In an earlier blog we reported on a new project entitled ‘Back to Nature’ which aims to open up some previously uncatalogued collections relating to Hampshire’s rich natural heritage.

One of the collections which has just been completed is the Hampshire County Farms estate archive, which tells the story of smallholdings owned by Hampshire County Council around the county from the late 19th to the late 20th century.

County Farms date back to the agricultural depression of the late Victorian period, when the need for land reform led Liberal MP Joseph Chamberlain to stand for election on the promise of ‘three acres and a cow’ for landless tenant farmers. He proposed a solution whereby local authorities would purchase land and lease it to small tenant farmers at reduced rents. A series of Acts were passed in 1892, 1908 and 1925, creating County Farms (also known as County Smallholdings, or Council Farms).

Photo of Brownwich Farm, Titchfield, from sale particulars, 1962 (H/ES6/6/1)

The area of land bought up by local authorities for County Farms increased rapidly in the first half of the 20th century, and after the Second World War they played a vital role in providing work for returning servicemen. County Farms provided opportunities for new farmers, especially but not exclusively young people who might not otherwise have had the financial backing to get into farming at all, but from the late 1970s thousands of acres of council-owned smallholdings were sold off in an attempt to raise income as local authority budgets grew increasingly tight.

Hampshire’s County Farms estate dates back to the 1890s, and includes lands in every part of the county. The records include property registers and schedules of lands, c1896-1975, with the first register in the series (H/ES6/1/1) listing over 130 individual farms and smallholdings in its index.

One of a series of reference photos taken to show dilapidations at ‘Dunkeld’ farmhouse, Titchfield, 1947, prior to repairs (H/ES6/5/2)

Twelve inventories and valuations carried out at change of tenancy include schedules for repairs and improvements required, c1926-75, and show that a great deal of work was needed to modernise crumbling farmhouses and outbuildings in the post-war period, such as the addition of hot and cold running water, electrical wiring, glazing repairs, and the replastering and papering of internal walls. Amongst the records is a fascinating series of Orders served by the War Agricultural Executive Committee, relating to the requisition of lands for cultivation during the Second World War. The files give a full picture of the kinds of cultivation carried out, even naming individual fields. The emphasis seems to be on efficiency and good husbandry throughout, and the Orders also specify which fertilisers and dressings are to be used. As expected in time of war, cultivation is given over to basics such as potatoes and root vegetables, wheat and oats, and pasture for grazing.

Elevation showing severely damaged fabric of ‘Dunkeld’ farmhouse, prior to repairs, 1947 (H/ES6/5/2)

Today, the relevance and value of the County Farms project is being felt more than ever as farmers struggle to sustain viable businesses in the face of steeply rising costs and the insecurities of modern food production. In 2021 Hampshire reaffirmed its commitment to the County Farms project, aiming to support and sustain new entrants into farming as well as deliver high standards in land management, farming methods, animal welfare, and environmental stewardship.

Hampshire County Farms estate now comprises 1,900 hectares of land.

Adrienne Allen, Archivist


One thought on “‘Back to Nature’: cataloguing Hampshire’s County Farms records

  1. This is a very interesting article on a little researched area.
    Would you know where i can find materials relating to smallholdings offered to and taken up by veterans returning from the Crimea . I have found some information regarding “Four Marks” but it is lacking in detail. I am researching for a PhD at the Centre for Agroecology ,Water and Resilience, at Coventry university and delivering a Masters Module which features aspects of therapeutic agriculture. My interest in the “model farm” set up, is that i believe it was an early nod to the therapeutic value of being in nature , engaged in meaningful activity for veterans with what we would now call PTSD . Any signposting would be hugely appreciated.


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