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Section 1. The Feeding of the People. Section 2. The London Corn Market at the Beginning of the 19th Century. Section 3. Enclosure and Tenant Farming. Section 4. Agricultural Practice, 1700-1875. Section 5. Burdens on Agriculture. Section 6. Foreign Competition and the Long Depression. Section 7. The Contrast between British and American Agriculture.

Section 1. The Feeding of the People

CONSUMPTION,' said Adam Smith, 'is the sole end and purpose of all production' (II. 159). The nations of the world have spent their fiscal energies in defying this rational statement-Great Britain and Holland excepted. For these two have developed a consumers' psychology as the result of their peculiar position as world carriers.

During the 18th century Great Britain exported about as much foodstuffs as she imported, importing oats and sugar and exporting wheat and provisions. The object of the Corn Laws was' to prevent grain from being at any time either so dear that the poor cannot subsist or so cheap that the farmer cannot live by the growing of it.' 1 Therefore they gave to the farmer a bounty on export in normal years, and in the interest of the consumer the export bounty and duties of import were suspended in years of scarcity. Between 1815 and 1846 the consumers' battle was fought and won for them by the industrial exporter. Thereupon the workers among them consolidated the victory by forming co-operative stores for the supply of groceries and bread; and Manchester was the headquarters of the co-operative movement as it had been of the Anti-Corn Law League.

When other nations were able to supply wheat more cheaply, British farmers had to curtail their growth of it and to produce what others could not send. But foreign meat followed foreign wheat, and therefore to-day there is the anomalous situation that the soil of England, though highly improved and very fertile, is, some of it, patently underworked. This is the modern form of the age-long conflict between gross produce and net profit. The landlords of mediaeval England turned themselves into rent receivers because they found the letting of land to sheep 1 C. Smith, Tracts on the Corn Trade (1759), p. 72.


farmers more profitable than the raising of crops for the maintenance of tenants and retainers, but throughout the 17th and 18th centuries and indeed down to 1875 the full use of the soil and the advantage of the landlord were in harmony. This was the long period during which arable farming paid, if not always in £. s. d. at any rate in £. s. d. plus social prestige and the gratification of a hobby. Those made money who improved wisely and farmed well. But after 1875 the agriculturist who was kind to his land was unkind to his pocket. As Albert Pell, the progressive Cambridge landlord, wrote in 1887: The rents of these fine soils covered with the best natural pastures have hardly yielded to the pressure of bad times, while rents enhanced by improvements have gone to pieces, and in many cases down to zero.' 1

The agricultural sky was never brighter than in 1875, and yet a speculator gifted with prescience would have selected none of the great properties with their smiling cornfields, but land suited by soil and location to market gardening, sand hills fitted for golf, and waste land on the edge of suburbs unborn. Perhaps if 19th-century Britain had been cultivated by small owners, the nation would have refused to pay the full price of free trade and insisted, like other European countries, on a fiscal compromise. But latter-day landlords and substantial farmers had to pay the price for the sweeping victory which their forebears obtained over the small man in the days of 18th-century enclosure.

However, it must not be inferred that Great Britain does not raise an important part of her food supply. She imported, it is true, before the war, four-fifths of her wheat and the majority of her meat and dairy produce, but according to an estimate of 1912 the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland raised then £170 millions of foodstuffs and imported only £200 millions, which includes £20 millions for sugar.2 The products she raised were those which in the last half-century had fallen least in price -milk, vegetables, fresh fruit, prime beef and the like.

It is disputed whether rye was ever a substantial part of the food of mediaeval England, but this much is certain : wheat was always the grain preferred by the South, and London was the first to be able to afford fine wheaten bread. Charles Smith said in 1764: It is certain that bread made of wheat is become much more generally the food of the common people than it was before that time [sc. 1688], but it is still far from being the food of the people in general.' Later writers, such as Sir F. M. Eden in his

