The Rural Poor in Eighteenth-Century Wales

By David W. Howell | Go to book overview

11
Epilogue
'The Old Order Changeth'

As the eighteenth century moved into its later decades the fabric of the old society was showing increasing signs of strain and, by the 1790s, crisis. The rising population, with no such easy escape outwards as was later furnished by the railway, saw increasing pauperization at the base of society and much attendant social rupture. Not only did the pressure of escalating poor rates sow discord between neighbouring parishes. Within parishes the social tension developing in the decades from the 1760s was reflected in the quarrels among the poor themselves for a share of the relief. Overseers, too, sometimes defied the justices' instructions to pay relief to certain claimants, and better-off parishioners complained at having to pay higher rates, in a couple of parishes at least, and doubtless in others refusing to pay. It was the banding together of parish ratepayers from the 1760s to bear jointly the expense of going to law to protect themselves against unwanted pauper intruders, and also to prosecute all felons within their parishes, that as much as anything else mirrors the huge strains threatening the traditional stability of rural society. Perhaps, too, in this context, as Melvin Humphreys has invited us to contemplate, the growing number of parishes late in the century without resident gentry families meant that an alternative, less paternalist sway by small freeholders and large tenant farmers over what has been termed these 'parish states' effected a bleak exacerbation of pressing local problems.1 Certainly the waning of customary hospitality and the dispensing of charity and the fall in the provision of employment in the wake of gentry non-residence would have placed extra pressure on the poor.

Increasing 'boiling for a tenancy'2 among rural dwellers accompanying population growth was another manifestation of worsening relationships as farmers overreached themselves in the process of outbidding one another. Indeed the very poisoning of the countryside which David Williams saw as a consequence of 'reckless bidding' in the years before Rebecca3 was as early as the

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The Rural Poor in Eighteenth-Century Wales
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Maps, Figures and Tables vi
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Abbreviations xi
  • Introduction xiii
  • 1: Prologue Setting the Scene 1
  • Part I - Wresting a Mere Subsistence 31
  • 2: Tenant Farmers and Small Freeholders 33
  • 3: Craftsmen and Artisans 58
  • 4: The Labouring Poor 66
  • 5: The Dependent Poor 93
  • 6: Relations in Working the Land 116
  • Part II - Rough and Rebellious Communities 135
  • 7: Popular Culture, Religion and Alternative Belief 137
  • 8: The People and Politics 157
  • 9: Riots and Popular Resistance 177
  • 10: Violent and Light-Fingered Neighbourhoods 209
  • 11: Epilogue 'the Old Order Changeth' 241
  • Notes 247
  • Bibliography 296
  • Index 308
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