The Statistical Assessment of British Agriculture
Agricultural History Review, Volume 4 part 1 (1956)
England is fertile in paradoxes, and not the least of them is the fact I-~ that the most difficult thing of all others to ascertain is that which is done in this land of liberty, of general curiosity, and extensive information in the face of nature and under the light of the sun.., nobody knows, even in the most summary way, what is doing on the thousands of • acres spread before his eyes in any landscape of ordinary extent, much less in the county or in the country at large.” So wrote The Times in a leader on the 18th of June 1867. The comment might more justifiably have been made two years earlier, for the occasion on which it was made was the collection of agricultural returns for the second year running, the numbers of livestock and the acreages of different crops having been collected from every county in Great Britain for the first time in 1866. These returns, which have been made in each succeeding year, form a body of source material for the study of agricultural change which lies virtually unexploited. Its importance is enhanced by the fact that the estate accounts, inventories, and surveys which are so valuable a source for earlier periods are at once less numerous and less detailed for the latter part of the nineteenth century. This is in part due to the fact that such material has not yet come to light; but it is primarily due both to the break-up of many estates and the loss and destruction of their records, and to the assumption by the State of the r61e of agricultural pioneer formerly played by landlords, whose powers to determine the agricultural character of their estates have dwindled ever since the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1875.