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One rick of hay

At three o’clock on Wednesday 18th September 1935 at the Connaught Drill Hall in West Meon and on the instructions of the executors of the late Colonel William Woods, Messrs Richard Austin & Wyatt undertook an auction of Warnford Park, ‘a fine unspoilt and most attractive sporting estate in an exceedingly beautiful part of Hampshire’. ‘Unspoilt’ was something of an understatement. Quite the most incredible feature of the then Warnford Estate was that it had not been cultivated since the end of the Crimean War in 1856. The only item of note on the incoming valuation was one very poor rick of hay!

Two answers present themselves to the question of how this extraordinary situation had come about. The first was that there was no money to be made in farming; the second that the owner (Colonel“Scrubby” Woods) had no interest in the subject. As a result of the abject failure to cultivate the land. the fertility of the soil across the vast majority of the acreage was abysmally low. The only item of “livestock” that the estate produced in any quantity was rabbits. In 1934 the shoot accounted for 8,566 rabbits, and two full-time rabbit catchers, Arthur and Albert Mullard reckoned they were accounting for some 18,000 rabbits a year!The poverty of the soil was a key factor in the prices my father paid for the 1,350 acres he bought; 30 shillings per acre for some of the hill down land, £4 per acre for quite a large proportion and £12 per acre for the remainder.

It would be tempting to consider this an amazing deal. However, the brutal truth was that given the state it was in at the time, it was not worth any more than this. In addition, one has to remember that the early 1930’s was a time of great economic depression.


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