late years have not been so great. I suspect, too, that the taking off the duty on salt has diminished the quantity of fish employed in this way. While this duty was on, the fisherman would rather sell his fish at a low price, than go to the expense and risk of salting it; whereas now, whatever is not immediately sold for food, is salted down for exportation.

About here, they reckon that a bushel of the best wheat weighs ten score (200 lbs). The quaker corn-dealers will not buy it if it weigh less than 190 lbs. Red wheat weighs rather more than the white. When ground, a bushel of corn should produce 170 lbs. of flour, and twenty pounds of bran. A bushel of barley weighs 160 lbs., and will produce 140 lbs. of flour. Wheat bran is used for fattening fowls and pigs. Barley bran is good for nothing, unless to burn, it is the custom here for every man to buy his own corn, and send it to the miller to be ground. The miller takes as his toll, one twelfth of the quantity ground. Some persons prefer paying in money, and then the charge for grinding a bushel of wheat is two shillings, for a bushel of barley, one shilling.


I told you that some people Used sand for manure.. They always take this sand from places over which the sea rolls when the tide is in. There are mountains of sand near the sea, but the farmers never touch these, because they say the sand is not so productive. A few days ago, I saw in the Sun newspaper, a paper written some time ago, by Dr.Paris, a physician of Penzance. He mentions this circumstance as a proof of the utility of salt as a manure. He says the virtue is not in the sand, but in the salt. I am inclined to be of the doctor’s opinion, but I can vouch for nothing more than the fact.


Perhaps sea-weed may owe part of its virtue to the same cause, but besides this, it is of a fat oily nature, and is adapted admirably for potatoes. It is used in great quantities in order to produce early potatoes, which sell at a high price, sometimes so high as 2s. 6d. a gallon, whereas now they are only five pence a gallon. But the potatoes always taste of the weed. And I am told that when cows are fed on turnips, their milk, butter, and flesh always taste of turnips.


It is the practice hereabout for the owners of land to buy cows, and let cows and land together to dairymen, at so much per cow. It used to be six guineas per cow, now it is eight guineas. The tenant is obliged to rear as many calves as the cows produce, provided the landlord is inclined to rear them. The past year has been a bad year for the dairymen, for during the hot weather the cows gave but little milk. Besides the pasturage land, the tenant has usually a piece of land on which he grows potatoes for his pigs.


They make no oatmeal here. But they get Welsh oatmeal, which is sold at 51/2d. per quart, and Irish oatmeal, which is sold at 21/2d. per pound two pounds of Irish oatmeal are about three pints, so that the Irish is a good deal the cheapest, but they say it is not near so good as the Welsh.


A sack of flour is supposed to be the produce of two bushels of wheat, but in reality it never weighs more than 280 pounds.


The corporation of Penzance take toll of all corn brought to the market, and also of all corn delivered in Penzance on market days, even if it should not be brought to the market house. Hence when the farmers deliver corn to their regular customers in Penzance, they always deliver it on Mondays, Wednesdays, or Fridays. These are not market days.


All the farmers use shovels, which are of the form of a heart, and have steel points, that is to say, there is steel on the upper side. They call them shouls. This pronunciation arose, I apprehend, in former times, when there was no difference in the form of the letters U and V. Hence shovel might then have been written shouel, and be pronounced shoul. The shovels with square bottoms they call spades. These are used only in gardening. I recollect that some time ago, I read an article in the Monthly Magazine, recommending the use of these sharp-pointed shovels. It is very clear they require less force to press them into the earth. For the point of the shovel acts in the same way as the point of a nail. Besides, if there is a stone in the way it will stop a square-bottomed shovel, but the pointed shovel will turn it a oneside. These steel-pointed shovels are sold by weight. A manufacturer who sells to the trade, told me that he charged tenpence per pound. Their weight is from four to six pounds. The  miners have also sharp-pointed shovels, but their points have no steel. These shovels are sold by the manufacturer at £50 per ton.


Farmers sell their cattle and their sheep to the butchers. The plan is to sell them at so much a pound after they are killed. In regard to cattle, it is supposed that if a butcher gives the farmer the same price at which he sells the meat, he has made a good bargain. Because they always go by the weight of the four quarters; and the butcher has then the hide, the head, the bowels, the heart, the tripe, the heels, &c. &c., for his profit. These they call here the fifth quarter, and they have a saying that the fifth quarter is the best quarter. A butcher told me that formerly butchers used to get the fifth quarter, but now the farmers were become sharper and would not let the butchers get so much.


In planting potatoes they sow about eight or ten bushels per acre, and an average crop is reckoned fifty-bushels.


The poor rates are levied as in other places, at so much in the pound upon the estimated value of the houses and lands in the parish books. The estimated value is not much above half of the real value. In the parish of Philack the poor rates throughout the year are about 2s. 8d. in the pound. In the parish of St. Erth, 2s. 6d. In the parish of Guinear, 4s.


