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GAWDY HALL AND ITS OCCUPANTS
Throughout the last few hundred years estate farms have been amongst the largest, if not THE largest, of farming operations. Passed down through generations of the same family, sometimes sold off but usually to other rich families, the estate has played a very important part in the evolution of British agriculture.
In many ways by the 20th Century the big estates were becoming something of an anachronism, a hark back to the days when the Lord of the Manor not only owned several thousands of acres and a very big house, but also at least one village and even, in many ways, the people who lived in it! Although some of these Gentry certainly looked after those under their care, some proved to be much less scrupulous. At the heart of it all though, was the estate farm, usually but not always known as Home Farm, which would often be run by a farm manager under the direct control of the squire himself. Most of the village would often be employed by the estate also, probably most on the farm itself and others on the estate grounds. It was a way of life that was very different to today.
Estates still exist of course, with large holdings situated all over the country and with many in Suffolk and Norfolk in particular. Today they are often run by large companies, who run them on behalf of the owners, but many still employ more people than comparable farms and a lot of traditions still remain such as gamekeepers and the whole business of parkland management. Many of the large houses also remain and are often open to the public during the summer months, many under the umbrella of the National Trust. Some though remain steadfastly independent and are run in a similar way to times past.
Author Rachel Klausner has done something remarkable in her book however, where she brings back the life and times of a Norfolk Estate that has now changed forever. Gawdy Hall at Redenhall in Norfolk, dates back to the 1500s and has a rich history of ownership that Rachel has researched in depth, bringing to life the characters who built and then owned the hall and its large estate.
The Hall itself has long since disappeared but the land, as always, remains and totalled some 1050 acres in 1938. The second half of Rachel’s book is dedicated to the story of the estate farm and, by means of superb original photographs, details the story of life on the estate during the 1950s. A mixture of International Harvester and Fordson Major and Dexta tractors along with a Fowler VF crawler were the main source of power at that time, most of the work being carried out previously by horses and Fordson N machines. A large fleet of Major E27N tractors were also used and these were gradually replaced by the 1950s with the later New Major versions together with the smaller Dexta model.
By this time the Estate was owned by a family living in South Africa and was run for them by a farm manager. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Rachel’s book are the photographs taken during the 1950s of the farming operations including cultivation, drilling, threshing and sugar beet harvesting. These photographs were taken by Mr Alan Oakley who worked on the estate from 1952 to 2002 and provide a unique snapshot of 1950s farming in Norfolk.
Most of the book is of course dedicated to the various owners of Gawdy Hall and Rachel gives a very in-depth account of the coming and goings along with chapters on the sale of the estate land and the property, as well as the gardens, the livestock kept on the estate and even a history of the mysterious Inner Temple!
This is a fascinating little book that captures the real life story of a Norfolk Estate and its agricultural history. As such it would be a great read for anyone interested in agriculture in general and the history of British farming in particular.
69 pages, black and white photographs