Elveden Estate
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The Elveden Estate
Elveden Eriswell Icklingham

A brief outline of the development of Elveden Estate during the ownership of the Guinness family 1894 - to the present day.

Lord Iveagh - 1st EarlThe First Earl of Iveagh, Edward Cecil Guinness, purchased the Elveden Estate from the Executors of Maharajah Duleep Singh in 1894. Lord Iveagh's main interest was in the Shooting and Elveden was reputed to be one of the best Sporting Estates in the country. The land was cultivated under a 4-course rotation, wheat or rye, roots, barley or oats and seeds. Flocks of sheep were kept to tread and manure the land which was mainly sand over chalk and needed nourishment to assist the yields. In addition there was always a large acreage of crops such as buckwheat and kidney vetch grown for feed and cover for the game birds.

Throughout the Edwardian period the fame of the Elveden Shoot became widespread. Many notable people came to Elveden to enjoy the shooting and the Earl's hospitality, among them Edward, Prince of Wales, later to become King Edward V11, and his illustrious friends, all conveyed by carriages and later cars, from Thetford Station, together with their personal servants, and a huge quantity of trunks and boxes.

CLondon-Rd.jpg (78363 bytes)Lord Iveagh increased the number of people employed, buildingSome of the tradesmen's cottages beside the now notorious A11 new cottages to house the expanding population. New roads were laid and a  brick-works established in which the distinctively stamped 'Elveden' red- derelict brickworks c1928 taken against a background of 'Elveden' red bricksbricks were made; a light railway was constructed to facilitate the movement of the bricks and equipment to the various building sites. Lord Iveagh more than doubled the size of the Hall; a wing was built to match the existing hall and the two were joined, centrally, by an imposing copper-domed edifice. An impressive servants' quarters was built and connected to the Hall's eastern end. A branch railway line linking Barnham Station to Elveden was established - so that a locomotive and trucks could transport materials, including marble and stone, to where it would be needed for the construction of the Hall.

stables-east-2.jpg (60128 bytes) Other 'Elveden' red-brick buildings included a fine stables, 
water tower ,  WATERTOWERCOL.jpg (229485 bytes)
BWest-Lodge-Gates.jpg (75460 bytes) lodges , 
post office  EPost-Office(right).jpg (65880 bytes)

...the estate office, laundry, school,  rectory, gasworks and workshops were also of red brick.

In 1906 a beautiful church, designed by W.D.Caroe and dedicated to St. Patrick was added to the existing mediaeval St. Andrew's church, and in DCottage-Homes.jpg (64736 bytes)1912 the Cottage Homes were built for the elderly and retired employees. These cottages were first used in 1914 as quarters for the Scots Guards training in the Thetford area and, later, in 1916 by tank training officers: At this time a large area of heathland from Elveden to just north of Icklingham had been chosen as the then secret 'tank' training ground.

In 1914 with the onset of the Great War it was realised that Britain had to try and feed herself, extra acreage was brought into cultivation to help the war effort. The Game Department was Tom Turner c. 1916 employed as Head Keeper until he died just before his 95th birthday in 1963disbanded during this period but Tom Turner, who had become the Head Gamekeeper in 1916, continued after the war to rebuild the stocks and good bags were soon, once again, the order of the day. King George V, a fine shot, was a frequent visitor to Elveden, both before and after his accession, his son Albert, Duke of York, later to become King George V1, also shot here.

As well as providing sport the shooting of rabbits and game supplied a considerable amount of food and helped to keep vermin under control.

Edward Cecil founded and endowed the Chadacre Agricultural Institute in 1921. This was one of England's first agricultural institutes and its purpose was to provide agricultural education to the sons of farm labourers, small holders and farmers in Suffolk and surrounding counties.

The First Earl was a great philanthropist, amongst his many gifts was included a large sum for scientific research and another to the Jenner Institute of Medicine. He also gave his Kenwood House and the priceless collection of paintings it contained to the nation.

Rupert, second Earl of Iveagh was in his early fifties when he inherited the title and estates in 1927. He had by this time established his reputation as an able politician and enthusiastic supporter of science. Lord Iveagh had earlier persuaded his father to endow the Lister Institute of Preventive medicine and served on the governing board; he became interested in the Wright-Fleming Institute of microbiologyAlexander Fleming discovered penicillin. Rupert also helped form the Tuberculin Tested Milk Producers Association researching into the eradication of T.B. infected cattle. and was instrumental in establishing the National Institute for Research into Dairying, at Shinfield, Berkshire.

