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Rural Englands: Labouring Lives in the Nineteenth-Century [Paperback]

Barry Reay
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

8 Jun 2004
Rural Englands is the first general history of nineteenth-century English rural workers. Barry Reay provides a fresh perspective on England's rural past, reintroducing those often excluded from more traditional historical approaches, and stressing the diversity of working communities and the dynamism of rural life. Reay challenges stereotypes of country living, arguing that the extent of localization is so compelling that, instead of thinking of a unitary notion of 'rural England', we must think in terms of 'rural Englands'.

Incorporating a wide range of source material, Reay examines and explores both representations and experiences of rural labour, including:
- varieties of settlement and landscape
- types of work carried out by men, women and children
- household survival strategies
- experiences of life and death
- leisure patterns
- repertoires of protest
- visual imagery
- literary representations.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan (8 Jun 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0333669193
  • ISBN-13: 978-0333669198
  • Product Dimensions: 22 x 14 x 1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 452,335 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


'This is an encompassing and impressive survey of "rural England". On everything that he deals with, Barry Reay is professionally well-informed and his touch and erudition are highly reliable.' - Keith Snell, Centre for English Local History, University of Leicester

'[Barry Reay] is especially good at demonstrating the fecund imagination of the rural commons, apparent in its remarkable musical tradition (often crude and lewd), bizarre pastimes and elaborate sporting pursuits.' - BBC History Magazine
'This valuable book stimulates research, and underlines the potential for further local and regional enquiry.' - Dick Hunter, Family& Community History

About the Author

BARRY REAY is Professor of History at the University of Auckland.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
I have recently done some family history research and then put it in the context of the history of the family. Since I have virtually no personal documentation about my ancestors I had to depend upon secondary sources to give them some life. Barry Reay writes very clearly and is very rigorous about the claims made by historians about agricultural labourers. If you have discovered agricultural workers amongst your ancestors from censuses and registers of BMD then this book will give you an idea of what they were really like and what they felt about their lives.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A third of income spent on bread 10 Aug 2012
By Derek Jones TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is not aimed at the casual reader: it is academic research that sets out to show that one must avoid excessive generalisations. Hence the title "Rural Englands". Nevertheless it is suited to the general reader seeking information on the life of those living in villages, mostly agricultural labourers but also some working in rural industries. The author describes the types of work done by men, the extent to which women and children worked, typical household budgets, and leisure activities. Not surprisingly, about a third of the weekly budget of the family of a typical labourer went on bread, and the main leisure activity for men was the pub.

I enjoyed reading the book but I have two criticisms. Firstly, there is very little on the workhouses introduced after 1834. Poor relief continued after 1834 in a truncated form and the author has a great deal to say about this, but virtually nothing about the circumstances in which people entered a workhouse. In fact the only reference to workhouses is a a quotation from a Faversham man who said that some people in his village put their children in the workhouse in the winter and took them out again in the spring. My second criticism concerns the 31 page chapter on "Picturing rural work". There are a few photographs, and these are mostly very interesting, but most of the reproductions are of paintings. The problem is that not only are they quite small (only two of more than half a page) but that they are black and white reproductions of colour paintings, which makes it difficult to discern much detail. I think that chapter should have been omitted or, better still, colour reproductions used.

In spite of these reservations it is a book I can recommend because it does give the reader a picture of the life of those who lived and worked in the countryside.
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