Beyond the park pale: elite women and the agricultural landscape, 1700-1830

Lead Research Organisation: University of Hull
Department Name: Geography, Environment and Earth Science

Abstract

My book project, 'Beyond the Park Pale: elite women and the agricultural landscape, 1700-1830', investigates the role played by elite women in managing large agricultural estates, paying particular attention to their involvement in estate management, enclosure, landscaping and agricultural improvement. As Amy Erickson and others have recently demonstrated, female landowners controlled significant amounts of property as heiresses, widows and even occasionally as wives. Yet we know next to nothing about how they managed those parts of their estates which lay beyond the park pale; that is, the farms, woodlands, cottages and other property which lay outside the fence or bank encircling the park, pleasure grounds, gardens and house. The existing literature on elite women focuses almost exclusively on their role in household management, country house design and gardening, while histories of agricultural improvement and enclosure have largely ignored women as a category of landowners and improvers. This is all the more surprising, given the growing body of literature on aristocratic, gentle and middle class women's participation in the economy, politics and the anti-slavery movement, all arenas until recently seen largely as the preserve of men.

Drawing on archival materials from across Britain, this project demonstrates that landowning women were actively involved in a bundle of related practices - including parliamentary enclosure, estate rationalisation, agricultural experimentation and major landscaping projects - which together remade the rural landscape in the century and a half after 1700. Thus, for example, Jane Ashley of Ashby St Ledgers (Northamptonshire) doggedly lobbied for the necessary Parliamentary Act and carefully calculated the profits she expected to make from enclosure, while her near-neighbour Elizabeth Prowse of Wicken experimented with new agricultural machinery and new crops on her recently enclosed estate. Further research on Scotland, Wales and Ireland - conducted under the AHRC fellowship - will investigate women's landownership and estate management outside England, providing comparative material with which to assess elite women's contribution to the making of the British landscape as a whole.

In revealing these women's hidden histories, the book offers a carefully nuanced critique of recent thinking on women's lives and spaces. It argues that rather than universally retiring into domesticity in the eighteenth century, elite women actually played a key part in shaping agricultural landscapes. At the same time, it investigates how gender roles and identities nevertheless impacted upon the opportunities available to landowning women. In doing so, the book explores important questions about propertied women's role in Georgian society, as well as contributes to wider cultural debates about women's place in the environmental, social and economic history of Britain.

At the same time as conducting the new research and producing the monograph, the AHRC fellowship will include a programme of impact activities designed to maximise the public value of my research. This will include writing short articles for various newsletters and magazines, and making open-access materials available to the general public through the dedicated project website. I am also committed to developing additional knowledge exchange opportunities in relation to National Trust and English Heritage properties like Canons Ashby (Northamptonshire) and Wrest Park (Bedfordshire), both previously owned by landowning women I have researched on the project.

Planned Impact

In addition to the identified academic beneficiaries, I strongly believe there is considerable scope for this research to have impacts far beyond academia. As an explicitly feminist project, the work has potential social, political and public-policy impacts. It is highly original and very relevant to ongoing debates about women's rights, gender identities, social justice and public history. In the first instance, I will focus on fostering engagement with my research amongst the general public, and thereby increasing public knowledge about elite women's role in the making of the British landscape. My impact activities during the fellowship will centre on three key groups.

1. Non-academic history groups and amateur historians including local history and archaeological societies, family historians and archive users. Much local history and archaeology focuses on the rural landscape and especially the houses, gardens and estates of the aristocracy, in part because relevant sources are easily accessible in local record offices. My project will draw attention to some of the hidden histories of landed estates, helping local historians to reassess the respective roles of the lord and lady of the manor in shaping the early modern landscape. In doing so, it will encourage local and family historians to take account of wider gender perspectives in their research.

