Popular History of Jersey Chapter 32

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Agriculture

Population growing

According to T Quayle, who visited the Island during the Lieut-Governorship of Lieut-General Don, and who, for the purposes of the English Board of Agriculture wrote a special report thereon, Jersey at the time of Don’s arrival had a population of 22,855 (an increase of about 3,000 since the year 1734), the number of resident families being 4,359; of houses, 3,069. Land near St Helier let at from £3 10s to £4 per vergee, and in the western half of the Island at from about £3 6s 6d to £4 8s 8d (80 to 100 livres), or £7 10s to £9 6s 8d per English acre. The chief exports in 1806 were cider — of which the returns give 833 pipes, containing 240 pots, and 705 hogsheads of 120 pots; and cattle, of which during the same year there were exported 754 cows and heifers, and 11 bulls; showing an increase in the cattle export over the previous year of 348 of the former, and 9 of the latter; whilst the first authentic record of the potato trade taken during the year gives the interesting fact that 600 tons were shipped off in 1806. In contrast with this it may be stated that in the year 1895 the export of potatoes reached 54,290 tons, of the estimated value of £359,909.

In the matter of Agriculture, the "big plough", modelled originally on the Hampshire pattern, was then and had been some time in use, though it was at that time drawn by the combined efforts of bullocks as well as horses: six of the latter led by two of the former, being the general rule; whilst the co-operative plan of several farmers joining their labours until the work was done was even then in vogue, as at the present day. Bullock carts and bullock waggons too, at that time were frequently to be met with, adding a foreign and picturesque aspect to the general scene.

Parsnips favourite

With regard to crops, there is every evidence that the culture of parsnips was the favourite one, though these wore "dibbled" in, and no hoe was used amongst them. Indeed the use of the hoe seems to have been almost entirely neglected on the Island; even the turnip crop which was favoured by a few, being innocent during its growth of that most important implement. Barley, chiefly for the making of bread for the poorer classes, was grown to some little extent, and also a small quantity of rye. And wheat, which had formerly been a mainstay of the Island, was chiefly noted for the fact that it was "growing out of fashion", the amount of wheat raised in 1806 being nearly one-third less than in 1778.

This, it seems, was partly due to the laying down of grass land for the use of cattle — they having become an important item in the agricultural economy of the Island - to the more extended growth of potatoes, and the extra room required for the cultivation of the predominant parsnip. Cabbages, also, of the kale species, now known as the celebrated "Jerseys", though they are common to Normandy, Brittany, and Flanders, wore grown to a great extent. At that time, however, they did not seem often to exceed the height of some four or five feet, their leaves and sprouts being, as is still the practice, utilised for food and fodder, and their stalks dried and used for firewood, and in some cases for building purposes, a matter which was brought to light by the pulling down of a shed during Mr Quayle's visit, the ceiling of which had been constructed of cabbage stalks roughly daubed with clay, the revealed stalks found being evidently in a remarkable state of preservation considering the fact that the shed had been erected and the ceiling in question never renewed for the space of eighty years and more.

Potato planting

Potatoes

Concerning potatoes, now one of Jersey's chief supports, it is most interesting to note that they were unknown in the Island, except as a garden crop and a luxury, until about the year 1782; though after a struggle for the rivalry with the favourite produce (parsnips) their value as a crop began to be recognised a few years previous to the arrival of General Don, just prior to which date their exportation amounted to about 40 or 50 cargoes, carried away in small vessels of some 50 tons burden. The favourite sort in those days was gros yeux, a round potato, thin-skinned, white with a yellow cast, and the crop average, it would seem, was better in those days than now, 12 to 14 cabots a perch being looked for; whilst, on Mr Quayle's authority, it may be ventured to insert the statement that on a specially attended plot of land Lieut-General Don raised over 40 cabots on a single perch (484 square feet), a cabot weighing 40 Jersey pounds, or about 710 English ounces — the sets being planted in April and dug in the October following. And it may be here added that at Midsummer 1812, new potatoes were sold in St Helier at 5s Per cabot, and in August of the same year at from Is 8d to 2s.

In the matter of tithes, those due from wheat, which alone appertain to the Grown, were then computed at 4 livres 10 sous (3s 9d) a vergee — two and one quarter vergees being equal to one English acre — the Vicars of the parishes being only entitled to the tithe due on apples; portion of which was often paid in kind, the remainder at market price; whilst all newly introduced vegetables such as potatoes, parsnips and carrots were, and for the matter of that, are still, tithe free.

Lastly, coming to the state of the roads, a matter of the highest importance, and for the better describing of their condition prior to the arrival of Lieut-General Don, we cannot do a wiser thing than quote a passage from Dr Shebbear's "History of Jersey", used for the same purpose by Mr Quayle, to the effect that "no country could produce more execrable ones, or a people more tenacious of keeping them in that state".

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