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Industrial crisis; special difficulties of farmers; the weather and foreign competition; Richmond Commission, 1879-82; further depression touching bottom in l896; Royal Commission of 1893; changeover from arable to grass farming; migration of dairy farmers from north and west; growth of milk production; cheapening of cultivation; returning prosperity in the new century.
SINCE 1862 the tide of agricultural prosperity had ceased to flow; after 1874 it turned, and rapidly ebbed. A period of depression began which, with some fluctuations in severity, continued throughout the rest of the reign of Queen Victoria, and beyond.
Depression is a word which is often loosely used. It is generally understood to mean a reduction, in some cases an absence, of profit, accompanied by a consequent diminution of employment. To some extent the condition has probably become chronic. A decline of interest on capital lent or invested, a rise in wages of labour, an increased competition for the earnings of management, caused by the spread of education and resulting in the reduction or stationary character of those earnings, are permanent not temporary tendencies of civilisation. So far as these symptoms indicate a more general distribution of wealth, they are not disquieting. But, from time to time, circumstances combine to produce acute conditions of industrial collapse which may be accurately called depression. Such a crisis occurred in agriculture from 1875 to 1884, and again from 1891 to 1899.
Industrial undertakings are so inextricably interlaced that agricultural depression cannot be entirely dissevered from commercial depression. Exceptional periods of commercial difficulty had for the last seventy years recurred with such regularity as to give support to a theory of decennial cycles. In previous years, each recurring period had resulted in a genuine panic, due as much to defective information as to any real scarcity of loanable capital. The historic failure of Overend and Gurney in 1866 and the famous "Black Friday" afford the last example of this acute form of crisis. Better means of obtaining accurate intelligence, more accessible supplies of capital, the greater stability of the Bank of England have combined with other causes to minimise the risk of financial stampedes. But, though periods of depression cease to produce the old-fashioned panic, they are not less exhausting, Their approach is more gradual; so also is the recovery. Disaster and revival are no longer concentrated in a few months. Years pass before improvement is apparent; the magnitude of the distress is concealed by its diffusion over a longer period. The agricultural depressions of 1875-84 and of 1891-99 had all the characteristics of the modern type of financial crisis.
In 1870 had begun an inflation of prices. The outbreak of the Franco-German War and the withdrawal of France and Germany from commercial competition enabled England to increase her exports; the opening of the Suez Canal (1869) stimulated the shipbuilding trade; the railway development in Germany and America created an exceptional demand for coal and iron. Expanding trade increased the consuming power of the population, and maintained the prices of agricultural produce. The wisest or wealthiest landowners refused the temptation to advance rents on sitting tenants. But in many cases rents were raised, or farms were tendered for competition. Farmers became infected with the same spirit of gambling which in trade caused the scramble for the investment of money in hazardous enterprises. In their eagerness for land they were led into reckless biddings, which raised rentals beyond reasonable limits. In 1874 the reaction began. Demand had returned to normal limits; but the abnormal supply continued Over-production was the result. The decline of the coal and iron trade, the stoppage, partial or absolute, of cotton mills, disputes between masters and men, complications arising out of the Eastern question, the default on the Turkish debt, disturbances of prices owing to fluctuations in the purchasing power of gold and silver, combined to depress every industry. In 1878 the extent to which trade had been undermined was revealed by the failure of the Glasgow, Caledonian, and West of England Banks. One remarkable feature of the crisis was that it was not local but universal. New means of communication had so broken down the barriers of nations that the civilised world suffered together. Everywhere prices fell, trade shrank, insolvencies multiplied. In the United States the indirect consequences of the industrial collapse of 1873-4 proved to be of disastrous importance to English farming. A railway panic, a fall in the price of manufactured articles, a decline in wages drove thousands out of the towns to settle as agriculturists on the virgin soils of the West.
