The Great Depression in the early 1930’s had created major unemployment problems, particularly in the North East of England.
Many of the unemployed had no hope of following their normal occupation in mining, shipbuilding, and steel works. In fact, what are known as the heavy industries, were undergoing a depression of the first magnitude. Many of these men worked on an allotment in order to augment the dole, and some of them kept a few poultry, and in some cases, a pig.
The Commissioner for Special Areas decided that it would be worthwhile setting up a special body to see if it were possible to settle some of these families on a full time smallholding, and the Government was eventually forced to react. Thus in 1935 the Land Settlement Association came into being.
It should be pointed out that this was entirely experimental for nothing previously had been done in large scale migration of families who were – through no fault of their own – going through a very difficult time.
The first estate to be equipped was given by the Commissioner himself, and was in Bedfordshire, and this was mainly horticulture. The first estate to be actually purchased was Little Park Farm, (bought from Mr. Brags) in the village of Abbotts Ann, and which consisted of some 500 acres. Eventually there were 18 estates throughout the country.
Money was raised privately, and by the help of grants by the Carnegie Trustees and the Pilgrim Trust. The Government made funds available at the rate of £1 for £1–, a system which was then in use for the relief of unemployment. The first settlers – six of them – arrived without their families early in July, 1935. They were accommodated in an old poultry house which at one time housed nurses at the Enham Village Centre. The hut had, of course, been thoroughly cleaned and decorated, and as the first month coincided with one of our rare heat waves, conditions were fairly tolerable.
During this time they were known as trainees, also helping with the construction of the bungalows. Their families joined them in 1936 on completion of the bungalows.
The work of making roads, laying water, and installing electric light were all undertaken by the early settlers, many of whom showed considerable aptitude. As the houses became available, families were transferred from the North, and fresh men continued to arrive during the winter of 1935, being fed in a room of the farmhouse, where the old dairy served as kitchen.
The first house to be occupied was No. 11, and the family arrived one bitter cold night in January, at the Andover Junction at midnight. From then onwards it was a case of getting some experience with stock, and building up a financial reserve against the time when the dole finished. The social problems involved in schooling, sickness and, of course home sickness! – presented difficulties, and many men were unable to fulfil early promise. The impact upon the life of the village was even more interesting. Nearly all the first families came from Durham speaking a vernacular which contrasted markedly with the Hampshire dialect, and it took some years before a gradual merging of the children toned down this sharp reminder of our Island’s division.
Many acts of kindness were received by the new “villagers”, and in this respect the Women’s Institute did much to break down the reserve. The early years with all their difficulties passed quickly away; children grew up, obtained jobs in the neighbourhood, married local inhabitants, and some of the men and women of Durham have found their last resting place in the peaceful Churchyard. It was remarkable how most of these men, with the help of their families, adapted to their new way of life.
The geographical position of the estate largely determined the activities pursued to make a living. The three main lines were pigs, poultry, and horticulture. Some estates were later to become specialist horticulturist’s.
Originally there were 37, roughly ten acre small holdings, but later Holdings 31 and 32 were considered unsuitable because of their strip incline and were duly sold to the Water Cress Establishment.
The Landlord’s equipment on each holding was a three bedroom bungalow, a heated glasshouse 60′ x 25′, and piggery housing for about 50 pigs. Loan facilities were provided generally in the region of £500. This was needed to provide stock, and equipment, housing etc.
Store pigs could be purchased from the estate breeding herd; also outside sources. Day old chicks were supplied by L.S.A. Hatcheries, and tomato plans were purchased from the Estate Service Department.
Most were becoming financially established when the 1939-45 war came. Because of the shortage of animal feeding stuffs, stock activities were severely curtailed, and most tenants were forced to take temporary employment.
After the war feeding stuffs were still not readily available so the expansion of the Dutch Sight Structures were encouraged. It should be mentioned that the method of recruitment of tenants changed at this time. Priority was given to full time wage earners in agriculture or horticulture, having at least 5 years’ experience. In 1954 feeding stuffs were decontrolled, and this resulted in much more stock being kept at Little Park. During this time and into the sixties tenants seemed to thrive with some moving on to larger farms.
Towards the end of the sixties overheads throughout the scheme, particularly Centralised Services, were causing great concern.
Finally, in 1974 the Ministry of Agriculture withdrew S.A.’s services at Little Park. A likewise decision was made at a later date on all L.S.A. Estates throughout the country.
Some tenants moved to other estates, some sought employment outside agriculture. At a later date tenants were allowed the opportunity to purchase their holdings. About a third of the tenants did this at Little Park, and their activities vary from Specialist Horticulturists and Nurserymen to quite large Stockholdings with pick your own fruit enterprises.
The Central Farm and surplus land was purchased by the Hampshire County Council for the Hampshire College of Agriculture.