Topcroft Farm

  • Theme - Agriculture
  • Year - 1927
  • Location - Norwich
  • Filmmaker - Unknown farming student


The 1920’s and 30’s were a time of great agricultural change. This film shows the early days of transition where horse power was being replaced by mechanisation for the jobs around the farm. Heavy horses and farm labourers, the mainstay of farming for centuries, were gradually being replaced. A tractor, the most powerful instrument of change on the farm, had arrived at Topcroft Hall, a farm of around 300 acres of heavy soil. The landowner, George Unwin employed around a dozen workers, paid a wage of around two pounds a week. The Agriculture Act of 1917 which had guaranteed minimum wages and minimum produce prices had been repealed in 1921 and farms struggled to make sufficient profits on agricultural land. Wages dropped, but with the threat of the depression on the horizon, men were anxious to keep their jobs, however poorly paid. Hall Farm was one of the few estates to weather the great agricultural depression in the 1930’s – others simply abandoned non-profitable land and left machinery rusting in the fields.
The threshing machine, powered by traction engine was a huge asset at harvest time. It separated the grain from the stalks and husks making the slow, laborious process of threshing by hand with flails no longer necessary. When the mechanical thresher was introduced in Britain in the 1800's, it was initially controversial. Riots broke out as agricultural workers feared their way of life was facing extinction. Machines were damaged and severe penalties were inflicted on the rioters, but the process of mechanisation could not be stopped.
The thresher was an expensive item so the machine would tour farms in an area so that all the estates that could afford to hire it, could benefit from the efficient machine. Men from adjoining farms would congregate to form the threshing crew, to operate the machine before it moved on. Today, the combine harvester does all the work with only one man.


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