1902 Encyclopedia > Agriculture > Progress of Agriculture from 1688 to 1760

(Part 4)


Progress of Agriculture from 1688 to 1760

From the Revolution to the accession of George III, the progress of agriculture was by no means so considerable as we should be led to imagine from the great exportation of corn. It is the opinion of well-informed writers, [Footnote 299-3] that very little improvement had taken place, either in the cultivation of the soil or in the management of live stock, from the Restoration down to the middle of last century. Even clover and turnips, the great support of the century improved system of agriculture, were confined to a few districts, and at the latter period were scarcely cultivated at all by common farmers in the northern part of the island. Of the writers of this period, therefore, we shall notice only such as describe some improvement in the modes of culture, or some extension of the practices that were formerly little known.

In Houghton’s Collections on Husbandry and Trade, a periodical work begun in 1681, we have the first notice of turning being eaten by sheep; ---"Some in Essex have their fallow after turnips, which feed their sheep in winter, by means the turnips are scooped, and so made capable to hold dews and rain water, which by corrupting, imbibes the nitre of the air, and when the shell breaks it runs about and fertilizes. By feeding the sheep, the land is dunged as if it had been folded; and those turnips, though few or none be carried off for human use, are a very excellent improvement, nay, some reckon it is though they only plough the turnips in without feeding." [Footnote 299-4] This was written in February 1694; but ten years before, Worlidge, one of his correspondents, observes, "Sheep fatten very well on turnips, which prove an excellent nourishment for them in hard winters when fodder is scarce; for they will not only eat the greens, but feed on the roots in the ground, and the scoop them hollow even to the very skin. Ten acres (he adds) sown with clover, turnips, &c., will feed as many sheep as one hundred acres thereof would before have done. [Footnote 299-5]

At this time potatoes were beginning to attract notice.

"The potato," says Houghton, "is a bacciferous herb, with esculent roots, bearing winged leaves and a bell flower.

"This, I have been informed, was brought first out of Virginia by Sir Walter Raleigh; and he stopping at Ireland, some was planted there, where it thrived very well, and to good purpose; for in their succeeding wars, when all the corn above the ground was destroyed, this supported them; for the soldiers, unless they had dug up all the ground where they grew, and almost sifted it, could not extirpate them; from whence they were brought to Lancashire, where they are very numerous, and now they begin to spread all the kingdom over. They are a pleasant food boiled or roasted, and eaten with butter and sugar. There is a sort brought from Spain, that are of a longer form, and are more luscious than ours; they are much set by, and sold for sixpence or eight pence the pound." [Footnote 299-5]

The next writer is Mortimer, whose Whole Art of Husbandry was published in 1706, and has since run through several editions. It is a regular, systematic work, of considerable merit; and will even now repay perusal by the practical agriculturist. From the third edition of Hartlib’s Legacy, we learn that clover was cut green, and given to cattle; and it appears that this practice of soiling, as it is now called, had become very common about the beginning of last century, wherever clover was cultivated. Rye-grass was now sown along with it. Turnips were hand-hoed, and extensively employed in feeding sheep and cattle, in the same manner as at present.

The first considerable improvement in the practice of that period was introduced by Jethro Tull, a gentleman of Berkshire, who began to drill wheat and other crops about the year 1701, and whose Horse-hoeing Husbandry, published in 1731, exhibits the first decided step in advance upon the principles and practice of his predecessors. Not contented with a careful attention to details, Tull set himself, with admirable skill and perseverance, to investigate the growth of plants, and thus to arrive at a knowledge of the principles by which the cultivation of field-crops should be regulated. Having arrived at the conclusion that the food of plants consists of minute particles of earth taken up by their rootlets, it followed, that the more thoroughly the soil in which they grew was disintegrated, the more abundant would be the "pasture" (as he called it), to which their fibers would have access. He was thus led to adopt that system of sowing his crops in rows or drills, so wide apart as to admit of tillage of the intervals, both by ploughing and hoeing, being continued until they had well-nigh arrived at maturity.

As the distance between his rows appeared much greater than was necessary for the range of the roots of the plants, he begins by showing that these roots extend much further than is commonly believed, and then proceeds to inquire into the nature of their food. After examining several hypotheses, he decides this to be fine particles of earth. The chief, and most the only use of dung, he thinks, is to divide the earth, to dissolve "this terrestrial matter, which affords nutrients to the mouths of vegetable roots;" and this can be done more completely by tillage. It is therefore necessary not only to pulverize the soil by repeated ploughings before it be seeded, but, as it becomes gradually more and more compressed afterwards, recourse must be had to tillage while the plants are growing; and this is hoeing, which also destroys the weeds that would deprive the plants of their nourishment.

