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£^ Cornell University 

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LABOURER, 1870-1920 


1870 - 1920 



Member of the Royal Conunission on Agriculture ; 
Author of "The Awakening of England," etc. 


P. S. KING & SON, LTD., 


1 930 



Who is the king ? The man who holds the plough 1 

There in high heaven is his charter set. 

Pricked in eternal stars, tho' never yet 
Has thought to rule ; a thousand years, as now. 
Has brought his brother bread, regardless how 

The bread was shared ; and, heedlessly, has let 

Knavish usurpers wear the coronet — 
The regal crown alone awaits his brow. 

And humbly he will serve, and be the king ; 

Bringing the clean counsels of the sunny field 
Unto his ParUament, and everjrthing 

Shall know the wholesome wind and rain, and yield 
To the inspiration of the open places ; 
And God shall see His image in our faces. 

Andrew Dodds. 



The history of farming should be written by a 
farmer. A history of labourers should be written 
by a labourer. This history suffers from the defect 
that it is not written by a labourer. It is, however, 
written by one who has tilled the land for many 
years and has tried to survey rural England through 
the eyes of a farm worker. Therefore I have written 
this history of the agricultural labourer as a par- 
taker of his life, rather than from the detached point 
of view of the spectator, or the man of the study. 
To my mind the only honest historian is he who is 
not afraid to wear his heart upon his sleeve, as 
Cobbett did when he wrote his Rural Rides. A 
Gradgrind historian in exhibiting his selected facts 
is accurate at the expense of truth. 

I have tried to interest the student in a life 
which has been considered prosaic to the point of 
stolidity, by showing him that it is filled with great 
adventures. He will find many references to Blue 
Books, sufficient, at any rate, I hope, to satisfy the 
academic mind ; but my chief authorities bear 
names which it would be fruitless to mention, for 
they are the obscure folk who follow the plough, 
who drive the cattle from the pastures, and who 
fold the sheep at the foot of the Downs. They are 
the unrecorded men who give us our daily bread. 
It is to them that I and my readers owe thanks. 
One day, let us hope, some Englishman, who has 
endured with fortitude the life on the land, with all 
its pain and pleasure, will tell the story as it should 
be told, in words of imperishable beauty. 


Author's Note. 

In the making of this book I have had the valuable 
assistance of Mr. Arthur W. Ashby, who has kindly- 
read the proof sheets ; and of Mr. Ernest Selley, 
the author oi Village Trade Unions in Two Centuries, 
who has provided me with much information 
which has been laboriously acquired. Mr. Frederick 
Verinder generously put at my disposal the only 
complete copies in existence, I believe, of the Red 
Van Reports, and the Church Reformer. The 
Presidents and Secretaries of the two great unions 
involved, the National Agricultural Labourers' and 
Rural Workers' Union, and the Workers' Union, 
namely Messrs. W. R. Smith, M.P., R. B. Walker, 
John Beard, and Charles Duncan, have allowed 
me free access to their books and papers ; and 
Sir Henry Rew has helped me in the compilation 
of the Appendices. To all of these and to many 
others, my thanks are due; and I should like to 
add, that I alone am responsible for the statements 

F. E. G. 



Introduction i 


Seed Time for Revolt. Conditions prior to 1872 . . -13 

The Upstanding Crop. 1872 28 

The Farmer Swings his Scythe. The great Lock-Out of 1874 49 

The Aftermath or Thistles. The 'Eighties .... 67 

The Winter of Discontent. 

I. The 'Nineties 96 

II. A Gleam of Sunshine: 1894. . . . . .121 

Stirrings of New Life. 1900 145 

Growth under Stormy Skies. 1910-14 177 

What of the Harvest ? 

I. The Autumn of 1914 233 

II. The Organizer at Work 259 

III. The Com Production Act at Work . . . .288 

IV. 1920 317 

Chief Books and Papers used 332 



Appendices. page 

I. Average Prices, per Imperial Quarter, of British Corn, 

in England and Wales from 1850 to 1919 . . . 335 

II. Average Cash Wages per Week of Ordinary Agricultural 

Labourers from 1850 to 1907 . . . . . 336 

III. Weekly Cash Wages, Allowances and Earnings of Agri- 

cultural Labourers in England and Wales 1907, 1912-13 
and 1919 337 

IV. Minimum Rates of Wages (April 19, 1920) in Force for 

Male Workers, 21 Years of Age and over, in England 
and Wales ........ 339 

V. Statement showing Changes in Cost of the Undermen- 
tioned Items of Workmen's Expenditure in London 
and Large Towns in Great Britain (Cost in 1900 = 100) 344 

VI. Percentage Changes in Average Retail Price of Food 
in the United Kingdom, to a Workman's Family 
(Average Price in 1900 =. 100). — Percentage Changes 
between 1905 and 191 2 in Rents, Retail Prices, and 
Rents and Retail Prices combined, in London and 87 
Large Towns. — Estimated Percentage Increase, on 
the Prices of July, 1914, in the Retail Prices of Food. 345 
VII. Number of Agricultural Labourers, Shepherds, Nursery- 
men, Gardeners, etc., in England and Wales and 
Great Britain, as returned at the Census of 1871, 1881, 
1891, 1901 and 1911 respectively .... 347 






When German siege guns hammered at the gates of Western 
civilisation and the waters of our island home were haunted 
with enemy submarines, then it was that a " nation of shop- 
keepers " awoke to the fact that the invaluable worker 
was he who tilled its fields. Everybody who needed bread 
to sustain life became alarmingly aware that it was the farm 
worker who was the giver. A further discovery was made 
by our manufacturing classes, and this was that the agricul- 
turist was a highly skilled worker. Those who answered 
to the Call of the Country to perform work of national 
importance in the field and stockyard soon found how clumsy 
were their attempts at agricultural work compared with the 
skill of the ploughman, the shepherd, the stockman, and 
even with that of the " ordinary " agricultural labourer. 

As we delve into history what astonishes us most of all 
is, that there should be any agricultural labourers sur- 
viving in our country ; for though agriculture is the oldest of 
the crafts, since factory chimneys have flourished at its 
expense, it has been the least honoured and the worst paid. 
During the war, a Member of the House of Commons startled 
that august assembly with the truth steeped in irony, that 
it was more difficult to replace a skilled carter than a Cabinet 

That we stUl have skilled agricultural workers amongst 
us we owe to their supreme quality of patient endurance, 

VOL. II. 1 B 


rather than to any wisdom on the part of the governing 
class. Robbed of his common rights by a succession of 
overwhelming Enclosure Acts ; ill-nourished in his infancy 
and badly paid as a hired, landless labourer ; degraded by a 
gang system of service barely distinguishable from slavery ; 
deprived of any form of agricultural education ; unrecog- 
nised as a citizen until 1884 ; the wonder is that the EngUsh 
agricultural worker has been able to retain any of his 
old traditional peasant-crafts after a hundred and fifty 
years of divorce from the soil. 

Professor Thorold Rogers, one of our greatest authorities 
on industrial workers, stated in 1878 that the agricultural 
labourer possessed five or six more qualifications to the title 
of skilled worker than did the artisan ; but no Government, 
apparently, took the slightest heed of his words. Professor 
Rogers might have added even more qualifications than five 
or six to the title of skilled worker. 

There is technique displayed in even the simplest of 
agricultural work. You can detect it in the green-ribbed 
meadows when harrowed and rolled with unerring uniform- 
ity, in the dark and sUver-green bands visible at the season 
of the year when the blackthorn flings its bridal wreath 
across the hedge to May. It is discernible even through a 
cloud of dust to the practised eye when the harrow follows 
the sower, and no derelict islands of exposed seed are left to 
tempt the birds of the air to descend in flocks and give 
thanks for some prentice hand that cannot draw a straight 
fine with a team of horses. 

Spreading farmyaard manure, digging an allotment, or 
hoeing turnips, may appear to the novice to be unskilled 
labour. But there is skUl and artistry displayed even in 
filling a tumbril, and dumping down the manure so that the 
field looks like a chessboard covered with black pawns, so 
regularly placed are the httle pyramids of manure. The 
unskilled aesthete would not know that this effect was pro- 
duced by spacing out these little heaps of manure six yards 
apart ; nor would he know by the texture of the dung if it 
be " long " or "short," or how to spread it so that it does 
not lie in wasteful lumps. The imaginative field-dresser, 


as he uses his skill, is able to visualise where the fuU-growia 
grass will ripple with wavelets when caressed by the wind in 
June. He knows, too, where it will be so meagre that it will 
scarcely conceal a hare. 

But it is in judging the actual time for mowing, by noting 
on his leggings the dust of the pollen from the bents, and the 
colour of the bronzing clover that he wiU show his cunning 
as a hay-maker ; and yet when he comes to build the stack 
then it is that he displays his supreme craft as a rural archi- 
tect . With conscious pride casting his eyes over the meadow, 
mentally envisaging the probable weight of hay, he will 
mark out his foundation or steading without having passed 
the ordeal of the Mathematical Tripos. And as the hay is 
unloaded from the wagon, he, with the cuiming of his eye 
and hand, wiU build his fragrant edifice so that it stands 
flawlessly symmetrical. As designer and executant and as 
one who works without the aid of pencil or paper he should 
as a craftsman satisfy the most fastidious of Guilds. 

Finally, as a thatcher, when he crowns his edifice with 
a roof of golden straw, he will, if he takes pride in his work, 
fashion a cock out of wisps of twisted straw, and place it on 
the apex of the roof as an outward and visible sign of the 
joy he took in his work. 

He will have to be deft with the adze in splitting thatching 
rods ; and that brings us to review the artistry and the skUl 
of the labourer who is woodman as well as farm worker. 
It is surprising, considering how our woods have been left 
to the mercies of the head gamekeeper, rather than to the 
forester, that we have any skilled woodmen left in our coun- 
tryside. In nearly every county are to be found men 
who can not only shave hoops, make hurdles and wattles, 
and sheepcribs during the winter months, but also work 
as skilled agricultural labourers on the farm in the summer. 

The swinger of the scythe nowadays is indubitably a 
rare workman. He is m-ore than that : he is an artist. In 
the peculiar bend of the sneath or handle, and in the curve 
of the reaping blade, one can see that it is the craftsman 
whose brain and muscle have been working together in 
perfect harmony that has eventually shaped this implement 


to draw as easily through the luscious dew-sprent grass as 
the fiddle bow has been fashioned to draw music from the 
strings of the violin.. Think, too, of the delicate touch of 
this toiler of the fields as he sharpens the blade and lightly 
rubs it with that finishing silky touch on the ringing curve 
of steel. 

Ever since the 'man with the hoe was immortalised by 
Millet he has been the symbol of ill-paid, unskilled labour. 
But hoeing is not unskilled labour. The man who knows 
how to use his hoe is careful not to deprive his tender nurs- 
lings of root pasturage and leave them to wilt in the sun. A 
field of roots can be ruined by unskilled laboiu", or given a 
new lease of life by the deft hand of the " ordinary " agricul- 
tural labourer. 

He who is so gUbly dubbed an ordinary agricultural 
labourer, understands as a rule the skilled work which, if 
sub-divided, would require a gardener to do one part and a 
navvy to do the other. This is the work of hedging and 
ditching. The technique of la5dng a hedge is not learnt in a 
day. The curve, the weight and the balance of the bill- 
hook, the slasher, and the fag hook have been conceived 
and fashioned by the artist-hands that have used them for 
generations. Think of the deliberate stroke that goes to 
the splitting of a branch so that it is not sundered and lives 
to break into leaf and fill a gap in the hedge. To be able to 
lay a live hedge which wiU break into blossom and leaf is to 
be able to thread a pattern the artistry of which delights 
the eye of any live-stock keeper. 

As I look out of the window my glance falls upon a cot- 
tage roof which shelters a farm worker who, to my know- 
ledge, has not only ploughed, sowed and reaped corn for 
his employer, thatched the farm ricks, painted the wagons, 
and broken in the colts, but he has killed his neighbours' 
pigs for them, doctored their sick cows, clipped their horses^ 
cleaned out and repaired their weUs, mowed their orchard 
grass with a scythe, planted fruit trees and driven bees 
into empty skeps. He has a knowledge of wild life which 
would make many a sportsman envious ; and with his 
strong, deft hand he has led to the market many an un- 


tamed heifer which had never been haltered. I have 
watched him fell with an axe a tree as thick as a stout 
farmer and split it into roughly hewn posts. He has even 
repaired the roof of the cottage he rents, as I am afraid 
many a labourer has had to do if he wishes to sleep in a dry 

Many an English flock-master and breeder of shorthorns 
owes his international fame to the skill of his head shepherd 
or stockman, who, perhaps, has given a life-long service in 
improving a breed of sheep or cattle on a wage of less than 
£1 a week. 

To-day a new craftsman is taking his place on our large 
arable farms ; and that is the tractor ploughman, who is 
engineer and husbandman combined. It is to the plough- 
man, perhaps, above all others, that the nation looks as the 
supreme creative artist who will redeem it from misfortune. 
The ploughshare drawn by the team of horses guided by the 
clear eye of the ploughman, clarified by the illimitable spaces 
that surround him, is to us more than the ram of a destroyer. 
Guided by hands gnarled and toil-smitten, he draws a strong 
line across the seared stubble. It is the impelling vivid line 
sought for so eagerly by every artist as he stands before the 
canvas at the inception of his creation. The ploughman 
iharks out his broad line of perspective with that simple 
implement which has been the agricultural craftsman's chief 
tool for so many centuries^ and with it he draws line after 
line until the field of mottled green and pale yellow is trans- 
formed into rich shining brown earth. Wlien he has graven 
these fructifying lines of furrow, he holds in the hollow of his 
hand the destiny of nations. With the seed-lip slung over 
his shoulder, with a measured tread over the kind, crumbly 
earth, and with a superb sv/eep of the arm and easeful swing 
of the body, he distributes his largesse. There is precision 
and beauty in the sweep of his arm and his measured stride 
as he casts the seed, and his eye and brain work in perfect 
harmony. He stands before us to-day as the figure of Destiny. 
In his rhythmic stride and noble sweep of the arm Hes the 
hope of Britain. 

■p ^ T* ■!■ •^* 


It is a reflection upon English literature that the history 
of this class of workers, possessing the greatest English tradi- 
tions, which has never failed to play its part in every national 
pageantry of peace and war, with an ancestry as old as the 
manorial system, should have been left to a foreigner to 
write. Dr. Hasbach was the first man to write a history of 
the English agricultural labourer. His work has been accom- 
plished with painstaking industry, but it contains one grave 
omission — a record of the revolt of the labourers of 1830, 
and for an account of this students should turn to the pas- 
sionate pages of J. L. and Barbara Hammond's book The 
Village Labourer, 1760-1830. He also failed to describe the 
great lock-out of 1874. 

Dr. Hasbach's history takes us only to 1894. There are 
certainly half a dozen pages which go beyond that year, but 
there are no more, and these do not profess to be more 
than a glance at the few succeeding years. 

Very much has happened in the life of the agricultural 
labourer since 1894, the story of which I shall attempt to 
tell in these pages. I begin my history at 1870 because 1872 
was an epocli-making year in the industrial life of the agricul- 
tural labourer. It was the year when Joseph Arch appeared 
as a force in the industrial and political life of the country. 

There are two men who stand out as historical figures, 
from the ranks of the agricultural labouring comm.unity in 
the nineteenth century — WOliam Cobbett and Joseph Arch. 
To understand the character of the English peasant ; to 
understand Joseph Arch and his movement, it is necessary 
to realise the character of his great forerunner, WiUiam 
Cobbett, for what Cobbett sowed with his Political Register 
and Rustic Harangues in the twenties and thirties, Arch reaped 
in the seventies. There was much in common between the 
two men. Both were skilled farm workers. Cobbett, 
like Arch, was bred at the ploiigh-taU. Cobbett's father 
when a boy went out to plough for twopence a day, and 
probably Arch's father performed the same skilled work at 
much the same wage. Cobbett, like Arch when he came 
home from "scaring crows as a boy had to sup off bread and be 
content with the smell of the cheese, as his granny would tell 


him. Cobbett was certainly the greater man of genius. He 
was greater as a man as well as a publicist, but he, like Arch, 
was essentially an English peasant. Both had the peasant's 
religious convictions. Both possessed strong domestic 
virtues. Neither was in any sense a revolutionist, a dreamer ; 
neither had any interest in economic theories ; but both were 
born fighters and hated oppression. Both became Members 
of Parliament. 

Cobbett possessed all the prejudices, the pugnacity of 
John Bxill. Stout of limb, girt in his dust-coloured coat 
and drab breeches, with round and ruddy face, combative, 
he stands before us a live man, a figure breathing English 
manhood from his bull neck to his strong argumentative 
chin, his firm upper lip and finely shaped mouth, his pugna- 
cious nose, to his clear eye fired by a passion for justice and 
lightened by a rapier glance of irony. 

He possessed the characteristics that made for popularity 
at that time. He had served in the Army, and had speedily 
risen to the rank of sergeant-major. He hated the French 
with their "bloody revolution." He hated Jews, stock- 
jobbers, and placemen. He defended bull-baiting ; he pro- 
moted boxing ; he encouraged matches at single-stick ; 
and he hunted. Heine regarded him as a Philistine, which 
undoubtedly Cobbett was. 

He was a Tory ; which meant that he held by tradition 
certain ideals of England and English government. A man 
of shining honesty, he imagined that a government of men 
who had been given every opportunity of culture must be in- 
corruptible. Lik& most young soldiers he had hardly begun 
to think politically. His disillusionment began when he 
landed in England and tried to bring to light before a Court- 
Martial the corrupt practices of certain oificersin the com- 
missariat department who plundered the poor private 

On his first return from America after his romantic mar- 
riage he was entertained at dinner by Pitt and other Ministers 
of State and offered the control of a Government organ. But 
though Cobbett was then a Tory, he would not be bound to 
any party ; and rich as the Government then was in secret 


service funds, no Government was ever rich enough to buy 
this doughty champion of the labouring classes. 

Though pugnacious in print, and in a public assembly, 
surely no husband or father was more gentle than Cobbett. 
There is no more tender picture of married life than that of 
Cobbett in Philadelphia stealing out barefooted and stopping 
out all night long in order to drive away the dogs with stones, 
who barked incessantly near the house in which his young 
wife lay iU and sleepless. 

At one time this peasant very nearly became the uncrowned 
king of England. He even wrote letters for the Queen of 
England to her royal husband. He faced two State trials for 
sedition. He suffered two years' imprisonment and a fine of 
;£i,ooo as a penalty for pouring out a volume of vitriolic 
irony on the heads of the Government for inflicting five 
hundred lashes on the bare backs of English soldiers whilst 
a German legion stood on guard. By imposing the savage 
fine of £i,ooo and keeping him between prison walls for two 
years the Government thought they had completely broken 
the spirit of this Free-Lance. They ruined him financially, 
it is true, but they never broke the power of that lance which 
sharpened its point upon prison waUs. It struck deeper than 
ever into the vitals of oppression and corruption ; and when 
twenty years afterwards he was again indicted by the Govern- 
ment for sedition — ^this man whom Brougham as Minister 
appealed to, not without success, to subdue by the power 
of his pen the Luddite riots — Cobbett left the Court 
triumphant and became the First Man in the reign of the 
First Gentleman of Europe. 

Cobbett, it should be remembered, had no organisation 
at his back as Arch had, and yet so great a leader was he of 
the rural democracy, that it was to him the Governm^ent 
had to turn to stay desperate hungry men from burning 
ricks and breaking up machinery. 

