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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: October 2019

6 - Hearth, Household, and Farm

from Part II - Reciprocity


This chapter argues that reciprocity was built into the moral economy of the family farm. It is central to the moral economy of the peasant household that its members constitute the labour force for the farm. Without the produce of the farm the household would starve, without the work of the household the farm could not produce food. Households of all kinds centred on hearths. Having a hearth of one’s own was a crucial signifier of status: to be ‘hearth-fast’ entitled a person, however poor, to a place in the public world and subject to its obligations. The hearth, with its fire alight, was long taken to symbolise the ownership of land and to bring entitlement to a share in one of the most valuable resources of a rural community: rights to pasture and the family farm was the basis of the measuring unit the ‘hide’. The domestic economy had its own hierarchy in which a lord is a hlaford a ‘loaf-keeper’, a lady a hlædige , a ‘loaf-kneader’and to be someone’s ‘loaf-eater’ was to be their dependant, but one with an entitlement to protection: such people were the ‘boarders’, the bordarii , of Domesday Book. Passing on the farm within the family was as vital to peasant society as inheriting family land was to the elite.

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