English, Department of



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The George Eliot Review 27 (1996) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/


The George Eliot Review 2018 (27)


For those of you who don't know who I am, I am currently the Managing Agent on the Arbury Estate, where I am lucky enough to live in South Farm, which will be familiar to you all as the birthplace of Mary Ann Evans.

I arrived at Arbury approximately 183 years after Robert Evans, Mary Ann's father, who was also the Agent on the Estate and on whom it is my intention to reflect today. Robert was born in 1773, the son of a carpenter. He had a limited early education in the local school which was run by Bartle Massey, whose name reappears some eighty years later as the teacher in Adam Bede. He spent his early years learning a variety of skills from his father, including the construction of farm implements, some of which were still made of wood, furniture and a variety of buildings. These were to prove to be useful skills to acquire and were to be put to great service during his working life.

Robert was clearly a man who accepted change in his commercial activities and seems to have warmly embraced the changes in agriculture and industry that occurred during his life, though perhaps, as we shall see later, less readily the social adjustments these developments brought with them.

During Robert's life the open field system of agriculture was almost completely to disappear, with some 7,700 square miles being enclosed between 1760 and 1820.The new farming systems enabled landowners to experiment with breeding and crop rotations, perhaps most significantly introducing fodder crop production, enabling livestock to be overwintered. Robert took these methods to heart, clearly putting them into practice at Spring Farm in Kirk Hallam, Derbyshire, whilst a tenant of Francis Parker, his mentor. It was Francis Parker who asked Robert to come to Arbury. He strove to improve the farming methods, experimenting with breeding as well studying scientific agriculture.