Sunday, May 11, 2014

Land Use in Britain - Early Modern through Agricultural Revolution

After 1500 AD:
Land Use in Britain (full version) – The Agricultural Revolution.

Sections:
Farming Systems and Landholding.
The rhythm and grind of agriculture.
Regional agriculture and prevalent obstacles to food production.
Enclosure and Engrossing.
Markets.
The ingredients of agricultural revolution.
Bibliography for all segments (opens in separate page)

Farming Systems and Landholding:

Land tenure had long been regulated by local custom, but, by the end of the fifteenth century major shifts in landholding occurred – paving the way for agrarian reform and the agricultural revolution.

Social status was determined by birth and social origins, and by property. There was a wide range of wealth within each class, and wealth enabled mobility, usually after one generation, between status groups. The occupational label ‘farmer’ was not widespread until the eighteenth century – prior to this, the terms denoting community status were used. Specific terms were used to denote specialist agricultural activities: Drover, Grazier, Ploughman, Marshman, Shepherd, Gardener, and Fisherman.

Ranked from lowest to highest on the agricultural hierarchy were: laborer, husbandman, yeoman / gentleman, esquire, knight, baron, earl, duke, and monarch. Gentlemen represented only 2% of the population, but owned a quarter to a third of all farmland by the early sixteenth century (doesn’t this sound like the third world?) The wealthier and better educated ‘gentleman farmer’ was able to read about, and exploit, profitable innovations in agriculture – new crops, new plant species and animal breeds, new agricultural and management techniques. Further, economies of scale and political ‘clout’ enabled the wealthier landowners to expand their fortunes at the expense of their ‘inferiors.’

Tables: Tenure table : System of Estates table.

Farming Systems and Landholding.
Regional agriculture and prevalent obstacles to food production.
Enclosure and Engrossing.
Markets.
The ingredients of agricultural revolution.

The rhythm and grind of agriculture

Almost all agriculture in the early sixteenth century was mixed-farming, combining both arable and livestock husbandry. Grazing flocks and herds provided manure to the meadows and kept down bracken and sedge grasses.

Arable husbandry produces more food per acre for human consumption than does animal husbandry, however maintenance of some livestock remained essential to the farmer of early modern Britain. Aside from meat, dairy products, eggs, and skins, animals were essential for draught work until the industrial revolution, and for their manure until the twentieth century.


The medieval agricultural year, as depicted by Pietro de Crescenzi (c. 1230/35 – c. 1320)
(Comprehensive description of the medieval farming year.) In August or September arable land was ploughed. Land that had been used for pasture was ploughed up to five or six times, while arable fields were ploughed about four times. In wet areas, several feet separated the top of a ploughed ridge from the adjacent drainage furrow. Soil drainage was a major problem in Britain. Early attempts to control wetness involved the ploughing of deep ridges and furrows, trenching, and the digging of ditches. Hollow drains, filled with bushes or stones and covered with soil, first appeared in the seventeenth century. The modern subsurface ‘tile’ drain was not invented until the nineteenth century.

Remnant ridges and furrows, Wood Stanway, Gloucestershire.
Sheep grazing in curved ridges and furrows. Dumbleton, Gloucestershire.


Seed was broadcast-sown with one of the winter cereals in September or October. Farmers selectively sowed the seeds most likely to yield a good harvest. The winter cereals were wheat or rye, or a mixture of both, called ‘maslin’ or ‘mixlyn.’ From February to April, when the soil had warmed enough for an adequate tilth, the spring crops were sown – barley, or six-rowed bigg in the north; oats; and, peas and beans. Between sowing and harvesting, the fields were cleared of nutrient-competing weeds.

Hay was cut in June and July – scythe-mown grass was raked into ‘cocks’ then stored in the barn or in straw-thatched ‘ricks.’ The cereals were harvested in August or September. Winter grains were harvested before spring crops. Wheat and rye were ‘reaped’ with a small sickle, barley and oats were ‘mown’ with a larger scythe. The cut stalks were bound into sheaves, stacked into ‘stooks,’ and left in the field for a week or so to dry. Later the stooks were stored in a barn, or piled into straw-thatched ‘stacks.’ The fields were gleaned after the harvest – scoured for fallen grain – a laborious process performed by women and children. The labor of marling, creating a fine tilth, sowing, hoeing and pulling of turnips was performed during arable slack-times.

Throughout the year, grain was threshed as needed – this was a skilled procedure whereby grain was separated from the stalk by beating with a hinged, wooden flail. The grain was then winnowed to remove chaff, and passed through a sieve or corn screen to separate valuable grain from the seeds of nuisance weeds.