At the end of his defence he threw out this defiant chal- 
lenge : " My last breath shall be employed in praying to 
God to bless my country and to curse the Whigs to everlast- 
ing, and revenge — I bequeath that to my children and the 
labourers of England," But great as was his hatred of 



a corrupt Government, and a brutal magistracy, of a 
pusillanimous clergy, his love for the suffering poor was 
greater. And Cobbett's splendid championship of a vote- 
less class akin to that of serfs prevented him from ever 
becoming a national hero. 

During his long life in and out of Parliament Cobbett never 
ceased from his championship of the agricultural labourer, 
and it should be remembered that he was to a large 
extent an employer of labour, both on his Botley estate 
•and in his publishing office. "I will aUow nothing to be" 
good with regard to the labouring classes," he once wrote, 
" unless it makes an addition to the victuals, drink, or cloth- 
ing. As to their minds, that is much too sublime a matter 
for me to think about." To that simple statement Cob- 
bett remained true all his life ; and in tilting at the dragon of 
abuse in rural England, Cobbett had to drive his lance at a 
monster fed by the capacious hands of landowners, farmers, 
and politicians. 

This John Bull had forged a weapon in the heat of 
a common fire in a noisy guard-room in Novia Scotia, sur- 
rounded by quarrelsome, half-drunken comrades, which 
made him the most powerful fighter in the England of his 
day, for it was there, amid the storm and stress of barrack 
life during his eight years' service, that Cobbett made him- 
self a master of English grammar. 

Cobbett's style was a living thing hammered out of his 
character. Therein lay its success. He was sincere, simple, 
colloquial and personal — outrageously personal. In the 
use of invective lay his strength. He had the common- 
sense of the Englishman who knows that if he is to be lis- 
tened to by the people it v/as no use writing like Adam 
Smith, Ricardo or Godwin. Though Cobbett wielded his 
pen like a bludgeon there was no confusion about his strokes, 
no riot of pummelling which might become an incoherent 
storm of words. Though it sometimes fell on the wrong 
head, every blow was distinct and well-timed. 

His messages to the labourers of England in his Political 
Register were eagerly read by all capable of reading in his 
illiterate age. Listen to this diatribe taken from Rural 


Rides, which has become a classic of English literature. 
After showing that honest labourers were far- worse off than 
felons, he breaks out with : 

" Oh, you wish to keep up the price of corn for the good of the 
poor devils of labourers who have hardly a rag to cover them ! 
Admirable feeling, tender-hearted souls ! Did not — oh, oh ! 
care even about the farmers ! It was only for the sake of the 
poor naked devils of labourers. . . . This was the only reason 
for their wanting corn to sell at a high price .' . . ." 

And Cobbett had lived through days when wheat was i20S. 
a quarter, and wages driven down to 6s. a week ! 

It was when he was mounted, riding across the Enghsh 
counties, that Cobbett did his finest work, and not inside 

" The ruffians," he wrote, " owing, and solely owing to my 
having lost my voice at Coventry, have kept me out of the House ; 
but they have not kept me out of hearing. I have since last 
autumn been in seventeen counties making Rustic Harangues, 
which have produced far more effect than any speeches in 

It was at one of these meetings, a stormy one, where it was 
resolved that Cobbett should be ejected from the room. 

" I rose," he wrote with that touch of sublime egotism 
of his, " that they might see the man they had to put out." 
He was sixty years of age then, and yet he dominated the 
whole room. It was as the author of Rural Rides that 
Cobbett entered into his kingdom and became the St. George 
of the English labourer. 

When elected to the House of Commons in 1832 at the 
advanced age of seventy, he was stUl the irrepressible and 
almost the oiily champion of the agricultural labourer. 

John O'ConneU declared that in the House " he was 
quite as dogmatical and downright as in his written diatribe, 
and he had quite as much sarcastic audacity of self-possession 
as though he were a wealthy patrician member of that tuft- 
hunting House." With the pertinacity of a Kerr Hardiehe 
moved a very drastic amendment to the Address in answer 
to the Speech from the Throne. He moved that all the words 
after " Most Gracious Majesty " be omitted ! The House 


tried to shout him down, but the lust of battle was in the 
very marrow of his bones. Opposition only stimulated him. 

" The people, I say, expected that some measure should be 
proposed by Ministers for their relief ; instead of which they 
asked for the power of throwing the people into dungeons. 
{Great confusion.) If I be not heard I shall move an adjournment ! 
I will not spare you one word. You shall hear every word that 
' I have to say ... I have a very sacred duty to perform, and if 
the House be determined not to hear me to-night I will certainly 
bring it forward to-morrow ; and if the House will not hear me 
to-morrow, I will then bring it forward the day after. The 
statement that I have to make I am determined to make." 

And he did. The House was forced to listen to Cobbett 
talking on a subject of which few members knew anj^thing. 
The subject was the condition of the poor. 

" Your rehgion seems to be altogether political," said 
a parson to Cobbett, who promptly retorted : " Very much 
so, indeed ; and well it may^ — since I have been furnished v/ith 
a creed which makes part of an Act of Parliament." 

Behind Cobbett 's bracing egotism always loomed the 
spectre of the dispossessed. 

It seems strange that Cobbett managed to escape the 
pedantry of the self-educated man who sets up as school- 
master to every living being. He seems to have plucked the 
bones and sinews out of syntax and made from them a living 
masterpiece when he sat down to write. He wrote like 
one talking to a friend in a gale of wind. He spoke and 
wrote as no one ever spoke and wrote before. We know that 
with his intensely English nature Cobbett repudiated all 
claims to genius, which he seems to have regarded as some- 
thing lower than industry. But was there not after aU a 
streak of genius in Cobbett ? Who but one v/ho had the eye 
of a literary genius could visualise wretched girls working 
in fields as " ragged as colts and as pale as ashes." Who but 
a genius with a colossal ignorance of philosophical writings 
could have written in a book on grammar : " It is the mind 
that lives ; and the length of life ought to be measured by the 
numbers and importance of our ideas and not by the number 
of our days." 

Cobbett's ambition v/as to write a history of England. 


" We do not want to consume your time," he wrote, " over a 
dozen pages about Edward III dancing at a ball and picking up 
a lady's garter and making that garter the foundation of an order 
of knighthood, bearing the motto of Honi soit qui mal y pense. 
It is not stuff like this ; but we want to know what was the 
state of the people ; what were a labourer's wages ; what were 
the prices of food ; and how the labourers were dressed in the 
reign of that great king." 

But Cobbett did something better than write history. 
He made history. It was his turbulent vital force surging 
through England in his day that swept away the worst 
degradations of our Poor Law administration in rufal dis- 
tricts, and that gave the English labourer the status of a 
man in place of a cypher in an endless line of dependents 
waiting upon public charity for the right to live. No man 
has pictured rural England as vividly as Cobbett has done, 
and no one has fought more valiantly for its redemption from 
a soulless feudalism which neither acknowledged the ties and 
duties of kinship nor the right to freedom of thought and action . 

He lived through the terrible year of the Labourers' 
Revolt of 1830, and the influence of Cobbett during that year 
which had so tragic an issue for the English labourer was so 
great that " Cobbett, who spent his superb strength in a 
magnificent onslaught on the governing class, might have 
made of the race whose wrongs he pitied as his own, an 
army no less resolute and disciplined than the army O'Con- 
nell made of the broken peasants of the West." ^ 

Cobbett 's supreme effort was made in his seventieth 
year. Within seven days of the scandalous trial and brutal 
sentence of seven years' transportation of the six Dorset 
farm labourers, whose sole crime was that they had 
sworn loyalty to a trade union, Cobbett presented at the 
Bar of the House of Commons a petition signed by 12,000 
persons. His hand lighted a beacon which blazed over the 
whole of Britain. 

The next year — 1835 — Cobbett died. In that year, a 
Warwickshire lad but nine years old was scaring crows for 
twelve hours a day for a wage of 4d. a day. His name was 
Joseph Arch. 

' The Village Labourer, J. L. and Barbara Hammond, 




Those of us who are not old enough to have any vivid 
recollection of rustic life in the 'sixties and 'seventies are 
dependent upon the imaginative writers for our impressions 
of that period. When we were young the impression 
these writers left upon our minds was that the EngUsh far- 
mer was either a stern and just person, or a genial, hospit- 
able man, fond of his bottle ; and the labourer, a submissive, 
uneducated creature, with an inordinate respect for " the 
gentry," and a giant consumer of beer and bacon. 

Though the farmer appears in many of the novels of the 
period as a full-length portrait, an outline only of the 
labourer is sketched. More often than not he appears as 
one of a vUlage chorus, for even in the novels of Thomas 
Hardy and George Eliot, the villagers portrayed were 
carriers, or " tranters," wheelwrights, publicans, small shop- 
keepers, and dair57men or blacksmiths. The toiler of the fields 
by reason of his isolation and unceasing hours of labour was 
often deprived of entering into much of the social life of 
the vOage. 

Perhaps the fullest picture we have of rural life in the 
Midlands is to be found in the leisurely pages of Middle- 
march, and of an earlier date in Adam Bede, with its 
incomparable Mrs. Poyser. Middlemarch was published in 
1872, and yet in it we get no intimate study of the men and 
women who form by far the largest part of the agriciiltural 
community ; no indication of an unrest leading up to the 
climax of the "revolt of the field " of that year. 

Amongst the lords of the soil who shone like stars in 



Meredith's firmament there was little room for the cottager. 
We get a glimpse of a senile rustic like Master Gammon, 
or an Andrew Hedger, who " could eat a hog a solid hower." 
As characters the labourers are clowns, though Meredith 
knew full weU the part they played in English rural life 
was something greater, for into the mouth of Matey Wey- 
burn he puts these words : 

" Here in England, and particularly on a fortnight's run in the 
Lowlands of Scotland once, I have, like you, my lady, come now 
and then across people we call common, men and women, old 
wayside men especially ; slow-minded, but hard in their grasp 
of facts, and ready to learn, and logical, large in their ideas, 
though going a roundabout way to express them. They were 
at the bottom of wisdom, for they had in their heads a delicate 
sense of justice, upon which wisdom is founded. That is what 
their rulers lack. Unless we have the sense of justice abroad 
like a common air there's no peace, and no steady advance. 
But these humble people had it. They reasoned from it, and 
came to sound conclusions. I felt them to be my superiors. 
On the other hand I have not felt the same, with ' our senators, 
rulers, and lawgivers.' They are for the most part deficient in 
the liberal mind." ^ 

Even Thomas Hardy, who by birth and early training 
had perhaps more opportunities of studying the hired farm 
servant than either George Eliot or George Meredith, 
rarely took the trouble to make him the protagonist in his 
novels. Gabriel Oak, the shepherd in Far from the Madding 
Crowd, was an exception, it is true, but Hardy was always 
too interested in the labourer's daughter to give her father 
a prominent place in the social setting. Nevertheless in 
The Woodlanders and Under the Greenwood Tree he presents 
us with wonderful backgrounds to peasant life in Dorset, 
and Hardy's perspective ranges from the 'forties to the 
'eighties of Jude the Obscure. 

If we place by the side of these novels such books as The 
Revolt of the Field, by Arthur Clayden ; Mr. W. H. Hudson's 
A Shepherd's Life ; English Farming Past and Present, by 
R. E. Prothero ; Joseph Arch's Autobiography ; The 
Agricultural Lockout, 1874, by Frederick Clifford, The Times 
1 Lord Ormont and, His Aminta, By George Meredith. 


Commissioner ; The English Peasant, by Richard Heath ; 
The English Peasantry, by Francis George Heath ; Arcady, 
by Dr. Jessopp, or the works of Richard JefiEeries, not 
to prolong the list, we find that the characters por- 
trayed by our novelists, though true perhaps individually, 
become a little out of perspective when placed cheek by 
jowl with the entire race of farm workers. 

There were stern and just farmers, no doubt ; there were 
generous and hospitable farmers ; there were stupid and 
ignorant labourers ; there were labourers who consumed a 
good deal of bacon and ale or cider ; and there is no doubt 
that the hired men who boarded with farmers lived well. 
One or two of the declining race of old labourers who stiU 
wear the sinockfrock have told me of their experiences of 
living in the farmhouse in the 'sixties and 'seventies. 

" "There is nuthin' like a bit 0' fat pork," remarked one 
of these, an Old- Age Pensioner, to me one day, " but it must 
be in brine twelve months, mind you. Nowadays a boo- 
tiful piece of pork is left in brine for a month, and out it 
come, ruined ! Ah, I minds the day when I were a boy at 
Cutluck Farm and the missus usen to gie me a fat lump 0' 
pork to souse in the bread and mUk, and a pint o' ale to 
drink. No washy tea, mind yer. We never touched 
butter in those days ; and we had pork agen inside the 
apple dumplin' for dinner. Ah, them was the days o' good 
feedin' for the Ukes o' we. They made good hard cheeses 
at the farm then. I mind once we pegged the clasp o' a 
field gate with a stick o' cheese as hard as a bar of iron." 

Thus I, too, have met the Andrew Hedgers. But very 
few Andrew Hedgers who were married men living in cot- 
tages would have the opportunity of eating " hog for a 
solid hower " if it had to be purchased out of wages ranging 
from 9s. to I2s. a week. There was something lacking in 
the novelist's pictures of perennial harvest homes ; of farm 
kitchens groaning under the weight of gargantuan dump- 
lings and pitchers of beer ; of patriarchal friendly relation- 
ships between master and man seated at the same board 
together. To get the right perspective we should have to 
open the cupboard of the farm labourer's wife and figure 



out, as did Mr. Wilson Fox and Mr. Rowntree in later and 
more prosperous periods, how they fared on the contents 
of that cupboard. 

The rural labourer, deprived of the opportunity to exer- 
cise peasant thrift through the Enclosures Acts, which from 
1760 to 1867 put a fence round 7,000,000 acres over which 
the peasant's cow, his donkey, his geese, fowls, or swine 
used to graze, and from which he derived fuel for his house- 
hold, fodder for his beasts, and even corn for his daily bread, 
had now little else to sell but his labour, and the labour 
of his family. It is difficult to see what course was open 
to him as a voteless, voiceless man, if the farmers refused 
to meet him, but to strike. 

In spite of the fact that Land Commissioners had instruc- 
tions to reserve sufficient Common land for the needs of 
the rural poor, even in as late a period as from 1845 to 1867 
out of the 614,800 acres enclosed, the Enclosure Commis- 
sioners had only assigned 2,223 to the poor.i This fact alone 
must have been within the living memory of most of Arch's 
men, and no doubt it rankled in their minds, as it did in 
the minds of the rural poor in the days of Arthur Young, 
tliat so many acres had been enclosed, not to grow corn, 
but to make parks and shooting preserves for a new class 
of landed plutocracy. 

Save where hamlets lay remote from towns on the slopes 
of the northern hills, or amid the mountains of Wales, the 
self-contained village was vanishing as fast as the stage coach. 

No longer were labourers' wives baking their own bread, 
brewing their own beer, curing their own bacon, gathering 
fuel from the copse or common for their open grates or 
bread-ovens, or making their own wine or cider. With the 
abolition of the turnpikes the little village shop began 
to be driven out of existence by the smart provision mer- 
chants who, now that the barrier of a toll had been removed, 
invaded the villages. 

The Reports of the Royal Commission of 1867 " give us 

^ Report of the Inclosures of Commons, 1869. 

" The Royal Commission of 1867 was appointed first to inquire into 
the employment of children, young persons and women in agriculture. 
The inquiry was extended to men workers. 


at any rate an official view of the conditions of the agri- 
cultural labourer in England and Wales five years before 
Arch's movement. 

We find the Northumberland hind then as to-day was 
the aristocrat of agricultural labourers, and with him might 
be placed the dalesmen of Cumberland and Westmoreland, 
the men of Durham and North Lancashire. These men, 
hired yearly, receiving continuous wages in fair or foul wea- 
ther, boarding and even sometimes sleeping with their 
employers, retained some of the benefits of an old-world 
feudalism which the southern labourer had entirely lost, 
receiving nothing in its place. 

He was much better fed than the southern labourer, 
and when married and living in his own cottage, his wife, 
instead of going out to work in the fields, stayed at home. 
The daughter, though, worked out of doors at every kind of 
farm work, from loading dung carts to driving horses and 
working in the barns. 

Illegitimacy was rife, and this was largely due to the 
fact that cottages were scarce, bad, and overcrowded, and 
the hired unmarried man who wished to marry, very often 
the maidservant in the house, had to wait many years 
before he could get a cottage of his own. 

There was a certain disadvantage in being paid in kind, 
which was a common practice in these northern counties, 
in that when the harvest was bad the labourer was paid in 
bad corn and bad potatoes. 

It can be readily understood that where " living in " 
was the custom, allotments were not popular. The married 
men preferred the use of a field where they could keep 
a cow. The income of a Northumbrian family was reckoned 
at £60 9s. 6d. The children seem to have had an abun- 
dance of milk and the girls who worked in the fields devel- 
oped into a more muscular race than their sisters of the 
south who were driven to resort to indoor industries for 
a living. 

In Yorkshire, cash wages, as in the more northern counties, 
were on an average 2s. 6d. a day for the man, is. for his 
wife, and lod. to is. for a child, apart from harvest earnings, 



Sometimes grass land was granted for a cow in place of allot- 
ments. The old custom of hiring farm servants by the year 
was still fairly general, and as in the other northern counties 
the farm workers were more particular about keeping their 
children at school and there was little evidence of the 
prevalence of the gang system. 

In Derbyshire a labourer earned on the average 15s. a 
week. Hired servants received £14 to £18 a year. The 
Dorset labourer engaged himself, like the Northumbrian 
labourer, for a year, receiving part of his income in kind ; 
but unlike the Northumbrian hind he was driven to sell 
the labour of his family, as well as his own, at a very low 
price. In Dorset wages were 8s. with, and 9s. without a 
cottage. Married men had besides certain privileges, or 
perquisites. Sometimes these privileges consisted simply 
of cider or beer, sometimes of a potato patch ploughed and 
manured, or of fuel or a certain amount of wheat at or under 
the market price. But no farmer gave all these privileges 
together, and the goods when supplied were often so bad 
that even when allowed on a market price they were paid 
for at their full value. Deductions made for payments in 
kind were so great that the labourer often had not a shilling 
left after his week's work. Besides this, the employers seem 
to have exercised a cruel mastery over labour, in claiming 
the labour of sometimes the entke family at a very low 
wage, and if the older boys left their employers in disgust, 
their fathers would be given notice on the ground that the 
family was not large enough to do the work. In spite of 
the labourer being hired by the year he was paid nothing 
in times of illness. A man's wages, including additions 
from all sources, and if he was fortunate enough never to be 
iU, would be from los. to iis. ; his grown-up sons received 
a few shillings less, and the women who worked on the land 
received either 6d. or 8d. a day ; but if the larger sum was 
munificently awarded, then the man would have to take 
less in allowances. Children were often forced to work with 
their fathers at six years old, or even younger. Without 
the patch of potato ground or the allotment the Commis- 
isoner failed to see how the family could earn sufficient to 


support life, and the granting of allotments was not an act 
of grace on any one's part. It had to be paid for, often at 
the rent of £4 an acre in the county from which six men 
were transported for joining a union in 1834. The con- 
ditions of Devonshire I describe farther on, but I may 
say here that the Assistant Commissioner, Mr. Portman, 
found Canon Girdlestone's account substantially correct. 

The men of Hampshire enjoyed a wage of los. or iis. 
and the women 8d. a day. In this county, as in Dorset, 
women were employed weeding in the cornfields, spreading 
manure or picking stones. 

