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Winner of the Joan Thirsk Memorial Prize 2022

The Real Agricultural Revolution: The Transformation of English Farming, 1939-1985

The Joan Thirsk Memorial Prize was awarded at this year’s Spring Conference to Paul Brassley, David Harvey, Matt Lobley, and Michael Winter, for their book, The real Agricultural Revolution: The transformation of English farming, 1939–1985, published by The Boydell Press.

On presenting the prize, Professor Clare Griffiths said: ‘The Joan Thirsk Memorial Prize is awarded by the Society in memory of Joan Thirsk, who was of course known to many of you personally, and whose work is familiar to and valued by so many more. The Prize is given annually to the author of a book on any aspect of the rural or agrarian history of Britain and Ireland. It has been awarded since 2017, and even in that relatively short time it has generated a very distinguished list of prize winners.

‘This tradition continues, I’m very happy to say, and this year’s judges enjoyed many hours of both enjoyable and instructive reading as we worked our way through the submissions. I was joined in these endeavours by my fellow judges Nicola Verdon and Paul Warde. The standard of the submissions was very high this year, but one book did shine through, and we were unanimous in our decision. This is the first occasion on which the prize has been awarded to a book with more than one author....’ [Read more the prize...] [Read more about this book...]

Where are the Fellows who Cut the Hay?

by Robert Ashton

It’s no coincidence that the title of Robert Ashton’s latest book bears more than a passing resemblance to that of the book that put George Ewart Evans on the agricultural history map. Robert was taught by Evans’s wife at primary school and in the 1970s, worked on a farm at Blaxhall in Suffolk; the village where Evans lived in the early 1950s and where he wrote Ask the Fellows who Cut the Hay.

Robert was given a copy of Ask the Fellows for his fourteenth birthday and over the past 50 years has collected and read all of Evans’s books. He married into a local farming family and tells us that writing a book that builds on Evans’s work was a long held ambition. But what surprised him, was the extent to which people are returning to ways those Evans interviewed would have recognised.

Each chapter of the book focuses on something we’re all familiar with, such as milk, wheat, coal, barley and iron. Robert looks back at the stories Evans collected, remembers his own experience of working on the land in the 1970s, then introduces people who are bringing back almost forgotten ways. For example sheep have returned to Clare, a town which was at the centre of the medieval wool trade, and the tiny village of Brundish now has a blacksmith again, who uses the internet to bring in business.

Where are the Fellows who Cut the Hay?

But it was meeting farmers who have adopted regenerative agricultural practice that surprised Robert most. Nitrogen fertilizer has quadrupled in price to more than £1,000 a tonne, and the return of livestock to rotations, the under-sowing of wheat with clover and selling produce locally, rather than to the trade is literally a growing trend that has much in common with early twentieth century farming practice.

Robert’s book is being published by Unbound, who crowdfund a collectible hardback first edition before releasing a paperback. Read more here...

Managing for Posterity: The Norfolk Gentry and their Estates, c.1450-1700

by Elizabeth Griffiths

Forthcoming publication by the University of Hertfordshire Press.

Securing the long-term survival and status of the family has always been the principal concern of the English aristocracy and gentry. Central to that ambition has been the successful management of their landed estates, whilst failure in this regard could spell ruination for an entire family. In the sixteenth century, the task became more difficult as price inflation reduced the value of rents; improved management skills were called for. In Norfolk, estates began to change hands rapidly as the unaware or simply incompetent failed to grasp the issues, while the more astute and enterprising landowners capitalised on their neighbours' misfortunes.

When Sir Hamon Le Strange inherited his family's ancient estate at Hunstanton in 1604 it was much depleted and heavily encumbered. The outlook was bleak: such circumstances often led to the disappearance of families as landowners. However, within a generation, he and his remarkable wife Alice had modernised the estate and secured the family's future. After 700 years, the Le Stranges still survive and prosper on their estate at Hunstanton, making them the longest surviving gentry family in Norfolk.

The first part of this book presents new research into the secret of their rare success. A key aspect of their strategy was a belief in the power (and economic value) of knowledge: Hamon and Alice wanted to ensure that their improvements would endure for posterity. To this end, they curated their knowledge through meticulous record-keeping and carefully handed it down to their successors. This behaviour, instilled in the family, not only facilitated on-going reforms, but helped future generations overcome the inevitable reversals and challenges they also faced.

