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Published online by Cambridge University Press: 31 October 2008
‘Everything which can be said [about the land question] … must already have been said in the numerous books, pamphlets and articles’. Thus said Cuthbert Brodrick writing in 1881 in the preface to his substantial book on English land and landlords. Although it was accepted that, as Caird had clearly put it in 1878, the English countryside was dominated by the simple tripartite system of landlord, tenant and labourer, with a few owner-occupiers forming another simple, but tiny and diminishing group, considerable debate surrounded the structure of landownership particularly in terms of size of estates, the rate of decline of the ‘traditional yeoman’, and the significance of ‘open’ and ‘close’ parishes. Despite his preliminary comments Brodrick demonstrated in the course of his book that the land question was still an unexhausted topic in the final part of the century. Nor did the debate on these issues cease then, for it has continued into the twentieth century. Despite a few dissenting voices, the idea of the single coherent English tripartite system still persists. As with much of our perception of the dynamics of the countryside, this view has derived largely from the experience of the arable areas to the south and east of the country and to the statistics presented at national level. It fails to embrace the complexities of landholding in the nineteenth century. Even where it is accepted that owner-occupiers existed, there is little recognition of the fact that these should not be regarded as a single group.
3. Contemporary literature on the debate is extensive but, for example, see Brodrick, English LandGoogle Scholar; Caird, J., ‘General View of British Agriculture’, Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England (1878), 293–5, 299–300Google Scholar; for a discussion of the historiography of the debate see Beckett, J. V., ‘The Pattern of Landownership in England and Wales, 1660–1880’, Economic History Review, 2nd ser., XXXVII (1984), 1–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
4. See for example, Beckett, J. V., ‘The Decline of the Small Landowner in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century England: Some Regional Considerations’, Agricultural History Review, 30 (1982), 97, 110–1Google Scholar; ‘The Peasant in England: A Case of Terminological Confusion?’, Agricultural History Review, 32 (1984), 113–232Google Scholar; ‘Landownership and the Landmarket’, in Mingay, G. (ed), The Agrarian History of England and Wales (Cambridge, 1989), pp. 545–64Google Scholar; Mills, D., Lord and Peasant in Nineteenth Century Britain (London 1980), pp. 43–8Google Scholar; Thompson, F. M. L., English Landed Society in the Nineteenth Century (London, 1963), pp. 180–3Google Scholar; ‘Landowners and the Rural Community’, in Mingay, G. E. (ed), The Victorian Countryside (London, 1981), Vol. 2, pp. 471–3Google Scholar; Howell, D. W., Land and People in Nineteenth-Century Wales (London, 1977), pp. 33–46Google Scholar; Holderness, B. A., ‘“Open” and “Close” parishes in England in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries’, Agricultural History Review, 20 (1972), 126–39Google Scholar; Beckett, , ‘The Decline’, pp. 97–111Google Scholar; Mills, , Lord and Peasant, pp. 64–97Google Scholar; Banks, S., ‘Nineteenth-Century Scandal or Twentieth-Century Model? A New Look at “open” and “close” Parishes’, Economic History Review, XLI (1988)Google Scholar; Offer, A., ‘Farm Tenure and Land Values in England cl 750–1950’, Economic History Review, XLIV (1991), 1–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Reed, M., ‘The Peasantry of Nineteenth-Century England: A Neglected Class?’ History Workshop, 18 (1984), 53–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Howkins, A., ‘Peasants, Servants and Labourers: The Marginal Workforce in British Agriculture, c1870–1914’, Agricultural History Review, 42 (1994), 49–62.Google Scholar
9. Bateman, J., The Great Landowners of Great Britain and Ireland, (1876, 4th ed. 1883, repr. Leicester, 1971).Google Scholar
11. Local Government Board (hereafter LGB), “Owners of land” Return, York, North Riding (1873)Google Scholar, passim.
12. Ibid, p. 39. Earl de Grey (Vyner estate) had large estates in the North Riding in 1873 but the precise size and location of these estates is not indicated separately in the Return. In 1839 the Vyner family owned over 600 acres in Wensleydale and it is assumed that this acreage remained the same in 1873, Ellis MSS, Tithe commutation Award, Askrigg, 1839, LGB, ‘Owners of Land’, p. 37.Google Scholar
13. Ibid., passim. Two other landowners with estates elsewhere in the North Riding of Yorkshire owned over 1000 acres but the extent of their estates in Wensleydale was probably less than 1000 acres. Although the proportion given relates to the total land area of Wensleydale, a large acreage in Wensleydale was common land and, therefore, not included in the Return of Owners of Land. Common land in Wensleydale comprised at least 17.1 per cent of the total area, Hoskins, W.G. and Dudley, L. Stamp, The Common Land of England and Wales (London, 1963), pp. 341–2.Google Scholar If the common land is deducted from the total land area, Wensleydale owners with estates of over 1000 acres owned 40.9 per cent of non-common land.
