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On the Road Again with Arthur Young: English, Irish, and French Agriculture during the Industrial Revolution

  • Robert C. Allen (a1) and Cormac Ó Gráda (a2)


In their day Arthur Young's tours of England, Ireland, and France represented a revolutionary approach to agricultural research. Here we avail of one part of the wealth of statistical data collected by Young—that on grain yields—to provide a comparative perspective on agricultural technique and progress in these countries around 1770 to 1850. We show that, ironically, Young's carefully assembled data do not always support some of his best-remembered generalizations.



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The authors would like to thank the following people for helpful comments and discussions: Bruce Campbell, Nick Crafts, François Crouzet, Louis Cullen, Lance Davis, David Dickson, George Grantham, Alan Green, Knick Harley, Dan Heath, Joanne Innes, Eric Jones, Liam Kennedy, Frank Lewis, John McManus, Joel Mokyr, Patrick O'Brien, Angela Redish, Bill Schworm, Peter Solar, Michael Turner, and Herman van der Wee. Earlier versions of this article were presented to seminars at the University of British Columbia; the University of Chicago; and Queen's University, Canada; and to the Conference on International Productivity Comparisons, 1750–1939, Bellagio; the Irish Economic and Social History Conference, Galway; and the International Economic History Congress, Berne. We are grateful to all the participants at these sessions for their discussion. We would like to thank Nancy South for research assistance and Frank Flynn for assistance with programming and data analysis. We are grateful to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for financial support.

1 Young, Arthur, A Six Months' Tour Through the North of England [henceforth Northern Tour] (2nd edn., London, 1771), vol. 1, p. iii;Young, Arthur, Six Weeks Tour Through the Southern Counties of England and Wales (London, 1768) [henceforth Six Weeks Tour].

2 Arthur Young, Northern Tour, and Young, Arthur, The Farmer's Tour Through the East of England (London, 1771) [henceforth Eastern Tour].

3 Young, Arthur, Arthur Young's Tour in Ireland (1780; Hutton, A. W., ed., London, 1892) [henceforth Tour in Ireland].

4 Young, Arthur, “A Tour to the West,” Annals of Agriculture, 6 (1786), pp. 116–51; “A Tour in Wales, etc.,” Annals of Agriculture, 8 (1787), pp. 3188; “A Tour in Sussex,” Annals of Agriculture, 11 (1789), pp. 170–304.

5 Young, Arthur, Travel during the Years 1787, 1788, 1789, Undertaken with a View of Ascertaining the Cultivation, Wealth, Resources, and National Prosperity of … France (2nd edn., London, 1794) [henceforth Travels….[in] France].

6 Young, , Eastern Tour, vol. 1, p. xi.

7 Ibid., vol. 4, p. 367.

8 Meanwhile, see E. Mingay, Gordon, ed., Arthur Young and His Times (London, 1975), pp. 34.

9 Young, , Northern Tour, vol. 3, p. 378.

10 Young also collected considerable information on land values, and it is conceivable that they might shed light on total factor productivity. However, Young, , Travels … [in] France, vol. 2, pp. 120–23, doubted that the numbers measured the economic rent of land.

11 Griliches, Zvi, “Agriculture: Productivity and Technology,” International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (1968), vol. 1, p. 242, maintained that in the twentieth century yields have depended on factors like seed variety, fertilization, and soil moisture. Mechanization and the intensity of cultivation have been unimportant in raising yields. Chorley, G.P.H., “The Agricultural Revolution in Northern Europe, 1750–1880: Nitrogen, Legumes, and Crop Productivity,” Economic History Review, 2nd series, 34 (02 1981), pp. 7193, explained the growth of yields in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe in terms of cropping changes that raised soil nitrogen. N. Parker, William and L. Klein, Judith, “Productivity Growth in Grain Production in the United States, 1840–1860 and 1900–1910,” in Output, Employment and Productivity in the U.S. after 1800. Studies in Income and Wealth, vol. 30 (Princeton, 1966), pp. 523–46, explained the growth in nineteenth-century American yields in terms of chemical inventions and (in contrast to Griliches) new mechanical equipment.

