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Agrarian Change in an Industrializing County: Staffordshire, 1650-1750

Agrarian Change in an Industrializing County: Staffordshire, 1650-1750

This doctoral research project is being undertaken by Irene Haycock under the supervision of Professor Richard Smith and Dr Timothy Bayliss-Smith. It is funded by ESRC (ES/I017127/1).


The project examines aspects of agrarian change, early industrial change and occupational change in the county of Staffordshire in the early modern period. It addresses the dearth of work on pastoral regions as opposed to the much studied arable eastern and southern areas of England. Staffordshire is renowned for its precocious early population growth, and early industrial development in metal-wares, pottery and glass stemming from its varied rich mineral reserves of, amongst others, coal, clay, ironstone and limestone. It is a classic area of by-employment where, according to Thirsk, farming households took up domestic manufacture when work was slack.

The four primary aims focus upon:

  • evidence of agrarian change in early modern Staffordshire, in order to contribute to debate on the occurrence and timing of a possible English agricultural revolution;
  • E. A. Wrigley's and N. Crafts' propositions that events known as the industrial revolution took a more extended, slower and earlier path than presumed in the classic period of industrial change, 1760 to 1830;
  • the accuracy of using probate inventories to determine the occupational structure and the extent of by-employment in farming households within a parish, followed by comparison with the occupational descriptors specified in surviving parish burial registers;
  • the use of probate inventories and wills from selected parishes to examine different geographical settings in Staffordshire.

As Mark Overton and others have previously shown, probate inventories list the moveable goods and assets of the deceased, including crops, livestock, tools and other items which signify the economic pursuits of the household. Information for selected Staffordshire parishes will undergo quantitative and statistical analyses and be supplemented by evidence in contemporary records such as parish registers, estate records, travel diaries and topographical histories. Two Staffordshire parishes were piloted in earlier MPhil work.

Parish register data on occupations will be compared with those derived from the wills and inventories. This is important in determining the accuracy of occupational recording, which is central to E.A. Wrigley's thesis that the shift of the agricultural labour-force into the secondary sector is a benchmark of the timing of the industrial revolution.