Essex agriculture : landowners' and farmers' responses to economic change, 1850-1914
This thesis responds to the perennial quest for regional and local investigations into agricultural history, a theme reiterated in the recently published volume of the Agrarian History of England and Wales. It examines landownership and farming in Essex C.1850 and 1914, a large county with a variety of soils and market accessibility enabling investigation of the broader debate on agriculture. It has made use of official sources and returns, newspapers, oral evidence and, in particular, Essex estate papers, many of which have not been used before. Existing interpretations of 'golden age' agriculture are challenged. The period, it is suggested, saw but modest prosperity and was characterised by continuity rather than change. Rents rose only modestly, investment levels were far lower than most previous accounts have suggested, there is evidence of a retreat from leadership by landowners, increased reliance on wheat, and only a limited movement towards livestock and 'high farming'. Yet such continuity and apparent conservatism was rational given the constraints and opportunities available to Essex landowners and farmers. This work also disputes the oft-made claims that south-eastern agriculturalists were in the vanguard of managerial and entrepreneurial failure in the subsequent depression, that structural change in the face of collapsing cereal prices was inadequate and insufficient attention paid to the example set by Scottish migrant farmers. In fact, analysis shows that despite far from clear market signals, most Essex farmers and landowners responded rationally, adequately and appropriately. Essex evidence affords little support to Avner Offer's attack on the tripartite system. Most landlords were good managers and supported tenants, but the evidence does suggest some entrepreneurial shortcomings. This thesis, therefore, contributes not only to debates about Victorian and Edwardian agriculture, but also to the wider debate on British managerial and entrepreneurial performance in the period.