The leading features of Tull’s husbandry are his practice of laying the land into narrow ridges of five or six feet, and upon the middle of these drilling one, two, or three rows, distant from one another about seven inches when there were three, and ten when only two. The distance of the plants on one ridge from those on the contiguous one he called interval; the distance between the rows on the same ridge, a space or partition; the former was stirred repeatedly by the horse-hoe, the latter by the hand-hoe.

The extraordinary attention this ingenious person gave to his mode of culture is perhaps without a parallel:---

"I formerly was at much pains," he says, "and at some charge in improving my drills for planting the rows at very near distances, and had brought them to such perfection, that one horse would draw drill with eleven shares, making the rows at three inches and a half distance from one another; and at the same time sow in them three very different sorts of seeds, which did not mix; and these, too, at different depths. As the barley-rows were seven inches asunder, the barley lay four inches deep. A little more than three inches above that, in the same channels, was clover; betwixt every two of these rows was a row of St Foin, covered half an inch deep.

"I had a good crop of barley the first year; the next year two crops of broad clover, where that was sown; and where hop-clover was sown, a mixed crop of that and St Foin; but I am since, by experience, so fully convinced of the folly of these, or any other mixed crops, and more especially of narrow spaces, that I have demolished these instruments, in their full perfection, as a vain curiosity, the drift and use of them being contrary to the true principles and practice of horse-hoeing."[Footnote 300-1]

In the culture of wheat, he began with ridges six feet broad, or eleven on a breadth of 66 feet; but on this he afterwards had fourteen ridges. After trying different numbers of rows on a ridge, he at last preferred two, with an intervening space of about 10 inches. He allowed only three pecks of seed for an acre. The first hoeing was performed by turning a furrow from the row, as soon as the plant had put forth four or five leaves; so that it was done before or at the beginning of winter. The next hoeing was in spring, by which the earth was returned to the plants. The subsequent operations depended upon the circumstances and condition of the land and the state of the weather. The next year’s crop of wheat was sown upon the intervals which had been unoccupied the former year; but this he does not seem to think was a matter of much consequence.

"My field," he observes, "whereon is now the thirteenth crop of wheat, has shown that the rows may successfully stand upon any part of the ground. The ridges of this field were, for the twelfth crop, changed from six feet to four feet six inches. In order for this alternation the ridges were ploughed down, and then the next ridges were laid out the same way as the former, but one foot six inches narrower, and the double rows drilled on their tops; whereby, of consequence, there must be some rows standing on every part of the ground, both on the former partitions and on every part of the intervals. Notwithstanding this, there was no manner of difference in the goodness of the rows; and the whole field was in every part of its equal, and the best, I believe, that ever grew on it. It is now the thirteenth crop, likely to be good, though the land was not ploughed crossways." [Footnote 300-2]

It follows, from this singular management, that Tull thought a succession of crops of different species altogether unnecessary; and he labours hard to prove against Dr. Woodward, that the advantages of such a change under his plan of tillage were quite chimerical, though he seems to admit the benefit of a change of the seed itself.

In cultivating turnips he made the ridges of the same breadth as for wheat, but only once row was drilled on each. His management, while the crops was growing, differs very little from the present practice. When drilled on the level, it is impossible, he observes, to hoe-plough them so well as when they are planted upon ridges. But the seed was deposited at different depths, the half about four inches deep, and the other half exactly over that, at the depth of half an inch/

"Thus planted, let the weather be never so dry, the deepest seed will come up, but if it raineth immediately after planting, the shallow will come up first. We also make it come up at four time, by mixing our seed half new and half old, the new coming up a day quicker than the old. These four comings up give it so many chances or escaping the fly; it being often seen that the seed sown over night will destroyed by the fly, when that sown the next morning will escape, and vice versa: or you may hoe0plough them when the fly is like to devour them; this will bury the greatest part of these enemies: or else you may drill in another row without new-ploughing the land."

