The Rural Revolution:Feast and Famine

The Rural Revolution:Feast and Famine
Oats:A grain,which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.
(Samuel Johnson, A dictionary of the English Language,1755)

When Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837,Britain was in the midst of one of the many
transitional periods that were to take place during her reign.Working the land remained one
of the most common ways for Britons to earn a living, yet with compulsory education still
far off on the horizon, a quarter of the population was living in poverty, with 40 per cent
of the coutry’s wealth owned by 5 per cent of the population .Britain was still feeling the
effects of a war that had ended 20 years previously .The Napoleonic Wars had made it
impossible to import corn from Europe,resulting in the expansion of British wheat farming
and , for the landowner and farmer, an ear of advancing progress and affluence.
Corn bultivation was on the increase.There had been huge improvements in machinery and
farming implements: fields had been divided into a convenient workable size; drainage had
been innovated;roads had been constructed and farm buildings erected. Investments were
free-flowing and profits were rising, but for labourers and farm servants rents were rising
and bread prices were soaring.

When the Napoleonic conflicts finally ended in 1815,it had been feared that foreign corn
imports would lower grain prices, so British landowners appealed to the Houlse of Commons
to protect the profits of their farmers. The first of the Corn Laws was introduced stating
that no foreign corn would be allowed into Britain until domestic corn reached a price of
80 shillings per quarter. Although landowners benefited from this decree, among the working
classes this move was devastating. Artificially high corn prices meant that the bulk of
their wages would be spent on bread. With little money left for workers to spend on other
goods, manufacturing suffered , workers were laid off and slowly the economy began to

the country. A victory of sorts came with the reform Act of 1832, which extended the right
to vote ot a large proportion of the industrial merchant classes.The legislation enabled
their opinions and grievances to be officially recognised, yet little improvements were
seen by the working classes until Prime Minister Robert Peel took up the challenge. despite
strong opposition, Peel considered the objections of the Anti-Corn Law league , the series
of poor harvests and outbreaks of social unrest, as well as the Potato Famine then
decimating the population of Ireland. Peel agreed that the restrictions on foreign corn imports
were causing an unnecessary tax on food and a hindrance to British expors.

Eventually , in June 1846, the Corn Laws were abolished for good. There was initial
uncertainty when landowners and agriculturalists believed the would no longer be able to
command decent prices for their produce,yet their worries were short-lived and the farming
economy continued to thrive.The repeal of the Corn Laws was a watershed moment in British
history. After a long period of lucrative farming, the balance of power had grdually begun
to shift from the landed gentry to the industrialists. the beginning of the nineteenth
century was still dominated by agriculture and manpower, but within 40years industry would
begin to overshadow it.

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