A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 4. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1959.
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AGRICULTURE c. 1500c. 1793
In the 16th century Wiltshire, excluding enclaves, comprehended parts of various farming regions. In the north was the Cheese Country devoted to cheese dairy farming and grazing. To the extreme south-west lay a small part of the Butter Country, and in the extreme south-east there were fragments of a forest-pasture region. The Chalk Country of south Wiltshire formed the centre of a great region of sheep-and-corn husbandry. In the extreme north-west there was a fringe of the Cotswold Country, another great district of sheep-and-corn farming. Still a further sheep-and-corn country extended along the ridge of Corallian hills that runs through the Vale of White Horse to the Oxford Heights. (fn. 1) In the 16th and 17th centuries the Cheese Country was being formed, extended, and defined by the conversion of permanent tillage and rough grazing to up-and-down land and to permanent grass, and by the clearance of woodland by and for the cattle and sheep of the dairymen and graziers. Each farming country had its own peculiar characteristics, and its own distinct plan of management, but the two most important farming countries of which large parts were in Wiltshire were the Chalk and Cheese countries. These were truly as different as chalk and cheese. Each had its own life and its own history. (fn. 2)
Both the Cheese and the Butter were inclosed countries. (fn. 3) Three-quarters of these countries were already inclosed in the 17th century, mostly with hedges and ditches, and only a small proportion of commonable land remained in the 18th century. There were common heaths and rough grazings and common fields of permanent tillage and permanent grass, but most of the land was in severalty and appropriated partly to upand-down land, in which temporary tillage alternated with temporary grass, and partly permanent grass, of which a small part was permanent meadow and the rest was mown and grazed in rotation. The grass, the chief constituents of which were perennial ryegrass, dogstail, and wild white clover, was used mostly for cattle, mainly for the dairy and partly for meat production. The chief objects of farming were, in order of importance, cheese or butter, beef, bacon, mutton, and wool. Some butter was made in the Cheese Country and some cheese in the Butter Country, but specialization was virtually complete. As Aubrey says, 'All the low grounds of North Wilts abound with a sowre herbage, which makes it so proper for good cheese'; while 'at Pertwood and about Lidyard (Lydiard Tregoze) as good butter is made as any in England, but the cheese is not so good'. (fn. 4) About half the beasts were milch kine, and the sheep were only 50 per cent. more numerous than the beasts. The Longhorn dairy herds of the Cheese Country were maintained by imports from north-western England. Cheese was made chiefly from spring and summer grass, but some was also produced in winter from hay. The surplus cattle of the dairies were fatted in the summer months, together with runts and other stores imported from Wales. In spring and summer, too, sheep were imported for fattening as they ran with the cattle and kept the grass trim. The management of the Butter Country was similar, except that here the West Country was the chief source of cattle. The cheese, butter, and fat stock of these commanded a wide sale and became famous in Smithfield and other metropolitan marketing centres. Tillage was of secondary importance and was mainly undertaken to provide a supply of straw, fodder, and food for consumption on the farm and for the restoration of grassland depleted by the dairy herds. The smaller occupiers seldom engaged extensively in tillage and most farmers were content to supply teams for their swing ploughs from their dairy and beef herds.
Sheep-down made up about half of the Chalk Country. Of the other half about threequarters was arable, partly up-and-down land, but mostly permanent tillage, and onequarter permanent grass. Although there was a small but increasing acreage of inclosed land, the Chalk Country remained generally champion. In the 17th century common rights still obtained over somewhat more than half the farmland, though their extinction was a continuous process throughout the period. Sheep-and-corn husbandry always reigned supreme. The sheep fed on the down during the day and were folded at night on the tillage, of which the chief crops were barley and wheat. Horses and wheel ploughs were generally employed. The farms had domestic dairies, but the objects of farming, in descending order, were barley, wheat, lambs, malt, and wool. (fn. 5) Cereals were thus the chief commodities produced, and these sold as far afield as Bristol and Wales. (fn. 6) In the part of the Cotswold Country that lay in Wiltshire there was less sheep-walk than in the Chalk Country, dairying became more important, and oxen were more frequently used in draught, while until the middle of the 17th century barley was the chief crop. Along the Corallian ridge a higher proportion of the land was inclosed. Otherwise, however, both these sheep-and-corn countries were similar to the Chalk Country. (fn. 7)
Small inclosed fields well suited the Cheese and Butter countries, where the grazing beasts were left more or less unattended. Many of the cold, tenacious common fields were inclosed and converted to permanent grass or to up-and-down land, but much of the inclosure was directly from woodland and rough grazing. Hedging and ditching were great improvements in themselves. Other works might include the construction of ponds and bridges. To create such closes from heath and woodland inevitably enriched the country and peopled it with dairymen, graziers, part-time farmers, and part-time industrial workers. If some ploughs were put down, more were set up and inclosure and the increase of population generally went hand in hand. (fn. 8)
There was extensive inclosure and some depopulation in the Cotswold Country in the later 17th century, (fn. 9) but the Chalk Country remained essentially champion. Inclosures were often made from marsh, meadow, heath, or down, but their total extent was not great. Conversion to permanent grass was insignificant and the arable acreage was, indeed, increased. Yet there appears to have been depopulation, both in the wider sense and in the narrower one of the putting down of the ploughs of small cultivators. (fn. 10) When Edmund Ludlow inclosed common-field land in Hill Deverill, it was credibly testified that 'whereas the ancient tenants kept ploughs . . . the new cottagers do live but barely, only by their day labour'. Some of the cottagers, together with servants in husbandry, who were quartered in a converted farmhouse, were engaged in ploughing and other work for Ludlow himself, but some may have been reduced to beggary. (fn. 11) In the sheep-and-corn countries there was, indeed, a great increase in the numbers of very small and landless holdings, and a relative decline in the numbers of medium holdings suited for operation as family concerns. This occurred even in the Chalk Country, despite the small progress made by inclosure. In the Chalk Country many situations were too exposed and bleak, and many of the soils too thin for the cultivation of quickset hedges. Moreover, since the land was highly absorbent, ditch draining was unnecessary. To have divided the land into small closes would, furthermore, merely have impeded tillage operations. Hedges and ditches were useful in the home closes, and in up-and-down land, but not elsewhere. The sheep were either behind hurdles or on the open down in the charge of shepherd and dog, under whose watchful eyes they could feed the sheep-down close to open corn fields. The beasts and horses were either in the yard or the home closes, or tethered or attended by a cowherd. For these reasons, much land in severalty could conveniently remain uninclosed. There is no reason to assume that all open land was at one time subject to common rights, but even where the land was put into severalty by the extinction of such rights, the landscape was often little changed. This explains why the social changes that accompanied the extinction of common rights and the decline of the small-scale cultivator have attracted little attention in the Chalk Country, though agrarian life underwent incomparably greater changes here than in the inclosed Cheese Country. (fn. 12)
Inclosure, the extinction of common rights, and the putting of the land into severalty were usually accomplished everywhere by agreement. An entry under the year 1548 in a court book of Whaddon (near Melksham) affords an early example of such an agreement:
it is agreed between the farmer, Henry Long, and the tenants there that the said farmer shall have and inclose the 14 acres of land now in the holding of the said tenants in the Myl furlong upon Almed, in recompense whereof the said tenants shall have and inclose other 14 acres of the said farmers, which he now occupieth lying in Longlond and at the Yate. The lord doth grant and agree that at any time hereafter that it shall be lawful to the said farmer and the tenants to permute and exchange any other their lands, to inclose and make several for the wealth of them, or any of them, as need shall require, and the exchange so made to be recorded at the next court following. (fn. 13)
