The myth of the peasantry; family and economy in a northern parish




[From Richard M.Smith (ed.), Land, Kinship and Life-cycle (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1984)




Historians and sociologists agree that England between the thirteenth

and eighteenth centuries was a 'peasant' nation.(1) By this they often

mean no more than that it fitted within the definition proposed by

Firth when he wrote that by a peasant community 'one means a

system of small-scale producers, with a simple technology and

equipment, often relying primarily for their subsistence on what they

themselves produce. The primary means of livelihood of the peasant

is cultivation of the soil.' (2) England would also appear to have been a

peasant nation in the more precise sense that it was, to follow

Kroeber and Redfield, a society where those living in the countryside

constituted a 'part-culture' dependent on towns, markets and a

state.(3) One consequence of this interpretation is that the basic

contrast is held to be between industrial nations on the one hand and

'peasant' nations on the other. Thus England is lumped with con-

tinental Europe, Ireland and Scotland up to the nineteenth century,

with pre-revolutionary Russia and China and with contemporary,



(1) There is a more detailed discussion of the stereotype and of the definitional problem

in a paper, which complements this essay, entitled 'The Peasantry in England before

the Industrial Revolution. A mythical model?', in D. Green, C. Haselgrove and M.

Spriggs, editors, Social Organization and settlement (oxford, 1978), pp. 325-41, cited

hereafter as Macfarlane, 'Peasantry'. Two examples of similar studies are R. H.

Hilton, The English Peasantry in the Later Middle Ages (Oxford, 1975), and J. Thirsk,

English Peasant Farming (London ' 1957). The research on the parish of Kirkby

Lonsdale upon which this article is based has been funded by the Social Science

Research Council and King's College Research Centre, Cambridge, to whom I am

most grateful. Much of the work has been carried out by Sarah Harrison. I should

also like to thank Cherry Bryant, Charles Jardine, Iris Macfarlane and Jessica styles

for their help. I also acknowledge the help of the County Archives offices at Kendal,

Carlisle and Preston.

(2) Quoted in G. Dalton, 'Peasantries in Anthropology and History', Current Anthropology 13: 3-4 (1972), p.386.

(3) R. Redfield, Peasant Society and Culture (Chicago, Ill., 1960), p. 40.






India and Mexico. It is assumed that useful lessons can be learnt by

comparing basically similar social and economic structures. There has

been a growing interest recently in refining such a crude dichotomy

in order to make it possible to distinguish between different agrarian

systems. Following the lead of Chayanov it has been suggested that

one extra feature is needed in order to make the label 'peasant'

appropriate for an agricultural 'part-society. This final criterion is

described by Thorner as follows. (4)


Our fifth and final criterion, the most fundamental, is that of the unit of

production. In our concept of peasant economy the typical and most

representative units of production are the peasant family households. We

define a peasant family household as a socio-economic unit which grows

crops primarily by the physical efforts of the members of the family ... In a

peasant economy half or more of all crops grown will be produced by such

peasant households, relying mainly on their own family labour ...


As Shanin states, the basic feature is that 'the family farm is the basic

unit of peasant ownership, production, consumption and social life.

The individual, the family and the farm, appear as an indivisible

whole . . .' (5) Among the consequences of this situation is the fact that

the head of the family appears as 'the manager rather than proprietor

of family land', that the fertility of children is encouraged in order to

increase the labour force of the productive unit, that peasant villages

or communities are usually more or less self-sufficient.' As Chayanov

had stated much earlier, 'The first fundamental characteristic of the

farm economy of the peasant is that it is a family economy. Its whole

organization is determined by the size and composition of the

peasant family and by the co-ordination of its consumptive demands

with the number of its working hands." Thus, when we speak of

peasantry we are trying to describe not merely a particular tech-

nology, but also the basic organization of ownership, production and



In the article cited above I have argued at some length that certain

central features of English society in the sixteenth and seventeenth

centuries lead us to suspect that the situation was very far removed

from that of an ideal-type peasant society. For example, the property

rights of women and children were totally contrary to those in other

peasant societies. Furthermore, a detailed analysis of the Essex parish

of Earls Colne in the period 1500-1750 showed that in every respect it



4 In T. Shanin, editor, Peasants and Peasant Societies Harmondsworth, 1971), p. 205.

5 Shanin, Peasants, p. 241.

6 Shanin, Peasants, pp. 242-4.

7 Quoted in E. Wolf, Peasants (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1966), p. 14.






was 'non-peasant'. (8) A brief survey of some other villages studied by

Hoskins and Spufford confirmed that Essex was not exceptional in

this respect. Yet all these studies are based on the lowland area of

England where the market was well developed. It is well known that

there was great regional variation in England during the sixteenth to

eighteenth centuries. If we are attempting to establish an English

pattern, it is necessary to produce evidence from an upland area.

