The World of the Small Farmer

RHN 88/2017 | Publication

Patricia Croot, The World of the Small Farmer. Tenure, profit and politics in the early-modern Somerset Levels (Studies in Regional and Local History), Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press 2017.

This detailed and original study of early-modern agrarian society in the Somerset Levels examines the small landholders in a group of sixteen contiguous parishes in the area known as Brent Marsh.

These were farmers with lifehold tenures and a mixed agricultural production whose activities and outlook are shown to be very different from that of the small 'peasant' farmers of so many general histories. Patricia Croot challenges the idea that small farmers failed to contribute to the productivity and commercialisation of the early-modern economy.

While the emergence of large capitalist farms was an important development, these added to the production of existing small cultivators, rather than replacing them. The idea that only large-scale, specialized farmers were involved in agricultural progress, or that their contribution alone was enough to account for the great increase in food production by the late 17th century is questioned; small farmers continued to make a living, contributed to the market, and survived alongside the new, bigger farms.