2. Archive professionals, heritage workers and other public historians including the managers of National Trust and English Heritage properties. My book will be a solid point of reference on elite women's contribution to the history of the British rural landscape, as well as provide a methodological blueprint for those researching women's histories. It is anticipated that archive professionals will steer service users to my book, as well as to my articles in public history magazines. One of these pieces will focus on how to research women's history using widely available archival sources like account books, wills and pedigrees. It will thus provide a framework for further research, identifying ways of doing gender histories in the absence of specialist women's history collections.

My research will also increase local research capacity within public history organisations like the National Trust and English Heritage. I plan to send summaries of my research findings to the managers of National Trust and English Heritage properties including Canons Ashby in Northamptonshire and Wrest Park in Bedfordshire, both previously owned by women examined in the project. This material will be used to write display panels and guidebooks, and will thus underpin public engagement activities at these sites. Both the National Trust and English Heritage have successfully used the 'life below stairs' theme in recent years to tell alternative histories of the country house, and so engage new audiences in public history. The 'Beyond the park pale' project provides another perspective from which to tell such alternative histories, this time focusing on elite women's contribution to country houses, gardens and parks, as well as the wider agricultural estates on which landed families depended.

3. The general public including visitors to National Trust and English Heritage properties, users of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and the readership of popular history magazines like History Today and the BBC's History Magazine. Telling stories about particular people and places will provide a hook with which to engage members of the public in the bigger research project and so prompt visitors and readers to think about wider gender issues including contemporary debates about gender roles and identities within the British countryside. Impressive visitor numbers make heritage sites like Canons Ashby and Wrest Park particularly important locations to do this.

For more information on the concrete steps through which I will deliver these impacts, see the pathways to impact document.
 
Description Social and economic histories of the long eighteenth century have largely ignored women as a class of landowners and improvers. 1700 to 1830 was a period in which the landscape of large swathes of the English Midlands was reshaped - both materially and imaginatively - by parliamentary enclosure and a bundle of other new practices. Outside the Midlands too local landscapes were remodelled in line with the improving ideals of the era. Yet while we know a great deal about the men who pushed forward schemes for enclosure and sponsored agricultural improvement, far less is known about the role played by female landowners and farmers and their contributions to landscape change.

Drawing on examples from across Georgian England, the Beyond the Park Pale project - along with the associated book, journal articles and other outputs - offered a detailed study of elite women's relationships with landed property, specifically as they were mediated through the lens of their estate management and improvement. It demonstrated that propertied women played a significant role in the management and improvement of landed estates in the period between c.1700 and 1830 and showed that widows, single women and perhaps most surprisingly wives were all actively involved in a bundle of related practices - including parliamentary enclosure, estate rationalisation, agricultural experimentation and major landscaping projects - which together remade the rural landscape in the century and a half after 1700.

In doing so, the project provides an explicitly feminist historical geography of the eighteenth-century English rural landscape. It addresses important questions about propertied women's role in English rural communities and in Georgian society more generally, whilst contributing to wider cultural debates about women's place in the environmental, social and economic history of Britain. It will be of interest to those working in Historical and Cultural Geography, Social, Economic and Cultural History, Women's Studies, Gender Studies and Landscape Studies.

Outputs include: 1 sole-authored monograph, Elite Women and Agricultural Landscape, 1700-1830 (Routledge, 2017), winner of the 2018 Joan Thirsk Memorial Prize for the best book in British or Irish rural history and the 2018 Women's History Network Book Prize for the best first book in Women's or Gender History; various journal articles and book chapters; a major international and interdisciplinary conference (held June 2015); 1 funded research cluster supporting 3 Phd studentships and 1 PDRA (funded by the University of Hull, together worth c. £300,000); supervision of 4 further PhD student working on related projects; new cluster website (https://genderplaceandmemory.wordpress.com/); a conference on the topic of Women's Negotiations of Space, 1400-1900 (sponsored by the Women's History Network and the University of Hull, and organised by my PhD students); ongoing impact activities; ongoing funding applications.
Exploitation Route The research findings can be taken forward in numerous ways - by PhD students working on related projects (I am currently supervising 7 PhD students working on related women's history/historical geography projects: Garside, Shields, Goddard, Manning, Buxton-Hill, Rogers and Whiteoak); by other researchers working on early modern and Georgian women's contributions to the landscape and/or 'the public sphere'; and by historic properties in order to better present women's histories within the houses, gardens and parklands they manage.
Sectors Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL https://genderplaceandmemory.wordpress.com/
 