Drilling and horse and hand hoeing seem to have been in use before the publication of Tull’s book. "Hoeing," he says, "many be divided into deep, which is our horse-hoeing; and shallow, which is the English hand-hoeing; and also the shallow horse-hoeing used in some places betwixt rows, where the intervals are very narrows, as 16 or 18 inches. This is but an imitation of the hand-hoe, or a succedaneum to it, and can neither supply the sue of dung nor fallow, and may be properly called scratch-hoeing." But in his mode of forming ridges his practice seems to have been original; his implements display much ingenuity; and his claim to the title of father of the present horse-hoeing husbandry of Great Britain seems indisputable. A translation of Tull’s book was undertaken at one and the same time in France, by three different persons of consideration, without the privacy of each other. Two of them afterwards put their papers into the hands of the third, M. du Hamel de Monceau, of the Royal Academy of Sciences at Paris, who published a treatise on husbandry, on the principles of Mr. Tull, a few years after. But Tull seems to have had very few followers in England for more than thirty years. The present method of drilling and horse-hoeing turnips was not introduced into Northumberland till about the year 1780; [Footnote 300-3] and it was then borrowed from Scotland, the farmers of which had the merit of first adopting Tull’s management in the culture of this root about 1760. From Scotland it made its way, but slowly into the southern parts of the island.

Tull’s doctrine and practices being quite in advance of his own times, were, as is usual in such cases, vehemently opposed by his contemporaries. He was, in consequence, involved in frequent controversy, in conducting which he occasionally showed an asperity of temper which excites out unreasonable opposition of the agricultural community to his own labourers, who in their ignorant zeal against innovations, willfully broke his machines, and disregarded his orders; and from acute and protracted bodily disease. The soundness of his views and practice, as regards turnip culture, came by-and-by to be acknowledging, and have since been generally adopted. But it was only some twenty-five years ago that his full merit began to be understood. The Rev. Mr. Smith, in his Word in Season, about that time recalled attention to Tull’s peculiar system of wheat culture in a way that started the whole community; while Professor Way, in a series of eloquent lectures delivered before the Royal Agriculture Society, showed that his science was true in the main, and even more strikingly ahead of his times than his practice.

Among the English writers of this period may be mentioned Bradley, Lawrence, Hales, Miller, Ellis, Smith, Hill, Hitt, Lisle, and Home. Most of their works went though several editions in a few years, --- at once a proof of the estimation in which they were held, and of the direction of the public mind towards investigating the principles and practice of agriculture.

Of the progress of the art in Scotland, till towards the end of the 17th century, we are almost entirely ignorant . The first work, written by Donaldson, was printed in 1697, under the tile of Husbandry Anatomized; or an Inquiry into the Present Manner of Teiling and Manuring the Ground in Scotland. It appears from this treatise, that he state of the art was not more advanced at that time of Fitzherbert. Farms were divided into infield and outfield’ corn crops followed one another without the intervention of follow, cultivated herbage, or turnips, though something is sad about following the outfield, enclosures were very rare; the tenantry had not begun to emerge from a state of great poverty and depression; and the wages of labor, compared with the price of corn, were much lower than at present; though that price, at least in ordinary years, must appears, however, were not uncommon; but the want of capital rendered it impossible for the tenantry to attempt any spirited improvements.

Donaldson first points out the common management of that period, which he shows to have very unproductive, and afterwards recommends what he thinks would be a more profitable course.

"Of the dale ground," he says, "that is, such lands as are partly hills and partly valleys, of which sorts may be comprehended the greatest part of arable ground in this kingdom, I shall suppose a farmer to have a lease or tack of three score acres, at three hundred marks of rent per annum (L16, 18s. 4d. sterling). Perhaps some who are not acquitted with rural affairs may think this cheap; but those who are the possessors thereof think otherwise, and find difficulty enough to get the same paid, according to their present way of manuring thereof. But that I may proceed to the comparison, I shall show how commonly this farm-room is managed. It is commonly divided into two parts, viz, one-third croft, and two-thirds outfield, as it is termed. The croft is usually divided into three parts: to wit, one-third barley, which is always dunged that year barley is sown thereon; another third oats; and the last third peas. The outside field is divided into two parts, to wit, the one half oats, and the other half grass, two years successively. The product which may be supposed to be an each acre of croft, four bolls (three Winchester quarters), and that of the outfield, three (2 _ quarters); the quota is seven score bolls, which we shall also reckon at five pounds (8s. 4d) per boll, cheap year and dear year one with another. This, in all, is worth L700 ( L58, 6s. 8d. sterling).