English farming suffered from the same causes as every other home industry. In addition, it had its own special difficulties. The collapse of British trade checked the growth of the consuming power at home at the same time that a series of inclement seasons, followed by an overwhelming increase of foreign competition, paralysed the efforts of farmers. For three years in succession, bleak springs and rainy summers produced short cereal crops of inferior quality, mildew in wheat, mould in hops, blight in other crops, disease in cattle, rot in sheep, throwing heavy lands into foul condition, deteriorating the finer grasses of pastures. In 1875-6 the increasing volume of imports prevented prices from rising to compensate deficiencies in the yield of corn. The telegraph, steam carriage by sea and land, and low freights, consequent on declining trade, annihilated time and distance, destroyed the natural monopoly of proximity, and enabled the world to compete with English producers in the home markets on equal, if not more favourable, terms. Instead of there being one harvest every year, there was now a harvest in every month of each year. In 1877 prices advanced, owing to the progress of the Russo-Turkish War. But the potato crops failed, and a renewed outbreak of the cattle-plague, though speedily suppressed, hit stockowners hard. The tithe rent-charge was nearly £12 above its par value. Rates were rising rapidly. Land-agents began to complain of the scarcity of eligible tenants for vacant corn-land. During the sunless ungenial summer of 1879, with its icy rains, the series of adverse seasons culminated in one of the worst harvests of the century, in an outbreak of pleuropneumonia and foot-and-mouth disease among cattle, and among sheep a disastrous attack of the liver rot, which inflicted an enormous loss on flockmasters. The English wheat crop scarcely averaged 15½ bushels to the acre. In similar circumstances, farmers might have been compensated for the shortness of yield by an advance in price. This was no longer the case in 1879. America, which had enjoyed abundant harvests, poured such quantities of wheat into the country as to bring down prices below the level of the favourable season of the preceding year. At the same time, American cheese so glutted the market as to create a record for cheapness. Thus, at the moment when English farmers were already enfeebled by their loss of capital, they were met by a staggering blow from foreign competition. They were fighting against low prices as well as adverse seasons.
English farmers were, in fact, confronted with a new problem. How were they to hold their own in a treacherous climate on highly rented land, whose fertility required constant renewal, against produce raised under more genial skies on cheaply rented soils, whose virgin richness needed no fertilisers? To a generation familiar with years of a prosperity which had enabled English farmers to extract more from the soil than any of their foreign rivals, the changed conditions were unintelligible. The new position was at first less readily understood, because the depression was mainly attributed to the accident of adverse seasons, and because the grazing and dairying districts had as yet escaped. Thousands of tenants on corn-growing lands were unable to pay their rents. In many instances they were kept afloat by the help of wealthy landlords. But every landowner is not a Dives; the majority sit at the rich man's gate. In most cases there was no reduction of rents. Remissions, sometimes generous, sometimes inadequate, were made and renewed from time to time. Where the extreme urgency of the case was imperfectly realised, many old tenants were ruined. It was not till farms were relet that the necessary reductions were made, and then the men who profited were new occupiers.
If any doubt still existed as to the reality of the depression, especially in corn-growing districts, it was removed by the evidence laid before the Duke of Richmond's Commission, which sat from 1879 to 1882. The Report of the Commission established, beyond possibility of question, the existence of severe and acute distress, and attributed its prevalence, primarily to inclement seasons, secondarily to foreign competition. It was generally realised that the shrinkage in the margin of profit on the staple produce of agriculture was a more or less permanent condition, and that rents must be readjusted. Large reductions were made between 1880 and 1884, and it was calculated that in England and Wales alone the annual letting value of agricultural land was thus decreased by 5¾ millions. Yet in many cases the rent nominally remained at the old figure. Only remissions were granted, which were uncertain in amount, and therefore disheartening in effect. According to Sir James Caird's evidence given in 1886, before the Royal Commission on Depression of Trade, the yearly income of landlords, tenants, and labourers had diminished since 1876 by £42,800,000.
