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Cautionary notes on linking the National Farm Survey with other records for investigating the agrarian history of Second World War Britain

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This paper explores the feasibility of using National Farm Survey (NFS) data in conjunction with a contemporary aerial photograph to reconstruct farm sizes, shapes and land use in the parish of Hamsey, East Sussex. A detailed analysis based on linking these documents demonstrates that there are difficulties with the consistency of the data, with only 12 out of 19 farms having a complete set of NFS forms, and with some ambiguities discovered in the NFS maps. The areas of arable and grassland for each farm were identified from the 1940 aerial photograph and captured in a GIS. The total acreages were then compared with the totals for crops and grass as shown in the June 1941 Agricultural Census. These were found to diverge by more than 20 per cent in over a third of cases. Attempts were made to adjust for the effects of the wartime plough-up campaign in order to improve levels of agreement but these were largely unsuccessful due to the high numbers of 'part' fields. The study yields some useful information at the micro-scale but provides salutary warnings about any attempt to reconstruct farms on a larger geographical scale due to the complex and time-consuming nature of the task.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2012

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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