The Land Settlement Association in Cumbria

From two articles by Malcolm Quigley in the CIHS Bulletins for December 1994 and August 1995

A land settlement association house elsewhere in the country


On the initiative of the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, a Land Settlement Association (LSA) started in 1934 as an experimental social and commercial charity. Its aim was to settle on the land industrial workers who had lost their normal employment during the economic crisis in the early ’30s. It was helped by the Carnegie Trustees, the Society of Friends, the National Council of Social Service, and others.

Of notable concern were miners, steel workers and shipyard workers in north-east England, Cumberland , and South Wales. Such areas with particularly poor prospects for employment were designated in 1935 as ‘Special Areas’.

Aims of the Association
Several schemes of land settlement were proposed and implemented according to national and local needs, and availability of suitable land and resources. So-called ‘Group Holdings’ were to be groups of 10-20 plots of land of 1/4 to 1/2 acre, each to be used as a garden and for keeping laying poultry and, possibly, pigs. Another scheme was the ‘Cottage Homesteads’ project for middle-aged unemployed men and their families, in areas where their children would have good prospects of employment. This programme did not apply to Cumbria.

The ‘Smallholding Scheme’ was to establish groups of about 40 tenanted smallholdings, each with its own house and 5-10 acres of agricultural land. In Northern England suitable estates were to be acquired within the Special Areas, although elsewhere in the country families were to be settled away from their home areas. The ‘Cumberland Estates’ were primarily to serve depressed West Cumberland and 320 holdings were envisaged. On a larger individual scale were the ‘Farm Smallholding Estates’ situated near the east coast, so these are outside the scope of this review.

The LSA before the Second World War
1. Land Acquisition.
By 1936 the Society of Friends had created Group Holdings at Millom, and near Maryport at Dearham, Oughterside and Great Broughton. In the next year others were added near the west coast at Cleator Moor, Moresby Park, Kells, Hensingham, and Egremont.
The first purchase to create a smallholding estate in Cumberland was Crofton Hall, 11km south-west of Carlisle (between the A595 and the A596). The sale of the estate of 784 acres to the LSA was officially reported in the Cumberland News on January 11th 1936. The vendor was Miss Hilda Cunningham Brisco, whose family had owned Crofton Hall continuously since the 14th century. The Dalston Hall estate of 952 acres, a few kilometres south-west of Carlisle (between the A595 and the B5299), came into hand in February 1937, in the same month that the 252 acre Broadwath Farm, 8km west of Carlisle (and south of Warwick Bridge), came into the LSA’s possession. Although only these three estates were subsequently developed into smallholdings, a further purchase of 351 acres was made. Wath Head and Jenkin Cross Farms, alongside the A595 13km south-west of Carlisle, came into possession in February 1938 but were sub-let.

2. Recruitment and training of tenants
Recruitment of prospective tenants for the smallholdings was done by local officers of the Unemployment Assistance Board, and because a commitment to a new and hard way of life was required from all members of a man’s family, visits were made to the home.

Men unemployed for a long time were to receive three months of ‘physical reconditioning’ plus 12 months or more of training in smallholding skills. It is perhaps not surprising that in the scheme as a whole 50% of trainees gave up during this period. At the time this high figure was thought to be through lack of care in the recruitment procedure.

3. Development of the Crofton Estate
Proposals for development of this site have been particularly well documented. Of the 716 acres available, 140 acres were allocated to the Central Farm and the rest divided into 70 holdings of three types. There were to be 31 market gardens of 5 acres each, 35 of 9-10 acres as poultry/glass, and 4 for propagating at 2 acres each. The  proposed rent was £32 per annum, with rates of between 6 and 15 shillings.

In 1938 there were 47 trainees and one tenant, with 22 holdings vacant. The local Women’s Institute was commended for its good work in helping trainees’ wives settle into their new environment.

All purchases by the tenants were made co-operatively. Likewise all produce was assembled, packed, marketed and sold collectively. It was reported however that there was friction between the local Farmer’s Union and the LSA, who were accused of subsidising its smallholders. Thus to avoid competition in local markets the LSA diverted its produce to Lancashire towns.

The LSA after the War
Following the War all the LSA estates became the property of the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries. Tenancies, when they occurred, were open only to families. The man needed a minimum of five years full-time experience in agriculture, although this could include a period at college. Livestock keeping was gradually replaced by intensive horticulture, particularly production of tomatoes, lettuce, and other salad crops under glass.

Annual reports of the LSA after the War refer only briefly and occasionally to events on the Cumberland Estates. Thus it was recorded that at Dalston and Crofton in 1950-51 the Stock Cockerel rearing scheme was providing a modest but valuable contribution to tenants needs.

In 1954-55 there was a heavy incidence of Virus Pneumonia in pigs at Dalston, but through culling no symptoms were evident in the lungs. Fresh housing was planned to be ready early in 1956. The chick hatchery was closed as a precautionary measure following an outbreak of Salmonella Pullorum in the breeding stock. This accounted for financial losses at Dalston and Crofton that year. By the following year the disease had cleared up very successfully and the hatchery was re-opened.

In the report for 1958-59 it is stated that a Pilot Holding Scheme had now been running for three years. This was a pre-arranged plan for horticultural production drawn up between the Tenant, the Estate Manager, and the Local Advisory Officer. Also that the three Cumberland Estates were being amalgamated administratively under Mr C Baker as Manager, with Messrs D Thrower and E J O Day as Assistant Estate Managers.

In 1959-60 improvements were made to heating the glasshouses, and in 1960-61 the pig herd at Dalston had obtained provisional registration with the Pig Industry Development Authority. In the following year growers at Crofton had successfully grown pot chrysanthemums as a trial, the packing shed had been extended, and a lorry barn constructed. Unfortunately, the next year brought an outbreak of Swine Fever to Crofton resulting in the slaughter of the entire herd i.e. 220 sows and gilts, 6 boars, 821 store pigs, and numerous sucklers. On the positive side developments in supplementary lighting of tomatoes in the propagating houses enabled fruit to be picked from mid-April onwards.

By the mid-60s it was decided to withdraw the three Cumberland Estates from the LSA scheme on December 31st 1967. Tenants who were suitable would be given the option of leaving with either an ex gratia payment or a tenancy on another estate, with compensation for the disturbance plus removal expenses. Other tenants would be offered the tenancy of a house at a rent comparable with that of a council house, plus compensation as above. In the event, the estates were withdrawn on March 31st 1968. Forty-four tenants remained on their estates with new tenancy agreements. No tenants moved to estates in the South!

Arrangements were made for a new co-operative, called Cumberland Growers Ltd, to provide marketing facilities for the local smallholders affected. Later on this company became a member of WCF Ltd. By 1983 the LSA estates were closed down nationwide.

The Association was a most important and, in many but not all respects, successful social experiment. After the Great War it was believed that 90,000 ex-servicemen would have taken up the challenge of co-operative smallholding if given the opportunity! The scheme was subsequently studied and copied by government agencies from many parts of the world. In the mid-60s, for instance, 250 overseas visitors from 40 countries were welcomed in one year alone!

Further reading
Skiddaw and six acres : Crofton : Land Settlement Association : Tony Britton & Eileen Devenney, P3 Publications, 2022
The Land Settlement Association – its history and present form : K.J.McCready, Plunkett Foundation, 1974
The Crofton Story on the Cumbria County History Trust website

P.S. Anyone looking for what remains of the settlements today is advised to start from the 1952 6″ OS maps. Much has changed on the ground since the scheme ended, and especially since the 1990s when this article was written.

(Page created 14/03/23)