Some inclosures were less straight-forward than this. Usually the land was measured, divided, and allotted by a professional surveyor under the supervision of a special committee of the tenants, and the agreement recorded in the court rolls. Inclosures might also be agreed in indentures multipartite, or decided by a special commission out of the Exchequer, or Duchy of Lancaster. Sometimes, too, the agreement might be ratified by a collusive action in Chancery. However the inclosure, or division, was agreed and sanctioned, measurement, division, and allotment were conducted meticulously and equitably, and the surveyors and committees were democratically chosen. Expenses were usually met by a rate levied on the participants. (fn. 14) Agreement, it is true, was not always unanimous, for the decisions of manor courts depended on a simple majority. Moreover, it was only those who had an estate in the land who could expect to have a voice in the proceedings. It is understandable, therefore, that inclosure by agreement sometimes encountered opposition, and that this opposition was occasionally carried to the point of levelling. (fn. 15) Inclosure by agreement and the regulation of commonfield husbandry both led to some disputes, but these did not impair the essentially democratic character of either. (fn. 16)
From 1725 onwards, the increasing dilatoriness of Chancery proceedings led to the sanction of collusive actions being more frequently replaced by what had always been the alternative expedient of a private Act of Parliament. Inclosures thus came first to be sanctioned, and then to be authorized, by normal private-Bill procedure. No doubt a considerable fraction of the countryside, and particularly of the Chalk Country, was divided under private Acts. (fn. 17) Lists of parliamentary Acts and awards, and calculations of the areas which they concerned, or purported to concern, are, however, but feeble indications of the incidence and progress of inclosure. Most of the Cheese Country was inclosed long before the first parliamentary Inclosure Act was passed, and so was most of the Corallian hill district. The greater part of the inclosure of the Cotswold Country took place in the latter part of the 17th and the opening years of the 18th centuries. Meanwhile the proportion of severalty in the Chalk Country was as much as two-thirds in some townships, and no less than a quarter in many. There were parliamentary inclosures of Fovant, Alvediston, Broad Chalke, and Bower Chalke in 1792, but already in 15678 about 11 per cent. of the land of Chalke (fn. 18) was in severalty, and 13 per cent. by 16312. At these dates about two-thirds of Alvediston was in severalty, while there were further inclosures of field- and down-land there in the early 18th century. At Fovant about 59 per cent. of the land was already in severalty in 1632, and here, and at Alvediston, much of the severalty was hedged. Thus, to say that these townships were inclosed by Act of Parliament would be mistaken. (fn. 19) Moreover, it must be remembered that in the Chalk Country the awards under Acts for 'dividing and allotting' common land were not always followed by hedging or fencing. Often the awards stipulated that six-inch lynchards should be left to mark the bounds of allotments. (fn. 20) Furthermore, some severalty lands, and even inclosures, were exchanged by means of the awards, or included amongst the lands to be divided and re-allotted by the commissioners. (fn. 21) Finally, some of the lands divided were allotted in tenantry, and laid out in common open fields, downs, marshes, and meadows, whose common husbandry was regulated by the awards themselves, (fn. 22) as at Fovant, Ebbesborne Wake, Urchfont, Alvediston, and Bishopstone (Downton hundred). Parliamentary inclosures were not essentially different from non-parliamentary, and formed part of a continuous series of divisions and allotments variously sanctioned and recorded. In form the parliamentary inclosures resemble those by agreement, and it is difficult to doubt that they often proceeded in face of the disagreement of some of the occupiers or proprietors and that various inducements and pressures were used to overcome opposition. The awards themselves have every appearance of being scrupulously made, but we cannot exclude the possibility that the poor were sometimes given harsh treatment or the smaller occupiers disadvantaged. (fn. 23)
There were also, however, some arbitrary inclosures. Emparkments were especially common in the years immediately after the dissolution of the monasteries. Thus Nicholas Snell emparked from the West Field of Kington St. Michael, (fn. 24) the Earl of Pembroke from the field at Washern Grange, (fn. 25) Sir John Thynne at Longleat, and the Duke of Somerset at Savernake. In the last two instances some tenants were displaced, but they were given at least some other land in exchange. (fn. 26) The emparkment made by Henry VIII at Vastern, and the subsequent disparkment by the Englefields, occasioned a long dispute between that family and the townsfolk of Wootton Bassett. (fn. 27) Amongst the other arbitrary inclosures were those made by cultivating squires like Edmund Ludlow, and by the burgess oligarchy of Malmesbury. (fn. 28) But the most extensive of all the arbitrary inclosures was that carried out by James I and Charles I in the forests of Selwood, Chippenham and Melksham, and Braydon. The incidence of arbitrary inclosure was such that it afflicted the people of the Cheese and Butter countries more than any others. This is reflected in popular unrest, for although there was an outbreak at Wilton in 15489, by far the most widespread revolts were those in Selwood and Braydon forests in the second quarter of the 17th century. Some of these arbitrary inclosures, such as those made by Snell and Ludlow, caused a certain measure of depopulation, but more generally their result was rather the depression of the incomes of a large number of family farmers, even when, as in the royal forests, there was also some increase in population. (fn. 29)
It cannot be said simply that inclosures either did or did not cause depopulation. In the Cheese and Butter countries the extinction of common rights was generally accompanied by an increase of population, and in the Chalk Country by a decrease. Nevertheless, inclosure did not cause this depopulation. The decline of the family farmer in the sheep-and-corn countries is to be ascribed to the lower proportional working costs of the large farm. This advantage, whether accompanied by the extinction of common rights or not, encouraged the amalgamation of farms, which proceeded at varying speeds throughout the three centuries under review. During the 18th century, for example, even without divisions and allotments, the rate of decline of the family farmers in the Chalk Country was somewhat increased. Divisions and inclosures were accompanied by an acceleration of this rate of decline, but this acceleration was not the direct result of division. Unless they contained, as they sometimes did, provision for the continuance of common-field husbandry, divisions deprived the part-time and family farmers of the common meadow, pasture, flock, fold, and shepherd. Without these the family farm was not an economic proposition, for the simple reason that the sheep-fold was indispensable in cereal cultivation. The maintenance of the tenantry system was thus the prerequisite for the survival of the family farmers. Consequently, whether or not division and inclosure depressed or destroyed the class of family farmers can only be determined by reviewing the events of a considerable period before and after the enactment of each statute. At Alvediston the inclosures of field land and the ploughing up of 120 acres of down before 1758, and the parliamentary inclosure of 1792, were marked by a more rapid decline in the class of family farmers. During the period of inclosure at Stanton St. Bernard (17901805) the decline of the family farms was hastened. The numbers of family farmers there declined about twenty times as fast between 1790 and 1792 as they had done between 1631 and 1790, while from 1792 to 1805 this decline continued at about five times the pre-1790 rate. In terms of areas of occupation, the rate of decline of the family farms was increased about seventyfold between 1790 and 1792, and about thirtyfold between 1792 and 1805. In short, the decline was faster after than before division and allotment, but it was fastest in the years when inclosure was being mooted, and when the private Act had just been passed. Rates of decline did not always accelerate as rapidly as this. In Flamston, in Bishopstone, they increased only about ninefold during the inclosure period. The partial inclosure of Chalke was accompanied by no more than a fourfold increase in the rate of numerical decline of family farmers, and a seventeenfold increase in the rate of decline of the area appropriated to family farms. The rate of decline at Stoke Farthing, in Broad Chalke, was about 23 times as great in numbers after inclosure as before, and the rate of decline of the total acreage of family farms was four and eight times as fast respectively in 178492 and 17921807 as it had been in 170584. All these inclosures involved the extinction of common rights. In sharp contrast to these, at Fovant, where the family farmers continued in common fields with the tenantry system even after the division, the increase in their rates of decline was less after than before the division. The provisions for common-field husbandry contained in the Act thus strengthened the position of the family farmers. These results tally with informed contemporary opinion and lead to the conclusion that the extinction of common rights, fields, flocks, and folds in the Chalk Country was accompanied by a hastened decline of the class of family farmers.
