Patterns of Agriculture in Seventeenth-Century England

ALTHOUGH they could not see so far into the future, American colonists leaving England in the seventeenth century departed in the course of a long, hundred years of economic difficulty and prolonged agricultural depression. In such times, alternative ways of making a living are urgently needed; people must use their ingenuity in order to survive. These circumstances slowly but steadily brought variety of a new kind to the agricultural economies of seventeenth-century England. The opening up of the New World, at the same time, served to broaden opportunities farther, for not only did America offer new plants for cultivation in England, but it also provided another place where innovative ideas, simmering in England, could be tried out. Englishmen, thus, had an agricultural reason, as well as many others, to look with zest at the prospect of life across the Atlantic. They had the chance to experiment with another mix of farming activities, one which they thought to be feasible because it was being tried successfully in England and perhaps might be still more productive in America because of the different climatic environment.

The agricultural depression in seventeenth-century England was brought about by the falling prices of two staple products, grain and wool, which continued to decline throughout the first half of the eighteenth century. Prices of livestock and livestock products were disturbed—but were not generally as discouraging—and some, indeed, were remarkably stimulated. The fall in the general level of agricultural prices is clearest from 1640 onwards. Whereas the general level rose 600 percent between 1500 and 1640, it rose by only two percent between 1640 and 1750. Grain fell by twelve percent, and wool by thirty-three percent. On the other hand, pig prices rose by seventy-one percent and cattle prices by thirteen percent, although the rise in cattle prices was not evenly distributed as a benefit among all livestock producers. In the second half of the seventeenth century, the effects of the Irish Cattle Act of 1667 undoubtedly assisted breeders in the north and west of England at the expense of the fatteners in south and east.121

Certain classes of farmers in sensitive regions perceived, and took early action to protect themselves from, the full depression of grain and wool prices, just as a later generation anticipated before 1750 the recovery of grain prices, a fact not obvious to all until after that date. So the year 1640, which is used in these price indices to divide two periods of rising and then stable (or falling) food prices, serves as a rough signpost only to a watershed between two very different agricultural experiences. Generally, conventional agriculture had been profitable in the sixteenth century, when the demand from a rapidly rising population for basic foodstuffs could hardly be satisfied. Then, from about 1600, or perhaps somewhat before, new agricultural opportunities were being seized for a number of different reasons; not all were prompted by premonitions of a depression ahead. Some pioneers of new crops were driven on by a gambling spirit and a sense of adventure, awakened by an acquaintance with foreign novelties. Some already had firm experience of the current commercial value of new plants on the Continent. But all bold ventures shared (or might share) the same attractions in the new conditions that prevailed more generally after 1640, when traditional foodstuffs were in surplus and prices were sagging. Alternatives could save the situation.

The problem of food surpluses may seem surprising, coming as it did at the end of a long period of continual anxiety about the adequacy of food supplies. Yet, production had been greatly stimulated in the sixteenth century, and farmers did not relax their efforts in the seventeenth, when natural population growth slackened. Contemporaries thought that losses in the civil war and migrations to plantations overseas aggravated the fall of prices by reducing demand. Evidently, they were not totally misled in making these complaints. E. A. Wrigley and R. S. Schofield, in their recent book on English population history, suggest that sixty-nine percent of the natural population increase occurring in the period 1640–1699 was lost to England by emigration to North America.122

In the course of the seventeenth century, an increasing number of farmers, who lived by producing conventional agricultural products, had to cast around for ways of overcoming the discouragement of low prices. Some, in order to feed more animals, secure more and better manure as a result, and so improve the fertility of their cornfields, followed much the same routine as before but achieved higher production by growing the artificial grasses—clover, rye grass, lucerne, and sainfoin—in their arable rotations. The general effect of these improvements was to increase grain yields and so offset the fall in unit price. For the most part, however, this solution was only suitable for large farmers cultivating good soils. For the rest, a remarkable growth occurred of alternative or supplementary pursuits. These represented a partial diversion from the mainstream development of corn-livestock farming.

The ideas for such alternatives came from the earlier period—the sixteenth century—when the standard of living of the well-to-do was rising very considerably, and, among other things, the upper classes became interested in diversifying their diet. Two of the new foodstuffs were fruit and vegetables, which came into fashion as food for the rich, when before they had been only the fare of the poor. These things won favor among the rich as a result of lively contacts, newly established by English gentlemen and scholars with the Continent. It all started as a fashion and then became an intellectual interest, finally being transformed into a commercial opportunity.

