1805 Tenancy Agreement

A farm tenancy agreement has survived in the village from 1805; a transcript is here. It covers the present-day Poplar Farm which in those days was known as Burtons Farm and totalled about 220 acres. 

A nine-page agreement was made between landlord Charles Harrison, then residing at Wortham, Suffolk, and [the senior] William Burton of Wreningham.  William Burton’s annual rent for the farm was £250.

The 1805 document was agreed in July and was to be effective from Michaelmas of that year. It would run for nine years. We are speculating that this document may have replaced an existing/previous agreement between Charles Harrison’s father (also named Charles, but who had recently died) and the same William Burton. 

The operation of the 1805 agreement is presumed to have been satisfactory because the Burton family continued as tenants of successive Harrison family members until 1869.


Tenancies always ran from Michaelmas to Michaelmas – which is on the 29th September – and was one of the four historic quarter days of the calendar.

The agreement required the rent to be paid in two equal parts.  Each year, the first payment fell on the 11th October (which also happens to have been the old Michaelmas Day) with the second payment falling due on the 6th April.

The document also described an arrangement for William Burton being responsible for two under-tenants: Thomas Burton and James Dawes who were farming 9a 2r 1p and 4a 2r 3p, respectively.  We presume this resulted in William Burton governing the under-tenants’ own adherence to all the agreement’s terms. 

Other principal aspects in the agreement are summarised below.


Under the agreement, all timber belonged to the landlord – treating trees, hedgerows etc as the landlord’s personal crop.  This permitted landlord Charles Harrison (or his agents, workmen etc) full access to ‘fell, stub or cut down convert etc with horses, carts and carriages ….’ and to ‘take away … the timber, wood & bushes’ as they wished.  The landlord or his agents were also permitted ‘to dig and make sawpits’ in convenient farm locations as a part of this process. 

When the Harrison family estates were all auctioned in 1869, the Burtons Farm buildings and land raised £8,100 whilst the farm’s ‘timber’ raised a further £87.

On the other side of the 1805 agreement, every year, the tenant was permitted to take ‘topwood or underwood or old decaying wood’ to the total value of £7 providing ‘such firewood be burnt & consumed on the said premises and not elsewhere’.

Ongoing repairs

In the agreement, the landlord undertook to maintain ‘all the Houses & Buildings …. in good attainable repair’ as well as the repair of glass and lead in windows ‘(except those broken by storms or tempests), straw for thatching, carriage of materials & workmens allowances [and] beer’! The tenant would be responsible for repairing any damage caused by him.


The tenant had to maintain ditches on a rolling basis.  In the case of this farm, William Burton needed to improve 80 rods of ditching every year – and to undertake this work where it was ‘most wanted’.  NB A rod is just over 5m.

The ditches needed to be made with a ‘good strong bank’ surmounted by the ‘setting of a strong hedge’.  Repaired ditches must be five feet wide at the top, three and a half feet deep and eighteen inches wide at the bottom.  There was a penalty of 5 shillings per rod for lengths renovated to a deficient standard – including the same penalty for every rod not completed out of the annual 80 rod requirement. 

There were also rules with penalties against ploughing up boundaries or adding high banking in the vicinity of springs. The penalty was ten shillings per rod for any abuse.

No tilling of meadow land

The agreement described exceptionally large penalties for ploughing up (grass) meadows and converting them into arable land.  Whilst a whole year’s farm rental was about £1 per acre, the penalty for converting meadows to arable land was £10 per acre! This penalty would be repeated annually, if any transgression remained unrectified.

Crop rotation

Charles Harrison’s agreement document, on page 7, provides William Burton with extensive and precise instructions for undertaking crop rotation – including a clear description of the permitted crop sequences. 

Page 8 goes on to describe the requirements for handing over the farm to new tenants at the end of the nine-year agreement.  It details which crops are to be grown for the final harvest of the tenancy and describes where all the resulting ‘Hay & Clover of the last year’s growth’ must be stacked. In addition, ‘two independent persons’ would be ‘chosen by each of the parties to value the [crops’ handover] worth’. 

There are also clear instructions about the application / spreading of ‘Muck, Dung, Manure & Compost’ during the full term of the agreement.

Annual farm inspection

The document provided for the landlord to make an annual farm inspection.  Each year, the inspection was to be carried out ‘on or before 25th March’.  Maybe this was the main opportunity for the landlord to determine if the tenant had been following the rules.

The 25th March is known as ‘Lady Day‘.  Was there any significance in the choice of that date in connection with the annual farm inspection? 

In the UK’s ‘Calendar Act‘ of 1751, the country had adopted the Gregorian Calendar. Under the new law, the 1st January became first day of the calendar year for the very first time.  Until then, 25th March / Lady Day had always been the first day of every year. Long after the 25th March had ceased to be the year’s first day, it’s original significance does not appear to have been forgotten.

Under the 1751 Act’s implementation, there was also a one-time adjustment to remove 11 days to correct an accumulated mismatch between the celestial and Julian calendars. The very next 25th March was reset as the 5th April and many complained that the ‘lost’ 11 days had been stolen from them!

As a further consequence of the Act, the government moved the first day of the tax year from the 25th March (Lady Day) to the 5th April.  Today, the start of every UK tax year remains as the 5th April. It has never been changed!

Responsibilities towards the outgoing tenant

At the tenancy’s completion, the outgoing tenant could store his grain crops in stacks at the farm and then be given free access until the following 12th May to return and “thresh, dress & carry [away] the said Corns”.

After the 1805 agreement concluded

As already stated, the Burton tenancy continued under the Harrisons all the way through to 1869.  The arrangement was only changed following the death of Mary, the second of Charles Harrison’s two daughters. At that point, the Harrison family estates were auctioned, and a new landlord arrived on the scene.

Further information about the Harrison family can be found here.

Scroll to Top