Thursday, September 20, 2012

Week 5 Update on 18th Century Farming

Weekly Objective: To determine landscape changes caused by different farming techniques.
Fransesco de Goya

What I did: This was a holiday week, and I took Monday off. Well, I shouldn’t have because when I opened my book for the week, I noticed that the pages were double! I knew that I would have to do a lot of reading to get through the entire book… seven chapters. However, I did not realize that the pages were double that of other books, two columns and small print. So, that is all I did all week!

I also got a book in the mail. I don’t remember ordering it, but obviously I did. The Transformation of Rural England c. 1580-1800: A Study in Historical Geography, by R. A. Butlin. It is not a large book, more of a large booklet, having only 57 pages. Hopefully I’ll be able to read that this weekend either at work over a break, or in bed instead of a historical romance. This should be a nice rounding out of what I have read so far… hopefully!

Capability Brown's Deer Park

Discussion on this week’s text: The book for this week is The Transformation of Rural England: Farming and the Landscape 1700-1870 by Tom Williamson. The information on the back of the book says that the author is a “Lecturer in Landscape History at the University of East Anglia.”[1] The university has BA in Landscape Archaeology, which I assume the class that he lectures for is aimed for.[2]  I was actually expecting quite a bit more information on the landscaping, but there was very little except in the exact formations that farming had in the field. In other words, I assumed that gardens would also have been included, but they were not. What I did find fascinating, although there was very little information on, was how hedgerows had been conducive to fox and grouse hunting, and how the owners of grand estates planted copses strictly for the benefit of raising pheasants to hunt.[3]
George Morland Rabbits

This book held a lot of the same information as the one that I read the previous two weeks, but with a different point of view. Williamson is supposedly a landscape historian; I’m not sure exactly what that means because I would have expected more of that, and not all of the profit information that he included. He does show how the landscape visually looked for different farming methods, which is fantastic! The Ridge and Furrow farming method is an ancient style that “cut a single furrow and the mould board turned the soil towards the right as the plough team moved down the strip… usually ploughed in a clockwise direction, starting in the middle and going round and round until the edge was reached. This served to move soil towards the center of the strip and over the years this led to the formation of a permanent ridge.”[4] The photograph shows deep ridges that look like modern day plows… but deeper. A theme that Williamson perpetuates throughout the text is that the open lands, and wastes had been enclosed, with not the initial purpose, but for the end purpose of raising and breeding animals such as goats, but more specifically, beef and dairy cattle.


One of the things that Williamson has pointed out, that last week’s authors did not was how the turnips had been used. I knew that they were fodder crop, animal feed. But, I had assumed that the animals were put out to pasture to eat this plant while it was still in the ground. However, this is not how it was used. Gangs of women and children would go into the field and pull the crop out and take it to the animals. They would, obviously, eat it in their winterized location – barns I would assume. Also, the corn straw would be put as bedding, as well as feed for the animals. The animals would do their business on it, and it would allow for composition. Then, this fully loaded manure would be taken and laid out over the fields. As a farmer’s daughter, I still did not quite understand that because… well, I only worked when I was made to work! So, Williamson points out again and again, that the turnips were grown for the animals, and so was most of the cereals. This contradicts my previous text, so I am not so sure that I entirely believe it.

The last things that I would like to point out from this text is that water mills had been extended on during my time period, especially for draining areas such as the moors.[5] They drained complete lakes, and rerouted rivers to be dead straight![6] I certainly did not know that before reading this book. Enclosure was used for political purposes, and claiming mineral rights.[7] Well, now that I think about it, this does make sense.


Coverts (46) – “Small areas of gorse and other scrub, often with a few trees for ornamental purposes – where the fox could breed in safety and where the huntsmen could be sure of ending their quarry.”

Marling (67) – “digging pits through the acidic topsoil to reach a more alkaline subsoil beneath.”

Warren (79) – A place where rabbits live and breed, either in a hill or a building.

Poaching (120) – “Rushes, reeds and other rank vegetations – growth of unpalatable plants.”

Soughs (120) - Underdrains

Originally written for class at American Military University.

[1] Tom Williamson. The Transformation of Rural England: Farming and the Landscape 1700-1870. (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2002.) Back cover.
[2]BA History with Landscape Archaeology.” University of East Anglia. (2012). (accessed September 7, 2012).
[3] Williamson, 45, 135.
[4] Ibid, 31.
[5] Ibid, 134.
[6] Ibid, 104.
[7] Ibid, 134.

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