Since the family farmers used more labour to an acre than did capitalist farmers, the decline of the former produced a tendency to an absolute depopulation of the countryside, only partly offset by the ploughing up of sheep-downs. During the inclosures and divisions of the later 18th century, the population of the manufacturing districts increased while that of the agricultural districts declined. At Monkton Deverill before the division, 7 men kept 29 horses on the farms in the township, whereas afterwards there were only 4 farmers employing 19 horses. At Brixton Deverill, instead of 6 men employing 43 horses, there were 3 men employing 26 horses. Horses and wage-workers were employed in approximately even proportions in farming operations, and the decline in the numbers of the former is an accurate indication of the decline in those of the latter. It is true that inclosures and divisions were sometimes accompanied by increases in the number of freehold tenements. The increase in the numbers of a class of tenant is, however, compatible with a decrease in the acreage held by them, and the surveys show clearly that most of the new freeholders were mere cottagers with a few perches, or even a single perch, of garden. Similarly, an increase in the number of family or part-time farms does not preclude the possibility of a proportionate decline in the area occupied by part-time or family farmers as classes. During the inclosures at Alvediston in the 18th century, the proportion of family farmers to all occupiers increased by 2.8 per cent., while the acreage occupied by them decreased by 2.6 per cent. of the total area of farmland. There is, therefore, every reason to believe that the extinction of common rights in the Chalk Country was accompanied by the depopulation of the countryside and there is little doubt that many ploughs were put down. (fn. 30)
In the Cheese Country the common fields were dwindling into insignificance. Not only were many of them being inclosed, but even elsewhere common-field regulations came to be increasingly neglected. (fn. 31) In the sheep-and-corn countries, on the contrary, common-field husbandry, if becoming more narrowly circumscribed in some ways, was nevertheless developing in others, and through most of the period was as firmly established as ever. Along the Corallian ridge and the line of merger between the Cheese and Cotswold countries, the units into which the common fields were divided were often numerous and small. (fn. 32) Most townships in the Cotswold Country had two fields. (fn. 33) In the Chalk Country there were some townships with 2 fields and some with 4, but those with 3 were more numerous, and some townships had a multiplicity of fields, even one or two score. (fn. 34) The number of fields were not necessarily constant. In 1567 Stanton St. Bernard had 1 field in severalty and 3 common or tenantry fields; but in 1632, after an exchange of lands between the demesne farmer and the tenants of the manor, there was an unstated number of fields both north and south of the town. (fn. 35) In 1591 Aldbourne had 5 fields, and in 1809 six. (fn. 36) In 1567 Chilmark had 4 fields, whereas in 1631 the farmer had 3 new severalty fields, and the tenantry 3 common fields. (fn. 37) There were 6 fields at Knighton in Broad Chalke in both 1567 and 1722, but their names were changed and included that of 'New Common Field', suggesting that they had all been rearranged. (fn. 38) In the middle of the 16th century there were 4 common, and 3 severalty, fields in Bulford. Then in 1585 the farmer exchanged some land with the tenants and freed all his arable of common rights, with the result that the former severalty fields became common, and parts of each of the old common fields were put into severalty, leaving 7 common fields. (fn. 39) Evidence from several places (fn. 40) suggests that new common fields were sometimes ploughed out of the downs, and in Avon, in Stratford sub Castle, this can be seen happening. A fourth field was made here in the later 17th century, some tenants being licensed to till part of the down 'now called New Field and . . . to be continued arable and sowed in course as a fourth field'. (fn. 41) New common fields could be made by virtue of an agreement to plough up part of the common down, or by the exchange and re-allotment of lands. The breaking up of virgin downland and exchanges of lands at Alvediston between 1706 and 1758 entailed the allotment of new tenantry fields in place of old. (fn. 42) The division of Fovant by private Act led to the creation of four new common fields, not mere remnants of the old ones, but set out anew in parcels of measured acres regularly dispersed and intermingled. At Broad Chalke, similarly, 4 new common fields were laid out in the north tithing, and 4 in the south. Four new common fields were made also at Stoke Farthing (in Broad Chalke). (fn. 43) Moreover, the tenantry sometimes increased their fields from 3 to 4 to provide for arable-grass rotations including 'seeds' leys, (fn. 44) or agreed to lay a whole common field to grass. In 1574 the East Sands Field at Burbage had been recently laid to grass, (fn. 45) and so had the Sand Field of Bremhill in 1579. (fn. 46) This was in addition to individual parcels in the fields that were frequently laid to grass to be mown when several, and otherwise tethered or commoned. (fn. 47) Both severalty and common fields were thus somewhat fluid in their topographical dispositions and divisions.
