Agricultural Rent in South, East England, 1788-1825
Hunt, H. G.
Agricultural History Review, Volume 7 part 2 (1959)
Most of our knowledge concerning the development of agriculture and the fortunes of landowners and farmers during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries is derived from the commentary of contemporary witnesses. The county reports to the Board of Agriculture, the correspondence published in the Annals of Agriculture, and the numerous pamphlets on the plight of the poor contain many references to the inflation of farmers’ profits and landlords’ rents during the Napoleonic Wars. The Reports of the Select Committees in 182o, 1821, 1822, and 1833 leave no doubt about the widespread distress among farmers and the difficulties of estate stewards during the period of adjustment that followed, particularly in the early I82O’S. But if the general trends are clear, much of the evidence suffers from a lack of precision. To take just one example, John Boys, writing on the agriculture of Kent in 18o5, states that “Since the former edition of this work [ 1796], rents have much increased, and in some instances have experienced an enormous advance; particularly in rich soils, and in the neighbourhood of market towns. The late extravagantly high prices of corn operated as a bounty upon its production, by encouraging an enlarged cultivation. ”1 This observation shows quite clearly some of the changes that were taking place at the turn of the century; nevertheless one would like to know a great deal more about them. What was the extent of the increase in rent? For how long did it continue, and how quickly was the landlord able to tap the increased prosperity of the farmers?