The worst was by no means over. On the contrary, the pressure of foreign competition gradually extended to other branches of agriculture. The momentum of a great industry in any given direction cannot be arrested in a day; still less can it be diverted towards another goal without a considerable expenditure of time and money. Unreasonable complaints were made against the obstinate conservatism of agriculturists, because they were unable to effect a costly change of front as easily as a man turns in his bed. The aims and methods of farming were gradually adapted to meet the changed conditions. As wheat, barley, and oats declined towards the lowest prices of the century, increased attention was paid to grazing, dairying, and such minor products as vegetables, fruit, and poultry. The corn area of England and Wales shrank from 8,244,392 acres in 1871 to 5,886,052 acres in 1901. Between the same years the area of permanent pasture increased from 11,367,298 acres to 15,399,025 acres. Yet before the change was complete farmers once more found themselves checkmated. The old adage "Down horn, up corn" had once held true. Now both were down together. Till 1885 the prices of fat cattle had been well maintained, and those of sheep till 1890. Both were now beginning to decline before the pressure of foreign competition. Up till 1877 both cattle and sheep had been chiefly sent in alive from European countries. Now, America and Canada joined in the trade, and the importation of dead meat rapidly increased. Consignments were no longer confined to beef and pigs' meat. New Zealand and the Republic of Argentina entered the lists. The imports of mutton, which in 1882 did not exceed 181,000 cwts., and chiefly consisted of meat boiled and tinned, rose in 1899 to 3½ million cwts. of frozen carcases. The importation of cheese rose by more than a third; that of butter was doubled; that of wool increased more than two-fold. Meanwhile the outgoings of the farmer were steadily mounting upwards. Machinery cost more; labour rose in price and deteriorated in efficiency. The expenses of production rose as the profits fell.
Some attempt was made by Parliament to relieve the industry. The recommendations of the Richmond Commission were gradually carried into effect. Grants were made in aid of local taxation. Measures were adopted to stamp out disease amongst live-stock, and to protect farmers against the adulteration of feeding-stuffs, and against the sale of spurious butter and cheese. The primary liability for tithe rent-charge was transferred from occupiers to owners (1891). The law affecting limited estates in land was modified by the Settled Lands Act (1882). A Railway and Canal Traffic Act was passed, which attempted to equalise rates on the carriage of home and foreign produce. The permissive Agricultural Holdings Act of 1875, which was not incorrectly described as a "homily to landlords" on the subject of unexhausted improvements, was superseded by a more stringent measure and a modification of the law of distress (1883). A Minister of Agriculture was appointed (1889), and an Agricultural Department established. But the legislature was powerless to provide any substantial help. Food was, so to speak, the currency in which foreign nations paid for English manufactured goods, and its cheapness was an undoubted blessing to the wage-earning community. Thrown on their own resources, agriculturists fought the unequal contest with courage and tenacity. But, as time went on, the stress told more and more heavily. Manufacturing populations seemed to seek food-markets everywhere except at home. Enterprise gradually weakened; landlords lost their ability to help, farmers their recuperative power. Prolonged depression checked costly improvements. Drainage was practically discontinued. Both owners and occupiers were engaged in the task of making both ends meet on vanishing incomes. Land deteriorated in condition; less labour was employed; less stock was kept; bills for cake and fertilisers were reduced. The counties which suffered most were the corn-growing districts, in which high farming had won its most signal triumphs. On the heavy clays of Essex, for example, thousands of acres, which had formerly yielded great crops and paid high rents, had passed out of cultivation into ranches for cattle or temporary sheep-runs. On the light soils of Norfolk, where skill and capital had wrested large profits from the reluctant hand of Nature, there were widespread ruin and bankruptcy. Throughout the Eastern, Midland, and Southern counties,wherever the land was so heavy or so light that its cultivation was naturally unremunerative, the same conditions prevailed. The West on the whole, suffered less severely. Though milk and butter had fallen in price, dairy-farmers were profiting by the cheapness of grain, which was ruining their corn-growing neighbours. Almost everywhere retrenchment, not development, was the enforced policy of agriculturists. The expense of laying land down to grass was shirked, and arable areas which were costly to work were allowed to tumble down to rough pasture. Economy ruled in farm management; labour bills were reduced, and the number of men employed on the land dwindled as the arable area contracted.
During the years 1883-90, better seasons, remissions of rent, the fall in tithes, relief from some portion of the burden of rates, had arrested the process of impoverishment. To some extent the heavy land, whether arable or pasture, which wet seasons had deteriorated, recovered its tone and condition. But otherwise there was no recovery. Landlords and tenants still stood on the verge of ruin. Only a slight impulse was needed to thrust them over the border line. Two cold summers (1891-2), the drought in 1893, the unpropitious harvest of 1894, coupled with the great fall in prices of corn, cattle, sheep, wool, butter, and milk produced a second crisis, scarcely, if at all, less acute than that of 1879. In this later period of severe depression, unseasonable weather played a less important part than before. But in all other respects the position of agriculturists was more disadvantageous than at the earlier period. Foreign competition had relaxed none of its pressure; on the contrary, it had increased in range and in intensity. Nothing now escaped its influence. But the great difference lay in the comparative resources of agriculturists. In 1879 the high condition of the land had supplied farmers with reserves of fertility on which to draw; now, they had been drawn upon to exhaustion. In 1879, again, both landlords and tenants were still possessed of capital; now, neither had any money to spend in attempting to adapt their land to new conditions.