The intellectual interest rested upon the argument that vegetables and fruits provided a healthier diet than the fancy foods previously eaten by the rich; they were easily digested and did not drive men “to seek pepper as far as India.” Herbs and other plants, like licorice and rhubarb, were recommended as medicines since they did not have to be brought all the way from Jerusalem and Turkey. “Every poor man had the right remedies growing in his [own] garden.”123 Other rewarding new crops served industrial uses: coleseed for oil; hops for beer; dye plants like woad, weld, saffron, and madder for textiles; teasels for finishing cloth; and hemp and flax for the making of rope, canvas, and linen. Nor should nut trees be overlooked: they provided food and timber (walnut trees being especially valued for fine furniture). Woodland trees, too, received more serious attention after 1660 as an increasingly profitable way of using certain kinds of land.124

All these plants made their own special demands on labor, land, and equipment, and so could not be grown by everyone everywhere. Thus, the experiments to find the right niche for each were prolonged. In cases where we can follow the early trials with new plants, we soon learn to understand why they made slow progress. One of the reasons for welcoming new plants was the notion that they would be a miraculous panacea for turning derelict or barren land to good account. It was not an auspicious beginning for plants with cultivation needs not yet properly understood.

Optimism shown towards the transformation of neglected land was fostered first of all by the known successes in improving marshes and fens in various parts of Europe, especially in Italy and Holland. Drainage enterprises could be observed nearer to home when work began in 1563 to drain Erith and Plumstead marshes in Kent and, still more, when ambitious drainage plans for the fens around the Wash were laid from the 1580’s onward.125

Confidence was firmly expressed by John Norden in The Surveyor's Dialogue of 1607, in which he proclaimed his “opinion that there is no kind of soil, be it never so wild, boggy, clay or sandy, but will yield one kind of beneficial fruit or other.”126 Norden’s book was written as a dialogue between a surveyor (the author himself) and a bailiff in charge of a gentleman’s estate. Both, together, walked over the fields, the surveyor constantly rebuking the bailiff for his negligence whenever they came upon land lying idle and waste. Moorish, boggy land full of weeds needed draining with new trenches. In another place congested with alders, the bailiff was eager to show how quickly he was learning lessons from his companion and suggested rooting them out. But no. The surveyor urged caution here, because alders were useful for hop poles, ladders, and rails. In other odd corners, he urged the growing of willows. Low and spongy ground, when trenched, was recommended for hops; the possibilities could already be seen in Suffolk, Essex, and Surrey. Hot and sandy land was recommended for carrots, already growing around Ipswich and along the Suffolk coast. Little crofts overgrown with nettles, mallow, and thistles could be used for hemp and mustard. Hedges should grow fruit trees as in Kent, Worcestershire, Shropshire, Gloucestershire, Somerset, and Devon. “There is not a place so rude and unlikely,” concluded Norden, “but diligence and discretion may convert it to some profitable end.”127

Whenever a new crop was taken up as an experiment, adventurers (who were usually youngish gentlemen or merchant sons of gentlemen) started the search for derelict land on which trials might be made. Hopes were high of miracles being wrought on barren land. But, in addition to this, it was plainly difficult to find well-cultivated land available for such risky ventures. Farmers, who knew what it was to suffer food shortages in bad years, could not be expected to gamble lightly. Nor did landowners look with favor upon newfangled crops that were suspected of impoverishing soils. Novelties, in consequence, could be tested only on neglected pieces of ground, which others did not value highly enough to want to keep for more conventional, but more certain, crops. A good deal of persuasion was needed before people were prevailed upon to lease land for new crops. When, for example, the tobacco experiments were started around Winchcombe, Gloucestershire, in 1619, a lot of talking and coaxing by the young son of a local gentleman became necessary before he found sufficient parcels of land. One owner, whom he finally cajoled, with the help of a friendly intermediary, agreed to lease a piece of land he happened to own in Worcestershire; thus, tobacco moved from Gloucestershire into a new district.128

