How to look for records of... National Farm Survey of England and Wales 1941-1943

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

How many are online?

  • None

1. Why use this guide?

This guide will help you find and use the records of the National Farm Survey of England and Wales, carried out between 1941 and 1943.

These records can provide information on:

  • farm land
  • farmers and farm owners
  • life on a farm
  • the wider community within the parish where a farm was located

As a source for local and family historians the records of the National Farm Survey are of great value, and for the historical geographer these records present an enormous database of land ownership and land usage in mid-20th century Britain.

2. Why was there a National Farm Survey?

When the Second World War began in September 1939, Britain was faced with an urgent need to increase food production, as imports of food and fertilisers were drastically cut. The area of land under cultivation had to be increased significantly and quickly. The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries set up War Agricultural Executive Committees in each county (‘County War Ags’) to carry out a farm survey between 1940 and 1941 (see section 9.1), and to use the information collected to bring uncultivated land under the plough and to improve poor farms.

Once the short-term objective of increasing food production had been met, the government decided to carry out a more general National Farm Survey between 1941 and 1943, with a longer-term purpose of providing data that would form the basis of post-war planning. Such a survey was seen at the time as a ‘Second Domesday Book’, a ‘permanent and comprehensive record of the conditions on the farms of England and Wales’.

For more detail on the background and administration of the surveys, see the books listed in section 11.

3. What are the components of the survey?

Every farm and holding of five acres and more was surveyed, including those of market gardeners, horticulturists, and poultry-keepers. The resulting National Farm Survey consists of two distinct components:

  • A set of forms for every farm, completed by farmers and farm inspectors, referred to in this guide as ‘individual farm records‘ or sometimes simply ‘the forms’. They make up record series MAF 32.
  • A set of maps for each county, based on Ordnance Survey maps, showing the land belonging to each farm. These make up record series MAF 73.

Each part of the survey for a given farm bears that farm’s unique code. This comprises an abbreviation of the county name, the parish number, and the individual farm number: for example NK 531/7 for the Norfolk parish of Stiffkey (531) and the individual farm number 7 for Old Hall Farm. This may be useful as there may be many farm records within a parish.

4. How to search for National Farm Survey records: overview

National Farm Survey records are not viewable online. You can use Discovery, our online catalogue, to search for document and map references but to view the individual farm records and the maps themselves you will need either to visit The National Archives at Kew or order copies (for an entire parish). Alternatively, you can pay for research.

Generally the forms and the maps are consulted together; the map provides the extent and layout of the farm, while the forms provide the details (as described in section 6). However, the maps and forms are not filed together and therefore need to be requested separately, using different document references.

You may wish to consult the map first, for the following reasons:

  • if you do not know the name or parish of your farm but just the approximate area where it lay (especially if it is a place since urbanised)
  • for a large parish, to obtain the survey’s individual farm code (see section 3) which could save you time looking through large numbers of forms

5. The maps

5.1 About the maps

The maps are a graphic index to the individual farm records in MAF 32 (see section 6). The National Farm Survey used Ordnance Survey maps as a base; you can use the printed topographical detail to help you identify the area you require. Handwritten detail was added to these base maps showing where each farm lay and its extent. On the most complete maps, each farm is identified by:

  • coloured boundaries or colour wash over the whole area
  • individual farm codes in black ink – useful for finding the corresponding individual farm records (see section 6)
  • cross references, for farms spread across more than one map, to the map sheets where the additional land holdings appear

5.2 How to find a map

You will need to visit The National Archives at Kew to find a particular National Farm Survey map or pay for research.

The maps are in record series MAF 73. To order a map you will need to know its document reference, the first part of which will always be MAF 73. To find the other two parts of the reference you will need to be onsite in our research and enquiries rooms (specifically the Map and Large Document Reading Room) following the steps below.

Step 1: Consult the large folder of county index maps for MAF 73. These maps are arranged in alphabetical order by county for England, then Wales. Find the index map for the county you seek. Note the large stamped number in the lower right-hand corner, which is the second part of the document reference. For example, for Herefordshire this is 17.

Step 2: Find the area of the map where your farm lies and note the number in the centre of the large rectangular grid in which it lies. This is the third and final part of the document reference. For example, Lea in Herefordshire lies in rectangle number 52 so the full reference for that map is MAF 73/17/52. Make a note of this full {document reference[1]}.

Step 3: Looking closely at the index map you will see that each numbered rectangle is divided into 16 smaller rectangles. To know which sheet to look at when you come to view your map it will help to note:

  • the number of the small rectangle (from 1 to 16) – this will be useful if 25-inch scale sheets were used for that area
  • the quadrant your farm falls in (NW, NE, SW, or SE) – this will be useful if 6-inch scale sheets were used for that area

In the example used above, Lea in Herefordshire falls in the SW quadrant in rectangle number 10.

Step 4: Request your map using the three-part document reference and our document ordering system.

5.3 Viewing a map

You will receive your maps in folders. The inside flap of the folders is stamped with a small grid representing the numbered rectangle you requested and showing which maps on the grid are included.

Where the 25-inch scale maps were used, you will receive a folder of 16 map sheets arranged in numerical order 1-16.

Where the 6-inch scale maps were used, you will receive a folder usually of four map sheets. Each one represents a quarter of the large numbered rectangle: the NW, NE, SW and SE quadrants.

The numbering on these maps, in the top right corner, is partly in Roman numerals. Supposing you had requested the maps for rectangle 15 on the index map, the maps themselves, if there are 16 of them, will be numbered XV.1, XV.2, XV.3 and so on; and if there are four of them, they will be numbered XV NW, XV NE, XV SW and XV SE.

