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Recession 1875 – 2000

A string of bad harvests starting in 1875 had culminated in the worst harvest of the century in 1879. Corn from the American prairies was now flooding the English market, followed by wool, canned and frozen meat from Australia, New Zealand and the Argentine. Prices, especially corn prices, fell. It was said that the ‘golden age’ of farming ended in 1875; only farms over 300 acres could now hope for a return on investment. Farmers, particularly in the south, were accused of having lived too well (while farmers in the north worked hard and lived modestly).

Census figures for occupations of East Meon residents 1851 – 1891

This breakdown of occupations shows the number of agricultural workers declining in the second half of the 19th century. We have already observed the reduction in the number of farmers, down by 50%. The number of agricultural labourers declined ever more, partly redressed by the number of people who now designated themselves ‘farm labourers’, and a larger number now listed as ‘labourers’. Skilled trades including carters increased, reflecting the amount of goods which were now brought into the village shops; shepherds, too, nearly doubled, presumably because less land was being cultivated and more put out to grazing.

A string of bad harvests starting in 1875 had culminated in the worst harvest of the century in 1879. Corn from the American prairies was now flooding the English market, followed by wool, canned and frozen meat from Australia, New Zealand and the Argentine. Prices, especially corn prices, fell. It was said that the ‘golden age’ of farming ended in 1875; only farms over 300 acres could now hope for a return on investment. Farmers, particularly in the south, were accused of having lived too well (while farmers in the north worked hard and lived modestly).

Hampshire tenant farmers, including those in East Meon, had traditionally relied on sheep and corn and were now in dire financial trouble. They then sold off too many sheep which caused a chain reaction, for corn-growing land, no longer adequately fertilised, gave lower yields.

Caird wrote of Hampshire in his 1850 Study of British Agriculture that ‘in every respect, the present state of farm buildings is unsatisfactory: insufficient in point of accommodation, placed here and there more by random than on any definite principle, constructed of materials so frail as to be in constant need of repair, they show that landlords have given little attention to the needs of their tenants …’.  We don’t have any way of knowing to what extent this applied to East Meon; the fact is that over the next half-centuries, more and more farm houses & buildings were occupied not by working farmers but either by the people who worked for them or by incomers from the cities.

 

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