Description Impact activities associated with the grant are ongoing and I continue to investigate ways of ensuring the research has societal and cultural impacts.
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description Gendering the Commons (Leverhulme Trust research fellowship)
Amount £54,000 (GBP)
Organisation The Leverhulme Trust 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2019 
End 06/2020
 
Description University of Hull research cluster funding 2016 (funding 1 3-yr PDRA and 2 fully funded PhD scholarships)
Amount £240,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Hull 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2016 
End 09/2019
 
Description University of Hull scholarships scheme 2015 (1 fully funded PhD studentship)
Amount £60,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Hull 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2015 
End 09/2018
 
Description Women, Land and the Making of the British Landscape Conference, 1300-1900 (held in June 2015 at the University of Hull) 
Organisation University of Hull
Department Department of History
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I organised and co-convened a two day international, interdisciplinary conference exploring women's contribution to the landscape across six centuries from 1300 to 1900. As well as presenting my own research (eg. findings from my AHRC project), I organised the programme of c.30 speakers, chaired sessions, facilitated discussions and convened the two keynote sessions. It was a hugely productive and energizing event, and there have already been a series of new collaborations develop as a result. These include being invited to speak at future related events; developing the new Gender, Place and Memory research cluster at University of Hull; further developing the conference blog at www.womenandland.wordpress.com; and co-editing a collection of the papers from the conference.
Collaborator Contribution My colleague Dr Amanda Capern (History, University of Hull) co-convened the conference with me. The Faculty of Science and Engineering and the Faculty of Arts and Social Science also made financial and in kind contributions to hosting the conference.
Impact Outputs as above Multidisciplinary collaboration including historical geographers, medieval, early modern and modern historians, religious studies scholars, literary scholars and agricultural scientists.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Article in The Conversation, a research-derived online news and views site. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Online article 'Five incredible old English homes built by women'. Read by over 4200 people and tweeted 100+ times with 1000s of impressions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL https://theconversation.com/five-incredible-old-english-homes-built-by-women-39518
 
Description Open Campus talk IWD 2017: Hidden Histories and the Making of the British Landscape (Mrs Elizabeth Prowse) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact International Women's Day 2017 talk organised by Open Campus Hull. 15 minute talks by inspiring women about inspiring women.

NB. Talk was today (9/3/2017) so it's hard to identify impacts yet, though I have already been asked to do further talks on related and other subjects.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www2.hull.ac.uk/administration/leap/opencampus/theopencampusprogramme16-17/inspiringwomen9thm...
 
Description Public focused website supported by a twitter handle @women_and_land 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Website, blog and twitter handle, relating to my ongoing research activities including my AHRC funded project, the 2015 conference and the new Gender, Place and Memory research cluster
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016
URL https://womenandland.wordpress.com/
 
Description Research-led teaching with undergraduates at the universities of Hull and Nottingham 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Research-led teaching to undergraduate students over 5 years, involving a presentation and discussion of my developing research findings (drawing on research from both the Leverhulme Trust and AHRC funded elements of the project). Discussions with students in the session have also fed into the project itself.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012,2013,2014,2015,2016
 
Description Second article in The Conversation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Online article, 'Far from the Madding Crowd's Bathsheba was far from unique'. Read more than 2500 times by people all over the world, tweeted c. 50 times with 1000s of impressions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL https://theconversation.com/far-from-the-madding-crowds-bathsheba-was-far-from-unique-40354