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A description of the East Riding of Yorkshire
from Bulmer's Gazetteer (1892)


Part 3

SOIL, AGRICULTURE, &c.

The various soils of a country are due to geological differences in its conformation. The East Riding consists of three great natural or geological divisions, each possessing its characteristic soil, and requiring different treatment to produce the best agricultural results. On the west, between the Ouse and the Wolds is the Vale of York, a low level tract of land, described by Chevalier Bunsen, in somewhat extravagant language, as "the most beautiful and romantic vale in the world, the Vale of Normandy excepted." This level band rests on the new red sandstone, but is covered with diluvial matter of varying depth. It is crossed in two or three places by beds of drift, gravel, and clay. In the southern part of the vale, near Howden, the soil is warp, on which flax is extensively cultivated.

On the Wolds, which stretch through the centre of the Riding, the soil is a chalky loam, very thin in some places, but from eighteen inches to two feet deep in others. The four-course system of cropping is generally adopted, and by a liberal use of manure the once barren moors have been converted into one of the most fertile tracts in England.

Eastward of the Wolds, and extending to the coast, is the plain of Holderness, which is covered with a deep rich deposit of alluvial soil, forming excellent farming land. Some portions of it lie very low and were formerly extensive marshes, called Carrs, utterly useless except as a shelter for the bittern and the heron. Under powers of an Act of Parliament, obtained in 1761, the Beverley and Barmston drain was constructed, which carried off the supernatant water and conveyed it into the Humber, and now there are rich waving corn fields where, formerly, there were nothing but flags, reeds, and water fowl. In the south, bordering on the Humber, are some thousands of acres of warp land, regained from the estuary and protected by embankments.

The farms vary much in size in different parts of the Riding, but taken on an average they run about 82 acres, whilst in the North Riding they are a little over 59 acres, and in the West Riding only 39 acres. Compared with English farms in general, those of the East Riding are about 24 acres above the average.

The total area of the Riding, including water surface and the city of York, as given in the Agricultural Returns, issued by the authority of parliament, is 804,798 acres, and the total quantity of land under all kinds of crops (exclusive of nursery grounds and woods), bare fallow and grass, in 1890, was 668,626 acres, which were held by 8,119 occupiers. Of these occupiers, 6,931 rented the land, 857 were owners of land, and 331 owned and rented land. The following table exhibits the extent of land under the various kinds of crops in 1890

           
CORN CROPS.      			Acres.
Wheat                      	72,771
Barley or Bere             	66,497
Oats                       	94,796
Rye                         	1,977
Beans                       	7,093
Peas                        	9,933

Total corn crops			253,067
GREEN CROPS      			Acres.
Potatoes                   	11,668
Turnips and Swedes         	74,968
Mangold                     	4,155
Carrots                       673
Cabbage, kohlrabi, and rape	7,444
Other green crops           	6,108
               
Total green crops			105,016

Clover, sainfoin, and grasses under rotation 
			For hay    	24,182
                 Not for hay  67,682

               	Total       91,814

Permanent pasture or grass not broken up in rotation, exclusive of heath and mountain land                 
               
			For hay   	46,199
			Not for hay	153,838
			Total      	200,037

Woods and Woodlands        	16,310
Arable land used for fruit trees of any kind 714
Land used by market gardeners 536
Land used as nurseries for growing trees, shrubs, &c   61

Yorkshire holds a distinguished place among the cattle breeding counties of England; and for its horses, both draught and thorough-bred, it stands unrivalled. The fairs are visited by buyers from all parts of this country and the continent, and from its training stables have gone some of the fleetest and finest race horses of modern times. Holderness had once its distinctive breed of cattle, which were described by Mr. Strickland, in 1812, as "remarkable for their size and abundant supply of Milk"; but these have been almost entirely superseded by the introduction of Tees Water and other shorthorns. Immense numbers of sheep are fed on the Wolds. The original breed was small and hardy, accustomed to travel far in search of food, and possessing a short, thick, close fleece, which enabled it to resist the cold experienced in the higher parts of the district. This breed has been very considerably improved by crossing with the long-woolled Leicester. It appears, from the Agricultural Returns before mentioned, that, in the year 1890, there were in the East Riding 17,004 unbroken horses and mares kept solely for breeding; and 23,064 horses used solely for agricultural purposes. The number of cattle in the same year was 83,989, and the number of sheep 483,338.

The minerals of the East Riding are neither many, nor of great commercial value. Chalk is abundant, and is used to some extent for building purposes, and some is burnt into lime. There are beds of limestone in the valley of the Derwent, but it is of little value either for building or burning. Ironstone is met with at three or four places in the vicinity of the Derwent, but the amount is too inconsiderable to be of any commercial importance.

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