Where there was a small number of fields in the topographical sense, these were sometimes divided up for the purposes of the field-course, (fn. 48) and where there were many fields, these were grouped together into shifts. (fn. 49) The usual field-course in the Cotswold Country before the middle of the 17th century was (1) bare fallow, (2) crop. (fn. 50) This course was used also in some parts of the Chalk Country. The usual course here, however, was (1) wheat or other winter corn, (2) barley or other spring corn, (3) bare fallow. Sometimes this was extended into a four-field course of (1) winter corn, (2) barley, (3) oats, (4) bare fallow. (fn. 51) One single course was not necessarily employed throughout the whole of a common-field township, for where a variety of soils was to be found, different courses were needed in different shifts. Some of the land in Amesbury was sown two years in three, some in alternate years, some every year. (fn. 52) In Mere some land was sown two years in three, and some in alternate years. (fn. 53) There were similar variations at Easton in the 18th century. (fn. 54) The deepest and strongest lands were sometimes in a three-field course, and hill lands in common-field in a two- or four-field one. (fn. 55) Even this exaggerates the uniformity of common-field courses. Fallow-crop cultivation in the 'hitching' fields varied in location and extent from place to place and from time to time. (fn. 56) Moreover, there were in the high downs, as there had been in the Middle Ages, temporary or shifting cultivations of the 'redlands', not only in severalty, (fn. 57) but also in common fields. (fn. 58)
Common-field husbandry did not in itself impede agricultural progress. 'Custom' was not something done of wont, but customary law, a flexible and developing body of local law. If the tenantry clung to old courses and crops, they did so mainly because it suited the objects that they had in view. The sheet-anchor of husbandry in the sheepand-corn farming countries was the sheep-fold. Because of their lack of resources, many farmers could not stock enough sheep for the close-folding of their arable, each acre of tillage requiring the fold of several hundred sheep. Since a small flock was useless for folding, and did not warrant the employment of a shepherd, the small farmers formed and maintained common flocks and folds. Their by-laws provided rules to be observed by the common shepherd for the purchase and supply of hay against the winter, for the nightly passage of the fold from acre to acre, beginning at opposite ends of the field in alternate years and arranged equitably in every way, and for the integration of fold and field-courses. (fn. 59) No innovation threatening this system would have been given further consideration. Any improvement compatible with it, however, was unlikely to be ignored, if economic conditions favoured its adoption. The cropping seasons were regulated by customary law, but the individual farmer might grow any seasonable crop that he chose. (fn. 60) Root crops, clover, and 'seeds' could all be grown in common fields by permissive or compulsory by-laws. In 1677 the tenantry of Wylye agreed to restrict their peas hitchings to one-third of the West End common fields every year, presumably to permit individual farmers to grow other fallow crops as they pleased. By 1716 at the latest clover was being sown in the common fields of Chalke. In 1723 the tenants of Burcombe agreed to sow their summer field to grass under barley. In the same year the Netherhampton tenantry restricted peas, oats, and vetches to one-quarter of the fallow field for wheat, and agreed to lay the rest to grass. By this date clover cultivation was the normal practice in the common fields of Wylye. By 1725 clover and 'seeds' were old-established crops in the common fields of West Overton, and so they were in those of Chalke by 1728. In 1749 the tenants of Netherhampton specified broad clover, hopclover, and perennial rye-grass as the crops to be sown under barley. In 1752 it was presented as the custom of the manor of Burcombe that the sowing of turnips, fallowing, and raftering were not to begin before 5 July. The new common fields in Fovant, Broad Chalke, and Stoke Farthing were sown with broad clover, hop-clover, and rye-grass under barley or other spring corn. (fn. 61)
Common-field regulations were not stereotyped; they were designed for individual circumstances. In some light lands the fallows, even when bare, were not stirred, but left to lie still. (fn. 62) Land that was never accorded a whole year's bare fallow was to be found in parts of the common fields of many townships. (fn. 63) Nor was the same field-course ordered in all the common fields of a single township, irrespective of the nature of the land. In Mere both two- and three-field courses were enjoined by the by-laws. (fn. 64) In Amesbury part of the common field was sown every year, part was in a two-field course, part in a four-field one, part in a three-field course with a whole year's bare fallow stirred in summer, part given a still fallow for either one or two years. (fn. 65) In Easton in the mid-eighteenth century, two of the common fields were in a two-field course, while the three fields in the 'clays' were in a three-field course. (fn. 66) From time to time, too, these courses might be altered and the by-laws changed accordingly. Farmers in tenantry did not lag behind those in severalty in growing tare-hay or in floating watermeadows. An agreement for the floating of common meadows was merely an extension of the usual arrangements and by-laws for the common provision of hay to the common flock, and the common expenses of floating could be defrayed from a common purse. Severalty made a good farmer better and a bad one worse, because customary regulations were expressly designed to prevent bad husbandry. But if a farmer accumulated enough capital to warrant the keeping of a private sheep-flock, he would not find it difficult either to free his farm of common rights by agreement with his neighbours, or to move to a severalty farm. Many substantial occupiers, however, were long content to hold tenantry farms. In short, there was nothing in the tenantry system itself to prevent, and much to promote, improvement in farming.
The backwardness of some of the small tenantry farms is to be explained by the fact that farming was a business needing capital in quantities that not all were able to command. Inclosures in the Chalk Country did not always greatly raise the rental value of farmland. Sometimes the improvement was only about one-third or one-half, and in some townships the abolition of the tenantry system led to a fall in production and rents, because of the absence of sufficient regulation and the excessive ploughing-up and dereliction of sheep-downs. 'Redland', deep, strong soil, generally on the top of the downs, could be broken up with impunity, but to plough the 'blackland', loose soil on flints or chalk on hillsides, was to turn it into a derelict waste. Great crops were yielded at first, but the land was soon exhausted and had to be grassed down. The 'seeds' sown with the last crop soon wore out and gave way to black couch, or couchy bent. A young, tender-mouthed flock of sheep would sooner starve than eat this, so that some farmers were forced to put down their breeding flocks and keep less profitable wether flocks after they had ploughed up their 'blackland'. (fn. 67) It was this kind of situation that common-field regulations were designed to prevent.
