Farm Life

Farm Life

As well as a thriving sea fishing trade, Otterton had 13 working farms in the 1840s, and a further 31 spread over the 3,479 farmed acres (according to the 1844 Tithe Apportionment) of Otterton Parish.   When the Saxons moved to Devon, they implemented the ‘open field system’ of farming that transformed the land and created the close-knit structure of the village.  Otterton previously had large, unfenced fields divided into even strips of around one acre. This new system relocated the farmhouses along a main street, with fields and land being stretched out in linear patterns behind them. With the land being more rigidly divided and managed, it meant everyone had to conform to village norms of harvest.

This method continued to work successful until the 18th century.  George II settled farmers’ worries about increasing prices by reducing land tax from 4/- in the pound to 1/-.  Other events such as the Inclosure Act of 1773 and the Agricultural Revolution had little or no impact on the farmers of Otterton, who leased their land from the Estate owner, and they continued comfortably until the beginning of the 19th century. The Agricultural Revolution which accompanied the Industrial Revolution, slowly crept into the South-West countryside and had a huge impact on farmers, who were faced with new machinery and scientific approaches to crop and land management. The land was reordered once more, forcing farms such as Otterton Barton Farm to divide its 750 acres to make way for new farms (in its case South Farm).

The Barton (the title of the principal farm in a settlement) survived as the last working farm in the village itself before closing permanently in 1989. You can find it, along with other farmhouses Houstern, Basclose and The Barn, dotted around the village as the oldest houses, usually thatched and cob, and privately-owned.   (The Barton was squared off in brick and re-roofed in slate in mid-Victorian times)..The buildings get re-developed:  in the Barton’s case they became Rolle Barton.  Two other farms close-in to the village, Sea View and Stantyway Farm, continued to work until 2016.  Further out there continue to be working farms along the roads to Harpford and Sidmouth, such as Passaford and Pinn respectively.

Farming in Otterton is mostly husbandry of cattle and sheep in the open fields, and cutting grass for silage.   Above South Farm there has for 30 years been pig-farming, where remoteness helps prevent disease spreading in the herd.   On the flat river meadows it has been the practice of the managed farm at Colaton Raleigh in recent years to plant maize for feed, but it has been demonstrated more than once that the practice is vulnerable to the floods from rain in the Blackdown Hills (and in 2008 from the ice storm that hit Ottery St Mary) and there is considerable erosion and silting as a result.

There are trout, occasionally a salmon, in the river.   The fishing is private (and paid for by the fishermen) from all points upriver from Clamour Bridge (the metal bridge half a mile down from Otterton Bridge) but below that it is freely available fly-fishing.