“In 1890 it would have been hard to find a more conservative and unprogressive place [than Brandsby]” said Hugh in an interview with the agricultural author, Edwin Pratt, in 1905. “The comfortable circumstances of the leading farmers was a hindrance as they were not ready to go out of their way to change old ways.” These circumstances made them less susceptible to cooperative purchases and there was keen competition from commercial agents, he continued.
Pratt made a case study of Brandsby and included a whole chapter “Brandsby leads the way” in his book The Transition in Agriculture, published in 1906. At this time Pratt, along with virtually all other agricultural writers was promoting co-operation as the main driver to power the modernisation and improvement of agriculture.
Pratt pointed out that in Brandsby Hugh was tackling four of the most pressing problems in agricultural Britain, with remarkable success:
1) the labour question (the flight from the land – Hugh increased wages, decreased hours)
2) the cottage question (the lack of healthy and adequate housing for labourers – Hugh set about repair, renovation and new build)
3) the promotion of co-operation (the establishment of the BATA)
4) the improvement of rural transport facilities ( the operation of a road to rail transport service in partnership with the NER).
In the 1890s the tendency was towards deterioration in the capital value of the farms. Knowledge of agricultural science was very low and was treated with suspicion. Use of artificial manures was thought to exhaust the land. manuring was done by keeping a large head of cattle to make plenty of farmyard manure. There was no knowledge of the analysis of cakes and manures. The farmers themselves spent great pains in intrigues for obtaining a reduction of rent, crying poverty and trying to conceal any profitable enterprise. This resulted in a game of bluff and cunning between landlord and tenant, and it was difficult for a landlord to know whether he was treating a tenant fairly in the matter of rent.
It was in this climate that Hugh set about improving agriculture on his estate. In 1892-93 technical lectures were instituted by the County Council for farmers and Hugh applied for a course at Brandsby, lending the drawing room at the Hall for the purpose. Though farmers attended the lectures, no change in farming practice resulted. It was not until he got the cooperative society underway that farmers and farming in the Brandsby area started to adopt practices to improve both the land and the yields.
The subsections of this page tell the story of BATA, transport and communications.