The twentieth century marked an era of massive decline in the number of farms and farm workers in the locality. The 1891 census lists 75 farmers in the two parishes. By 1932 there were 68 farms (according to the sheep mark list) and now, at the onset of the twenty first century, about a dozen have survived.
There has also been a sharp decline in the number of smallholdings. During World War II there were 6 smallholdings in the two parishes. There are now very few. Most of the work was carried out manually and by horse power. Several of the pictures in this section illustrate the contribution made by horsepower particularly at haytime.
I am often drawn to the photograph of two farm horses called ‘Tommy’ and ‘Blossom’ taken at Green Foot, Low Bentham about 1910. This picture, and several others, came from a collection by Evelyn Willan, a Low Bentham resident, who was the first person to make a conscious effort to collect pictures and annotate them so that they would provide information for future generations
To me one or two pictures stand out. One is a portrait of Henry Slinger who used to farm at Low Bottom. Part of the farm was an area of level ground adjacent to the river, and now included in Riverside Caravan Park, which became known as Slinger’s Holme. The flat land was used occasionally by light aircraft in the 1930s and featured an air circus in 1938. After the Second World War, an army reconnaissance unit camped on the field; they had a Tiger Moth. As a way of thanking Henry Slinger for the use of his field they took his portrait on 22nd June 1952. Sadly he died a year later.
Some pictures give a hint of the scale of the influence of agriculture on Bentham life. Hiring fairs, fat stock shows, the agricultural transport business, the Auction Mart, Howsons the farriers and blacksmiths, slaughter houses, the milkman and, of course, Bateman Marshall’s fascinating picture of elephants watering in the yard at Bentham Hall!
The two photographs of Mewith Head Hall in the 1930s illustrate life at one of the finest and most ancient buildings in Bentham, which had been a monastery at some point in its history. The pictures were taken about 1930. One shows Alice Marsden drawing water from a spring. Three families of the Marsden family farmed Mewith Head Hall in the inter-war years. It was here that Rudolf Kauders found a secure home through the Quaker movement when large numbers of Austrian Jews were rescued from the Nazis near the commencement of the Second World War.