Global Battcock Family Tree

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Frank Battcock (1823-1913), steam and farming in the Fens

Frank Battcock was born in 1823 in Cheyne Walk in Chelsea, London where his father Thomas was a corn and coal merchant.  He was the youngest of five brothers.  Two of his older brothers, Thomas and Frederick, took over the family business. 

In the 1850s he moved to Cookham where he met Ann Sharp.  Ann Sharp was born in Remenham in 1823.  Her parents were rich farmers.  Frank and Ann were married in 1854 at St Mary’s Church, Hurley.  They were both 31 when they married which was not unusual in the 19th century. They moved soon afterwards to Hemingford Abbots, Huntingdonshire where Frank farmed. 

Hemingford Abbots was then a small village with about 500 people in Huntingdonshire. The parish and village was south of the River Ouse. Near the river, the meadows often flooded.  It was rich farmland and the farms grew wheat, barley, oats and beans.  The nearby village of Hemingford Grey was famous across England for its enormous gooseberries.

It is not clear how much land Frank farmed when he first moved to Huntingdonshire but by 1880 he was a very prosperous farmer farming 1,000 acres including Battcock’s Island.  He employed 26 men 15 boys and 2 women. 

Frank was a very modern and innovative farmer as the following article in the Journal of Agriculture highlights.

“Mr. F. Battcock, Hemingford, St, Ives, Hunts, Sept. 13”  “We found everything about Mr. Battcock indicative of sound sense and good practical farming. As in some other cases, so with him, steam is no plaything. If it could not be used profitably, it would soon be abandoned. Two farms united — one, Capt. Douglas’s; the other the property of the Rev. J. Linton — make an occupation of 970 acres. Of arable land there are 700 acres. The two farms extend 3 miles from end to end. One consists of 450 acres of heavy land, with blue clay subsoil, where 3 horses find ploughing 3 roods a day 6 inches deep to land on a subsoil of gravel and yellow clay. The heavy land is drained 3 or 4 feet deep, the drains being from 10 to 11 yards apart. The fields are of a good size — 30, 40, 50 acres. There is still a great deal too much timber about, which the landlord objects to remove. A plentiful supply of water difficulty is experienced on the heavy-land farm to procure water in dry seasons. Mr. Battcock has searched through 70 feet of blue clay and 50 feet of clay and limestone for water, but without success. The heavy-land farm was taken in 1854.”

“One of the greatest advantages attending the introduction of steam, which took place in 1858, was, that the drainage, which had been undertaken earlier, began at once to act much better. This may be considered the key to every after improvement, tending as it does to increase the fertilizing power of every pound’s weight of manure. It was soon found that the ridges could be turned down, and the crops grown on the flat. In 1861 so much improvement was experienced in the weight of the grain-crops as to make it politic to abandon the four-course, and to adopt the five-course system, which allows two white straws in succession. The landlord gave permission for this deviation from established custom. The tenant finds that though the 5-course gives less straw, it gives more corn; in fact, to use his own expression, “Five crops pay better than four.” The change entails less harvesting, and less trouble with the men, who always endeavour to shirk the heavy-laid crops of the 4-course system. The rotation is as follows: 450 acres are so divided into 5 plots of 90 acres each, that the land comprised in these plots lies together, and can be cultivated with the smallest amount of shiftings possible; they are in beans and seeds, wheat, hedges, stacks, and general details all bespoke good manage- ment. The stock carried by the farm is 100 beasts and 1000 sheep all the year round. About 300 down breeding ewes are bought in every year and sold off fat. The lambs are carried forward and sold fat in the hogget stage. The 4-course husbandry is adopted on the light land, two green-crops being taken on the fallow-shift: this is only possible with steam.

The horse-power has been reduced from 30 to 21. Mr. Battcock desired to keep five or six good mares to bring a foal every year. These mares are turned out about May, and are brought up for harvest. Their help and the steam together so much eases the work falling to the other horses that “they require,” Mr. Battcock said, “one-third less corn.”

The Apparatus was bought of Mr. Smith in 1856. It consists of the engine, of 10-horse power, made by Messrs. Eoby of Lincoln, 2 cultivators, 5-tine and 3-tine, a windlass, driven by strap, since then a scarifier to take 6 feet, and 1400 yards of rope and a drill, made by Butlin of Northampton. The windlass and 2 cultivators are of Smith’s original model, and were found in a good state. The scarifier, to take 6 feet, was of the same shape, having two rows of tines and front disc-wheels. The engine, with 12-inch cylinder, and simple reversing-gear and steel fire-box, which he does not recommend, was in good repair. The repairs are heaviest and tear of rope is very slight. The present fire-box, a steel one, will last two years longer. The engine being employed in other farm- work, steam cultivation should only be debited with half the repairs incurred.