In 1927 several of the most able students came from the Chadacre Agricultural Institute, to assist in the transformation of the Elveden Estate and help him with his revolutionary ideas. The brightest was a 21 year old Victor Harrison, who arrived in 1933. Chadacre finally closed in 1989, but the Trust continues to this day, chaired by the present Lord Iveagh, its income is used to support agricultural research work.

Rupert and Gwendolen, 2nd Earl and Countess inspecting calves at Redneck FarmLord Iveagh realised the land had to be made more profitable and manure would be needed and therefore, in 1932 commenced to buy in dairy cattle, keeping only those which passed the TB Test. In 1927 there were 120 cows, by 1962 there were 715 plus 816 young stock. Lord and Lady Iveagh took a keen interest in their Dairy Herds and prepared a 'family tree', which was regularly up dated, for every animal in their possession.

The Icklingham Head ShepherdThe sheep flocks were sold in 1933 but reintroduced at a later date.
sheepflocks2.jpg (87510 bytes)


The acreage released was used to grow Lucerne, having very long roots, sometimes six feet, it could penetrate much further in its search for water, and as a member of the legume family nitrogen nodules grew on these roots. The leys were cut for silage and grazed by the cattle over a three year period, then ploughed in as green manure.

An experiment in 1933 to grow sugar beet on 5 acres was promising, this led to 500 acres being grown in 1939.

At the outbreak of war the Ministry of Agricuture instigated a ploughing-up campaign as part of the 'War Effort'. Lord Iveagh agreed to increase the arable acreage as requested. 600 acres were ploughed, 200 hundred of which were lucerne leys and the rest old lands which had been used for game and had gone out of cultivation. This proved discouraging, the crops failing to cover the expense of growing them. The following year Lord Iveagh was asked to plough another 1000 acres and agreed to make the attempt even though the previous efforts had proved unsuccessful. All had to be fenced against rabbits and the wire was difficult to obtain. 

The new ground yielded more crops than anticipated, but later the whole project was dealt a severe blow. The War Office announced its intention of using a large area of the estate as a tank training ground and despite the need for food production, many of the new crops were ruined, and fences torn down, allowing the ingress of rabbits which were more destructive than the tanks. After a great deal of damage had been done it was agreed to fence off small areas of the land for cultivation which were later harvested. The value of the ploughing-up experiment had been largely lost and an enormous amount of much needed food had gone to waste. Undeterred, Lord Iveagh obtained permission from the War Office to cultivate portions of the requisitioned lands which were hardly used and by the end of the war had regained much of the lost ground - which was successfully cropped. Leys had also been increased by another thousand acres. Some of the extra acreage had been obtained from old pasture land but most of it was gained from previously untouched heath.

Lord and Lady Iveagh talking with Jack Turner - driving a Massey Harris combineFor several years the Forestry Commission had coveted parts of Elveden Estate for extending Thetford Forest, but Lord Iveagh's success with farming brought a settlement in his favour in 1952. 
Building a stack using tractor and elevator - driver George BartleRupert-Tripod-close.jpg (167926 bytes)
Rup-Tripod-view.jpg (94301 bytes)

Lord Iveagh continued to consolidate his methods and by 1967 when his grandson, Benjamin Guinness inherited the Title and Estates, the Farming Enterprise was on a much firmer footing.

The period from 1967 to 1992 was one of varying fortunes for British agriculture, the shape of farming at Elveden changing to meet contemporary needs.

Expansion and modernisation of the dairy interests continued through the 1960s and into the early 1970s. A New Dairy was built at Rakebottom for 240 friesians. Parlours replaced milk bails which permitted the milking of more cows by fewer people. Sheep were running on more marginal land and helping to manage the less productive heathland.

There were three farm units based on the villages of Eriswell, Icklingham and Elveden. With three farm managers, one pig manager, one forestry manager, plus a general manager, an accountant and surveyor.

The 1970s also saw a revolution in arable farming, with advances in agrochemical technology enabling new heights of production to be achieved. In sugar beet production, the introduction of soil stabilising polymers such as Vinamul, afforded protection from windblow. In cereals, the introduction of selective herbicides and fungicides facilitated greater control over crops and yields.

Confident of more secure returns from arable farming, the dependence on livestock was to change dramatically over ensuing years. The reduction in beef herds released land for additional sugar beet production. In 1976 the area of sugar beet was doubled from 750 to 1500 acres.

A decline in dairy incomes through the 1970s coupled with an increasing confidence in arable production led in 1978 - 79, to a major re-appraisal of the farming system in discussion with the Agricultural Development Advisory Service. In 1979 the decision was made to withdraw from milk production and take the E.E.C. Grant for doing so and to invest in irrigation systems. Milking ceased on 3rd December 1980. The staff was reduced from 178 to 110. A large majority of those who lost their jobs chose to remain, as tenants, in their homes on the Estate and found employment elsewhere.

