Agricultural Regions and Agrarian History in England, by Joan Thirsk

By Joan Thirsk

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But when once they learned to grow turnips and clover in rotations on their own arable fields, they ceased to want the permanent pastures of the marshland and in the early eighteenth century withdrew. In all marshland country society conformed to the conventional 45 stereotype of an hierarchical structure. All classes were represented in their expected proportions. Gentlemen lived there as well as substantial yeomen, husbandmen and labourers. In other words, the social classes spanned the same range as in the clay vales.

In the Bagshot area and in the New Forest they had woodland and could fatten pigs on the beechmast. In the New Forest they kept many ponies. In Sherwood 46 Forest they relied on industrial by-employments. All devoted the worst of their land to rabbit warrens, a form of profitable land use not to be despised. All these activities, however, were carried on alongside, and integrated with, the same arable system; the arable land had to be fertilised by sheep that grazed on the grasslands by day and were folded on the fields at night.

Wool from moorland sheep was readily bought for the textile industry. In the more sheltered dales and valleys dairying was possible, as in W ensleydale and Swaledale. Footsure ponies were, of course, essential for carrying loads from the fields to the farms and from farms to markets. The population was thinly settled in the moorlands and people were accustomed to a hard life, but they enjoyed great personal freedom, and held their land by secure tenures that were as good as freeholds. Moreover, they had a variety of by-employments to eke out a living: mining or quarrying were one possibility, since many minerals lie underground in this kind of countryside; cottage handicrafts were another.

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