12 For instance,Bennett, M. K., “British Wheat Yield Per Acre for Seven Centuries”, Economic Journal (Supplement, 1937), pp. 1229;Bourke, P.M.A., “The Average Yield of Food Crops in Ireland on the Eve of the Great Famine,” Department of Agriculture Journal, 66 (1969), pp. 2639;M. S. Campbell, Bruce, “Agricultural Progress in Medieval England: Some Evidence from Eastern Norfolk,” Economic History Review, 2nd series, 36 (02 1983), pp. 2646; Chorley, “The Agricultural Revolution”; Clout, Hugh, Agriculture in France on the Eve of the Railway Age (London, 1980);Fussell, G. E., “Population and Wheat Production in the Eighteenth Century,” The History Teachers' Miscellany, 7 (1929), pp. 6568, 84–88, 108–11, 120–27;Holderness, B. A., “Productivity Trends in English Agriculture, 1600–1850: Observations and Preliminary Results” (presented to International Economic History Conference, Edinburgh, 1978);Morineau, Michel, “Y-a-t-il eu une révolution agricole en France au XVIIIe siècle?Revue historique, 239 (0406 1968), pp. 299326;Morineau, , Les faux-semblants d'un démarrage économique: agriculture et démographie en France au XVIIIe siècle (Paris, 1970);Morineau, , “Révolution agricole, révolution alimentaire, révolution demographique,” Annales de Démographie Historique, (1974), p. 335–71;Newell, William, “ The Agricultural Revolution in Nineteenth-Century France,” this Journal, 33 (12 1973), pp. 697731;Overton, Mark, “Estimating Crop Yields from Probate Inventories: An Example from East Anglia, 1585–1735,” this Journal, 39 (06 1979), pp. 363–78;Slicher van Bath, B. H., Yield Ratios, 810–1820, A.A.G. Bijdragen, No. 10 (1963);Titow, J. Z., Winchester Yields: A Study in Medieval Agricultural Productivity (Cambridge, 1972);Turner, Michael, “Agricultural Productivity in England in the Eighteenth Century: Evidence from Crop Yields,” Economic History Review, 2nd series, 35 (11 1982), pp. 489510;Yelling, J. A., Common Field and Enclosure in England, 1450–1850 (Hamden, 1977).

13 Young, Arthur, General View of the Agriculture of Oxfordshire (London, 1813), pp. 3536.

14 In the modern literature McCloskey, Donald, “The Enclosure of Open Fields: Preface to a Study of its Impact on the Efficiency of English Agriculture in the Eighteenth Century,” this Journal, 32 (03 1972), pp. 1535, has advocated the use of rents to measure efficiency gains at enclosure. C. Allen, Robert, “The Efficiency and Distributional Consequences of Eighteenth Century Enclosures,” Economic Journal, 92 (12 1982), pp. 937–53, analyzes the farm reports Young collected in his English tours and finds that rents rose at enclosure because income was transferred from farmers to landlords, not because productivity went up. See also Yelling, , Common Field, pp. 210–13.

15 Young, Arthur, General Report on Enclosures (London, 1808), pp. 3738, as quoted by Yelling, , Common Field, p. 210.

16 Allen describes the general character of these data in “Efficiency and Distributional Consequences.” While that paper concentrated on analyzing the data relating to farms, this article analyzes a broader sample of villages. C. Allen, Robert and ó Gráda, Cormac, “On the Road Again with Arthur Young: English, Irish and French Agriculture During the Industrial Revolution,” University of British Columbia, Department of Economics Discussion Paper No. 86–38 and University College, Department of Economics, Centre for Economic Research Working Paper No. 45, Appendix Table 1, reports the average yields county by county.

17 Throughout, national yield averages have been computed as unweighted arithmetic means of the county data. The absence of county acreage data left no other option.

