This section is from the book "The Balance Of Nature And Modern Conditions Of Cultivation", by George Abbey. Also available from Amazon: The Balance Of Nature And Modern Conditions Of Cultivation.
Agriculture received a great impetus to improvement during the wars caused by the French Revolution, 1795-1814, through the high price of agricultural produce, not only in England but also in Scotland. One effect of the high price of agricultural produce was to increase the products of the soil and the rental of the land; the latter in some cases more than doubled during the latter half of the eighteenth century. Societies for the advancement of agriculture were founded in both England and Scotland, and one result of the improvement in agricultural pursuits was a relative increase of four-footed and winged game. Poaching was correspondingly greater, and carried on with the connivance of tenants smarting under higher rents and devastation of produce, resulting from superior cultivation, by more game.
In 1827 Lord Wharncliffe introduced a Bill in the House of Lords to modify the invidious and oppressive Game Laws and enable every proprietor of land to kill game thereon, to legalise the sale of game, and to mitigate the severity of the punishment provided for certain offences against the existing Game Laws. It was lost on third reading by a majority of one. In the discussion on the Bill, Lord Harrowby said that, during the last three years, about 4,500 persons had been imprisoned under the Game Laws, while the number in 1810, 1811 and 1812 had been only about 460. Lord Suffield introduced a Bill, eventually carried, for abolishing the barbarous practice of setting spring guns and other engines of destruction for the preservation of game. By the Game Act, 1 and 2 William IV, cap. XXXII, the Game Laws were greatly modified, the necessity for any qualification except the possession of a game certificate being then abolished, and the right being given to any one to kill game on his own land, or on that of another with his permission, the tenant not having any right to interfere with the devastators of his crops as regards game, such act, secret or clandestine, being poaching.
The Royal Agricultural Society of England was established in May, 1838, and in 1840 it was incorporated by royal charter, the object of which was to encourage the art and science of agriculture on the most approved principles. The Royal Agricultural Society of Ireland, instituted in 1841, and other societies, such as the county and district shows throughout the British islands, had similar aims, and agriculture made rapid strides during the time named and subsequently in draining, not only of swampy spots, but extended systematically to whole farms and every field on the farm. Deep ploughing and thorough tillage, together with the introduction of improved implements for carrying out the operations. Labour saving inventions. such as the mowing machine, steam thrashing machine, and the steam plough. Scientific investigations, botanical, physiological, and chemical - the results passed from books into the hands of practical farmers. Artificial manures, increasing the produce of cultivated lands and extending the limits of cultivation. Improved varieties of plants used as field crops, and their rotations. Betterment in all kinds of stock and feeding on more scientific principles.
Railways constructed over the country, thus the farm produce, live stock, and manures easily transported.
Up to the year 1843 landlords and their tenants enjoyed the prosperity that befitted their vested interests, but the falling off in the national revenue, marked by a deficiency of considerably over a million and a half on the first quarter, greatly alarmed the country. Trades and manufactures were seriously depressed, and agricultural products were becoming less profitable, not only because of the reduction in the prices caused by the recent tariff, but in consequence of the alarm of the producers, who seemed unable to bestir themselves to meet the competition which they dreaded from foreign grain. In 1842 the question of the remission of the tax on foreign corn had been agitated with the utmost earnestness. The opposition was violent and continuous, but the necessity of relief from the tax on corn was emphasized by events and the sufferings of the poorer population and the disorders to which want gave rise. The Corn Importation Bill, as it was called, was carried through the House of Commons by large majorities, and finally passed the House of Lords on June 25, 1846.
After the repeal of the Corn Laws and the induction of free trade, the landlords, farmers, small-holders, and labourers rode fairly comfortably for a time on the ebbing tide of prosperity that may be said to have reached its flow in 1845, especially as regarded the vested interests of landlords. The improvements they had effected on their estates in the early part of the century were bringing forth good fruit - higher rents, more game for sport and profit. The farmer and small-holder were in relatively affluent circumstances, and labourers, especially those employed on estates, were well off, having gardens and allotments; but not a few working on farms were hard-set to live, being often themselves and families hungred, ill-clad and badly shod.
The landlords, despite of free trade, did not lose heart, but continued the improvement of their estates, not a few having recourse to loans for effecting the under-draining of land, deepening and straightening water-courses, stubbing old and making new fences, reconstructing homesteads and adding to outbuildings for machinery and storage, and for housing and feeding cattle. The small-holders, however, rarely partook of the landlord's improvements, and labourers were not given work regularly, only those connected with horses and cattle finding constant employment. Many of the more thrifty, healthy, energetic and handy emigrated to the United States and British Colonies, and not a few small-holders and small farmers ceased struggling and with their families migrated to towns, already augmented by influx of strong healthy labourers from the country, in order to obtain work constantly and at higher wages. At this neither the landlords nor farmers took fright - the small holdings could easily be added to adjoining farms, and the small farms merged by large, while the dwellings, if taking in sites and with young orchards coming into profit, with a paddock adjoining, could readily be let to a tenant of independent means at a rent equal to, if not higher, than that previously had for the small holding.
Even if a new house had to be erected in place of the tumbledown dwelling and ramshackle outbuildings, 5 per cent. was assured on the outlay.