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Introduction

Thomas Adam’s store in East Meon, 1880s

The late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries saw the introduction of new techniques and machinery, accompanied by changes to the pattern of land ownership and to the design of farm buildings. Mechanisation led to unemployment and unrest among agricultural labourers was rife; the Swing Riots came to villages near East Meon which featured briefly in the Westminster spotlight in a battle between the owner of Bereleigh and a new vicar of All Saints who attempted to impose new tithes on the struggling farm community. Parliamentary Acts of Enclosure further extended the estates of the largest landowners and dispossessed more small farmers. Numbers of East Meon men left the valley to seek work in other villages, the cities, the armed forces, or abroad. Corn Laws in 1815 had raised prices on imported cereals to protect domestic farmers, but their abolition in 1845 triggered imports of grain from the New World and lower prices which badly affected East Meon’s farmers who had come to rely on the combination of corn and sheep; many went out of business. Rents plummeted and some vacant farmhouses were bought and restored by middle class commuters and weekenders from London.

The population of England and Wales doubled between 1801 and 1851 (and again in the second half of the century). Many countrymen migrated to the cities; in 1801, two thirds of the population was rural, in1851 under half, and in 1901, less than a quarter. But there was still too little work to support the agricultural workforce which remained in the country. While prosperous East Meon farmers were able to expand their holdings, many houses were divided to accommodate impecunious farm labourers and their families. The village workhouse was closed and paupers moved to the Union workhouse in Petersfield. Three nonconformist chapels were built in the village, and more in Stroud and Ramsdean, as working classes and some tradesmen turned their backs on the Anglican church. A ‘national’ school was built and education became available to all children, a move unpopular among agricultural workers. The arrival of the railway in Petersfield in 1857 increased opportunities for both goods and people to travel to and from East Mon, and from the mid-nineteenth century, most houses in the centre of the village became shops and workshops, no longer reliant on locally produced food and goods but imports from the rest of the country and abroad.

The population of East Meon in the mid-19th century was 1,543, living in 325 houses and farming 11,247 acres. It remained an agricultural community and this account will focus mainly on the farms we have already visited, on what they produced and the buildings in which they worked and lived, and on the plight of those unable to find work.

 

Link to Mechanisation