This paper was published as Rural History: Economy, Society, Culture, 1992, 3 (2), pp. 145-172. It is available from http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=2560780. Doi: 10.1017/S0956793300003071Metadata only entryEnglish and Welsh agrarian society, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, was intimately tied to the poor law. That law was extensive in scope, encompassing settlement and removal, apprenticeship, illegitimacy, parochial rating and taxation, as well as welfare and unemployment provision. It continually swayed the rural labour market. It underlay the development of so-called ‘open’ and ‘close’ parishes, or as I would prefer to express it, the maintenance of a number of parishes (or hamlets or townships) as fundamentally estate units. It was an essential element in tenant farmers' judgements on profitability, and was routinely discussed in the General Views of Agriculture. Like the overhang of a George Morland tree, sometimes clutching, sometimes benign, it extended far over the lives of that majority of village inhabitants termed the ‘labouring poor’. Commentators like Arthur Young, John Howlett or Sir Frederick Eden discussed the poor law in the same paragraphs as they wrote about enclosure, agricultural improvement, depression and rural social relations. They paid close attention to poor-relief, making extensive connections between the poor law, rural poverty, rents, and agricultural innovation. To them such matters were closely entwined
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