Landholding in England/Preface

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MY object in writing this sketch of the history of land in England is to give the general reader some account of the most salient features of landholding in the past, and of the causes which have made it what it is at present; and in doing this, I have tried to show the connection between our land system and poverty. Poverty has a very sharply-defined history, and that history runs parallel with the history of land. The depopulation of country districts is no accident, it is the direct and inevitable consequence of the disappearance of small holdings. We cannot understand the present without knowing something of the past. The history of the past often reveals to us that the evils of the present are not caused by the inevitable laws of nature, but by interference with those laws, and should not therefore be regarded as inevitable. Our land system is too often regarded as, on the one hand, of so reverend an antiquity that to touch it is to break with all the traditions of Englishmen, and on the other, as so great an improvement, in a democratic direction, on the system of the past, that we cannot materially improve it. But the change has been, not towards democracy, but towards more unlimited private ownership—a very different thing.

My first intention was merely to mention in passing some of the ancient statutes relating to land, but I found that some further account of them was absolutely necessary. I should, however, have been afraid to venture on this, but for the assistance given me by Mr Richard Brown of Whitley Bay, Northumberland, who has most kindly helped me both with his knowledge of the subject and his criticism of the chapters dealing with the transfer of land after the passing of Quia Emptores.

A portion of the matter of this book appeared, in a greatly abbreviated form, in the New Age of 1906.

Mary A. M. Marks.

June 1908.