In September, 1893, a Royal Commission was appointed to enquire into the depression of agriculture. The evidence made a startling revelation of the extent to which owners and occupiers of land, and the land itself, had been impoverished since the Report of the Duke of Richmond's Commission. It showed that the value of produce had diminished by nearly one half, while the cost of production had rather increased than diminished; that quantities of corn-land had passed out of cultivation; that its restoration, while the present prices prevailed, was economically impossible; that its adaptation to other uses required an immediate outlay which few owners could afford to make. Scarcely one bright feature relieved the gloom of the outlook. Foreign competition had falsified all predictions. No patent was possible for the improved processes of agriculture; they could be appropriated by all the world. The skill which British farmers had acquired by half a century of costly experiments was turned against them by foreign agriculturists working under more favourable conditions. Even distance ceased to afford its natural protection either of time or cost of conveyance, for not even the perishable products of foreign countries were excluded from English markets. Yet the evidence collected by the Commission established some important facts. It proved that many men, possessed of ample capital and energy, who occupied the best equipped farms, enjoyed the greatest liberty in cropping, kept the best stock, and were able to continue high farming, had weathered the storm even on heavy land; that small occupiers employing no labour but their own had managed to pull through; that, on suitable soils, market gardening and fruit-farming had proved profitable; that, even on the derelict clays of Essex, Scottish milk-farmers had made a living. At no previous period, it may be added, in the history of farming were the advantages and disadvantages of English land-ownership more strongly illustrated. Many tenants renting land on encumbered estates were ruined, because their hard-pressed landlords were unable to give them financial help. At least as many were nursed through the bad times by the assistance of landowners whose wealth was derived from other sources than agricultural land.
When the extent of the agricultural loss and suffering is considered, the remedies adopted by the legislature seem trivial. Yet some useful changes were made. Farmers were still further protected against adulteration of cake, fertilisers, and dairy produce by the provisions of The Fertilisers and Feeding Stuffs Act (1893) and the Sale of Food and Drugs Act (1899). The Market Gardeners Compensation Act (1895) enabled a tenant, where land was specifically let for market garden purposes, to claim compensation for all improvements suitable to the business, even though they had been effected without the consent of the landlord. The Improvement of Land Act (1899) gave landowners increased facilities for carrying out improvements on borrowed money. The amendment of the Contagious Diseases of Animals Act (1896), requiring all foreign animals to be slaughtered at the port of landing, was a valuable step towards preventing the spread of infection. The Agricultural Rates Act (1896) and the subsequent Continuation Acts (1901, etc.), though they were only palliatives which did not settle the many questions involved in the increasing burden of rates, rendered the load of local taxation for the moment less oppressive. After all, agriculturists received little assistance from Parliament. They had to help themselves. Conditions slowly mended. More favourable seasons, rigid economy in expenses, attention to neglected branches of the industry have combined to lessen the financial strain. But the greatest relief has been afforded by the substantial reduction in the rents of agricultural land, which has resulted in a fairer adjustment of the economic pressure of low prices as between owners and occupiers.
The nadir of the great depression came in 1894-95, when the price of wheat per imperial quarter fell to 22s. 10d. and 23s. 1d., the lowest figures recorded for 150 years. From that time began a slow but steady rise in prices, sufficient to counterbalance the definite increase in wages which became manifest between 1895 and the end of the century and indeed continued, though more gradually, until the outbreak of war in 1914. After 1907 the price of wheat never fell below 30s.; but wheat had become a commodity of less importance to farmers at large, for the acreage had declined to about one and three-quarter millions. More than anything else milk had become the most money-making product, for the demand was continuously increasing with the growth of population and the industrial prosperity of the period. Changes in the farming population were marked as the old time arable farmers of the South and East of England, who had persisted in their traditional but now too expensive methods of cultivation, had to retire. About 1895, rents had really adjusted themselves to the times, indeed on the heavy lands of Essex, where the reductions of rent had not been rapid or large enough to save the old tenants, farms could be had on payment of the tithe, and many large estates took the greater part of their farms in hand rather than let to the sort of men who offered themselves. Tempted by these conditions, Scotchmen migrated in numbers from a country where rents were still competitive and brought their knowledge of milk production and their more economical methods into Essex and Hertfordshire, and to a lesser degree into Kent and Surrey. Similarly, the dairy farmers of the West drifted into the South and Midlands, from Devonshire and Wales, men who had been bred to live harder and do their work more economically, if more roughly.