Turn to the sheet you noted in Step 3 (see section 5.2).

If you are viewing the map before viewing the individual farm records (described in section 6):

  • Find the farm you seek on the map and note the individual farm number handwritten on it. Also note from the map the (civil) parish in which the farm lay, as you will need this to order the individual farm record forms

If you are viewing the map after viewing the individual farm records:

  • You can find the farm using the farm code, to view the layout and detail of its fields, buildings and roads

If your farm had any other lands which are shown on adjacent map sheets, this will normally be indicated by the appropriate Ordnance Survey map reference; on the other map(s), look for the same individual farm code.

Please keep the maps in order, and return them in the order you find them.

6. The individual farm records

6.1 What information is on the individual farm record?

Each individual farm record comprises up to four forms. Each form gives:

  • the name of the farmer and farm
  • the address
  • the parish
  • the individual farm code (see section 3)

Three of these forms were effectively an enlarged 1941 farm census return, posted to the farmer for him to complete on 4 June 1941. The three forms show details of:

  • small fruit, vegetables, and stocks of hay and straw
  • agricultural land
  • labour, engines, rent, and length of occupancy

The fourth form, the Primary Farm Survey, was completed by an inspector who visited the farm and interviewed the farmer. The Primary Farm Survey has four sections:

  • section A: ‘tenure’, stating whether the farmer was a tenant or owner, full or part time
  • section B: ‘conditions of farm’, assessing farm layout, soil type, condition of buildings and roads, and the degree of infestation with weeds or pests
  • section C: water and electricity provision
  • section D: ‘management’, in which the inspector had to classify the farm reflecting how a farmer managed his resources:
    • well (A)
    • fairly well (B)
    • badly (C)

If B or C were due not to old age or lack of capital but to ‘personal failings’, the inspector had to say what these were. This was to assess where farm management could be improved, but was naturally a controversial part of the survey.

6.2 How to find individual farm records

The individual farm records of the National Farm Survey 1941-1943 are in record series MAF 32. The records are arranged by county and then alphabetically by parish within each county.

If you know the parish in which the farm lay, search for the name of the parish in our catalogue. For instance, to find the farm records for Wennington in Lancashire, enter ‘Wennington’ as your keyword into the search box in MAF 32 (with this example, you should find MAF 32/577/186).

If you do not know the parish of your farm, or it is a very large parish, to obtain the individual farm number that it was given by the survey you will need to:

  • Consult one of the survey maps (see section 5) for the parish and farm code (see section 3)
  • Once you have the parish code, use the search box in MAF 32 to search by county and code. For instance a search using the keywords ‘Somerset’ and ‘255’ shows that the relevant parish is Muchelney
  • Your full {document reference[1]} will be, for example, MAF 32/144/255 for Muchelney. Order the forms for the parish

6.3 Viewing the records

Individual farm records are stored in folders. Each folder contains four loose stacks of forms for a number of farms within a parish, one stack for each of the four types of form. Within these groups, the forms are arranged in numerical sequence by the individual farm codes. When looking at the documents please do not alter the order in which you find them – if any appear to be out of order, then please inform a member of staff.

7. How to find records of the planning, implementation and analysis of the survey

Records of the planning and implementation of the two surveys of 1940 and of 1941-1943 are in the record series MAF 38 in the following piece ranges:

Statistical analyses of the National Farm Survey arranged by county are in MAF 38/852-863.

A proof copy of National Farm Survey, England & Wales (1941-1943): a Summary Report (HMSO, 1946) which contains a statistical analysis of the survey data is in MAF 38/216, together with copies of press releases. Contemporary press releases issued by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries include historical notes on the original Domesday Survey and on other land surveys that had been carried out over the centuries.

8. Minutes of the County War Agricultural Executive Committees

Minutes of the County War Agricultural Executive Committees (see section 2) and of their sub-committees are in MAF 80. Some volumes have detailed indexes that include farm names. These records are subject to a closure period of 50 years, but all pieces may be seen by readers on completion of an undertaking form (for a copy of this form speak to the Document Services staff at Kew).

9. Other farm surveys

9.1 The 1940-1941 survey

Between June 1940 and the early months of 1941, some 85% of the agricultural area in England and Wales was surveyed – all but the smallest farms. This survey classified farms into one of three categories: A, B, or C, according to their productive state, rather than the managerial efficiency of the farmer, as was the case with the 1941-1943 survey.

No individual farm records of this survey appear to have survived. However, summarised reports by county of the 1940-1941 survey are in MAF 38/213. You can view them by visiting The National Archives at Kew or paying for copies to be sent to you.

9.2 Parish Summaries of Agricultural Returns

From 1866 there were annual surveys of agricultural land and livestock and there are statistics drawn from these in record series MAF 68. The system of individual farm codes is the same as that used for the National Farm Survey, of which the 4 June 1941 returns provide a unique survival of completed forms. Use the advanced search in our catalogue, placing the county name in the Keyword box and MAF 68 in the ‘Search within’ field.

10. The farm survey in Scotland

An abridged report on the equivalent but more limited farm survey carried out in Scotland, 1941-1943 is in MAF 38/217.

The National Records of Scotland holds records of the Scottish Agricultural Executive Committees and maps showing farm boundaries.

11. Further reading

Search The National Archives’ Library catalogue to see what is available to consult at Kew.

Brian Short, Charles Watkins, William Foot and Phil Kinsman, The National Farm Survey 1941-1943: State surveillance and the countryside in England and Wales in the Second World War (1999)

G Beech and R Mitchell, chapter 4, Maps for family and local history (The National Archives, 2004)