In Kent women and children were extensively employed, 
especially at the hop-picking season, when every child that 
could walk was wanted, and it was estimated that every 
one over twelve years of age could earn on the average from 
IS. 6d. to 2s. 6d. a week for a pejriod of three weeks. 
Cockneys made their yearly economic pilgrimage into the 
country for the hop-harvest. Otherwise the conditions in 
Kent were similar to those of Essex and Sussex, except that 
Sussex seems to have been free from the gang system which 
still operated in the counties of Essex, Norfolk, Suffolk, 
Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire. In most of these coun- 
ties children from seven to ten years of age were seen work- 
ing in the fields. In south Cambridgeshire labourers re- 
ceived los. to us., and in the northern parts 12s. to 13s., 
whilst the women's wage was only lod. a.nd a child's from 
4d. to 6d. a day. The evils of the gang system, both pri- 
vate and public, were very much in evidence in this county, 
where children of even six years of age were employed. 
In too many cases the Commissioner who made the Report 
said there was a silent understanding between farmer and 
labourer by which the latter was employed aU the year 
round, and in return the labour of the wife and children was 
put at the employer's disposal. It is difficult to make any 
kind of marked distinction between this kind of " free 
labour " and serfdom. 

In Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire conditions seem 
to have been slightly better, especially in regard to the em- 
ployment of children of tender years,.the average earnings of 


a labourer being 13s. 6d. to 14s. 6d. per week. In Northamp- 
tonshire boys were employed as early as eight years of age, 
the man getting from iis. to 13s., and the woman from 8d. 
to IS. a day. Lincoln and Nottingham presented a con- 
trast. There were men employed at yearly contracts of from 
£40 to £45 and a lower stratum of men, almost paupers, 
irregularly employed, moving about on the gang system, 
under which were also found children of the tenderest years. 
In one half of Nottinghamshire gangs of children went 
stone-picking practically all the summer, and even through 
part of the winter, and at eight years of age were con- 
sidered old enough to lead plough horseis ! 

In Leiceffetershire the standard of hfe was very low. 
Wages ranged from iis. to 13s., and boys of nine to twelve 
years of age were regularly employed for ploughing, whilst 
those even younger were put into the fields to scare birds. 

In Oxfordshire and Berkshire wages were said to 
range from 12s. 6d. to 14s. 6d., though this statement has 
been qualified by another that young men of eighteen or 
twenty received from 8s. to iis. per week.^ lads of fifteen 
and upwards, 5s. to los., whilst boys of ten or twelve 
received 3s. to 4s. 

As glove-making and the slop clothing trade were in com- 
petition with agriculture in these counties it seems strange 
tha,t women could be found to work for 8d. per day, which 
was the usual rate ; but possibly, as elsewhere, pressure 
was brought to bear upon the husbands. 

Shropshire presented a picture of serfdom similar to that 
which flourished in Dorset. Wages or allowances seemed 
to be a matter which depended upon the goodwill of the 
farmer. No contract seems to have been entered into 
between master and man. Hours were unlimited, and the 
payment for overtime took the form of a meal given or not 
at the pleasure of the employer. So bad were the cottages 
that married labourers were often boarded in the farmhouses. 

In Surrey wages varied as much as from 12s. in western 
Surrey, to 15s. in the neighbourhood of London ; in War- 

1 It was the custom in some districts in the Midlands to pay a married 
man a little more than a single man. 


wickshire from iis. in the south to 13s. in the northern 
manufacturing districts. In Wiltshire and Herefordshire 
they were as low as from 9s. to iis. and in Worcestershire 
from 9s. to I2S. Shepherds and carters, here as elsewhere, 
received about 2S. a week more than the ordinary labourer. 

Cheshire 'was then almost entirely under permanent 
pasture. Small dairy farmers were numerous and they 
lodged their regular labourers in their own farmhouses ; 
the wives being employed to milk the cows. Maidservants 
appear to have received high wages and were apparently 
so scarce that they could have the key of the house one night 
a week. Cash wages, however, were low, only from us. to 
I2s.,and though allotments were rare, many labourers pos- 
sessed pasture for a cow. These cow pastures were com- 
mon also in Shropshire, Staffordshire, Yorkshire, Rutland, 
Derbyshire and Wales. 

Another pastoral county, Somersetshire, paid much 
lower wages ; 8s. a week was quite common, though near 
Bristol I2S. a week had to be paid. 

In Wales, the social standard of farmers and labourers 
was almost the same. Labourers were generally boarded 
in the farmhouse. Many small farms employed no labour 
at all, every member of the family working, often without 
wages, and the employer became himself a kind of head 
shepherd. Yet wages near the great coal mines were nat- 
urally higher than in other parts of Wales. In Montgomery- 
. shire, for instance, wages ranged from 15s. to 18s. in summer, 
whilst in Anglesea they were only us. to 12s. A large 
number of imported children were employed and it was 
not uncommon for boys of ten years of age to work as 
servants on a farm for eight months of the year, receiving 
6d. and their board. 

The foregoing is a summary of the Reports of the Com- 
mission of 1867. Now we will turn to Canon Girdlestone's . 
account of conditions in Devonshire, which historically is 
important, for no doubt it was Girdlestone's successful 
attempt to migrate labourers from the low paying to the 
higher paid counties which induced Arch to organise a 
system of migration and emigration on a national scale. 


We get more than a glimpse into the labourer's life in 
the south-west counties of England six years previous to 
Arch's movement in the story of Canon Girdlestone's 
incumbency. Canon Girdlestone became the Vicar of 
Halberton, near Tiverton, in the county of Devon, in 1866, 
He found there labourers who were forced to live on 7s. or 
8s. a week with additional allowances, such as cider for 
ordinary labourers, and either a cottage or an extra shil- 
ling for the carters and shepherds whose hours were longer. 
The price for extra work in harvest time was their supper, 
for seldom any additional wages were paid except in cases 
where the harvest work was done as piece work. Fuel was 
only given to the labourer when he " grubbed up " a hedge. 
In very many cases the peasant of North Devon was for- 
bidden -by the farmer to keep a pig, or even poultry, for fear 
he might steal the food for fattening them. Potato ground 
could only be rented by the labourer from the farmer at a 
rack rent — very frequently four and five times the rent 
paid by the farmer to his landlord. 

The food of the North Devon agricultural labourer con- 
sisted of " tea-kettle broth " for breakfast. This appetising 
dish was made by putting into a basin several slices of dry 
bread which were then soaked by having hot water poured 
upon them seasoned with a sprinkling of salt, with the addi- 
tion sometimes of an onion or half a teaspoon of milk. 
But milk, it appeared, was rarely obtainable, for this pre- 
cious food was too valuable to waste on the labourer, and 
almost invariably, when there was a surplus, was given to 
the pig. Lunch consisted of bread and hard dry pieces 
of skim-milk cheese. Dinner consisted of the same fare. 
Supper, which was eaten at the conclusion of the day's 
work, consisted, as a rule, of potatoes and cabbage flavoured, 
when the labourer was allowed to keep a pig, by a tiny piece 
of bacon. Butcher's meat was enjoyed on Sundays only. 

Women were compelled to work for 74. or 8d. a day. 
They did not wish to do so because the wear and tear of 
clothes very nearly outbalanced this economic advantage, 
but the agreement made between their husbands and the 
farmer generally bound them to this form of serfdom. 


The drinking water was supplied by the village brook 
and exposed wells, into which oozed the filth from open 
sewers. The labourer at that time had one privilege as a 
citizen ; he could vote at a vestry meeting, which was then 
the body to elect guardians, wa5rwardens, and overseers. 
But Canon Girdlestone states that he never saw a labourer 
at a vestry or any other meeting. 

When Girdlestone began his campaign the farmers of 
Halberton did not appear to be overflowing with the mUk 
of htiman kindness. The Canon relates an incident of a 
carter who v/as crushed by a restive horse in his master's 
stable through no fault of the man. 

" Through his injury he was laid up and his wages were 
immediately stopped by his master, who refused to give him any 
sort of assistance. This was not all. The man occupied a 
cottage belonging to his master, and being a carter he held his 
cottage rent free as part of the wages. During the whole of the 
time he was disabled he was not merely refused a single penny 
of his wages, but the rent of the cottage was charged to him, and 
the amount was deducted each week from the wages of his son, 
who worked for the same farmer." ^ 

Other cases of callousness on the employer's part are 
related by the Canon, but I will cite only one of them. 

A wagoner had his ribs broken by courageously rushing 
at a horse's head when the animal had taken fright. For 
two months he was confined to his bed. His employer, 
the farmer, refused to give him one sixpence of wages. 

But apparently farmers in those days were not supposed 
to pay their men when they were injured, even when they 
were injured in doing dangerous and skilful work for their 
employer. One comes across such a case in W. H. Hud- 
son's A Shepherd's Life. Caleb, the shepherd, in relating 
the incident to Mr. Hudson — and it must have taken place 
at about this period^ — did not feel at aU resentful that the 
farmer paid him not a penny piece during the six weeks he 
was laid up after having his system poisoned by dipping 
sheep. His resentment was only against another, who was 
secretary of a benefit village club which Caleb had sub- 
1 British Rural Life and Labour, by F. G. Heath. 


scribed to for thirty years, and who, because he had a spite 
against the shepherd, refused to pay him the allowance of 
6s. a week due to him by the rules of the club, until forced 
to do so by a court of law. 

However, though the villagers of Halberton had bad 
masters they had a good parson. 

" How is it possible," he asked himself, " on such wretched 
wages for a man to house, to feed and clothe not only himself 
but his wife and children ; and to pay, in addition, the doctor and 
the midwife when their services were required ; to provide 
shoes, fuel, light, such incidental expenses as school fees, and, in 
fact, many other items which cannot be enumerated, but which 
entered nevertheless into the cost of living." ^ 

He tried speaking to the farmers privately, but as this 
proved fruitless he preached a sermon which raised a ter- 
rible storm in the parish. At the time a cattle plague was 
raging, and he took for his text. Behold the hand of the Lord 
is upon thy cattle. He asked the farmers " if they did not 
think that God had sent the plague as a judgment upon 
them for the manner in which they treated their labourers, 
to whom they had been accustomed to give less considera- 
tion than to their cattle." 

The farmers now became offensive. When the annual 
tithe dinner took place it was pre-arranged that when the 
Vicar's health was proposed, the glasses instead of being fiUed 
should be reversed empty. After this, the Canon wrote a 
letter to The Times giving a clear statement of the wages, 
and of the condition of the agricultural labourer in the north 
of Devon. 

This started the migration movement. Letters came 
from all parts of England and Ireland ; some from employ- 
ers offering better wages and homes ; other containing 
money put at the Canon's disposal for the cost of migrat- 
ing families. Then open war was declared against the 
Canon in his own district, not only by the farmers but also 
by the squires and clergy. 

At the Easter Vestry in 1867 one indignant farmer told 
the Canon in language which cannot be printed that he 
» British Rural Life and Labour, by F. G. Heath. 


" was not fit to carry offal to a bear." Two or three days 
afterwards this extraordinary scene was the subject of a 
cartoon in Punch. The ladies of the Girdlestone family 
had to suffer insults ; but this did not deter the brave 
parson from carrying on his admirable work for six years, 
and in that period between four and five hundred men were 
sent away to Lancashire, Yorkshire, Durham, Kent, Sus- 
sex, and other counties. The migratory movement spread 
from Devonshire into Wiltshire and Somersetshire and gen- 
erally with a northward tendency. Canon Girdlestone 
left Devonshire in June 1872 for Gloucestershire ; and there 
is no doubt that the publicity given to the conditions of 
life in Devon, in the Press, paved the way for Arch's 

The labourer's life in the Midlands, fortunately for him, 
was better than in Devon. Herefordshire in 1871 had 
formed a Union in the village of Leintwardine where it was 
backed up by the Rector — a most unusual occurrence in those 
days. It spread over six counties and boasted of 30,000 
members-. " Emigration, Migration, but not Strikes," was 
its motto, and probably it was instrumental in raising wages 
in some of the Midland counties from gs. or los. to iis. 
or I2S. a week. This Union carried on Canon Girdlestone's 
work of migration by sending labourers into Yorkshire, 
Lancashire, and Staffordshire, where wages were a few 
shillings a week higher. 

In Herefordshire the farm labourer in addition to his 
los. to I2s. a week would get two rows of potatoes in one 
of the fields, a supply of skim milk and an occasional rabbit. 
Meat was of course a luxury seldom indulged in. Bacon 
took its place. The most common dish was one called 
" flummery " made from oatmeal with the water drained 
off. The pot would be put on the centre of the table and 
folk would help themselves. They would dip their spoons 
into the jelly-like mixture and then plunge the spoon into 
a bowl of milk before carrying it to the mouth. I am told 
by one who has often eaten it that the niixture had a sour 

There were no stated hours of work ; frequently men 


would be up feeding the horses from 3.30 or 4 o'clock a.m., 
and working in the fields until six o'clock or dusk. The only 
hoUdays known were the hiring fairs, or the horse and cattle 
fairs ; the only recreations were the club, or the chapel 
and church festivals. The very devout thought nothing 
of walking miles to a prayer meeting, even over the hills in 
bad weather. 

" My father," a friend teUs me, " once walked thirty 
mUes — fifteen miles each way — ^to a prayer meeting. My 
mother would hide his boots in the attempt to prevent him 
from going. He read nothing but his Bible, and could 
recite long passages from memory. Newspapers he never 
read ; not even for the prices beasts and wool were fetching. 
He got his knowledge from the ordinary market-day 

Education, when obtainable, consisted of reading, writing, 
the catechism and elementary arithmetic. 

It was usual for one man on each large farm to act as 
barber, cutting the hair of all the men, and even that of the 
farmer's family. New clothes were an event, and lasted 
many years. The tailor would come to a farm and stay 
several days. The parlour fire would be Ut by the housewife 
and he would sit there aU day by himself perched cross- 
legged on the table making clothes. 

In the thrifty farmer's house the stockings and socks 
would be knitted at home from the wool obtained from 
his own sheep. Very little coal was burned. Fuel was 
obtained from the hedges and woods and those v/ho still 
possessed brick ovens for baking bread cut gorse from the 

Courting, in Herefordshire and Rutland in those 
strenuous days, my friend tells me, was mostly done 
during the night. The lover wotdd set out for the 
home of his sweetheart about nine or ten o'clock. If 
unexpected, he would inform her of his arrival by a shower 
of gravel thrown against her bedroom window. She would 
dress and come down, replenish the kitchen fire and make 
him a meal. They would spend the night thus ; the man 
returning home in the early hours of the morning. If he 


arrived at his sweetheart's house before the family had 
retired, the parents would go to bed and leave the couple 
in possession without question or chaperone ! 

But these idylls of casements with diamond panes were 
surely more often played at farmhouses than at cottages, 
where fev/ daughters could boast a bedroom to themselves. 

As for bed-linen, a friend of mine, Reuben Streeter by 
name, of Ewood, tells me he can remember sleeping under 
sheets " as coarse as a wagon cloth." As a boy of eleven 
he was made to attend to the stabling of six cart horses 
and help with the ploughing for a wage of is. a week and 
his food. That was in the 'sixties. By 1872 his mind and 
aching body were ripe for the teachings of Joseph Arch. 



The Revolt of the Field as the agricultural labourers' move- 
ment of 1872 has been called, was one which sprang from the 
agricultural labourers' cottage home with its empty larder, 
and from no other source. At its birth it was an economic, 
not a poltical revolt. It was a cry for bread, and not for 

" The agricultural labourer of 1873," wrote Mr. Herbert 
Paul, " coals- and blankets notwithstanding, was worse lodged 
and worse fed than the cattle. . . . The wages earned did not 
suffice for the decent maintenance of more than a single indivi- 
dual. If he had a family he was dependent either upon aid 
from outside or at least from his own children." ^ 

Indeed, it might be said that the histoiy of the agricul- 
tural labourer from 1870 to 1914 is a story of the keen heroic 
edge of life endured on cash wages rising and falling between 
2s. and 3s. a day. 

It is true that later on its leader, Joseph Arch, despite 
his own early convictions, converted the movement into 
a political one ; but there is no doubt that at the beginning 
of the revolt Arch himself presented a cold shoulder both 
to the professional politician and to the professional trade 
union organiser. Had he listened less to the blandishments 
of the politician and more to the advice of the trade union 
organiser, he would probably have saved his union from 
the wreckage of later days. 

No trade union organiser came out from the towng to 
agitate amongst the agricultural labourers in country places 

1 History of Modern England, by Herbert Paul. 


where chimneys were far apart and organisation not only 
difficult but expensive. No politician troubled about 
Hodge, who had no vote to give. The politician visited 
the vicar, the squire and the farmer, but left the labourer 
severely alone. 

The newly enfranchised (1867) town workman and the 
trade unionist (1871) of the growing industrial areas who 
had wrung concessions of legal protection from an unwilling 
Liberal Ministry had, it appeared, taken little notice of 
farm workers until they, driven by want and long hours of 
toil, began to take concerted action in a fbrm the townsmen 

The first note of the new movement was sounded in Feb- 
ruary, 1872, by a few labourers of West erton-under- Weather- 
ley, a village near Leamington, who stated their miserable 
condition in a letter written to a local newspaper. This 
letter was read by other labourers in Charlecote, near Willes- 
bourne, and they decided to form a club. Then this club of 
eleven labourers sent a deputation to Barford to wait upon 
Joseph Arch, a well-known hedge-cutter, who had trained 
himself to speak with considerable force as a Primitive 
Methodist preacher. 

Now Arch was forty-six years of age, and had apparently 
no political or trade tmion designs of any national signifi- 
cance, until this group of his fellow-labourers asked him 
to come and help them to deliver themselves out of their 
conditions of chronic poverty. He, hke them, knew nothing 
about trade union organisation. They wanted to be able 
to buy more food for themselves and their families, and they 
wanted to shorten their long hours of labour. They were 
voteless and uneducated. They had only one weapon to 
use ; that weapon was the right to say, " We shall not work, 
we will starve outright rather than submit to our present 
condition of semi-starvation." But it was useless for one or 
two to say this. It must be one mighty shout coming from 
the lungs of a long-suffering race. The one weapon forged 
in the fire of their breasts was the Strike. 

Mr. George Edwards, who was a member of Arch's 
Union, tells us that Arch hesitated, as he was not sure of his 


class, and knew that it would be a great upheaval. Mr. 
Edwards says it was Mrs. Arch who persuaded her husband 
to respond to the call. His hesitation was natural, for he 
tells us that as he walked the muddy lanes towards Welles- 
bourne he recalled the transportation of the six men who 
formed a labourers' union in Dorsetshire. Perhaps he 
also imaged the brutal hangings of 1831 on manufactured 
evidence, and the end of many a village Hampden who had 
left his bones on the shores of Botany Bay. But just as 
starving men were willing to risk hanging for sheep-stealing, 
so half-starving men, as Arch described them, were willing 
to risk the boycott, the lock-out, and even imprisonment to 
raise themselves above the line of abject poverty. No 
one knew the trials of the farm worker better than Arch. 
He had lived on barley bread in the year that Cobbett died, 
because his father had refused to sign a petition against the 
abolition of the Corn Laws, and but for his mother's earnings 
he might have starved outright. He said he had often 
thought about the conditions of labourers whilst thrashing 
a hedge with a hook, or tramping many a mile in search of 
work, though, as for himself, he had left gs. a week behind 
him for many a year, since he was famed for his skill as a 

During the golden years dating from 1852, wliich accord- 
ing to some authorities ran on until 1874, the British fai-mers 
" prospered exceedingly, assisted largely by good seasons." ^ 
It was the period of which Gladstone said the prosperity of 
the country was advancing by " leaps and bounds." 

