Mixed farming on the Hampshire Downs, 1837-1914.
This thesis is concerned with the functioning of mixed farming
as practiced on the Hampshire Downs, It includes the investigation
of the efficiency of the sheep used, the management of the arable
which produced crops for direct sale and for sheep feed, and the
integration of the two elements in a manner which sustained and
improved the soil fertility. Of principal concern is the effect of
the Great Agricultural Depression on the farming system. Conventional
wisdom is that mixed farming was particularly well suited to
the ethos of high farming as practised during the 'Golden Age'
between 1837 and 1874. When prices fell from 1875, the light land
mixed farming systems were believed to have been particularly badly
hit. Their inherent flexibility was said to inhibit radical responses
to long term change in economic conditions. The wide range
of sources including farm and estate records, the tithe files,
annual agricultural returns, newspapers, and numerous contemporary
journals and books, used to investigate the Downs, questions the
conventional wisdom of a failing system. Significant changes, whose
key elements are not revealed in the statistics, occurred in the
structure of agriculture on the Downs. As a consequence, the value
of product of the system was underevaluated. During the depression,
production was directed at a number of protected, high value,
marketing niches. These included the sale of top quality pedigree
sheep, particularly rams, and the breeding and fattening of suckling
lamb and of out-of-season top grade six to thirteen month old sheep.
For those farmers able to target these niches, the depression was
relatively mild. The 'Golden Age' had been a period of nascent
development which had not yet reached maturity. This occurred
during the depression, from which downland agriculture emerged in a
contracted, but more efficient and specialized state.