Farming and providing items for use in agriculture were always the major occupations in this area.
During the Middle Ages, people grazed animals, fished and caught eels in the Loddon, and grew crops on the drier ground. Poor labourers worked on the land and for the lords of the manor. In the 18th century, improvements in land drainage and new equipment made farming more viable. Auction papers from 1815 describe some land in the area as being “fertile and well cultivated”, but most land remained unenclosed until later.
Mary Mitford of Three Mile Cross wrote in the 1830’s of being “fortunate” to live in an unenclosed parish, thanks to “the wise obstinacy of 2 or 3 sturdy farmers and the lucky unpopularity of a ranting madcap lord of the manor’.
She mentions sheep amid the gorse, meadows alive with cattle, and farms with orchards and ponds. Vegetables were a main arable crop and she saw women and children stooping for eight hours a day “setting” beans (planting the seed beans).
Highlands and Stanbury were the two large houses in the area, surrounded by parkland with small farms such as Weathercock Farm and Hill House Farm. By 1870 Whitehouse Farm near the Common, and Yew Tree Farm with its orchard were established on the high ground looking west. Lambs Farm was nearby on the west side of Basingstoke Road, and on the east was Mullins Farm, south of the post office. Wells for fresh water were important, and the 1871 Ordnance Survey recorded wells at Wilders Farm on Ryeish Lane and at the nearby Clares Green Farm. On Hyde End Road, both Floyers Farm and Grovelands Farm had orchards.
Growing fruit and vegetables for the busy town of Reading became profitable, and new farms were established: Nullis Farm near Wilders Grove Farm, Ryeish Farm near the junction with Hyde End Lane, and May’s Farm on Hyde End Lane. Great Lea Farm managed land south of Three Mile Cross. During the early 20th century, some farms amalgamated and more land was used for orchards, for example near the school at Ryeish Green. Flowers also were grown commercially, at Dearlove’s Nursery and at Prior’s Nursery, both beside Basingstoke Road.
By the 1890’s, both Pursers Pedigree Poultry Farm on Basingstoke Road and a 3.75 acre paddock with poultry on Hyde End Road had been established. Until the 1970’s, animals were taken to slaughter at a building near the allotments in Basingstoke Road. The meat was cut up, and either returned to the animal’s owner, or sold in the butcher’s shop at the front of the building. Fresh milk was delivered locally from Channel Islands cows at Mays Farm, and Spenwood cheese was produced in The Square.
Patricia Green – with thanks to Margaret Bampton for input.
Mary Russell Mitford’s writing were first published in “The Lady” magazine.