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?



6 Answers 6


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".
    – MCW
    Jan 19, 2017 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, 2017 at 16:04
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    @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, 2017 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, 2017 at 15:24
  • Lacks historical content. Sep 29, 2020 at 11:48

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, 2017 at 10:26
  • 1
    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, 2017 at 16:18
  • Its post enclosure. Sep 29, 2020 at 11:49

Well I have a very successful grazier on my family tree He made a lot of money buying a Manor House for £4,500 in 1855. He was widowed, no children, had a house keeper. He developed his cattle on the rich grazing of Leicestershire. Sold his animals to the London meat market. From his letters To other members of the family he mentions his ‘Durham’ bull and how successful he has been!

  • 3
    I'm inclined to argue this is in fact the kind of question that can be at least partially answered by individual accounts like this. Something more comprehensive would be better, of course.
    – T.E.D.
    Jul 6, 2019 at 16:07

As this is rural England, my guess is that the term could cover a mulitude of possibilities across the social strata.

And if you are talking about census returns we are clearly in the 19th century here - first census was 1831.

These two examples from the OED seem to point to widely different people, and the one word "grazier" does not perhaps tell you much about their social station - though my guess would be that they are not gentry squires:

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

1853 J. H. Newman Hist. Sketches (1873) II. i. i. 3 The savage..chooses to be a grazier rather than to till the ground.

My own family, whose genealogy I have researched extensively are nearly all from Norfolk. And they were almost entirely rural labourers - though I do have one "farmer of 42 acres". But I do not remember coming across a "grazier" either in the census returns or register of births, marriages and deaths - even though Norfolk has always had a lot of grazing in its mixed agriculture.


Acerage would be for arable: croppable land.

English in the 19th century (as in other centuries) has a horrible habit of conflating methods of making money with owning methods of making money. Farmers can be people who own farms, or people who conduct farming labour. Secretaries can run companies, or be run by companies.

In an enclosed (ie: arable) district people who run cattle or sheep are going to be poor. Compare to the sheep evictions in Scotland attested in Marx. And even here, the Graziers are going to be in employ, contract, headmen, of the actual owner. Much like arable farmers often ran 20 year leases off actual owners, so too will the Graziers be headmen given a run of cattle in actual grazing country.

But as you're dealing with an arable district the graziers will be poor: they will be running cattle on command for a farmer who actually owns side blow not worth "improving" or over seeding even under corn law as substandard arable. Remember that until the corn law ends loads of non-arable was corned due to the imposts on foreign corn.


My understanding is that a grazier owned his own animals which he grazed on common land. This was greatly reduced by the acts of Enclosure.

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