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The Corn Law Act had been passed in 1815 as a measure to protect the interests of landowners who looked as if they were about to lose out when highly inflated prices for corn ceased with the ending of the Napoleonic Wars. This kept the price of not only corn but also bread artificially high.

Although an Anti-Corn Law League formed to oppose the legislation, it was not until the potato famine in Ireland that repeal was enacted in a belated attempt to alleviate some of the suffering. The repeal marked an end to protectionist policies and can be seen as a major stepping stone in turning Britain into a free trading nation.

Following the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, legislation was introduced to regulate the import of cereals in an attempt to maintain an adequate supply for consumers while providing a secure price for the producers. Cereals could not be imported into Britain until the domestic price reached eighty shillings a quarter. This price meant that cereals and bread were more expensive than they needed to be and this caused considerable agitation.

Other aspects of agricultural production also caused popular concern - in 1834, six Dorset farm workers - The Tolpuddle Martyrs - were transported to the colonies for seven years because they had taken an illegal oath to a labourers' union.

If you look at the history of farming, you will realise that the nineteenth century was practically all downhill. The inflation of the Napoleonic war years was followed by a trough of depression, when those who had bought land at high prices found their markets had disappeared and they were bankrupt.

The Enclosures of the early C19 favoured the big farmers and small men declined into farm labourers, just in time for the introduction of the new farming methods and machinery, which reduced the need
for actual hands.

During the 1840s, there were ten years of bad to miserable harvests (The Hungry Forties), which drove more men out of the countryside. The slight pick up of the 50s was followed by outbreaks of cattle plague in the 1860s, which meant total devastation of the ground for years to come. A lot of migration and emigration followed. Bakers went over to the Canadian type of grain - so arable farmers had to give up or convert to livestock farming.

Then came the invention of refrigeration, and foreign meat could be imported easily. More ruin. Even the Duchess of Marlborough was complaining about the effect of American meat imports on the Churchill estates - she sold them her son to redress the balance.

The farm labourers were on the sharp end all the time - services no longer required. They could stay put and starve or migrate where the jobs were. There was always a demand for unskilled labour in towns, humping and hauling, digging foundations for houses and factories and for men building railways all over the place.

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Really interesting stuff, thanks! What are your sources for this?
Hi Sean,
Pleased you found it interesting, these notes were gleaned to put together a History Event in our village, I covered the Farming display. Many people gave me articles, notes and essays to use, plus my own research from books and online on the subject. As this is just my hobby, I have not really sourced things in the "proper" manner.
Best wishes, Chris.

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