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Shifts in agrarian entrepreneurship in mid-Victorian England and Wales

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This paper provides the first full-population analysis of changes in the entrepreneurial status of farmers during the mid-nineteenth century: between being employers or sole proprietors with no workforce. Using a unique dataset of all farmers and workforces in the 1851–81 English and Welsh censuses, this paper explores the effects of changes in agriculture on entrepreneur choices. A short 'Golden Age' was followed by increasing technical changes and the onset of agricultural depression causing an important shift in agricultural entrepreneurial activity: initially the employer proportion increased slowly, but from the 1860s employers reduced labour and more worked as sole proprietors. Our findings show that farmers were adaptable and resilient to change through shifts in entrepre- neurial status and/or greater involvement of the family, supporting the conclusions of earlier researchers who took an optimistic interpretation of flexibility and robustness of farmers. We also show the adaptations to be highly geographically variegated, depending on land quality, distance to local markets, and rail lines.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2019

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 1953, 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 P. S. Warde, University of Cambridge, UK, who is responsible for articles, and Dr J. R. Morgan, University of Bristol, UK, 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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