Sheep served different ends in different farming countries. In the Cheese and Butter countries the dairyman kept some sheep, in about the same numbers as cattle, for cropping the pastures short in summer. These were fattened and their wool sold, though their fleeces were not an important source of income. Some of the graziers produced mutton in considerable quantities, but beef production was more highly regarded. Most of the sheep lived in the sheep-and-corn countries, and it was here that the stocking was heaviest, there being thousands of sheep in almost every township. The primary purpose for which sheep were kept was folding on the tillage. Sheep were bred for folding, for the ability to climb between field and down, and drop only at night when they were folded. Neither meat nor wool was much considered, since it was as producers and carters of the best of all fertilizers that the sheep were chiefly valued. They were also useful for treading and consolidating the light soils. The Chalk Country, or 'Wiltshire', horned sheep were much the same as the present breed. They were slow to fatten and had only a light fleece, having no wool on their underparts. Lambs, wool, and mutton were sold, but all these together were less important items of farming incomes than wheat and barley, and it was not uncommon for the corn crop to be worth double the sheep with all their wool and lambs. (fn. 68) Wool prices generally did not rise as much as grain prices and only rarely rose more. Even if there had been a greatly increased demand for carding wool, however, this could have been met best and most profitably, in the Cotswold, Chalk, and Corallian countries, by increased stocking in sheep-and-corn husbandry, if only the extra sheep could have been kept over the winter. In the mid-16th century, however, when wool prices were relatively at their highest, supplies of winter fodder were severely restricted, and when the problem of fodder deficiency was later solved, wool prices were no longer attractive. In short, if sheep were a chief source of farming profit, it was not for their fleeces but for their tails. (fn. 69)
In the 16th and 17th centuries, and also in the 18th, there was considerable agricultural improvement. The Cheese and Butter countries were mostly inclosed and improved by the middle of the 17th century. An important improvement here was liming, which was virtually introduced in the later 16th century. (fn. 70) Lime was also used to improve seed dressings. (fn. 71) Burnbaking was reintroduced in the Chalk Country in 1639, by a Mr. Bishop, a farmer at Martin. (fn. 72) There was some increase in the cultivation of fodder crops such as peas and tares, and in the extent of up-and-down husbandry or ley farming. Tare-hay made excellent fodder in the sheep-and-corn countries, and ley farming did not wait upon the introduction of selected or 'artificial' clovers and 'seeds', for temporary leys were formed with natural or indigenous clovers and grasses. The farmer could get 'seeds' for his leys from his own hay-loft. Except in the Cotswold Country, turnips were not generally of the first importance to farming improvement. Their chief virtue was in providing a fallow crop that could be used for winter feeding. In the Cheese and Butter countries, where they could have been used to advantage, there was little or no turnip soil. In the Chalk Country the soils were mostly too thin for turnips, and after the water-meadows were floated there was no shortage of winter fodder, so that root crops were not highly advantageous. Some parts of the Chalk Country, such as the sandy loams of the Vale of Pewsey, were suited to turnips and here they had been introduced as field crops by the last quarter of the 17th century. Hop-clover, broad-clover, selected perennial ryegrass, sainfoin, and cinquefoil were all introduced in or about 1650, and had entered into normal farming practice by the last quarter of the century. The introduction of selected clovers and 'seeds' facilitated the extension of an already established ley husbandry. Already in the early 17th century convertible husbandry was important not only in the Cheese Country, but also in some parts of the Chalk Country in severalty farms, in Chisbury, Chilmark, and Ugford, for example. (fn. 73) Selected clovers and 'seeds' were adopted in common fields somewhat later than in most severalty farms, but they were being cultivated in many of the former not later than the early 18th century. The usual practice in the Chalk Country was to sow broad-clover, hop-clover, and perennial ryegrass under barley. Broad-clover was better under the hill and hop-clover above it, but the chief grass was everywhere perennial rye-grass. A usual course in the tenantry fields in the 18th century was (1) wheat, (2) barley undersown with clover and 'seeds', (3) ley for mowing, (4) ley grazed until the field was fallowed for wheat. This was the improved four-field course. The 'bad' four-field course was (1) wheat, (2) barley, (3) oats undersown, (4) clover and 'seeds' part fed, part mown. The usual tenantry three-field course now became (1) wheat, (2) barley with clover and 'seeds', (3) clover and 'seeds' ley mown and fed. But clover and 'seeds' had still not been introduced into some of the tenantry fields. The usual severalty courses depended upon the type of soil. On 'whiteland' there was usually one of three courses. It could be either (1) wheat, (2) barley or oats undersown, (3) clover ley part mown, part raftered for wheat, that is, a slight modification of the old three-field course of the common fields; or it could be (1) wheat, (2) half 'seeds' and half barley, oats, beans, peas, or vetches, (3) wheat, this being regarded as the best three-field course; or it could be (1) wheat, (2) barley or oats undersown, (3) clover and 'seeds', (4) winter fallow, followed by summer fallow well stirred on 'foul' land, and peas, beans, and tares on the remainder. On the flinty loams the usual course was (1) wheat, (2) barley undersown, (3) part clover, part tares, both mown and the whole subsequently fallowed and stirred in later summer. On the sandy loams there was usually one of four courses: (1) wheat, (2) turnip fallow, folded off to sheep, (3) barley undersown, (4) clover followed by wheat; or (1) wheat, (2) barley undersown, (3) clover, (4) turnip fallow; or (1) wheat, (2) turnip fallow, (3) barley undersown, (4) clover, followed by a late summer fallow and close-folding; or (1) wheat, (2) half beans or other pulse, or turnips, half barley or oats undersown with clover. In the 'redland', where the soil was deep, the usual course was (1) wheat, (2) barley undersown with clover and 'seeds', (3) and (4) ley. In the poor 'blackland', when it was tilled, the course was (1) rape, followed by oats undersown with clover and 'seeds', (2) ley, for as long as it would last. Sainfoin was sometimes sown on exhausted land, and cinquefoil was used for sowing down after burnbaking. In the Cotswold Country a usual course in the common fields was (1) barley or wheat, (2) turnip or bare fallow, this being continued until the land was exhausted, when it was sown to sainfoin for a septennial ley. Another course, practised at Hullavington and Grittleton, for example, was (1) wheat, (2) oats, (3) turnips, (4) barley, (5) clover and 'seeds' mown, (6) the same pastured and then summer fallowed. Severalty courses followed much the same lines. In the Cheese Country, some of the successions employed were an alternation of wheat and beans or peas; beans, barley, clover, wheat; beans, wheat, barley, oats. After some years of such a succession, the land was sown to grass, or the wheat stubble was left to go naturally to grass. (fn. 74) As a whole, then, turnips always had a somewhat limited application, and clover and 'seeds' were used chiefly as a partial replacement for tares and pulse, giving short leys in an arable-grass rotation, which was an adaptation of what still was fundamentally a system of permanent tillage. In the thinnest and poorest soils there was a similar modification of the old system of shifting cultivation. In the Cheese Country, and in the Butter Country, the old system of ley farming or up-and-down husbandry continued much as before, with long leys, in which natural grasses predominated, and grass-arable rotations.
The greatest single improvement in the Chalk Country was the floating of the watermeadows. The floated water-meadow was a hot-bed for grass. Along the chalk escarpment some meadows were floated on the catchwork system, but the usual method employed was the flowing, or ridge-and-furrow, one. When floated, the meadow was covered by an evenly distributed sheet of flowing water about one inch deep. In addition to the warmth provided, all the chalky sediment of the stream passed through the grass and was deposited amongst its blades and stalks. Floated water-meadows provided an early bite for ewes and their lambs when none was available elsewhere and yielded a much greater and better hay crop, besides being an excellent method of creating meadowland from marsh and arable. The Cheese Country had long had an adequate supply of hay, but it was only the floating of the water-meadows that finally overcame the shortage of fodder in the Chalk Country, and made possible the stocking of increased numbers of larger sheep. Nearly all tenantry and severalty meadows were floated, and various designs were evolved to suit all situations and conditions. The increased size and numbers of sheep led in turn to greater yields of corn, especially of barley, which improved by about a quarter an acre, for when feeding the watermeadows by day the couples were folded on the barley land by night. The floating of flowing water-meadows, technically the crowning glory of English agriculture, was the speciality of the Chalk Country, in the Wiltshire part of which they were first invented in the opening years of the 17th century. Perfected flowing meadows began to be floated, in such places as Wylye, Mildenhall, Chalke, Netherhampton, and Damerham, in the second quarter of the 17th century, and the practice was generally adopted in the course of the third quarter, although extensions and improvements continued to be made as late as the 18th century. (fn. 75)
It may be seen, therefore, that the agricultural revolution, in the farming countries now under notice, was the achievement of the 16th and 17th centuries, and more particularly of the period from 1575 to 1675. There was considerable improvement both before and after this period, but it was during these hundred years that all the basic problems arising from the vicious circle of medieval agriculture, by which all improvement was impeded by a shortage of feed and fodder, were finally solved in both theory and practice.
