On a fine June morning in 1872, Frederick Chennels left home to make the short journey to the Ashridge Estate Office. He was on his way to pay rent for the farm he rented from the Countess of Bridgewater.
The land he farmed lay largely on ground situated either side of the River Gade. Although Place Farm no longer exists, the fields belonging to it are clearly marked and named on the tithe map and in the award for 1838. These fields: Blanketts Piece, Stockindells, Great Bury Field and many others are also mentioned in a daybook kept by Frederick for the year 1872.
The entries enable us to follow the farming year from ploughing and harrowing to haymaking and harvest and in so doing to be transported to a bygone age. An age where the horse was the motive power on the land, when corn was cut using the scythe, when threshing was done with the flail and hay ricks thatched to keep out the weather. There is no aspect of running a farm that is not covered. Not just the unremitting task of caring for livestock, and general maintenance tasks such as fencing and hedge cutting, but also the prices paid for everything from sheep to soot.
That arbiter of all things agricultural, the weather, is nearly always recorded, as it would determine the tasks that could be done. Very often the name of the worker carrying out a particular job was also noted.
All of this is put down in a very un-emotional way, as you would expect of someone who had to deal with life and death issues on a fairly regular basis. The one exception is when he is presented with just a small share of the bag of a previous days shoot, which he clearly regards as a personal affront.
Apart from work on the farm, Frederick served on the local Board of Guardians, and sometimes he would read at the nearby school. Although he saw his father who farmed at nearby Grove Farm quite often, only occasionally would he visit relatives further afield. Most trips, such as the day spent at Barnet livestock fair, were to do with the farm.
This is the record written by a man whose life was governed by work and the seasons; who was in touch by necessity with the natural world and the need to constantly adjust to its demands. As a chronicle of the farming year it is of immense value.
Entries from the daybook will be presented on a monthly basis, to enable the general reader to build up a picture of the farming year. For students of agricultural history, who may wish to investigate further, this document (Ref: D/EX 700/1) should prove to be a great source of background information.