During the 'fifties and 'sixties, not only did good harvests 
succeed each other with clockwork regularity, but farmers 
had the benefit of their fields being drained by pipes, which 
Peel was responsible for in 1846 in his measure of Govern- 
ment Drainage Loan to landlords at 6 J per cent. ; and land- 
lords were not behindhand in raising their rents, which they 
increased by 20 per cent.^ 

The farmers, too, began to reap the benefit of discoveries 
in fertilisers such as ground bones, guano, superphosphates 

* A Short History English Agriculture, by W. H. R. Curtler. 
' English Farming, by R. E. Prothero. 


of lime, and nitrate of soda. Reapers had come into use ; 
roads had been improved ; and railways gave the farmers the 
advantage of dealing quickly with the rapidly growing urban 
centres of population. The ghost the farmers feared — Free 
Trade — had been laid for a time by high corn prices which 
during a period of twenty years, from 1853-72 were sustained 
at an average of 54s. 3d. per quarter. What moral excuse 
the farmers had for paying low wages during this period 
it is difficult to imagine. Perhaps they considered no 
excuse was necessary, for unfortunately the suppliants 
for work outnumbered the jobs and the taskmasters could 
dictate their own terms. 

Many of the large f aimers in a good agricultural county 
like Lincolnshire, lived in considerable comfort and even 
luxury, as became men who'had invested large sums in their 
farms. Some farmers had invested as much as ;£20,ooo in 
their business, and kept carriages, hunters, and servants. ' 
Landowners were growing rich, too, and many a palatial 
country house was built during this period. The rich, as 
represented by the landlords and farmers, became richer. 
On the other hand, the poor, as represented by the labourer, 
still remained, during these golden years, in the depths of 
poverty. The gulf between farmer and labourei, at one 
time barely perceptible, widened. The labourers were ill- 
fed, ill-housed, scantUy clothed, uneducated, and voteless. 
Since the brutal repressions of 1830 and 1834, crushed in 
body and spirit, they had endured all in silence. That silence 
was now about to be broken ; and Arch knew that a silence 
so long maintained was a dangerous silence. Would the 
released pent-up feeling be expressed by blazing ricks and 
broken machines ? The spectre of the gibbet^ — or of the 
cross — must have haunted the road which led Arch to 

Wages touched as low a figure as 7s. in some of the south- 
western cormties, and even in the industrial north they did 
not appear to be higher than 15s. Prices, it is true, for 
many commodities had fallen 30 per cent. , but rents of cot- 
tages had increased 100 per cent, and meat 70 per cent. 
» A Short History of English Agriculture, by W. H. R. Curtler. 


Meat, though, was haidly seen on the labourer's table save 
on Sundays. Tea was 6s. to 7s. a pound, sugar 8d., and 
bread 7 Jd. a loaf. " Labourers stole turnips for food and 
every other man was a poacher." ^ Family earnings were 
reduced by the fact that children were beginning to be sent 
to school. The usual food of the labourer was potatoes, 
dry bread, greens, herbs, kettle-broth, weak tea, and bacon 
sometimes. This kettle broth seemed to have been the 
common food in the southern counties, so we find by the 
evidence collected by Mr. Austin. 

And indeed the labourer was httle if any better off than 
eighty years before. It was a mystery, says Mr. Curtler, 
even to farmers, how they lived in many parts of the country. 
But it seems to me that it was a mystery that farmers them- 
selves could easily have solved. Small wonder was it that 
little children began to learn Joseph Arch's grace : — 

O Heavenly Father bless us 

And keep us all alive ; 
There are ten of us to dinner 

And food for only five. 

Everywhere Aixh and his men could see farmhouses being 
enlarged, and country mansions being erected, and the 
labourer compelled to hve in cottages which can only be 
described as hovels. Not only were they hovels, but the 
effects of the old Settlement Law were still felt in the 
country parishes, making landowners loth to build cottages 
for fear of their ill-paid labourers becoming chargeable to 
the parish. Not only were men kept poor, but they and 
their families were subjected to degrading circumstances. 

Cobden tells us that " at Stourpaine, in Dorset, one 
bedroom in a cottage contained three beds occupied by eleven 
people of all ages and both sexes with no curtain or partition 
whatever ; and that at Milton Abbas on the average of the 
last census there were thirty-six persons in each house, and 
so crowded were they that cottagers with a desire for de- 
cency would combine and place all the males in one cottage 
and aU the females in another." Thus it was their collective 
will in this instance protected them from moral degradation. 
' A Short History of English Agriculture, by W. H. R. Curtler. 


Apparently, those who ruled cared naught for how the 
labourer was housed or fed. 

The labourer was smarting in his spirit as well as suffering 
from low wages and bad housing. He was being policed 
in a manner he had never been poHced before. The Poaching 
Prevention Act of 1862 made every man liable to the indig- 
nity of being assailed and searched by a policeman, without a 
warrant. The rural poor felt this more keenly than the 
physical hardships of their lives. At that time it v?as a 
very common practice for men who had been wood-felling 
or cutting underwood to carry home with them baskets of 
chips and dead wood, which were their perquisites. Women, 
too, who had been working in the fields cleaning turnips 
commonly carried home a few turnips in their aprons. This 
was an understood thing at a time when farmers paid them 
the miserable wages amounting to about a penny an hom-. 
After the Act came into operation every village man and 
woman returning home from work carrying a bundle was 
an object of suspicion, and the police again and again way- 
laid honest men and women and charged them with stealing 
turnips, or wood, if they failed to find them in possession 
of game. Angry labourers would resent the indignity of a 
search, and a scufHe would sometimes take place, resulting 
in a charge of assault. 

The villager has his own ethical code about poaching. 
There were poaching gangs, but they lived, morally, a set 
apart from the ordinary villager, who, whilst he regarded the 
regular poacher as having forfeited his claims to respecta-- 
bility, considered it peifectly legitimate to snare or knock 
over a rabbit occasionally, in order to feed his half-starving 
family. Arch, who said that he never poached, nevertheless 
admitted that 

" an honest labourer would think nothing of knocking over a 
rabbit in the day-time if he saw it and it came in his way ; and 
neither should I. I don't see any harm in it because in my 
opinion ground game is wild. The plain truth is we labourers 
do not believe hares and rabbits belong to any individual, not 
any more than thrushes and blackbirds." ^ 
# * Mf * 

• Evidence, 1873, Select Committee on the Game Laws. 


Arch held his first meeting mider the old chestnut tree 
at Wellesbourne on February 7, 1872. He said he ex- 
pected to find thirty or forty men there, instead of which 
he found the place " as lively as a swarm of bees in June, 
and an audience of nearly a thousand." It was a swarm 
which had collected without the aid of a single circular or hand- 
bill. Farm labourers carried the glad tidings in an hour 
or two. Word was passed from cottage to cottage and farm 
to farm. The spirit of the hive was soon made manifest. 
All Wellesbourne village collected there, and men had 
walked from Moreton, from Loxley, from Charlecot, from 
Hampden Lucy and from Barford. The night was dark, 
but the men had got together some bean poles and hung 
lanterns on them. Arch was mounted on an old pig-stool, 
and to quote his own words : — 

" In the flickering light of the lanterns I saw the earnest 
upturned faces of these poor brothers of mine — faces gaunt with 
hunger and pinched with want — all looking towards me and ready 
to listen to the words that would fall from my lips. These white 
slaves of England with the darkness all about them, like the 
children of Israel waiting for some one to lead them out of the 
land of Egypt." 

It must be remembered that Arch was a Methodist lay 
preacher and the Book that he was in the habit of quoting 
from was the one book his hearers knew. Dressed in a 
pair of cord trousers, cord vest and an old flannel jacket 
the hedge cutter was listened to in breathless silence for an 
hour. A resolution was passed that a union should be 
formed then and there, and between two and three hundred 
names were taken down. 

" That night, I knew," he says, " that a fire had been kindled 
that would catch on and spread, and run abroad like sparks in 
stubble : and I felt certain that this night we had set light to a 
beacon which would prove a rallying point for the agricultural 
labourers throughout the country." 

It was fortunate for the newly born union that it received 
a full sympathetic report in the Leamington Chronicle. 
The editor of this journal, Mr. J. E. Matthew Vincent (the 
virtual founder of the National Agricultural Labourers' 


Union), afterwards conducted the Labourers' Union Chroni- 
cle, which, gave the vidon a wide publicity and acknowledged 
in its columns every donation sent to its treasurer. 

Though this historic meeting took place in the heart of 
Shakespeare's England, it is doubtful if many of the men 
and women who raised their voices or gave in their names, 
had ever heard of their national poet. Certainly, we know 
that Mr. Richard Heath on making a visit to Wellesbourne in 
the same year questioned a baker's boy at Shottery within a 
stone's throw of Anne Hathaway 's cottage if he had ever 
heard of Shakespeare, and the boy said he had not. 

Mr. Richard Heath ^ gives uS' a glimpse into the cottage 
homes out of which streamed these men and women of 
Shakespeare's England. In a cottage he visited stood a 
great old grandfather's clock which nearly touched the ceil- 
ing. On a rack stood a number of plates of the willow pat- 
tern. The walls were decorated with religious pictures. 
The woman had worked continuously in the fields couching 
and weeding, ha5anaking and harvesting, picking up potatoes 
and cleaning turnips, for lod. a day in summer and a 
IS. a day in winter, working from eight in the morning 
until five in the afternoon. The little children were often 
left at home to mind themselves, and every now and then a 
baby was burnt or scalded to death. " I have known 
at least eight cases in which children left' at home have been 
burnt or scalded to death," reported a Medical Officer of the 
Union of Warwick. " I have occasionally known an opiate 
in the shape of Godfrey's Cordial, or Daffy's Elixir given by 
the mother to the children to keep them quiet." A boy 
would have completed his education at the age of eight years, 
and be sent out to work in the fields scaring crows or minding 
sheep from six to six, getting up sometimes at half -past four 
in the morning. At twelve years of age he would be driving 
a dung cart. 

Mr. Heath measured four old cottages standing in a row 

together. He said they could not have been more than 

eight feet wide and fifteen feet deep. Each contained two 

rooms. " In one I found a woman with four children and 

1 Golden Hours, 1872. 


she was on the eve of adding to the number ; they aU slept, 
six of them, in one small room." This was in the charming 
hamlet of Shottery, which to-day is one of our show villages. 
In the midst of this Shakespeare's England, on the 21st 
February, 1872, a second meeting took place under the 
chestnut tree at Wellesbourne. There was a larger crowd 
and Arch declared that " nearly every policeman in the 
county was there as well." More men joined the Union 
and a committee and a secretary were appointed. Then 
the following letter was drafted and served upon farmers 
in the Wellesbourne district : 

" Sir,— 

" We jointly and severally request your attention to the 
following requirements — ^namely 2s. 8d. per day for our labour ; 
hours from six to five ; and to close at three on Saturday ; and 
4d. an hour overtime. Hoping you will give this your fair 
and honest consideration." 

It will be seen from this letter how old is the persistent 
cry for a few hours' leisure on one week-day. 

The farmers treated the letter with contempt, and on March 
nth about two hundred men came out on strike. It is 
interesting to note that the shepherds and wagoners,who were 
engaged by the month and who had a shilling a week more 
than the ordinary labourer — a shilling a week more for a 
seven-days week of interminable hours — did not come out. 
Most of the men who struck were ordinary labourers earning 
J2S., though there were others who were getting only gs. 
or los. a week. 

These men must have been in desperate straits before 
they struck, for Arch declared that there was not a pound's 
worth of silver amongst the lot, and nearly every man was 
in debt to the shopkeeper. This indeed was not uncommon 
in these times, for in one village Arch asked all men to hold 
up their hands who were in debt to the shopkeeper : and 
every hand was held up 1 The farmers expected a seven- 
days strike, but they were soon disillusioned. The Press 
took up the labourers' cause and wide pubhcity was given 
to the grievances of the agricultural workers by Mr. J. E. 
Matthew Vincent, the editor of the Leamington Chronicle, 


and by the Daily News, which promptly sent Mr. Archibald 
Forbes, its war correspondent, to Warwickshire. Mr. 
Forbes' articles aroused so much public sympathy that 
money began flowing in from the public-spirited men of the 
towns. Urban trade unions, and the London Trades Council 
in particular, took up the agricultural labourers' cause. 

On the other hand the half-starved labourers found an 
almost indescribable feeling of bitterness against them on 
the part of the squirearchy, the clergy, and the farming class. 
This rural trinity received the cordial support of the magis- 
tracy, and most of the two hundred labourers who were the 
first to strike had to find jobs in Liverpool, or Birmingham, 
or Gateshead, or emigrate to Canada. 

Sir Charles Mordaunt, landowner of Wellesbourne, issued 
notices to quit to aU his tenants who joined the Union. A 
placard in which the Wellesbourne farmers declared their 
resolution to employ no union men and to eject them from 
their cottages was issued and posted up about the county. 

There were some notable exceptions amongst the landlord 
class. Lord Leigh, for instance, granted in advance the 
15s., whilst others offered 14s. The spirit of the clergy 
is difficult to understand, especially that of Dr. EUicott, 
the Bishop of Gloucester, who is reported to have said, with 
reference to Arch : " There is an old sajdng, ' Don't nail 
their ears to the pump and don't duck them in the horse- 
pond.' " To which Arch wittily retorted, " The Bishop ap- 
pears to beheve in adult baptism, which is contrary to the 
doctrine of the Church of England." 

When Arch visited Blandford in Dorset, an elderly 
Baptist minister informs me, the Churchwardens ordered 
the church bells to be rung to drown the sound of his 
voice ! 

There were of course exceptions in Cardinal Manning, 
Canon Girdlestone, the Hon. and Rev. J. W. Leigh, the 
Dean of Hereford, Canon TuckweU and Bishop Fraser, all 
of whom championed the labourers. 

On Good Friday, 1872, a large demonstration was held at 
Leamington. On this day, when the martyrdom of Man 
was commemorated, that fashionable, residential town was 


filled with a crowd arrayed in smock frocks and fustian 
jackets, and in shabby gowns covering the half-starved, 
haggard wives. 

There and then it was resolved that the union should 
be called the Waiwickshire Agriculttiral Labourers' Union. 
The minimum wage determined upon was i6s., ten hours 
only to be worked a day, with a four o'clock stop on Satur- 
days, and that aU overtime should be paid at the rate of 4d. 
an hour, Sunday work being regarded as overtime. 

So great was the throng that an overflow meeting was 
held in the street, at which Archibald Forbes took the chair. 
Inside the haU Sir Baldwin Leighton, the Hon. Auberon 
Herbert, Mr. E. Jenkin, M.P., Dr. Langford, of Birmingham, 
and Mr. Jesse CoUings spoke. Here it was announced that a 
friend at Birmingham had sent the Union a donation of £100 
through Mr. Dixon, M.P. Other cheques, var37ing from £50 
to £100, began to flow in. 

The farmers retorted with a lockout. When the lockout 
commenced, the Union had only 5s. in hand, which consisted 
of pennies and halfpennies contributed by the labourers. 

The lockout lasted for about three months, when the 
resistance of the farmers was broken down. Wages imme- 
diately rose to 14s., 15s. and i6s. a week. By May the Union 
numbered 50,000 members, and it was in May that it was 
decided to link together the local unions formed in several 
counties into a National Union. Lincolnshire had, for 
instance, between 3,000 and 4,000 in a union ; Cambridge 
had over 2,000, and Huntingdon the same. 

This meeting of the various agricultural labourers' 
unions, held on May 29, was a very remarkable one. 
Eighty men, all bona-fide farm labourers, sat, represent- 
ing twenty-six counties. Mr. G. Dixon, M.P. for Birm- 
ingham, presided. The National Agricultural Labourers' 
Union became an acomplished fact, with Joseph Arch as its 
chairman and Henry Taylor its secretary. Mr. J. E. M. 
Vincent was elected treasurer and Messrs. Jesse CoUings, 
E. Jenkins, A. Arnold, and W. G. Ward were appointed 
trustees. The entrance fee was fixed at 6d, and the contribu- 
tion at 2d. a week. 


The following statement signed by the Chairman was 
circularised with the rules : — 

" Let courtesy, fairness and firmness characterise all our 
demands. Act cautiously and advisedly that no act may have 
to be repented or repudiated. Do not strike unless all other 
means fail you. Try all other means ; try them with firmness 
and patience. Try them in the enforcement of only just claims, 
and if they all fail, then strike." 

The immediate aim was i6s. a week for a 9^ hours working 

The Congress was marked by a strong religious note. 
Indeed, an outsider coming to it might have imagined that he 
was taking part in some strange Methodist revival. In the 
first place, it passed a resolution that " the Committee be- 
lieves in the justice and righteousness of their cause, and have 
the firmest faith that the Divine blessing will rest upon it." 

As though confessing their sins these untutored men told 
of their privations and their hopes. Again and again there 
were cries of " Amen " and " Praise Him." 

" The gentlemen on the platform were variously referred to as 
' Honnered surs,' ' These yer worthy gents,' ' These raal genel- 
men,' etc. The audience were alternately moved to laughter 
and tears. One delegate said : ' Sir, this be a blessed day ; 
this ere Union be the Moses to lead us poor men up out o' Egypt ' ; 
and another delegate commenced his speech with this explanation, 
given in a confidential tone : ' Genelmen and b'luv'd Crissen 
friends, I's a man, I is, Ts goes about wi' a oss.' Another 
informed the assembly that ' King Daavid sed as ow the 'usban- 
man as labourers must be the fust partaker o' the fruit,' adding, 
'and now he's mo'astly th' last, and loike ehuff gets none at 
all.' Yet another, descanting on. the ways of Providence, 
remarked that ' little things was often chus to du graat ones, and 
when 'e sa' the poor labrin' man comin' furrud in this 'ere move- 
ment, and a bringin' o' the faarmers to terms, he were remoinded 
0' many things in th' Scripters, more perticler o' the rams' horns 
that blew down the walls o' Jericho, and frightened Pharaoh 
King of Egypt.' " ^ 

When Spurgeon heard of the movement he said " it was 
the best news he had heard next to the Gospel."" But 

' Village Trade Unions, by Ernest Selley. 

' Labourers' Union Chronicle, August 23, 1873. 


it was not warmly welcomed by other distinguished men. 
The Duke of Marlborough, addressing his tenant farmers, 
told them that the discontent amongst the labourers was 
" brought about by agitators and declaimers, who had, 
unhappily, too easily succeeded in disturbing the friendly 
feeUng which used to unite the labourer and his employer 
in mutual feelings of generosity and confidence." One 
wonders if the Duke had ever heard of the Labourers' Revolt 
of 1830 ? And Sir Charles Adderley, M.P., expressed sur- 
prise that " ignorant demagogues told agricultural labourers 
to demand from their masters a market price for their 
labour." ^ 

Early in December a meeting was held in London at Exeter 
Hall. Mr. Samuel Morley, who had contributed £500 to- 
wards the Warwickshire Union, took the chair, and amongst 
those present on the platform were Sir Charles Dilke, M.P., 
Sir C. Trevelyan, Sir John Bennett, Mr. MundeUa, M.P., 
Cardinal Manning, Mr. Tom Hughes, M.P., and Mr. Charles 

An incident happened during harvest time of this year 
which bore a sinister aspect to many working men. When 
the labourers in August struck for an increase of wages the 
officers in Oxfordshire and Berkshire placed the soldiers at 
the disposal of the farmers for the purpose of getting in the 
harvest and defeating the Union. The London Trades 
Council the next year successfully exerted itself to stop 
troops being " lent " to farmers and procured a fresh regula- 
tion explicitly prohibiting for the future such a system " in 
cases where strikes or disputes between farmers and their 
labourers exist." 

