Sharefarming Disappears from the Documents in the Eighteenth Century

  • Elizabeth Griffiths
  • Mark Overton


What happened to letting to halves, and other forms of sharefarming, in the eighteenth century? In the 1770s Adam Smith, as we have seen, dismissed métayage as a practice so long in disuse in England that he knew no English name for it, while Arthur Young, a decade later, claimed that the very success of English agriculture rested on the absence of such a system.1 How had a practice, prevalent less than a century before, disappeared from view? None of the county reports, drawn up in the 1790s for the newly formed Board of Agriculture, contain any reference to métayage, and as far as we know, Smith and Young are the only English authors to have commented on the practice at this time.2 They were not challenged in their observations until John Stuart Mill wrote favourably on métayage in the 1840s, criticizing Young for his ‘extremely narrow view of the subject’.3 However, Mill accepted Young’s contention that métayage was not an English practice, and on those grounds he did not advocate its adoption in England, preferring a revival of peasant proprietorship. Significantly, when proposing peasant proprietorship, Mill felt obliged to explain the term and its virtues as Englishmen were ‘profoundly ignorant’ of the idea. Steeped in the language of agricultural improvement, led by landlords and tenants, they had progressed so far beyond their peasant origins, that they had no knowledge or understanding of the social condition of peasants or mode of life, and little interest either.


Eighteenth Century Seventeenth Century Risk Sharing Large Farm Family Labour 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    A. Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, (1776) Book 3, Part 2, pp. 470–80; A. Young, Travels Through France During the Years 1787, 1788 and 1789, ed. C. Maxwell, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1929), pp. 16Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    G.E. Mingay, ‘The Agricultural Depression, 1730–1750’, Economic History Review, 2nd series, 8 (1956) 323–38Google Scholar
  3. J.V. Beckett, ‘Regional Variation and the Agricultural Depression, 1730–1750’, Economic History Review, 2nd series, 35 (1982) 35–51Google Scholar
  4. R.A. Dodgshon, ‘Coping with Risk: Subsistence Crises in the Scottish Highlands and Islands, 1600–1800’, Rural History, 1 (2004) 1–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    M. Turner, ‘The land tax, land, and property: old debates and new horizons’, in M. Turner and D. Mills (eds) Land Tax and property: The English Land Tax, 1692–1832, (Gloucester: Alan Sutton, 1986), pp. 1–35.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    P. Jenkins, The Making of a Ruling Class: The Glamorgan Gentry, 1640–1790, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. J.M. Rosenheim, The To nshends of Raynham: Nobility in Transition in Restoration and Early Hanoverian England, (Middletown, Ct.: Wesleyan University Press, 1989)Google Scholar
  8. 7.
    J.M. Rosenheim, ‘County governance and elite withdrawal in Norfolk, 1660–1720’ in A.L. Beier, D. Cannadine and J.M. Rosenheim (eds) The First Modern Society: Essays in English History in Honour of La rence Stone, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), pp. 106–15.Google Scholar
  9. 8.
    M. Overton, Agricultural Revolution in England: The Transformation of the Agrarian Economy, 1500–1850, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 168–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    D. Stead, ‘Risk and risk management in English Agriculture, 1750–1850’, Economic History Review, 2nd series, 57 (2004), pp. 334–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    R.C. Allen, Enclosure and the Yeoman: The Agricultural Development of the South Midlands, 1450–1850, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 22.
    R. Santos, ‘Risk-sharing and social differentiation of demand in land-tenancy markets in southern Portugal, seventeenth-nineteenth centuries’, Continuity and Change, 21 (2006) 287–312.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 24.
    G.E. Mingay, ‘The Size of Farms in the Eighteenth Century’, Economic History Review, 2nd series, 14 (1962) 469–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 25.
    R. Mitchison, ‘The Old Board of Agriculture, 1793–1822’, English Historical Review, 74 (1959) 41–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 31.
    P. Horn, ‘The Dorset dairy system’, Agricultural HistoryRevie, 26 (1978) 100–7.Google Scholar
  16. 33.
    C.A. Horn, ‘Two Centuries of Incentive Payments in Agriculture’, The Accountants’ Revie, 26 (1975), p. 223.Google Scholar
  17. 38.
    G.V. Harrison, ‘The South West: Dorset, Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall’, in J. Thirsk (ed.) The Agrarian History of England Wales, Vol. V, 1640–1750. I. Regional Farming Systems (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), p. 378Google Scholar
  18. 40.
    A.R. Wilson, Forgotten Harvest: The Story of Cheesemaking in Wiltshire, (Calne: the author, 1995)Google Scholar
  19. 43.
    J. Carmona, ‘Sharecropping and livestock specialization in France, 1830–1930’, Continuity and Change, 21 (2006) 235–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 45.
    S. Ogilvie, ‘“Whatever is, is right?” Economic institutions in pre-industrial Europe’, Economic History Revie, 2nd series, 60 (2007) 649–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Elizabeth Madeleine Griffiths and Mark Overton 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elizabeth Griffiths
    • 1
  • Mark Overton
    • 1
  1. 1.University of ExeterUK

Personalised recommendations