From an article by Vanessa Doe, Leicester 2010
Richard Baker was born in Baldock in Hertfordshire in 1797. He came to Rutland to start work on the Exton Estate in November 1814 and being only 16 it seems likely that he came as an apprentice to the then agent. 1824 and 1826 marked the two next stages in his career when his ‘services were further identified with the estate’ and inspite of having been warned in a letter from his somewhat unpredictable employer, Sir Gerard Noel, that he was never to be promoted further ’to prevent you from having the least expectation of such a thing’ on the retirement of the incumbent, a Mr Dollin, he was duly appointed Steward in 1828.
In the meantime he had set himself up in the Lodge at Market Overton, after his marriage to Ann Hind Brown, a Melton girl, in December 1820. From there he directed business correspondence on estate matters from the early 1820s. On his promotion in 1828 he moved to Cottesmore to a house and farm recently vacated by ’widow’ Dain at the east end of the village, now known as The Grange. In 1830 a plan was made of ‘an intended new office adjoining Mr Bakers house in Cottesmore’ This, when built, became the main estate office and continued to be so after his death in 1861. He had already taken land at what became Hall Farm, which lay on either side of the road between Cottesmore and Exton and adjoined the Dains farm to the south of Cottesmore. The house at Hall Farm was built and the buildings modernised in the 1830s but Richard Baker continued to reside in Cottesmore village and with this as the centre of his own farming activities and parcels of land elsewhere in Cottesmore and Barrow he was farming directly 275 acres in 1851
In the 1830s with falling prices for agricultural products after the Napoleonic wars and widespread poverty in the countryside, improvements in farming methods were widely seen as the best way to increase the income on landed estates. In this respect the Noels could hardly have appointed a better Agent. Richard Westbrook Baker, who clearly had some independent means, took on the challenge of agricultural and social reform on the Rutland estates with great enthusiasm and energy. His farm between Cottesmore and Exton with its level fields and good soils was an ideal place to demonstrate improved methods of farming to the tenants on the estate and like minded farmers from wider afield.
In 1827 he had already set up a ploughing competition on his land, the beginnings of an annual event held in the autumn, where he could show his guests new cultivations, the advantages of good drainage and other advances in arable farming and stockbreeding. Richard Baker himself (or more likely his ploughman) entered the competitive ploughing matches and he was famous locally for developing the Rutland Plough, a new type of plough, which had a mechanism allowing it to be adapted to serve on both light soils and heavy clay.
This was manufactured by Ransomes of Ipswich and was demonstrated at the Royal Agricultural Society shows at Liverpool in 1841, where it won an inscribed silver tray, at Southampton in 1844 and at Lincoln ten years later. It was also used in demonstrations at Cottesmore, usually written up in the local press but in 1843 under ‘Interesting Experiment at Cottesmore‘ the plough made it into the national press with an account of its prowess in the Farmers Magazine. On the day of the event, usually held in early October, ploughing competitions began at 7.00am, followed by a dinner at mid-day held in his house to which all the guests were invited and which was usually attended by Sir Gerard Noel. The prize giving came in the afternoon, and the event concluded with a sale of rams. The host’s livestock, particularly his herd of Shorthorn cattle, but also ’improved’ sheep, pigs and horses were on display. Prizes were given for all manner of farm work, shepherding, pig keeping, hedging, ditching, rick building, thatching and for crops, corn, potatoes and root crops. There was a prize for the best farm awarded to exemplary tenant farmers encouraging competition and rewarding farm improvement including the provision of work for farm labourers through the winter. He continued to host these meetings annually in Cottesmore until 1840 by which time the number of ploughs competing had risen from 9 at the beginning to 105.
In 1847 the event was wound up and Baker was presented with a ‘magnificent’ silver replica of the Rutland Plough at the last meeting held in Oakham. However, ploughing meetings run by other societies carried on in Rutland and, indeed, are still held today. Improvements in arable husbandry were matched by a strong move to improve livestock farming on the Noel estate in Rutland, another cause taken up with great skill and dedication by Richard Baker.
Livestock improvement had begun to interest farmers in the last half of the eighteenth century but had stalled as the methods used (mainly inbreeding) were not sustainable. In the 1830s, stimulated by a growing demand for food from an increasing population in the towns, profits to be made from livestock led farmers to think again about the conformation and growth rates of their cattle sheep and pigs. With the introduction of new fodder crops and other new types of animal feeds they could also develop better feeding regimes to bring well fleshed carcases to the market as quickly as possible. Richard Baker’s Shorthorn cattle were the pride of Rutland. They were widely seen at shows and demonstrations from the 1830s until his death in 1861 and his bulls, rams and boars were made available to be used on local farms, and to be hired out and sold on more widely.