It is really amazing that during the coiu-se of a year 
as many as 71,835 labourers should have joined the Union, 
when one considers not only their poverty, their chronic 
indebtedness to the village grocer, but also their position, 
which was akin to a subject race under employers and land- 
lords who still exercised enormous powers as magistrates, as 
Poor Law guardians and as dispensers of charities. The 
hand of oppression became heavy when landlords and 

1 Standard, September 19,, 1873. 


farmers agreed that cottages which had hitherto been 
" free " shovild be let as part of a farm, and that the labourers 
should be subject to a week's notice. Landowners and 
farmers acting in their capacity as magistrates frequently 
disallowed open air meetings, on the ground of obstruction 
of the highways. 

A test case was fought over a meeting held by Arch and 
Mr. J. C. Cox in 1873. Fortunately, the Labourers' Union 
briefed Fitzjames Stephen to defend them. The Chairman 
told Arch : "We have decided not to convict you this time, 
but you win be bound down to hold no more meetings in 

" I shall not accept that decision," responded Arch. " I 
am going to hold a meeting to-night about three miles away." 
And the meeting was held without let or hindrance. 

Arch mentions that outside the court there were about 
four hundred labourers armed with sticks which they were 
prepared to use had they seen their leader brought out in 

The worst case was that at Chipping Norton, in Oxford- 
shire, when two parson-magistrates sentenced sixteen women 
to imprisonment ; seven were given ten days' hard labour, and 
nine seven days' hard labour, and some of these women had 
children at the breast ! Their crime consisted of daring two 
imported men to take away their husbands' work while 
they were locked-out. The only weapon they used was 
the tongue. This occurred at the little village of Ascot- 
under-Wychwood, about six miles from Chipping Norton. 
Chivalry was a quality not often shown in those days by 
gentlemen to labourers' wives, and the sentence imposed by 
these two clergymen was given in spite of the fact that in 
their evidence the two strong-looking labourers said that 
they had been invited by the women to come back to the 
village and have a drink ! This they refused, and these 
brave fellows went to work on the farm under the protection 
of the police constable. The sentence of imprisonment 
with hard labour to respectable working women aroused so 
much indignation that a riot broke out in the town and extra 
police had to be telegraphed for. The authorities, fearing 


further trouble, had the women driven to Oxford in a brake 
and the Amazons were safely incarcerated in Oxford Gaol 
at an early hour in the morning. 

The sentence aroused the latent though often unexpressed 
chivalry of the EngUsh labourer, and a subscription was imme- 
diately raised amounting to .;£8o for the sixteen women, 
which was presented to them on their release from gaol. 
This was done in a magnificent manner. Two four-in-hands 
were driven in style to meet the women as they came out 
of Oxford Gaol, and they were taken right into Ascot, their 
return being heralded by music. The presentation of £5 
to each woman was made in front of the house of the ring- 
leader of the prosecuting farmers. One of these women 
is stiU hving, and she was proud of the fact that she could 
read and write whilst her husband never could. She states 
that when she went to prison it was the first time she ever had 
enough to eat in her life ! 

An Oxfordshire small holder who was then canvassing 
for signatures to a petition to be sent to the House of Com- 
mons for the Franchise, and who was an eye-witness of the 
home-coming of these women, informs me that each of 
them was presented with a silk dress in the Union colours. 
He also states that one of the hotels in Chipping Norton 
refused to stable the horses ! 

Petty acts of oppression were exercised by country 
vicars ; such as that of turning two young women out of the 
choir of a Buckingham church, because they spoke at a 
labourers' meeting. ^ One old Suffolk woman was threatened 
by the parson with the loss of her allotment if she allowed 
her barn to be used for a meeting.* In Clopton, Suffolk, 
the churchwarden gave notice that " the Society calling 
itself the National Agricultural Union having ordered strikes 
in a portion of the county of Suffolk, all members of the 
same in this parish have notice to give up their allotments, 
and wUl be struck off the list of parochial and bread 

When the farmers found it was not possible to obtain 

' Labourers' Union Chronicle, July 19, 1873. 
' Ibid., July 5, 1873. ' Ibid., August 2, 1873. 


soldiers to take in their harvest they imported Irish labourers, 
luring them to Dorset by false reports as to wages, and as 
soon as the harvest was over in 1872 many Dorsetshire 
farmers lowered the wages of their men, in some cases by 
as much as 5s. a week.^ 

Is it any wonder that a feeling had grown up in the hearts 
of the agricultural labourers that there was one law for 
the employer and another for the employed ? Had they 
ever read Adam Smith they would have approved of his 
statement : " We have no Acts of Parliament against 
combining to lower the price of work but many against 
combining to raise it." But the teaching of Adam Smith 
had hardly come in the way of a class whom in the eyes 
of many prominent persons it was dangerous to educate. 
" An extension of education," declared the President of 
a Royal Society, " would teach them to despise their 
lot in Hfe instead of making them good servants in 
agriculture and other laborious emplo37ment to which their 
rank in society had destined them." 

The kind of justice meted out to the unfortunate labourer 
of this date by a Bench consisting of landowners who 
were employers of labour and preservers of game is illus- 
trated by an old Sussex J. P., who wrote his reminiscences 
under the title of Eastbourne Recollections, Magisterial and 

When he was appointed to his office, the author, Mr. 
Graham, teUs us, that Major Leonard, a magistrate, ad- 
dressed him thus : 

" You have now become one of our body. Always bear 
in mind that we belong to a Penal Bench — ours is a Penal 
Bench." He went on to enlarge upon the ill effects of 
leniency upon society at large, and that the only way of 
putting down offences was to administer the law with the 
utmost severity. " It is my plan," he continued, "always to 
give the whole dose. I'U be bound to say that they won't 
forget it in a hurry. When any one is brought before 
you always give him the fuU dose and nothing but the 
dose ! " 

I Times, September 30" 1872, 


He seemed to take a rapturous delight in the phrase 
" utmost rigour." When a man was convicted he would 
turn round to the other justices and say : " Utmost rigour, I 
suppose ? " " Oh, yes, utmost rigour," would come the 
answer, and having pronounced this sentence, and removed 
the culprit, one of them would inquire of the clerk, " By 
the way, what is the utmost rigour ? " 

It is not surprising that Arch began a political campaign 
against the mal-administration of justice by ignorant and 
piejudiced country gentlemen and their " squarson " asso- 
ciates who inflicted " the utmost rigour of the law " on a 
man convicted of some trivial offence who happened to 
be a member of the Labourers' Union ; nor is it surprising 
that he attacked in season and out of season the Established 
Church, for whilst the Methodist and CongregationaUsts in 
particular helped the Union, the clergy assailed it on 
nearly every side. 

By conducting a poUtical campaign against the Church, 
though. Arch injured his cause, driving men like Canon 
Girdlestone out of the movement and estranging others. 
A few of the landed aristocracy carried on the traditions 
of English history by sympathising with the labourer. 
But it was from the towns where, as Meredith says, " the 
battle urges " that the labourers drew their chief financial 
support. Behind this gaunt army of landless men who had 
been patient so long stood the better paid workers and 
the trading classes of the towns. The inclination to strike 
in sectional groups became a source of weakness rather 
than strength to the Union. The fact is Arch did not really 
understand trade union work, and he resented the inter- 
ference of what he called " professional trade union men," 
though he had to accept the help of Mr. Henry Taylor, a 
Leamington carpenter, who was a professional trade 
union man, and he became, according to Mr. George Ed- 
wards, Arch's most valuable lieutenant. As wiU be seen 
later on, Arch, though an excellent " agitator," was not a 
good organiser, and despite the fact that he saw the danger 
of political intrigue he was too much incHned to listen to 
well-to-do politicians who influenced him to keep outside 


the trade union movement of the towns, which was then 
becoming a force. He mentioned with approval in his 
autobiography that 

" Some of these gentlemen who had the good of the cause at 
heart warned me against having anything to do with professional 
agitators ; Mr. Bromley Davenport, M.P., was one of those who 
cautioned us, and there were others who said, ' Arch, don't let 
this movement be complicated by trade union interference.' I 
had made up my mind to keep clear of them all." 

It was curious that he did not seem to reahse that he 
himself had become a professional agitator. 

Farmers locked-out union men in many counties, but 
being unorganised they failed to defeat the men in 
1872. Migration and emigration went on apace. Emigra- 
tion officers scoured the countryside, and so active did 
they become that Joseph Arch in 1873 was invited to 
Canada to satisfy himself as to the better conditions of 
hfe in that freer country and to arrange for the settlement 
of thousands of labourers. 

Arch tells us that he opposed emigration in the first 
instance ; but it was only human to give way, seeing that his 
fellow-workers had a chance to breathe a freer atmosphere 
in a new country where they were able to till their own land. 
When he gave evidence before the Royal Commission on 
Agriculture in 1881 he estimated the number of persons, 
men, women, and children, who had so far emigrated at 
the instance of the unions at 700,000. There is no doubt 
that the action of the British public, combined with that 
of the Colonial Governments, broke down the stubborn oppo- 
sition of farmers, and the unions succeeded in raising wages 
by IS. 6d. or 2s. a week and in some cases 3s. or 4s. 

Although the agricultural unions won in 1872 they were 
to suffer a defeat in 1874 from which they really never 
recovered. Migration and emigration was an expensive 
business, depleting the funds of the National Union alone 
in the financial year of 1874-5 of ^£5,997. 

The rule appears to have been to give every emigrant 
£1 and every migrant los. Canada, New Zealand, and 
Australia gained at the expense of English agriculture. 


" It was not the idlest and wastrels who sailed, but the 
strongest, the healthiest, and the most industrious men in 
the prime of life and in the full vigour of their strength." i 

In spite of the secret if not openly expressed hostility 
of farmer, landowner and parson ;2 in spite of frequent 
instances of miscarriage of justice and victimisation, the 
Union enjoyed a triumphant success for two years. Church- 
wardens might meanly withdraw allotments and charities ; 
parsons might proscribe with book and bell young women 
for speaking at meetings, or threaten to turn an old woman 
out of her allotment if she allowed her barn to be used for 
a meeting of the labourers ; but meetings continued to be 
held. They were held under the stars, if there was no 
friendly roof to shelter the men when they were gathered 
together ; they were held on roadside wastes, in sheep- 
fo]ds, in pounds or on windswept commons vmder the pale 

" The mayor has denied us the Corn Exchange," said 
Arch, when speaking in the open air at Newbury, " but 
our Heavenly Father sent us a beautiful nice fine evening, 
and let us have this spacious building." Nothing could 
deter this " ranter," who had an abounding faith in the 
righteousness of his cause and who believed that his 
mission was divinely ordained. 

At a meeting at Redburn, Bedfordshire, on April 24, 
1873, all the agricultural labourers of the district! 
appeared to be assembled with their sons and wives. For 
three hours in a bitterly cold wind they stood on the grass 
of the common, and all, especially the women, Ustened 
intently as the delegates spoke. ^ 

At a monster meeting held at Yeovil in June of the same 
year most of the men wore cards in their hats, upon which 
the following was printed : — 

1 History of Modern England, by Herbert Paul, Vol. III. 

2 " Wby did not the Church of England years ago appear manifestly 
before the country, telling what it knew about the housing conditions, 
and the conditions of wages of the agricultural labourers ? Why, when 
Mr. Arch was in the field forty years ago, did not the Church stand out 

. and say : ' This is the merest claim of justice ' ? " — Dr. Gore, Bishop of 
Oxford, 1913. 

» The Revolt of the Field, by A. Clayden. 


The Franchise for Agricultural Labourers. 
15s. a week all the year round and no surrender. 
Bands were playing, flags were flying, and arches of ever- 
greens and flowers were erected. There were gingerbread 
stalls and tents where refreshments, were served. Aunt 
Sally and other games were provided, whilst dancing and 
kiss-in-the-ring were thoroughly enjoyed. ^ 

The Union had a splendid asset in the Labourers' Union 
Chtonicle, which, though not officially the property of the 
Union, being owned by Mr. Vincent, championed the labour- 
ers' cause without reservation. But for its existence few 
of the cases of tjTranny would ever have been recorded in 
print. It is astonishing that it should have had a circula- 
tion of 50,000 weekly at a time when it was estimated that 
at least 80 per cent, of the labourers could neither read nor 
write. The listeners to its message, for the paper was read 
aloud by those who could read, in chapel, cottage, and pub- 
lic house, must have exceeded this number many times. 

It should not be imagined, however, that the whole of 
rural England in 1872 was given over to " agitation." The 
pastoral calm of Wales, and of the extreme northern coun- 
ties of England were little disturbed by Arch's movement. 

These were the days of opulent farming, when farmers 
lived by farming pure and simple, and did not have re- 
course to pupils or boarders for the summer, or to letting 
their fields abutting on to the railway line as advertising 
sites for Somebody's PiUs or Baked Beans. Harvest Homes 
were still the order of the day, at which were sung, 
" The Vly among the Turmuts," " God bless the Puir 
Sheep," " A Gossipin' Wife goes Gaddin' About." 

In Oxfordshire it was stiU possible to see the Morris Dancers 
at Whitsuntide going the round of the villages. These were 
usually eight in number, attired in white shirt and white 
trousers with tall black hats with plenty of gay ribbons at 
all points and many little beUs which jangled with the 
movements of the dance. These dancers were generally 
accompanied by a fiddler and by a " Squire," or " Fool," 
who was the jester. 

' The Labourers' Union Chronicle, June 28, 1873, 


" He carried a stick with a calf's tail at one end and an inflated 
bladder at the other, with which he kept a clear space for the 
dancers, bestowing hearty thwacks upon the backs and sides of 
any among the crowd who encroached too much. He also 
collected the bystanders' contributions in a tin box. Among the 
dances performed was one with sticks, each man striking the 
stick of the opposite dancer, keeping time to the music, something 
after the manner of a melodramatic backsword combat, whilst 
there were other dances in which handkerchiefs were prominent 
features." ^ 

There were more ploughing matcTies and " Fairs " than 
to-day, though very often the district Fair was the one 
annual holiday allowed to the agricultural labourer. He 
had other holidays, of course, such as those when he stood 
off for wet days, but these gave him no joy and his wife less. 

In spite of the prosperity of farming, the Union had now 
to face its biggest battle in the struggle to win a shilling or 
two more wages, which resulted in the Great Agricultural 
Lock-out of 1874. 

1 Fifty Years of a Showman's Life, by Thomas Plowman. 



It is difficult to reconcile the statements made by farmers 
and landowners at this time with those of investigators 
who travelled the country collecting facts. The statement 
made by Mr. C. S. Read, M.P., that the men's Union would 
prove as " tyrannical, as secret and as tormenting as the 
Star Chamber of old " reads like an echo of the Dorset 
Assizes of 1834. Such a statement though casts a flood of 
Ught on the attitude of mind adopted by the employing 
class and their advocates on the attempt of a landless, half- 
starved EngUsh peasantry trying to obtain a shilling or two 
more wages. 

The Strike of 1872, wrote Mr. Francis George Heath, 
was " one of the most justifiable, yet one of the mildest 
on record in the history of labour disputes — a gentle 
revolt that enlisted the whole-hearted sympathy of the 
British pubUc."i 

Mr. Frederick Clifford, The Times correspondent, during 
the great agricultural lock-out of 1874, stated that " on 
the whole the conduct of the labourers throughout the 
lock-out was exemplary. There were isolated attempts 
at intimidation, and a few cases of personal violence ; but 
considering that the lock-out extended over a great portion 
of the county of Suffolk, and included parts of Cambridge- 
shire, the men were orderly and well-behaved." ^ 

On the other hand the farmers' statements as to " fire- 
brand methods " of the National Union received support 

1 British Rural Life and Labour. 
' The Agricultural Loch-out, 1874. 

VOL. II. 49 E 


from Mr. Simmons, the secretary of a rival agricultural 
labourers' organisation in Kent and East Sussex. Speak- 
ing of the tactics of the National Union before the Royal 
Commission on Agriculture in 1881 he said that " the pohcy 
which they have adopted has been a firebrand policy of 
strikes and disruption." Mr. Sirrmions' statement, though, 
must be taken with a good deal of caution. In reading the 
evidence of this Royal Commission given by Arch and 
Simmons, one cannot help being struck by the blimt, fear- 
less, outspoken statements of Arch and the self-complacent 
tone adopted by Simmons. 

The Kent and Sussex Agricultural and General Labour- 
ers' Union started in 1872, but it never affiliated with the 
National Union. Mr. Simmons edited a newspaper at 
Maidstone which he converted into an organ for the union. 
His union afterwards became the London and Southern 
Counties Labour League, and though I have questioned 
old labourers who belonged to the union in 1872 and later, 
I cannot discover what became of Mr. Simmons. He seems 
to have disappeared from England, and with his disappear- 
ance during the agricultural depression the union seems 
to have melted away. It has been said that he was inter- 
ested in an emigration scheme promoted by some peer 
and went to a distant colony. 

If one examines the circular signed by Joseph Arch, 
sent to aU his branch secretaries, and the wording of the 
letters sent to farmers by the branch secretaries .or the 
committees, one is bound to come to the conclusion that the 
language used by the men, or their representatives, was not 
only conciliatory, but certainly more humble than trade 
union organisers would use at the present day. It is 
difficult then to understand the feeling of resentment on 
the part of the farmers when they received " notices," 
unless we bear in mind that the two classes had socially 
been drawing farther and farther apart, and the leinguage 
used, not in the strike circulars, but by the trade union 
speakers at meetings, was undoubtedly provocative La- 
bourers' sons and farmers' sons who had gone to the same 
Dame's school together, who talked in the same dialect in 


the 'forties and shared probably the same meals together 
in the farm kitchen, had now become widely separated. 
During the golden era of the 'fifties and 'sixties, whilst the 
farmer waxed fat and his son was sent to a good school, 
rode to hounds, and became more or less of a country gen- 
tleman, the labourer's son grew up iU-nourished, unedu- 
cated, and unenfranchised. His dependence upon the 
large farmer for his daily bread, the roof over his head, for 
fuel and for cast-off garments, became almost as marked 
since his divorce from the soil in the eighteenth century, 
as his forefather's dependence upon the lords of the manor 
in the age of feudaUsm. 

The gathering storm which led directly to the great 
lock-out of 1874 centred around the little village of Exning, 
in Suffolk. It was a letter signed by seventeen labourers, 
dated September 26, 1872, served upon the farmers in 
Exning, which determined the farmers in the eastern coun- 
ties to form an association for self-protection. This letter 
was couched in the following terms : — 

" Sir,-- ■ 
" We, the undersigned, do hereby jointly and severally 
agree to call your attention to the following requirements for 
our labour — ^namely, 14s. for a week's work, and no longer to 
conform with the system of breakfasting before going to work 
during the winter quarter. 

" Hoping you will give this your consideration and meet our 
moderate requirements amicably, 

" Your humble servants— — •" 

This coiurteous notice, which did not even ask for the 
demand put forward by the executive of the National Union 
for a minimum of i6s. for 9^ hours a day, roused the farmers 
to action. They formed an association at Newmarket on 
October 15, of which one of the rules enacted " that no 
member shaU make any general alteration in the rate of 
wages he is at any time paying to his labourers nor any 
other general alteration in the terms upon which he engages 
his labourers, without previously giving the committee 
due notice thereof, and acting in concert with them." 

