Shifts in agrarian entrepreneurship in mid-Victorian England and Wales

Montebruno, Piero; Bennett, Robert J.; Van Lieshout, Carry; Smith, Harry and Satchell, Max (2019). Shifts in agrarian entrepreneurship in mid-Victorian England and Wales. Agricultural History Review, 67(1) pp. 71–108.



This paper provides the first full-population analysis of changes in the entrepreneurial status of farmers during the mid-nineteenth century: between being employers or sole proprietors with no workforce. Using a unique dataset of all farmers and workforces in the 1851–81 English and Welsh censuses, this paper explores the effects of changes in agriculture on entrepreneur choices. A short 'Golden Age' was followed by increasing technical changes and the onset of agricultural depression causing an important shift in agricultural entrepreneurial activity: initially the employer proportion increased slowly, but from the 1860s employers reduced labour and more worked as sole proprietors. Our findings show that farmers were adaptable and resilient to change through shifts in entrepre- neurial status and/or greater involvement of the family, supporting the conclusions of earlier researchers who took an optimistic interpretation of flexibility and robustness of farmers. We also show the adaptations to be highly geographically variegated, depending on land quality, distance to local markets, and rail lines.

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