A Local Farm Improver

During the second half of the eighteenth century, as industries and population grew in nearby Wolverhampton, Birmingham and the Black Country, good farming was a profitable business.  William Pitt was born at Fordhouses in 1749.  Baptised at Tettenhall, he was a pupil at Wolverhampton Grammar School.  In 1780, Pitt took the lease of the 230 acre New House farm in Pendeford.  In that year there were 14 houses in Pendeford, including the hall.  Pitt was an agricultural improver at a time when experimentation and innovation was all the rage.  He set about developing his arable land by dressing it with lime which was brought by canal from quarries at Dudley and burned in a lime kiln set up on his land by the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal.  During the first three years of his tenure at New House, Pitt burnt 1200 quarters of limestone.  He also treated thin soils with marl (clay).  In the early nineteenth century, William Pitt experimented with mangolds as cattle food and developed new ways of sowing and of harvesting crops.  With Pitt's leadership, Pendeford was at the forefront of agricultural developments and in the early 1790's seed drills were being used on at least six farms in the area while a threshing machine was in use in 1814.  In 1796, Pitt's "General View of the Agriculture of the County of Stafford" was published and he went on to write several books on agriculture.  He died in 1823 and was buried at Tettenhall.

Stebbing-Shaw, who wrote "The History and Antiquities of Staffordshire" around the same time described farming in Pendeford, stating that the staple articles of grain are wheat, barley and oats, a few peas, fewer beans, sometimes a small quantity of buck-wheat; also hemp and flax, and clover and rye-grass plentifully; turnips on a considerable scale, and cabbages and potatoes in a smaller quantity.  The main farming is cultivation, dairying and fattening stock from elsewhere.  The horses are mostly black and brown; cows chiefly of the long horned sort, and sheep of various sorts.  Many cows brought in to fatten from Shropshire, Cannock Heath, Wiltshire, Dorsetshire and Leicestershire.  They are fed with grass, or clover in Summer, and with turnips in Winter, and with a little hay in bad weather.

William Owen of Pendeford held spring sales of cattle between 1818 and 1820; besides fat cows, his herd also included a longhorn bull.  Another local farmer advertised 100 milk cheeses and 10 family cheeses for sale in 1814.  Sheep were still important and William Owen was selling 200 a year between 1815 and 1820.

Farming was not the sole economic activity in Pendeford.  In 1686, Robert Plot's Natural History of Staffordshire mentions a quarry at Penford which he describes as more remarkable than others.  It was about 14 or 15 yards deep and the stone became finer with depth.  The stone was whiteish at the top, then reddish to 10 or 12 yards then whiter still for a further five or six yards.  It was good weatherstone.  There was still quarrying in 1717.  Dr. Plot also mentions a strange prognosticating pool at Pendeford which became troubled prior to rain, with bubbles rising in it and a yellow scum forming on the surface which the rain washes away.  He thought that it was caused by fish or eels sensing the atmospheric changes.

Agricultural improvers such as William Pitt were able to take advantage of the easy transport of heavy or bulky goods, like limestone and the coal needed to burn it, provided by the canals which were to cut through Pendeford and give it so much of its later shape.

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