Throughout Grain and Chaff from an English Manor, there are a number of passing references to the previous tenant, Thomas Blyth, who farmed at Aldington from 1866 to 1873:
My men … though somewhat prejudiced and wedded to old methods and customs, they were open to reason, loyal, and anxious to see the land better farmed and restored to the condition in which the late tenant found it, when entering upon his occupation seven years previously.
The late tenant, my predecessor, though a gentleman and a pleasant man to deal with, was no farmer for such strong and heavy land as the farm presented; it was no fault of his, for the farmer, like the poet, is born, not made, and, as I was often told, he was “nobody’s enemy but his own.” His wife came of a good old stock of shorthorn breeders whose name is known and honoured, not only at home, but throughout the United States of America, our Dominions, and wherever the shorthorn has established a reputation; and my men were satisfied that she was the better farmer of the two.
I had scarcely bargained for the foul condition of the stubbles, disclosed when the corn was harvested shortly before I took possession at Michaelmas; they were overrun with couch grass – locally called “squitch” and the following summer I had 40 acres of bare-fallow, repeatedly ploughed, harrowed and cultivated throughout the whole season which, of course, produced nothing by way of return. My predecessor had found that his arable land was approaching a condition in which it was difficult to continue the usual course of cropping and had expressed his wish to one of the men that all the arable was grass. He was answered, I was told: “If you goes on as you be a-going it very soon will be!” I heard, moreover, that a farming relative of his, on inspecting the farm shortly before he gave it up had pronounced his opinion that it was “all going to the devil in a gale of wind!”
Labourers have great contempt for the work of parsons, lawyers and indoor workers generally; a farmer who spends much time indoors over correspondence and comes round his land late in the day is regarded as an “afternoon” or “armchair” farmer. It was remarked of the late tenant, “I reckon there was a good parson spoiled when ‘e was made a farmer.”
Thomas Walter Blyth was born at Springfield, Essex, on 7th June 1844, the son of Thomas Blyth, a surgeon, and his wife, Catherine. He married Emily Stratton at Stoke Gifford, Gloucestershire, on 29th May 1867. They had four children born at Aldington: Mabel Emily (1868-1946), Frederick Thomas (1870-1930), Florence Charlotte (1872-1880) and Eliza Redman (1873-?). Mabel and Florence were both baptised at Badsey but Frederick was baptised at Limington, Somerset. Eliza was born in the last quarter of 1873. The family left Aldington shortly after her birth and moved to Alton Priors, Wiltshire, where Eliza was baptised on 23rd November 1873.
In about 1875 or 1876, he Blyths then moved to East Barnet, Hertfordshire, where three more children were born. Thomas had ceased farming by 1891 and was described as “living on his means”. Thomas and Emily lived at Leigh’s Lodge, Felsted, Essex, with three of their children and three servants. They were still there in 1901 with five of their children, a four-year-old adopted boy, a visitor and three servants. Thomas died at Leigh’s Lodge on 28th July 1902.
Emily Blyth, considered to be the better farmer of the two, came from a farming background. She was born at Salthrop Farm, Wroughton, Wiltshire, where her father, Richard, farmed 1800 acres. By 1861 they had moved to Stoke Gifford where Richard now farmed 2000 acres. Emily died at Thorley Bourne, Bishops Stortford, Herts, on 10th January 1932.