For two different reasons, therefore, new crops were usually tried on poor land. When woad-growing commended itself because of the high prices prevailing in the markets of the 1580’s and 1590’s, two hundred acres of land, formerly a rabbit warren in Berwick St. John, Wiltshire, was used for woad. Another site used for the same crop at the same period was Blagdon Park in Cranborne Chase, Dorset, partly in pasture, partly in rabbit warren. In this case, Robert Cecil was the owner of the land—by 1605, if not earlier. It is tempting in an example like this to suspect that a conjuncture of several circumstances accounts for the experiment. Blagdon Park was “disparked” in 1570. Cecil had an estate in Cranborne. Land in the area was found to grow this novel crop at a time when it was known to be profitable and when it was also deemed in the national interest, in order to reduce imports, to encourage it for industrial purposes. Robert Cecil’s father had earlier been much concerned with policymaking in connection with woad and may have financed a venture of his own.129 In other words, it is not impossible that courtiers who laid their hands on crown estates often found themselves with land that was not very profitably cultivated and was ideally suited for a gamble of this kind. In court circles, financial speculations were continually under discussion. Adventurers looking for run-down land to rent, for their part, shrewdly turned their attention first to the estates of absentee owners, of which the first to spring to mind would be crown estates or ex-crown estates. Thus did new agricultural ventures, in their pioneering phase, become associated with the great landowning courtiers.

Run-down land also features in experiments with the growing of madder, starting in the 1620’s. The site first chosen was Appledore, Kent, on the edge of the Rother levels alongside Romney Marsh. Another madder plantation was sited at the same period at Barn Elms along the Thames, still another wet, riverside area. A madder experiment of the early 1650’s was progressing in a similar riverine position at Deptford beside the Thames, farther east. In the end, madder found a satisfactory niche on the Isle of Ely in newly-drained fens near Wisbech. There, it flourished for a brief period between 1663 and 1678, when the harvest of Dutch madder was dramatically reduced and prices became prohibitively high.130

When Robert Reyce described the craze for growing hops in Suffolk in 1618, he conceded that some people were planting hops “in the best meadow ground,” but he also described other men who were “draining unprofitable marshes and moors … to plant there.” Others “planted not in good ground but in the best they had or could spare which was somewhat dry or hard.” When the weather ruined the harvest of hops for several years, people quickly put their best land back to other uses and grew hops “upon waste ground otherwise not to be better employed.”131

When Benedict Webb experimented in the years between 1610 and 1625 with coleseed oil for cloth making, he grew the plant in Kingswood Forest and the Forest of Dean. In a plea of 1624 for more planters of coleseed, he urged its value for enriching barren land, for it “best prospers upon dry sandy ground which affordeth small comfort to the husbandman.”132

It is not surprising, then, that trials with new plants encountered many setbacks. Only after many decades of experience did writers in the later seventeenth century, like John Worlidge, give wiser advice, stressing that new crops, such as clover, needed the best start on well-prepared, well-manured land.133 Yet however ill-founded they were, the expectations and assumptions lying behind the experiments in the early seventeenth century form the background not only for English agricultural development but also for the agricultural schemes which emigrants carried to America. They shared the same underlying optimism when contemplating putting virgin land to agricultural uses. A lot of new plants were becoming commercially profitable in England. At the same time, the difficulties of finding land, on any considerable scale for growing new crops, were irksome. The pioneers in England had to collect small bits and pieces of ill-favored land here and there. The census of woad growers in 1585–1586 showed very clearly that the land most readily forthcoming for this plant consisted of small scattered fragments, often of only an acre or two; the example of Robert Cecil’s two hundred acres was exceptional.134 Although many crops benefitted from being grown in small parcels—for this meant that they were more carefully tended—the possibility of larger plantations that could be set up across the Atlantic was contemplated with relish.

