The Influence of Thomas Proctor

The Beauforts (who eventually acquired all the lands belonging to Wallscourt and Stanley Farm) leased their land to various tenants. Perhaps the most celebrated of the Wallscourt Farm tenants was Thomas Proctor, who held the land between 1850 and 1861.

Thomas Proctor was a successful businessman who had inherited the family firm, H & T Proctor. Originally described as ‘rag and bone men’, the firm evidently put these materials to good use by becoming involved in the production and distribution of artificial fertilisers. They also invented and supplied agricultural machinery.

Proctor used Wallscourt Farm and Stanley Farm as an experimental site. Generations of tenants had referred to the former as ‘Starve-all Farm’ and Proctor was determined to make the land more profitable. So he combined land drainage with the use of artificial fertilisers and greatly increased yields as a result.

At that time, George Godwin, architect to the Beauforts, was busily employed in rebuilding many of the houses in Stoke Gifford. Baileys Court and St Michael’s vicarage are just two examples of his work. In 1855, he worked with Proctor to demolish and rebuild Wallscourt Farm. The new farmhouse and its attendant buildings (including cottages for some of the workers) together formed an ‘E’ shape. Some of the features incorporated by Proctor were quite ingenuous. The main cattle shed resembled a church, lit by a Gothic window. A railway line ran through its centre, delivering fodder to the animals. Another innovation was the school provided for the people who worked on the farm. Children attended in the day and the farm workers attended in the evening. Thus, Proctor showed considerable concern for the welfare of his employees.

Stanley Farm was rebuilt by Godwin’s son, and in 1860 we find that it is inhabited by Proctor’s bailiff. A legend exists that semaphores were used as a means of communication between the two farms, although the windows at Stanley Farm seem inadequate for this purpose.

Thomas Proctor was an alderman and a Sheriff of Bristol. He was generous to the city, donating amongst other gifts, the Mansion House used by the Mayor of Bristol. He was also a churchwarden at St Mary Redcliffe and financed the renovation of the north porch.

He left the farm in 1861, his experiments obviously complete. A remarkable character to influence this quiet corner of a Gloucestershire village.

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