Cumnor in the 1860s: How Far Did Dependence on Agriculture Shape Its Social Structure?
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Cumnor in the 1860s: How Far Did Dependence on Agriculture Shape its Social Structure?
‘We stood in Cumnor ..A straggling line of scattered cottages with mud or rough stone walls uncemented and rude and low overhanging thatched roofs with here and there the bee hives on a bench by the gate in the low stone wall or a few brown faced urchins who peeped slily at the unaccustomed stranger….(Anon 1850) ..
‘We turned our back upon the line of cottages or huts perhaps they might be called’ the writer continued, ‘ ..Cumnor is at best a poor squalid place.’ Though lacking the intensity of urban life famously described by Engels (1844), Cumnor epitomizes aspects of a sharply polarised society with a land-less rural working class. This paper…show more content… By mid-century, England had been represented as two agricultural provinces –grain production being concentrated in the east, and grazing favoured in the west (Caird 1851). The first BoT agricultural returns in 1866 provide a more nuanced picture in which Berkshire and Oxfordshire together had a relatively large area under corn, a relatively small area under permanent pasture, but were also important for sheep rearing. 5 Dominant perceptions prescribed for the locality a unified system of wheat growing and sheep rearing where ‘grass lands do not reduce the production of food, but in addition to their own produce, ..enable the adjoining arable lands to increase their production’ (Smith 1863 p50).
Dominant perceptions militated against dairying in the country around Cumnor and favoured larger capitalist producers rather than smallholders. A precise distinction between smallholders and capitalist farmers is difficult (both are included within minor group 61). Assuming a need for wage labour on any Cumnor holding of more than 60 acres, eight smallholding families are identified in Table 3 (roughly 4% of households ) and assigned to Level 2 of the SOCPO schema. 6
Waged labour was essential to those fourteen capitalist farmers (listed in Table 4) whose holdings clearly exceeded this threshold. They farmed 3465 acres in aggregate (an average holding of almost 250 acres).