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At the time of the great Whig Revolution' (he writes, p. 26) * England was in the main a country of commons and of common-fields; at the time of the Reform Bill, England was in the main a country of individualist agriculture and of large enclosed farms.'
The change which took place in these 140 years is so remarkable, and on social grounds so deplorable, that no exaggeration is needed. But when Mr Hammond speaks, in the first half of the above-quoted sentence, of England in the main' he, of course, really means less than'a quarter of England.' He says,
Gregory King and Davenant estimated that the whole of the cultivated land in England in 1685 did not amount to much more than half the total area, and of this cultivated portion three-fifths was still farmed on the old common-field system.'
The sentence is ambiguous in more ways than one. Neither King nor Davenant would have included in the cultivated' area any land except that under plough. The figures are King's; and the addition of Davenant's name lends no greater authority to the guess. But King nowhere attempted to calculate the amount of land cultivated on the common-field system. For that part of the guess Mr Hammond is alone responsible. King did estimate the total area of England and Wales at 39,000,000 acres, a figure which exceeds the real area by over 1,600,000
He then calculated the meadows and pastures at 10,000,000 acres, the forests, parks, and commons at 3,000,000 acres, and the arable area at 11,000,000 acres. Reducing the arable area to the proper scale, it amounts to 10,500,000
Lawrence in his System of Agriculture' (1727) estimated the proportion of this tillage land still under the open-field system at a third of the whole; Mr Hammond nearly doubles this contemporary calculation, and claims three-fifths. Possibly Lawrence underestimated the quantity, which may be taken at half the tillage land of the country; 5,250,000 acres were therefore cultivated by open-field farmers. One of the admitted
. defects of the system was the excess of arable land. It would therefore be a most lavish allowance to assign one acre of grass to every three acres of tillage. Yet, even with this generous treatment, the total area under the
old open-field system, both tillage and grass, could not have exceeded 8,000,000 acres, or considerably less than a quarter of England and Wales.
The open-field system has disappeared to so great an extent that it may be necessary to explain its main features. In 1689 the land in a parish generally consisted of three portions : (1) the demesne lands of the landlord, let out on modern tenancies in compact enclosures to tenant farmers; (2) the lands occupied as a village farm by a number of partners associated in the agrarian enterprise of its cultivation; (3) the untilled commons and wastes, over which the lord of the manor, the tenants of the enclosed land, the partners in the village farm, and the occupiers of certain ancient cottages, enjoyed grazing and other rights in virtue of their holdings. Over these commons no rights were exercised by the general public; they were enjoyed, and jealously guarded, by the privileged classes enumerated. Any person who squatted on the common, by building a cottage or fencing-in a portion, did so at his peril; he was a trespasser, who was defrauding the real commoners by appropriating to himself a portion.
Side by side with the modern farmers who occupied the demesne lands, were the occupiers of the village farm who cultivated the land on a system of immemorial antiquity. Near the village were a few permanent grass enclosures held by individuals. The rest of the farm was occupied by the partners in common. The arable land was divided into three great fields, more rarely into two or four. Instead of hedges, narrow, unploughed, bushgrown strips or balks' of turf marked the lines of division between the three great fields and their component parts. Each field was subdivided into a number of shots, furlongs, or flats, separated from one another by balks of turf. The shots were in turn cut up into parallel acre, half-acre, or quarter-acre strips, coinciding with the arrangement of a ploughed field into ridges and furrows. Thus each of the three great fields resembled several sheets of paper, cut into various shapes, stitched together like patchwork, and ruled with margins and lines. The whole fabric is one of the Trinity Fields'; the separate sheets are the shots, furlongs, or flats; the margins are the headlands running down the shots at right angles to, and across the ends of, the parallel lines which represent the acre, halfacre, or quarter-acre strips.
Every year one of the three great fields lay fallow ; one was under wheat or rye; the other under barley, oats, beans, vetches or pease.
A third of each partner's holding lay in each of the three fields. Thus supposing him to have eighteen acres, he had each year six acres under fallow, six under wheat or rye, six under spring crops. But the six acres, though in the same field, were not allowed to lie together. They were scattered in acre, half-acre, or quarter-acre strips all over its extent, so that in each field each partner had his share of good, bad, and middling land. From seed-time to harvest each strip was held in separate occupation. When once the crops were cleared, common rights began. The live stock of the partners, tended by the common neatherd and shepherd, grazed the land from harvest to seed-time.