The humble request for 14s. for a week's work came from 


labourers at Exning Uving in cottages many of which had 
only one bedroom, and a sitting-room 9 feet square, with 
a ceiling so low that an average sized man could not stand 
upright. The bedroom had a shelving roof and was dimly 
lighted by a small window, and in this one room, or rather 
loft, father and mother and children slept together. The 
boards of one cottage were so rotten that they swarmed 
with vermin — " enough to run away with the children," 
the mother said.i 

The cottages were destitute of allotments and there 
was no opportunity to keep pigs. Furthermore there was 
no school. These wretched men were asking for 14s. a 
week and the prosperous farmers became alarmed. 

There was a striking contrast in these days between the 
cottages on the Crown lands, which were quite good, and 
the privately owned cottages. 

" Many cottages have but one bedroom," said The Times 
correspondent. " I visited one such cottage in which father, 
mother, and six children were compelled to herd together — one 
a grown-up daughter. To be sure, the loft which formed the 
one bedroom was twice as long as the usual run of such places. 
The man said he had asked his landlord to put up a partition 
and make another window, but in vain. In another cottage, the 
woman said they had put the children upstairs, and she and her 
husband had slept in a bed on the brick floor until the bottom 
board of the bed had fallen to pieces from damp, and then they 
had to go among the children again." 

Six weeks later a notice was issued to the Essex farmers. 
It ran thus : — 

" November 6, 1872. 

" Dear Sir, — 
" The agricultural labourers of this branch of the National 
Agricultural Union in your employ beg respectfully to inform 
you that on and after Friday they will require a rise in their 
wages from 2od. to 26d. per day, and a general conformity to 
their rules, a copy of which we enclose. 

" Being desirous of retaining good relations between employer 
and employed, and to assure you that no unbecoming feelings 
prompt us to such a course, we invite you (if our terms are not 
in accordance with your views) to appoint cin early time to meet 

^ The Agricultural Lock-out, 1874, by Frederick Clifford. 


us, so that we may fairly consider the matter and arrange our 
affairs amicably. 

" Your obedient servants, 

" The Committee, 

" North Essex Branch." 

The phrasing of the letter seems to have been the common 
one used by the branches of the National Agricultural 
Union. With the rules enclosed was a preface addressed 
to the members in which we find Joseph' Arch signing his 
name to the words I have already quoted, " Let courtesy, 
fairness, and firmness characterise aU our demands. Act 
cautiously and advisedly that no act may have to be 
repented or repudiated. Do not strike unless aU other 
means fail you. Try all other means." 

One cannot stigmatise such letters as these as " fire- 
brand tactics." The farmers of Essex and Suffolk, however, 
resolved " that the members of the Association shall not 
in any way acknowledge the Labourers' Union by entering 
into any contract with such Union, or employ a unionist on 
strike without the consent of the acting committee." 

It wiU be clear to any impartial person that the farmers 
at this period of prosperity could easily have paid i6s. for 
a 54 hours week, the full demands of the National Union. 
But the labourers in Essex and Suffolk were only asking 
for 14s. and 15s. a week. Not receiving any reply the men 
of Exning again wrote to the farmers on March r, 1873, 
the following letter : — 

" I March, 1873. 

" Dear Sir, — 
" The agricultural labourers of this branch of the National 
Agricultural Union in your employ beg respectfully to inform 
you that, on and after March 7, they will require a rise in their 
wages of 3s. a week — a week's work to consist of — hours. 
Being desirous of retaining good relations between employers and 
employed, and to assure you that no unbecoming feelings prompt 
us to such a course, we invite you (if our terms are not in accord- 
ance with your views) to appoint an early time to meet us, so 
that we may fairly consider the matter and arrange our affairs 


" Your obedient servants, 

" The Committee, 

" Exning Branch." 


It will be noticed that the number of hours is left blank. 

Their wages were still I2s. a week, the same as they were 
six months previously. They appear to have taken no strike 
action after their first notice. Apparently they had waited 
patiently for some softening of the farmer's heart. This 
circular was put before the committee of the Newmarket 
Agricultural Association by the employers who had received 
it. As it bore no signature they made that the excuse for 
ignoring it. A resolution, however, was passed at a full 
meeting of the Association to raise wages to 13s. on March 
I5» 1873. The Exning men accepted this increase and 
went on working as usual, and in spite of the farmers' 
repudiation of the Union, attributed the shilling rise to the 
action of their Union. 

But the farmers of the Essex and Suffolk Association 
on April 17, 1873, at Sudbury, openly declared war upon the 
Union. They passed the following resolutions : — 

" That the members of the Association pledge themselves not 
to pay more than 2S. a day of twelve hours, including breakfast 
and dinner for day work. That in the opinion of this meeting 
the members 'of the Association should resist the interference of 
the National Labourers' Union by discharging the men in their 
employ belonging to the said Union, after giving them a week's 
notice of withdrawal." 

The farmers appealed to the great landowners to help 
them to stop in its infancy a movement which would " lead 
to confiscation of property, tearing down all rights except 
the might of the masses." And they immediately insti- 
tuted a lock-out which threw a thousand men out of work. 
The farmers won their first battle against organised agri- 
cultural labour. The farmers and their famihes worked 
harder than they had ever worked in their lives before, 
and it was not difficult in those days to get the casual unem- 
ployed labour of the towns into the country districts, 
especially when they were fetched, housed and fed. 

The funds of the Union in its infancy were severely 
strained. Many of the labourers migrated or emigrated 
and suffered much hardship. It is remarkable that so many 
who had been kept in such a low state of vitality should 


have remained loyal to their Union. Relief pay was only 
continued for four or five weeks. 

After the Essex and Suffolk farmers won their victory 
they resolved, March 19, 1874, to rescind the resolution 
passed the year before pledging the members of the Associ- 
ation not to exceed 12s. a week of day work ; and it was 
understood that each member should be "at Hberty to 
pay such wages as were general in the parish in which he 
occupied any land." The Exning men, however, were 
adhering to their original demand, and they sent out a 
notice on February 28, 1874, asking for a shilling rise 
in their weekly wages. They struck after the usual week's 
notice, when they found their demand had been ignored or 

Now the Newmarket farmers on March 10 declared 
war, and resolved to lock out all Union men after giving 
one week's notice. The men were locked out on March 
21, and thus began the great fight between labourers 
and farmers which resulted in undermining the strength 
of the Union. 

At first it aroused little attention, but soon great person- 
ages mingled in the fray. The Bishop of Manchester 
wrote to The Times a letter in which he asked : 

" Are the farmers of England going mad ? Can they suppose 
that this suicidal lock-out which has already thrown 4,000 
labourers on the funds of the Agricultural Union will stave off 
for an appreciable time the solution of the inevitable question : 
What is the equitable wage to j)ay the men ? The most frightful 
thing that could happen for English society would be a peasants' 
war. Yet that is what we are driving to if insane counsels of 
mutual exasperation prevail." 

The lock-out extended from the Newmarket district 
to Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Lincolnshire, Bedfordshire, 
Oxfordshire, Hampshire, Dorset, Warwickshire and Glouces- 
tershire and it has been estimated that 10,000 labourers 
were thrown out of work. The two principal unions in- 
volved were the National Agriciiltural Labourers' Union 
and the Federal Union of Agricultural and General Labour- 
ers. In Lincolnshire, where there was a separate union 


called the Lincolnshire Labourers' Union, a compromise 
was arrived at, though it shotild be remembered that Lin- 
colnshire enjoyed higher wages. The struggle lasted until 
the end of July when the unfortunate labourers were beaten. 

It could not have been carried on as long as eighteen weeks 
but for public sympathy, and especially the subscrip- 
tions from industrial unions, one of which, the Amalgamated 
Society of Engineers, voted £i,ooo to the lock-out fund. 
The cost and extent of the lock-out may be judged from 
the " authentic " list of grants made to various districts 
by the Central Executive at Leamington between the 
months of March and August, 1874.^ 

But not all this money came from outside sources ; ^£5,595 
was raised by the Agricultural Unions by special levies, 
which, considering the low wages the men were receiving, 
was a very creditable performance. 

One interesting feature of the lock-out was the Pilgrims' 
March of agricultural labourers through the heart of England. 

Some hundreds of locked-out labourers met at The Sev- 
erals, at Newmarket, on June 30, 1874. There they were 
addressed by Henry Taylor, the General Secretary of the 
National Labourers' Union, who undertook to lead the men 
from the eastern counties by easy stages to the large towns 

• Newmarket (Exning) District .... 14,984 10 7 

Wisbech ........ 1,550 o o 

Bedford ........ 980 o o 

Halstead, Essex ...... 1,460 o o 

Sawston, Cambs. ...... 1,931 o o 

Market Rasen, Lincoln ..... 858 o o 

Luton ........ 162 o o 

Aylesbury ....... 205 o o 

Old Buckenham, Norfolk ..... 585 o o 

Norwich ........ 135 o o 

East Dereham ....... 205 o o 

Wolverton ....... 256 o o 

Banbury ....... 283 o o 

Spalding ........ 59 o o 

Dorset ........ 400 o o 

Market Harborough ...... 164 o o 

Andover ........ 90 o o 

Farringdon . . . . . . . 85 o o 

Alton ........ 40 o o 

^£24,432 10 7 
The Agricultural Loch-out, 1874 by F. Clifiord. 


in the manufacturing districts to elicit renewed support from 
the trade unionists and the general public. Though Taylor 
warned them of the difficulties of a long tramp, quite a 
number of elderly, worn-looking men volunteered and were 
chosen to take part in the pilgrimage. Amid great cheer- 
ing from the men left behind and some weeping from the 
women, sixty or seventy English peasants in velveteens 
and smocks with the Union's blue ribbons prominently 
displayed and with banners flying began their pilgrimage. 
A light wagon bore the flags when they were not needed for 
display, and carried what scanty baggage the labourers 
brought with them. 

Cambridge was the first town to receive this quaint pil- 
grimage. Eye-witnesses have declared that they looked in 
need of a substantial meal, and this is not to be wondered 
at, considering the poor food they had been living upon, 
and that many of them had walked seven or eight miles 
from their respective villages before they tramped the 
fifteen miles to Cambridge. After a meal they processed 
to the Common, where Taylor was again the chief spokes- 
man. Twenty-five pounds were collected, £12 of which 
consisted of pence and halfpence. After Cambridge they 
visited Bedford, Nottingham, Sheffield, Wolverhampton, 
Birmingham and Coventry, though it must be admitted 
that many of these towns were reached by rail. They cleared 
£700 by this pilgrimage, after paying expenses. 

The public received them with great enthusiasm as they 
marched through the manufacturing towns singing songs 
written by their friends. 

When harvest began in the third week of July in some 
parts of the eastern counties, it was a bitter pill for the 
labourers to swallow, to see the corn they had sown reaped 
and harvested by strangers. A greater use was -made of 
the reaping machines, and the steam plough was brought 
into play to break up the stubble. By the beginning of 
August union men began to go back to their jobs on their 
masters' assumption that they had thrown up their union 

Yet Mr. Clifford teUs us that he found in Suffolk no feeling 


of yet crushing defeat amongst the men. The farmers had not 
succeeded in stamping out the union as they had hoped to 
do. " The weak-kneed among them gave up their tickets, 
but by far the larger number held on, and including Nationals 
and Federals, six or even seven thousand union labourers 
were left in Suffolk when the lock-out was ended." » 

There is no doubt that the farmers by locking out 10,000 
men in 1874 delivered a blow against English agriculture 
from which it has really never recovered. The land 
was denuded by migration and emigration of thousands 
of its most virile workers. Arch returned from Canada in 
November, 1873, where he had made excellent arrange- 
ments for the emigration of thousands of labourers each of 
whom would have a log hut, with five acres of cleared land 
and seed for the sowing, from the Canadian Government. 
Arch admitted himself that EngHsh agriculture suffered 
a decline as a result of his own emigration schemes, and that 
by emigrating young men he was striking a blow at his own 

The farmers did not play a noble part in this struggle. 
They tried to make the lock-out universal by carrying the 
industrial war into Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire, and 
Norfolk and by getting the County Association of Farmers 
to declare a general lock-out ; but these Associations 
would not be Itired by the blandishments of the Essex, 
Suffolk, and Cambridgeshire farmers. The landowners 
behaved on the whole better than the clergy, who, as a 
class, sided with the farmers. Probably their partisanship 
was due to their social and political timidity, for neither 
on economic nor on humanitarian grounds had the farmers 
a sound case. They were making money whilst the labour- 
ers were faring badly. There was no indication of an agri- 
cultural depression and they were securing the economic 
advantage of improved machinery and an increased number 
of fertilisers. 

It was the gospel of fear which knit together landlord, 
farmer, and parson ; the fear which was reflected in the 
mind of Dickens' Sir Leicester Dedlock. The "flood 
' * The Agricultural Lock-out, 1874, by F. ClifEord. 


gates " would be opened if labourers began to combine and 
demand higher wages. They saw in Arch's mild proposals 
for allotments, communal appropriation of the land and 
possibly a repetition of the French Revolution. 

It is not surprising that the farmers defeated the labourers. 
Threatened with eviction from their farm-tied cottages ; 
threatened with the loss of both public and private charities 
by the class which governed them ; voteless, isolated ; 
for the most part unable to read or write, and with the air 
fun of rumours of appropriation of union funds sedulously 
circulated by their enemies, the miracle would have been if 
the men had won. 

It was continually being dinned into the men's ears by 
their employers and the clergy that the organisers were 
living in the lap of luxury on the subscriptions collected 
in the towns. When one realises that the majority of 
men could not sign their names, and that money used to 
arrive at a locked-out village in a bag from which relief 
was dispensed to men who could only put a cross for their 
names, the marvel would have been if there had been no 
discrepancies in cash accounts. Ball said at Newmarket 
he believed that 90 per cent, of the men were in debt and that 
80 per cent. coiAd not write their names. 

Though the men did lose their battle, the financial result 
of the struggle was that the labourers in all the eastern and 
southern and midland counties came through the fiery 
ordeal with a higher weekly wage to take every Saturday 
night. That is to say, the low level of 12s. had been raised 
to 13s. or 14s., and in Norfolk to 15s., as far as the eastern 
counties were concerned, and in aU. the other counties a 
rise was perceptible in 1874-5. 

Mr. Thomas F. Plowman, a farmers' advocate, writes in 
his Fi/ty Years of a Showman's Life : 

" Although wages had from 1850 onwards gradually advanced, 
it must be admitted that they had not kept pace with the rising 
prices, and herein must be found some justification for the effort 
made to redress the balance. But there was less justification 
for the methods employed to this end. No distinction was 
drawn between the good and the bad master, and the most 
violent and incendiary language was used of all alike. . . . The 


labourers, headed by self-constituted leaders, walked about in 
procession through the country towns, wearing the blue ribbon 
which was the badge of the Union, and was to the farmer as the 
red rag to the bull, and singing about the land, honestly believing 
that they were coming into possession of it. 

" I remember my main difficulty with the farmers was in per- 
suading them that the most politic course was to allow the other 
side to have a monopoly of the strong language ; they did so want 
to pour out their souls in response. . . . The Union struck at the 
old relationship, in which there was give and take on both sides, 
between masters and men, and a great deal of bad feeling was 
engendered. The fuller effects of this were manifest when, a 
little later on, the great depression in agriculture set in, and 
both sides felt the pinch of bad times." 

The labourfers felt that on their side was all the giving, 
and on the farmers' all the taking. 

As a method of undermining loyalty to the Union, farmers 
in the Bury St. Edmunds district began to raise the wages 
of all non-unionists from 13s. to 14s. 

In certain districts there was a cry amongst the labourers 
for " a stone of flour a day," or its equivalent, that is 
2S. 6d. or 2s. gd., but this does not seem to have been an 
official union demand. " To base wages upon a sliding 
scale, rising and falling according to the current price of 
corn, is old-fashioned nonsense," said a Sussex farmer. 
And he was right. I mention this because I find the pro- 
position that wages should be paid according to the current 
price of corn constantly cropping up in after years, especially 
in the eastern counties. 

The opposition of the farmers was not based on any 
economic reasons. Their opposition was to the labourers' 
right to combine, or, as the farmers chose to put it, to 
" being dictated to by foreigners," that is to say by an execu- 
tive sitting at Leamington, Lincoln, or London. This was 
distinctly shown by the replies to Mr. S. Morley, M.P., 
and Mr. Dixon, M.P., who tried to bring about a conciliation. 

The Duke of Rutland, who owned between 9,000 and 
10,000 acres in the parishes of Wood-Ditton and Chevley, 
wrote a circular letter to the labourers on the estate with 
a view to conciliating them. He addressed them as " My 
Friends," but his letter contained the following statement : 


" It is true that when I heard that my tenants had decided 
to lock-out the Union men I thought it right to support 
them ; and I did so, as I thought this was the best course, 
not in the interest of my tenants only, but in that of the 
labourers also." It is not surprising that the labourers 
were unconvinced, but felt that even the best of the land- 
owners had joined in a conspiracy with the farmers and 
the clergy against their right to combine. 

One interesting feature of the lock-out was that many 
non-union men and village tradesmen subscribed to the 
Union lock-out fund. 

The lock-out pay seems to have been is. 6d. a day for 
the members of the National Union, and for the members 
of the Lincolnshire Labourers' Union in Suffolk los. a 
week, with is. extra for a man with a wife and something 
extra for children. 

Mr. Ball, who had been an agricultural labourer and a 
local Methodist preacher, made some pointed remarks at 
the Severals, on the Duke of Rutland's letter. 

" According to the Duke of Rutland's letter," said Mr. Ball, 
" the labourers were raised to a better position through the 
kindness and humanity of employers. You might as well expect 
the labourers to understand Egyptian hieroglyphics as to under- 
stand this. What was expected from men in the village was a 
deal of bowing and scraping. If they took off their hats to the 
village clergyman he would perhaps reward them by sa57ing 
' How do you do.' It was funny of one paid servant to expect 
<!his homage from another. He did not, however, want to teach 
respect to others, but respect to themselves." 

Some farmers were heard to express their admiration of 
the true British stubbornness and pluck shown by the men 
and their wives, in adhering to, under conditions of semi- 
starvation, and persistent persecution, their " sacred right " 
to combine. 

There were one or two instances illustrating the curious 
personal relationship between master and man, and of good 
humour prevailing, even when unionists and farmers met 
together. For instance, at a meeting of the Hoxne Branch 
of the National Union, which was preceded by a dinner, a 
farmer presided and helped to carve the joints, and Sir 


Edward Kerrison, a landowner, delivered a speech. After 
the speech one of the delegates proposed a hearty vote of 
thanks to Sir Edward and Lady Carohne Kerrison, which 
was carried with acclamation. 

During the lock-out poaching increased and many a 
gamekeeper paid 6d. for a pheasant's egg without inquiring 
where it was obtained, even though he had a shrewd stis- 
picion that it came from his einployer's estate. Violence, 
though, was seldom resorted to in conflicts with keepers. 
Instead of beating or shooting keepers they feed a lawyer 
by subscription, and paid the fines [imposed by the same 
co-operative method.^ 

Among the landowners hostile to the Union was the 
Marquis of Bristol, who was very angry at Arch's state- 
ment that the aristocracy had stolen 7,000,000 of acres 
from the people within a certain period. " These en- 
closures," said the Marquis, with righteous indignation, 
" had been based upon Acts of Parliament. The title to 
such land was as sacred as though it had been bought in 
the market." 

Although the Norfolk farmers did not show the same 
hostiUty as the Suffolk farmers, and were paying a cash 
wage of 15s. instead of the 13s. of Suffolk, they formed an 
association on June 20, 1874, at Norwich, " to defend the 
interests of the occupiers of the soil against the oppres- 
sion of the Agricultural Labourers' Union." About 
500 farmers were present, with Lord Walsingham in 
the chair. Lord Walsingham fortunately advised the 
farmers not to talk about stamping out the Union or 
instituting a lock-out. 

