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Agriculture And Its Organisation

Agriculture has always been the principal business of Aston. Until the 18th century enclosures, a farm normally consisted of a messuage with its associated outbuildings, yard, garden and perhaps an orchard or croft, the whole often containing an acre or more of land, and situated in the village, with one or more yardlands made up of numerous strips in the open arable fields and a few acres of meadow in the common meadows. Whether these were also in scattered strips is uncertain. In addition, each yardland had certain rights of pasture in the wastes and commons (the greatest area of common pasture was on Aston moor), and most farmers probably had a close or two of pasture or meadow. At the enclosure of the common fields, there were 1,818s. It seems to have been normal to have 1½ or 2 yardlands (40 to 50 acres perhaps) rather than one only, but there were always also smaller owners, holding less than a yardland and approximated to the modern smallholder. 

The great arable fields were called Ash, Alderslad, Grass and Hether fields. Ridenhill and Marsh flat seem to have been the areas of localities rather than of fields. A late 16th century map shows a Grass Field close to the west of the village, Alderslade Road leading north west to Thulston and Ridenhill to the east of the village, near to Shardlow, Alderslade House, Hoyden Hill Farm and Marsh Flat Farm still preserve some of these old names. There are also several areas including ‘Aston moor’ itself showing where the old pasture of the village was. Aston moor was enclosed in 1757 and the common (arable) fields, meadows, pasture and waste grounds in the township in 1763. The enclosures created the modern landscape though not overnight, as it took time to fence the outer boundaries of the allotments and then to sub divide the larger allotments into more conveniently sized fields. Hedges also needed time to grow. The resultant fields were mainly straight sided and often rectangular. The new fields rapidly acquired names, some no doubt also new, but others ancient, such as the Upper and Lower Grasslands and the Water Furrows poles. 

Aston on Trent remained an area of mixed farming but with an increasing emphasis on dairy and stock farming. Glover in 1833 commented on the excellent land, one third arable and two thirds meadow and pasture. Kelly’s directories give the chief crop as Oats, Wheat, and Barley. Although a sale catalogue for the 1924 sale describes the farms to be sold as dairy and stock farms, several still had substantial areas of arable. The number of farms varies considerably between 1829 and 1916 from eight to thirteen; in 1928, it was down to seven. The farms sold in 1924 were Cotton Farm 76 acres, Manor Farm 54 acres, Birds Nest (or Moorside) Farm 40 acres, Rectory Farm 149 acres, Aston Hill Farm 150 acres and Royden Hill Farm 78 acres, only 547 acres altogether, but to this total should probably be added one of the Shardlow Farms sold, Glebes with 85 acres, as it really is within Aston, Fox Covert Farm and Marsh Flat Farm, acreage unknown, (the home farm lay largely in Weston, South of Aston on Trent Hall). On the Winterbottom estate in 1924, there were 737 acres of accommodation land not included within any specific farm. Cottage and Manor Farms disappeared to leave only seven farms marked on the Aston on Trent map in the 1950’s. 

The sale of 1924 also included 14 smallholdings, allotments and a market garden at Hanger bank. Market gardening seems to have developed at Moorside in the latter part of the 19th century. Kelly’s directory records two market gardeners there in 1881 and continues to mention two, usually said to be at Moorside, until and including the 1916 directory (when both were women). In 1928, they have disappeared, but there was a nurseryman at Derby Road and the market gardener at Hanger Bank and both were still there in 1932 and 1936. A second firm of nurserymen had set up by 1936, at Aston on Trent Nursery’s, Weston Road, and another market gardener at Aston Lodge. A poultry farmer was first mentioned in 1942 and four years later there were two in Aston. There was even a ‘horse racing establishment’ at Aston Lodge in 1936, though it appears to have been short lived.