Furthermore, if we are to find a pre-industrial peasantry anywhere in

the country it seems likely that it will be in the higher, supposedly

more remote and backward, upland region. It is generally agreed by

those familiar with such regions that kinship and the family were

more important in the upland region. There, if anywhere we will be

dealing with a domestic economy, based on extended kinship and

family labour. Groups of kin are the basic unit of production in a

peasant society. In association , with low geographical mobility this

will lead us to expect a high degree of kin co-residence in an area with

'peasants'. It is therefore relevant that a number of local historians

have spoken of the 'kindreds' and 'clans' of these upland areas, in

contrast to the dispersed kin of the lowlands. Describing Troutbeck in

Cumbria, Scott noted the frequent occurrence of identical surnames

and wrote: 'These families - we might rather call them clans -

inter-married so frequently that their descendants are inevitably

related many times over . . .(9) Cowper, describing Hawkshead in

north Lancashire, wrote: 'what we venture to term, in default of a

better word, the clan system - the cohabitation of hamlets and areas

by many folks owning the same surname and a common origin'. (10)

More recently James has suggested that 'upland' areas in the Durham

region were more familistic, (11) and Thirsk has noted that while the

'clan' was only strong in Northumbria, in many upland areas 'the

family often exerted a stronger authority than the manorial lord'.(12)



8. The nature of the sources and methods used in the study of Earls Colne, a project

funded by the Social Science Research Council, is described in A. Macfarlane,

Reconstructing Historical Communities (Cambridge, 1977).

9. S. H. Scott, A Westmorland Village (London, 1904), p. 261.

10. H. S. Cowper, Hawkshead (London, 1899), p. 199. See also, on 'kindreds' in the area,

C. M. L. Bouch and G. P. Jones, A Short Economic and Social History of the Lake Counties

1500-1830 (Manchester, 1961), p. 90. Cowper's observation is confirmed in one

respect by the recent discovery that in the Hawkshead parish register for 1560-1800,

twelve out of 506 name sets account for 36% of the total baptisms. I owe this fact to

Dr Richard Smith and the SSRC Cambridge Group for the History of Population and

Social Structure.

11. M. E. James, Family, Lineage and Civil Society: A Study of Society, Politics and Mentality in the Durham Region, 1500-1640 (oxford, 1974), p. 24.

12. J. Thirsk, editor, The Agrarian History of England and Wales, Vol, IV (Cambridge, 1967), pp. 9, 23.






Speaking of the northern fells, and in particular the areas of partible

inheritance, Thirsk writes that 'the family was and is the working

unit, all joining in the running of the farm, all accepting without

question the fact that the family holding would provide for them

all ....' (13) Of all the upland areas of England, the area most likely to

be, inhabited by peasants was southern Cumbria, that is parts of the

Lake District, west Yorkshire and north Lancashire. It is known that a

special form of social structure, based on small family estates',

existed there. A peculiar form of land tenure had given rise to the

,statesman' in an area of weak manorial control and difficult com-

munications. As Scott wrote of Troutbeck, 'Under this system of

customary tenure there has grown up a race of men singularly sturdy,

independent, and tenacious of their rights ... Instead of the land

being occupied by two or three squires, and a subservient tenantry,

this single township has contained some fifty statesmen families,

which have held the same land from generation to generation with

the pride of a territorial aristocracy."' The security, the immobility,

the equality, all seem to indicate a peasant society.


In this region lies the parish of Kirkby Lonsdale, where the stone

walls and substantial farmhouses remain very much as they were in

the seventeenth century. The parish produced grain, wool and cattle

in an area stretching from rich riverside meadows in the south up to

high fells of nearly two thousand feet on the east. The approximately

2,500 inhabitants in the late seventeenth century were distributed in

nine townships. The tenurial situation varied from township to

township, and consequently each had a different social structure.

According to Machell, who travelled through the parish in 1692 and

whose findings are corroborated and expanded by Nicholson

and Burn, (15) the tenurial situation in the various townships at the

end of the seventeenth century was as follows:


Kirkby Lonsdale: some tenants free (about one third), some customary, some

customary at fine arbitrary, some arbitrary (copyhold), some heriotable.

Casterton: tenants about half free and half customary, paying a fine certain

for three years rent.

Barbon: six or seven freeholds; all tenants are finable and arbitrary (i.e.

copyhold), they were sold to freehold in 1716.



13. 'Industries in the Countryside', in F. J. Fisher, editor, Essays in the Economic and Social

History of Tudor and Stuart England (Cambridge, 1961), p. 83.

