AGRICULTURAL EMPLOYMENT IN NINETEENTH-CENTURY WALES: A NEW APPROACH DURING the winter of 1844 a young German intellectual was laboriously compiling a massive, vivid and widely-ranging study of the English proletariat. Friedrich Engels had set himself the task of portraying for the world at large the harsh way of life experienced by 'the common people', and although most of the book concerned itself with England, and the industrial regions in particular, some insight is given into the plight of agricultural workers throughout Britain.1 The view put forward was in many ways to become a basis for Marxist interpretation of the impact of industrial capitalism: that economic and social pressures initiated by the great landowners gradually deprived the rural population of its land; that freeholding farmers were reduced to tenant status, the less fortunate to the ranks of agricultural labourers; the introduction of labour-saving machinery, produced in the new urban manufacturing centres, resulted in a decline in the demand for farm labour; and low wages, and the destitution and indignity surrounding the implementation of the Speenhamland system created an upsurge in rural poverty, vagrancy and an exodus from the countryside to the industrial towns, where in an alien environment exploitation reached its peak, living standards sank to their lowest ebb, and the moral fibre of ordinary men and women was inevitably worn away. The century that followed the publication of Engels's work saw the appearance of scores of essays which explored the nature of the economic and social transformations achieved by the spread of industrialism and the structural reorganisation of agriculture in Britain. Yet the precise relationship between the two processes remains the subject of controversy and the analysis of agrarian change in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries itself contains several curious omissions. Hitherto, the overwhelming emphasis has been placed on themes relating to the changing landscapes, without a deep understanding of the mechanism that brought them about; to the modification of land ownership and land use patterns, without a functional study of individual farm types or a broad ecological assessment of the new farming methods; and to the production of 1 Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England (1892). The text followed here is the English translation of the second German edition published in Stuttgart in the same year and reprinted, with an introduction by E. J. Hobsbawm, by Panther Books, 1969. In the latter the 'Agricultural Proletariat' is dealt with, pp. 286-300.