1950 - Wartime and After
Due partly to a series of quite brilliant advertising campaigns, the war years saw a near-revolution in farming methods in Britain - better and more extensive land use, more efficient husbandry and vastly increased mechanisation. The war made its mark on British agriculture in other, more subtle ways. Many airfields and army camps were built on requisitioned farmland and at the end of the war this was given back to agricultural use. Buildings that had been put up by the military authorities were, for the most part, simply abandoned and left to rot, but farmers were quick to see their potential and put them to use. To this day, old wartime Nissen huts that were once dormitories, stores and messrooms can be seen tucked away in the corners of fields, ingeniously adapted as farm shops, implement sheds or to other new purposes. Like the post-war 'prefab' houses, they were not built to last. Cleverly designed to use the minimum of scarce building materials (especially the metals that were so vital in other areas of war work) these humble Nissen huts show a surprising number of variations on a simple and extremely durable basic theme. Like most farm buildings, form is perfectly matched to function. Why did self-sufficiency in food become so important during the Second World War?
In the great slump of the 1930s, a third of Britain's farmland went out of production. The nation so depended on imported food - about two-thirds of the total - that the U-boat blockade of the country's ports and harbours during the early stages of the Second World War threatened to starve the population into submission. Rationing served to highlight the need for long-term action to make the country self-sufficient. Britons were exorted to 'Dig for Victory', and new agricultural methods were introduced with an urgency that was conspicuously lacking in the moribund pre-war years. Wartime farmers marvelled at the imported American tractors that could plough an acre an hour; with horses, this had been a day's work. By 1945 the number of acres under cultivation had been increased by 150 per cent and food imports had been halved, while the number of allotments almost doubled. It was not only 'the big man with the plough' who was targeted by the Ministry of Agriculture, but also every 'little man with a spade'. The Women's Land Army too ('There's a job to be done/ Though we can't fire a gun/We can still do our bit with the hoe') helped to make up the numbers as farmworkers were called up. Any piece of land that could be made to support a crop was pressed into use: 'Swamps have been reclaimed. Golf courses, sports grounds, city lots and cemetery extensions are being made to yield food. Famous gardens, once noted for their fragrance, are now given over to cabbages. Non-farmers do their bit to augment the nation's food supply. RAF pilots grow radishes beside their machines. Chickens cluck in the fashionable squares of London. A million bees have been turned loose in the heather of Camberley forest. Potatoes are flourishing at Hampton Court and at Sandringham.' Commercialism was not forgotten - the Ministry insisted that: 'Prices must be such as would give a reasonable return to the farmer.. .and pay a fair wage to the worker.'