England's Rural Realms re-examines the decline of the owners of the great landed estates by placing the Victorian globalisation of trade alongside the democratisation of the English countryside. It reveals that the economic decline experienced by landowners was balanced by their continued social and political influence in the countryside up to the Great War. In local government, on Poor Law Boards, Parish, District and County Councils and the Magistrates Bench, local landowners continued to make their presence felt in both the farmhouse and the cottage. As the largest providers of cottages before the appearance of Council housing, and as the primary provider of farm improvements since the 1840s, landowners built up a pool of local goodwill that carried them through both the appearance of the National Agricultural Labours Union in the 1870s and the Farmers Alliance in the 1880s. This goodwill saw them continue to represent the communities in the orbit of their estates up to the Great War. This pattern was also repeated in elections to Parliament although in the democratic era the social influence of local landowners was geared more toward promoting the interests of their party than that of the old 'landed interest'. On the sporting field, as well as the hustings, the squire was still a visible figure in the late Victorian countryside. It was this sporting lifestyle, when combined with living in a stately home, surrounded by an estate that still bestowed upon its owner a standing in society that no other form of property could match, that continued to draw new money into the agriculturally depressed countryside of the 1880s and 1890s. As the fifth Lord Henniker observed in 1875, 'every owner of purely agricultural land would be a richer man by investing his capital in almost any other security' but land was preferred on account of the 'opportunity to lead a useful life, which its possession afforded beyond all other kinds of property'. By working through a 'mass of new material' from Suffolk, a county both at the forefront of the 'golden age' of agricultural improvement and thus hardest hit by the agricultural depression, England's Rural Realms offers readers a reassessment of the social durability of landownership on the grand scale across the English countryside. In so doing, it 'successfully weaves the national with the local' to quote Professor Richard Hoyle, 'correcting and illuminating more received wisdom as it goes'
England's Rural Realms
Landholding and the Agricultural Revolution