Agriculture Our Vital Industry

In May 1917 with the Great War still raging Mr. Shuker was interviewed by the Staffordshire Advertiser. The article appeared on Saturday May 19 along with the usual adverts. The adverts included those for Raleigh Cycles, Quack medicines, and unsecured loans. The interview is a fascinating slice of time. I can almost hear the deep baritone of Mr. Shuker. It has been retyped for legibility and is below in it's entirety

Mr W  J Shuker Speaks Out

It was a spring day the first day of the year to give a promise of fine weather when I mounted my cycle and rode out into the country to glean a further harvest of notes for this column. I was bound for Longnor Hall the abode of that well known agriculturalist Mr. Walter J Shuker. My road let me past fields which were taking on the first hints of springtime’s green cloak. The air was just fresh enough to make the ride one of pleasure, filled me with joy of being alive. So much was the case that my first words to Mr Shuker were,” I’ve brought you some fine weather.” Mr. Shuker has a jovial way of his own. Bluff and hearty and happy looking he is a typical specimen of the prosperous agriculturist who enjoys life. He promptly countered my salutation with a straightforward thrust, “And you’ve been a long time about it!” What could I do but join the laugh, plead guilty and throw myself on the mercy of the court.  The fine weather had been long on the way.

Longnor Hall is a handsome structure far above the ordinary run of farmhouse architecture. The view in the entrance hall gave me an impression of having been planned by a mind with a taste for a picture. The scene from the battlemented roof is that of a landscape typically English. The eye sees a broad expanse of green meadow diversified with rich red ploughland with here and there a copse or a hedgerow. At the edge of the field on which stands the house is a quiet placid stream which serves as the parish boundary.

The Hall is in Bradley parish which here winds out slightly after being confined in a bottleneck strip. It was built in 1726 but Longnor was recorded in history long before that ,for is it not entered in the Doomsday Book, the inventory made by the order of William the Norman shortly after he had successfully invaded this country in 1066? One has to go back to those old far off days to find what the meaning of the present day name is. In the Doomsday Book, the spelling gives the clue Longnor was then “Longenalre” that is a”the tall elder”. Possibly the alders which gave the place its name grew by the side of the placid stream before mentioned.

Mr. Shuker farms 475 acres of land and about 1/3 of this is arable. There are about 22 acres down to winter wheat (there would have been more but severe frost ruined part of this which was then ploughed up for oats); about 33 acres are now down to barley and 36 to oats. There are also about 20 acres down to peas and beans with about 50 acres to root for feeding the stock. As Mr. Shuker feeds a large quantity of stock for the butcher it will be seen that including both grain and beef Longnor Hall Farm is taking a prominent place in the county for the quantity of foodstuffs produced. There are at present around 150 head of cattle being fed and over 400 sheep. The cattle are almost entirely beef makers in the shape of a Galloway Hereford cross, a grand production which Mr. Shuker likes because it makes, he thinks, the finest beef producer, the animal with more prime beef than any other variety. The sire is a Galloway bull. The calves run with the mothers till autumn when they are weaned. This gives them a good start. There is not much attention paid to milk production except for the household supply, and thus, there is no need to have breeding going on all year round, but the calves have dropped at the time of year when the weather conditions and the food supply are best suited.

The Original Article

The complete article from the Staffordshire Advertiser May 1917

Mr W  J Shuker Continues Speaking  Out

The land in the neighbourhood is a stiffish clay and needs careful working. In one way the severe frosts were a boon, for they made possible for the manure carts to get onto the hard land and thus prepared the way for active work when the weather conditions permitted without turning the clay into a brick like consistency.

Such ground is not ideal potato ground and the great distance from the wholesale markets does not encourage a great growth of the otherwise valuable tuber. Some are grown for the house, of course, otherwise corn beef and mutton are the main standbys of the farm and on these Mr. Shuker has specialised with good results. But there is more done for food production than a mere statement of acreage and stock will lead one to realise. There is a set of steam ploughing tackle which does good work in breaking up the strong land. With a good day’s work, 6 acres can be ploughed in one day, a quantity that would take a man with a three horse team about a week.

There are two traction and two portable engines on the establishment and what with ploughing and threshing or hauling hay and straw or long distances for the Government (especially since the war began), there is plenty of work to be done. I’m sure that the threshing machines won’t be idle for lack of work when the new harvest has been safely gathered in. The ploughing is done with a roundabout tackle which I have not previously seen in action, the engine having a double cylinder on one side for the running of an endless rope. It is a simpler method than the “anchor” method of my younger days. One of the traction engines can be converted into a road roller when necessary, which takes about two hours to do.