"Then let us see what profit he can make of his cattle. According to the division of his lands there is 20 acres of grass, which cannot be expected to be very good, because it gets not leave to lie above two years, and therefore cannot be well swarded. However, usually, besides four horses, which are kept for ploughing the said land, ten or twelve nolt are also kept upon a farm-room of the above-mentioned bounds; but in respect of the badness of th4e grass, as said is, little profit is had of them. Perhaps two or three stone of butter is the most that can be made of the milk of his kine the whole summer, and not above two heffers brought up each year. As to what profit may be made by bringing up young horses, I shall say nothing, supposing he keeps his stock good, by those of his own upbringing. The whole product, then, of his respect hi s beasts are in a manner half-starved, they are generally small; so that scare may a heffer be sold at above twelve pounds, (L1 sterling). The whole product of his farm-room, therefore, exceeds not the value of L733 (L61, 1s. 8d. sterling), or thereabout."

The labourers employed on this farm were two men and one woman, besides a herd in summer, and other servants in harvest.

Donaldson the proceeds to point out a different mode of management, which he calculates to be more profitable; but no notice is taken of either clover or turnips as crops to be raised in his new course, though they are incidentally noticed in other parts of the work.

"I also recommend potatoes as a very profitable root for husbandmen and others that have numerous families. And because there is a peculiar way of planting this root, not commonly known in this country, I shall here what way is ordinary planted or set. The ground must be dry; and so much the better it is if it have a good soard of grass. The beds or riggs are made about eight foot broad, food store of dung being laid upon your ground; horse or sheep dung is the proper manure for them. Throw each potatoes or sett (for they were sometimes cut into setts) into a knot of dung, afterwards dig earth out of the furrows, and cover them all over, about some three or four inches deep; the furrows left between young riggs must be about two foot broad, and little less will they be depth before your potatoes be covered. You need not plant this root in your garden; they are commonly set in the fields, and wildest of ground, for enriching of it." As to their consumption, they were sometimes "boiled and broken, and stirred with butter and new milk; also roasted, and eaten with butter; yea, some make bread of them, by mixing them with oat or barley meal; other parboil them and make with them apples, after the manner of tarts."

There is a good deal in this little treatise about sheep, and other branches of husbandry; and , if the writer was well informed, as in most instances he appears to have been, his account of prices, of wages, and generally of the practices of that period, is very interesting.

The next work on the husbandry of Scotland is, The Countryman’s Rudiments, or an advice to the Farmers in East Lothian, how to labour and improve their grounds, said to have written by Lord Belhaven about the time of the Union, and reprinted in 1723. In this we have a deplorable picture of the state of agriculture in what is now the most highly improved country in Scotland. His lordship begins with a very high encomium on his own performance. "I dare be hold to say, there was never such good easy method of husbandry as this, so succinct, extensive, and methodical in all its parts, published before." An he bespeaks the favour of those to whom he addr4esses himself, by adding, "neither shall I affright you with hedging, ditching, marling, chalking, paring, and burning, draining, watering, and suck like agreeable with the soil and situation of East Lothian, but I know we cannot bear as yet a crowd of improvements, this being only intended to initiate you in the true method and principles of husbandry." The farm-rooms in East Lothian, as in other districts, were divided into infield and outfield.

The infield (where wheat is sown) is generally divided by the tenant into four divisions or breaks, as they call them, viz, one of wheat, one of barley, one of peas, and one of oats, so that the wheat is sowd after the pease, the barley after wheat, and the oats after barley. The outfield land is ordinarily made use of promiscuously for feeding of their cows, horse, sheep, and oxen; ‘tis also dunged by their sheep who lay in earthen folds; and sometimes, when they have much of it, they fauch or fallow a part of it yearly."

Under this management the produce seems to have been three the seed; and yet, says his lordship, "if in East Lothian they did not leave a higher stubble than in other places of the kingdom, their grounds would be in a much worse condition than at present they are, though bad enough." ---"A good crop of corn makes a good stubble and a good stubble is the equalest mucking that is." Among the advantaged of enclosures, he observes, "you will gain much more labour from your servants, a great part of whose time was taken up in gathering thistles and other garbage for their horses to feed upon in their stables; and thereby the great trampling and pulling up, and other destruction of the corns, while they are yet tender, will be prevented." Potatoes and turnips are recommended to be sown in the yard (kitchen-garden). Clover does not seem to have been in use. Rents were paid in corn; and, for the largest farm, which he thinks should employ no more than two ploughs, the rent was about six chalders of victual "when the ground is very good, and four in that which is not so good. But I am most fully convinced they should take time in the improvement of their rooms; and this is profitable both for master and tenants."