" Now, as reasonable men," he said, " the farmers could 
not deny this right of combination ; and if a proper tone 
on this point had in the first instance been taken by the 
farmers in the eastern counties it was not improbable that 
aU disagreement might have been prevented." 

There is no doubt that the newly introduced mowing 
machine at haysel— the feeding off by stock in many a 
meadow intended for hay, broke the back of the Union at 

^ The Great Lock-out, 1874. 


haymaking, time as the reaper and the elevator now being 
bought in larger numbers by the farmers, broke it at harvest 

I have questioned a number of men who can remember 
these early years of Arch's Union, and their rephes throw 
much light upon the difficulties which beset any kind of 
labour organisation in those days. Mr. James Reynolds, 
J.P., of Lambourn, Berks, writes : — 

" In 1874, when I was seventeen, I did some booking for a 
branch of the Wherwell, Hants. J. Arch, R. Ball 
and others visited the villages and the men responded readily 
to their call, and joined the Union. But they were met with 
opposition from every quarter. The Squire, the land agent, the 
farmer, and often the parson, showed hostility from the first. 
A great difficulty presented itself in obtaining rooms tomeet in, 
as all schools were in the hands of the Church. So meetings were 
chiefly held and the contributions paid in little Methodist chapels. 
It was not possible to maintain oversight and remedy grievances 
which soon cropped up between master and man, and the clerical 
staff of the N.A.L.U. became quite unable to cope with the work. 
Men's wages then were los. per week ; women's 8d. or gd. per 
day. I worked on two farms when a big lad for 3s. and 3s. 6d. 
per week. Mowing machines and self-binders had not then 
appeared, and on farms where now three men and a boy are 
employed^ there would be seven or eight men and two or three 
boys. I have watched the depopulation of villages and the 
migration of all who wanted to make headway for the last forty 

A Dorset labourer from the village of Beaminster, writing 
of this time, teUs me that his grandfather, who had to live 
on 7s. a week with his wife and five children, could neither 
read nor write : — 

" But I've heard father say he would get a newspaper and go 
to the village pub and pretend to be reading, but was actually 
reciting all sorts of nonsense from his own head, and some one 
W(Juld say : ' You've got the up end down,' when he would make 
answer : ' A good scholar can read anyhow.' 

" My father could not remember his mother. She died when 
he was young, being the yoimgest of the five. He remembers 
waking up one morning and finding his dad dead by his side when 
he was eight years of age. Then he had to start work as dairy 
boy or go into the worMiouse, and he worked from daylight to 
dark, and after that he married at the age of eighteen, when he 


became a carter at los. a week. There were nine of us to live 
on that besides father and mother. Poor dad had to tramp four 
miles every day to work, seven days a week, besides being on the 
tramp all day with the horses, without half enough to eat and 
sometimes wet through before he got to work. They must 
have been made of cast-iron in those days. He did this for 
fourteen years and reared us all up, and only once in those 
fourteen years did he ask for parish relief when he was home 
with a quinsey for a fortnight. He got a little allowed to him 
from the parish, but after he started work again the Chairman of 
the Board of Guardians, who was a gentleman, rode to hounds, 
etc., rode up to the farm and asked if dad could not pay back the 
money at so much a week because his wages had risen to lis. a 
week at that time, with not one of us earning a penny. When 
the farmer heard what he had come for, he followed him off the 
farm cursing him all the time, asking him if that was what he 
paid Poor Rates for, for him to keep hunters to ride about. . . . 
I've had some of It. It makes my blood boil as I write this." 

Mr. Pink, of Bore Green, Kent, teUs me that he remembers 
the Kent and Sussex Labourers' Union, which according 
to Simmons' evidence before the Royal Commission of j88i 
had a membership of 14,000. ^ He states that when the 
Union was started the wages in Sussex and Kent were los. 
to I2S., which low wages the Union raised to 15s. The 
Union had the advantage of a paper called The Kent Mes- 
senger, which Simmons edited. The farmers in the Isle of 
Sheppy answered the Union demand with a lock-out. 
Mr. Pink writes : — 

" I told the farmers at a meeting we had with them that if 
they did not pay the 15s. I was instructed to take away one 
hundred of their best men on Monday morning. The farmers 
shouted ' Rot ! ' and ' Go to hell with your humbug.' I told 
them I would take single tickets but not to that isolated place 
they spoke of, but to respectable and different railways, where 
the men would earn i8s. to 20s. per week, and I would soon 
remove their furniture so that the farmers could have the empty 
houses, and that this would not be an empty boast. 

" On Monday morning I took tickets for 105 for the places 
where the men were wanted, and their furniture soon followed, 
and many a family have often thanked me for the move I gave 

1 He needlessly apologises for what he calls his " scribble and bad 
spelling ; for I am self-taught on the Downs whilst scaring crows and 
minding sheep." 


" When I was nine years old I started work on the Wrotham 
Downs scaring crows and minding sheep for the noble sum of 
threepence per day. Those were hard times. Simmons' Union, 
as it was known by, done a lot of good, and it would have done 
more had Sinmions not had so many irons in the fire, and had 
not slipped off in the dark, and never was seen in the county 

Mr. Pink writes of the large exodus from Kent by emigra- 
tion to the Colonies in those days, which, whUe it helped 
the Union for the time being by making labour more scarce 
and relieving the funds of the Union of lock-out pay, drained 
the countryside of its best young blood, which ultimately 
was not only bad for England nationally, but also destroyed 
the vitality of the Union. 

I was interested to compare Mr. Pink's letter, which I 
received in November, 1919, with some evidence given by 
Simmons before the Royal Commission in 1881, which shows 
that farmers at that time did not stand on ceremony in 
giving laboiurers notice of a lock-out. 

Simmons stated that his Union never originated a strike ; 
that, he contended, was the great difference between his 
union and Arch's. 

" May I ask what was the cause of the lock-out in Kent ? " 
asked one Commissioner. 

" You wUl in the first place remember," answered Simmons, 
" that it was at the close of the harvest season of 1878, when 
agriculture was becoming somewhat depressed, and there were 
a number of meetings held by farmers and they decided by 
resolution to reduce the wages, and many farmers carr5dng out 
that resolution adopted a very arbitrary course. They simply 
gave their labourers notice on Saturday that next Monday they 
would start lower wages, and the Union required in all cases 
where men were weekly servants the full week's notice of reduc- 
tion, and some farmers complied, and others declined and said : 
' No, next Monday you start" at 3d. or 4d. a day less than you 
have had.' A considerable number of labourers refused to do 
that, and the farmers told them 'Then you can go from the 
farms.' " ^ 

The spirit of the women during the lock-out was exempli- 
fied by the statement overheard as a farmer drove by down 

> Royal Commission on Agriculture, 1880-1883. 


the village street, " the labourers would ride in the gigs and 
the farmers in the tumbrils," a prophecy which has not yet 
been realised ! There is no doubt that union speakers 
generated many an illusion. There was a pathetic hope 
amongst these locked-out labourers that an Act of Old 
Age Pensions would soon be passed and that the land 
would shortly be theirs. They had to wait thirty-four 
years before they were given an old age pension, or the 
opportunity to enter upon a statutory Small Holding. 




All those who gained their living from the land will remem- 
ber 1879 as the " Black Year. " To the pessimistic it came as 
an evil omen of the era of agricultural depression which was 
to follow. It was the worst of a succession of wet seasons, 
and the winter of 1 880-1 was one of the severest ever known. 
The land, saturated and chilled, produced coarse herbage, 
since the finer grasses languished and were destroyed. Fod- 
der and grain were imperfectly matured, mould and ergot 
were prevalent amongst plants, and fluke produced liver-rot 
amongst live-stock. In 1879 3,000,000 sheep died or were 
sacrificed from rot in England and Wales. ^ By 1881 
5,000,000 sheep had perished, at an estimated loss of 

Besides this great calamity this year was distinguished 
by one of the worst harvests of the century ; by outbreaks 
of foot and mouth disease and of pleuro-pneumonia.^ 

The steam whistle of factory and train sounded the 
death-kneU to many a village industry. In many a parish 
the village tailor crossed his legs for the last time. The 
smithy stood black and silent, and children no longer loitered 
by the anvil from which no music was hammered. Wind- 
mills beat their arms in vain on hill or plain. No grist was 
brought to their moveless stones. No dusty miller lingered 
by the mUl-pond, which poured its wealth of shining liquid 
power past an unresponsive wheel. The click of hand- 
looms worked by village maidens was no longer heard at 

1 R.A.S.E. Journal, 1881. 

2 A Short History of English Agriculture, by W. H. R. Curtler. 



open cottage windows. The village shoemaker who made 
boots which could stand the rough wear of the furrows 
ceased to be a creative artist. He becarne a cobbler. The 
rh3i;hmic swing of the sower's arm was a rarer sight than the 
drill, and the silken song of the scythe was drowned in the 
rattle of the mowing machine with its ugly chattering teeth. 
" Cheeseloft " became a legend over the door of many a 
farm building, for the dair57maid disappeared as the old 
stone cheese-press that she raised and lowered so often 
became her tombstone. 

Public sympathy, at any rate as expressed by those who 
governed, began to swing round to the farmer. Land- 
lords had steadily increased their rents during the 'fifties, 
'sixties, and 'seventies, and farmers had undoubtedly felt 
the pressure of the growing strength of the trade unions. 
Not that they could not afford to pay the wages demanded, 
but through their stubborn opposition to the labourers' 
demands by lock-outs, and by letting down the fertility 
of their land, there must have been a considerable amount 
of economic waste. A Royal Commission on Agriculture 
was set up, imder the chairmanship of the Duke of Rich- 
mond. From this Commission, of the three classes who 
Uved by the land — ^the farmer, the landlord, and the 
labourer — ^it was the farming class which perhaps received 
the most attention. At any rate, it was immediately fol- 
lowed by rebates on rents, the Ground Game Act, and later 
by an Agricultural Holdings Act. The labourer was stiU 
voteless and there was little sympathy for a class wallowing 
in the luxury of a cash wage of 13s. or 14s. a week whilst 
rent rolls were declining and farming profits in many 
instances vanishing. Royal Commissions in these days 
considered representation of labour as an act of super- 

On the labourer's side improvements in Allotments and 
Housing Acts followed their course with painfully slow 
Parliamentary procedure. Industrial organisation amongst 
the agricultural labourers steadily went downhill from this 
time, for the " Black Year," not only produced the 
worst harvest ever known, and was ill-famed for the destruc- 


tion of livestock by disease, but it also marked the turn of 
the tide from comparatively high prices for corn to a period 
of declining prices which steadily ebbed with shght fluctua- 
tions during twenty years. 

The agricultural unions, in the face of the falling prices 
and bad harvests, had not the courage to ask for higher 
wages or shorter hours. On the other hand, they submitted 
to a reduction in wages, which, however, it should be remem- 
bered, never fell to the level of the " golden era " of the 'fifties 
and 'sixties. 

The National Union fell rapidly into decline. It could 
not stand up against the economic pressure from without, 
and the fierce dissensions from within. Disunion started 
in 1875, following the defeat in Suffolk and the surround- 
ing counties. Members, disheartened by the failure to 
win higher wages, now sought to gain a footing on the land. 

Mr. Matthew Vincent threw himself into this new move- 
ment in 1875, by giving it the support of his paper. ^ In 
Arch's absence in Surrey, the executive of the " National " 
went so far as to pass resolutions to purchase a farm. They 
extricated themselves from this doubtful legal proceeding 
with some difficulty. Many members fell away from the 
Union to follow the will-o'-the-wisp of a Co-operative Land 
Company which, though it did materiahse in solid acres, 
vanished almost as quickly as a dream. 

The Union split up into " Federals," or self-governing 
county areas, which managed entirely their own affairs, 
controlling their own funds. But the death-blow inflicted 
upon the Union came from the unsound sick benefit societies 
which the Union in its folly took under its wing. Any old 
man who was a member of some unsound village sick benefit 
society was admitted on an entrance fee of is. 6d., and 
naturally the younger men, seeing financial ruin facing the 
Union, severed their connection with it. 

Arch, in spite of his qualities as an agitator, was by no 
means the right man to settle differences. He was too 

' The attack made upon Vincent by Taylor for appropriating the 
profits on his paper was unwaireintable. Vincent was an idealist, and he 
made the mistake of imagining Eldorado can be provided by private sub- 
scription. Eventually he left England for Australia, a broken journalist. 


autocratic, and not the man to pour oil upon troubled 
waters. From a membership of over 80,000 in 1874 
the National Union sank to a membership of 15,000 
in 1881, and to 4,254 in 1889. Suspicion was rife as to the 
mal-administration of funds ; and disheartened by the 
calumnies heaped upon his name it was not unnatural that 
Joseph Arch should seek consolation in the ranks of a 
political party which welcomed him and used him to the 
utmost. Amongst those who paraded Joseph Arch in the 
early 'eighties was the late Joseph Chamberlain, and Glad- 
stone found the labourers' champion an asset to his party 
in passing the Franchise Act of 1884, which at last granted 
the agricultural labourer the right to vote. Henceforth 
the labourer became the shuttlecock of the contending 
battledores of Liberal and Conservative pohticians in all 
rural districts. 

It is amazing when we reahse the illiteracy of the 
farm worker at that date, that the Union achieved any 
success at all as an organisation. So rapid was the enrol- 
ment of members in its first two years that they soon out- 
paced the staffing capacities of the Union. The knowledge 
of how difficult it was forty years after to get farm workers 
with sufficient education or courage to act as branch secre- 
taries makes one wonder how the Union managed to induce 
men to act as secretaries only two years after the Education 
Act of 1870. 

It should be remembered that at this time the prevalent 
feeling towards education in rural districts was stiU very much 
like that expressed by Doyle in 1843, when he said : " The 
word education must in most cases be taken to mean really 
little more than a certain amount of physical deteriora- 
tion, incurred by wasting time in crowded and unwholesome 
rooms. "^ 

A child above the age of ten who had reached the Fourth 
Standard prescribed by the code of 1876, could be freed 
by a certificate from the Government inspector from 
further attendance. Moreover, children who could satisfy 

' Report of the Special Assistant Commissioners to the Commission on the 
Employment of Women and Children in Agriculture of 1843, Vol. XII. 


the local authorities that they were properly employed 
in labour and who held certificates intimating that they 
had reached the Third Standard had only to put in 150 
annual attendances from the age of ten to that of thirteen. 
Reliable authorities have asserted that wherever these 
by-laws were in force 99 per cent, of the boys could free 
themselves from school attendance at the age of eleven. • 

In Scotland it was otherwise. Evidence was forthcoming 
even as far back as the Commission of 1870 that the boys 
and girls of Scottish hinds were kept at school until they 
were twelve or thirteen years of age. 

Labourers, no doubt, felt the lack of the earnings of their 
children, and it is to their credit that they, much more 
than their employers, were the educational enthusiasts. 
It would be sentimental to say that the labourer loved educa- 
tion for education's sake. Probably, the sentiment of the 
ordinary parent was expressed by a woman to a Com- 
missioner in 1867 when she said : " If I could only get 
him to be a scholar he should never be a farm labourer." 

In Sussex in the early 'eighties shepherds, as a rule, could 
neither read nor write, and yet they had their own way of 
counting sheep. The strange formula ran thus : One-erum, 
Two-erum, Cock-erum, Shoo-erum, Shitherum, Shatherum, 
Wineberry, Wagtail, Tarrididdle, Ten. 

Much of the evidence given by Joseph Arch before the 
Royal Commission in 1881 is interesting, not only from the 
light it throws upon the labourer's position at that time, 
but also on the character of Arch himself. He told the 
Commission that wages in 1871 were almost at starvation 

" What do you consider," asked the Duke of Richmond 
and Gordon, the President, " to be what you call starvation 
pofnt ? I do not quite understand how you gauge that."^ 

" When a man's wages for the whole of the week do not 
leave him more than a penny per meal per head, men, 
women and children, I think that is next to starvation." 

When asked what he considered a labourer ought to be 

• Annals of the British Peasantry, by Russell M. Garnier. 
' Royal Commission on Agriculture, 1880-82. 


paid, he again and again stoutly refused to be drawn. " I 
am not here to express an opinion upon that," he answered ; 
" as a labourer I should myself want to get the best wages 
I could." 

Again he was questioned ; again he answered : " No, 
I am not come here to say what he ought to get. I am not 
come here to draw the line of the labourers' wages." 

He complained of the farmers foolishly starving the land 
of laSour ; he said that 700,000 souls amongst the agricul- 
tural labouring classes had been emigrated since 1872 ; and 
that from 1872 to 1875 wages had increased in most counties 
2S. and 3s. a week, and in some counties, 4s. Since 1877 
wages had been lowered is., and in some counties 2s. and 
even 3s. He gave the Warwickshire wages in 1872 as 
averaging los. to iis. per week, the Dorsetshire, Wiltshire, 
Berkshire and Hants wages as 7s. to 8s., and the Somerset- 
shire wages as 6s. to 7s. exclusive of all hay and harvest 
money. He spoke of the high rents that labourers had 
to pay for their allotments, and considered that every 
cottage should have a quarter of an acre attached to it. 

When he was recalled, he gave evidence that the weekly 
subscription for trade purposes was 2;fd. per week. Ques- 
tioned again as to the minimum wage of a labourer, he 
answered : "I should think they ought to have as much 
money to support them outside the union workhouse as it 
costs them inside. I say that a man who has a wife and 
family to maintain and has to pay rent and all other expenses 
upon a home deserves as much per head for each of his family 
as it costs us to keep them as paupers in the workhouse. 
. . . For a man and wife and six children costs in a work- 
house the amount of 30s. a week." 

He took care, however, to qualify this statement by say- 
ing that he did not advocate an employer paying a man 
with a large family £2, or a man with none at all los. a week. 
He contended for what he called " cottage right " by the 
same legislative means as farmers demanded tenant right. 

" The tied cottage," he said, " binds a man hand and foot. 
If I rented a cottage from his Grace, and I paid him £4 or £5 a 
year rent for that cottage, I ought to have the fullest liberty to 


take my labour to the best market ; but when a cottage is let 
with the farm, the man is compelled to labour on that farm from 
January to December ; he is not allowed to remove an5nvhere 
else, however good the wages may be in the neighbourhood. I 
know a case which occurred in 1872, seven miles from my house, 
in which when the East and West Junction Railways passed 
through the district the railway companies were offering 
3s. 6d. and 3s. lod. per day ; and the young men who were at 
work on the land for lis. per week left it, and they were told 
that unless they came back for 12s. per week they should leave 
their cottages." 

" In the case which you mention," said his questioner, " a 
cottager is not obliged to go and take that particular cottage 
under the farmer." 

" No," answered Arch, " but then you must remember that 
taking our rural population these last twenty years a very large 
number of cottages have gone to decay. I know villages where 
seven and eight and ten cottages in my remembrance have gone 
to decay. The inhabitants of those cottages have been driven 
to the towns. Those who remained behind, of course, were glad 
to take them for the sake of shelter. If a man is forced into these 
things, it is almost superfluous to ask him why he does them. 
In my own village within the last seven weeks there have been 
six cottages pulled down. Where are those people to go ? 
There are two or three cottages built on a farm, and a man is 
told : ' You can go and live in one of those if you like.' The 
necessity of the case drives him to go and live in one of those 

Mr. George Edwards remembers a farm labourer at Nar- 
burgh, in Norfolk, being dismissed and evicted from his 
cottage for taking an active part in the Union. The man's 
goods and chattels were thrown out on to the roadside, and 
there they remained for over a week, for either no cottage 
was available in that neighbourhood or no one dared to 
house the furniture. * 

But this was not aU the persecution he had to endure. 
With a Gilbertian travesty of justice the map was prosecuted 
and fined for obstructing the King's highway ! 

