Prosperous Farm, a mile or two south of Hungerford on the Salisbury Road, was the home for over thirty years of the famous agricultural inventor, Jethro Tull, once described as "the greatest individual improver that agriculture has ever known."
- 1674 - Born in Lower Basildon
- 1693 - Studied Law at Gray's Inn
- 1699 - Married Susanna Smith
- 1699 - Began farming
- 1701 - Began developing and refining seed drills
- 1709 - Moved to Prosperous Farm, Hungerford
- 1731 - Published "Horse-Hoing Husbandry"
- 1741 - Died - buried at Lower Basildon
More about Jethro Tull:
He was born in Lower Basildon in 1674, the son of Jethro and Dorothy Tull, a quite well-to-do family. He matriculated from St John's College, Oxford, in 1691 and was admitted as a student of Gray's Inn in 1693 where he studied law, in preparation for a high-flying political career. He was called to the Bar in 1699 but never actually practised as a barrister.
Continuing ill-health stalled these plans. Instead, after his marriage to Susanna Smith of Burton Dassett in Warwickshire in 1699, he began farming with his father on the family farm at Howberry near Wallingford. He was not a natural: he hated the work, and resented the reduction in profits caused by his labourers' salaries.
At the time, cereals were distributed into furrows ("drilling") by hand. However, Tull had noticed that traditional heavy sowing densities were not very efficient so he instructed his staff to drill at very precise, low densities. By 1701, his frustration with their lack of co-operation prompted him to invent a machine to do the work for him.
Inspired by the memory of an organ he had once taken apart, he designed his drill with a rotating cylinder. Grooves were cut into the cylinder to allow seed to pass from the hopper above to a funnel below. They were then directed into a channel dug by a plough at the front of the machine, then immediately covered by a harrow attached to the rear. This resulted in the seed being sown more sparsely and regularly in rows and theoretically saved more than one third of the seed, though this depended largely on the temperament of his labourers, who were often opposed to such modern developments in principle!
Initially the seed drill was only a limited success, but it went through a series of modifications and improvements by various people over the next 150 years. It always remained much too expensive for the small farmer until the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century, and it was not until 1851, when Smyth's brought the price of a simple drill down to about £5, that its use became widespread.
Jethro Tull at Hungerford:
In 1709 he moved to Prosperous Farm in Hungerford, apparently taking it over from his great-uncle, also called Jethro.
Two years later he decided to travel around Europe to improve his health and study agricultural techniques there. He visited France and Italy between 1711 and 1714, and noted the methods of cultivating the vineyards in the Languedoc area of France and in Italy, where it was usual practice to hoe the ground between the vines rather than manuring.
On returning to Prosperous in 1714 he tried this on his fields of grain and root crops - he pulverised the earth between the rows, believing that this released nutrients and reducing the need for manure. While apparently successful - he grew wheat in the same field for 13 successive years without manuring - it is more likely that he merely prevented weeds from overcrowding and competing with the seed.
Eventually, as agricultural improvement became fashionable, more interest began to be taken in Tull's ideas. His other famous invention was the horse hoe, which he introduced in 1714. With his horse-hoe plough one man could cover six acres in a day. It also led to easier reaping of crops and better destruction of weeds.
In 1731 he published his book "The Horse Hoing Husbandry", detailing his system and its machinery. [The full title of his 1733 publication included "An Essay on the Principles of Tillage and Vegetation wherein is shown a Method of introducing a Sort of Vineyard Culture into the Corn-Fields in order to Increase their Product and diminish the common Expense"].
- Jethro Tull
- Frontispiece of Jethro Tull's Treatise on Horse-Hoeing Husbandry, 1733
- A Jethro Tull Seed Drill at Holkham Hall, Norfolk
- Jethro Tull's Seed Drill, 1752
The legacy of his work:
It caused great controversy at the time, and arguments continued for another century before his eventual vindication. While several other mechanical seed drills had also been invented, Tull's complete system was a major influence on the agricultural revolution and its impact can still be seen in today's methods and machinery.
Obviously horse-hoeing was labour-saving and the seed drill combined with the horse hoe showed an overall economy. However, his ideas and inventions met with a great deal of opposition for about a hundred years.
It was not until the nineteenth century - in Northumberland and Durham, where men were leaving the land for the newly-found coalfields - that this technology eventually took off and, with labour in other parts of the country also being required for building the railways, the economic necessities of the time led at last to the general adoption of his inventions.
Jethro Tull died in 1741 and his grave can still be found in the churchyard at Lower Basildon, the village where he was born.
(Derived from "Berkshire's Famous Agriculturist", by Pam Haseltine, and bbc.co.uk/history website.)
Horse Hoeing Husbandry, Fifth Edition, By Jethro Tull, Aaron Brachfeld and Mary Choate, 2010, available from