For this was the great lesson that was being learned, how to get the work done on the arable land with less labour. What with the turning over of arable land to grass (2½ million acres between 1872, and 1900) and economy in methods, something like a third of the labouring population left the land in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. There were other occupations to absorb the men, but none the less this forced exodus left a bitterness against farmers and landlords among the working classes that has not yet wholly disappeared.
The cheapness of land during this last decade of the nineteenth century gave to many shrewd men who had broken with tradition and learnt how to farm cheaply an opportunity of putting together exceptionally large farming businesses. S. W. Farmer of Little Bedwyn was reputed to be farming 20,000 acres at the outbreak of war, at the same time George Baylis of Wyfield Manor near Newbury was farming over 12,000 acres in Berkshire and Hampshire, growing corn and hay without any stock, in Lincolnshire men like Dennis and the Wortbs built up great estates on potato growing out of little farms whose owners had been broken in the depression. These were examples of the success of better farming, but there were many instances where some sort of a paying return was got out of the land by turning it down to grass and reducing expenses to a minimum. Such was an estate put together near Ramsbury in Wiltshire, where about 4,000 acres of light arable land on the chalk were turned into a sheep ranch. In the early 'eighties, there was a hamlet called Snape on one part of the estate, containing a chapel, fourteen cottages, and a school attended by 44 children. In 1921 the street was grass-grown and almost obliterated, the buildings were in ruins. The working population had been reduced to a shepherd and his dog, like the owner, living elsewhere.
Though the accomplishment was irregularly distributed considerable progress in the technique of farming was taking place. It was no longer possible for landowners and their agents to insist on particular methods of farming; covenants remained in the agreements, but were ignored as long as the tenant could pay his rent, so the diffusion of better methods came about by example, not by pressure from above. Indeed, in the main, landlords had accepted the position that there was little future for farming, that the development of their estates did not offer an outlet for their energies or capital comparable to those available elsewhere, and that their function was to be easy with their tenants in return for the sport and the social status that the ownership of land conferred. Their direct interest in agriculture was often confined to the breeding and showing of pedigree stock, the practical value of which began to be obscured almost in proportion as it became a rich man's plaything and a form of social competition. Of course, a generalisation of this kind about any of the classes engaged in agriculture, landlords, tenants, or labourers, is contradicted by a number of individuals, who worked hard at farming and managed their estates with knowledge and judgment, but none the less this period did witness the continued disappearance of the landowner as entrepreneur. In general the land was not sold, the possibilities of its monopoly values were too evident in a country of growing population and increasing industrial prosperity. It is true that towards the end of the first decade of the twentieth century there arose a number of land speculators who bought up embarrassed and under-rented estates and offered the farms to the selling tenants at greatly enhanced prices. The speculators had realised better than the landlords that farming was again a remunerative business and were not afraid of the odium of making the tenants pay its full value. Moreover, this was a time when considerable political attacks were being directed against the landlords, without much discrimination between the owners of agricultural land and those who were reaping "unearned increment" from ground rents in the growing urban areas. Some landowners took alarm and disembarrassed themselves of an investment which at the time was yielding an inferior rate of interest, yet carried with it heavy social obligations. Thus the Duke of Bedford sold both his Thorney and Tavistock Estates on terms favourable to the selling tenants. It was at the very depth of the depression that a beginning was made with State-aided agricultural education, in the train of which research soon followed. But this will be dealt with elsewhere,--results had hardly begun to accrue before the new century; the first improvements in technique came from the farmers themselves. Machinery was becoming more general upon the farm, the greatest single improvement having been the self-acting binder, the use of which began to be general about the end of the 'eighties, after the introduction of the knotting mechanism and twine. But haymaking machinery and springtined cultivators were also doing their share in reducing the costs of cultivation and the amount of labour required upon the arable land. In the more specialised industries change was at work: in hop-growing, for example, the 'eighties and early 'nineties saw the general replacement of the old poles by string and wire erections on which the bines could be trained so as to get proper exposure to sun and air, and spraying methods were evolved to deal with blight and mould. Until these improvements began, the methods of hop-growing had not altered in any substantial respect from those described by Reynolde Scot in 1574. While the use of artificial fertilisers was not growing as rapidly as in countries like Holland and Germany, that was because the