14. LGB, ‘Owners of Land’, passim, one of the four owners was Reeth Moor Trustees who held 1400 acres. The estate of another Swaledale owner has been estimated as his return included land outside the study area. Common land in Swaledale comprised at least 60.3 per cent of the total area, Hoskins, and Stamp, , Common Land, pp. 340–1.Google Scholar If the common land is deducted from the total land area, Swaledale owners with estates over 1000 acres owned 27.2 per cent of non-common land.
16. Marshall, J. D. and Walton, J. K., The Lake Counties from 1830 to the Mid-Twentieth Century (Manchester, 1981), p. 114.Google Scholar
17. Page, E. (ed), The Victorian County History … Yorkshire North Riding, (VCH), Vol I (London, 1914)Google Scholar, passim.
18. Lord Wharncliffe's main estate was in south Yorkshire. The Charlesworth family who held an estate in Swaledale owned coal mines in the West Riding. The Pilkington family who held land in lower Wensleydale owned the famous glass firm in Lancashire, Bateman, Great Landowners, p. 85, 473; VCH, p. 239Google Scholar; Bedale and Northallerton Times, 12th 06 1875Google Scholar; Whellan, T. and Co, History and Topography of the City of York and the North Riding of Yorkshire, Vol II, Beverley, 1859, p. 461.Google Scholar
19. The selling off of part of large estates was a national phenomenon in the 1880s and 1890s, Thompson, , English Landed Society, p. 319.Google Scholar
20. VCH, p. 208; part of the Wharncliffe estate was sold earlier in the century, Fieldhouse, R. T., ‘Agriculture in Wensleydale from 1600 to the Present Day’, Northern History, XVI, 1980, 174.Google Scholar
21. Barker MSS, 2/5/4–5, Garth Day Books, 1880–1903; additional information supplied by the late T. C. Calvert.
24. The labour element of the tripartite system is not discussed here. Much of the labour on dales' farms was provided by the farmer's family. For further details, see C. S. Hallas, ‘Economic and Social Change in Wensleydale and Swaledale’, unpubl. Ph.D., Open University, 1988, vol 1, pp. 144–160.
29. For a discussion of the term ‘peasant’ see Beckett, , ‘The Decline’, pp. 113–23Google Scholar; Howell, , Land and People, XIVGoogle Scholar; Turner, M., Enclosures in Britain 1750–1830 (London, 1984), pp. 74–5CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Graham, P. A., The Rural Exodus (London, 1892), pp. 137–47.Google Scholar
34. BPP (1895), XVIGoogle Scholar, Royal Commission on the Agricultural Depression, Report by R. Hunter Pringle, Assistant Commissioner, on South Durham and Selected Districts of the North and East Ridings of Yorkshire, p. 567. This occurred elsewhere, Marshall, and Walton, , The Lake Counties, p. 64Google Scholar; Howell, , Land and People, p. 34.Google Scholar
