Information about Estate Management

Hi Franzeca!

I love your site and your research lists have been fantastic. I was wondering, however, if you have a good source book for Estate Management. Our heroes all have country estates, but how do they work, exactly? How involved was the Duke, Viscount, etc. in the day-to-day running of his country estates? Any advice would be much appreciated.

This was a note I got from Cassie P. in Australia. Further questioning elicited the information that she specifically needed to know what a land steward’s duties were. I knew I didn’t have anything that discussed it directly, so I started looking at the local university’s on-line catalog, and nothing perfectly fit the bill. So then I started playing around in the “advanced search” feature of Google Book, and soon hit the jackpot.  These were the three that seemed most useful. Two are available in recent reprints, the third will be very expensive, though perhaps your library could get a copy for you through Interlibrary Loan. So we have:

The Modern Land Stewart; in which the Duties & Functions of Stewartship are Considered & Explained. With their Several Relations to the Interests of the Landlord, the Tenant, and the Public. Etc., etc.              

The author is John Lawrence, and the publication date was 1801. You see the challenge in obtaining a copy. World Cat didn’t have a copy anywhere. Prices begin at $300. on Amazon, considerably more on abebooks.com. It is, however, available in full on Google Book. There’s even a dropdown to the table of contents, and you can choose a chapter from there.

Second on the list: The Complete Steward. Or, the Duty of a Steward to his Lord. Containing. General Rules and Directions for the Management and Improvement of His Lord’s Estate.

This is by John Mordant, and is available as print on demand, for quite a reasonable price, as well as in Google Book. It was originally published in 1761. It was originally printed in two volumes, but available here as one. It is in the form of an encyclopedia, with topics listed alphabetically. Great reading, but I didn’t think it would present a concise picture of a land steward’s job description. Then I found:

The Duty and Office of a Land Steward. Represented under Several Plain and Distinct Articles, to which is Added and Appendix.

The author here is Edward Laurence, and it was originally printed in 1743, and reprinted this year. Hallelujah. You can get it for about $20, and from reading bits of it in Google Book, I think it’s exactly what I needed. So I bought one. And I’m enjoying it very much. The voice of the steward, far-seeing, punctilious, resourceful, sounds like the perfect overseer. He manages a few swipes at the landowners who hire a local attorney, and have him supervise things from afar.  He claims they bring no real knowledge of farming and care of the land, just of the legal regulations, which a competent steward can manage as well. Included is “An Abstract of General Covenants” which covers the basic rules for the tenants, the date for planting winter wheat, the punishment for excess timber cutting, proper fencing for hogs. You’ll find it all here, and and I think you’ll find it fascinating and informative.

One  book I found at the library that looked promising was: Stewards, Lord, and People: The estate steward and his world in later Stuart England. Hainsworth, D. R. Cambridge: University Press, 1992. This traces the development of the role of the land steward at a time when estates were becoming very large, and scattered, and the owner of the estate was much more likely to be spending most of his time in London, so more careful local oversight was needed. This presents a more scholarly, broader view to the duties and functions of a land steward than the contemporary guides. But I must confess it’s not nearly as entertaining as my friend Edward Laurence’s work.

You might take a look at Dorothy Hartley’s Lost Country Life for more detailed knowledge about the rhythms and processes of farm life. Life in the English Country House by Mark Girouard provides information about the noble families and their beautiful country houses. Both are annotated in my “Resources” section.

Another thing to keep in mind is that this was a time of great agricultural innovation and experimentation. Individual stewards and landowners would have different reactions to all these possible changes, and that would make for a good story. A good place to start reading up on this would be: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Agricultural_Revolution

Thanks to Cassie P. for sending me a good question to wrestle with, and I’m always grateful when I find a marvelous book to add to my research library.

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