acreage under arable cultivation continued to decline and the farmers who were winning through were mostly those who relied on keeping their expenses down, yet the knowledge of how to apply them appropriately was spreading. In the latter years of the nineteenth century one might still meet the landlord who forbade his tenants to put any artificials on their land or the farmer who had substituted Kainit for nitrate of soda because it was cheaper, but such instances disappeared as the new century opened out. One new fertiliser, indeed, was beginning to prove itself of immense value to the grass land which was becoming the mainstay of English farming. Basic slag was invented in 1879, but it only reached agriculture after 1885, when Wrightson and Munro demonstrated that its phosphate required no treatment with acid if only the slag was finely ground. It soon showed itself as possessing a marvellous regenerative value on old pastures, especially on the clay soils on which its application induced a speedy growth of white clover whereby not only the stock gained but the pasture continued to acquire fertility. While farmers have always been immediately appreciative of improved strains of seed, it can be said that during the years 1890-1910 their interest in the value of pure seed and good strains was being continually stimulated, though the history of actual introductions may best be dealt with under research.
In matters of live-stock the impulse towards the selection and standardisation of a pure breeding strain under the care of a Breed Society, which had been one of the chief achievements of English farming in the nineteenth century, was still active, as witness the formation of the following Societies--The Guernsey Cattle Society in 1885, the Dexter and Kerry Handbook in 1890, the Welsh Black Cattle Society in 1904, the British Holstein (now Friesian) Cattle Society in 1909. Flock Books began for Shropshires in 1883, Oxfords in 1889, Hampshires in 1890, Lincolnshires in 1892, Romney Marsh in 1895 and many others. Though from some points of view it might be questioned whether all these new breeds were wanted, the formation of a Society did tune up the general standard in the district occupied by the breed. The chief development during the period was concerned with milk, the demand for which was continuously increasing with the growing population and industrial prosperity. The milking capacity of the various breeds received more attention; for example, during this period the Dairy Shorthorns began to be differentiated and in 1905 an Association was formed in its interests, and herds like those of Hobbs and Evens obtained a repute to rival the northern beef herds. The necessity for care and cleanliness in the preparation and despatch of milk to the public was being continually forced upon the farmers by the Health Authorities of the large towns, who had from time to time experience of milk distributed epidemics. Regulations were enforced concerning such matters as water supply and air space in cowsheds, and if at times they were uninformed and dictatorial about the unessentials, they did arouse in the dairy world the sense that success in this growing business depended upon the purity of the product. It was indeed in the 'eighties that the process of butter and cheese making, hitherto a matter of traditional and personal farm practice, were studied and standardised. At the same time the correct temperatures and acidities were determined so that the desired result could be obtained with certainty. "Creameries" and cheese factories began to be established in order to handle milk more efficiently and economically. The importations of butter from Denmark and the Baltic countries was growing rapidly and setting a standard of quality and uniformity that neither the English nor the Irish market butter could equal, however much a dairymaid here and there could turn out a "gilt-edged" product such as can never be obtained by factory methods.
However, there is little or no market in England for fine butter at an adequate price; the English dairy farmers could get a better return by selling raw milk and abandoned the butter market to their foreign and colonial competitors. Only a few farmers in the West and South-West, Wales and its borders, continued to make butter because the rail communications precluded them from getting whole milk to market, while they could also turn the separated milk to account by calf-rearing. The Irish butter making was transformed on Danish lines, their farmers, like the Danish, being content with returns per gallon well below that expected by the English farmer. The machinery of the dairy was undergoing revolution; barrel churns replaced the old upright churns in which a dasher worked up and down in the whole milk, the only reminder of the old shape being the metal churns in which, for a few years longer perhaps, milk will travel by rail. Rail transport again brought the necessity of milk coolers, though the customers of the small farmers, each with their own milk round, still demanded "milk warm from the cow." But the most important of these machines for the dairyman was the centrifugal separator of which really efficient types began to be available about 1890, though, as indicated above, the perfecting of this exquisite machine coincided with the decline and practical extinction of commercial butter-making in England. Among other labour saving machines that began to appear on the farms towards the close of the nineteenth century were the small oil engines to run the grinding and food preparation plant, and sheep shearing machines, the use of which grew but slowly because there were still men enough about to clip the comparatively small flocks running on the usual farm.
