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This is a detailed study of how the Somerset Levels, originally a large tract of marsh, were drained and reclaimed to becomes one of the most agriculturally productive areas of south-west England. The story of the draining of this region brings to light significant comparisons and contrasts with other reclaimed lowlands and extends our knowledge of one of the processes by which the British landscape has changed. This is an important book, which brings together information on an area that has until now received very little attention; it also shows just how early massive reclamation began. It will be of interest to both geographers and historians.
This detailed and original study of early-modern agrarian society in the Somerset Levels examines the small landholders in a group of sixteen contiguous parishes in the area known as Brent Marsh. These were farmers with lifehold tenures and a mixed agricultural production whose activities and outlook are shown to be very different from that of the small 'peasant' farmers of so many general histories. Patricia Croot challenges the idea that small farmers failed to contribute to the productivity and commercialization of the early-modern economy. While the emergence of large capitalist farms was an important development, these added to the production of existing small cultivators, rather than replacing them. The idea that only large-scale, specialized farmers were involved in agricultural progress, or that their contribution alone was enough to account for the great increase in food production by the late 17th century is questioned; small farmers continued to make a living, contributed to the market, and survived alongside the new, bigger farms. Croot's in-depth study not only adds to our knowledge of agrarian society generally, but shows that far from being backward and interested primarily in subsistence farming, small producers in this area sought profit in making the best use of their resources, however limited, being flexible in their production and growing new or unusual crops. The main land tenures, copy and lease for lives, are also covered in detail, contributing to current debates on landholding and sub-tenancy. The author shows the uses to which lifehold tenures could be put, resulting in the increasing financial strength of copyholders and their dominance in local society. The effects of the tenure and profits of farming can be seen in the way that families were provided for, as well as in the roles that women played and the responsibility they had in economic and social life, while the wider interests of the inhabitants are shown in their religious and political engagement in events of the 17th century. Patricia Croot's meticulous study is a valuable contribution to English agrarian history, and in particular to the history of this under-researched region.
Man’s control over the elements of land and water for the purposes of agriculture was fundamental to the development of civilisations in the past, and remains so today. This volume deals with the processes of irrigation, and land drainage and reclamation, and illustrates the variety of technological and engineering solutions in a wide chronological and geographical perspective. The sophistication of many pre-modern systems is clear, as is the impact of modern technologies. Important points that emerge are that there was no steady or linear progression in techniques across time - instances of the transfer of ideas are balanced by cases of independent development - and that the correlations between irrigation systems and social structures demand more complex explanations than often proposed.
Most places in Britain have had a local history written about them. Up until this century these histories have addressed more parochial issues, such as the life of the manor, rather than explaining the features and changes in the landscape in a factual manner. Much of what is visible today in Britain's landscape is the result of a chain of social and natural processes, and can be interpreted through fieldwork as well as from old maps and documents. Michael Aston uses a wide range of source material to study the complex and dynamic history of the countryside, illustrating his points with aerial photographs, maps, plans and charts. He shows how to understand the surviving remains as well as offering his own explanations for how our landscape has evolved.

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