John Dunning recently sent me an article from the Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England entitled “The Drill Husbandry of Turnips”. It was a prize essay written in 1843 by Barugh Almack (no, not Barack Obama). Turnips were an important crop at the time since they were used to feed sheep and cattle, and to improve the soil in which they were grown. Barugh’s article discusses in some detail the merits of different methods of planting and looking after turnips in different parts of the country. The full article may be found in the archives of the East Riding in the Treasure House in Beverley.

According to the White’s directory of 1840, Mr Almack farmed Burton Raikes. In 1845, Mr Almack, now described as a land agent, also contributed an article to the Journal on the Agriculture of Norfolk. Although Barugh was born in Bishop Burton he does not seem to have stayed here beyond the 1840’s. In the 1861 census he is visitor to John James Powell, a medical practitioner in Weybridge. Other farmers with the name Almack also farmed at Cold Harbour and Lings according to the 1841 census. A number of Almacks were also born in Cherry Burton, one of whom, John, became the Mayor of Beverley in 1860-1. The Almacks also farmed at Constitution Hill Farm to the north of Molescroft from 1810 to 1962. I don’t yet fully know how the different Almacks were related to each other.


In All Saints’ Church there is a plaque that reads:

In memory of


of this Parish

born the 29th January 1771

died the 18th February 1840.

He was the eldest son of THOMAS and ANNE ALMACK

late of Leckonfield Park in this County

also CATHERINE ALMACK his widow

born 29th June 1770

married the 29th May 1798

died in London the 16th May 1857.

Both were interred in this Church.

They had issue seven sons


WILLIAM ALMACK resided in China several years

including the eventful period of the War.

He died on the 15th December 1845 aged 32 years

on his passage to England. His body was committed to the Indian Ocean.


born the 20th July 1801

died the 9th September 1849

and was buried in the Church at Leckonfield.


Richard Almack was born in about 1800 and became a solicitor in Melford Sufolk where he owned much land; he was also the Clerk of the County of Cambridgeshire.


William Almack (1811-1843/5) was a tea merchant and there is a journal at Cambridge University that covers the period of the First Opium War 1837-41. He also wrote a journal entitled “A Journey from London to China in a Sailing Vessel” the manuscript of which is held at the University of Hong Kong.

Henry was born in 1807 and became the Rector of Fawley in Buckinghamshire.

Septimus was born in 1816 and was educated at the King Edward 6th Grammar School Bury St Edmunds school between 1823 and 1834. In 1851 he lived as a boarder with the Sturdy’s at Low Broom farm, Yafforth. By 1861, he was living with Elizabeth Sturdy,widow, in Dalton. He describes his occupation as a “landed proprietor”. He died in about 1870.

Those of you who have read the Bishop Burton school log will be aware that children were sometimes absent from school “singling turnips” – thinning out turnip plants in the fields. The practice seems to have persisted well into the 20th century. Barugh Almack’s long article contains a paragraph which explains why children were so popular for this job.


“It is well known that white turnips degenerate in feeding qualities when they get beyond a certain size, especially if not consumed early; therefore our attention must not be devoted to size only… Where the young turnip plants are very thin in the rows they may readily and easily be singled by the hoe alone; but where turnips are very thick in the rows, it is desirable, if not actually necessary, that singlers should be employed. A man with an active boy or girl, of about ten years of age, singling after him, will do in this case quite as much work in a given time as two men, equal as hoers, where they actually single their own plants.… I have seen men take it in turn to single after each other early in the morning, before their children arrived in the field, although, from the length of a man’s back, he would much rather hoe than single. A child that will attend to proper directions may single turnips quite as well as a person fully grown; and indeed any increase of size tends to disqualify for the work.”


Local farmers continued to use young children on a casual basis to back up the male agricultural labourers since they were shorter and so could more easily stoop. In July 1873, the head master, Benjamin Swann, complains that “The attendance has diminished considerably so many singling turnips and pulling ketlocks…. For the same reason as last recorded the attendance is again small. The little ones who can’t work in the fields having to remain at home whilst their mothers work in the hay fields.”


John Dunning tells me that the turnip crop was the foundation of the four course rotation. Turnips were largely to be eaten in situ by folded sheep that fertilised the following crop and consolidated light land with their hooves that were known as the golden hooves. "The sheep has golden hooves, and wherever the print of them appears, the soil turns to gold." is an old Swedish proverb. “Folded” sheep were held within an enclosed area of land so that their hooves, excrement and urine could effect the desired soil improvement.


A good turnip crop was essential for the success of the following barley crop but not only was skill and good husbandry needed but also good luck to survive the ravages of the turnip fly that would decimate a newly emerged plant and flocks of crows that pulled up the plants in search of wireworms. Hoeing was not such a bad job for it was social, a few men working together and talking instead of the isolation of following a pair of horses harrowing a field backwards and forwards all day. As far as John knows there are now no turnips grown in the village for folding sheep; fertility now comes in a bag.


The book “Bishop Burton and its people” includes a reminiscence by Jim Dunning on Wolds farming in the 1930’s.  He recalls how daunting it was to be faced with row upon row of turnips that needed to be hoed by hand – one of the worst jobs on the farm is how he saw it. So how much worse was it then for the children?