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Registration is now open for our Winter Conference on Global Agriculture, which will be held online on Saturday 4 December, from 10:30 to 16:00.

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

Paul Brassley, David Harvey, Matt Lobley, and Michael Winter

An investigation into farming practices throughout a period of seismic change.

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

In 1939 British agriculture was largely powered by the muscles of men, women, and horses, and used mostly nineteenth-century technology to produce less than half of the country’s temperate food. By 1985, less land and far fewer people were involved in farming, the power sources and technologies had been completely transformed, and the output of the country’s agriculture had more than doubled.

This is the story of the national farm, reflecting the efforts and experiences of 200,000 or so farmers and their families, together with the people they employed. But it is not the story of any individual one of them. We know too little about change at the individual farm level, although what happened varied considerably between farms and between different technologies. Based on an improbably-surviving archive of Farm Management Survey accounts, supported by oral histories from some of the farmers involved, this book explores the links between the production of new technologies, their transmission through knowledge networks, and their reception on individual farms. It contests the idea that rapid adoption of technology was inevitable, and reveals the unevenness, variability and complexity that lay beneath the smooth surface of the official statistics.

Richard Hoyle adds: ‘This is the first volume to appear in the new Boydell Studies in Rural History. Both Boydell and I, as series editor, are delighted to launch the series with a work of such distinction and quality which we anticipate will be widely read and debated. Buy and enjoy!

Other volumes are in preparation: by the end of 2022 we expect to have published three volumes of essays (on agricultural networks, rural housing and early modern Scottish rural history) and a study of enclosure. Other works, both monographs and collections of essays, are in various stages of preparation. Our intention is to make a striking contribution to the discipline with books which are both accessible and challenging. The series’ remit by no means limits it to Britain and Ireland. Informal proposals are welcome: in the first instance they should be directed to me at and I can advise on making a formal proposal to the publisher.’

PAUL BRASSLEY is an Honorary University Fellow in the Centre for Rural Policy Research at the University of Exeter. DAVID HARVEY is an Associate Professor in the Department of Archaeology and Heritage Studies, Aarhus University (Denmark), and Honorary Professor of Historical Geography, University of Exeter. MATT LOBLEY is Professor of Rural Resource Management and Director of the Centre for Rural Policy Research at the University of Exeter. MICHAEL WINTER is Professor of Land Economy and Society in the Centre for Rural Policy Research at the University of Exeter.

Read Paul Brassley's entry in the Boydell and Brewer Blog:

Buy this book from Boydell and Brewer's web site for the special price of £39. Use the Offer Code BB135 at the checkout. Offer ends 31 December 2021.

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 1000 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.

LIBRAL has not been going so long that we can’t do things for the first time. So, in this month’s additions we have added to the site the first English counties from Dudley Stamp’s The Land of Britain; our first work by Richard Jefferies, and our first modern book.

Having made the Welsh counties of The Land of Britain available, in this tranche of additions we have posted the ten English counties in the east Midlands running from Buckinghamshire to Nottinghamshire. In addition, we have scanned and published on the site the volume for the Channel Islands. Of course, our intention is to add them all but this will not be done in a day and a night: if there are any you would like to see sooner rather than later, please let us know.

General View of the month is Inverness.


[click to enlarge]

We are very pleased to have added our first modern work to LIBRAL. Chris Spencer self-published his study of the King-Wilkinson family of Slaidburn (Yorkshire, but currently lent to Lancashire) and their estate in 2018: it quickly went out of print and is now unobtainable. This is a superb study of the gentry family who came to own much of the village: not only that but they seem to have thrown nothing away for long periods and their archive (in the Lancashire Record Office) is enormous. Chris has agreed that we can mount the pdf of his book on the site, which we are only too pleased to do as to give a terrific work a life and circulation beyond print.

The History of the King-Wilkinson Family and the Slaidburn Estate

If you have a work which is out of print but which would interest a wider audience, do get in touch.

Richard Jefferies (1848-1887), journalist and novelist, is one of the most sensitive writers on the countyside of southern England. He retains a band of devotees in the Richard Jefferies Society. We intend to add all his major works to LIBRAL over time.

Amongst other additions this month we count a number of Bulletins of the Ministry of Agriculture including two additional editions of cheese-making and three on aspects of bee-keeping. We have also added some additional volumes of Agriculture.

Bee-Keeping Honey

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.

Fruit Farming in the Cam Valley: An horticultural, social and economic history set within the regional and national context, by Jonathan Spain, was published by RiverRhee Publishing in June 2021.

This study sets out to celebrate and record the history of commercial fruit growing in the Cam valley whilst it is still within living memory, drawing on the experiences of fruit growers and workers in addition to a wide range of documentary sources. Whilst there was a long tradition of small scale fruit-growing in the district, from the 1880s there emerged a significant commercial fruit industry, supplying the increased demand for fruit in rapidly expanding towns and cities, made possible by the creation of the railway network. Read more...

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.