Marsden farming – a fit subject of study?

In 1788 Marshall wrote "No country entirely mountainous, nor one which is disturbed by manufacture, can be a fit subject of study for rural knowledge" – so he ignored West Yorkshire in his book, The Rural Economy of Yorkshire29. There are certainly difficulties in studying Marsden farming:

Part Time Farmers
In 19th century Marsden, a smallholding of land with a homestead and barn might qualify as a farm. But a farm also needs a farmer, and many occupants of land only farmed part-time. In the Censuses, they could be, for example, "Clothier and Farmer of 10 acres" or "Mason and Farmer 3 acres"; "Farmer" is always mentioned second. Nevertheless, in all Censuses between 1851 and 1901, full-time farmers outnumbered part-time ones. Between a third and a half of these full-time farmers had no other family members earning money in other ways, so it must have been possible to make at least a subsistence living from farming.

Part-time farmers did a variety of other jobs. After the demise of the domestic system, the link between farming and textile work was de-coupled, but some farmers might still be weavers. Quarrying and stone work have been mentioned, and farmers might also be innkeepers, butchers, shopkeepers, coal merchants, or labourers on road or canal, with a scattering of other trades. Their children and, occasionally, wives, took an even wider spectrum of work in textile and other occupations.

Farms without Farmers
Comparison of Census data with the 1838 and 1886 Rates Surveys30 shows that there were always far fewer people calling themselves farmers than people occupying holdings of land – even if only holdings over 5 acres are considered. It is impossible to say what these ‘non-farmers’ were doing with their land; they may have kept a few animals but not called themselves farmers, or they may have let/sub-let their fields to others for grazing. Of course, many horses would also have been kept by non-farmers, and their grazing will account for some of the "non-farmed" land.

Change and Flux
The impression is of great flexibility and change. Land occupants moved from "farm" to "farm", as an attempt to follow families in the Binn area through the Censuses showed; this will have been made easier since the majority of land parcels were held as tenancies. Individuals also seem to have changed occupation – from weaver to farmer, or from farmer to stonemason, for example – as economic opportunities arose or were lost. There was also generational change; land holdings were apparently usually too small to support two generations as farmers, so most sons (and daughters) took up another occupation. The "family farm", remaining in the same family for many decades, seems scarcely to have existed, if at all, in Marsden.

  1. Marshall, William (1788), op. cit., p.293.
  2. Marsden Valuations 1838-1897, op.cit.