The Isle of Axholme, 1540-1640 : economy and society
In the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the rapid growth of population produced both pressure on land and an increase in the demand for com, the supply of which was inelastic, resulting in inflation of food prices compared with manufactured commodities. The consensus of many writers is that the rich grew richer while the poor grew poorer because the larger farmers who could market surpluses of food, and also increase their landholding, benefited at the expense of the smaller farmer, who produced only sufficient for subsistence. Economic change produced social change. Almost fifty years ago, Thirsk maintained that drainage schemes in the 1620s in the Isle of Axholme changed its agricultural economy from pastoral to arable. This thesis will add to her work by demonstrating that economic and social structures were the result of interactions between a number of elements within the Isle's communities of which inheritance practices were a major factor. Partible inheritance, by which landholdings could be divided successively to the point of being no longer able to support a family, had a number of effects: the availability of small plots of land, creating an active land-market, especially for the entrepreneurial farmer; emigration by those unable to make a living from any land they had held, which became available for others; immigration for the purpose of renting or buying these small parcels of land; the growth of debt (credit); and the development of secondary occupations. The economic and social structures of a community were consequently altered, particularly in favour of those who could offer security for their borrowings, and there was a widening divide between the richest and poorest members of society.