Agrarian economy naturally varied in the different farming countries. In the Cheese and Butter countries the farms were small and, although many part-time farms were amalgamated in the later 18th century, the optimum farm showed no signs of growing. The work of a dairy or grazing farm, even with some ploughing and cheese- or buttermaking, could well be done by the members of a single family. Some labour for wages was employed on the largest farms and by the smallest families, as well as on the residential farms of landowners and others. Most holdings, however, were no larger than family farms, and many of them were too small to provide a living for a whole family, such part-time farms being occupied by craftsmen, tradespeople, or industrial workers. About four-fifths of the total number of occupiers were family or part-time farmers. (fn. 76)
In the sheep-and-corn countries the situation was quite different. In the early 16th century most of the land was in the hands of capitalist farmers, and by the middle of the 17th century capitalist farms occupied most of the farmland. Family and part-time farmers formed more than half the farming population in the early 16th century but less than half in the middle of the 17th century, while they occupied more than half the farmland at the former time and no more than one-third at the latter. Wage-workers were rising in number and proportion, forming perhaps a third of the working population in the early 16th century, and a half in the middle of the 17th. By this time more than half the farmland was occupied by employers of considerable numbers of wageworkers, and over a quarter by gentlemen farmers and cultivating squires employing a score or more of wage-workers. (fn. 77) At the beginning of the 18th century family and parttime farmers were, at the most, three-tenths of all the occupiers in Chalke and Fovant, half in Flamston and Stoke Farthing, and less in Stanton St. Bernard. In 1705 they occupied at most half the land in Fovant, two-fifths in Flamston, and three-tenths in Chalke and Stanton St. Bernard. These estimates indicate only a slow decline in the position of the family and part-time farmers since the early 17th century. The fortunes of such farmers had not yet entered the period of final crisis, but the class of family farmers was still undergoing slow attrition. Yet by 1784 family farmers were nonexistent in Bulbridge, and formed, at the most, one-sixth of the occupiers of Alvediston and Fovant, one-fifth of those of Chalke and Flamston, three-tenths of those of Stanton St. Bernard, and half those of Stoke Farthing. They occupied no more than a tenth of the land in Flamston, a sixth in Alvediston, a fifth in Stanton St. Bernard, a quarter in Chalke, a third in Fovant, and a half in Stoke Farthing. By this time, then, the final crisis had occurred. The critical situation faced by the remaining family farmers is shown by the much more frequent mortgaging of copyholds for life, and the common failure to insert a new 'life' at the death of one or more of the three lifeholders. By the last few decades of the 18th century the liquidation of the class of family farmers was very nearly complete. Immediately after the inclosures and divisions of this period, family farmers formed at the most one-fifth of the occupiers in Alvediston, and occupied at the most one-ninth of the land. Comparable proportions were, respectively, in Fovant one-sixth and three-tenths; in Stanton St. Bernard one-fifth and one-sixth; in Stoke Farthing one-half and two-fifths. The aftermath of these inclosures, some of which were only partial, further exaggerated this attenuation. By 1806 the family farmers of Chalke formed at the most one-sixth of the occupiers with no more than one-sixth of the land. In Stanton St. Bernard family farmers were only one-ninth of the whole and had only one-tenth of the land. In Stoke Farthing, in 1807, family farmers were some two-fifths of the whole and had about one-quarter of the land. Some family farmers thus survived into the 19th century, but as a class they were no longer of much significance. (fn. 78) In short, the Cheese Country became the stronghold of the family farmer and the Chalk Country of the capitalist farmer, while the distinction was hardly less sharp between the Butter and the Cotswold and Corallian countries.
Manorial history followed similarly diverging lines. In the Cheese Country many manors were dismembered and sold off, partly to the sitting tenants. Non-manorial tenancies multiplied, particularly in the forest districts. Even where manors survived, their functions were more and more limited. Common husbandry did not call for much regulation and the number of copyhold tenures was decreasing. Here the manor was in full decay in the 16th and 17th centuries. (fn. 79) In the Chalk Country, however, and in the sheep-and-corn farming countries generally, manorial institutions continued in full vigour. Not only customary tenants, but also sometimes demesne farmers were subject to husbandry regulations enforced by the manorial courts, to which freeholders, indenture-holders, and copyholders alike owed suit. Suit of mill, heriots, and reliefs likewise continued. The importance of the husbandry by-laws of the manor courts may be judged by what transpired upon their lapse in Shrewton, one of the few Chalk Country manors to be dismembered. When the common flock was perishing on the downs for lack of hay, the parson had to take it upon himself to call a township meeting at which the farmers entered into a voluntary agreement for the regulation of common husbandry. (fn. 80) When the tenants of Wylye decided to float their meadows, they asked the steward of the manor to have the agreement ordered, recorded, and enforced by the court baron. (fn. 81) Such functions manorial courts continued to exercise until the late 18th century in the sheep-and-corn countries.
