Reply To: Visit to Mary Rose-query about steering and anchor work

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Frank Scott

    Paul Benyon of MarHst-L has passed on to me an extract from Diana Trenchard (Ed) Dorset People involved in the Growing of Hemp & Flax 1782-1793 (Somerset & Dorset Family History Society, 2000), which I have précised below:

    The first good records of Hemp & Flax production in Dorset comes from the late eighteenth century. In 1781 Parliament brought in a Bounty scheme to encourage hemp and flax cultivation. For each stone (14 lbs = @ 6.4 kg) of ‘dressed’ fibre the Bounty was 3d for hemp and 4d for flax in old money (2.4d = 1p), this being roughly the amount produced from half an acre.
    Originally for five years, the scheme was extended for a further seven, and many of the records have survived. They enable us to learn the names of the growers, parish of abode, the parishes and fields where the crops were grown, whether they grew hemp or flax, and the amount produced. Some faithfully planted year by year, others only for a year. The majority of growers were agricultural labourers, who rented a small piece of land, and for whom it was a useful side-line.
    The Bounty was only for ‘dressed fibre prepared ready for market’. The preparation of both types of fibre was the same. First the outer ‘bark’ covering had to be removed by a rotting process known as ‘retting’ – either several weeks exposure in the open air (dew-retting) or by soaking in water. Then the next layer of fibres had to be separated from the woody core by ‘breaking’, literally breaking the stems with a wooden gadget, a very laborious task known locally as ‘scutching’. For the final process the fibres were ‘dressed’ by repeated combing or ‘heckling’. Only then could the product be weighed and the Bounty claimed. Once that was done, the fibre was sold to a local rope, twine, net, or sailcloth maker.
    Grown during the late spring and summer, the fibres were ‘dressed and prepared for market’ during the winter months, and assessed for Bounty and sold early in the following year. The Clerk to the Quarter Sessions submitted annual Bounty Claims to the Treasury, and it was usually another year before they were paid – two years after the crops had been grown. This was quite a long delay, but the Bounty may have added up to an additional 10% to their income
    The Bounty Claims were pre-printed forms, and about a third appear to have been filled in and signed by the growers, while the remainder signed with an ‘X’. The Claim Forms were counter-signed by two officials from the growing parish, and a JP. Separate forms were used for each parish, and for both flax and hemp. In a few cases there was a hand-written letter instead, but its wording was similar.
    Surviving Claim Forms are in the Dorset Records Office (Quarter Sessions, Flax & Hemp, no3).