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Department of Geography


Agrarian and demographic change in south-west Wales c. 1550-1750

Agrarian and demographic change in south-west Wales c. 1550-1750

This is a doctoral research project undertaken by Diccon Cooper under the supervision of Dr Richard Smith

The focus of much agrarian history in Britain has been lowland grain production. Regions of low productivity or pastoral production have been considered 'backward' by implicit or direct comparison with 'progressive' regions such as East Anglia. This project attempts to redress the balance by considering the traditional 'prime movers' for agricultural change in South West Wales in the Early Modern period, a region that has not previously been studied in this way.

This thesis aims to examine the relationship between demographic change, population growth and institutional change in landholding in South West Wales, 1550-1750. In addition to aspects of economic behaviour in the region, it is hoped through this study to examine the development of the Early Modern agrarian market in a British dimension and study the social and demographic trends with comparable regions. Using probate inventories and estate records, the study hopes to gain an insight into grain yields, stocking rates and the responsiveness to market change. By comparing this data with probate inventories from other regions it is hoped to compare the nominal prices through two centuries to examine the development of an integrated British market in agricultural goods, particularly livestock. Parish registers are used to plot demographic change in the region and estate records give evidence of landholding trends. The climate, topography and geology of the region also receives attention and consideration is given with the extent to which change was exacerbated or hindered by geographical factors when compared to other cases of agricultural change. When there are clear incentives for change and development, a lack of responsiveness can be considered backward. However, if the incentives are overridden by unsuitable soils, elevation and climate, it would seem premature to prejudge such regions on account of their inability to compete with the regions with better communication and transport, more suitable soils and higher yields.