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What was the National Farm Survey and why was it undertaken

At the beginning of World War II, Britain needed to increase home food production, and the area of land under cultivation was rapidly increased. County War Agricultural Executive Committees and district committees under them had exceptional powers to determine the direction of farming at a local level. Between June 1940 and early 1941 some 85% of the agricultural area was surveyed.  Only summary statistics survive from this survey.

Once the short-term objective of increasing food production had been met, thought was given to implementing a more general National Farm Survey with the purpose of providing data to form the basis of post-war planning.  Every farm and holding of five acres (ranging from large farms to market and hop gardens) was surveyed and classified according to the physical condition of the land.

The National Farm Survey was begun in the spring of 1941 and largely completed by the end of 1943, undertaken by district committees who visited and inspected each farm and interviewed the farmer.  The majority of land being used for market gardening in Badsey, Aldington and Wickhamford came under the five-acre threshold, but there were some pieces of land which required a visit from the inspector.  For Badsey, Aldington and Wickhamford, the two inspectors were J E Knight and R W Sidwell.  John Edwin Knight (1876-1959) was from a prominent market gardening family and lived at Fairview, High Street, Badsey.  Ronald William Sidwell (1909-1993) was a horticulturalist who moved from the West Midlands to the Vale of Evesham in 1941.

The individual farm records of the 1941-1943 survey form the record series MAF 32 (records created or inherited by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Departments, and related bodies) in The National Archives.  The farm records are arranged by county and by parish.  The records for Badsey are found at:  MAF 32/53/30, those for Aldington at MAF 32/52/233 and those for Wickhamford at MAF 32/78/45.  The records for each parish contain four printed forms:

  • C47 – A census return of agricultural land providing details of crops and grass acreage, livestock numbers (including horses) and labour employed on the farm.
  • C51 – A census return of small fruit, vegetables, bulbs and flowers, and stocks of hay and straw.
  • SF – Additional census questions on labour, motive power such as horses and tractors, rent payable, and how many years the farmer had occupied the farm.
  • B496 – The primary farm record, completed by an inspector for farms of 5 acres or more.

The first three census returns were posted from Manchester to the farmer for completion on 4th June 1941, to be returned to the local committee (Worcestershire War Agricultural Executive Committee, 14 Castle Street, Worcester).  The first two forms were familiar to farmers as they were required to be completed each year, but the third “supplementary” form was issued only in 1941.  Inevitably, not all forms were returned and there are some gaps in the record.

Further notes may be found on The National Archives website.