Since the earliest times, Benthamers have farmed. In 1086 the Domesday Book recorded 18 "geldable carucates", meaning about 2000 acres in cultivation, and this was profitable enough to build three parish churches. As a writer observed in 1892, "The favoured and fertile lands about Bentham, watered by the
pleasant Wenning, were ever since the Roman occupation the home of an active agricultural class".Over the centuries, the original vegetation has been gradually changed by the activities of man and flocks. Countless generations have worked in all weathers, draining, liming, controlling the grazing, transforming the valley. Once it was boggy, with dense thickets of alder and willow; nowadays it is mainly good grassland.
 But the wilderness has not been eradicated, and all kinds of wildlife and flowers still abound on the farms, moors and woodland all around. Pest- and herbi-cides are not popular with the thrifty farmers hereabouts.

 

A Champion Swaledale Tup at Bentham Show

Making hay has always been a nerve-racking occupation in our uncertain northern summers, so nowadays most local farmers make and feed silage, which, unlike hay, does not need hot sunshine to dry out the grass. The downside is the large and unsightly quantities of black plastic and motor-tyres involved in this process. However the Auction Mart Co. have a recycling scheme for the plastic, and the tyres would otherwise be in a landfill dump somewhere.

 From about 1150 onwards, the great Yorkshire
Abbeys owned vast roaming sheepflocks, tended
in outlying areas like this by often unruly bands of young monks. The system was impractical and unpopular. Walls began to be built, and previously "waste" land enclosed. The wealth of England came from wool, and the rights of sheep became paramount. By about 1800 most of the common grazing had been privatized, and most of the "peasants" had fled to the new industrial towns - it was that, or starve. But around Bentham much of the moorland remained unenclosed, and the small -scale Yeomen farmers managed to "make a do" somehow. At the last count (1964), 294 farms and other dwellings still held and used various Commoner's rights such as grazing, turbary, & pannage on Newby Moor.


Independent farming was encouraged by having a nearby market. Bentham's Fair and Markets Charter was granted by King Edward I in 1306. Regular livestock auctions have been held since 1803, when the firm of R. Turner & Son was established. This has provided a ready outlet for locally-bred and reared animals and made Bentham famous for its Fat Sheep. The Foot and Mouth Disease epidemic of 2001 was an unwelcome interruption to this vital local activity.

In the 19th. century a fashion for breeding enormous animals swept Britain. The Craven Heifer (a shorthorn) was a famous example. At four years old, when her portrait was painted, she
weighed 176 stone, and was 11ft. long and 10 ft (3m) round the middle. You can see her on the Heritage Trail map, at the top.Prizes for All Sorts at Bentham Show

Before steam machinery and tractors arrived in these parts, the great Horse and Hiring Fair held each Midsummer brought in extra labour for haytime. In the 1850's, for instance, 2000 itinerant workers and 300 horses would arrive overnight to throng the street and seek employment. This no longer happens, alas, but the annual Bentham Agricultural Show in September still celebrates local farming skills, achievements and interests. Until quite recently, much local food was also produced locally, meat and dairy produce in particular. Times have changed, but should the need arise Bentham could quickly return to self-sufficiency.