Howdenshire History

History of Snaith Enclosure, Farming and Snaith Marsh

Commons enclosure - 'Snaith Marsh' poem - Field enclosure - John Latham's farm, 1794


Enclosure of the commons of Snaith

In 1754 the common and waste land of Snaith, Cowick and Rawcliffe was enclosed. The commissioners were Thomas Yarburgh, William Simpson, William Sotheron, Richard Worsop, and Edward Forster.


Enclosure map for Snaith, Yorkshire, with River Aire, Snaith Hall, post mill etc.

This beautiful detail from the 1754 enclosure map shows clearly the town of Snaith, Snaith Marsh, Snaith Hall, the River Aire with sailing ship, and the post mill at West Cowick



Amongst other areas, Snaith Marsh was enclosed. An anonymous contemporary poet wrote the following verse describing the event. It was originally published in The Gentleman's Magazine of March 1754.


A Yorkshire Pastoral


"Young Robin of the plain, 'erst blithest blade
That e'er with sickle keen the fields disray'd,
Who whistling drove the smoking team along,
Or trimm'd the thorny fence, with rustic song,
Thro' every season busy, still, and gay,
He plough'd, he sow'd; he made, and stack'd the hay,
Not dreary winter reach'd to Robin's breast,
He thrash'd, he winnow'd, and he crack'd his jest.
But now, not spring's return with joy he sees,
Nor flow'ry plain he heeds, nor budding trees,
Nor linnet warbling from the dewy brakes,
Nor early lark who tow'ring circles takes,
Nor tuneful thrushes from the hedge that sing,
Nor the shrill blackbird's welcome to the spring.
Against a gate he leans in rueful plight,
And eyes the plain that late was Snaith Marsh hight.


Ah! wae is me, thus doleful 'gan he mourn:
Ah! wae the time, when ever I was born!
But far more waeful still that luckless day,
Which with the commons gave Snaith Marsh away;
Snaith Marsh, our whole town's pride, the poor man's bread,
Where, tho' no rent he paid, his cattle fed,
Fed on the sweetest grass which here rife grew,
Common to all, nor fence nor landmark knew,
Whose flow'ry turf no crooked share had raz'd,
Nor wide destroying scythe its green effac'd.
But now, ah ! now, it stoops, sad seet I ween,
In mony a row, with rails suspended 'tween.


Wae warth the day, when tic'd sure by old Nick,
All to grow rich at once, like neighbour Dick,
To town I high'd, and on a luckless fair,
For cattle here to graze, war'd all my gear,
And boldly ventur'd at one cast to buy,
A deft fine breeding mear and newted whye,
Ten ewes, a tup, and more, a flock of geese,
All which I thought would here so fast increase,
That tho' they'd cost me all my worldly store,
I reckenn'd soon to gain as mickle more,
But now Snaith Marsh's taid and all my gain blown o'er.


My goodly stock, e'er yet they tasted food,
By cross grain'd hinds were driv'n from their abode,
Tho' lest bad neighbours might have ow'd me spight,
I fore-hand taid a house to give me right,
With bonny Susan where I hop'd to dwell,
But now I prove that proverb on mysell,
Which says, that one grief brings another on,
Too sure, alas! and mine will ne'er have done,
For Susan, whom I thought my sweetheart true,
When as my crosses came, 'gan look askue;
And what than all beside my heart most pains,
For landed Roger, now my love disdains,
Roger, not to be nam'd with me, I trow,
More than muckmidden vile, with barley mow;
But Roger has a house in yonder lane,
And my sad loss proves ev'ry way his gain;
Yet wilt thou, Susan? will thou, selfish lass,
For sake of sordid wealth, thy love debase?
No, do not think content is in mich store,
But be to Robin kind, as heretofore,
And we'll in love be bless'd, tho' Snaith Marsh be no more.


Alas! will Roger e'er his sleep forgo,
Afore larks sing, or early cock 'gin crow,
As I've for thee, ungrateful maiden, done,
To help thee milking, e'er day wark begun?
And when thy well stripp'd kye would yield no more,
Still on my head the reeking kit I bore.
And, oh! bethink thee, then, what lovesome talk
We've held together, ganging down the balk,
Maund'ring at time which would na for us stay,
But now, I ween, maes no such haste away.
Yet, O! return eftsoon and ease my woe,
And to some distant parish let us go,
And there again them leetsome days restore
Where unassail'd by meety folk in power,
Our cattle yet may feed, tho' Snaith Marsh be no more.


