History of farming at Wimpole

Wimpole Estate workers

The landscape at Wimpole has long been settled and farmed, evidence of which has been found from centuries ago, Anglo Saxon, Roman and many more, each period in history leaving its mark.

Early farm at Wimpole

In recent archaeological excavations, we unearthed a deity of the Celtic god Cernunnos, god of fertility, livestock and wild things. So almost 2,000 years ago, we can be sure farmers at Wimpole realised food production must be sustainable, working closely with the natural environment.

The Hardwicke family

In 1790, 1,600 years later, the 3rd Earl of Hardwicke, Philip Yorke, asked Sir John Soane to do something quite unusual for an influential architect; to design and build him a modern farm.

Cows in the historic farmyard at Wimpole
Cows in the historic farmyard at Wimpole
Cows in the historic farmyard at Wimpole

The ‘model’ farm was built to demonstrate the best farming practices to farming tenants. This may have been some form of benevolence, as famine was a real risk at the time, but probably primarily because rent was paid through the amount his tenants produced, so earning the Earl more money!

High Farming

Termed the ‘High Farming Movement’, farming practices were changed to include rationalising land use, improving drainage, introducing new crops and rotation systems, experimenting with animal breeding, using new machinery and erecting new, purpose-designed farm buildings; the historic Wimpole farmyard you see today.

At Wimpole, peas and beans were added to the crop rotation, as these were recognised to improve the fertility of the soil, so boosting the production of crops.

This allowed the farm to support more livestock, whose manure added further to the soil fertility. 

The Wimpole Heifer, 'Honeycomb'
The Wimpole Heifer, 'Honeycomb'
The Wimpole Heifer, 'Honeycomb'

The value of manpower

However, it was not all about production. The Earl understood the value of his workers, "without which the richest soil is not worth owning".

As noted in a popular book at the time, 'Lord Hardwicke has set an example worthy of imitation, in having built several comfortable cottages, and having attached gardens to them; some few other gentlemen have done the like, but it is to be lamented that it is only a few’.

The next agriculturalist

The 4th Earl of Hardwicke, Charles Yorke, continued the family passion for agriculture and was a keen agriculturalist.  He founded the  Royal Agricultural Society and became its president in 1843.

In that same year Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited the estate. Queen Victoria noted in her diary that Albert very much enjoyed being shown around by the Earl, and the various types of ploughs at Home Farm.

Charles Yorke became the MP for Cambridgeshire, rather publicly disagreeing with the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel, over the repeal of the Corn Laws. He resigned from cabinet saying, "certainly no county in England was more distinguished for its skill and improvements in agriculture" and as a result he could not support any threat to Cambridgeshire’s farming heritage.

Twelve years later, the Earl admitted that he had "formed a wrong opinion on the subject’".