The Twentieth Century

XIV The Twentieth Century

Lincolnshire today is one vast food factory for the nation. But recovery from the Depression of the 1870s was slow. Holland benefited first: in 1906 the Fens were ‘a sunny oasis’in an otherwise bleak picture. Cheap grains from America led to a reduction in the amount of land under arable, and land prices fell; the church in Lincolnshire began to sell its glebe. Small holdings were established, especially around the Wash following the Small Holdings Act of 1908. During World War I farming was for a short time a matter of national concern, but when the war was over, price guarantees were withdrawn (1921), Canadian corn flooded in and prices and land values fell again: ‘the great betrayal’, it was called. In the recession which followed, farmers turned first to new arable crops, then to stock, chickens and bullocks and finally back to arable.

As the 19th-century gangs became increasingly a thing of the past, the labourer found himself working in the fields on his own. Women joined the labour force during the war, but as farmers turned to mixed farming and market gardens, the use of labour was cut: Lincolnshire with one of the largest hired forces in the country suffered severely. With shooting restricted and myxomatosis having ‘done poor folk out of a dinner’, many labourers only had casual employment. The brief but bitter strike of the National Union of Agricultural Workers (1923) solved neither of the problems which pressed on the labourer, the tied cottage and the deference the farmer required and inevitably got.

There was little support in Lincolnshire for the General Strike of 1926; indeed volunteers were recruited and mobilised in Lincoln ‘to maintain supplies’. But the National Government of 1931 with its policy of ‘Protection without interference’ took agriculture more seriously. The Milk Marketing Board was set up in 1933-5, and the Potato and Egg Boards followed, particularly important for Lincolnshire with its mixed farming.

World War II saw some bombing in Scunthorpe, Grimsby and else where, evacuees from the Midlands and the north, and American troops and German prisoners of war. ‘Home food production’ was the theme of the Agricultural Executive Committee of which there was a branch in every county. Fuel, fértilisers and other supplies were controlled and grants for ploughing grassland and other improvements made available. Marginal land was pressed into service for the first time in many years, and many Lincolnshire farms and villages were rebuilt at this time; vehicles like the jeep, designed for the army, were used on the farms.

Protection continued after the war with the Agriculture Act (1947); the annual price review led to jibes of ‘feather-bedded farmers’. Output grew very little between 1920 and 1950, but from 1950 to 1980 it rose by nearly 100 per cent.. The policy agreed between the National Farmers Union and the Labour government was continued under the tories. But the cost of protection was regulation – of acreages ploughed, of stock, of pest control (such as foot and mouth slaughter policies) together with soaring land prices. As all crops were seen to be profitable, the range grown in Lincolnshire widened. Intensive farming (pigs and hens) led to a demand for small plots of land, and local authorities and private associations laid out small holdings, as at Eastvi1le, especially after the wars.

In the 1960s the farmers fought the proposal to join the EEC but accepted it in 1972. As livestock suffered and cereals gained, Lincolnshire with more than 60 per cent arable land profited. The speed of ‘improve­ments’ (like the removal of hedges and the creation of larger fields for ploughing) grew. New machinery was introduced first in the dairy, then in the field – binder, combines in the 1930s and others; corn driers are both a means to and symbol of the wealth of the modern Lincolnshire farmer. The application of chemicals, now by aerial spraying, has led to the constant use of the land without rest. New strains have been produced by research, and yields per acre increased, as have milk yields. The use of labour has continued to fall. In 1926 the county had some 40,000 agricultural workers, by 1982 less than 10,000; in Lindsey the number of farmworkers fell from 15,500 (1959) to 8300 (1969). Seasonal labour (for example for the beet harvest) comes more from outside than from the towns and villages of the county.

The conversion of mixed farming back to arable begun in the late 19th century continued. Between 1925 and 1975, wheat acreages doub­led, barley and beet trebled. Less land is occupied by potatoes, fruit and cattle, and sheep now utilise less than half the land they formerly grazed. In the 1960s, Lindsey and Kesteven produced barley, wheat and rotation grass; in the Fens where most grass is ley grass in rotation with wheat or barley, sugar beet or potatoes, the main crops were wheat, potatoes, barley and fruit. New crops have been introduced – sugar, peas, onions, cabbages, carrots, bulbs in the Fens and rape on the heaths. Market gardens and direct selling to the passer by are characteristic of parts of the county.

Some of this produce is processed locally: the sugar factories at Brigg, Bardney and Spalding are amongst the largest in the country. Newark, Peterborough and King’s Lynn process beet from Lincolnshire. Until 1948 much of the beet went by water, until the 1960s by rail; now it goes by lorry. Food processing, canning, freezing and the making of potato crisps, is a major industry in the Sutton area and around Grimsby (Ross, Bird’s Eye, Findus, Salvesen and Smiths).