18 The contemporary is quoted in G. Gazley, John, The Life of Arthur Young (Philadelphia, 1973), p. 196; Kerridge is quoted in Mingay, , Arthur Young, p. 3.

19 Marshall, William, Review of the Reports of the Board of Agriculture (London, 18081817), vol. 3, pp. 6566. See also vol. 3, pp. 358, 491–92, and vol. 4, pp. 456–60.

20 Young, , Northern Tour, vol. 1, pp. xii–xiii.

21 Young, , Northern Tour, vol. 1, p. iv.

22 Young, , Eastern Tour, vol. 1, pp. 3, 82, 165.

23 Caird, James, English Agriculture in 1850–1851, Mingay, G. E., ed. (London, 1968), p. 474.

24 McCulloch, J. R., A Descriptive and Statistical Account of the British Empire (London, 1837), vol. 1, p. 482;Fussell, , “Population and Wheat Production,” p. 109 fn. 35.

25 Turner, , “Agricultural Productivity,” pp. 502–3, 494.

26 For example, Bennett, “British Wheat Yields.”

27 L. Jones, Eric, Agriculture and the Industrical Revolution (Oxford, 1974), pp. 184–90.

28 Thus, for instance, Titow's, , Winchester Yields, pp. 121–35, z, summary of the yields of 40 manors of the Bishop of Winchester between 1209 and 1349 showed wheat yielding 10.7 bushels per acre, barley 16.8 bushels, and oats 11.7 bushels. Titow's figures have been divided by 0.9 to compensate for the tithe. (Titow, , Winchester Yields, p. 8.)Farmer, D. L., “Grain Yields on the Winchester Manors in the Later Middle Ages,” Economic History Review, 2nd series, 30 (11 1977) pp. 555–66 reports yield-seed ratios for the same manors into the fifteenth century, and those ratios are scarcely different from the ones Titow reports. Brandon, P. F., “Cereal Yields on the Sussex Estates of Battle Abbey during the Later Middle Ages,” Economic History Review, 2nd series, 25 (08 1972), pp. 403–20, reports similar numbers for some Sussex manors on p. 417. See Slicher van Bath, Yield-Rauos, summarizing yield-seed ratios for all English records in print when he wrote. Again those ratios are fully consistent with our argument. The only discordant findings are the high yields in some East Norfolk manors recently discussed by Campbell, “Agricultural Progress.”

29 Fussell, , “Population and Wheat Production,” p. 111.

30 Turner, “Agricultural Productivity”; Overton, Mark, “Agricultural Productivity in Eighteenth- Century England: Some Further Speculations,” Economic History Review, 2nd series, 37 (05 1984), pp. 244–51; and C. Allen, Robert, “Enclosure, Capitalist Agriculture, and the Growth in Corn Yields in Early Modern England” (University of British Columbia Department of Economics, Discussion Paper 86–39).

31 Turner, “Agricultural Productivity.”

32 Young, , “Tour in Ireland,” (Dublin, 1780 edn.), pt 2, p. 75.

33 Compare O'Brien, George, The Economic History of Ireland from the Union to the Famine (London, 1921), pp. 27128, and Green, E.R.R., “Agriculture,” in Edwards, R. Dudley and Williams, T. Desmond, eds., The Great Famine: Studies in Irish History (Dublin, 1956), pp. 89128.

34 ó Gráda, Cormac, Ireland Before and After the Famine: Explorations in Economic History (Manchester, 1988), chap. 2.

35 Thomas, Brinley, “Food Supply in the United Kingdom during the Industrial Revolution,” in Mokyr, Joel, ed., The Economics of the industrial Revolution (Totowa, 1985), pp. 137–50.

36 Cormac ó Gráda, Ireland, chap. 2. See also Solar, P. M., “Agricultural Productivity and Economic Development in Ireland and Scotland in the Early Nineteenth Century,” in Devine, Tom and Dickson, David, eds., Ireland and Scotland (Edinburgh, 1983).

