Landed Estates in Northamptonshire: the Rural Rental Economy, 1800-1881
Dockry, Georgina Ann
The nineteenth century was a period of extensive change in English rural society, in terms of both agriculture itself and the rural economy as a whole. Northamptonshire in this period, whilst remaining a predominantly rural county, underwent a significant transformation. This transformation, along with an extensive quantity of surviving data, has made nineteenth-century Northamptonshire a subject of great interest to historians. Within this context this study examines the rural rental economy in Northamptonshire across the period 1801-1881 – with particular focus on the recession years 1815-1831 – and is centred on the factors affecting the setting and payment of rents. Central to the study is a wealth of rental data, primarily extrapolated from estate account books. This is used to examine how the rental economy operated on landed estates within the context of the wider economy and prevailing agricultural prices. The importance of the relative roles of landowners, stewards and tenants in setting rents, extracting payments and negotiating reductions are the central focus, with investment in the land and changes in the wider economy also being examined in terms of their effect on the rental economy. The study began life as an examination of the moral economy of the landed estate but developed into an analysis of rental data, particularly estate accounts, and a study of the rental economy. The account books themselves provide evidence of the rental economy on the landed estate in the nineteenth century but do have their limitations. Whilst the books provide figures for agreed rents, payment of rents and abatements of rent, plus various memoranda, they do not provide acreages for holdings or distinguish types of holding. As a result a study of agreed and paid rents has been undertaken but figures for rent per acre and differences by type of farming cannot be identified. Instead, the study focuses on the flexibility of the rental economy and the importance of arrears and abatements in enabling the long-term survival of the landed income in Northamptonshire. The study examines accounts and rental data in terms of rent levels, the payment of rents and both temporary abatements and permanent rent reductions. The accounts evidence is supplemented by a number of other sources including landlord and estate correspondence plus annotations and memoranda in the account books themselves. The data is then placed in wider context (particularly that of Turner, Beckett and Afton’s 1997 study Agricultural Rent in England, 1690-1914) and examined in depth in terms of both what it tells us about the landed estate in Northamptonshire and the strengths and limitations of the accounts data.