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Parish farms and the poor law: a response to unemployment in rural southern England, c.1815–35

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Finding a 'solution' for the seemingly intractable problem of unemployment in post-Napoleonic rural England was the Holy Grail for many vestries. Yet, whilst we know much about the depth and consequences of unemployment, parish-driven schemes to set the poor to work have been subjected to remarkably little in the way of systematic study. This paper focuses on one such policy that remains entirely obscure: parish farms, the hiring of pre-existing farms or fields by the parish on which to employ those out of work. Bearing a 'family resemblance' to allotments and other land-based attempts to alleviate poverty, parish farms were unique in that they were managed by the parish and were an employment strategy as opposed to a scheme to supplement the incomes of the poor. Whilst the archive of parish farms is often frustratingly opaque, it is shown that, before they were effectively outlawed by the New Poor Law, many southern parishes, especially in the Weald of Kent and Sussex, adopted the scheme, occasionally with great success.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2011

More about this publication?
  • Agricultural History Review is the leading journal for the publication of original research in all aspects of agricultural and rural history. First published in 1952, the Review reflects the diversity of approaches which are possible in rural history. Its editors welcome submissions in any aspect of the history of agriculture, rural society and rural economy over the past millennium. Whilst it is not concerned with current policy debates, it is interested in considering discussions of the historical dimensions of current problems in rural society and food supply. The Review is especially strong in British rural history, but actively seeks submissions in European and American rural history and has no bar on submissions concerning the remainder of the world. It is also the journal of record for book reviews in the discipline.

    Agricultural History Review has an international editorial board. The current editors are Professor R. W. Hoyle, University of Reading, UK who is responsible for articles, and Professor H. R. French, University of Exeter who serves as editor for book reviews. The Review is fully peer-refereed.

    Agricultural History Review is published by the British Agricultural History Society from whom personal subscriptions may be obtained.
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