14. Scott, Westmorland Village, pp. 20-1.

15. J. M. Ewbank, editor, Antiquary on Horseback (Kendal, 1963), pp. 18, 26, 29, 36, 39-1

J. Nicholson and R. Burn, The History and Antiquities of the Counties of Westmorland and

Cumberland (London, 1777), Vol. ii, pp. 243-65.






Middleton: the tenants purchased their estates to freehold ill the time of

Elizabeth and James 1.

Firbank: all freeholders, having purchased their customary tenures in 1586.

Killington: all freeholders, having purchased their customary tenures in 1585.

Lupton: only about two freehold tenements, all the rest customary.

Hutton Roof: some divided customary estates, but generally bought them-

selves free.(16)


This illustrates the variability even within a parish, supporting

Gilpin's contemporary observation that 'Customs especially in the

Northern Parts of this Nation are so varied and differing in them-

selves as that a man might almost say that there are as many, severall

Customes as mannors . . . yea and almost as many as there are

Townshipps or Hamletts in a mannor. (17) We may examine in more

detail two townships which were adjacent, but which contrast strik-

ingly in their tenurial situation, namely Lupton and Killington. In

Lupton there was an absentee lord ,)f the minor, but he owned very

little of the township land directly, there was no 'demesne'. Almost

all the land was held by customary tenants with holdings of between

fifteen and forty acres apiece and some rights in the common grazing.

In Killington the form of tenure had originally been the same as that

in Lupton, but in 1585 the customary holdings had been converted to

freehold. One consequence was that there were two persons styled

I gentlemen' living in Killington according to the listing of inhabitants

of 1695,(18) whereas there were none in Lupton. But even these were

minor gentry. The largest land holder's holding in Killington before

the Civil War consisted of a capital messuage, Killington Hall, forty

acres of arable, twenty acres of meadow, one hundred acres of

pasture and one hundred acres of moss and furze called 'Killington

Demesne', another messuage with sixteen acres of land and a water

mill." This was roughly five times the size of the average holding in

Killington, but, since there were about forty estates in the township,

it only constituted about one-eighth of the total land area.


It is clear that English 'freehold' tenure, which gave an individual

complete and total rights over his land, is diametrically opposed to

the form of land holding that is characteristic of peasant societies,


16. W. Farrer and J. F. Curwen, Records Relating to the Barony of Kendale (Kendal, 1924),

Vol. it, p. 416.

17. A. Bagot, 'Mr Gilpin and Manorial Customs', Transactions of the Cumberland and

Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society new series 62 (1961), p. 228.

18. The listing, which covers the whole of Kirkby Lonsdale parish, is in the Record Office

at Kendal among the Fleming papers (WD/RY).

19. An inquisition of 1639, reprinted in Farrer and Curwen, Records of Kendale, Vol it,

p. 437.






where there is a form of joint family ownership.(20) It thus seems very

likely that, whatever may superficially appear to be the case, Killing-

ton after 1585, Firbank after 1586, Barbon after 1716, Middleton

since the early seventeenth century and parts of Kirkby Lonsdale and

Hutton Roof had a form of land tenure system incompatible with

peasantry. Yet in the areas with 'customary' tenure, particularly

Lupton, where nearly all was held in this way, some form of family

estate might have existed, surviving longer there than in the other

townships. We therefore need to examine this northern customary

tenure, known as 'border tenure' or 'tenant right' in more detail.


The parish of Kirkby Lonsdale lay within the barony of Kendal, and

consequently all the manors, except the rectory manor, were held of

that barony." 'Customary' tenure was thus part of that general

border tenure which has been particularly well documented since it

was a peculiarity of the area and the subject of considerable litigation

in the seventeenth century. An excellent contemporary description is

given by Gilpin, (22) and there have been a number of more recent (23)

descriptions. Supposedly in exchange for armed service on the

border, the tenant held by a form of tenure which lay somewhere

between ordinary copyhold as known in the south of England and

freehold. As with copyhold, the tenant paid certain fines and rents to

the lord, though these were usually fixed and small, and performed

certain services or 'boons. But unlike copyhold, the holding of land

was not 'at the will of the lord' but by the custom of the manor. The

land holdings were known as 'customary estates of inheritance' and

could be transferred from one 'owner' to the next without the

permission of the lord, only being registered, and a fine being paid, in

the manorial court. The estates were 'descendible from ancestor to

heir under certain yearly rents. Furthermore, 'the copyholder had

no property in the timber on the land; the customary tenant owns

everything, as if it were freehold, except the minerals beneath the

Soil. (21) Customary tenants could devise their land by will, and it

descended automatically to their children or other legal heirs if no will

was made. This situation has been described as 'tantamount to



20 For a more detailed discussion of this opposition, see Macfarlane, 'Peasantry'.

21 Farrer and Curwen, Records of Kendale, Vol ii, p. 305.

22 Bagot, 'Mr Gilpin and Manorial Customs'.

23 Bouch and Jones, Economic ... History of the Lake Counties, pp. 65ff; J. R. Ford, 'The

Customary Tenant-Right of the Manors of Yealand', Transactions of the Cumberland ;

and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society new series (1909), pp. 147ff; W. Butler, 'The Customs and Tenant Right Tenures of the Northern Counties . . .',

Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society ' new series 26 (1926), pp. 318-36.

