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not the flat Fenland of South Lincolnshire, with its landscape largely composed of market-garden produce, where almost every available acre is cultivated, but rather a region like the Surrey Hills, where agriculture proper takes a subordinate place, and where such parts as have not been left in their natural state of heath and forest have been laid out in parks and golf courses.
Then, too, the revolution in the rural districts has been, even more than is the case with most revolutions of an economic character, gradual and silent. The passage of events in agricultural England has been singularly undramatic. There have been few incidents likely to arrest public attention, such as the strikes or lockouts of the towns. Scattered, and often ignorant, the workers in the country fields have lacked the opportunity of combination which has been the great weapon of the artisan. Of this the almost complete failure of the Agricultural Labourers' Unions in the 'seventies and 'eighties is a striking illustration.
In its earlier phases, moreover, the rural exodus was by no means regarded with disfavour by those who had studied its causes. Migration to the towns or emigration to other lands seemed the easiest solution of the economic problems of the peasant, and when it first began, was taken to indicate a welcome increase in the mobility of labour. But this solution proved so fatally facile that the old remedy presently became the chief disease, and, as economists began to realise, a disease which affected the towns hardly less than the rural districts. When the industrial expansion of this country began to receive its first serious checks, when such urban problems as those of casual labour and overcrowding in the slums began to be systematically investigated, the continued influx of unskilled agricultural labourers could no longer be defended on the old grounds. It could still indeed be maintained that the recruïting of the town population from the country was highly desirable. But this indicates precisely the most serious aspect of the problem as it presents itself to-day. From the very beginnings of urban life the vitality of the town populations has been chiefly replenished by the stream of rural immigrants. For the first time in history, the reservoir from which this stream is supplied has been, relatively at least, almost completely drained. In the future the vitality of the towns must depend mainly on other factors, and partly no doubt on a centrifugal movement which will allow a larger number of urban workers to live in districts that, while becoming sub-urba'n, will retain certain rural characteristics. Such districts, however, must be regarded as withdrawn from the area of Rural England, in the accepted meaning of the term. There must remain, at any rate for several generations to come, many districts in the Southern, Eastern, and Midland counties relatively unaffected by the outward movement from the towns, districts in which the density and
composition of the population will continue to be determined mainly by the economic and social conditions of agricultural life. It is to these districts that the conclusions as to the present position of the rural problem, which I have ventured to draw at the end of this article, are intended to apply.
The modern aspects cannot, I think, be rightly understood unless they are considered in relation to the historical development of the problem. So regarded, it presents two crucial questions. First, why did rural depopulation begin in the middle decades of the nineteenth century? Secondly, what is the explanation and significance of the remarkable variation in the rate and distribution of the decline-a variation so great that while in some rural registration districts the population in 1901 was little more than onehalf that of 1851, in others, equally removed from urban or industrial influence, the number of inhabitants remained almost stationary, and in some actually increased ?
The appended tables show the movement of population in five rural registration areas, selected for reasons which will be stated later in the article. The first set of figures gives the actual population of the respective districts in 1801 and in each census year from 1851 to 1911 inclusive, the second the percentage change for the first half of the nineteenth century and for each subsequent decennial period.
WHY RURAL DEPOPULATION BEGAN IN THE MIDDLE OF THE
NINETEENTH CENTURY The first point illustrated by these tables, and one which deserves emphasis, is the notable increase of population between 1801 and 1851. In this respect the tables are very typical. Even in the districts which have been most affected by the rural exodus, the decrease during the second half of the century was hardly equal to the increase during the first, so that in the great majority of rural areas the population in 1901 was greater than in 1801. The remarkable 'curve’ shown, for example, in the Kimbolton table is representative of a very large number of districts. The suggestion naturally presents itself that the great upward trend between 1801 and 1851 may have a very intimate connection with the great downward trend between 1851 and 1901. Obviously the middle decades of the century mark an important crisis. The answer, in fact, to the first of the two central questions stated above is to be found in the understanding of the causes which produced this crisis. These causes broadly fall into two distinct groups : those originating in the Agrarian Revolution of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and accentuated by the poorlaw policy in vogue before 1834, and those arising from the general position of English agriculture in the period subsequent to the Repeal of the Corn Laws.
Agricultural Character of District
I. Kimbolton (West Huntingdonshire)
7919 - 13.2
6836 - 13.7
III. Barrowden and Great
Easton (Rutlandshire and
Leicestershire) 24 Parishes
7022 - 6.5
5361 - 2.6
Central uplands Pasture-farming
12,307 | Fruit-growiug and market
(Lincolnshire) Entire Registration District
Fənland, rich arable Fruit and vegetables
Note on the Tables.—The Spalding area is an entire Registration District. The other four are sub-districts' under larger registration units. Allowance has been made for changes in the content of some of the registration areas in order to include the same parishes for the whole period. The figures for the different years are therefore strictly comparable. The districts selected are also purely rural, so that the composition of the population is not affected to any appreciable extent by extraneous elements.
