The Clerk in the Country

Friday 20th November 2020

Growing more flax

The late 18th century was another time when farmers turned to flax.  To encourage domestic production and reduce reliance on imports from the Low Countries, the government set up a bounty scheme, paying 3d per stone for hemp and 4d for flax.  Farmers had to submit their claims to a Justice of the Peace, giving details of the crop and where it had been grown.  Lists of the claims were published in local newspapers and, if unchallenged, payments were made at the Michaelmas Quarter Sessions.

The scheme did not always run smoothly; there were complaints about delays in payments, and despite efforts by the government to encourage them, many farmers lost interest.  But on the low-lying lands of the southern Vale of York it was taken up with enthusiasm.  Thousands of stones of hemp and flax were produced in the parish of Snaith and the same in Brayton to the south of Selby.  The fields around here must have looked a most attractive blue.

One claimant for the bounty was John Tayte, of particular interest to me because I believe he lived in this house.  In 1782 he may have sat down in this very room and dipped his quill in an ink pot to record the flax he had grown.  In a blog on the internet, here it is again: 99 stones.