24 Scott, Westmorland Village, p. It'.






freehold', (25) and in regard to security of tenure this was the case,

though the fines, rents and services made it akin to copyhold in other

respects. The estates could be bought and sold by ordinary deeds of

bargain and sale, though they would also be registered as admit-

tances in the court roll.(26) This was a form of transfer exactly similar to

freehold. (27) The major restriction on the tenant was that the inherited

estate should not be subdivided. In order that the land holding

should be large enough to provide a warrior for the border defences,

the customs stated that all of the holding should go to one person, the

widow, then to a son, and in default of a son to only one daughter. As

we shall see, this was a very strict form of impartibility.


One supposed result of such a system was that wealth was evenly

distributed between equal 'family farms'. This equality was noted by

those who had witnessed the collapse of the old tenurial system in

the second half of the eighteenth century. Looking back to the first

half of that century, a writer in 1812 described how 'excepting the

estates of a few noblemen and baronets, the land was divided into

small freeholds and customary tenements, in the occupation of

owners . . ..' (28) Another supposed result was that a certain family

would be identified with an estate, and that it would pass for many

generations down the same family.


Yet, if we look a little more closely at the precise nature of

ownership, the pattern is not so simple. We have noted that farm and

family are merged in peasant societies; it is the family or household as

a group that owns the farm holding, the head of the family merely

being the de facto manager. Individual ownership is alien. This is

absolutely the opposite of the case in both Lupton and Killington,

where it would be difficult to envisage a more individualistic form of

land holding, either by freehold or by customary tenure. There is no

evidence in any of the multitudinous court records or customs of the

area that the property was jointly owned by the family. In fact, all the

indications are in the opposite direction. First, it is clear that in both

townships the landed property was transferred to one person, who

was not merely the nominal title holder but the owner in an exclusive

sense. This owner might as easily be a woman as a man. If anything,

the individualism of ownership was even more extreme than in most

copyhold tenures in the south for whereas in Essex, for example, all


25 Butler, 'Tenant Right Tenures', p. 320.

26 Ibid., p. 319.

27 Ford, 'Customary Tenant-Right', p. 157.

28 J. Gough, Manners and Customs of Westmorland ... (Kendal, 1847; first printed in

1812), p. 25.






daughters received shares in the estate as co-parceners if there was no

male heir, in Lupton the principle of individual property prevented

this division. By the custom of that manor, and generally under

tenant-right tenure, in the event of no sons surviving the holding

went to only one daughter. As Machell put it, quoting from a

Chancery decree of the early seventeenth century, (29) there was a

general custom in the barony of Kendal 'that the eldest daughter/

sister/cousin inherits without copartnership in tenancy'. This was a

direct equivalent to the custom of male primogeniture in the area. The

general principle was that the holding belonged to one person, and

could only be transferred to one person; it was not owned by a group

of brothers, for example, and partitioned between them as in peasant

societies. As I have argued in the article already cited, the presence of

primogeniture and impartible inheritance, and the consequent disin-

heritance from the main holding of the other children, which many

observers have noted to be more extreme in England than anywhere

else in the world, is inconceivable in a 'peasant' society. In a peasant

society, the estate is held jointly by the children; it may be temporari-

ly partitioned according to their needs, in which case all the males

have equal rights. In most of England, the main estate could not be

divided or partitioned, though extra pieces which had been accumu-

lated could be given to other children. Thus it could be argued that

merely finding impartible inheritance, as we do in the tenant-right

area, is a sure index of the absence of a true peasantry.


Unfortunately it is not possible to deal here with the considerable

areas of partible inheritance in England, particularly in the upland

areas. One of the best documented of these was in Dentdale, which

lay alongside Kirkby Lonsdale. The contrast between the two

parishes is very instructive and has been illuminated in a general way

by Dr Thirsk. (30) It would be very useful to obtain an account of the

relations between family and economy in such a region, testing out

the hypotheses concerning a peasant social structure. It would also be

useful to know more concerning women's property rights. In peasant

societies, land is not owned individually, and therefore when a

woman marries out of a village or family she may not take land with

her, though she may own moveable objects and possess livestock.

