By Mark Overton
This publication is the 1st to be had survey of English agriculture among 1500 and 1850. Written in particular for college students, it combines new fabric with an research of the present literature. It describes farming within the 16th century, analyzes the explanations for advancements in agricultural output and productiveness, and examines adjustments within the agrarian economic climate and society. Professor Overton argues that the effect of those comparable adjustments in productiveness and social and monetary constitution within the century after 1750 volume to an agricultural revolution.
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Extra info for Agricultural Revolution in England: The Transformation of the Agrarian Economy 1500-1850
However, although the land was wetter in the past it did not suffer damage from heavy machinery: land that today is too wet to take a tractor and seed drill could, in the sixteenth century, take a man broadcasting seed. High moisture levels at harvest time were less of a problem than they are today as grain could dry as it stood in the sheaf before being brought home from the field. In general, livestock farmers were more susceptible to bad weather than their modern counterparts. The absence of a treatment for foot-rot in sheep, for example, meant that farmers keeping sheep feared wet weather, while those with cattle feared drought in the absence of alternative fodder to grass.
The figures in the table should be taken as a very rough guide. Although freeholders were quite prevalent in East Anglia for example, many held only small parcels of land, in contrast to the freeholders in the south-west who tended to own much larger acreages. As a very rough national generalisation it seems that in the early sixteenth century about three out of five tenants were customary tenants, more than one in eight were leaseholders, and about a quarter were freeholders. In the south-west, copyhold tenure for three lives was by far the most common form of landholding, subject to the custom of each manor.
The most important crop (often wheat) was sown after the fallow or a pulse crop of peas or beans. Several cereal crops would then be taken in succession, often with barley following wheat, and oats following barley, before the land reverted to fallow again. Aside from rotation a variety of methods were adopted to combat diseases, the most prevalent of which was the steeping of seed (in brine, lime, blood or urine for example) prior to sowing, and reducing soil acidity by the addition of lime. Stored grain was particularly susceptible to attacks from vermin.