But wae is me, I wot I fand am grown,
Forgetting Susan is already gone,
And Roger aims e'er Lady Day to wed;
The banns last Sunday in the church were bid.
But let me, let me first i' th' churchyard lig,
For soon I there must gang, my grief's so big.
All others in their loss some comfort find;
Tho' Ned's like me reduc'd, yet Jenny's kind,
And tho' his fleece no more our parson taks,
And roast goose, dainty food, his table lacks,
Yet he for tithes ill paid, gets better land,
While I am ev'ry way o' th' losing hand.
My adlings wared, and yet my rent to pay,
My geese, like Susan's faith, flown far away;
My cattle, like their master, lank and poor,
My heart with hopeless love to pieces tore,
And all these sorrows came syne Snaith Marsh was no more."




Enclosure of the open fields of Snaith

In 1781 the open fields around the town, including Snaith Field and Snaith Ings, were enclosed. Now, instead of farming their land communally and holding several seperate strips, farmers could fence off their own individual pieces of land and farm as they wished, without taking into account what their neighbours were growing. They could also build houses on their piece of land; several local farmhouses date from this period.




A visit to Mr. John Latham's farm, Snaith, in 1794

In 1794 George Rennie, Robert Brown and John Shirreff toured the West Riding of Yorkshire on behalf of the Board of Agriculture. Their report was published as 'General view of the agriculture of the West Riding of Yorkshire'. They visited the Snaith area and particularly noted the farming methods of John Latham. It is thought that he farmed at Villa Farm. The following is an extract from the report:


Left Thorne and proceeded northward to Snaith. The greatest part of the land, till we came within two miles of that place, are exceeding wet, and large tracts little better than in a state of nature. The land, though wet and marshy, is generally rich strong soil. Ridges much straighter ploughed than is generally the case over the West Riding; but kept by far too narrow and flat. Crossed the river Don upon a wooden bridge [N.B. this was Turn Bridge], a part of which turns upon a pivot (and gives a passage for the numerous shipping that navigate this river). As we approached Snaith the soil turned as fine as could be wished. Great quantities of turnips, and those of good quality.

Snaith is a small market town situated upon the river Aire, not far from its conjunction with the Don. The land round the place is of exceeding rich quality, and but moderately rented. We examined a farm occupied by Mr. John Latham, and found it exceedingly well cultivated. Mr. Latham upon his light lands practises a rotation that has already been often mentioned, viz. turnips, barley, clover, and wheat; but he follows out this rotation in a manner superior to most persons. His turnip crop this year, when so many other people's have failed, is good, and are set to a jobber from Leeds at £6 per acre, to be eat upon the ground. His turnips although not drilled, are all in rows, about sixteen inches wide, which enables him to hoe them with greater accuracy. His method to do this, is to give the last furrow very broad, which takes all the seed when harrowed into the furrow, and so gives the field an appearance of regularity. Mr. Latham said this plan was fallen on by accident, which indeed is often the parent of many improvements; when ploughing one of his fields some years ago, he ordered his servants to finish it that night. There being a feast in the neighbourhood, the ploughmen were anxious to be early at it, and so gave a furrow much broader than usual. When the young plants came up, Mr. Latham was surprised to see them in regular lines, and inquired into the cause of it; which pleased him so well, that he has since continued the practice.

Mr. Latham sows rape upon his wheat stubbles, that are next year to be turnips. His method is to plough the field as soon as the wheat is carried off, and sow the rape immediately, which is generally got down by the middle of September, and affords him feeding for his sheep in spring equal in value to 20s. per acre.

A part of Mr. Latham's farm is what is called warp-land, or land enriched with the sediment left by the river Aire, when its banks are overflown. Upon such fields he does not venture to sow wheat, as it stands in danger of being perished; but from the richness of the soil great crops of spring corn are raised.

Mr. Latham is a most able and complete farmer; his fences are all good; the whole of his land clean; his pastures rich and luxuriant. We are happy to have this opportunity of expressing the high sense we entertain of his merit and abilities.

From Snaith to Ferrybridge there are a number of common fields, which were under no better management than those we have formerly described. We saw a large common field of turnips to the eastward of Kellington, which were middling good, but very imperfectly cleaned. At least 40 acres were stocked off at once, and cows, bullocks, young cattle, and sheep were feeding indiscriminately. Saw also upon this road some fields of rape intended for seed, which looked well.

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