A fascinating map of Great Britain compiled by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in June 1939 and printed by the Ordnance Survey in 1944. The map shows the types of agriculture which dominate in each region of the United Kingdom. Approximately twenty different types of agriculture are labeled, and the resolution is on the order of several miles or less, stunning for a country-wide map. The agricultural detail continues onto some islands, including Anglesey, the Isle of Wight, and the Inner and Outer Hebrides. An inset on Sheet 1 shows the Orkney and Shetland Islands. The map is printed on two large sheets, with Sheet 1 approximately focusing on Scotland and Sheet 2 approximately focusing on England and Wales.
The map was produced during the Second World War, I time of substantial food insecurity for the British Isles. This map surely influence policymaking with respect to maximizing Britain's food output and self-sufficiency both during the War and the difficult period of post-War rationing.
For England and Wales, farming land is divided into three possible components: pasture, intermediate, or arable. Each of these is subdivided into categories such as "market gardening," "cash crops," or "corn, sheep and dairying." In Scotland, where arable land is less important, all five of the types of land they denote include a livestock component. The harshness of the Scottish climate is readily apparent in the legend: fruit is considered a cash crop.
While the map may appear confusing to the lay observer at first, patterns rapidly emerge. East Anglia is colored in dark oranges and light purples; these are the fenlands, the heart of arable farming in the UK, with abundant Grade 1 land. The hilly areas (generally Grade 5 on the moors, Grade 4 in the dales) are mostly dedicated to sheep grazing, this includes Dartmoor, Exmoor, much of Wales, and the Pennine ranges in northern England. Sheep grazing forms a significant component in much of the Highlands, but even the hardiest sheep have a difficult time here, and a majority of the most remote land is used for "deer forests" and other low stock uses.
Many historical insights can be gleaned from the map. For example, the dominance of crofting near small Highland communities represents a communal way of life that came out of the Clearances. These resulted in the loss of independent farmland, which had been farmed for generations using the run-rig system in which every townsperson was allotted an equal portion of land. In the crofting system, wealthy landowners controlled most capital and means of production, and "crofts" were designated to supplement the diet of tenants who earned subsistence income from working in other industries, such as kelp farming.
This map holds the key to regional economic differences which developed have over the course of the history of Great Britain, and which still affect the nation at present. Agricultural land was declining in importance at the time, representing approximately 15% of domestic capital, a fall from 50% (and three years of national income) in the late 1800s. Despite this, the areas of modern England generally considered the wealthiest correlate well with areas where good farming is available, such as in Norfolk and Suffolk. The lack of good farming in some regions, on the other hand, meant that industry took over, and with the departure of many good industrial jobs in the late 20th century, this area has been economically disadvantaged. Of course, attribution of the regional economic developments of Britain to soil alone is an overstatement, and many political factors also played a role.
Manuscript notations add a great deal of detail to Sheet 2 of the map. When the legend is sometimes obtusely written, these notations provide a level of clarity to the map. In addition, these notes provide fascinating insights, for example mentioning the Lea Valley glasshouses, which, at the time, were used to satisfy the weekly market demands of a rapidly growing London. These were especially important during the war effort. Other notes add information about cash crops, the instability of farms with a substantial rearing or feeding component, and the importance of the geology of the soil in the crops.
The author of these notes is unknown. The handwriting and style, with structured and rigid notes, are reminiscent of a student's hand. The subject matter of the notes seems advanced compared to what might be taught on the subject today, perhaps reflecting a change in focus regarding the instruction of agriculture in schools.