Agricultural Depression 1870/80s

Extract from p75 and 76 of “Rural Life in Victorian England” by G.E.Mingay, Futura Publications 1979. Copyright 1976 Land Humphries publishers Ltd.

The combination after 1874 of bad seasons, low prices, poor harvests and livestock losses led to many tenants giving up their farms. The years from 1875 to 1878 were notable for wet and cold summers, poor harvests, and shortages of hay for the stock. In 1879, the rain began in the early spring and persisted until the later part of September, ‘… bringing ruined crops with widespread devastation in their train… We had no barley crops at all that season on heavy soil, and the wheat ‘turned blighty and black and seemed to shrink back in a different way yet not dissimilar to the barley two months earlier’. The following Winter proved extremely cold…   …the eighties produced little relief. The first half of 1880 saw very heavy losses of sheep due to the rot, and it is estimated that over five million sheep perished. January of 1881 brought with it a ferocious blizzard lasting over forty-eight hours and again severe losses of sheep. …The following summer was wet, and 1882 had a very wet autumn, so that little wheat could be sown. The summers of 1885 and 1887, by contrast, were droughty, with shortages of roots for the stock.

There can be little doubt but that the extraordinary succession of extreme weather conditions which marked the twenty years after 1874 combined with the upsurge of foreign competition and prevalence of law prices to create a sense of unending calamity among the farmers.

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