‘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.