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Dairy Farming About London in the 18th and 19th Centuries


Turn of the nineteenth-century London was surrounded by market gardens and agricultural lands. There were approximately 8,500 dairy cattle kept to supply the metropolis with milk, of which most were Holderness cattle, originally from the East Riding of Yorkshire. Each cow produced about eight quarts of milk per day.

Sold to the retailer for about one shilling ninepence per eight quarts, the milk was transported to London's markets by 'robust Welsh girls' in tin pails where it was distributed twice daily. Before being put up for sale the milk was often adulterated with river water, decreasing its quality and increasing the likelihood of the consumer catching an unhealthy dose of cholera from their morning milk.

This description of the cow-keeper's daily routine comes from a Mr Foot in the early nineteenth century (c. 1809). Note that the cows were not milked by their keepers, but by the city retailers:


During the night the cows are confined in stalls. About three o'clock in the morning each has a half-bushel basket of grain. From four o'clock to half past six they are milked by the retailer-dealers. When the milking is finished, a bushel basket of turnips is given to each cow. Soon afterwards they are given an allotment, in the proportion of one truss to ten cows, of the most grassy and soft meadow-hay, which had been the most early mown, and cured of the greenest colour.

These several feedings are generally made before eight o'clock in the morning, at which time the cows are turned into the cow-yard.

About twelve o'clock they are again confined in their stalls, and served with the same quantity of grains as they had in the morning.
About half past one in the afternoon the milking again commences, and continues till near three, when the cows are again served with the same quantity of turnips; and about an hour afterwards, with the same distribution of hay as before described.
This mode of feeding continues throughout the turnip season, which is from the month of September until May. During the other months of the year they are fed with grains, cabbages, tares, and the fore-going proportion of rouen, or second-cut meadow-hay, and are continued to be fed and milked with the same regularity as before described, until they are turned out to grass, when they continue in the field all night.

Even during this season they are fed with grains, which are kept sweet and eatable for a considerable length of time, by being buried in pits made for that purpose.

There are about ten bulls to a stock of three hundred cows. The calves are generally sent to Smithfield market at one, two, or three days old, where they sell from one pound six shillings to one pound, eleven shillings and sixpence each.

Cows which gave an extraordinary amount of milk were kept for up to seven years, after which they were 'dried' and sold off to a butcher.

Please also visit Old London Maps on the web as many of the maps
and views available there have plans and depictions of gardens from
the medieval period through to the late nineteenth century.

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