Like many villages in England that exist today Cottesmore for centuries has been a ‘farming village’. However over the last 100 years there have been numerous events that have changed the landscape.

At the end of the 19th century Cottesmore and the surrounding countryside was basically owned by two landowners, the Church and the Exton Estate, the latter being by far the larger. The Exton Estate belonging to the Noel family owned nearly all the farms surrounding Cottesmore. The only exception was Glebe Farm, owned by the Church.

At that time the majority of work was on the land or associated trades such as the blacksmith and grooms etc. Mechanical aids were still in a minority although the famous ‘Rutland Plough’ was still in use.

The tenant farmer was socially somewhere between a labourer and a landowner. At the lower end of the social and economic ladder were the farm labourers.

Living conditions for the farm workers were often cramped and basic. They had their own small vegetable garden and kept a pig to feed the family. Gleanings of corn were collected after the harvest and used to make flour and bread and they would make their own cider, ale and wine from fruit such as elderberries.

Breakfast was a poor porridge of flour, butter and water. At midday they would eat bread and occasionally a piece of cheese. Supper was bread or potatoes and sometimes a piece of bacon. At harvest time the farm workers were given a jug of beer by their master.

Craftsmen such as carpenters, tanners and blacksmiths all had useful trades which were needed on farms and would usually be hired in locally. In Cottesmore the blacksmith was in Main St opposite what is now the Post Office. The blacksmith would forge bars, hooks and metalwork as well as making horseshoes and tools. The wheelwright made cart wheels and wagons. Woodworkers made furniture, fence posts, gates, pegs, wooden bowls and wooden clogs to which the blacksmith added metal tips. Saddlers, coachmen and coopers (barrel-makers) all played their part in farm life.

Farmers were considered an essential part of the economy and workforce, particularly in villages such as Cottesmore. The farmers paid rent to the Exton Estate, paid tithes to the Church and employed many labourers who otherwise would have been unemployed. They in turn kept local shops and tradesmen in business.

Most of them, as has been said before, were tenant farms with about 30 acres. Their farm houses can still be seen to day in the Main Street and Mill Lane. Mill Lane does not reflect the fact that there was a mill in the Lane as the only mill that we have discovered was on the Ashwell Rd, at the top of the rise about, 1 mile outside the village, but even this had fallen by the wayside before the end of the 19th century.

Farming Records

Rutland 1890

Crops Acres Live stock number
Corn and cereals 21,945 Horses 3,097
Roots ,Cabbage, Rape 7,107 Cows in milk etc 4,026
Clover , Grasses 6,608 Other cattle 15,815
Bare, fallow 1,815 Sheep >1 52,872
Orchards 72 Sheep<1 33,600
Permanent pasture 49,438 Pigs 2,989
Woods etc 39,21

Rutland 1931

Crops Acres Live stock number
Corn and cereals 14,000 Horses 2,300
Roots ,Cabbage, Rape 7,000 Cows in milk etc 3,100
Clover , Grasses 5,000 Other cattle 14,000
Bare, fallow 1,000 Sheep >1 12,500
Orchards 142 Sheep<1 27,000
Permanent pasture 59,000 Pigs 3,000

Rutland 1938

Crops Acres Live stock number
Corn and cereals 14,000 Horses 2,000
Roots ,Cabbage, Rape 5,000 Cows in milk etc 5,000
Clover , Grasses 3,500 Other cattle 13,000
Bare, fallow 1,300 Sheep >1 34,000
Orchards 160 Sheep<1 29,000
Permanent pasture 61,000 Pigs 3,000

There are no detailed figures for Cottesmore but those for Rutland (from Kelly’s Directories) show very little change over the 80 year period except the move towards lamb as opposed to sheep.

Nearly all the farms were mixed with small herds of milk cows that supplied Cottesmore with its milk and butter. Little appeared to have been sent elsewhere but some did get delivered to Greetham but they had their own supply of milk. Most of the villagers kept at least one pig that would have been slaughtered just off Main Street near to the post office. Next door was the butchers and the bakehouse. For those without their own farms or gardens allotments were available. This was a scheme that had been introduced on the Exton Estate by Richard Westbrook Baker in the 1840 and continued through to the 1950s. A rule book was written and the original can be found in the Estate archives at the Leicestershire Records Office.

The photograph shows the 1929 all England ploughing championship that was held in Cottesmore.

With the advent of WWI many changes were seen with some leaving the land to join the army, whilst women took on their jobs. But the main change was the increase in local quarrying which obviously had a detrimental effect on farming conditions and practices (quarrying is described elsewhere). The quarrying continued right through the two wars and up to the 1970s. As well as using the land they competed with farms for labour and the Parish records show that some 20 men were working in the quarries.

Farming Records

Another aspect of country life that was intertwined with farming was Fox Hunting, which as explained elsewhere, had become an important part of rural life which would not have prospered but for the contributions by the farming fraternity. One particular side issue was the annual hedge laying competitions supported by the farmers who gained from the work and the Hunt who benefitted from having the hedges controlled. One of the instigators of these events was Mr C Hollis a well-known farmer at Manor Farm Cottesmore.

The grazing of the cows seemed somewhat informal as they used to graze along the side of the Oakham Rd, and others, and walk back to the milking parlour at 4 o’clock. Somehow the different herds did not get mixed up as they all knew their places. A description of this practice and other interesting comments can be heard on a recording made by Mr Alan Goodwin on his recollections of farming since the 1930s

In the 1920s and 30s farming in Cottesmore felt the effect of the depression years, as did the rest of the country. This was reflected in falling prices for milk and arable products, however because they had never really partaken of the industrialisation, the downturn was less severe. Soon the outbreak of World War II was to see many of the men leave the land, many of them never to return to their old jobs. Instead we had the growth of the land army with many of the local women joining up. Again from recordings made in the village it would appear that certain liaisons developed leading to marriage and new families.

After the War many more changes were to be felt with greater state intervention in the selling of milk, potatoes and eggs. Politicians were determined for Britain to become more self-sufficient. Minimum prices were introduced to protect farmers from price fluctuations, making mechanisation and increased food production possible. Agriculture enjoyed increased output and greater security of supply. With rationing still fresh in the public's mind, farming responded to government initiatives derived from the 1947 Agriculture Act. Improved stock and plant breeding, the greater use of fertiliser and pesticides and a move away from more extensive forms of production saw yields rise.

In Cottesmore we saw the beginning of the end of the tenant farmer. As they retired or died most of the tenancies reverted to the Exton Estate which now farms the land itself. The only farm left in the heart of the village is Manor Farm, farmed by the Hollis family. Their land is primarily arable but with some livestock. They also run a livery with stables.