The divergent development of rural economy was reflected also in conditions of ownership and occupation. Those who disposed of estates in the Cheese Country found they could obtain the best prices by splitting them up, and even by dismembering manors and selling them off in small lots to the occupiers, or to landowners, who let them off on annual tenancies or for terms of years. (fn. 82) The number of freehold tenants and copyholders of inheritance had never been large, and nearly all the customary tenants had estates for lives, with arbitrary fines bargained between landlord and tenant, that is, leases by the customary law. In the sheep-and-corn countries, the demesnes were usually leased by indentures for lives, for years, or for years determinable upon lives. The prevalent term for lifeholds was three lives, roughly equivalent to 21 years. (fn. 83) It was not until the second half of the 18th century that long leases, sometimes combined with corn rents, were generally replaced by short leases and annual tenancies with rack rents. Some copyholds for lives survived, especially for cottage properties, but most were replaced by similar leases by indenture in return for a slight payment to the landlord. (fn. 84) As for the manorial freeholds in these countries, some were in the hands of owner-occupiers, but many formed part of larger estates and were let out on the usual terms. (fn. 85) Owner-occupation was here on the decline, both by the subletting and engrossing of freeholds, and by their amalgamation with leasehold farms. (fn. 86) Even where owneroccupation formally existed, the premises were often mortgaged to provide for their purchase or for working capital. (fn. 87) The manor of Bishopstone, for example, was one of the few where copyhold of inheritance obtained, but in the late 17th century, and the first half of the 18th, the commonest entry in the court books was the surrender with provisoi.e. mortgage by the customary law. (fn. 88) In a word, most of the farmers in the sheep-and-corn countries were lessees by one law or another, or held only by the forbearance of a money-lender. The more capitalism developed in the sheep-and-corn countries, the greater became the divorce between landownership and farming capital. It was difficult, and sometimes impossible, to sell off a manor to the sitting tenants because these did not usually want to become owner-occupiers, and the best prices were fetched by selling entire estates to those wanting to set up as country landowners. (fn. 89) Most farmers preferred investment in stock to the purchase of rent, and the owneroccupier, who wanted to expand his business, was best advised to sell out and use the proceeds for taking and stocking a larger farm. (fn. 90) The continued growth of agrarian capitalism was only possible thanks to the security provided by all tenures after the middle of the 16th century, for without this security farmers would have been unwilling to venture large entry fines or to undertake considerable and permanent improvements. Improvement, moreover, could hardly be undertaken without long leases and these, too, became the general rule. Long leases and security of tenure were to the mutual advantage of both landlord and tenant. In the short run, farmers enjoyed the increased profits of improved husbandry, while in the long run this improvement accrued to the landowners by way of increased annual values and entry fines. (fn. 91) Once all the major improvements had been carried out, however, there was no longer the same necessity for long leases, and these were replaced in the Chalk Country in the 18th century, and in the Cheese Country in the 16th and 17th centuries, by annual tenancies and leases-parole at rack rents or by short leases. A single county is not a large enough field for the detailed study of changes in landownership, even if it were possible to trace them all, but amidst the rise and fall of fortunes and families that is a common feature of all ages, there may be observed certain general tendencies that override the dissolution of the monasteries, the decay of the royal demesne, and the inalienability of episcopal lands. In the Cheese Country the tendency was towards the dispersal of landed property amongst the many. In the sheep-and-corn countries it was towards its concentration into a few hands, and in large estates that mostly continued intact, or augmented, throughout the period. (fn. 92) The mere size of estates, however, is a truly superficial criterion of landownership, the changes in which can only be accurately judged by reference to improved values. Since land was more valuable in the dairy than in the sheep-and-corn countries, a comparison of the superficial extent of estates in the one and the other exaggerates the divergences that actually arose.
Rents per acre were generally higher in the Cheese and Butter countries than elsewhere, but as it is better not to confuse rents and acreages from different farming countries, and as it is not possible to build up continuous series of rent payments in the circumstances of estate management in the Cheese Country, the movement of rent can only be estimated in the Chalk Country. Since all rents moved in sympathy, however, this index may be considered to be capable of general application. Of the estimates of rent movement in the Chalk Country, the least inaccurate are those for the estates of the Herberts of Wilton, which were mostly situated to the west of Salisbury. If annual money and corn rents are combined with entry fines distributed over the terms of the leases, and allowance is made for interest on forehand rent, it is possible to estimate the average rent per acre paid at the taking of new estates or holdings. These estimates suffice to show the general trend of rent movement, and to indicate that the rents paid for new tenancies rose nine- or tenfold between the decades 15101519 and 16301639. By the end of the 16th century they had risen about sixfold, and up to the middle of the 17th century they rose faster than the average price level. While rents on new takings rose nine- or tenfold, wheat prices rose less than sixfold, barley prices less than fivefold, and wool prices much less than that. Once they were bargained, however, most rents continued unchanged for about 21, 14, or 7 years, so that rents on old takings lagged behind those on new ones. This, however, was evened out by the incidence of new takings and offset by an increasing number of tenancies and holdings. Between the decades 15601569 and 16301639 the gross rents of the Wilton estate, excluding new acquisitions and fines for reversionary estates, rose at least twofold and a half. This rise was slightly faster than that of the price of wheat, and much faster than the prices of most other commodities. Between 1540 and 1640 the prices of farm produce rose fouror fivefold, of building materials less than threefold, of metals barely twofold, and of textiles even less. Meanwhile rent receipts can hardly have risen less than threefold and probably rose more than this. In addition, most landlords increased their rental incomes from new mills on their estates, or sold timber and wood which rose in price only slightly less than farm produce. Landowners had little need to purchase farm produce, for this was supplied by corn rents, impropriated tithes, parks, and home farms. Most industrial prices rose less than did rental incomes. Even if landowners' real incomes did not increase, therefore, they can hardly have decreased, and, judging by the accounts of their receivers-general and by their own style of life, most landowners enjoyed unprecedented affluence. (fn. 93)
There is every indication, too, that capitalist farmers increased their profits. While a farmer's rent rose from time to time, often steeply, he enjoyed long periods of fixed rents and rising prices. At the same time, the cost of industrial goods rose much less than that of farm produce, which was especially to the advantage of those large-scale farmers who could afford the greatest investment in improvements. (fn. 94) There is no proof that the real wages of farm workers fell in this period; indeed, they almost certainly increased. (fn. 95) Farming improvement increased the yields of all crops, especially of grass and barley, and, because productivity was so much increased, rents, profits, and wages were all able to rise. Family farmers were unable to take full advantage of this state of affairs because of their smaller surpluses and higher working costs, while they had to pay competitive rents in order to farm at all, and had to farm because of the lack of suitable alternative self-employments. Most of them, however, were able to survive because rising prices and windfall profits permitted uneconomic units to pay their way. (fn. 96) In the Cheese and Butter countries, however, the family farms were economically viable enterprises throughout the period.
