Custom, Improvement and the Landscape in Early Modern Britain

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Richard Hoyle
Taylor & Francis Limited, Jun 9, 2019 - Land use, Rural - 328 pages
A great deal has been written about the acceleration of English agriculture in the early modern period. In the late middle ages it was hard to see that English agriculture was so very different from that of the continent, but by 1750 levels of agricultural productivity in Britain were well ahead of those general in northern Europe. The country had become much more urban and the proportion of the population engaged in agriculture had fallen. Customary modes of behaviour, whilst often bitterly defended, had largely been swept away. Contemporaries were quite clear that a process of improvement had taken place which had seen agriculture reshaped and made much more productive. Exactly what that process was has remained surprisingly obscure. This volume addresses the fundamental notion of improvement in the development of the British landscape from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. Contributors present a variety of cases of how improvement, custom and resistance impacted on the local landscape, which includes manorial estates, enclosures, fens, forests and urban commons. Disputes between tenants and landlords, and between neighbouring landlords, over improvement meant that new economic and social identities were forged in the battle between innovation and tradition. The volume also includes an analysis of the role of women as agricultural improvers and a case study of what can happen when radical improvement failed. The volume will be essential reading for scholars of landscape studies, rural and agrarian history, but will also provide a useful context for anybody studying the historical legacy of mankind's exploitation of the environment and its social, economic, legal and political consequences.

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About the author (2019)

Richard W. Hoyle is Professor of Rural History at the University of Reading, UK, and Editor of Agricultural History Review.

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