The new crops attracting notice at this time were numerous but may be classified readily according to the differing purposes they served. Some were providing food for the discriminating palate and were diversifying diet more generally. Some were valued for medicinal purposes. Some were providing vital raw materials, hitherto imported, for the use of old established industries. Coleseed was among these, being offered as a substitute for imported olive oil, which was becoming too expensive. At first it was used in cloth finishing, but it ended up as an invaluable oil for lighting purposes.135 Mulberry trees were being tried in the hope of setting up a new industry, silk manufacture. All held out enticing hopes of a fortune to be made in contrast with the poor returns from grain. But these novelties can also be classified according to the classes of farmers who favored them, for, in the end, when their needs in terms of land, labor, and capital were fully assessed, they tended to be taken up by distinct social groups. The gentry played a leading part in first raising the standard of cultivation of fruit and vegetables. When these foods became a fashionable interest during the course of the sixteenth century, orchards and vegetable gardens attached to gentlemen’s houses were objects of expensive attention, and gardeners were often brought from abroad to maintain them. These vegetable gardens and orchards then had considerable influence locally because their gardeners were allowed to sell produce, plants, and seeds to others. In this way, new and better varieties were spread around the district. More small-holders then became market gardeners, since the requirements in land exactly suited their circumstances. Vines were also a serious interest with which gentlemen and parsons long persisted—certainly into the 1650’s. Mulberry trees were tried by some gentry, out of loyalty to the crown, when James I went to great lengths to foster them. James had sent a Frenchman, Monsieur Verdon, around the country talking to Lords Lieutenant and J.P.’s, and taking orders for trees he imported from Languedoc. The Frenchman wrote a careful and candid report of his reception in the various countries from Hertfordshire to Cheshire and Lancashire. Historians treat the scheme as a joke, but the experiment did not fail for want of careful planning. People persisted for a long time with mulberry trees and silk worms, and they had some carefully written pamphlet literature to guide them. Fresh hopes were raised whenever another variety of mulberry tree was discovered. At one stage, it was a new American variety from Virginia. Then came news of someone successfully feeding silk worms on lettuce. Yet, at last, mulberry trees could not compete with other fruit trees for the same ground, and they faded out. Nevertheless, in the 1650’s, gentlemen here and there proudly sported waistcoats made from their home-produced silk.136

The meticulous cultivation needed in horticulture called for intensive labor, which the gentry found too expensive to contemplate beyond the gardens and orchards required for feeding their domestic households. In general, their favored activities were those that called for extensive land but little labor. Thus, they took a revived interest during the seventeenth century in maintaining fishponds, either refurbishing old neglected ponds or making new ones. (Roger North, for instance, writing in 1713, expected a return of £6.5s. an acre from a fishpond, compared with £2. from meadows.) They also favored wildfowl decoys, especially in eastern England. Daniel Defoe, however, in the 1720’s described two ponds newly laid out at great expense in the West Country, in Dorset, yielding “an infinite number of wild fowl such as duck and mallard, teal and widgeon, brand geese, wild geese etc.” which “are sent up to London: the quantity indeed is incredible.” Deer parks were refurbished, especially after 1660, and seem to have had a somewhat more commercial purpose by the end of the seventeenth century. They not only supplied venison for the house and made gifts for friends, but also furnished a surplus for sale as well. Rabbit warrens, too, were carefully maintained, and the income from them was calculated down to the last penny. Woodlands were more professionally managed for profit after 1660.137

Yeomen preferred enterprises that required medium quantities of capital, modest amounts of land, and moderate labor. A decisive factor in the selection of some of these was the way their labor requirements fitted into slack periods in the farming year. Dye crops, coleseed, and hops were eminently satisfactory in this respect. In northeast Kent, for example, where madder flourished for some years in the early eighteenth century, this was not only because the price was right but because madder was harvested after hop picking had come to an end. Canary grass, much in demand for canary seed to feed to caged birds—a fashion that was brought in by the Dutch in the late sixteenth century—dovetailed well on farms where bread grains were a major crop, for it was harvested after cereals. Fruit orchards, too, were much favored by yeomen as a sideline and spread noticeably in the West Midland counties of Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, and Herefordshire, as well as in Somerset and Devon. Cider fruit was grown to satisfy an increasing number of cider drinkers, when cider became a fashionable drink (as opposed to a common peasant drink) after the Royalist soldiery, including its officers, acquired a taste for it in the course of their West Midland campaigns during the 1640’s. In the later seventeenth century, it was a recognized article of commerce. Hops, which had first found a home in Kent and East Anglia, settled also in the West Midlands in the course of the seventeenth century; Worcester became a major hop market, competing seriously with markets in Kent. Some trials were even made in Shropshire. To take but one example, the vicar of Cleobury Mortimer first grew hops in 1658; by 1662 he had received tithe hops from others in the parish. In this area, however, the crop did not prove to be as successful as fruit.138