The second part of the book collects together four related papers from Elizabeth Griffiths' research about the Le Stranges, Hobarts and Wyndhams, republished from the Agricultural History Review and edited from two Norfolk Record Society volumes. For anyone interested in early modern rural society and agriculture and the history of Norfolk gentry estates, this volume will be essential reading, offering as it does new perspectives on the history of estate management, notably the role of women, the relationship with local communities and sustainability in agriculture.

Elizabeth Griffiths was an honorary research fellow at University of Exeter and co-author, with Jane Whittle, of Consumption and Gender in the Early Seventeenth Century Household: The World of Alice Le Strange (OUP, 2012). She passed away in April 2020 while this volume was in preparation. It has been compiled and edited by her friend and research collaborator, Jane Whittle, Professor of Economic and Social History at the University of Exeter and Series Editor of Studies in Regional and Local History.

You are cordially invited to the book launch on Friday 20 May 2022 at 19:00 in the Great Hall, Thoresby College, King’s Lynn, PE30 1HX, where there will be an opportunity to hear Professor Jane Whittle discuss Elizabeth’s research. Simple refreshments will be served.

This event is free, but pre-registration is required as places are limited. Book your place via our Eventbrite page.

Become a member of the BAHS and support Agricultural History

It’s easy to join the BAHS and by doing so you will be supporting the work of the Society in promoting rural history.

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The Online LIBrary of Rural and Agricultural Literature now comprises nearly 1100 digitized items, classified into more than 200 categories. The LIBRAL Gateway enables you to exploit this classification to find literature you didn’t know existed. And once you have entered the library itself, you can use its magnificent full-text search capability.

So, what do we have for you this month?

First of all, two agricultural periodicals. We have added to LIBRAL eighteen month’s worth of Agriculture (1953-4, 1956), and can promise more in our next upload. But we have also added a scarce item, Agricultural Magazine, Plough and Farmers’ Journal for 1855. It is not clear for how long this periodical was published. The issues we have added show a particular interest in the political economy of farming including imports. There is much in its pages on the trial agricultural census held the previous year.


As to books, we have added the usual mixed bag covering a century and a half of agricultural development, ranging from late nineteenth-century Chedder Cheese making through to two works on farm machinery. Amongst the oddities, we have the report of a delegation of British farmers who made a fact-finding visit to Denmark in 1928. We could not resist a couple of works on manure. We have added Dean’s The Land Steward of 1851, another manual containing wide-ranging advice and commentary.

Tractors on the Farm   Farm Equipment

General View of the month is Lincolnshire in its first edition by Arthur Young.


Finally, we invite you to try the new version of the LIBRAL Gateway. The advantages of the new version include better formatting on narrow screens, and filtering on multiple characteristics, such as date range and theme. Please try this out, and get in touch to tell us about your experience with it, good or bad.


Some of the books we have scanned for LIBRAL are available for purchase. Other than raising some money, we need to make room for more books. We make no great claims for the quality of the books – they are strictly working copies – but if there is anything you would like to have for a modest price, do get in touch.


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Agricultural History Forum

Apparatus for lifting hay

This image started a discussion on our Agricultural History Forum, although we still don’t have a name for it. The forum is the place where anyone can ask questions or start discussions on any subject related to agricultural history and the history of rural economy and society. We’ve noticed that far more people have signed up to receive our newsletters than have signed up for the BAHS forums. Some of you are missing out on some interesting discussions, and the world is missing out on a huge pool of rural history knowledge. We would really appreciate it if more of you could sign up and be ready to join in the discussions! You can register here.

Work in Progress

Work in Progress is a list of researchers working in the field of agricultural history and the history of rural economy and society – and related disciplines. Researchers listed here have reported contacts being made with them as a result of their entry, making it a valuable resource. We made the word art below from keywords used by researchers in their entries.

Word cloud for WIP keywords

If you don’t already have an entry in the list please use the form to let us know your research interests, period and regions of interest. If you already have an entry, please check that it’s up to date and use the form to update it.