Growing Bokhara Clover in East Suffolk

Bokhara Clover from Dutch book 1800

Bokhara Clover [1]

How on earth did my great x 3 grandfather Joshua Rodwell from Alderton near Woodbridge come to be growing Bokhara Clover in 1841?

He had certainly never been within several thousand miles of Central Asia.

If you are fortunate enough to have amongst your ancestors people like Joshua Rodwell who were active participants in society, and who wrote extensively, you might find yourself in the odd position that I am of being able to say that on 9th of September 1841 my great x 3 grandfather had been exhibiting at the Bell Inn at Saxmundham.

Joshua was a keen Improving Farmer and a frequent attendee at the meetings of the East Suffolk Agricultural Association. He had been one of its earliest members taking part since the Association had been founded in 1831.

On the 9th of September 1841, he made had the journey to Saxmundham to attend the Associations annual meeting where he had proudly explained the results of his latest experiments with a new crop, Bokhara Clover.

Bokhara Clover seems to have had a wide native geographical range across Central Asia and much of Mainland Europe. However, I have no idea if had ever been  native to England, or indeed if Joshua had been the first farmer here attempt to grow it here.

If you know the answers to either of these questions, I would be very pleased to hear from you.

The following extracts come from a much longer article in the “The Ipswich Journal – Saturday 11 September 1841” [2]

“East Suffolk AGRICULTURAL ASSOCIATION. The tenth anniversary of this excellent association was held at Saxmundham on Thursday last, and the weather being fine, the attendance was numerous, though not quite so large as upon the last occasion, owing principally to the backward state of the harvest. The exhibition of stock took place in a paddock at the back of the Bell Inn;”

The Bell Inn Saxmundham

The Bell Inn, Saxmundham [3]

The section of the article that refers to Joshua Rodwell’s experiment is set out below.

Joshua R exhibits his Bokhara Clover 1841

The description from the Ipswich Journal Article describing Joshua’s experiment.

The Mr Loudon referred to in the article was John Claudius Loudon (8 April 1783 – 14 December 1843) a Scottish botanist, garden designer and author.

Bokhara Clover modern photo

Bokhara Clover

I cannot find a photo of a field under a crop of Bokhara Clover, but I understand that it is seen these days as a pernicious invasive weed across much of south east of the USA.

If the weather had been at all windy or wet, it must have become tangled with wind throw much like Rape does, and must have become very hard and unpleasant to harvest by hand.

Joshua appears to have persisted with the crop for several years because in 1843 a letter of his was read at the Royal Agricultural Society council meeting, although his conclusion, makes one wonder why he had persisted with the crop.


Bokhara Clover. — At a weekly council of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, held April 26th, a communication was read from Mr. Rodwell of Alderton Hall, Suffolk, on the cultivation and use of this plant. The height of the plant the first year from the seed was 8 feet 11 inches—the second year, in one experiment 11 feet 4 inches, in another, 12 feet 10 inches high. It was sown in drills 18 inches apart, each seed having six inches in the drills. The soil a rich loamy mould, deep and dry; the preparation, deep digging and manuring after potatoes. The spring shoots the second year were growing long before the lucerne was visible. Thus it possesses the advantage of great hardiness, early production, and enormous produce; but unfortunately it seems of very little use; for horses are not fond of it, and cows and pigs prefer other food. A suggestion is thrown out for stacking it in alternate layers without straw, and cutting the two into chaff for use; but it is to be feared that a plant which cattle would not willingly eat would afford them little nourishment. Would it be of value as a green manure?” [4]

Exhibitors at the Saxmundham meeting of the E Suffolk Ag Soc Sept 1841

A list of exhibitors at the meeting

One of the most interesting things about these reports of these 19th Century agricultural meetings which are available on the British Newspaper Archive online, are the lists of the exhibitors at these events.

I have collected several dozen of these reports, and some of these names are becoming old friends of mine, as they probably were to by gt… grandfather.

If you know anything about the lives of any of these people, I would be fascinated to hear from you.

Bell Inn Saxmundham

The Bell Hotel as the Bell Inn is now known.

With over 600 visitors to the show, the 9th September 1841 must have seen the town heaving with the farming community, coming in from all the nearby villages and farms.

Attendees at the Saxmundham meeting of the E Suffolk Ag Soc Sept 1841 2

The company admitted to the show

Most of these reports contain lists of the names of the most important attendees at these events. The lists are interesting because the author of the report must have gone to considerable trouble to collect the names.

