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Agrarian origins of industry in Leicestershire, with particular emphasis on the 1660-80 period. Levine, David Cyril

Abstract

This thesis is an analysis of the conditions which promoted the industrialization of the countryside in Leicestershire in the second half of the seventeenth century and the transformation of its agricultural economy from a peasant-subsistence level to market-oriented production. Although the particular focus of the thesis is the emergence of rural industrialization in West Goscote and agricultural commercialization in Framland (both of which are hundreds in Leicestershire), it was necessary to place the Leicestershire experience both within a broader national context and in a historical perspective. The years following 1660 were marked by the accelerated progress of agricultural modernization on the national, county and local level. An important by-product of this agricultural modernization was the creation not only of food surpluses but also of rural underemployment as the land became concentrated into a relatively small number of large-scale productive units. As labour was freed from agriculture it could be engaged in industrial activity. In our examination of West Goscote and Framland it was found that as the soil type was not consistent within each hundred it was necessary to distinguish sub-regions: the Soar river valley, and the Coal Measures and Charnwood Forest in West Goscote; the Vale of Belvoir, the Wreak valley and the Eastern Uplands, and North-east Framland in Framland. By using the Probate Inventories for the 1660 - 80 period (stored in the Leicestershire County Record Office) to reconstruct the socio-economic profiles for the average villages in each of these sub-regions, we could see the influence of soil structure in retarding or accelerating the modernization of the individual agrarian economies. The inability of the peasant society in the Soar valley to transform itself from peasant-subsistence farming to market-oriented production resulted in the emergence of endemic underemployment and desperate poverty. The existence of cheap labour in the Soar valley attracted merchant capitalist who established the framework knitting industry in the over-populated, poverty-stricken villages.

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