The Differentiated Countryside

The Differentiated Countryside

The Differentiated Countryside

The Differentiated Countryside


The authors consider the interaction between economic processes, political regulation, social structure and environmental change, and the effect on the relationship between rural preservation and rural developmentalism in the English countryside.


Two main narratives act to shape perceptions of the British or, more accurately, the English countryside. The first narrative, which we might term pastoralism, finds its roots in the Romantic movement of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Romanticism emerged in response to the profound changes in economy, society and environment wrought by the Industrial Revolution. In responding to these changes, writers such as Wordsworth, Ruskin and Tennyson extolled the virtues of 'unsullied' nature as an antidote to the corrupted industrial city. Nature was to be found in areas where the degenerative impacts of urban and industrial society were largely absent. Thus, the countryside came to be valued as a zone that lies 'beyond' industrialism (R. Williams, 1973).

As Jan Marsh (1982) demonstrates, the pastoral impulse, although rooted in Romanticism, acquired further validation following the agricultural depression in the latter part of the nineteenth century. The visible decline of rural areas at this time provoked a rush of nostalgia for rural life:

with the traditional countryside of England apparently disappearing forever, pastoral attitudes were re-asserted with intensity. The city was seen as physically and morally corrupting…. Health and happiness were only to be found in the country, in rural life and rural occupations.

(ibid.: 4)

However, the re-assertion of Romantic or pastoral ideas was now undertaken not by an influential elite of poets, writers and other intellectuals but by a broad-based, popular movement associated with the expanding middle class. Moreover, the pastoral impulse manifested itself in rather mundane ways as middle-class households moved away from city centres into the growing suburbs and surrounding rural areas. As Marsh puts it:

The feeling for the countryside which led many people to dream of living there combined the residual Romantic impulse that had first made the wild places of Europe alluring but was now petering out in a vague love of rusticity, with growing anti-industrialism. Emotional value accrued to the

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