By Joan Thirsk
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Additional resources for Agricultural Regions and Agrarian History in England, 1500–1750
As an introduction to this regional complexity, a simpler scheme has been suggested by Professor Alan Everitt in an essay that principally discusses the evolution of regions from the time of their first settlement. But it is equally useful here, since it reduces the number of regions, gives them names which readily convey the appearance of the landscape, and enables anyone having some familiarity with the physical structure of England to locate them easily on the map. An eightfold regional division of the kingdom is suggested, as follows: (i) downland; (ii) wold; (iii) fielden or champion areas, which we shall call vale lands, and divide between arable (fielden or champion) vales and pastoral vales; (iv) marshlands; (v) heathlands; (vi) forest (sometimes called woodpasture) areas; (vii) fell or moorland; and (viii) fenland [12, 16].
An unkindly climate for grain made oats the first cereal for bread and beer, bigg - a four-rowed variety of coarse barley - the second, and rye the third. The grain harvest was no more than adequate for household needs. The arable land could not bear crops for long sequences of years, and so one satisfactory system was 'infield-outfield', under which the infield was manured intensively while in use, and the outfield ploughed up for only a short period of years before returning to grass. In some places, however, small common fields had been laid out where a two- or even a three-course, rotation was followed.
How far the small farmers survived the economic and social pressures of the seventeenth century depended often on the accidents of local circumstances, such as those discussed in Chapter 3. In the Lincolnshire marshlands as a whole, the signs point to a decline of the small proprietor as native yeomen and outsiders forged ahead and consolidated their land holdings. But the evidence is more impressionistic in other marshlands; in north-east Kent hard-working family farmers seem to have prospered; generalisations cannot yet safely be made.
Agricultural Regions and Agrarian History in England, 1500–1750 by Joan Thirsk