Old McDonald Had a Farm - or the National Farm Survey 1941-43

Old McDonald Had a Farm - or the National Farm Survey 1941-43     


The purpose of writing this article is twofold.  Firstly, it is to raise awareness about the existence of the records of the National Farm Survey of England and Wales 1941-43.  Secondly, I aim to show how those records can be located and utilized for family history research.

            My family has connections to Warwickshire going back to at least the mid 18th Century.  Amongst the miners, silk/ribbon weavers, canal boatmen and agricultural labourers in my family tree I have a family who became tenant farmers.  Those first farmer ancestors of mine were a branch of the Grant family from Church Lawford.  In the late 1840’s to early 1850s they were tenant farmers of fourteen acres at Brandon near Coventry.  By 1861 the family had moved to Hawkesbury near Bedworth and by 1891 had taken over the tenancy of a farm known as Hawkesbury Colliery Farm.  Their descendants occupied that farm till the 1960s.

            Hawkesbury Colliery Farm was sandwiched between the Coventry Canal and the Coventry to Nuneaton branch line of the London & North Western Railway company.  My mother was born on the farm in 1930 and lived there with her parents and her uncle’s family throughout the Second World War.  Using the original records of the National Farm Survey 1941-43 in The National Archive (TNA) at Kew I was able to build up a good picture of that farm.  I found a list of the number and types of animals on the farm, how the land was being used, knew which utilities served the farm and how many men worked there.  Moreover, there was an Ordnance Survey map showing the farm boundaries outlined in colour.

            Until 2012 I had never heard of the National Farm Survey.  It was only brought to my notice while I was watching a programme in the BBC’s excellent series “Wartime Farm”.  During the Second World War, Britain was faced with an urgent need for our farmers to increase the production of food.  Each county had a County War Agricultural Executive Committee with wide ranging powers.  They could tell farmers which crops to grow, inspect farms and oust ineffective tenant farmers.  The use of these powers had one objective – to increase the amount of food produced from the land.

            To support those committees a farm survey was instigated in June 1940.  Surveys of around 85% of the agricultural land in England and Wales had been completed by early 1941.  Some farmers lost control of the management of their farm to the committee where there was evidence of major failings.  Unfortunately, the records for individual farms no longer exist for the 1940 survey.

            In April 1941 the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries directed that all farms of five acres or more were to be subject to a survey.  The 1941 survey would consist of three elements:

-  a Farm Survey.

-   a census as at 4th June 1941 to include details of field usage and livestock numbers.

-   a map of the farm and its boundaries.

By the end of 1943 the survey task was nearing completion.  Approximately 320,000 farms and other holdings had been surveyed.  Each surveyed farm now has an Individual Farm Record consisting of the documents created by the Farm Survey and the census.  The maps form a separate series of records.  Currently, none of those above records are digitised.

Description of an Individual Farm Record

            The Individual Farm Record for a surveyed farm consists of four documents:
-    a Farm Survey where questions are asked concerning ownership of the land, tenancy, duration of occupation, physical condition of the farm buildings, roads and ditches, the supply of water and electricity and the condition of the land.

-    a return as at 4th June 1941 detailing any fruit, vegetables for human consumption or stock of hay or straw on hand.

-     a return as at 4th June 1941 detailing the acreage put to different crops or grass, the livestock and horses on the farm and any labour employed (excluding the farmer and his wife).

-     a return as at 4th June 1941 asking supplementary questions on labour, usage of motive power, annual rent payable and when the farm was first occupied by the current farmer.

            The data for the Farm Survey was obtained by inspectors during a personal visit to the farm and an interview with the farmer.  It is within the Farm Survey that the inspector graded the farmer for his overall management of his resources.  A grading of “A” (good), “B” (moderate) or “C” (bad) could be given.  Of the 320,000 surveys carried out 58% were “A” and 5% were “C”.  If a farm had low productivity the farmer could still be graded “A” provided he was not at fault.  “B” or “C” grades could be awarded for personal reasons such as lack of interest, poor business ability or weak technical knowledge.   Elderly or ill farmers or those without capital could also be graded “B” or “C”.  The date of the inspection is recorded on the Farm Survey form.  The remaining three forms making up the Individual Farm Record were completed by the farmers themselves and sent back to the officials.

How to Find your Farm - The Map Index sheets in MAF 73/64

            A Map Index sheet exists for each county in England and Wales.  Those sheets are held by TNA in collection MAF 73/64 and are kept in a map cabinet in the Map and Large Document Reading Room (no ordering necessary).  Each county sheet has a number stamped in its right hand corner (eg 43 for Warwickshire).  A printed grid is superimposed on the county to form a grid of rectangles.  Each rectangle has a number in the centre of it (11, 12 etc).  The number in the rectangle identifies the set of larger scale maps that cover the same geographical area within that particular rectangle.  When you know approximately where your ancestor’s farm was located then the grid will help you identify which map set you need to look at next.  Make a note of the number stamped in the right hand corner of the county sheet and then note the number that is in the centre of the rectangle containing the area you are interested in.  In my search, the location of Hawkesbury Colliery Farm sat in rectangle number 17 on county sheet number 43.  I now had all the information required to order the large scale maps showing field boundaries for my ancestor’s farm.  The large scale maps are held in series MAF 73 and I had to order the map set with catalogue reference MAF 73/43/17.

