THE AGRARIAN REVOLUTION
Updated: Oct 5, 2020
The term “Agrarian Revolution” implies the great changes that took place in the agricultural methods of England during the second half of the seventeenth century and the first half of the eighteenth century. During this Revolution,
The open field system disappeared,
Rotation of crops was introduced and
Scientific methods were applied to agriculture.
CAUSES OF THE REVOLUTION:
The old open field system was considered as wasteful of land (according to this arrangement, every year one of the three fields was to be out of cultivation).
The old system of distribution of land was considered to be the wasteful of time.
A farmer’s holdings were scattered.
He had to walk considerable distances to reach the remoter strips of his land (There was the necessity of conforming to the customs of the village which made experiments in agricultural methods impossible).
In 18th century population was increasing and so more food was needed. (But the yield could not be enlarged under the old system of cultivation)
Owning to the scarcity of food materials there was rise in prices.
The old-fashioned farmers thought to produce more to earn more money.
This idea improved their agricultural methods.
The RE-ALLOCATION OF LAND:
A number of Enclosure Acts were passed in the reign of George II and George III.
Acts were passed for the reallocation of lands in consolidated blocks which could be enclosed.
The Enclosure Acts were essentially the abolition of the open field system of agriculture which had been the way people farmed in England for centuries.
The ownership of all common land, and waste land, that farmers and Lords had was taken from them.
Any rights they had over the land was gone.
New fields were designed, new roads were added, and the land was eventually re-allocated to different farmers and Lords.
When an Enclosure Act was passed a commissioner was appointed to visit the village concerned and carry out the work of reallocating the land.
The poor peasants were not satisfied with the reallocation.
They sold away their small holdings to wealthy businessmen of the city.
Finally the class or rural inhabitants known as yeomen disappeared.
One of the advantages of the enclosure system was that it gave scope for many enterprising people to make experiments.
Jethro Tull of Berkshire was one such person, who made some pioneering work in the field of agricultural improvement.
He was the inventor of a drill for sowing seeds.
He also did experimental work in connection with the depth to which seed should be sown and the amount which should be sown per acre.
He emphasized the necessity of careful selection of seeds to grow good crops.
Charles Townshend of Norfolk, brother-in-law of Walpole was another pioneer.
He adopted Tull’s principles in working his estate at Rainham.
He paid much attention to the question of rotation of crops.
He introduced Norfolk the four-course rotation of turnips, barley, cloves and rye-grass.
Wheat was cultivated in the first year.
These measures prevented unproductive fallow and enabled him to carry more stock on his lands.
His innovation made Norfolk a leading agricultural country.
As a result that in thirty years the rental of one farm rose from 180 pounds to 800 pounds a year.
The work of Townshend was continued by Thomas Coke of Holkham in Norfolk.
He followed the precepts of Tull and in addition fed the soil with manures including bones.
He was one of the first farmers to use bone as manure.
In nine years’ time he was able to grow excellent wheat crops, cloves etc ..
He also introduced new artificial foods such as oil-cake and led the way in fattening cattle for the London markets.
He changed the appearance of the countryside by planting trees upon his land.
It is estimated that the annual rental of his estate rose from 2,200 pounds in 1776 to 20,000 pounds in 1816.
A Leicestershire farmer, Robert Bakewell was revolutionising English methods of stock breeding.
Bakewell was the first to turn his attention to the production of meat as the main consideration of stock breeders than valuing it for wool.
He succeeded in producing a new breed of sheep which fattened quickly and weighted heavy.
Farmers from far and wide visited his farm at Dishley and became converts to his new methods.
Others who did pioneering work in this field were George Culley, Charles Colling and John Ellman.
Royal patronage was given to the movement of revolutionising the agricultural methods.
George III established a model farm at Windsor.
He was affectionately known to his subjects as Farmer George.
The success of the movement was due to the writings of agricultural writers.
The famous of them was Arthur Young.
When a Board of Agriculture was established in 1793, Young was made its secretary.
He made a vigorous crusade in favour of enclosures, large farms and longer leases.
He made the new methods more widely known by his writings.
English banking system grew with the advent of the enclosure system.
Wealthy landlords borrowed money from the banks to do fencing and to effect other improvements.
Though this measure was very desirable from the point of view of national production, it had a harmful effect on the poor peasant. (they were added to the army of paupers and unemployed).
The system deprived him of his privilege of grazing his cattle and cutting fuel from the Commons.
Social History of England by Louise Creighton
An Introduction to the Social History of England by A.G.Xavier
A Short History of Social Life in England by M B Synge