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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.
This chapter focuses on the enclosure of the common or waste and its effect on the labouring poor. Neeson's Commoners of 1993, based on detailed studies of the South Midlands, argues that common rights, and especially common rights on the waste, were a central part of the political economy of the rural poor for as long as the lands lay unenclosed. As Turner and Wordie have shown, the vast majority of land enclosed in the modern period was enclosed between c1720 and 1830, the period of 'Parliamentary Enclosure by Private Bill'. The amount of common land left in England in 1845 was a matter of dispute. After 1876, enclosure of commons or waste in the classic sense came to an end. After 1845 the organization of much opposition to enclosure was urban and middle class, as opposed to rural and plebeian.
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