The meadows were similarly treated. From St Gregory's Day (March 24) to harvest, they were put up for hay, and distributed among the partners in separate occupation. After the hay crop had been carried, they reverted to common occupation, grazed indiscriminately by the partners' live stock from harvest till they were again allotted and put up for hay. Only two acres of meadow were usually allotted to every eighteen acres of arable land. In 1689 the field cultivation of roots and artificial grasses was practically unknown even enclosed land; and their introduction on open-fields, which, when tilled for grain or leguminous crops, was pastured in common from harvest to seed-time, was extremely difficult, if not impossible. Grazing rights over the commons were therefore essential to the partners in the village farm, and formed an integral part of the open-field system.
In size the holdings ranged from 150 acres to the four acres or lesser area attached to cottages. No less varied were the tenures. Intermixed with the strips of owners were strips occupied by copyholders of inheritance or for lives, by leaseholders for lives or for a term of years, or by tenants at will. Mr Hammond ignores this variety of tenure. By representing the occupiers as owners, he at once establishes his parallel with France, and represents the English landlords in the odious light of
appropriating the holdings of peasant proprietors. Mr Hammond (p. 28) says that 'the arable fields were divided into strips, with different owners, some of whom owned few strips, and some many. The various strips that belonged to a particular owner were scattered among the fields. ... The common meadow land was divided up by lot, pegged out, and distributed among the owners of the strips.' The italics are ours; but the insistence upon ownership creates an entirely false impression of the facts. It is true that Mr Hammond goes on to enumerate the different classes in the village. “In a normal village,'he says, 'there would be (1) a Lord of the Manor, (2) Freeholders going by the general name of Yeomanry, (3) Copyholders, (4) Tenant Farmers (5) Cottagers, (6) Squatters, and (7) Farm Servants, living in their employers' houses. But in order to prove the preponderance of owners, he relies partly on Gregory King's classification of the agricultural population into 26,586 nobles, esquires, clergy and gentlemen, 40,000 larger and 120,000 lesser 'freeholders,' and 150,000 farmers'; partly on Adam Smith, who in the · Wealth of Nations' (1776) said that the large number of yeomen was ... the strength ... of English agriculture.' Even if King's guesswork, which by the way Mr Hammond misquotes, is accepted as reliable evidence, the witnesses do not carry him far. He cannot restrict either freeholders' or 'yeomen’ to owners. The 40s. freeholder, who from 1429 onwards was an electoral force, included lessees for lives; and in King's classification .freeholders' means not only lessees for lives, but copyholders and customary tenants. Farmers' are tenants for terms of years or at will. Yeomen'in Harrison's Description of England were for the most part farmers to gentlemen.' Latimer's father was a yeoman, though he owned no land. Bacon, in his · Life of Henry VII,' speaks of the 'tenancies for years, lives, and at will, whereupon much of the yeomanry lived.' Guillim's 'Heraldry' (1679) includes, among yeomen, copyhold and customary tenants. To Blackstone the word 'yeoman' meant a duly qualified rural voter. Finally Adam Smith, in the very passage to which Mr Hammond refers, calls all English farmers yeomen,
adding that a great part of them are lessees for lives. The restriction of the word to farmer-owners belongs to the latter part of the first half of the nineteenth century; and it is on this modern usage that Mr Hammond relies for his proof that the mass of open-field occupiers were owners of the strips they cultivated.
The practical objections to the open-field system are ignored by Mr Hammond. He makes the most of the rare instances where open-field farming had improved; he omits those where it is reported that the standard had deteriorated. He dwells with approval on Sir Richard Sutton's Act of 1773, which enabled three-fourths in number and value of the occupiers to set aside the ancient rules of cultivation and adopt improved methods. He forgets to mention that there is only one recorded instance of this Act being put in operation. That instance is Hunmanby, in the East Riding of Yorkshire, where Isaac Leadam succeeded in inducing the occupiers to change the traditional practices of the Middle Ages. It must be remembered that up to about 1775 there was no pressure of increased demand for agricultural produce; that the population was growing almost imperceptibly, and that, owing largely to the open-field system, it was in rural villages stationary; that no important improvements had been at all generally introduced into farming, even on enclosed land. In 1780 these conditions were changing fast. The development of manufacturing industries was creating a demand for food which the self-sufficing methods of open-field farming could not attempt to supply ; population increased more and more rapidly; drill-husbandry, roots, artificial grasses and scientific stock breeding had been successfully established on enclosed farms. Before another twenty years had passed, the need for developing to the full all the resources of the soil had become a matter of desperate urgency.
It is, therefore, important to consider what were the ineradicable defects of open-field farming. They cannot be dismissed, as they are by Mr Hammond, with an allusion to the slow bucolic temperament,' or to the yoking of the swift with the slow.' They lie at the root of the whole question, and are not to be waived aside as inconveniences.'
So long as farming had been unprogressive, and