There were certain minor differences in management between the estates of the great landowners, such as the Herberts of Wilton and the Seymours of Savernake, whose estates lay mainly around Marlborough, in the Pewsey Vale, and the Avon Valley, but the movement of rent was generally much the same on all such estates. Nor was there much difference in this respect between large and small estates. There was nothing in the mere size of units to affect the movement of rent. Entry fines increased on the small estates of the Bayntons of Bromham as on the larger ones of the Seymours, the Herberts, and the Thynnes of Longleat. There were, it is true, many farmer-landowners like Edmund Ludlow, Sir Edward Baynton, Alexander Culpepper of Enford, and Henry White of Grittleton, but these enjoyed some of the benefits of both worlds, increased profits and rents. The main differences in estate management were between the estates of the Church, of the Crown, and of the general run of landowners. The usual system on the estates of the bishops of Salisbury and Winchester was to lease entire manors to lords farmers for 21 years or three lives. During his term the lord farmer kept court, and took rents and entry fines to his own use. This system had some advantage in ease of management and facilitated patronage, but it slowed down rises in rent income. There may not have been a decline in real income, but an increase was not to be looked for. (fn. 97)
The Crown estates had a unique history. While the rents paid on new takings on the Herbert estates rose about sevenfold between 15101519 and 16001609, on the Seymour estates about ninefold, and not dissimilarly on those of many other landlords, they rose on Crown estates only about threefold. This meant a loss of real income. Meanwhile the estate itself was being sold off, until in 1640 it was negligible. There were several immediate reasons for this situation. First, more leases were granted for service instead of entry fines, but this burden was not unbearable in itself. Secondly, even when estates were granted in consideration of a fine, the fines themselves were excessively low in the 16th century. Thirdly, stewards of Crown manors accounted and paid to the Crown only a small proportion of most of the copyhold entry fines. The fines accounted for and paid were usually less than the annual improved values of the holdings, and only about one-sixth of the values of the gratuities given to the stewards in consideration of copyhold grants. Fourthly, the Crown granted some manors to lords farmers for the usual terms, but at nominal rents and fines, thus leaving most of the benefit to the farmers. Fifthly, Crown lands were ill managed and despoiled even by the estate officers. Timber was stolen, coppices destroyed, rents concealed, and records neglected. In short, although farmers paid in effect much the same rents as on other estates, the Crown received only a portion of this rent, leaving the rest to servants, captains, and courtiers, who trafficked in beneficial leases, acted as stewards, and held the land as lords farmers. From about 1615, however, the Crown altered course, abandoned beneficial stewardships, confined beneficial leases to a narrow circle of recipients, commissioned scrupulous surveyors and officers who wanted to make the Crown live of its own, ascertained the true improved values, and let out farms to the uttermost penny. Copyhold entry fines accounted for and paid to the Crown rose about tenfold almost overnight, neglected rents and dues were discovered, old customs revived, and the whole estate management overhauled, just as, at about the same time, forests were disafforested and wardships sold at their real values. By 1640 the royal estates in Wiltshire were small, but they were certainly not under-rented. This change in the policy of the Crown had serious consequences for the future. (fn. 98)
From the middle of the 17th century, rents in Wiltshire per acre were stagnant or depressed for about 100 years. This depression of rents was accompanied by a general weakness in the prices of farm produce. In the late 17th and the first half of the 18th centuries rents were generally one-third lower than in the first half of the 17th century, despite the unprecedented heights reached for a brief time in the second decade of the 18th century. Then, from 17509, rents began to mount swiftly, and had doubled by 17609, trebled by 17709, more than trebled by 17809, and quintupled by 17909. In the meantime the prices of wheat, barley, malt, and oats had declined from 16409 until 16809, risen slightly in 16909, declined again in 17009, risen a shade in 1710 29, and thenceforth declined continuously until 17509. From this date prices mounted steadily until in 17909 they were double what they had been in 17509, the rise in the penultimate decade of the century being especially sharp. Thus in the second half of the 18th century the price of grain doubled, whereas rents quintupled. (fn. 99) In this period, also, the landlords transferred to their tenants the burden of land-tax which they had shouldered in the years of depressed rents. The cultivated area was increased, and even over-extended, and new farms and tenancies multiplied. The real landed incomes of the landowners thus increased enormously. Although rents rose steeply, the capitalist farmers maintained and even increased their profits. This they did by depressing real wages and effecting other economies. If the family farmers had entered this inflationary period with their businesses sound, they would probably have been able to survive, but their positions had already been undermined during the previous period of depressed prices, and the burdens of rent that they were now asked to shoulder proved too heavy for them. They survived for a time by refraining from renewing their leases far ahead, by mortgaging what lives they already had in their leases, and by depressing their own living standards; but by these measures they only sealed their own fate. As they succumbed, their holdings were amalgamated into large farms, and the inclosures and divisions of the period were part and parcel of this great reorganization. Some former family farmers found employment as farm labourers, some migrated to industrial areas, and some emigrated from the kingdom, while still others were for a time unemployed. (fn. 100) Only in the Cheese and Butter countries did the family farmers prosper.
In the sheep-and-corn countries all the conditions of farming business militated against the family farmers in the latter part of the 18th century. Then, in the last quarter of the century, the incipient mechanization of industry removed the last prop from the economy of the family farm. The maid-servants of the capitalist farms, and the womenfolk of the family farms, had for centuries engaged in the part-time domestic employments of spinning and carding for the clothiers, and nearly all the family farms depended upon the spinning and carding for a considerable part of their incomes. (fn. 101) By 1793, however, the spinning-jenny was in general use in Wiltshire. At first the jenny was used as a domestic machine in the putting-out system and the spinners were now engaged in the task whole-time as self-employed persons. These new small-master spinners set up in the Cheese Country, and reinforced the numbers of self-employed persons there. Only a few such spinners sufficed to deprive the family farmers in the sheep-and-corn countries of an important supplementary income. Before long the jennies were concentrated into factories, undermining the basis of part-time farms in the Cheese Country; but even before this they had taken their toll in the Chalk Country. (fn. 102) In 1790 the carding engine first made its appearance at Bradford-on-Avon (fn. 103) and since spinning and carding were the only two processes of importance to the family farmers of the sheepand-corn countries, their mechanization deprived these farmers of their by-employments. (fn. 104) High working costs, and first depressed prices and then inflated rents, and finally the loss of by-employments sealed the fate of the family farmers of the Chalk Country: inclosure completed their downfall. Once family farms ceased to be an economic proposition, there was no longer any reason not to amalgamate small farms into large ones. Once small farms were abandoned, there was no longer any reason for preserving common fields. Where important groups of family farmers still kept their grip on the land, the extinction of the common rights that they enjoyed might be delayed by special provisions in the private Act for the division. Otherwise, the extinction of common rights eliminated what few family farmers remained.
The most striking development in the sheep-and-corn countries was the rise of the gentleman farmer, a man of education and leisure, who might take part in the government of a borough, or serve as steward to some great landowner. Such farmers could mix and deal with cultivating squires and minor landowners on equal terms. (fn. 105) Families of this type were the Franklyns of Marlborough, (fn. 106) the Nicholases of Winterbourne Earls, (fn. 107) the Aubreys of Chalke, (fn. 108) and the Tulls of Shalbourne. (fn. 109) As for the landowners, they reigned in their manors as constitutional monarchs. In contradistinction, the Cheese and Butter countries were strongholds of family farmers, who, because they lived at the mercy of harvests and markets, were inclined to be turbulent and rebellious. By the dismemberment of manors here, says Aubrey, 'the mean people live lawless, nobody to govern them, they care for nobody, having no dependence on anybody . . . hereabout is but little tillage or hard labour: they only milk cows and make cheese: they feed chiefly on milk meats . . . These circumstances make them melancholy, contemplative and malicious.' (fn. 110) It was, indeed, the family farmers, part-time farmers, and other self-employed persons in the Cheese and Butter countries who, encouraged by some of their betters, took up arms against the king in the second quarter of the 17th century, levelled inclosures during the Civil War, and even flared up in occasional violent outbreaks in the 18th century. In the sheep-and-corn countries, on the contrary, tranquillity reigned throughout the period almost without interruption, and it was not until the end of the 18th century that any unrest broke out. Then the disaffected persons were not family farmers, but agricultural labourers, whose real wages were being seriously reduced.
In fine, the inclosed, non-manorial countriesthe Cheese and Butter countries were the lands of family farmers and self-employed persons, while the manorialized, champion sheep-and-corn countriesthe Chalk, Cotswold, and Corallian countries were the main field for the development of agrarian capitalism and for the agricultural revolution.