Pastures required little attention beyond clearing weeds, like thistles and docks, and removing pests such as moles. Livestock required fodder over the winter months – hay, softened barley, peas and beans, carrots, and turnips; and oats for horses. As much as twenty per cent of the arable harvest was reserved as fodder for livestock. Although livestock husbandry required less labor than arable farming, the livestock required considerable attention – young animals were born in the spring, and must soon be weaned. Young male livestock not required for breeding purposes were castrated. Sheep were washed and clipped in June. From May to October sheep were folded, and cattle were sometimes tethered, on arable land – usually on the fallow. Animals were bred in September and October (winter cereals were sown in these months.) Pigs, hens, geese, ducks, bees, and sometimes pigeons, were also raised. Depending upon location, a farmer might also tend a kitchen garden, an orchard, or a section of woodland.

Regular daily chores included the cutting of wood for fuel, and the maintenance and repair of buildings, fences, hedges, and ditches. On a daily basis, dairy cattle and sheep were milked in the morning and the evening – the milk was processed by women into butter and cheese. Many farmers, particularly those who specialized in raising livestock, had time to supplement their incomes through cottage industry, making crafts, or working at a trade.

Farming Systems and Landholding.
The rhythm and grind of agriculture.
Enclosure and Engrossing.
Markets.
The ingredients of agricultural revolution.

Regional agriculture and prevalent obstacles to food production

Crops grown and animals raised varied from region to region, and from one farm to another within a region. English agriculture gradually moved from the subsistence-level small farm, characterized by trade of surplus at local markets, to more efficient regional agricultural specialization supplying national and international markets.

Regardless of the local soils, climate, settlement patterns and community organization, all farmers faced similar agricultural challenges. The main obstacles to food production continued to be loss of soil fertility, the vagaries of weather, and losses due to weeds, animal pests, and diseases of plants and animals. After the sixteenth century, limited availability of land became an increasingly widespread problem.

Farming Systems and Landholding.
The rhythm and grind of agriculture.
Regional agriculture and prevalent obstacles to food production.
Markets.
The ingredients of agricultural revolution.

Enclosure and Engrossing


Common rights were initially extended to those who possessed a cottage and some arable land – in areas with plentiful land, all inhabitants had access to common grazing. Rights to common pasture were unlimited in the less fertile pastoral areas of the Pennines and the northern counties, around the lowland forests, and in fen areas. Despite losses due to coastal erosion in some areas, large areas of saltmarsh were reclaimed for grazing. Grazing land was increasingly scarce in all heavily populated mixed-farming districts and in some pastoral areas of the west Midlands.

Wool prices in England in 1343 (Marks per sack).
In England the "mark" never appeared as a coin, but was only used as a unit of account. It was apparently introduced in the 10th century by the Danes. According to 19th century sources, it was first equivalent to 100 pence, but after the Norman Conquest (1066) it was worth 160 pence, or 13 shillings and 4 pence, i.e. two-thirds of a pound sterling (approx. 250 g in silver).

The high price of wool was a stimulus to enclosure. Landowners who acquired control of larger plots of land were able to enclose their fields – containing their own flocks, and excluding their neighbors’ animals. The economic and social consequences of enclosure differed from one region to another. If adequate common-land remained for the grazing of other villagers’ livestock there was no outcry, but riots and disturbances ensued in counties where enclosure caused hardship by depriving the community’s livestock of grazing. The greatest problems occurred in lowland villages with inadequate quantities of common-land, or in those with an expanding population that had relied upon previously large areas of common-field. Sixteenth century enclosures aroused considerable indignation in the East Midlands. However, enclosure caused no difficulties in the sparsely populated, pastoral Pennines. Most land had already been enclosed without consternation in Essex, Suffolk, Kent, Hertfordshire, Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Shropshire, Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall.

Enclosure of common fields between 1700 and 1800 CE. 
Estimates suggest that only 2 per cent of the land was enclosed in the sixteenth century, but that enclosure jumped to 24 per cent of land in the seventeenth century, 13 per cent in the eighteenth century, and 11.4 per cent from 1800 to 1914.

Engrossing involved the consolidation of two or more farms into a single farm. Enclosure and engrossing were independent processes – both procedures could affect farms, or one transformation could proceed without the other. Both processes caused depopulation, but engrossing created a greater problem because it displaced people directly from the land.

Farming Systems and Landholding.
The rhythm and grind of agriculture.
Regional agriculture and prevalent obstacles to food production.
Enclosure and Engrossing.
The ingredients of agricultural revolution.