He then went on to arrange the names into strict order of social precedence, in accordance with the social hierarchy that existed in those days. I expect it was in his interest to get as many of these names into the paper in the expectation, that they would then go out and buy the Ipswich Journal.

Some of the names in this list will be very familiar to you if you know your 19th Century Suffolk history.

Cobbold, Gooch, and R. Garrett, were all very successful at the time in their own careers, but are here overshadowed by the aristocrats and great and good listed at the top.

My 3 x great grandfather doesn’t get into this list.

There was a very interesting group of family historians based in Suffolk formed of members of the Jermyn family.  The Dr. Jermyn [5] listed here was the nephew of Henry Jermyn (1767 to 1820) who seems to have been the prime mover in a prolonged effort to record the family history of as many of his neighbours as possible.  He had worked in conjunction with his friend David Elisha Davy to record the family histories of most of the upper and middling classes in Suffolk.

His work is preserved in a series of huge hand written, bound ledgers that are held at the British Library. His writing is fantastically neat, and regular over many volumes and hundreds of pages.

Henry Jermyn and David Davy, and later his nephew had written to all the heads of families that made up the most substantial members not just of the great and good, but to most of the more substantial members of the farming community in Suffolk.[6]

Here is a transcript of a letter written to Dr. Jermyn by Joshua Rodwell that sets out how Joshua saw his own position in Suffolk Society.

“Dr. Sir,

I am favoured with your note requesting information respecting my family with a view to making an addition to your genealogical collection. I regret that the particulars of my family are totally devoid of interest & no member of it having to my knowledge stepped out of the ranks of the yeomanry in which we still remain. The only sign of “gentle birth”, is that of the arms used, being the same as those assumed and registered at the College of Arms by a family of the name of Radville, or Radiwell. My mothers family is one of great antiquity in this county for several centuries. A genealogical tree of the family (Medows) is now in the course of Publication by Mr. Taylor.

I am etc. J Rodwell
cop’d May 1840 by GBJ Ipswich 3 April 1840.”

The Dinner

The Dinner at the end of the show

As was usually the case, these events ended up in a huge dinner for most of the participants.

Many were the toasts given, and long speeches were the order of the day.

These are all reported at length (several column feet) in the Ipswich Journal, so I will leave those for you to find.

Did they all stay the night in Saxmundham, or did all these farmers then set off into the time in their gigs, traps or coaches?

Some of them were no doubt three sheets to the wind, by the time the dinner was over.

Joshua had sixteen miles to get home.

If you are able to add to any of the above please contact me at

[1] ‘Melilotus alba Desrousseaux. 803.’ – (‘Witte Honingklaver’). Bokhara Clover, Melilotus Albus. from



[4] Royal Cornwall Gazette – Friday 12 May 1843

[5] Probably Henry Jermyn who was a reknown local genealogist, but possibly his nephew. Page 1. John Batchelor; Lady Trevelyan and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.


Josiah Rodwell of Livermere

Hay Carting001

Josiah Rodwell was the first of the Rodwell’s whose work and capability initially caught my attention.  We are all so used to finding our family history in dusty archives or on paper, that it comes as a surprise to find ones family history expressed in a tangible form.  Josiah Rodwell’s most impressive surviving monument today is the avenue of Lime trees at Heath Farm, Livermere below.

Heath Farm avenue 2

Josiah was born on the 5th of October 1746. At present I am unsure where he was born, but it is very likely that it was at Wattesfield Hall, or possible Riddlesworth. He was the son of John and Catherine Rodwell, who were tenant farmers, who are known to have taken farms at Wattesfield Hall and then Riddlesworth, before moving to Mendlesham, where they are buried.

While it is known that for most of his adult life Josiah lived at Livermere, he was also at the time of his death Proprietor of the Manors of Elmstead, Aston in Suffolk and East Harling in Norfolk.  The latter property was later inherited by his grandchildren John Josiah & Anna Rodwell.

It is possible that he owned a small farm at East Harling before he moved to Livermere.  His brother Lionel Rodwell lived at East Harling, where he was miller for some time.

Josiah was married to Elizabeth Meadows, from Henley Hall who had been born on March 13th 1751. It is thought that he first took the lease of Livermere in 1771 when he was 25 years old.

Fourteen years after first leasing Livermere, Josiah Rodwell appears amongst a list of considerable sheep farmers.


BURY, Feb. 14, 1787

At a Meeting of some of the principle Wool Growers near Bury, held this day at the BELL INN, to take into consideration the bill now depending in parliament, relating to wool.