But in both Lupton and Killington, as elsewhere in England,

women's property rights were extensive. A number of the wills for

these two townships mention women holding landed property, and

it has already been mentioned that a widow would succeed to her


31 Ewbank, Antiquary on Horseback, p. 3.

30 Thirsk, 'Industries in the Countryside'.





husband's estate, followed by one daughter when a son had not

survived. Men could thus hold land 'in the right of their wife.


If further proof of individualistic property rights is needed, it may

be found in the numerous proceedings in cases which came from the

parish of Kirkby Lonsdale to be heard in Chancery. The court dealt

with numerous disputes where one individual sought to obtain rights

over a specific piece of land or other property. Reading through the

roughly 70 000 words of information in sixteenth- and seventeenth-

century cases from this parish has not once given any hint or

suspicion that there was a strong link between a family group and a

holding in the sense that some group larger than the individual

owned the property .(31) The head of the household or registered

landowner clearly owned the property in the full sense, and was not

merely the organizer of a joint labour group. There is no trace of the

family as the basic unit of ownership and production.


It might be objected that the wife and children did, in this area,

have inalienable rights in the family property. It could be pointed out

that by tenant-right the widow inherited the whole of her husband's

estate during her 'pure' widowhood, that is as long as she did not

remarry or have sexual intercourse. Furthermore, Kirkby Lonsdale

was within the archdiocese of York, where there was a custom until

1692 that a wife and children each had a right to one-third of their

husband's/ father's moveable goods at his death.(32) If we look more

closely at both Common Law as it applied to freehold lands and

manorial customs, it is clear that this was not a joint estate. The wife

only had rights as long as she was a widow, and the children had no

inalienable rights in their parent's land or other real estate. Even with

moveable goods, a man could give them all away in his life-time, just

as he could sell or give away all his land. In Kirkby Lonsdale, as in the

rest of England, the principle that 'a living man has no heirs', that

children had no inalienable rights in a family estate, appears to have

been present.(33) Thus a father could totally disinherit a son if he so

wished; primogeniture merely meant that an eldest male heir would

inherit if no will or transfer before death had been made to the



31 Most of the Kirkby Lonsdale proceedings have been found among the papers of the

Six Clerks, in classes C.5-C.10 in the Public Record Office, Chancery Lane. A

standard description of this much under-used source is W. J. Jones, The Elizabethan

Court of Chancery (oxford, 1967).

32 H. Swinburne, A Treatise of Testaments and Last Wills, 5th edition (London, 1728), pp.


33 Maitland stated that this principle was grasped in the thirteenth century: Sir F.

Pollock and F. W. Maitland, The History of English Law Before the Time of Edward 1, 2nd

edition (Cambridge, 1968), Vol. ii, p. 308.





contrary. It did not mean that a son would automatically inherit.

Thus, for example, in Lupton we find in the will of John Wooddes in

1682 that, because the eldest son Roland 'would never doe my

counsell nor be ordered by me neyther is a fyth man to serve the

queries majestie nor the lords for these causes and consyderation',

the whole estate was given to the younger son, who was merely to

pay his elder brother 6 13s 4d. (34) In Killington, a man could do what

he liked with his real estate, with the exception that a widow had

one-third as a dower for life. In Lupton, he could do what he liked

before his death, or after the death of his wife, on condition that the

inherited estate was not divided.


One consequence of the highly developed private property rights

in the area was the enormous amount of litigation in the central

courts of equity, primarily Chancery. Another result was the making

of a very large number of wills dealing with chattels and real estate. It

has been pointed out that in peasant societies, for example in Russia

before 1930,31 wills were either unknown, or regarded with great

dislike. Since the dying father is not the private owner of the

property, he cannot devise it to a specific individual. The sons are

co-owners with the father, just as they are co-workers. But in Kirkby

Lonsdale numerous wills were made which embody the principle of

devisability of land, thus extending the father's power after his death.

For example, the township of Lupton, with a total population of

about 150 persons at the end of the seventeenth century, produced

115 wills during the period 1550-1720. Many of these were concerned

with allocating cash portions to younger males and to girls who

would not normally benefit directly from the land holding, but they

also frequently confirmed the disposition of real estate.


Another feature we associate with traditional peasantry is geo-

graphical immobility; both families and individuals tend to remain for

their lives in one village or group of villages. This does not seem to

have been the case in Kirkby Lonsdale. To start with the crude index

of the survival of family names, we may look to see how many of the

28 surnames of those who held land in the township of Lupton in

1642 according to a tenant list were still present two generations later

in a list for 1710. (36) The answer is twelve; thus less than half were still

present. Of course we have to allow for change of name at marriage,

or the chance that unrelated individuals with identical surnames had



34 The will is among those for the Deanery of Lonsdale in the Lancashire Record Office

at Preston.

