Cumnor in the 1860s: How Far Did Dependence on Agriculture Shape Its Social Structure?

Topics: Sociology, Agriculture, Social class Pages: 18 (5546 words) Published: March 17, 2012
Cumnor in the 1860s: How Far Did Dependence on Agriculture Shape its Social Structure?

‘We stood in Cumnor ..A straggling line of scattered cottages with mud or rough stone walls uncemented and rude and low overhanging thatched roofs with here and there the bee hives on a bench by the gate in the low stone wall or a few brown faced urchins who peeped slily at the unaccustomed stranger….(Anon 1850) ..

‘We turned our back upon the line of cottages or huts perhaps they might be called’ the writer continued, ‘ ..Cumnor is at best a poor squalid place.’ Though lacking the intensity of urban life famously described by Engels (1844), Cumnor epitomizes aspects of a sharply polarised society with a land-less rural working class. This paper considers the relationship between the economic foundation of a Berkshire parish and its ‘social structure’ (ie the pattern of social stratification and the practices and expectations underlying it).1 It rests primarily on nominal record linkage, exploiting 1861 Census enumerators’ books, a trade directory for 1864 and an electoral register for 1865. Similar linkage provides evidence of land ownership from an 1851 rating list.2 Occupational Structure and Social Power

The relationships that reproduced social structure in the 1860s, (including those in the workplace, between landlord and tenant, and relationships within households) worked themselves out at varying geographic scales. Some relations- those concerned with church, school and (potentially) politics- might have been primarily articulated at the parish scale, and these are considered in later sections. The initial focus is on relations of production, and abstracting from varying relationships within households, on the occupational division of labour between householders. As Figure 1 shows starkly, in 1861 a single occupational group predominated in Cumnor- ‘Agricultural and Animal Husbandry Workers’ (minor group 62 within the HISCO classification). 3 Together with ‘Farmers’ (minor group 61) they constituted 2.3% of all householders. The absence of craftsmen and traders is equally striking. Arguably the character of Cumnor suggested by the anonymous visitor’s remarks stem primarily from the hierarchical position and economic power of the villagers (rather than dependence on agriculture). Assignment of particular occupations to levels of social power (using Van Der Putte and Miles 2005 SOCPO scheme), exposes the poor ‘life chances’ of the villagers. Their scheme (see Figure 2) brings together economic power represented by ownership or control of means of production, and cultural power. Table 2 indicates that three fifths of Cumnor’s householders exercised the very lowest level of social power- (ie had least potential to influence their destiny through control of scarce resources (cf Van Der Putte and Miles 2005 p63). The pattern of social power implied by the occupational classification is almost perfectly matched by relation to political enfranchisement. 4 Setting aside the question of why dependence on agriculture was so great, suggesting that such dependence of itself implies a specific social structure makes implicit assumptions about the organization of agricultural production. Although in principle, this might have been undertaken by households controlling their own land, the distinction between ‘farmers’ and ‘agricultural labourers’ points to a division between capitalist farmers and a rural proletariat with nothing to sell but their labour-power. In the market economy of mid-nineteenth century Britain, the feasibility of particular approaches to organizing agricultural production was checked by competitive pressures. Competitive grain production demanded economies of scale which were unlikely to be realized without capitalist production methods. Grazing, and more particularly, dairying could by contrast be undertaken competitively in far smaller units, allowing local persistence of pre-capitalist relations(Reed...
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