37 Crafts, N.F.R., “Income Elasticities of Demand and the Release of Labour from Agriculture during the Industrial Revolution: A Further Appraisal,” in Mokyr, , ed., The Economics of the Industrial Revolution, p. 160.

38 For an earlier assessment of Irish grain yields before 1845, see Bourke, , “Average Yields,” pp. 2639. Bourke, however, largely eschews comparisons across countries and over time.

39 Wakefield, E., An Account of Ireland, Statistical and Political (London, 1812) [henceforth Ireland].

40 Another source is the parish yield data in the Ordnance Survey memoirs for the 1830s. Available for Ulster counties only, these data are often ambiguous in terms of the measurement units used. Omitting unclear cases, however, yields a 34-parish average of 37.0 bushels for oats and a 31-parish average of 26.6 bushels for wheat. We are grateful to Liam Kennedy of Queen's University, Belfast, for sharing his O.S.M. data.

41 Mingay, , Arthur Young, p. 6.

42 Fraser, Robert, Statistical Survey of the County of Wexford (Dublin, 1807), p. 56.

43 A condensed single-volume version of the first and second tours had been produced by John Wynn Baker for the Dublin Society in 1771. This abridgement of the Six Weeks, and Six Months Tour of Arthur Young, Esq. was aimed at “the common farmer of Ireland,” and 3,000 copies were printed.

44 Gazley, , Arthur Young, pp. 96100.

45 Cullen, L. M., The Emergence of Modern Ireland, 1600–1900 (London, 1981), pp. 172–92.

46 Young, Arthur, A Tour in Ireland, selected and edited by Maxwell, C. (Cambridge, 1925), p. 32.

47 Also Young, Arthur, The Autobiography of Arthur Young, Beatham-Edwards, M., ed. (London, 1898), vol. 1, p. 85.

48 It is worth noting that French writers have generally been impressed with Young's Irish inquiry. When Millon, C., “Editor's Preface,” Young, Arthur, Voyage en Irlande (Paris, 1800), produced a work “qui fasse connaltre d'une manière satisfaisante l'Irlande,” it was a translation of Part II of Young's Tour in Ireland. Young's reputation was a “sure guarantee” of success; “nothing escaped his inquiries.”Sée, H., “Introduction,” Young, A., Voyages en France 1787, 1788, 1789 (Paris, 1931; 1976 edn.), vol. 1, p. 27, fn., suggests, rightly in our view, that Young's knowledge of Irish agriculture was “plus précise et plus exacte.”

49 Bourke, , “Average Yields,” p. 27.

50 Bourke's, Even “Average Yield,” p.27, more conservative assessment—reflecting a belief that the reduction in acreage during the Famine boosted yields—still implies progress between Young's time and 1845. On rotations see Wakefield, , Ireland, pp. 368426. His data are tabulated in Mokyr, Joel, “Irish History with the Potato,” Irish Economic and Social History, 8 (1981), p. 12.

51 Fraser, Robert, General View of the Agriculture and Minerology, Present State and Circumstances of the County Wicklow (Dublin, 1801), p. 178.

52 Dubourdieu, John, Statistical Survey of the County of Down (Dublin, 1801), p. 137.

53 Bourde, A., Agronomie et agronomes en France au XVIIIe siec (Paris, 1967), vol. 3, pp. 1653–65. Young is accused of superficiality but the historians who quote him include Clout, Agriculture in France; Morineau, Les faux-semblants; Bourde, Influence;Sexauer, B., “English and French Agriculture in the late Eighteenth Century,” Agricultural History (1976), pp. 491505. See also Sée's balanced appraisal in his introduction to first complete translation of Young's French trip, Voyages en France, pp. 1535.

