Current situation

Current situation

The following account of the operation of White House Farm was written by the owner, John Holmes. The farm is very significant in relation to integrating wildlife conservation into the operational plan of a large arable enterprise.

gg_whfarm.jpg"White House Farm, Frostenden, consisting of 450 acres, was purchased in 1945 whilst I was serving in the Navy. The area between the A12 and the sea had been seriously considered as an Army training ground two years previously and the farm had been partly rundown because of this possibility. In addition the owner believed that agriculture would be abandoned after the war as it had been between the wars and the general fertility had. been let slide. The marshes were undrained and consisted either of Alder carr or reedbed. The light land was alive with rabbits which could run across the silted up ditches from the almost derelict land to the East. I started farming in August 1950.

In January 1953 the marshes were flooded from the sea and in 1954 a 75% sea flooding grant was obtained to drain and reclaim the marshes in conjunction with neighbours. In early September 1955 the majority of the small marshes, excluding four or five Alder Carrs were sown successfully with rye grass. The water in the dykes acted as a barrier against rabbits from the East and it was now possible to start farming the marshes in conjunction with the marginal light land. During this time hedges on the remainder of the farm were being removed and a start was made with drainage on the West side of the A12.

In 1958 the majority of the farm was connected from the marshes with a 6 inch irrigation main. From now on the farm began to be profitable in an average rainfall of 19 inches. Also the Frostenden Rabbit Clearance Society was formed in March 1959. However the marshes gradually deteriorated as the River Board did not clear the main river untill 1976. Certain of the marshes proved too wet to farm and when re-drilling took place in 1977 five marshes were left as reed and rush and the Alder Carrs continued although three of them had been felled for brush backs in 1960. One of them (?1.5 acres) has to my knowledge never had access to farm traffic including horses and has remained untouched since before the war.

Most of the small woods which were part of the farm when purchased had been planted for shooting reasons in 1935— two pits were extended— three woods near marshes were extended— and one entirely separate covert was established. The farm was alive with pheasants in 1945/50. All the valuable mature timber had been felled and sold in 1935.

One of the most interesting features is the three old brickyards (marked 'B' on the above sketch map). The top soil has been removed at various levels to provide flora uncharacteristic of the surrounding agricultural land. The heavy land provided a fairly bard whitish pink’ brick and the light land yard produced a red brick still manufactured the opposite side of the valley. All three brickyards were operated within living memory up to about 1938.

The original purchase of 450 acres made in 1945 was added to as follows :
1960- 5 acres Bloomfield Wood; 3 acres Old Henham Brickyard
1963- 7 acres
1968- 25 acrea
1977- 48 acres
1980- 82 acres (already tenanted)

Conservation Policy

As can be seen from the recent history of the farm the proportion of unproductive land was too great to be really profitable, particularly without irrigation. Out of the total farm area in 1945 of 450 acres, there were 42 acres of woodland, 58 of reed marsh and Alder carr and 10 acres of old brickyards comprising a quarter of the land area. There were also too many hedges (see map). It was essential to reclaim some of this land and this was done without unduly reducing the variety of wildlife habitats. Quite a number of Douglas firs had been planted and these mostly died so the area of woodland was reduced by ten acres especially where there was a bad rabbit problem. 38 acres of marsh and carr were reclaimed, retaining the present pattern of grazing marsh, reed and Alder carr. In all half the original 110 acres was reclaimed.

As the farm has become more profitable and the proportion of arable land has been increased by purchases, the present policy is to retain and improve the existing habitats of conservation value. The fenland on the farm is part of the Easton Valley Site of Special Scientific Interest and the flooded pits of the old brickyards and their surroundings are managed as farm nature reserves.

Farming practice relevant to this policy includes care over spray drift for instance aerial spraying is banned even on neighbours adjacent fields by agreement with the spraying company. Temik is not used at all and seagulls are discouraged from following cultivations, particularly ploughing, in order to maintain the earthworm population. There is an interrelationship between water supply for irrigation and conservation. More intensive farming employs more people so that in a slack time there is more spare labour available to do a little conservation work. A field area of about twentyfive acres is suitable for the cropping programme but shape is important for the efficient use of irrigating equipment, ideally areas of 40 yards by 80 yards.