35 T. Shanin, The Awkward Class (Oxford, 1972), p. 223.

36 The lists are among the Lonsdale papers (D/Lons) at the Record Office, Carlisle.






come into the parish. Further research will establish how many of the

holdings were in the same family throughout this period. what is

certain is that the rate of change of ownership increased in the middle

of the eighteenth century so that there was hardly a farm owned by

the same family throughout the period 1642-1800. It is also clear from

preliminary work that, even before the introduction of turnpike roads

and other pressures which are believed to have destroyed the old

patterns, there was very considerable mobility of farm holdings.

There is no evidence whatsoever, from the figures, from the wording

of wills or from the contents of legal cases, that families and farms

were closely attached by sentiment. It is symbolic that the farms were

hardly ever called after families, but after natural features: Foulstone,

Greenside, Fellhouses. Contemporaries only seem to have talked

occasionally of the 'Burrows of Foulstone' to differentiate them from

other persons of the same surname in the parish. The situation was a

long way from the imaginary world of Cold Comfort Farm; 'there

have always been Starkadders at Cold Comfort . . .'. But even more

striking than the movement of whole families is the degree of

individual mobility.


Although there is some out-migration, and daughters often move

to a nearby village at marriage, one of the central features of peasant

societies is their low rate of geographical mobility. Except in times of

crisis, a man born in a village is likely to remain there all his life,

working on the jointly held estate and receiving his rightful share

when married. Girls would stay to work for the communal labour

pool until marriage. Farm labour is family labour, the unit of

production swelling and contracting over the life-cycle. The unit of

production is based on the biological family, with adopted and

in-marrying additions. It is now known that nothing like this occur-

red in Kirkby Lonsdale in the seventeenth century. Preliminary

figures published some years ago showed that a very considerable

proportion of the children left home in their early or middle teens. (37)

Using a combination of parish register and a listing of inhabitants, it is

possible to estimate the frequency with which those baptized in the

parish remained there, In Lupton, for example, of twenty males

baptized in the period 1660-9 who were not recorded as buried before

1695, only six were present in the listing of that year. Fourteen had

disappeared from the township. Women were even more mobile. Of

23 girls baptized in the same period whose burial is not recorded, not

a single one was present in the listing of 1695. A search for both boys



37 A. Macfarlane, The Family Life of Ralph Josselin (Cambridge, 1970), pp. 209-10.






and girls for the decades after this also suggests that very few of the

children stayed in Lupton after the first few years of their lives, even

though their parents remained. Far from settling down on a family

farm, younger sons and all daughters moved away. Even the eldest

son often went away for a number of years before returning to take

over a holding. The central feature of the situation seems again to

have been the opposite of the 'peasant' situation. Rather than the

holding absorbing the children's labour, the parental home shed the

children just as they began to be net producers. If extra labour was

needed, it was hired in the form of labourers or servants. This was

related to a particular and peculiar household structure.


It is characteristic of peasant societies that in operation and some-

times in residence as well the basic unit is the 'extended family.

Married sons and their wives and parents work together and con-

sume together, pooling labour and sharing proceeds. This is often

reflected in residential arrangements or household structure. Thus

households are often large and contain more than one currently

married couple - as, for example, in a 'stem' family, with a married

couple, their married son and wife and their grandchildren. It is clear

that in Kirkby Lonsdale, as elsewhere in England at this time, such

complex and extended households were absent. The listing for

Lupton in 1695 does not show a single instance of a married child

living with his or her parents, not even with a widowed parent. The

Killington listing mentions two cases only among 222 names; a

widow living with a married son, and a widower with a married

daughter. The idea that two married couples should live or work

together is never expressed in any of the documents. Nor are there

any cases of anything equivalent to the Indian joint family, where

brothers and their wives live together or work a communal estate

together. Throughout Kirkby Lonsdale, the listings for the nine

townships show, with very few exceptions indeed, only nuclear

families, parents and unmarried children. It is true that wills fairly

frequently mention that children are married, but in such cases the

married child seems to have lived elsewhere.


It is obvious that analysis of residential or household structure is

not by itself enough to disprove the absence of 'extended' or 'joint'

families. Co-residence is only one of the indexes. Although the

Kirkby Lonsdale families did not live in complex households and do

not seem to have been 'eating from the same pot' as they would have

done in pre-revolutionary Russia, they could still have been acting as

joint families in terms of ownership, production and consumption. It

is well known that the joint residential unit, for instance in India, is






often more an ideal than an actuality, and that most people, most of

the time, live in nuclear households, even in peasant societies. 38 Even

if it is clear from comparing the Kirkby Lonsdale listing and parish

register that the situation was far removed from that described by

Berkner for parts of Austria, where most people spend a part of their

lives living in an extended household,(39) it might be that operationally

there was some form of co-operation. We might find a group of

married couples, parents, brothers and wives and children living in

the same village and working a communal plot.


