Horn, Pamela. The Rural World, 1780-1850: Social Change in the English Countryside.

NY: St. Martin, 1980.

Horn is best known, probably, for her excellent monographs on the English upper class and its servants in the 19th century, but she actually started out at the other end of the social spectrum, studying agricultural laborers, trade unionism in the countryside, village education, and other aspects of rural social life.

This volume brings much of that earlier work together in a vivid synthesis. The English agricultural world underwent radical changes in the first half of the 19th century and you might assume this was one of the unintended consequences of the Industrial Revolution and its replacement of cottage and craft industries by factories, but Horn argues that more of the responsibility actually lies with the home-front effects of the generation-long Napoleonic wars. Not being frequent users of imported goods, people from the countryside didn’t really have much interest in France and its military expansion on the Continent, but country folk contributed most of the soldiers in Britain’s armies. Add the effects of the enclosure movement, by which a village’s “commons” rights were eliminated by the landlord for his own profit, and things became desperate in rural areas. Yet, a new kind of social and economic stability had emerged by mid-century, and Horn does her usual excellent job in explaining what it was and examining how the country got there. As always, she bases her research on a wide range of original sources — Parliamentary papers, contemporary correspondence, manorial accounts, diaries and memoirs, and Poor Law records — in an overview of employment conditions, education, religion, politics, and family life. And she does it all in a highly readable and engaging manner.

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Published in: on 18 January 2014 at 4:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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