The Large Scale Farm Maps in MAF 73

            MAF 73/43/17 consisted of sixteen map sheets each individually numbered.  Pieced together those sixteen maps covered the same geographical area as rectangle 17 on the Warwickshire Map Index sheet. As I knew where the farm was situated I soon found the sheet having the farm on it; it


was sheet number 9.  On these maps the individual farms are named and their field system boundaries are indicated by a coloured wash.  Different colours are used for land belonging to different farms.  In my case, the fields belonging to Hawkesbury Colliery Farm are picked out by a brown wash. 

            These larger scale maps reveal an essential piece of data.  The key to locating an Individual Farm Record is to know the unique farm reference number for the farm.  That unique number is written on the map within the area enclosed by the wash lines.  Often it will be handwritten close to where the farm buildings appear on the map.  The unique farm reference number for Hawkesbury Colliery Farm is “WK 228 113-41”.  This is a code.  WK stands for Warwickshire.  I had to ignore the number 228 (a district code).  The important figures are 113-41.  Each parish within a county had been allocated a number by the officials.  Number 113 was given to Bedworth.  Within a parish, each farm was allocated a number in a sequential series.  The meaning of 113-41 is that Hawkesbury Colliery Farm’s farm number is 41. 

            In the filing system used at TNA all of the Individual Farm Records for farms lying within a particular parish are kept together.  Each farm’s survey records are marked with the corresponding parish number and the farm number so they are easily identifiable (in my example 113-41).  The survey forms for each parish are kept in a numerical sequence based on the individual farm number.  So, Hawkesbury Colliery Farm’s forms will be forty-first in the filing sequence.

            The image below shows a segment of sheet number 9.  The unique farm reference number for Hawkesbury Colliery Farm is clearly visible as a handwritten addition to the map:

Every unique farm reference number will have an alphabetical county identifier (such as XE for East Sussex or WK for Warwickshire) and a parish number and individual farm number (often written in the format nn-nn or nn/nn).  Sometimes there is a district code added as the first number after the county identifier.  The officials had used district codes on the maps in MAF 73/43/17 – in my example it was 228.

Accessing the Individual Farm Record for a Farm

Individual Farm Records are held in series MAF 32 in TNA.  Once the parish number where the farm was situated is known, you can find the Individual Farm Records for that parish.  In my example I typed “MAF 32” and “113” and “Warwickshire” into TNA’s Discovery search engine.  The search result revealed that I needed to order document MAF 32/956part2/113.  When the folder arrived I soon discovered the survey forms for Hawkesbury Colliery Farm.


Summary of the TNA records used to find a farm in the National Farm Survey 1941-43

            A table below summarizes the TNA records described above which are used to locate and access the National Farm Survey records for a farm:


Type of Record

TNA Reference


Map Index sheets

MAF 73/64

A series of maps in alphabetic order of English county then Welsh county.  Held in a reference cabinet in the Map and Large Document Reading Room.

Large Scale Farm Maps

MAF 73

Each catalogue item consists of either six or sixteen maps representing the area contained within one rectangle on a Map Index sheet.  On each large scale map sheet every farm has a unique farm reference number allocated to it and that number is clearly marked on the map.

Individual Farm Records

MAF 32

The survey forms for each farm are in this series.  The Individual Farm Records for all farms situated within a particular parish are grouped and filed together; they are delivered as one or more folders.  Within the folder/s the survey forms are held in a numerical sequence based on the individual farm number.


What Did I Find Out about Hawkesbury Colliery Farm?

            Firstly, from the large scale map I could determine the exact extent of the land associated with the farm.  Secondly, several interesting facts came to light when I scrutinised the survey forms.  I learned that the farm had 98 acres of which 62 acres were for grazing or mowing.  Included in the 62 acres were 18 acres of rough land used for grazing.  That rough land was most probably the part up near some old colliery workings and where a railway branch line linked up with the canal system.  The remaining acreage was for growing crops, principally wheat and barley.  As for livestock there were some horses, geese, fowls, pigs and cattle.  My grandfather and his brother only had one tractor but used three horses for farm work.  Milk was also being sold from the farm.  I discovered who the actual owners of the land were and how much annual rent had to be paid.  My mother told me that when she lived at the farm there was no electricity and they had to use lamps at night.  The farm survey records confirm this.  When asked in the survey whether electricity was used for the household or for the farm the answer was no to both questions.  The farm management was assessed as “A” grade.  In the General Comments box on the Farm Survey form the inspector had made the following comment:
            “These men are making full use of some very inconvenient land.”
It is nice to know that the inspector recognised that my grandfather and his brother were doing a good job with difficult land at a time when the Nation needed all the food it could grow.

Hawkesbury Colliery Farm Today

            What of Hawkesbury Colliery Farm today? The canal is still there and so is the Nuneaton to Coventry railway line but the farm has gone.  My grandfather’s brother purchased the farm in 1946 and farmed it till he retired in the 1960s.  He had no children so the farm was sold and the association of that farmland with my family ended.  The farm buildings were demolished c1991 for a golf course to be built in its place.  The golf course failed as a business venture in 2006 and some of the land remains today as an open green space adjacent to the Bayton Road industrial estate.  However, developers have been eying up that land for a house building project.


            The National Farm Survey of 1941-43 provides a fascinating insight into the state of British farms during the Second World War.  The records are useful for persons with an interest in social history or having ancestors who were farmers during the mid-war period.  In particular, the Farm Survey will tell you how long the farmer had occupied the farm and whether they owned the land they farmed.  The large scale maps are particularly interesting as they clearly reveal which land a farmer was responsible for.  I encourage family historians to take the time to look at the survey records for any farms connected with their families.

TNA guide “National Farm Surveys of England and Wales 1940-43” – retrieved online 30/09/2012.