Literary evidence makes us suspect that even joint families defined

in terms of operation rather than residence did not exist. It was not

just a matter, as Arthur Young put it when attacking the settlement

laws, (40) of the young 'abhorring' the thought of living with their

fathers or mothers after marriage; it was a question of discipline,

self-government, independence. A description of norms which

would astound an 'ideal-type' peasant is given in 1624 by William

Whately when counselling young people.(41)



When thou art married, if it may be, live of thy selfe with thy wife, in a

family of thine owne, and not with another, in one family, as it were, betwixt

you both. . . The mixing of governours in an household, or subordinating or

uniting of two Masters, or two Dames, under one roofe, cloth fall out most

times, to be a matter of much unquietnes to all parties: to make the young

folks so wholly resigne themselves unto the elder, as not to be discontented

with their proceedings; or to make the elder so much to deny themselves, as

to condescend unto the wills of the younger . . . in the common sort of

people [is] altogether impossible. Whereof, as the young Bees do seek unto

themselves another Hive, so let the young couple another house ...



This advocates not merely a physical separation, but a social one also,

the setting up of an economically and jurally independent unit. We

find that local records support this idea of separate units.


Wills, inventories, deeds and manorial records, as well as the

listings, make it clear that families did not operate as communal units

in production and consumption. Despite earlier quoted remarks

about the concentration of family names, the listings do not reveal

heavy concentrations of people with the same surname, possibly kin,

living near to each other. In Killington, for example, the majority of



38 W. J. Goode, World Revolution and Family Patterns (New York, 1963), p. 17; figures for

India are summarized on p. 242.

39 L. K. Berkner, 'The Stem Family and the Developmental Cycle of the Peasant

Household . American Historical Review 77 (1972), pp. 398-418.

40 Quoted in W. E. Tate, The Parish Chest (Cambridge, 1960), p. 214.

41 W . Whately, A Bride-Bush: or, a Direction for Married Persons (London, 1619), sig.






the surnames of heads of household only occur once in the listing. In

only nine cases did surnames occur in more than two households.

The most common surname in the parish was Barker, fifteen of the

222 persons in the parish being called by that name; eleven were

called Atkinson. If we concentrate on these two names, we find that,

although each of them was to be found in eight separate households,

this was by no means a situation of a group of 'kindred' farming a set

of neighbouring estates or one large farm. In the case of the Barkers,

there were three households with three Barkers in each, one with two

people of that name, and five households merely containing one

person of that name, usually as a servant. The Atkinsons were even

more spread out, with one set of three, one of two, and the rest single

individuals. Since both these names were common in the region, it is

quite likely that a number of the individuals were not related, except

very distantly. If we turn to the wills, there is nowhere in the nearly

two thousand for the parish a suggestion that brothers were farming

jointly. The probate inventories show where people's livestock was at

the time of their death and to whom they owed debts; in neither case

is there any hint of communal farming. The unit of production was

the husband and wife and hired labour (not children). This helps to

explain, and is given support by, the incidence of servanthood in the



It appears from studies of India, Russia and other peasant societies

that farm servants and domestic servants are relatively rare and

unimportant in traditional peasantries. Farm labour is family labour.

In Kirkby Lonsdale, a search of the listings shows that the absent

child labour was replaced by hired labour. In Killington, of an adult

male population of approximately eighty, ten were stated to be

servants and nine were day labourers; thus approximately one-

quarter were hired labour. Another quarter were stated to be 'pen-

sioners' in receipt of parish poor relief. Thus one half of the

population was supporting or paying for the labour of the other half.

There were also thirteen women stated to be servants. It seems to

have been the case that movement into an unrelated household,

either as apprentice, servant or day labourer, was a central feature of

the area. In other words, instead of the unit of labour being

determined by the demographic expansion and contraction of the

family as sons were born and grew and parents died (as in the classic

Chayanovian model),, people regulated the amount of labour by

hiring labour. As their holding expanded, they could bring in more

labour. Half the parish hired the other half. In this situation,

economics were not dependent on demography. Furthermore, with a






free labour supply, two important consequences followed. First,

there was no great incentive to marry young and to have many

children; young adults could be hired without the inconvenience of

having to be fed and clothed in their young and unproductive years.

Secondly, there was an incentive to saving and accumulation, since

such saving could be used to purchase more land and more labour.

Expansion was not limited by the inelasticity of labour. A conse-

quence of this was that the pattern of social mobility in the area was

very different from that experienced in peasant societies.