I. Resolved, That we consider many of the clauses of the said bill, as injurious and oppressive to the growers of wool. That it needlessly and wantonly multiplies restrictions, fines, forfeitures, and punishments.  Is entirely adapted to lower the price of wool; but not at all calculated for its pretended purpose, that of preventing the practise of smuggling

II. Resolved, That we do earnestly request the wool-growers in other parts of the country, to unite with us in our endeavours to oppose a measure that would be so generally detrimental; and we hope for the support of all land owners and others in opposing the bill, to procure a county meeting for rendering such an opposition regular and effective.

III. Resolved, That another meeting be held at the Angel Inn at Bury, on Wednesday the 21st day of this instant February, at Four o’clock in the afternoon, on the said day.


The story of Josiah’s work at Livermere is best told in his own words, written in a submission to the Board of Agriculture in 1799.

Title page

Page 451Page 452

Page 453

Page 454


Page 455

Marling in of itself was not a new process as it is known to have been undertaken in North East Norfolk earlier in the 18th Century, and was wide spread across North Norfolk by the 1780’s were it is described by William Marshall amongst others.
The reason why Josiah received the medal is however alluded to in an article in the Ipswich Journal dated Saturday 31st of May 1800.

“The Board Agriculture has presented Mr. Josiah Rodwell, of Livermere, with a gold medal, value for his great exertions in manuring of 1400 acres of land, in his own occupation, upon which he carried the greatest quantity of clay and marle ever accomplished, perhaps, in this country.”

In later posts I will return to other aspects of Josiah’s life, which was a very full one.  The time and way of his death perhaps illustrative of his way of life.  According to a note in the Gentleman’s Magazine, he had been at the Woolpit Fair.

“In his 56th year, Mr. Josiah Rodwell, an opulent farmer at Little Livermere, and highly distinguished for his agricultural knowledge.  He was at Woolpit fair the preceding evening; and, on the morning of his death, was as well as usual.”[i]

Josiah Rodwell died on the 21st of September 1802 and was buried at Livermere.[ii]

His burial was described in 1827 as being at Livermere Magna.

“Also a flat stone to Josiah Rodwell late of Livermere Parva who died Sept 21 1802.[iii]

Although I have been to Little Livermere churchyard several times, sadly, I have never been able to find his gravestone.  Does anybody know where it is?

In the absence of the gravestone, I like to think of the avenue of Lime Trees as his monument.

One other memorial of the incredible work that he and his workmen put in is still visible although they are disappearing fast as the tractors work them out.

In order to get to the Marl, it was first necessary to dig down through the sandy soil and subsoil. In this case the depth was about 5 to 6 feet.  The clay was then dug out into carts.  With 140,000 cart loads, requiring about 1.5 tonnes per load, this means that about 105,000m3 of clay was extracted, and in order to do this the overburden would have also to have been moved to one side. All in all, over 300,000m3 of material was hand dug.

To this day you can see signs of this in the fields surrounding Heath Farm.  The pits are visible on both 1945 RAF aerial photos, as well as on Google Earth.

In 1943 when the Army was looking for places to train the tank crews who would be taking Churchill AVRE and bridging tanks to Normandy on D-Day they chose the farm at Livermere as a suitable location.  The pits dug for Marl by Joshua and his men were used to represent craters for the new crews in training.


The pits are becoming every less easy to see as the years pass from the ground as intensive farming and ploughing is steadily removing them.  The dipping of the rows in the cropping seen here, shows the final traces of one of these pits in the ground.

Heath Farm 1900 Map

On the 25 inch to the mile Ordnance Survey map of the area published in 1900, the extent of these pits is clearly shown.  The name of the wood to the top right hand corner of this map “Marlehent Covert” confirms the purpose of these large excavations.

There are other pits present around the farm, however please do remember that the land is privately owned, and that there are few public rights of way across the fields besides those along the lanes.

Heath Farm 1900 Map 2

I would love to know who owns the farm, or who the tenants of Heath Farm are, as I would like very much to get permission to visit the house.

[i] The Gentleman’s Magazine, Volume 92, page 978 October 1802.

[ii] Davy’s Suffolk Collections LXXI, page 80 onwards. Davy, David Elisha (ca.1840) Suffolk Collections.  British Library Add. MSS. 19147. Davy lived from 1769 to 1851 and was both a botanist and antiquarian.

[iii] A concise description of Bury St. Edmund’s, and its environs, within the Distance of Ten Miles. Published 1827, page 242.