I'm looking at census returns for the village of Eversholt, Bedfordshire, in the Victorian period. Farming was the biggest employer. This is post-enclosure, 1851 to 1901. Enclosure happened in 1806.

Under "Occupation", farmers (as opposed to farm labourers) are always listed as Farmer... of 132 acres employing 3 men 2 boys. They were clearly understood to have quite a status, and sometimes the households included a servant.

Another occupation listed is Grazier. A grazier raises animals, as opposed to crops. Graziers could be well off: one of the quotations from the OED for Grazier is

1839 Dickens Nicholas Nickleby xxxv. 338 Broad-brimmed white hat, such as a wealthy grazier might wear.

Yet the census return never gives an acreage for a grazier, nor suggests they are employers, and I have yet to find a servant in a grazier's household.

I'm trying to understand what the relative social status of a "grazier" was.

  • Could someone listed as a "Farmer" raise both animals and crops?
  • Does "Farmer" in the census always imply direct control and management of the land, as opposed to someone who sublets a field for his sheep?
  • Was "Grazier" just a way of saying "Farm Labourer who tends animals"?
  • Would someone running an entire farm which raised only livestock be listed as a "Farmer", not "Grazier"? Was this just a rule of completing the census return?



By all definitions I can find, a "grazier" owns their own livestock. So the word refers to what we here in Oklahoma would call a "rancher" or sometimes formally "stockman".

I'm not an expert myself, but my grandfather was a farmer and a rancher*, so I did grow up sort of ranch-adjacent. I understand that livestock such as cattle can make good use of hilly rocky country that is unsuitable for farming. They can also be grazed on agricultural land that is being allowed to lie fallow (iow: rotate in grasses for a season, as is good practice if you are engaging in sensible crop rotation), and their copious manure production helps the process as well.

So if it was standard practice on the census to label the acerage of agricultural land in use, and it isn't being done for the ranchers, I'd assume one of two things is likely going on here:

  1. The "enclosures" only covered good crop land, and the graziers are using unenclosed open-range areas unsuitable for crops.
  2. The graziers in question are making some kind of arrangement with other farmers to graze their herds on land that currently is lying fallow (has grass rotated in).

It is quite likely that farmer/ranchers like my grandfather were listed as "farmers" (since they probably can only pick one profession on the forms), but of course that doesn't address the mystery of those landless "grazier" entries.

* - ...and a Cowboy, and an Indian.

  • Landless graziers are probably what we think of as the archetypical "shepherd". The plot of most western movies centers on whether land will be allocated to "cattle", "farm" or "railroad". – Mark C. Wallace Jan 19 '17 at 15:44
  • @MarkC.Wallace - I'd think a "shepherd" is more like a "cowboy" or "ranchhand": Someone who works the livestock directly, but not necessarily (or even likely) the owner. That appears to be the distinction with "grazier" here. (For example, my grandfather, in his younger days, was apparently a cowboy, and then ranch foreman. Then he bought his own land...) – T.E.D. Jan 19 '17 at 16:04
  • 2
    @MarkC.Wallace - As for westerns, rather a lot of them (but certainly not most) have plots related to the American equivalent of enclosures. A lot of cattlemen liked the old open-range, which influxes of farmers tended to destroy. So there's the typical plot of the big rich rancher using the manpower of all his hired ranchhands to try to drive off newly-arrived poor farmers. – T.E.D. Jan 19 '17 at 16:13
  • Then, and to lesser extent now, cattle/sheep/whatnot were/are grazed on common land in the UK - at the time in question, enclosures were grabbing the common land, but landless graziers were probably still significant – user13123 Jan 20 '17 at 15:24

A farmer in England would have been someone with the exclusive right to graze or cultivate an area of land. They would either own the farm themselves or be the tenant of the landowner. Nobles and the church owning much of the land in England. On the other hand there was also common land where all members of the community had the right to graze livestock. You will still find commons in English villages today, though now they are generally used for recreation. A grazier would have been someone who kept livestock and grazed it on the common land rather than renting or owning land.

  • Sorry I've not come back here, I've been typing in census transcripts! You certainly raise an interesting possibility. When I've finished the censuses, I'll have some more statistical data and that may lend weight to your proposal. I'll come back here then. Thanks! – emrys57 Jan 25 '17 at 10:26
  • Indeed, a grazier was someone who owned the livestock, but no land. The animals would graze on the commons. This is actually where the phrase "tragedy of the commons" comes from, via economic theory. – Carmi Jan 25 '17 at 16:18

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