The Earlier Forms of Industry
IN the eighteenth century most of the people of Britain earned their living by work on the land. Conditions of life and labour varied with each small difference of configuration, sub-soil, and climate. But, apart from such diversities, there was one broad contrast that could hardly fail to impress itself on every traveller who rode through the English shires: that between the areas where the fields lay open, stretching unbroken to the horizon, and the areas where they were divided by quickset hedges, stone walls, fences, or rows of trees.
The open-field village, with its gradation of lord or squire, freeholders, copyholders, leaseholders, and cottagers, was well suited to the needs of a community producing grain and a small amount of livestock for its own subsistence. But, though it was more adaptable than has sometimes been supposed, it tended to hold by the methods of cultivation and economic relations of the past. Before a system of drainage or a new rotation of crops could be introduced it was necessary to win the assent of a body of men most of whom were satisfied with customary practice and suspicious of change. Progress in agriculture was bound up with the creation of new units of administration in which the individual had more scope for experiment; and this meant the parcelling out and enclosure of the common fields, or the breaking up of the rough pasture and waste which had previously contributed little to the output of the village.