Yeomen also developed a greater interest in keeping dovecotes in the later seventeenth century, at a time when manorial lords seem to have failed to preserve their monopoly. A number of surviving dovecotes are of later seventeenth-century date and reflect both the high value set on pigeon dung and the energetic search for alternative agricultural pursuits sought by all classes in the seventeenth century. A tithe dispute in 1682 not only gives a precise figure for the number of pigeons one owner disposed of each year but also summarizes the same farmer’s diverse sources of income, reflecting a resourceful exploitation of varied enterprises. George Clements of Weston-sub-Edge in Gloucestershire held very strong Parliamentarian sympathies in the Interregnum, which he maintained after the Restoration. He avoided tithe payments for thirty years until he was finally presented in the Court of Exchequer. His annual produce from two-and-a-half yardlands was then carefully calculated. He harvested wheat, barley, and pulses, had a dairy herd of eight cows and two yearlings (reckoning to get between four and seven calves a year), kept a flock of one hundred sheep, and owned between one and three mares (which gave him at least one colt a year). In other words, he had an ordinary mixed farm of a size appropriate to a man of yeoman standing. But, he had many useful extras: his dovecote, from which he drew eight dozen pigeons in a flight and four flights in a year (384 birds altogether); and between five and eight stocks of bees, which, when sold, yielded five to six shillings apiece. Furthermore, he kept cocks, hens, ducks, and turkeys; had reserves of wood; and expected to gather about eight bushels of apples each year, which were sold for eight shillings.139 Tithe disputes are full of such brief glimpses of very varied sources of farm income: conventional produce stood at the center of the enterprise, with a number of valuable sidelines on the fringe.

Finally, among small and very small landholders, vegetables, herbs, and tobacco were the favorites, for these required next to no capital and small amounts of land but employed much labor, which such people could usually find within the family. A town market was needed near at hand for the sale of vegetables, but demand built up steadily. Carrots and cabbages were even growing as field crops in the period 1670–1690 in parts of Somerset, probably destined for Bristol.140

An eloquent collection of letters from a somewhat later date shows a Scottish gentleman, living in London, writing to his gardener at Ormistoun near Edinburgh in 1735, urging him to cultivate a more discriminating taste for vegetables and soft fruits among his customers in Scotland. John Cockburn was urging his gardener to teach them to be more finicky and appreciative in their purchases. By offering them vegetables out of season and fruits of a new kind, they gradually could be coaxed into coming back for more. It all involved “drawing in the people to a better taste for particular varieties, thus putting an end to the dull conviction that an apple is only an apple and people don’t distinguish.” Cockburn had learned these lessons by watching the London market gardeners, who took infinite pains in growing and marketing their crops, even, he said, softening their water because they thought it improved the crop. Moreover, they ensured that their vegetables were not “wet, bruised, or broiled in the sun” in the course of transport. Mulberries were recommended as fruit for the table, quinces were said to be more profitable than apples, better kinds of pears and apples were favored because they yielded more than the common kinds, peas and beans that could be got ready in July and August rather than later fetched higher prices, and raspberries were in demand for raspberry brandy. In these lessons offered in Scotland in the early eighteenth century, we see the process by which vegetable growing in southern England became a more commercial enterprise in the seventeenth.141

Finally, hemp and flax were industrial crops that suited smallholders admirably and undoubtedly were favored in a number of different areas where expanding local industries provided a strong demand for ropes and canvas wrappings of all kinds. In Devon and Cornwall, hemp growing was linked with fishing and in Staffordshire with a varied selection of metal, clay- and coal-using industries.

Not all the hopes pinned on these many new crops in the seventeenth century were fulfilled. The mulberries did not establish a silk industry; vineyards were gradually abandoned. Safflower, for use as a pink dye for silk, did not establish itself against German safflower, which was cheaper because the labor cost less. Madder only succeeded when Dutch prices were abnormally high. But throughout the seventeenth-century depression, indeed, until about 1750, when rapid population growth started again and the demand for conventional grain and livestock revived, all these alternative crops were valued supplements to farm incomes, and all the counties as far north as Yorkshire and Lancashire showed an interest in some of them.

Thus, the agricultural regions of England in the period 1640–1750 present a much more varied mix of enterprises than in the years 1500–1640. Southern and eastern England boasted the greatest variety, because these counties had been the first to experiment in the sixteenth century. Foreign influences had been earliest and strongest there; thus, the regions of Kent and Sussex were numerous and diverse, growing hops, cider fruit, cherries, hemp and flax, providing asses’ milk for tender stomachs in Canterbury and wheat ears for fancy tastes in Tunbridge Wells. Nearer to London, especially in Middlesex, more diverse regions still were concentrated in yet smaller areas. Here the vegetable gardens and plant nurseries proliferated.