35. Barker MSS, 2/5/1–5, Garth Day Books, 1795–1902.
37. Barker MSS, 2/5/2, Garth Day Book, 1833.
40. Fieldhouse, R., ‘Farming and the landscape in 17th Ccentury Wensleydale’, North Yorkshire County Record Office Journal, 6 (1978), 50–1Google Scholar; Fieldhouse, R. and Jennings, B., A History of Richmond and Swaledale (1978), pp. 135–40Google Scholar; LGB, ‘Owners of Land’, passim. For comments on nearby Dentdale and Garsdale in the seventeenth century see Thirsk, J., The Rural Economy of England (1984), p. 246.Google Scholar
41. For example, a tiny estate near Reeth of four acres one rood was equally divided into two estates (LGB, ‘Owners of Land’, p. 11).Google Scholar It would appear that locally the minimum acreage for a farm to be viable was forty acres. A similar size has been identified elsewhere. Bateman claims that the minimum acreage for a single occupation small freehold farm in the wet high pastoral areas was forty-five to fifty acres, Brodrick, , English Land, pp. 194–5;Google Scholar in Cumberland and Wales it was suggested in 1852 that farming was not viable below forty acres, Dickenson, , ‘On the Farming’, p. 220;Google ScholarHowell, , Landed People, p. 69.Google Scholar
42. North Yorkshire CRO (NYCRO), T(PR) Ark/GRI/PUS/WEN, Valuation for Tithe Commutation (VTC), 1841, Arkengartdale, Grinton, Preston under Scar, Wensley; – MAR, VTC, 1851, Marrick; – MUK, VTC, 1844, Marrick; Barker MSS, 7/14–7, VTC, 1844, Reeth, Melbecks;–2/5/l–5, Garth Day Books, 1795–1911; – 5/8–9, Barker Account Books, 1788–85; Ellis MSS, VTC, 1839, 1842, Askrigg, West Burton and Richmondshire District Council, Edward Broderick, Valuation of Aysgarth Union, 1872
44. The use of the word ‘holding’ here does not refer to owner-occupancy of single farm units but to extent of ownership of land. Although there may be some disparity between the earlier tithe information and the later Return of Owners of Land which is due to differences in data collection and reliability, other contemporary evidence suggests that the overall picture is accurate in terms of a significant decline in the number of owners by 1873.
45. Although there is no concrete evidence for this assumption, the population was expanding (Swaledale reached a peak of population in 1821) and contemporary evidence points to an increased number of holdings, some of which will have been purchased. Cooper MSS, (copy of) Agreement Regulating Settlement in the Township of Muker, 1780; Harland, J., A Glossary of Words Used in Swaledale, Yorkshire, 1873, p. 2;Google ScholarFieldhouse, and Jennings, , A History, pp. 135–40.Google Scholar The initial effect of enclosure in increasing the number of small owners has been noted elsewhere, Turner, , Enclosures in Britain, p. 67Google Scholar; Beckett, , ‘The Pattern’, p. 17.Google Scholar
46. For many examples of small owners letting land see Tithe Commutation Valuations for the area. NYCRO, Valuation for Tithe Commutation, Wensleydale and Swaledale, 1839–1844.Google Scholar
47. For example, Lord Bolton's estate included land in Carperby township, upper Wensleydale, and in adjacent Castle Bolton township, lower Wensleydale.
48. See note 44 above.
49. The 1851 census has been used in preference to the 1841 census which is much less reliable for recording occupations. Owners as a proportion of total population in Swaledale in the 1840s and 1870s is 8.2 and 4.3 per cent respectively and for Wensleydale at the same dates is 9.7 and 3.6 per cent respectively. PRO HO 1245–6, 1252–4, 2379–80, RG 9/3667–73, 11/4873–8, Census Enumerators Books, 1841, 1851,1871, Wensleydale and Swaledale; LGB, ‘Owners of Land’, passim; see also tables 2 and 4. For details of the occupied population see Hallas, , ‘Economic and Social Change’, vol. I, pp. 18–21.Google Scholar
50. However, the proportion of England and Wales in this category was inflated as some were owners of non-agricultural land, Brodrick, , English Land, p. 160.Google Scholar
51. For a fuller discussion of these issues see Hallas, C., ‘The social and economic impact of a rural railway: the Wensleydale line’, Agricultural History Review, 34, 1986;Google Scholar‘Supply responsiveness in dairy farming: some regional considerations’, Agricultural History Review, 39, 1991.Google Scholar For a detailed discussion of national rents see Turner, M.E. et al. , Agricultural Rent in England 1690–1914 (Cambridge, 1997), passim and particularly, pp. 191–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
52. BPP, 1881, Agricultural Interests, p. 138Google Scholar, ‘[farming] families … nearly starve before they will sever the connexion’; see also Richmond Observer, 12th 11, 1887.Google Scholar This situation still pertains today, information supplied by J. L. Barker, landowner; (late) H. Kirkbride, owner/farmer; D. Middleton, owner/farmer; and other residents of Wensleydale and Swaledale.
