As a (very small) part of my PhD research, I’ve been looking at the impact of the Napoleonic Wars on British agriculture and, as a result of that, its impact on the daily life of the labouring poor.
As I was researching this subject, I came across the following article, written for the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society just after another period of war – the Second World War.
In 1949, WE Minchinton wrote about agriculture in Gloucestershire during the Napoleonic era. He detailed an 1801 investigation carried out by the Home Office into the state of the nation’s agriculture, where forms were distributed to all dioceses, requesting information on the types of crop grown in each area.
Many farmers resented having to submit information that might result in their situation being negatively altered; the parson of Withington suspected that his local farmers were stating that they had sown fewer acres than they really had; and another stated that farmers were apprehensive that:
“the Government may compel him to bring corn to market at an unprofitable season, that his landlord may raise his rent, his parson call for a higher composition for tithes, the overseer assess him more to his poor rates, the highway surveyor advance him in proportion…” (Minchinton, p167)
So although most dioceses were able to complete and return the forms to the Home Office, there is doubt over their accuracy; for not only were farmers reluctant to provide information, but some parsons were also equally reluctant to obtain the information and record it.
Local farmers appear to have had an ingrained (pardon the pun) suspicion of central government, and to have held the belief that government did not work in the interests of either farmers or the rural economy.
If they were doing well, they wanted to keep that fact quiet – for if it was known, they would end up paying more rent, or rates. So they kept quiet about it, and under-calculated their worth… even if it meant giving the government an unduly gloomly picture of the state of British agriculture.
The full report text of WE Minchinton’s 1949 report, Agriculture In Gloucestershire During The Napoleonic Wars, is available from the University of Gloucestershire website.