Markets

Markets function to redistribute commodities from suppliers to producers. At the outset of the sixteenth century England had about 1800 market towns, supporting populations calculated to be around 10,000. Each town held markets once or twice weekly for its small hinterland of about 10 miles radius. There was little inter-market trading except during fairs held once or twice annually; goods from a wider area were traded at the market fairs. Prices were governed by customs and regulations, not by supply and demand.

After the end of the eighteenth century, few market towns remained but urbanization had increased. Most commodities were traded at a national level, some items were transported large distance from regions of specialized agriculture. Transportation was commonly along rivers and newly constructed waterways, along much improved roads, and eventually by railroad. Competitive bid-pricing predominated, the variety and quantity of traded goods had vastly increased, and middlemen abounded.

Livestock, being able to transport themselves, and animal products, fetching higher prices per weight, were the first commodities moved from localized markets, through inter-markets, to national markets (by the seventeenth century.) Grain was traded at the inter-market level by the sixteenth century.

Farming Systems and Landholding.
The rhythm and grind of agriculture.
Regional agriculture and prevalent obstacles to food production.
Enclosure and Engrossing.
Markets.

The ingredients of agricultural revolution

A complex accumulation of incremental changes contributed to the revolution in agricultural efficiency that accelerated in the nineteenth century.

The total acreage under cultivation increased through reclamation of marsh, saltmarsh, rough pastures, heathlands, and upland wastes, and through further clearance of woodland. However, agricultural technological advances played a greater rôle in increased productivity – for example, windmills aided the continuing drainage of reclaimed fenlands; and, hollow drains, and later tile drains, improved the management of England’s heavy, wet soils.

Soil fertility was improved through preservation and restoration of soil nutrients, particularly nitrogen. Initially, ‘rest’ periods under fallow allowed soils to recuperate. Marling improved soil structure and pH balance, promoting regeneration of soil nitrogen and rendering soils suitable for ‘fussier’ crops.

Changes in landholding and tenures, enclosure, and engrossing resulted in larger, capital-rich farms. The larger scale farmer was able to adopt innovations and to focus on efficiency, labor management, and profit. Convertible husbandry, combining arable, ‘ley fields,’ and increased livestock (aided by enclosure) improved the ‘recycling’ of nitrogen and increased productivity. Floating of meadows provided early fodder for increasing numbers of livestock. Stall feeding of livestock on fodder, and folding livestock overnight on arable fields, improved the distribution of manure. Ultimately, variations on the Norfolk four-course crop rotations exploited leguminous and root-fodder crops to reduce or eliminate fallow. The sophisticated rotations, coupled with more advanced breeds of livestock, preserved soil fertility, produced greater yields of animal products, and increased the portion of acreage under tillage.

Widening markets, improved transportation, and greater awareness of the optimum use of regional soils led to regional agricultural specialization. Although increasing acreage was devoted to profitable non-edible crops, new food crops were introduced, and more productive food-crops were grown in optimized proportions. Each advance increased product per acre per year – allowing population to expand, and supporting the industrial revolution by fueling the factories with manpower.

Improvements in agricultural education aided more efficient farm and labor management. Agricultural manpower was supplemented by an increase in draught horses, by improved tools (including the seed drill and horse hoe), and by the eventual replacement of draught animals by machinery. The introduction of disease-resistant hybrids, chemical fertilizers (superphoshates were developed first,) fungicides, and pesticides allowed further increases in productivity.



Modern geographers are concerned with the impact of man upon the environment, and with the changing utilization of the land.  The tile-drainage system that greatly improved agricultural productivity is hidden, but essential. Planned tree-farming has reversed a little of the massive deforestation wrought upon Britain both for clearance of land for agriculture, and to supply prime timber for shipbuilding. For the ships that made Britain a rich and powerful colonial nation by the turn of the twentieth century – a position usurped by one of Britain’s former colonies.

A recent concern of geographers in Britain has been the removal of hedgerows, fences, and walls – destroying the quaint patchwork-quilt landscape – the same ‘enclosed’ landscape that had aroused such opposition in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In order to permit movement of large farm machines, farmers are opening up their fields – by no means a full return to the medieval open-field system, but a step away from the picturesque ‘Oh-so-British’ scenery.

Farming Systems and Landholding.
The rhythm and grind of agriculture.
Regional agriculture and prevalent obstacles to food production.
Enclosure and Engrossing.
Markets.
The ingredients of agricultural revolution.

Land Use in Britain – Overview.
Land Use in Britain – Stone Age to Iron Age.
Land Use in Britain – Romans and Vikings.
Land Use in Britain – Normans bring Feudalism.


Land Use in Britain (full version) – The Agricultural Revolution.

Land Use in Britain – Bibliography.

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