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Movement In and Out of the Parish

The state of agriculture

One reason for leaving, or indeed entering the village is as a response to the state of agriculture, as one of the main ways of earning a living was by farming. If there was little work on the farms there might well be a decrease in the number of farm workers. Conversely, an increase in wealth for the farmers might well mean more workers employed on the land. The following list shows the numbers of workers on the land.

Number of workers on the land
1841 29 agricultural workers
1851 41 agricultural workers, 2 shepherds: 43
1861 29 agricultural workers, 3 carters, 5 shepherds: 37
1871 26 agricultural workers, 1 carter, 2 shepherds: 29
1881 25 agricultural workers, 2 carters, 1 shepherd: 28
1891 26 agricultural workers, 1 carter, 1 shepherd, 2 cattlemen: 30
1901 13 agricultural workers, 1 carter, 1 shepherd, 3 cattlemen: 18

One might have expected the numbers working on the farms to increase in the boom years 1851 to 1871 and to decline after that. This was not the case, however. These numbers do show that 1851 is a high point in numbers employed but the numbers only drop in 1901 midway through the crisis in the farming industry, which lasted from 1871 to 1914.

There is a further complication. The census information between 1851 and 1881 actually gives the numbers of men and boys employed by each individual farmer. The numbers are:

1851 1861 1871 1881
Hill Farm 31 men 16 men
7 boys
16 men
6 boys
12 men
4 boys
Home Farm 21 men 20 men
5 boys
20 men
6 boys
14 men
3 boys
Church Farm 16 men 14 men 10 men
3 boys
Manor House 22 men
9 boys
Forest Farm 4 men
1 boy
Total 73 62 79 46

The only explanation for the discrepancy in numbers between the number of farm workers given by the farmers and those in the village who describe their work as “agricultural” or “farm” worker must be that people from outside the parish were being employed by the farmers to augment the numbers recruited from the village.

This means that the numbers of agricultural workers in the parish was no indication of the state of farming, since farmers could probably lay off workers without this showing in the census returns for Elsfield.

Social historians make the distinction between an 'open' and a 'closed' village. The 'open' village is one where the freeholders control the development of the village. A 'closed' village on the other hand is one where the principal landowner controls such factors as where houses can be built and who can live in the village. Elsfield seems to fall into this category, certainly in the latter half of the 19th century.

Pamela Horn has pointed out that in a 'closed' village such as Elsfield it was in the interest of the owner in the first half of the 19th century to keep the number of workers in the parish down. This was because before the 1865 Union Chargeability Act every parish had to support its own paupers. It was in the interests of the landowner, as principal rate payer, to keep the number of inhabitants down in order to reduce the level of poor rate expenditure. She points out that even labourers who worked in estate villages could not always obtain cottages where they worked, and this seems to have been the case in Elsfield. Nationally, after 1865 improvements in housing provision occurred because the Act transferred the cost of maintaining the poor away from a single parish and assigned it to the Poor Law Union. It was in the interests of the landowner to make sure people had all the year round employment.

People living in Elsfield were probably the elite of the agricultural labouring classes. They would have steady jobs, which meant a regular income, and would be the people who kept the farms ticking over in the winter. Jobs such as carting, which needed horses being cared for the year round, would come into this category. Casual labour would be recruited from places such as Marston, a practice which survived into the fourth quarter of the 20th century when women were recruited to pull out wild oats from the main crop, a process known as rogueing.


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