Such was the state of the husbandry of Scotland in the early part last century. The first attempts at improvement cannot be traced farther back than 1723, when a number of land-holders formed themselves into a society, under the title of the Society of Improvers in the Knowledge of Agriculture in Scotland. The Earl of Stair, one of their most active members, is said to have been the first who cultivated turnips in the country. The Select Transactions of this society were collected and published in 1743 by Mr. Maxwell, who took a large part in its proceedings. It is evident from this book that the society had exerted itself in a very laudable manner, and apparently with considerable success, in introducing cultivated herbage and turnips, as well as in improving the former methods of culture. But there is reason to believe that the influence of the example of its numerous members did not extend to the common tenantry, who are always unwilling to adopt the practices of those who are pleasure rather than profit, Though this society, the earliest probably in the United Kingdom, soon counted upwards of 300 members, it existed little more than 20 years. Maxwell delivered lectures on agriculture for one or two sessions at Edinburgh, which from the specimen he has left, ought to have been encouraged.

In the introductory paper in Maxwell’s collection, we are told, that ----

"The practice of draining, inclosing, summer fallowing, sowing, flax, hemp, rape, turnip and grass seeds, planting cabbages after, and potatoes with, the plough, in fields of great extent, is introduced; and that, according to the general opinion, more corn grows now yearly where it was never known to grow before, these twenty years last past, than perhaps a sixth of all that the kingdom was in use to produce at any time before."

In this work we find the first notice of a threshing machine: it was invented by Mr. Michael Menzies, advocate, who obtained a patent for it. Upon a representation made to the society that it was to be seen working in several places, they appointed two of their number to inspect it; and in their report they say, that one man would be sufficient to manage a machine which would do the work of six. One of the machines was "moved by a great water-wheel and triddles," and another "by a little wheel of three feet diameter, moved by a small quantity of water." This machine the society recommended to all gentlemen and farmers.

The next work is by the same Mr Maxwell, printed in 1757, and entitled the Practical Husbandman; being a collection of miscellaneous papers on Husbandry, &c. In this book the greater part of the Select Transactions is republished, with a number of new papers, among which, an Essay on the Husbandry of Scotland, with a proposal for the improvement of it, is the most valuable. In this he lays it down as a rule, that is bad husbandry to take two crops of grain successively, which marks a considerable progress in the knowledge of modern husbandry; though he adds, that in Scotland the best husbandmen after a fallow take a crop of wheat; after the wheat, peas; then barley, and then oats; and after they fallow again. The want of inclosures was still a matter of complaint. The ground continued to be cropped so long as it produced two seeds; the best farmers were contended with four seeds, which was more than the general produce.

The first Act of Parliament for collecting tolls on the highway in Scotland was passed in 1750, for repairing the road from Dunglass bridge to Haddington. In ten years after, several Acts followed for the counties of Edinburgh and Lanark, and for making the roads between Edinburgh and Glasgow. The benefit which agriculture has derived from good roads it would not be easy to estimate. The want of them was one great cause of the slow progress of the art in former times.

The Revolution in 1688 was the epoch of that system of Corn Laws to which very great influence has been ascribed, both on the practice of agriculture and the general prosperity of the country. But for an account of these and later statutes on the subject, we must refer to the article CORN LAWS. The exportation of wool was prohibited in 1647, in 1660, and in 1688; and the prohibition strictly enforced by subsequent statues. The effect of this on its price and the state of the wool trade, from the earliest period to the middle of last century, are distinctly exhibited by the learned and laborious author of Memoirs on Wool, printed in 1747.


299-3 Annals of Agriculture, No. 270. Harte's Essays. Comber on National Subsistence, p. 161.

299-4 Houghton's Collections on Husbandry and Trade, vol. i, p. 213, edit. 1728.

299-5 Ibid., vol. iv, pp. 142-144.

299-6 Houghton's Collections on Husbandry and Trade, vol. ii, p. 468.

300-1 Horse-hoeing Husbandry, p. 62. Lond. 1762.

300-2 Ibid., p. 424.

300-3 Northumberland Survey, p. 100.

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