By the end of the seventeenth century, the West Midland and the southwestern counties were also finding a place for many of these alternative enterprises. Teasels occupied 155 acres of Winscombe parish in Somerset in 1700. Potatoes settled firmly in Somerset at the same time, having been brought there from Lancashire. They first appeared in some quantity in the 1660’s, and by 1712 it was said that one acre of potatoes that “hit right” could be worth as much as three acres of wheat. The production of all vegetables was urged on for the same sound economic reasons, and the market paid for quality. Sometimes, vegetables showed an eighteen-fold difference between the highest and the lowest prices early and late in the season.142

Impressive agricultural improvements in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries were matched by horticultural innovations that were just as significant in the long term. The two together represented ingenious responses to the mass demand for conventional foodstuffs in the sixteenth century and, then, in the seventeenth century, to the more discriminating demand of a less rapidly growing population. The innovations all had great potential for the future. Some gave much new work to women and children, thereby introducing more than one wage earner into the family. And the high standards of cultivation set in gardening offered many lessons to farmers who later copied them in the fields. The new enterprises spread steadily, but not swiftly, for they were scrutinized and slowed down at every turn by shrewd farmers asking themselves what this or that innovation offered them in particular. In consequence, cautious yeomen and more husbandmen decided that the risks were greater than the benefits.

Many of the alternative enterprises receded into the background after 1750, when mainstream agriculture returned to prosperity. This fact at once reveals the importance of the particular conjuncture of economic and social circumstances that had favored their development in the seventeenth century. When once conventional farming recovered its impetus, fruit, vegetables, wildfowl, game, rabbits, and the like did not receive the same attention as before; gentry ploughed up the rabbit warrens they had laid out on some of their better land and did not again view them with the same favor until the later nineteenth century, when another depression loomed.143

Some historians are inclined to dismiss the alternative activities in seventeenth-century agriculture because they did not continue to expand at the same rate after 1750. But three generations of farmers found in these things veritable lifesavers. The financial rewards are well illustrated in the early eighteenth century by the return from hops compared with grains. On one mixed farm in Kent, at Milstead, profits per acre for hops between the 1720’s and early 1740’s amounted to £6.10s and in the later 1740’s to £7.12s. per acre. This can be compared with a profit of £6 for wheat per acre (but wheat cannot be grown every year on the same land) and somewhere between £2 and £4 per acre for oats, barley, beans, and peas.144

Interest in, and fresh attitudes towards, new crops colored the thinking of all classes in rural society in the seventeenth century; consequently, they influenced the thinking of the emigrants to America. Items like mulberries, vines, woad, hemp, flax, orchards, and walnut trees all featured in the earliest correspondence of settlers in the New World. As early as January 1620, the Virginia colonists were reported to be busy clearing ground not only for grain but also for tobacco, vines, and mulberry trees. When a Gloucestershire gardener from England contracted to settle in Virginia the same year, he was promised land that was sufficient for setting up orchards, gardens, and vineyards for growing woad, flax and hemp, olives, and cotton, as well as grain, and for the keeping of silkworms. When, in the 1650’s, Samuel Hartlib advertised agricultural experiments and advocated fresh plant varieties, the plants so named belonged in this same group of new enterprises that were the subject of common talk and many experiments in England.145

In the event, the immigrants were disappointed in their hopes of establishing great commercial enterprises with the new plants and produce now in demand in England. Still, when William Penn’s Quakers arrived in the late seventeenth century, the fruits and vegetables were already a sufficiently well-established element in English diets at home to ensure that care was promptly given to providing the same foodstuffs for domestic households in the new environment. In West New Jersey, farms newly created between 1675 and 1682 possessed “unsurpassed orchards of apples, peaches, and cherries, … and already Jerseymen were known for their excellent cider.”146 Emigrants took across the Atlantic a whole bundle of innovative agricultural and horticultural ideas that were born and nurtured in the depressed conditions of agriculture at home in the seventeenth century.

Joan Thirsk is Reader in Economic History Emerita, Oxford University.