Over recent years much attention has been given to temporal trends between 1550 and 1900 in the proportions within English rural society of living-in servants in husbandry on the one hand and, on the other, cottage labourers. According to Ann Kussmaul there were two periods when the balance shifted towards labourers and away from servants: one took in the latter half of the sixteenth century and the first part of seventeenth; the other began in the latter part of the eighteenth century and continued throughout the nineteenth. These were both periods when population was rising rapidly and when labour was not in short supply. Between the mid seventeenth century and the mid eighteenth, by contrast, there was a quite dramatic shift in the balance and a growing tendency among farmer-employers to hire farm servants on yearly terms. A relative shortage of labour as population declined, a shift towards pastoral farming (in which resident labour on the farm was all the more desirable to cope with the constant needs of animals as well as crises of birth and death which could occur at any time of the day and night), the falling costs of providing board: all of these encouraged farmers to begin to bind young people to annual contracts and to keep them on the farm.
1 Richard Smith and Keith Snell have helped me to turn my mind towards this theme. Some of the ideas explored below were presented in undeveloped form to the seminar on English Economic and Social History at All Souls College, May 1989 and I am grateful to the audience, especially Chris Dyer, Zvi Razi and Tony Wrigley for comments then. Margery Rowe with all her staff at the Devon Record Office and Audrey Erskine (latterly Angela Doughty) tolerated my incessant demands for Ashwater and Sidbury court rolls. Additional references and help have come from Keith Davis, Alan Everitt, Greg Finch, Mavis Mate, David Postles, Joan Smith and Ken Smith. I owe thanks, for their hospitality, to Bob Roberts of Stokenham and Margaret Meeres of Exeter. I am also grateful to two anonymous referees for their encouragement and criticisms.