It has been suggested that the typical pattern, at least of the

pre-revolutionary Russian peasantry is one of cyclical mobility by

which families move as a whole, and in which over time a family will

accumulate property, have more children, partition the estate and

become poorer again. Thus there are no long-term divisions into

permanent 'classes'.(42) The pattern in Kirkby Lonsdale \N-as totally

different. Families did not move as a whole; daughters and younger

sons often moved downwards while the eldest son would move

upwards. We have to trace individual mobility, rather than family

mobility, for the pressure of impartibility and private as opposed to

family estates was dominant. Furthermore, there are traces of a

growing separation between the rich and the poor, which turned into

a permanent class barrier, even in this supposedly egalitarian region.

In Killington at the time of the 1695 listing, approximately one-third

of the population were in receipt of poor relief or were 'pensioners.

In the main township of Kirkby Lonsdale, in the year of the listing

some 52 persons were listed in the poor overseer's accounts as

receiving alms. If we assume that they had roughly the same number

of dependants as the poor in Killington, this would again constitute

one-third of the population. We are witnessing the formation in this

rural area of a permanent and large category of landless and largely

propertyless labouring families. The townships were already divided

into certain individuals who owned the farms and shops and others

who worked for them.


If we combine the various features described above, we may

present an over-simplified, yet basically correct, general model which

depicts this parish as populated by a set of highly individualistic,

highly mobile (in both the geographical and the social sense) and

capitalistic farmers and craftsmen. This is further confirmed if we

look at the extensive web of debts and credit to non-kin revealed in

the probate inventories. It is also both supported and integrated into


42 Shanin, The Awkward Class, part ii.






one ideal-type life portrait in a description of what life was like in one

of these northern valleys. The account was written in the nineteenth

century, looking back to the early eighteenth, but, judging by the

accounts we have looked at, it would appear to hold true of the

second half of the seventeenth century also. Bearing in mind the

stability and 'family property' complex of an Indian or east European

peasant, it is worth quoting the description in full.(43)


The farm labourer of the dales, then (and he is more often than not the son of

a small farmer of yeoman), is nothing akin to his southern brother ... he is

early sent to school, but at fourteen leaves home to earn his own living. He

has been well schooled, in a way, and looks forward to 'service'. At the

half-yearly hiring - Whitsuntide or Martinmas - after he has attained his 'first

majority', he goes to the nearest country town and stands in the market-

place. He is attired in a brand new suit, with a capacious necktie of green and

red. These articles he has donned upon the memorable morning, and as a gift

from his parents they constitute his start in life ... As an outward and visible

sign of his intention, the lad sticks a straw in his mouth and awaits the issue

. . . After waiting a greater part of the morning and seeing many of his

fellow-men and maid-servants hired, he is accosted by a stalwart yeoman,

who inquires if he wants a 'spot' - a place, a situation. The lad replies that he

does; that he is willing to do anything; and that he will engage for the

half-year - 'if it pleases' . At sixteen or seventeen he is stalwart enough to

hire as a man, and now his wages are doubled; he asks and obtains E12 for the

year, or even E14 if entering upon the summer half. The farm servants of the

dales 'live in, and have all found ... in proportion, the girls are much better

off in the matter of wages than the men. There is probably less competition

among them, owing to the fact that there is a great temptation for country

girls to migrate and enter service in provincial towns ... Many of the men,

when about thirty years of age, are able to take small farms of their own.

Nearly all the statesmen's sons do this, and probably without any outside

help; for, as a class, these labourers are not only industrious but thrifty. I

knew a man who had saved 20, which sum he had divided and deposited

in three banks ... From the fact of 'living in', as nearly all the valley servants

do, it need hardly be said that early marriages are rare. All the better men

look forward to the time when they can have a farm of their own; and when

they obtain a holding, they then look out for a wife.


Here we see all the features: the absence of ties between sons and

their father's holding; geographical mobility; hired labour; saving and

thrift; late age at marriage; the movement of girls away from the area.

In every respect it is a contrast with peasantry.


It would be foolish to over-stress the absence of a peasant social

structure in England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Although it cannot be found in the lowlands or in Kirkby Lonsdale, it


43 The Annals of a Quiet Valley by a Country Parson, edited by John Watson (London,







is possible that there may be areas, for example northern Cumbria,

Redesdale, Cornwall, in which farm and family were more closely

identified. Yet it does not seem possible to sustain the belief that

England as a whole was a 'peasant' society before the Industrial

Revolution. To what extent this placed it apart from continental

Europe, Scotland and Ireland, needs to be investigated. We shall also

need to examine when this alternative pattern emerged and what its

consequences were. Here we have merely sought to establish that

direct analogies between the supposedly 'peasant' nation of England

in the fifteenth to eighteenth century and peasantries in other nations

in the past and present should be treated with considerable caution.