We discussed the question of the growing use of machinery and the changes that had come in our time. The farm labourer of today has to be more of a handyman than in the days when to plough and sow , and to reap and plough was to be a farmers boy. He must today be almost a mechanic, what with self binding reapers, motor tractors, oil engines for chaffing pulping, and suchlike operations all very necessary where a quantity of stock has to be fed. If the farm labourer is to get to be a more handyman he should and will get a better wage. His work will be more interesting and there will not be the same inducement to get to the towns for work. If a farmer is asked to grow more wheat  he must be in a position to pay more for labour. He will want more labour than is required in a dairy farm, and that labour must be of a class better than that has been judged sufficient to jog along on a dairy farm of late years. Wages must be higher, and with machinery so much dearer and fertilisers jumping up in price, wheat must be fixed at a price which will at least compensate. Either this or (which is happened before) ploughland will be put down to grass. Do we not remember the years when wheat sold at so low a price it did not pay for growing and when farmers in sheer desperation let the land be seeded down and took to milk production?  The same will happen again unless there is wise handling at headquarters.

As Mr. Shuker pointed out strong arable land needs more labour, a stronger team: there is more work more with more risk. Farmers are ready to do their bit and an important bit it is, not only at times like this, when we are made to know how necessary to the country’s welfare is the agricultural industry, but even in the more easy going times of peace. The farmer treats farming as a business, and one that he means to make pay, and no business which has run on any other lines would be worth it's salt. Before the war, it paid to produce milk. Make it pay to produce wheat and farmers will do it. He added a remark concerning the unfairness of 78 shillings being fixed for wheat when the market price had reached 90 shillings.

Mr. Shuker reads the daily papers but does not find that all he may read therein is to be swallowed as gospel. He brought out several cuttings which he produced with the remark, “This is the sort of thing people write about to the papers”. I had a kind of guilty feeling myself till I read a letter of recent date cut from the correspondence column of a paper printed in the north of England. (They may be hard headed men in the north but the letter will not prove it). The writer described certain agriculturalists  as farmers who have better incomes than other men who are heavily taxed. I haven’t come across these men.

 Then he goes on (this deserves printing in capital letters throughout) – “I hear of farmers making well over 1000 pounds a year clear profit who don’t pay a penny of income tax.” Mr. Shuker said the idea was ridiculous. It is. If there be a farmer clever enough to make 1000 pounds a year clear profit and clever enough to get off clear without paying a penny of income tax he deserves to get an iron cross. But we need not worry about him - he does not exist.

Another matter which roused Mr. Shuker’s wrath was that of correspondence in the same paper concerning the wickedness of farmers who are alleged to be “building up” potatoes. There was a wealth of scorn in his tones when he described the writers as townsmen who don’t know what they’re talking about, and who do not understand the difficulties of weather labour and other things connected with such work.

It should in fairness be considered that a farmer who is kept capital locked up by holding back wheat and potatoes till this time of scarcity should receive compensation for doing so, rather than being penalised by restricted prices as in the wheat question and have also to suffer the criticisms of such writers as these.

Then we discussed the government side of the problem. Our leaders said he, have advocated the keeping of stock and  have advised increasing the supply of pigs: Cottagers are to keep a pig and some poultry. Now we are told that grain must be not be used as a food for stock and with all these contradictory Orders we don’t know where we are.

Going through my notes the second time I find I have omitted to include the varieties of seed which Mr Shuker favours. For wheat he prefers Gartons Victor and Browick Graycheff; for oats Abundance and Leader; for barley Chevalier. He acknowledges the great work done by Gartons and others for the improvement of the farm seeds and improvement reflected in the greatly increased yields per acre.

Mr. Shuker informed me that although he lives so far out in the country he does not escape various public duties being chairman of his Parish Council and War Agricultural Subcommittee, a member of the Stafford Rural Advisory Committee, chairman of the Brewood and District Agricultural Society, and is a member of the council of Stafford Chamber of Agriculture, as well as being on the committee of the Wolverhampton branch. He is a member of the Royal and all the Local Agricultural Societies and also of the Hackneys and Shire Horse societies. He has been a breeder of Hackneys and Shire horses for many years and has been very successful with Hackneys in the show ring.

After a visit to see some of the young stock which were feeding in the ample covered yards, I came away more than ever impressed with the importance of agriculture as the nations vital industry.

Signed Viator

May 1917

See how the history of Longnor unfolded year by year from 1500 to the present day.

Read about Henry Mitchell the man that transformed Longnor Hall (and founded M&B Brewers)

  • What is happening at Longnor ?  What is going to happen?