A brief résumé of the profound changes produced by the Agrarian Revolution is necessary in order to make its bearing upon the problem of rural depopulation apparent. Its influence was certainly immense, but at the same time it has very frequently been misunderstood and misrepresented.
The Agrarian Revolution had three leading aspects. The introduction of great technical improvements in agriculture was the first. The systematic use of root-crops and the adoption of the four-course rotation, called the Norfolk course after the county where the new agriculture had its birth, made immense progress possible. The increased supply of winter food greatly enhanced the value of stock. By dispensing with the necessity of fallow, and by maintaining the properties of the soil, the new methods vastly increased the output of areas already in agricultural occupation; and, lastly, by the use of a special rotation adapted to light soils, they enabled sandy districts, hitherto little more than warrens, to be brought into profitable cultivation.
The second and closely related aspect of the Agrarian Revolution was the enclosure movement, which, although it had long been in progress, was now stimulated into much greater activity. With very few exceptions the great agricultural economists and experts of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries regarded enclosure as the necessary condition of the adoption of the new improvements. Where enclosure involved the substitution of consolidated holdings for the old open-field system of husbandry, it implied the removal of several defects. It prevented the waste of valuable land, caused by one-third of the area usually lying fallow and by the existence of the balks which separated the strips of the individual holdings. It prevented the waste of time entailed by these strips being scattered over the common field. It removed the inelasticity which made it almost impossible for the traditional system to be adapted to particular varieties of soils, although it was now increasingly recognised that different soils required different treatment. The consolidation of a man's holding meant that he could introduce new methods of tillage and improve his breeds of stock in ways which had been impossible under the old system. Where enclosure involved the 'approvement' of the wastes and commons, as distinct from the common-fields, it implied on the whole a real and substantial addition to the food-producing area of the country. The importance of this last fact is realised when we remember that the rapid rise of industrial centres, and after 1793 the exigencies of the Great War, were creating a demand for both corn and meat hitherto unparalleled-a demand which had to be satisfied almost entirely by home-production. Indeed, rapid and in some cases regrettable as the progress of enclosure and of the breaking up of waste land seems to us to have been, to many
contemporary authorities it appeared almost culpably slow. William Marshall, for instance, admittedly one of the ablest agricultural economists of that time, in a tract on The Appropriation and Enclosure of Commonable and Intermixed Land (1801), writes as follows : ‘Through the uncertainty and expense attending private acts, a great portion of the unstinted common lands remain nearly as nature left them, appearing in the present state of civilisation and science as filthy blotches on the face of the country, especially when seen under the threatening clouds of famine which have now repeatedly overspread it.'
The marked tendency towards the engrossing of holdings and the growth of large farming, which is the third aspect of the Agrarian Revolution, was in its turn closely related to the enclosure movement. The growth of large farms at the expense of small freehold properties and yeoman holdings was due to the same set of causes which at the same period were eliminating the small master-workman and creating the capitalist manufacturer. Enclosures facilitated the process in several ways. In the first place they made the acquisition of holdings by capitalist farmers far more profitable now that they were consolidated than before, when they were scattered over the common fields. Secondly, they were so expensive that the poorer freeholders were often obliged to sell the parcels of land allotted to them. The adoption, too, of the new agricultural methods involved not only a considerable initial outlay of capital but also a willingness to break with the traditions of the past, whereas the smaller yeomen were, as a class, both impecunious and conservative. Many of them only held their own so long as the French war maintained exceptionally high prices. Their solvency depended on the military genius of Napoleon, and the peace of 1815 sealed their ruin.
Nor did the yeomen form the only agricultural class which was adversely affected by the Agrarian Revolution. Equally drastic was the change in the status of the still more numerous cottiers, who included both squatters on the wastes and villagers, landless indeed, or nearly so, but supplementing their wages by using the commons for turning out a few sheep or cattle, for turf-cutting, and so on. The cottiers, as a class, had no legal rights in the wastes or commons, and their claims, resting mainly on customary usage, were not recognised in many, if not in the majority of enclosures made by Private Bill in the eighteenth century and under the terms of the General Enclosure Act of 1801. It was otherwise with the enclosures which took place after 1845, under the terms of the General Enclosure Act of that year, but by 1845 the movement was nearing completion. The general result, therefore, was to make the cottiers agricultural wage-labourers pure and simple, without any additional sources of income. This