54 Ernle, Lord, English Farming, Past and Present (4th edn., London, 1927), p. 206.

55 Young, , Eastern Tour, vol 1, pp. xxvii–xlvii.

56 Gazley, , Arthur Young, pp. 177, 203–4, 206, 208, 214, 221, 234, 239.

57 Young, , Travels …. [in] France, vol. 2, pp. 45, 56, 76.

58 Ibid., pp. 43–46.

59 See Weber, E., Peasants into Frenchmen (London, 1977), chap. 6.

60 Young, , Travels … [in] France, vol. 2, p. 55.

62 Ibid., pp. 55–56.

63 Ibid., p. 92.

64 Ibid., p. 93.

65 The loam district includes Picardy, Flanders, Artois, the Ile de France, and parts of Normandy, Alsace, and Auvergne. The heath district includes Brittany, Anjou, and Gascony. The mountain district includes Roussillon, Languedoc, Auvergne, Dauphiné, and Provence. The stony district includes Lorraine, Alsace, Franche Comté, and Burgundy. The chalk district includes Sologne, Saintonge, Angoumois, Poitou, Touraine, Champagne. Young also distinguished a gravel district and a district of “various barns,” but he collected little information about them. Clout, Hugh, Themes in the Historical Geography of France (London, 1977), p. 549, has produced a useful map of Young's soil districts with his route superimposed.

66 The seed rates were read off Clout's, , Agriculture, p. 112, map for the departments where Young recorded yields. Mainly on his third trip, Young reported seed rates for some places in France (Travels … [in] France, vol. 2, p. 118). The average level of seeding he recorded is consistent with the 1837 inquiry, but seed rates do not correspond very closely place by place.

67 Young, , Travels … [in] France, vol. 2, p. 89.

68 Ibid., p. 95.

69 Ibid., p. 88. Specklin, R., “Les campagnes í leur apogée 1852–1880,” in Agulhon, M. et al., Histoire de la France rurale (Paris, 1976), vol. 3, p. 265, noted that Young “n'a vu le pays que le long des routes traversées, et entre elles, principalement dans l'Ouest, il y avait de grands espaces qu'il n'a connus que par oui-dite ou pas de tout”.

70 France, , Ministère de l'Agriculture, Récoltes des céréales et pommes de terre, 1815–1876 (Paris, 1913).

71 Grantham, George, “The Diffusion of the New Husbandry in Northern France,” this Journal, 38 (06 1978), pp. 311–37.

72 Newell, “Agricultural Revolution”, Morineau, “Y-a-t-il,” and Les faux-semblants.

73 See O'Brien, P. K. and Keydar, C., Economic Growth in Britain and France, 1780–1914 (London, 1978), pp. 125–26.

74 Gille, B., Les Sources statistiques de l'histoire de France des enquêtes du 17e siècle í 1870 (Paris, 1964), p. 158.

75 Grantham, , “Diffusion,” p. 313–14.

76 Heywood, C., “The Role of the Peasantry in French Industrialization, 1815–80,” Economic History Review, 2nd series, 34 (08. 1981), pp. 359–76, and Goldsmith, J. L., “The Agrarian History of Preindustrial France. Where Do We Go from Here?Journal of European Economic History, 13 (Spring 1984), pp. 175–99.

77 Young, , Travels … [in] France, vol. 2, pp. 123–26.

78 More recent assessments rely on labor productivity, and by that standard French agriculture was only two-thirds as productive as English early in the nineteenth century. See, for instance, O'Brien and Keyder, Economic Growth; Bairoch, P., “Niveau de développement économique de 1810 í 1910,” Annales: Economies, Societés, Civilisations, 20 (1112 1965), pp. 10911117;Wrigley, E. A., “Urban Growth and Agricultural Change: England and the Continent in the Early Modem Period,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 15 (Spring 1985), pp. 683728; Robert C.Allen, “The Growth in Labor Productivity in Early Modem English Agriculture,” Explorations in Economic History, forthcoming.

79 Young, , Travels … [in] France, vol. 2, 119.

80 Ibid., p. 118, 123.

On the Road Again with Arthur Young: English, Irish, and French Agriculture during the Industrial Revolution

  • Robert C. Allen (a1) and Cormac Ó Gráda (a2)


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