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on 2 February 2010
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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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 10 August 2012
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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on 30 May 2015
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