The shoot is an asset which could be let to provide for some of the cost of conservation. At the present time 3 days shooting with five or six guns takes place each year and a few English partridges are sometimes reared.

It is hoped that farming profitability will enable the present policy to be continued, and with advice, improved upon.

The elms are being felled gradually and some hedges filled in with other trees, increasing the variety of these. It is envisaged that the neighbouring area is ripe for revegetation as a larger area of conservation interest and co—operation may be necessary on the lines of the Ixworth plan. It may be possible to re—introduce otters. If the coypu is eliminated aquatic plants could be re—introduced or encouraged. Cowslips could be encouraged on the heavier soil The high cost of farming today is inflamed by inflation and high interest rates. This puts a financial strain on food production which cannot be overcome by national average yields and national average prices. On this farm the effect of a low annual average rainfall is mitigated by irrigation which takes some of the risk out of intensive production. The major part of the farm is within reach of the water supply. The dairy herd is housed and grazed on the poorest land, the arable crops are grown on the better land although the clay soils are unsuitable for harvesting potatoes and sugar beet. The farm soil is typical of the Beccles series".

White House is listed in the Frostenden 1841 census as the home of the Riches family. Daniel Riches was the head of the family and appears in 1841 census with his household as follows:

Daniel Riches age 60
Jerusha Riches (wife) age 55
Daniel Riches (son) age 30 (described in White's 1844 Suffolk directory as a shipowner, surveyor and land agent)
Elizabeth Riches (daughter age 15)
Lucy Jeppel age 20
Mary Ann Mills (female servant) age 20
Mary Ann Herrod (female servant) age 15
Robert Peck (manservant) age 25
Charles Gilbert (manservant) age 15
Jerusha Artis (mother-in-law?) age 85

The layout of White House Farm at this time may be seen from the Tithe Map and Apportionment of ? Green designates fields and properties of Daniel Riches of White House Farm.

The total size of the farm was 241 acres. From the map it can be seen that it consisted of three blocks of land. The eastern block was based on Gough's Farm at Clay Common There were five large fields to the south and east of the White House itself. The eastern block was mostly fen pasture. Here there was a cottage and yards (now the site of Frostenden Farm) with three tenants. At the time of the Apportionments, Daniel Riches (born in Lowestoft) had other substantial estate in Reydon consisting of 114 acres with many small marsh fields. He was still at White House in the 1851 census where as farmer and landowner he had 220 acres employing 20 men. His eldest son Daniel is described as a shipowner, and his other son Benjamin was a grocer.

In the next census (1861) White House Farm was occupied by James Girling. In 1871 it was in the hands of Thomas Girling (employing 15 labourers and 7 boys). Thomas was still there in 1881 when he had 830 acres of land and employed 25 men and 5 boys. He was head of the White House household in 1891. He was described as a 'yeoman'. His son Herbert W Girling seems to have been farming

In Kelly's 1896 directory entry for Frostenden, a Mrs Martha Girling is described as a brickmaker. In the same directory for 1908 A Martha Girling is running an enterprise making bricks, tiles and drain pipes (moulded bricks of all descriptions). There is no Martha Girling listed in the 1891 and 1901 census returns for Frostenden. However, there is a Martha Collings (widow; age 68, born in Yoxford) in the 1891 census who is described as a brickmaker's employer). Martha Collings is listed in the Frostenden 1901 census age 77 as proprietor of the Frostenden Brickworks. The inference it that the Kelly's entries are erroneous.

Subsequent directories record Girling wives in Frostenden as follows:

1922 Mrs H. W Girling (wife of Herbert William farmer)
1935 Mrs E. E. Girling
1937 Mrs Eva E Girling The White House and Valley Farm.