Manure that had previously been available from the dairy herds was replaced by poultry manure obtained from the rapidly expanding East Anglian broiler industry. Money was invested in mechanisation and grain stores and other crops were looked at - chicory, carrots and daffodil bulbs, but apart from carrots, these were not pursued. The area of sugar beet doubled again to 3000 acres. Irrigation systems were installed, taking advantage of the massive untapped water resource lying in chalk aquifers beneath the estate. The scene was thus set for a new era in farming at Elveden.

Increasing specialisation within agriculture also led to the decision in 1981 to set up the pig herds as a separate department with its own manager and staff. Three outdoor herds were kept at that time and the change gave the opportunity for development and expansion of pig-keeping in Elveden.

In 1982 Fusilade was introduced, this chemical supplies the means to kill the grass and cereals in broad-leaved crops. Drilling barley as a cover crop for sugar beet, carrots, parsnips and onions to prevent sand-blow was now possible and when established the barley could be sprayed off. It enabled a much wider range of crops to be grown on the blowing sands of the Breckland, where irrigation was available.

In 1985 more potatoes, parsnips and onions were introduced as irrigation increased.

In 1986 the beef herd was sold.

Heathlandlongview.jpg (78755 bytes)The late 1980s also heralded a change in political attitudes towards agriculture and land use. The concept of direct financial support for food production was becoming less popular and the need to give priority to maintaining an ecologically diverse environment recognised. This was not a new concept for the owners of Elveden Estate who had protected large areas of unimproved heathland Heather-Broom-Gorse.jpg (103379 bytes) way back in the early part of the 20th century. This voluntary conservation of habitat has been gradually embraced by legislation, firstly by the designation of these areas in the 1960s as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), then by establishment of the whole of Breckland as an Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA), in the 1980s. This has been further reinforced by European Legislation during the 1990s and into the new century. Large areas of Elveden estate are now protected by statute and managed in a manner intended to maintain and improve their contribution to the rural environment.

In 1992, Edward, Lord Elveden, became Earl of Iveagh. Continuing the process of change and development, adapting to contemporary need and maintaining the high profile afforded it by previous generations.

In 1997 the specialist nature and importance of vegetable production was reflected in a reorganisation of the farm structure. Specialist teams were set up to look after vegetable production and arable cropping over the whole farm. Further investment in irrigation was undertaken including the securing of water supplies by construction of two water storage reservoirs.

Identification of rhizomania disease of sugar beet in 1997 led to a complete withdrawal from growing this crop by the year 2000.

Pig production also underwent further development during the late 1990s, the three outdoor herds were replaced by a single outdoor herd of 1500 breeding sows. New animal housing was established to accommodate their progeny to slaughter weight.

Cattle and sheep have not completely disappeared from the Elveden scene, although their importance has varied over the years. Changing practices in heathland management and an availability of arable by-products has given rise to a resurgence in numbers at the turn of the new century. The livestock business now includes a herd of 200 South Devon beef cows with pedigree Aberdeen Angus and Charolais bulls, some of which have been brought over from Lord Iveagh's farm in Ireland. Sheep continue to tread the land as they have for centuries. The Estate Farm is the largest lowland arable holding in England.

The development of the Elveden Estate throughout the 20th century has been dominated by a single recurring theme: That is the acceptance of the need to change to meet contemporary need. The willingness and commitment of successive generations of the owners, managers and communities of the Elveden Estate to embrace change, is probably the single most important reason why this Estate remains intact and thriving to this day.

Some interesting facts:-

Food production on the Elveden Estate:


Potatoes: 22000 tonnes for supermarkets, Walkers Crisps, McDonalds Fries.

Onions : 18000 tonnes for supermarkets, onion rings, Branston Pickle.

Carrots : 16000 tonnes for supermarkets and prepared meals.

Parsnips : 6000 tonnes for supermarkets.

Wheat: 4000 tonnes for bread making.

Rye: 2500 tonnes for Ryvita, bakery products and mushroom spawn.

Barley: 2800 tonnes for animal rations.

Peas: 800 tonnes for animal rations.

Pigs: 30000 animals for bacon

2000 Yvonne Vincent, W.M. Sloan, L. Hargreaves and Gillian Turner.
[Ref: Some source material obtained from: "A Man of his Time" - A Life of the First Earl of Iveagh, K.P., G.C.V.O. "The Elveden Enterprise" and "The Elveden Estate" 1953 -1963 all by George Martelli.]
Photographs of the Earls of Iveagh and the Estate used with the kind permission of Lord Iveagh.


A Forest Heath District Council (Suffolk) Project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of the Millennium Festival 2000 Designed by ArtAtac