The income from farming which the Trust collects from the tenant farmers, sustains the upkeep of the rest of the Estate. When Francis the 3rd Duke controlled the Estate (1748-1803), he was more concerned about his industrial interests in Lancashire – coal and canals. This led to the decline of the Ashridge estate which he left to run itself. Against all the odds , his industrial pursuits paid off handsomely, so much so that he was reputeded to be the richest man in England when he left the Estate to his cousin John William the 7th Earl of Bridgewater (1803-1823) – his income then was nearly £100,000 per annum. With his inheritance of £600,000 and the continuing income from the coal and canals, John was able to set about restoring the fortunes of Ashridge. He built the new mansion which we see today, and moved to become a landed aristocrat by buying up surrounding manors and farmsteads as and when available. His widow the Countess (1823- 1849) continued this pursuit after his death. Town Farm at Ivinghoe, Pitstone Green Farm, Down Farm, Barley End Farm, Duncombe Farm, Ward’s Hurst Farm, Coldharbour Farm, Hill Farm, and Home Farm in Little Gaddesedn were all part of the Estate, and most of them remain so today.
Then as now farming activity was determined by the seasons, but in the old days work was slow, tedious and labour intensive. It is hard to believe that it was only one hundred years ago that mechanisation took over.
We have the daily diaries kept by John Henry Hawkins and his son Leonard, grandfather and father of the present owner of Pitstone Green Farmhouse, written in Edwardian times to underline the varied and never -ending demands made by the land, on those who worked it.
Christmas to Lady Day 25th March – the Countryman’s Year
“Plough for spring beans, carting straw to and gravel from Leighton(gravel to bind the flints with which we have lined the road from top gates.) Also carting spuds and bushes, etc.”
(Diary, 30th December , 1912.)
“Plough behind sheep above road and harrowed barley lately planted on hanging. Hired Philbey’s chaff cutter and cut up a rick of oat straw very rapidly.”
(Diary, 18th February, 1911.)
“Straw carting and bringing sand for repairing Stevens Barn. Grinding, thatching, carting wheat in etc. Putting up spuds.”
(Diary, 15th February, 1913.)
“All horses harrowing and planting oats in upper white field. Nearly a sack per acre of good scotch seed oats went in well.”
(Diary, 7th March, 1913.)
“Drilled peas on Old bottom about 3 bushels per acre of Grange & Co’s maple peas went in well. Plough and odd carting.”
(Diary, 25th March, 1913)
The diary entries paint a vivid picture of farm life some one hundred years ago. Many of the implements of the time can be seen as exhibits at Pitstone Green Farm Museum, where you may also see some of the Ashridge volunteers like Andrew Reeve, who support the charity on open days.
Pitstone Green farmland remains part of the Ashridge Estate.
The livestock, grazing on the hills today belong to Town Farm near Ivinghoe, built in 1833. Mr Leech has twenty five bullocks, mainly Belted Galloways with some Lincoln Reds, which are out in all weathers roaming the hills, doing sterling work for conservation. There are eight hundred Southdown sheep which will be lambing at the end of February. There were many more in the old days, looked after by regular shepherds and their dogs.