Steam has made little way in the fens. The anchor of the lighter sets of tackle will not hold, and for the heavier the land is too rotten. Mr, Battcock is of opinion that no man established in business with less than 500 acres should embark in steam. A young man beginning might do so with 300 acres of ploughed land. The cases are different where a man has all to buy, and where he has to dispose of the power that has served him to make way for that which is to serve him better. A man already possessed of horses and implements would have to sacrifice 100/. in quitting them for steam. Had this gentleman to start again, he most emphatically stated that he would do so with the apparatus he now has in preference to any other ; and that he would never more attempt to farm without steam. Has long given up keeping separate accounts. Harvesting is done with carts.

Frank had 1000 sheep. Dramatic improvements were being made in sheep farming with stock breeding being organized systematically for the first time in England.  The great British sheep breeds such as the Southdown Sheep were all developed in this period.  His cousins, the Webbs were developing a breed of sheep particularly suited for the local environment.

With the increase in sheep farming and the disappearance of the small farms, there was a growing number of impoverished farm workers and labourers.  This led to crime and violence.  In some areas this resulted in concerted resistance such as the Swing Riots or the Rebecca Riots.  There was little organized resistance in Huntingdonshire but a steady rise in crime.  In 1855 Robert Wright appeared before the Midsummer Quarter Sessions for stealing one of Frank’s sheep.  Robert Wright was 47 and a labourer who was “able to read and write imperfectly” appeared at the Midsummer Quarter Sessions before James Rust, Esq. for killing a sheep worth 40 shillings which was the property of Frank Battcock, farmer, Hemingford Abbotts. He was found guilty and having several previous convictions for felony was sentenced to 14 years’ transportation to Australia.  A few decades earlier he would have swung for stealing a sheep.

Frank and Annie had six children: Edward Frank, Arthur Henry, Florence Anne, Herbert James, Frank William and Percy John. Only three of the children survived childhood which was not uncommon at the time.  Edward Frank Battcock was born in 1856 but died aged 9 of meningitis. Frank William Battcock was born in 1864 and drowned in the Ouse when he was 7 and finally Percy John Battcock was born in 1868 and died at 10 months.

Of the children that survived, Arthur Henry Battcock was born in 1858.  Arthur went to Corpus Christi, Cambridge University and became a lawyer.  This was the first generation of Battcocks to go to university and move into the professions.  Two of Arthur’s cousins also became lawyers. Arthur married Edith Ellen Gemmell.  They did not have any children. 

Florence Anne Battcock was born in 1860 and married Thomas Ernest Ivatt.  They had four children: Alwyn (who ended up in the colonial service Nigeria); Frank and Eda (who both emigrated to Canada) and Harold (who died in the First World War).  Herbert James Battcock was born in 1862. He was Humphrey Battcock’s father.

Frank carried on farming into the 1890s although Herbert would have been running the farm by then.  In 1896 Frank retired and sold his properties for £6,000.  He lived with his daughter in the Cedars in Hemingford Abbots.  He died in 1913 at the age of 90.

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January 5, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

2 Comments »

  1. My paternal great-grandmother, Margaret, was the daughter of Thomas Smith Battcock (Frank Battcock’s eldest brother). She and her husband John Looker lived at Manor Farm, Wyton for most of the latter half of the 19th century. Several years ago, I stayed overnight at a B&B in Hemingford Abbots and took an early morning stroll along the Ouse riverbank the following day. On my return to the guesthouse for breakfast, I mentioned the eyot which I had seen; and I was told that it was called Battcock’s island. I did wonder if there might be some connection with my great-grandmother – Wyton being no more than a mile away from Hemingford Abbots – but I was frankly none the wiser. Excuse the pun! Well, now I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is indeed a link. Rather ironically, my nickname from schooldays is ‘Frank’. Little did I realise that I actually had a great-great uncle of the same name; although strangely, once or twice over the years, the idea did occur to me somewhat whimsically… as in, how funny it would be to discover that I had an ‘Uncle Frank’. Now it turns out that I did. That’s great. Thank you.

    With kind regards,

    Anthony Looker

    Comment by Anthony Looker | September 29, 2011 | Reply

    • Anthony

      Sorry I never replied to your comments on my blog on the Battcocks. I had lost the link to it. Great to hear about you visiting Battcock Island. My e-mail is mikebattcock2010@gmail.com. I will try and post more on the Battcocks related to you.

      All the best

      Mike Battcock

      Comment by battcockmathews | February 2, 2014 | Reply


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