Thomas Hicks Chandler was born in 1811 in the village of Heytesbury, near Warminster, Wiltshire and became a farmer.
In the early 19th century, the national population was expanding rapidly and there was desperate need to maximise crop yields. Natural fertilizers such as guano (bird droppings) were being imported by ship from far off lands but the application to the soil was not always ‘targeted’. In 1848 Thomas purchased North Farm, Aldbourne and at about that time he invented and patented ‘Chandler’s Liquid Manure and Seed Drill’. An agricultural drill is a machine which plants the crop seed. Thomas dissolved bones in water to produce superphosphate and fed that liquid (via tubes) together with the crop seed and drilled them directly into the soil. The drill, pulled by horses, was manufactured to Thomas’s design by T & J Reeves from Westbury. Some farmers were initially sceptical of the invention but those who tried it were enthusiastic. One farmer tested it on his poorest land and soon produced ‘the heaviest and most abundant crop of swedes that had ever been known for miles around’. A dinner given in Thomas’s honour at which the Chairman apparently praised the drill poetically ‘….swedes and turnips grow where none had grown before and where they had
grown, now they grow the more’.
Within a year Thomas was rewarded with a Silver Medal from the Royal Agricultural Society. His drill was exhibited at The Great Exhibition in London in 1851 , where it was awarded another Prize Medal and ‘excited considerable attention and was highly commended’. Over the next 20 years his drill (and variations of it) went on to gain over 40 prestigious awards. By the late 1860s, after 19 years at North Farm, Thomas, no doubt benefiting financially from his drill (as they say, where there’s muck, there’s money!), withdrew from direct farming and handed over North Farm to one of his sons, William Chandler, who continued at North Farm until the early 1900s. Thomas was a devoted Church of England man and gave £200 (£2,000 at today’s values) towards the £2000 major restoration of St Michael’s Church in 1867. Thomas ‘retired’ to Rowde, near Devizes where he died in 1902, aged 90. The importance of his invention is recognised by a 1:4 scale model of his Seed Drill in the Science Museum collection in London. Original sales leaflets for the drill are in the National Archives (Kew) and in the Museum of English Rural Life (Reading). Digital images of the drill can be found on the Internet.
Incidentally, William Chandler was the man who in the late 1800s discovered the Roman history of North Farm. Artefacts from there were exhibited at the Crown Hotel in 1889 during a visit from the Wiltshire Archaeological Society. In recent years, the Chandler name is remembered in the village by way of Chandlers Lane, off Lottage Road.