Competitive exhibitions of livestock at fatstock shows like the Smithfield Society show in London founded in 1798 were popular and similar events were taking place all over the country by the 1830s. The Rutland Show Society, was started in 1831 with Sir Gerard Noel as its first president and Richard Baker as Steward. Originally this was a livestock show held in conjunction with a Christmas fatstock market in Oakham and was housed in the Riding School (now part of Rutland County Museum) at Catmos Lodge.
Like the Smithfield Club show held in London the objective was to show, by means of information on a certificate provided by the exhibitors with their entry, how the prizewinning animals had been produced. The certificates contained information of the animals’ breeding and feeding regimes, to show not only how selective breeding and the use of good bulls could improve conformation, but what the effect was of different feeding regimes on the speed of growth, and the size and quality of the carcase. Many of the winning animals at the Rutland Show went on to London to be shown at Smithfield where Baker himself had many notable successes, winning the Gold Medal in 1837 for the ‘best beast in any class’ with a Shorthorn Heifer. A portrait of this animal, at one time hanging in the Falcon Hotel in Uppingham, was painted by W H Davis of Chelsea and an engraving was printed in the Farmers Magazine in March 1838. Baker won the Gold Medal again in 1860 with a Shorthorn Ox and an engraving was again published the following spring, but the original portrait of this particular animal has not come to light.
Richard Baker’s interests in agricultural improvement was successful in spreading the word locally in Rutland particularly after the establishment of the Rutland Farmers and Graziers Club, formed at his instigation in 1838 with a meeting room and library in a new Agricultural Hall (now the Victoria Hall) in Oakham. His reputation and his wide circle of similar minded friends brought him into contact with agricultural reformers throughout the country so when, in 1839, the Royal Agricultural Society of England was established to take on the work of the old Board of Agriculture in promoting farming nationally he was invited to become a Council Member. The new Society, as part of its remit to educate and inform farmers in all parts of the country of Medals awarded to Richard Westbrook Baker by Rutland Agricultural Society, the Smithfield Club and William Leake Esq between 1825 and 1858 (Rutland County Museum) Mr Fowler demonstrating his steam plough at the 1857 Rutland Ploughing Meeting. The demonstration was on Mr Wortley’s land in Ridlington and Richard Westbrook Baker was in attendance (Illustrated London News) advances in agricultural improvement, set up annual shows of livestock and farm machinery, held each year in different parts of the country. Richard Baker served on the Council in 1841 after which he became a life Governor.
To many farmers of his day the state of the rural poor was, if not exactly welcomed, to be tolerated as best providing a ready pool of eager workers needed at busy times of seasonal farming activity. A more philanthropic approach was adopted by Sir Gerard Noel on his estates, who, with his wife, gave ready support to his Steward when, conscious not only of the human distress of pauper families but the dangers of disaffection in the countryside, Richard Baker proposed to set up a system to provide means for poor labourers to support themselves and their families if paid employment was not available. The provision of allotments, pieces of land up to three quarters of an acre in extent for which rent would be paid, was proposed in each village on the Noel’s Rutland estate to be worked with a spade only and under strict rules set out in 1830. Labourers and their families were intended to have sufficient ground to grow their own wheat for bread,
and potatoes as well as vegetables to provide against destitution. The land for these allotments was provided in many of the villages generating much favourable comment both locally and nationally and they were eventually set up on the Noel's Gloucestershire estates as well. The Friendly Society Richard Baker set up in Cottesmore in 1832, after taking advice widely from the founders of similar
charitable institutions elsewhere, was also intended to offer support to poor labourers both male and female, aged between 10 and 50 years. Named the Rutland General
Friendly Institution it opened an office in Cottesmore where an agent was present on certain days to take subscriptions and donations and pay benefits. It was subsequently extended to the rest of the county with an office in Uppingham to serve the southern area. For a small weekly subscription the poor could rely on some support in cases of illness or infirmity and a contribution to their funeral expenses. After four years the fund, established with subscriptions and charitable donations, stood at £432
12s 6d and the Society had a membership of 181. Described by the Stamford Mercury in his obituary in 1861 as the ‘foremost agriculturalist’ of his day who ‘did everything to promote the interests of all in his adopted county’ he was honoured in June 1841 by a deputation at his house in Cottesmore to present him with a silver service of plate to the value of £400 the money for which had been raised by subscription from more than 1000 people, ‘nobility, clergy, gentry, agriculturalists, tradesmen, artisans, and labourers of Rutland and other counties’ and friends from as far afield as Russia.
It was particularly noted that the subscription lists included many tradesmen and labourers who had benefited from his benign influence locally, in particular the provision of allotments for the poor.
The information in this article is from a 2010 publication by Vanessa Doe entitled Rutland's Phoenix, The Archives of the Noel Family of Exton Park Rutland. Edited by Rachel Marsay published by the ROLLR to launch the new Exton catalogue.