1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Agriculture/Agricultural Population and Wages

Agricultural Population and Wages.

The last half of the 19th century witnessed a remarkable diminution of the British rural population. The decrease has assumed serious proportions since 1871, as before that date the supply of rural labour exceeded the demand. A large number of agricultural labourers were thus only in partial employment, and their withdrawal from the land was of minor importance as compared with the shrinkage in the number of those permanently employed. The following tables indicate the extent of rural depopulation:—
Number of “Persons engaged in Agriculture” in the United
Kingdom, 1851–1901.

1851. 1861. 1871. 1881. 1891. 1901.
3,453,500 3,080,500 2,744,000 2,573,900 2,394,500 2,262,600

The number of “agricultural labourers and shepherds,” which affords a more precise index, declined in a still more marked degree.

1851. 1861. 1871. 1881. 1891. 1901.
1,110,311 1,098,261 923,332 830,452 756,557 609,105

The decrease in the demand for labour is attributable chiefly to the reduction of the cultivated area and the laying down to pasture of land once under the plough, and to the increasing use of agricultural machinery. It may, however, be noticed that the period 1850–1903 was marked by a steady increase of the cash wages of the farm labourer, as indicated in the following table from the Report on the Earnings of Agricultural Labourers issued by the Board of Trade in 1905.

Average Weekly Cash Wages of ordinary Agricultural Labourers
employed on certain Farms in England and Wales.

Year.  England and Wales, 
69 farms.
 Eastern counties, 
12 farms.
 s.  d.  s.  d.
1850 9 8 8
1855 10 11½ 11 5
1860 10 11 10 8
1865 11 3 10 5
1870 11 10½ 11
1875 13 7 12 11½
1880 13 12 1
1885 13 1 11 5
1890 13 11
1895 13 11 0
1900 14 13
1903 14 7 13

(See also Allotments and Small Holdings.)

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