What are the 1801 crop returns?
Information about the acreage of particular crops was requested by Parliament in 1801, and a printed form was sent to the rector, vicar or curate of each parish seeking specific details. Only the parish summaries survive and not the farm by farm details, and the form did not ask for yields, although these were sometimes provided in the space for comments.
What will the returns tell me?
The 1801 returns provide the total acreage (but not yield) of each of the main cereal and root crops grown within the parish that year. The returns reveal that while in some parishes cropping patterns were broadly similar to those of 1795, in others both the acreage and mix of crops had changed substantially. The scarcity and subsequent high price of grain had encouraged some farmers to plough up their pasture to plant cereal crops, especially wheat. In Broughton Astley, for example, the total acreage for wheat, barley and oats had increased from 277 acres in 1794 to 311 acres in 1795, and then by half as much again to 462 acres in 1801, with wheat alone increasing from 70 acres in 1794 to 205 acres in 1801.
Because the information was collected by the local clergyman, who may have been entitled to receive his tithe on the harvest, it is possible that some farmers deliberately understated the acreage sown, but in many Leicestershire parishes all or most of the tithes had been extinguished by this date, when the land was enclosed. Old enclosures, where tithes might still be payable, were often laid down to grass, or had such a modest acreage of crops that it would be difficult to deceive. Not all of the returns survive, or perhaps some were never completed, but only 6 incumbents made any suggestion that they doubted the figures provided to them. The comments made on the returns often add considerably to the statistical information collected: Barlestone, for example, was ‘bad turnip land’, as the ground was too wet in winter; in Church Langton we are told that ‘50 acres or thereabouts of old pasture land in this parish have been converted into tillage during the last 12 months’; while the returns for Welham include 50 acres of woad grown for the dying industry.
Where can I find them?
The original documents are held at The National Archives in Kew (class HO 67). The parish totals for each crop (but not the comments) were also published at the end of an article by W.G. Hoskins, ‘The Leicestershire Crop returns of 1801’, Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological Society, volume 24 (1948), pp. 127-153. This was also reprinted in W.G. Hoskins (ed.) Studies in Leicestershire Agrarian History (Leicester, 1949). This article is available online, but the article does not include the comment section of the form. The full version, including the comments, has been published by the List and Index Society, and the Leicestershire returns are in volume 190 (available in the David Wilson Library at the University of Leicester).
Further returns of crops were requested by the government in 1854, but the only information to survive from these are consolidated summaries for each poor law union. These records are therefore of no direct value for parish histories, but would be relevant to a regional study of farming.
Return to Farming in Leicestershire, from 1790