The tytlies are imposed in the same way. No parson hereabouts receive his tythes in kind. The parish of St. Erth is a vicarage, and of course there is a layman. who receives all the large tythes. The people pay. 3s. 6d. in the pound to the layman, and 1s 6d. in the pound to their vicar. The parish of Guinear is also a vicarage. They pay 2s. 6d. in the pound to their vicar, and 6s. 8d. to their lay proprietor. Here I have made a blunder, the lay proprietor is the bishop of the diocese. The parish of Phillack is a rectory, and they pay 3s. 6d. in the pound to their rector. But besides this the rector has a tenth of the pigs, geese, and honey. In taking the tythe the parson has the second best pig; that is, the farmer chooses one and the parson’s man takes his choice of the others. But if the farmer has only seven pigs the parson claims one.


One of the farms in this parish was formerly in a bad state. A farmer took it and improved it very much. The parson then claimed more tythes on the ground, that the farm had become more productive. The farmer objected, but it was of no use. The parson obtained the tythes. Indeed I think it is not good policy to oppose the parson so strongly as to give him offence. For although the present parson, it is said, receives a good deal more than his father received, yet still the houses are rated so low that were he inclined to be harsh, he might probably obtain much more. Though this circumstance may be to the honour of the individual, it forms in my opinion an objection to the system. It is a bad system that gives one man the power to oppress or plague another.


ABOUT the time that you had the kindness to answer some questions of mine, that had reference to the state of agriculture in Wiltshire, I proposed. the same questions to an intelligent young man, who is the son of a farmer, in the neighbouring parish of St. Erth. He wrote answers to those questions, though he did not forward them to me, but I have now received them, and present you with a copy. You have only to recollect that this letter was written about two years ago.

“Agriculture is carried on very different here from what you represented it to be carried on in Wiltshire. First, we prepare the land (say from a grass field), in which, about the month of November, we sow wheat, and reap the produce in August. Afterwards we prepare the same land for early grass, clover, and trefoil seed, which are sown in the month of March or April. At other times we sow turnip seed, then plant potatoes, next wheat, and then barley, and afterwards mow hay. At other times we first sow oats, next potatoes, then wheat, and so on, as before mentioned. Then this land is let out to grass for four or five years. However it is Sometime managed different from either of the above statements, according to the views of the farmer.


The times seem to be pretty lively at present in Cornwall. This is the effect of so many mining specu­lations, so that labourers’ wages are rather high when compared to what they were getting two years ago.


The good old way respecting the servants living in the house with the farmer is still remaining. With regard to shepherds, there is but one in Cornwall, and he himself asserts, there is no occasion for such things.


The cottagers here are chiefly miners who have agreed with the agents of the mines for one or more months, and who take the chance of the pitch (as they call it), so that the more copper or tin they raise, the higher are their wages in proportion. Sometimes they get a start (as they term it), which brings in to the miners perhaps from ten to twenty, or even forty pounds per month, according to the price of the ore.


The miners generally like to live well, most of them live very extravagantly. Nothing but the best the land produces will suffice. They are also greatly addicted to drinking spirituous liquors.

Farming in 1838.

In 1838 the government ordered that a new tithe map and agreement be drawn up for the Sennen parish and a record made of who owned the land and who worked it. A meeting was held and an agreement made as to what tithes would be paid. and on the 30th of November 1838 the Tithe Commissioners confirmed the agreement for the commutation of tithes. The tithe map and the book that accompanies it are in the Cornwall Record Office. There is also a filmed copy at the Cornwall Studies Centre Redruth. I know of one other hard copy which is in the hands of a private individual which was bought at Auction some years ago. Working from these sources I have been able to glean the following information.

The basis of the agreement was as follows:

The whole parish of Sennen contains by estimation two thousand and fifty acres of land by statute measure.

The whole quantity of the lands of the said parish which are subject to the payment of any kind of tithes is by estimation two thousand and fifty acres by statute measure.

The whole quantity lands subject to tithes within the said parish which is cultivated or arable is by estimation four hundred and sixteen acres statute measure.

The whole quantity of land subject to tithes within the said parish cultivated as meadow or pasture land is by estimation eight hundred and thirty four acres statute measure. 

There is no land subject to tithes within the said parish now cultivated as woodlands.

The whole quantity of Moor, Marsh Furze and Heath land within the said parish subject to tithes so far as such land is subject to tithes is by estimation eight hundred acres statute measure.

The under mentioned moduses or prescription or customary payments are payable instead of the under mentioned tithes of the said parish, that is to say;

For each fat bullock - one shilling; for each milch cow - six pence; for each bare cow - four pence; for each sheep - one penny; for each lamb - two pence; for the tithe of each garden - five pence; for members of the family above sixteen years of age - twopence; for each colt - two pence; for each goose above ten and under seven - one half penny.

The valuers who had been appointed then set a gross rent of five hundred and thirty pounds to be paid to the tithe owner in lieu of tithes. this had to be paid as per the schedule that they had drawn up. The valuers were: William Marrack of Penzance, John Semmons the younger of Gulval and William Richards of Penzance.

Using the map and shedule I have been able to work out the land owned or leased in Sennen in 1838. Also the amount of tithes they had to pay. You can find this information by clicking Here. Please use your back button to return to this site.



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Sandra and George Pritchard are the authors of original work on this site.  They give permission to copy and use this information on the following conditions.
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