53. West Yorkshire Archive Service, Leeds (WYAS/L), RD/RT/195, Tithe Award, Redmire, 1843.
54. Bear, W.E., ‘Our agricultural population’, EJ, 4 (1894), pp. 320–1;Google ScholarGraham, , Rural Exodus, pp. 1–25;Google ScholarChambers, J.D. and Mingay, G.E., The Agricultural Revolution 1750–1880 (1966), p. 173.Google Scholar It is possible, however, that the number of owner-occupiers in some parts of Swaledale was significantly higher in 1844 than in 1895. A recent study shows that in 1844 owner-occupiers in Grinton Township, Swaledale farmed 52 per cent of their land; Hall, D., ‘Landlord and tenant in Swaledale 1844/5’, unpublished article, 1974, p. 1.Google Scholar In 1895 owner-occupiers in Grinton farmed only 21.9 per cent of their land; PRO MAF 68/1579, MAFF, Parish Summaries of June Returns, Grinton, 1895.
55. Perry, P. J. (ed), British Agriculture 1875–1914 (1973), p. XXVII.Google Scholar Recently it has been suggested that vast numbers of tenants did not leave the land at this time, Offer, ‘Farm Tenure’, p. 9.
56. This situation supports the view that one of the effects of the depression was initially to favour the expansion of the owner-occupier rather than tenants. A similar situation occurred in Wales, , Howell, , Land and People, pp. 33–4.Google Scholar
57. For example, as discussed earlier, the large Wensleydale estates of both Wharncliffe and Metcalfe were split up at this time. This situation occurred elsewhere in the country, Thompson, , English Landed Society, p. 323;Google ScholarHowell, , Land and People, p. 34;Google Scholar and see Graham, , Rural Exodus, p. 127.Google Scholar
58. Letter of J. Dover, 22nd November, 1822, quoted in Hartley, M. and Ingilby, J., The Old Hand-Knitters of the Dales (Clapham, 1978), pp. 111–12.Google Scholar
61. See Tithe Commutation Valuations for the area, NYCRO, Wensleydale and Swaledale, 1839–1844.Google Scholar
64. The Tithe Awards provide many examples of this phenomenon, for example see Ellis MSS, Askrigg, 1839. The Barkers and the Garths, both yeoman families who survived into the twentieth century, were buying land from their neighbours throughout the period, Barker MSS, 5/8, Barker Account Book, 1870; 2/5/5–6, Garth Day Books, 1900, 1911. For similar situation in Wales, see Howell, , Land and People, p. 33.Google Scholar
65. For details of farm holdings see Hallas, , ‘Economic and Social Change’, vol 1, pp. 116–143.Google Scholar See also recent comments concerning smallholdings in the late nineteenth century in Winstanley, M., ‘Industrialisation and the Small Farm: Family and Household Economy in 50. Nineteenth-Century Lancashire’, Past and Present, 152 (1996), pp. 157–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
71. See Holderness, , ‘“Open” and “Close”’, pp. 131–2, for a discussion of the definition of ‘open’ and ‘close’ parishes.Google Scholar
72. Cooper MSS, 1780.
75. Milburn, M.M., ‘On the Farming of the North Riding of Yorkshire’, Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, XXVI (1848), 206.Google Scholar
76. Ibid; BPP (1848), VII, Report from the SC on Agricultural Customs with Minutes of Evidence, evidence of J. Outhwaite, p. 154.
77. For example, one farm on Lord Bolton's estate had been in the tenancy of the same family for 200 years and a family on another farm on a nearby estate had been tenants for seventy years, Dugdale, J.H., ‘Select Farms in the Darlington District’, Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, 3rd ser., VI (1895), 486, 525.Google Scholar The Barker family let all their land on a yearly tenancy and many of the tenants held land for most of the period covered by the account books. However, where individual fields were let, these changed hands more frequently, Barker MSS, 5/8, 5/8/1–2, 5/9, Barker Account Books, 1819–91, 1788–1835, 1823–55, 1855–85. See also Thompson, (1963), English Landed Society, pp. 76–7Google Scholar on tenure and improvements.
78. WYAS/L, Vyner MSS, VR 5521, 5444, Account Books of Rents …, 1802–13, 1842; BPP, 1848, Agricultural Customs, pp. 152–3.Google Scholar
79. Ibid., pp. 154–5; Dugdale, , ‘Select Farms’, pp. 523, 525.Google Scholar However, agreements were often quite detailed even for meadow and pasture: ‘Let to James Harker the meadow and pasture land at Thwaite … the meadow land not to be eat by horses or sheep and all the produce of the land to be consumed upon the primises’, Hartley and Ingilby MSS, James Burton Lodge, Account Book, Askrigg, 1840.
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