The Death of Rural England: A Social History of the Countryside since 1900

The Death of Rural England: A Social History of the Countryside since 1900

The Death of Rural England: A Social History of the Countryside since 1900

The Death of Rural England: A Social History of the Countryside since 1900

Synopsis

Alun Howkins' panoramic survey is a social history of rural England and Wales in the twentieth century. He examines the impact of the First World War, the role of agriculture throughout the century, and the expectations of the countryside that modern urban people harbour. Howkins analyzes the role of rural England as a place for work as well as leisure, and the problems caused by these often conflicting roles.This overview will be welcomed by anyone interested in agricultural and social history, historical geographers, and all those interested in rural affairs.

Excerpt

There can be little doubt that the last 10 years have seen a profound crisis in both the rural areas and the agricultural industry. This crisis has been both material and ideological. The material crisis or, rather, crises are clear enough. Worries about environmental damage and factory farming, followed by a series of food scandals culminating in the horrible and sorry tale of BSE, were followed, in their turn, by the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the spring of 2001. This took place against a background of falling farm profits from the mid-1990s, and a continued decline in rural services. The ideological crises are no less clear and closely related to the material ones. Centrally, public opinion towards the countryside and especially agriculture has changed significantly. Worries about the environment and many modern farm practices, fears about the quality of food, and a growing sense that a subsidised agriculture is simply protecting a rich and privileged group have all contributed to a much harsher public view of agriculture than in the past.

Against this the largely urban population of England and Wales continues to love the countryside, want to spend holidays in it, and ultimately live there. Between 1993 and 2000 the numbers of ‘tourist trips’ to the countryside increased by 50 per cent, while in 1995 a survey showed that 48 per cent of the population of urban England wanted to live in the countryside. However, what these visitors and ‘incomers’ want is often seen by the agricultural industry as being in conflict with the demands of farming. Complaints about the destruction of hedgerows and other environmental damage coupled with demands for access or the ‘right to roam’ cut little ice with farmers and landowners and are seen as evidence that the urban majority does not ‘understand’ the countryside.

With the exception of BSE few of these problems were new to the 1990s. What was different was the scale of the problem and the level of public debate around them. But there are real changes, many of them hidden behind the spectacular headlines about ‘farming crisis’, which mean that rural England and Wales changed more in the twentieth century than at any time since the agricultural revolution. However, that change was not apparent for much of the first 40 years . . .

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