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Abstract Ian D. Whyte





The North – society and communities.

The idea of Cumbria as an ‘odd corner’ of England with continuing feudal elements. The distinctiveness of Cumbrian society: few major magnates and most of them absentees, lack of larger to middling gentry so that many communities governed themselves. Customary tenancy and its importance: this was still basically a peasant farming system; Wordsworth’s ‘perfect republic of shepherds and agriculturalists’ was not entirely a literary fiction. Stable local societies dominated by yeoman farming dynasties lasting for generations.

Customary tenant right ensured the survival of a traditional society of small owner-occupiers by preventing widespread adoption of leases, and the ability of landowners to take control of their estates. This ensured that decision-making power remained with the local farming community. The socio-economic structure of Cumbrian communities involved few hired labourers and cottagers, many living in servants, many small farms worked only by family labour and many smallholders cum tradesmen.


Political spaces and Cumbrian rural communities.

Population was small and thinly scattered compared with the south.In areas like the Eden valley much of the population was concentrated in substantial villages but elsewhere they were scatted in hamlets, small farms and cottages. Parishes were often huge with many townships: townships were the units of administration and probably of community.

The basic administrative structure still relied heavily on a medieval framework of baronies. The territorial divisions made after the Norman Conquest were still a reality in the early nineteenth century. Typically a scatter of hamlets and isolated houses dispersed along a valley was surrounded by huge areas of moorland and mountain. Community foci included the parish church and chapel, the alehouse and inn, as well as local markets. The commons were also important spaces of contact and also of conflict. To what extent did the commons unite communities through intercommoning and shared rights of grazing and turbary? Were people more in contact with those on the other side of the fell than in their own valley? Manorial courts maintained traditional management of the commons which were, or should have been, regulated in interests of all users. By the later eighteenth century commons were increasingly scenes of conflict due to overgrazing, squatting, and denying smaller commoners access to the pastures.


Parliamentary Enclosure

The background to and nature of parliamentary enclosure in Cumbria: was it a process of social engineering as has been claimed for southern England? Who initiated enclosure and why: who opposed it. The commons as a political space: how were disputes and disagreements relating to enclosure handled.

How fair was the enclosure process? How did different social groups benefit from it? What were the advantage of enclosure for manorial lords, large and small customary tenants? The scale and nature of opposition to enclosure. Commons as political spaces: how were disputes and disagreements handled? The commons and the community after enclosure: redefined political spaces?