1 T. Mackay, Albert Pell, p. 341.

2 Cf. J. H. Venn, Foundations of Agricultural Economics, p. 151.
3 C. Smith, op. cit., Supplement (1764).


State of the Poor, 1797, and Dr. Skene Keith, 1802, commented on the continuation of the process. By 1802 the rivalry of oaten bread in Scotland and of barley bread in England had declined. Nearly twice as many persons now eat wheaten bread as formerly consumed this quality of corn,' says the Rev. Dr. Keith.1 But the scarcity of war time arrested the trend. The Lords Committee of 1800 on The High Price of Provisions gave examples of this. Thus, 'In Lincoln the poorer classes, who (within the memory of the person from whom this testimony was received) had exchanged the use of barley bread for wheaten, returned last year to barley bread.' But the people fought hard for wheat and for fine wheat at that. Arthur Young lamented that ' throughout a great part of the kingdom the general assistance given to the poor is by money, bread or flour, all three being almost equally an encouragement to the consumption of wheat.' The reformers advocated soups, rice, potatoes and other substitutes,' but the poor rebelled. The régime of the workhouse was needed to force them into gruel; they would not even eat the standard wholemeal bread which the Daily Mail and the Kaiser forced upon British consumers some years ago. The compulsory sale of standard wholemeal bread was a stock remedy of Parliamentary Committees between 1756 and 1800, but in 1800 the London bakers assured Parliament that scarcely any bread is consumed in the Metropolis but that which is made from fine wheaten flour; that attempts have been made in times of scarcity to introduce a coarser species of bread into use but without success, and that in their opinion the high price of bread would be considered, by the lower classes of people, as a small inconvenience when compared with any measures which would have the effect of compelling them to consume bread to which they have not been accustomed.' 3

Thanks, however, to the superb response of the soil of Britain, the nation survived the war without starvation or compulsory rationing. When war broke out the Government was nearly scared into public granaries. But Edmund Burke scotched this and the Government confined itself to the encouragement of corn imports by import bounties and licences to import (which in 1800 and 1801 produced large imports owing to the short home crop) and to economies in the use of the existing supply. Hair powder, in which grain was used, was heavily taxed. Distillation of grain was prohibited in particular areas: the Government having an interest in lessening the stocks of Colonial sugar which were piling up in London. It was forbidden to eat new bread;

1 Farmers' Magazine, August 2, 1802.

Commons Committee on the Assize and Making of Bread, 1800, Evidence.
Ibid., Evidence.

and in 1795 and 1800 self-denial was urged upon the people from bench and pulpit.1

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Between 1815 and 1846 the wealth of the country was certainly increasing faster than its population, but it was being re-invested and two great sections of the people the textile handworkers and the agricultural labourers-were forced to a lower standard. After ten years of absence from England,' said a doctor before the Handloom Weavers' Committee of 1834, 'nothing struck me with more horror than the deterioration in the physical appearance of the people.' The proud weavers starved by thousands. In 1842 their children grubbed in the market places of Lancashire towns for nettles and the rubbish of roots, and the wives of Leicestershire knitters quieted their children with Godfrey's Cordial, a preparation of laudanum. The agricultural poor, when their parish relief was stopped by the Act of 1834, had a way out. They could dig and poach, and by the aid of allotments they dug themselves into a potato standard. However, by 1850 there was a general improvement in both town and country. All were eating wheat and most town workers had some meat as well. The prohibition of foreign cattle was removed in 1842, but the Continent could not compete with the United Kingdom in the supply of live stock. After 1850 such was the prosperity of industry and the improvement in earnings that the demand for a time outran the supply. Prime beef rose from 4åd. per lb. (1851) to 63d. (1861), 8d. (1871), 81d. (1881). The public was shy of canned meat and concentrated meat stuffs, such as Dr. Liebig's Meat Extract, but refrigeration solved the problem, and in the early 80's the frozen meat trade began its spectacular career.

Major Craigie in his Gilbey Lectures at Cambridge in 1907 estimated that 20,000,000 acres of foreign territory were occupied in growing the imported wheat of the United Kingdom and another 20,000,000 in growing its imported meat and dairy produce. Between 1800 and 1850 the main source of foreign wheat was Russia and north-western Europe. In the 60's the United States of America took the lead. India became important after the opening of the Suez Canal and was followed by the Argentine and Canada, Australia and Roumania. In 1874 the Canadian West made its first contribution to the wheat supply of Great Britain, as the following transaction-believed to be the earliest on record-narrates :

1 For the detail and sequence of these restrictions and economies (1800-1813) see W. F. Galpin, The Grain Supply of England during the Napoleonic Period, Chs. II-VI.

2 Evidence, p. 306.

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