Cement is extracted, at South Ferriby, Kirton in Lindsey and elsewhere, iron ore until recently in the Scunthorpe area and south of Grantham; for a time the county produced nearly twice as much low grade ore as any other region. The lower Trent valley has developed as one of the largest electricity producing regions in Europe.

By 1914 Lincoln was at the peak of its industrial career. Most of its workers were engaged in munitions and railway engineering; the first tanks and some of the first aircraft were built in the town. New suburbs grew up in St Giles and Boultham (incorporated into the city in 1920), and Ruston and Hornsby laid out a ‘garden suburb’ in Swanpool. After the war came a slump; from 66,000 (1921) Lincoln grew to only 69,000 (1951). In 1933-4, 8000 men were recorded as unemployed, and attempts were made to diversify the town’s economy. World War II ended the slump and the town grew to 76,600 (1981). Apart from service occupa­tions (the largest group), the city is still dependent on engineering, concentrated in the south east; the inner road over Pelham Bridge (1961) gave recognition to the new heart of Lincoln.

The north is the industrialised region of Lincolnshire. Scunthorpe, where the manufacture of steel began in the 1890s, threatened at one stage to become ‘a second Middlesborough’. From a population of 1,700 (1864), it grew to 26,000 (1918) and to 69,900 in 1965; since then it has fallen to 66,600 (1981). New housing sprang up at New Frodingham and New Brumby. Grimsby, a general port with much coal trade, is still one of the country’s most important fishing centres, whether viewed in terms of the size of fleet, value of catch or numbers of fishermen. Immingham port, built 1906-12, and Killingholme oil terminal and refinery are part of the Humberside industrial development; exports of iron and steel, coal and chemicals are matched by imports of wood, oil and foodstuffs. Chemical works as at Flixborough (scene of a disaster in 1974) have been developed. The region has since 1974 been transferred into a new county of Humberside, and the development of new transport systems with crossings of the Trent and Humber has helped to create new community bonds and new industrial opportunities.

Outside Humberside, Lincolnshire industries are still connected with agriculture. Diesel pumps were installed in the drainage areas (as at Black Sluice 1946) in place of steam; they are now being replaced with electric pumps. Hornsby of Grantham produced the first farm tractor (1896), but horses continued to be the norm on Lincolnshire farms until after World War II. Rustons of Lincoln and Hornsby of Grantham merged and their factories were rationalised.

The towns still depend on agriculture. The docks at Boston import timber and export agricultural produce. Gainsborough has engineering (Marshalls’ tractors), Louth a packaging industry and Spalding the sugar and bulb industries. But the markets have continued to decline. Railway lines were built on the coast (1910-12) and across the Fens (1913), but freight traffic returned to the roads. This, and the removal of stock markets from town centres to permanent peripheral sites, have contributed to the decline of fairs and markets, until today only 14 centres survive. At Horncastle the largest horse fair in England ceased in 1948, and with it the number of inns and public houses fell from over 60 to 13; the town still repairs farmers’ tools, supplies their necessities and processes their produce, but many who live in Horncastle now work in Lincoln or elsewhere.

Commuters have saved the lives of many villages; the Deepings, for example, house some of the working population of Peterborough. The countryside has been transformed over the last 50 years. The presence of large numbers of cars and new housing are the most visible signs of this, but with these have come the re-organisation of education (Kesteven extended secondary education to all its pupils when it opened three new schools at Billingborough, Billinghay and Corby in 1964, doing away with the last of its all age schools), the decline in numbers of the rural clergy (who may now serve as many as seven parishes) and increasing non-residence of both teacher and incumbent, but at the same time a spectacular increase in voluntary societies and organisations. The coast attracts the retired and holiday maker; Butlin opened the first holiday camp in the country at Ingoldmells in 1936, while at Skegness three-quarters of a million holiday makers were recorded before the First World War. Holiday camps and caravan parks sprang up, especially at Cleethorpes, Mablethorpe and Skegness. Lindsey. County Council bought large stretches of the coast under an Act of 1932.

The land is still Lincolnshire’s greatest asset. One of its contributions to the war effort of this century was the provision of many and large airfields from as early as 1912, of which Scampton, Coningsby and especially the R.A.F. College at Cranwell are permanent reminders. But it is food production which has dominated the county; indeed it can be said of Lincolnshire that it is one of England’s most highly industrialised counties – the industry being agriculture.