The commercial development of poultry rather belongs to the post-war period. Even down to the end of the century poultry-keeping still halted between the methods of the fancier and of the farmer who had a mongrel flock picking about his stack-yard. W. B. Tegetmeier, in his day an authority, was said to have an offer open of £50 for anyone who could produce an accredited balance sheet showing a year's profit on a poultry farm, excluding those dealing in stock birds or eggs. About Heathfield in Sussex there was a successful cramming industry producing birds for the table, though the crammers did no breeding, but bought young birds for fattening from as far afield as Ireland.
The period we are considering, 1890-1914, was also one of expansion and improved technique in market gardening and fruit growing, industries that were prospering in response not only to the growing population but to a change 'in the general dietary. Potato growing, which had proved but a treacherous foundation for the Lincolnshire Yeomen in the 'seventies and 'eighties, became one of the moneymaking crops for certain selected districts, like the Lothians and Ayrshire in Scotland, the silt and the warp soils of Lincoln and Yorkshire, the light soils of West Lancashire and Cheshire. Even on the gravels of Hertfordshire, where Arthur Young had found himself "living in the jaws of a wolf," potato growing brought wealth to some of the migrants from Scotland. Nothing revolutionary had happened to make the industry so profitable, it was a good instance of the accumulation of a number of small improvements, each of which could be pooh-poohed as not worth while by the oldtime farmer. New varieties were being introduced, "Up-to-date" had a long run about the turn of the century; the virtue of Scotch seed was recognised, though the reason for its success was yet undiscovered. Boxing the seed and planting sprouted sets became standard practice; the fertilisers to procure large crops became understood, for the growers were substantial men willing to spend money and open to advice. Spraying with Bordeaux mixture was standardised, but did not become general in all districts because many growers preferred to gamble on intermittent appearance of blight.
Market gardening was increasing and improving its methods, though it was still dependent upon the lavish supplies of stable manure that could be obtained from the great towns. Naturally it was segregating into selected areas--the brick earths of the Thames Valley and North Kent, Bedfordshire, Huntingdon, Wisbech and the Fens, and the Vale of Evesham, where it was found that asparagus would flourish on stiffish clays, while selected areas in Cornwall could follow the earliest potato crops with a second crop of autumn and winter broccoli.
Lastly, this period saw the great development of the glass-house cultivation in districts like Worthing, Swanley Junction and above all the Lea Valley. Fifty years ago the tomato was as great a rarity in England as an Avocado pear is to-day; a few were imported, a few were grown in private conservatories. In the late 'eighties market cultivation under glass began and early in the 'nineties Worthing tomatoes had established their position as superior to any importations. From that time until the outbreak of war there was no pause in the extension of the industry. Cucumbers went with the tomatoes, grapes and chrysanthemums completed the old cycle; forced bulbs-tulips, narcissus, and iris, were later additions, as again has been the perpetual flowering carnation, for flowers have become as much a matter of general household expenditure as tomatoes or eggs.
Looking at the state of agriculture generally the early years of the century may be recalled as a time of quiet but growing prosperity for farmers. One may read in Farmer's Glory, that singularly faithful presentation of farming life in Wiltshire, how Mr. A. G. Street, who settled down on his father's farm in 1907, looks back to those years before the war as "the spacious days," just as the man of an older generation recalled the 'sixties and early 'seventies as the good old times. "But that large tenant farmers were doing pretty well then, there is no question. I suppose the business side of farming had its worries in those days, but it is difficult to recall any. There were good seasons and bad seasons, doubtless. I can remember wet weather in harvest time and good weather. Good luck at lambing time and bad I can also call to mind, but nothing ever seemed to make any difference in our home life. It all seemed such a settled prosperous thing." Again I may quote my own contemporary opinion, written after a series of farming tours round the United Kingdom in 1910-12. "In the first place we must recognise that the industry is at present sound and prosperous."