Some years later a Sussex ploughman at whose cottage 

' Mr. George Edwards states that landlords in collusion with farmers 
during the 'seventies " tied " many cottages which were " free " in order 
to sap the independence of the men ; but Mr. Ankers Simmons, than 
whom there is no land agent of greater experience in England, assures 
me that cottages were let with farms as frequently before Arch's time as 
afterwards. It is probable the custom of letting cottages with farms 
was increased during the depression. 


I was sleeping, informed me that he knew a man who was 
dismissed and evicted for having the audacity to ask for is. 
a week more wages. His furniture was thrown out on 
the roadside, and there it remained in all weathers for a 
fortnight ; and but for the kindly help of a neighbour, who 
lent him a wagon cloth, the furniture would have been 
badly damaged. It was many weeks before he could find 
fresh employment, and then like an honest beggar driven 
to desperation he was forced to take even lower wages. 

Arch had experience in his trade union work of the diffi- 
culty of organising a " close " village, in contradistinction 
to an " open " one. A close village was one in which aU the 
cottages were practically owned by one man ; though it 
is only fair to add that if these belonged to a landlord like 
the Duke of Bedford, or Lord Tollemache, or Earl Spencer, 
the cottages were generally very much better than those 
in open villages, where cottages were owned by avaricious 
small men. 

He gave evidence, though, of the Duke of Bedford prohibit- 
ing his cottagers keeping a pig, or a dog, or fowls. 

" Do any of you attach any importance," he was asked, " to 
the argument which is used against labourers keeping pigs on 
account of its giving them encouragement in pilfering? " 

" The labourer is as honest as any other class," flashed out 

" I am not saying that it is not so," answered Lord Vernon, 
" but do you attach any importance to that argument ? " 

" Not at all ; it is an indefensible slur upon the honesty of my 
class," replied the sturdy champion of the labourer. 

When asked whether landlords, as a body, had opposed 
the labourers, he answered : " Taking the majority, they 
have bitterly opposed us." Then he admitted that Sir 
Edward Kerrison had not, and that the Duke of Grafton 
had remained neutral, but that Lord and Lady Stradbroke 
were " formidable enemies." 

When he stated that the labourers, even with a slight 
decline in wages were paid two or three shillings more 
than they were paid before 1872, he was asked if labourers 
had not suffered less than the landlords and tenants since 
the depression set in. 


"No," answered Arch. 

" Are not the labourers at the present moment better clothed, 
and better fed, and better housed than they ever have been ? " 

Arch's reply was : " Yes, that may be. But at the same time, 
when you say that the landlords and the farmers have suffered 
more than the labourers, it is a moral certainty that with los. or 
I2S., or even 14s., a man who has a wife and three or four children 
cannot keep so good a home nor feed his family as well as the 
farmer and the landlord can his." 

" That is a different proposition altogether," said Mr. Hunter 
Rodwell, the Commissioner. " Putting the thing relatively, 
and supposing that of the three men one has had £3,000 a year 
to spend, and another £500 a year, and another £50 a year, the 
man who has £50 a year to spend has lost less in proportion than 
either of the other two classes, has he not ? " 

" Yes," answered Arch, " if you talk about the losses in pro- 
portion to the income, of course the landlords have lost more 
than the labourers, and so have the farmers in the aggregate ; 
but if you come to the question of the suffering arising from the 
losses, the labourers have suffered far more than the farmers and 
landlords have. Take £1,000 a year, if you please, from his 
Grace, and take 2S. a week off my Wages, and I suffer far more 
than his Grace would by the loss of £1,000 a year. Then if the 
farmer's profits be £200 a year, and let him lose £150 and only 
clear £50, and take 2S. a week off my wages, and I suffer greater 
loss than he does." ^ 

Perhaps Mr. A. Simmons, the secretary of the Kent and 
Sussex Labourers' Union, made a better answer when the 
same question was put to him : — 

" I should say," said Mr. Simmons, " that the landlord suffers 
least. I should say that the farmer suffers most, but that he 
feels his suffering less than the labourer. To the labourer it is 
a question really of less food ; to the farmer it is not absolutely 
a question of bread ; it is comforts or no comforts." ^ 

Though the labourer was able to buy many things cheaper 
than he was ten years before, it should be borne in mind that 
beef, butter, and potatoes showed a distinct rise in prices, 
whilst wheat and cheese remained the same as during the 
previous decade. Towards the end of this decade, for the 
first time in their lives, thousands of labourers who had 
hardly ever tasted any other meat than that obtained from 
the pig which they kept in their sties, or the rabbit which 

1 Royal Commission on Agriculture, 1880-82. 
« IbiA. 


they snared in the field, began to taste mutton and beef sent 
frozen to England from thQ ends of the world. 

It is an ironical reflection on civilisation that the English 
labourer who fed the buUock in the yard which he over- 
looked from his cottage ; and folded the sheep on the roots 
under his eye, had to wait until frozen meat came to him 
from the Antipodes or the ranches of America before 
butcher's meat became part of his diet, even once a week. 
This is no exaggeration, for men to-day have told me that 
the frozen meat which arrived in this country in the late 'eigh- 
ties was the first time they had tasted mutton in their hves. 

In spite of the reductions in wages, made in many areas, 
especially in the southern counties, the labourer received 
higher cash wages at this period than he did before the birth 
of Arch's Union, Yet he suffered more than either of the 
other two classes who experienced greater financial losses, for 
the reduction of a shilling or two in wages, when these are 
not at a figure sufficient to maintain physical efficiency, 
means suffering in a very real sense. 

More and more it became the custom for farmers to reduce 

the labourers' p/erquisites and to be more ruthless in turning 

men off on wet days. The official figures then must be used 

with some caution.^ 

s. d. s. d. 

* Surrey 15 o Worcester 13 6 

Kent 16 6 Warwick 14 o 

Sussex 13 6 Leicester (ordinarily) . . ii 6 

Southampton .... 12 o „ (near the iron 

Berks 12 o mines) ... 14 6 

Bucks 14 o Rutland — 

Hertford 13 6 Lincoln 14- 3 

Oxon 13 3 Middlesex 15 6 

Northampton .... — Nottingham (ordinarily) . 14 o 

Huntingdon 12 o „ (near the mines) 19 o 

Bedford 12 6 Derby 16 6 

Cambridge 12 6 Chester — 

Essex 12 6 Lancashire 17 6 

Suffolk 12 6 Yorkshire, E 15 o 

Norfolk 12 6 „ W 16 6 

WUts 12 o „ N 16 6 

Dorset no Durham 17 9 

Devon 13 o Northumberland . . . i5 6 

Cornwall 14 6 Cumberland 18 o 

Somerset 13 o Westmoreland . . . . 18 o 

Gloucester 13 6 Monmouth 12 o 

Hereford 13 o Wales — 

Salop 13 o 

Stafford 13 6 Average .... 14 ij 

— From Dr. Hasbach's and the Assistant Commissioner's figures. 


Farmers knew, too, that the threat of a labour-saving ma- 
chine could still strike fear to the heart of the labourer. ' ' The 
farmers have used machinery as a sort of weapon over the 
backs of the labourers," said Joseph Arch before the Royal 
Commission. " I heard of a certain farmer who boasted 
for years at a market ordinary that he bought a reaping 
machine, but he never used it, and he said that it paid him 
a good percentage, keeping it in the coachhouse to frighten 
the labourers with." 

The pinch of poverty was increased, too, by the falling off 
in family earnings. It was chiefly through the action of the 
trade unions that the degrading gang system of emplo3dng 
married women, young girls and boys on field work under 
a ganger who exploited their labour and had no regard for 
their morals, had largely disappeared. The Education Act 
of 1870 had also cut inroads into the earning capacities of 
families. Married women were seen less in the fields, and 
the new schools absorbed the children. It was common 
practice however for boys to work in gangs, and they did not 
appear to have a very happy life of it. A man who was a 
member of Arch's Union, and is now living at Maylands, 
Essex, teUs me of the experience he had when he was nine 
years of age at Chelmondiston on the Orwell, which fortun- 
ately had its humorous side. Working one day with nine 
other boys under the charge of a foreman aged sixteen, at 
singling mangolds, this juvenile gang was made aware of 
the farmer watching them at work from behind a hedge by 
hearing him roar out to the ganger : 

" Get me two ash sticks about a yard long. I shall be 
back in a minute." 

The bigger boys at once held a council of war and decided 
to put up a fight. But the farmer brought along with him 
heavy artillery in the form of a large retriever dog. 
Surrender to the inevitable was imminent, but not until 
the biggest boy had got a piece of the root of a tree placed 
inside the seat of his trousers. He was the first boy to 
receive the thrashing, and whilst the ash stick descended 
upon the root the others burst out laughing. The laughter 
incensed the farmer so much that he thrashed every one of 
the boys in turn 


" Some years after this occurred," remarked my informant 
caustically, " I met this same farmer in a lonely spot. I 
laid hold of him and invited him to have another go at me, 
but he decUned with thanks." 

Simmons contended that cash wages in Kent had dropped 
from 15s. to I2s. during the last five years, and he gave some 
interesting figures as to the losses from wet and frosty wea- 
ther. Six labourers kept an account of the days lost in 
twelve months. These showed an average loss of eighty-five 
days in wet and wintry weather. Had it not been for emi- 
gration agents, and the lowering in the price of many com- 
modities purchased in the shops, the shrinkage in family 
earnings would probably have brought about serious trouble 
in rural districts. The custom of baking bread in their own 
ovens was being dropped in labourers' families, because 
ovens were not provided in the newer type of cottage and the 
older ones were faUing into decay. Increased machinery 
had shortened the harvest earnings. Simmons made the 
statement that the Kentish labourer spent on the average 
only 6d. a week on beer, " and his Grace is aware," he added, 
" that the labouring people in many places look upon beer 
as food."i 

1 We get a glimpse at an agricultural labourer's budget with an average 
family in 1880 from the Parliamentary Report Commissions, 1881, XVI. 



s. d. 

Wages . . . 

. . . 15 


• • I 7i 

Garden . . . 



Bread . . . . , 

. . 6 



Bacon . . . . , 
Tea and Sugar . . 




Cheese .... 
Butter , , . , 


Candles and soap . 
Clothes .... 
Schooling ... 


. . I 6 

18 4i 

It wiU be noticed that there is no allowance made for church or chapel 
collection, a newspaper, a postage stamp, a journey in a carrier's cart, or 
a railway, a glass of beer, or even a doctor's fees. 

Presumably the deficit between the revenue and the expenditure had 
to be met by the cold hand of charity, for I imagine the extras included 
harvest money. 


An official attempt has been made to prove that the 
poverty was not so great at this^thne by giving the figures of 
the reduction of outdoor paupers, but this is counterbalanced 
by the increase of the number of indoor paupers occasioned 
by the rigour of the new Poor Law. ^ Altogether the general 
report on Labour issued by the Commission must be dis- 
counted by the extraordinary omission of the evidence 
of the labourers' representatives. 

In trjTing to compose a picture of the labourer's Ufe in the 
early 'eighties we must remember that he was still outside 
the pale of citizenship, and that nearly everything that the 
English peasant held dear, such as the opportunity of staking 
out a cow, of being able to keep a pony or donkey or fowls 
on a bit of common land, of cutting furze to heat the bread 
oven, or fern as bedding for pigs, or cutting turves for firing 
had been taken from him by successive Enclosure Acts, and 
that instead of being able to produce much of his food or 
acqmre fuel close to his cottage door he had to buy nearly 
ever5d:hing, and more and more he was being reduced to the 
position of the seller who has only one article to sell — his 
labour, and the price of this he knew was being driven down. 

Arch had long harped on the need of three or four acres 
for every cottager. He said he could get a living from five 
acres, and we can trace in Arch's statement the genesis of the 
agitation which was afterwards known as the " Three Acres 
and a Cow," cry of Mr. Jesse CoUings. There were the 
Charity Lands left expressly for the poor which had been 
mal-administered. These Charity Lands were the crumbs 
left to the labourer after the landowners had fed themselves 
to repletion under successive Enclosures Acts. But even 
these Charity Lands were not being used by the labourers. 
Allotments, it is true, had been in existence for some time ; 
but that was largelythroughthe enterprise of a private society 
known as the Labourer's Friend Society founded in 1834, 
for the old Act of 1819 had become a dead letter. Charity 
Commissioners were unsympathetic, if not hostile to labourers 
using charity land ; and the country clergy even, when 
they wished to let their Glebe land were often prevented 

1 Vide Dr. Hasbach p. 293. 


from doing so, though Canon Tuckwell in a famous con- 
troversial battle foughti down the opposition of his Bishop 

In spite of the Bishop's inhibitions he did cut up his glebe 
farm of about 200 acres into allotments, and after two years 
he could write : " Already throughout the village I found 
corn bags ranged along the walls, potatoes under the beds, 
hams hanging from the ceiHngs wrapped up in old Reynolds' 
weekly newspapers ; the housewives for the first time in 
their hves facing winter unemploy without alarm. ^ 

Canon TuckweU however by no means regarded allotments 
as a solution of the problem of rural poverty. Far from it ; 
for he became a convinced land nationaUser. A farm at 
Assington, near Sudbury, Suffolk, was sold to some labourers 
by the Liberal member for Mid Norfolk. It had a struggle 
during the depression, but has managed to siorvive to this 
day (1920) and I am informed by a member of it that a share 
sold in 1899 changed hands in jgio for £130. 

The discovery that the Act of WilUam IV. applied to 
all charity lands Hes to the credit of Mr. J. Theodore Dodd, 
the son of an Oxfordshire clerg3mian. An agitation arose in 
the House of Commons, powerfully backed by Mr. Jesse 
Colhns and Sir Charles DUke, to bring in an Allotment Act 
in 1882, which instituted the principle of compulsion, and 
made the County Cotirt and not the Charity Commi^ion 
the final arbiter. Mr. Howard Evans, who devoted a tre- 
mendous amount of energy in getting up facts, was the real 
author of the Act. This was successfully passed through 
the Lower House in 1882, but unfortunately, the House of 
Lords destroyed the vaUdity of it by making the Charity 
Commissioners the supreme judges as to whether land should 
or should not be let. The land which could be used as allot- 
ments under this Extension of the Allotments Act, 1882, 
was by no means inconsiderable, and it was calculated that 
excluding land allocated to Church, or educational purposes, 
the value for purely allotment purposes would be ;£i,ooo,ooo.'' 

Amongst labourers there was a strong feeling of injustice 

* Reminiscences of a Radical Parson, by the Rev. W. Tuckwell. 
' Report on Charitable Trusts Acts, 18S4. 


over the rents charged, which were often an5rthing from 25 
per cent, to 500 per cent, above the rents charged to fanners. 

Vexatious rules were often imposed which made the grant- 
ing of an allotment dependent upon the labourer's good be- 
haviour in attending church, or on condition that it should 
not be worked on Sunday mornings, not even before break- 
fast. It is not surprising that under such conditions allot- 
ments in one county — Kent — ^had fallen from 2360 in number 
to 300 in i88i. 

John Stuart Mill welcomed the rise of the Agricultural 
Labourers' Union as a political force as weU as an industrial 
one. Though he died in 1873 he saw in it a lever for 
obtaining the franchise, better houses, and better education. 
He also appeared to be in favour of the peasant proprietor- 
ship aims of its leaders, though he seemed to regard 
allotments academically as a " contrivance to compensate 
the labourer for the insufficiency of his wages." 

The fact that allotments had been more popular in low 
paying counties like Oxfordshire and Norfolk, lends an 
argument in support of Mill. On the other hand, we find 
that, as wages rose, allotments became more popular in 
these counties, and in the north • where wages were much 
higher the men who boarded with the farmer naturallyshowed 
little desire to cultivate allotments, and the married men who 
lived in their own cottage had httle spare time, for their cus- 
tomary hours were much longer in the summer than those of 
the southern labourer. Though better fed than the 
southern labourer, in some respects the young unmarried 
stockman's life was hardly distinguishable from domestic 
servitude, being at the beck and call of the farmer or the 
farmer's wife at all hours. Then in a county hke Cum- 
berland men had far better opportunities of acquiring a 
small farm in that county of small holdings than in the 
south. 1 

Much evidence was brought forward that labourers in 
certain villages did not want allotments and did not trouble 
to cultivate those which were in existence. But labourers 

* In 1917 there were 3,831 holdings under 50 acres in Cumberland and 
only 150 over 300 acres, Cmd. 25. 



were working very long hours, even the ordinary labourers ; 
and in the case of horsemen, cowmen, and shepherds, there is 
httle time or energy left for cultivating an allotment, which 
unfortunately in the days of no compulsory powers were 
often on poor land and at some distance from the village 
street. A very tired man who has had lumps of earth 
sticking to his boots aU day is not Hkely to shov/ much enthu- 
siasm at turning out after his tea or supper to toil on the 
land again. 

On the other hand the cultivation of an allotment was a 
pleasurable recreation to the man immured in a factory 
all day, and it was round the outskirts of towns that the 
growth of allotments was and stiU is more in evidence. 

The most useful allotment a man could have, as Arch with 
his practical mind pointed out, was behind the back door of 
the cottage, that is, a garden of half an acre or so, and the 
larger allotment he had in view was not so much the self- 
contained small holding, but one which was useful to the 
odd- jobber, the piece worker, the man who kept a pony, a 
donkey, or a cow, and was able to choose his master when he 
had to earn cash wages. 

Nothing is more discreditable, pohtically, to the landed 
aristocracy of this country in both Houses of Parliament 
than their opposition to any attempt made by land reformers 
to give the labourer easy access to an allotment. Though 
Allotment Acts were passed in 1882 and 1887, and a Small 
Holdings Ad; in 1892, it was not until the Local Government 
Act of 1894 was passed which instituted Parish Councils, 
that the labourer could secure without many obstacles put 
in his path an acre of land, and even then he had to pay 
dearly for it as a rule. 

The Allotment Act of 1887, was more satisfactory than the 
preceding one, in that it gave six parliamentary electors the 
power to request the sanitary authority to provide allotments 
for the inhabitants of the district. But whilst this was of 
some benefit to urban workers who could display more inde- 
pendence of spirit, it required some courage for agricultural 
labourers to send in a request to a Board of Guardians com- 
posed chiefly of farmers hostile to the granting of allotments. 


Thus the activity of the men's leaders in the early years 
of the 'eighties was more poUtical than industrial. In 
1884, the Enghsh agricultural labourer who had fought all 
England's battles for her and produced her food, was gener- 
ously allowed to become an English citizen with power 
to vote as to how he should be taxed, policed, and governed 
generally. Arch became a candidate for ParUament and in 
doing so allied himself definitely with the Liberal Party. 
Here he made a mistake ; but a very natural one in those 
days when the political party keenest to give the agricultural 
labourer his vote was the Liberal Party. Unfortunately, 
Arch carried his Union with him in demanding such reforms 
as the Disestablishment of the Church, which alienated the 
sympathies of the many Churchmen who had hitherto sup- 
ported the Union, and thus the whole of the agricultural 
trade union movement came to be considered politically as 
a Radical, anti-Church, Dissenting agitation, rather than as 
an industrial one. 

It was no wonder, though, that Arch felt that the Con- 
servatives were his implacable foes. Sir Stafford Northcote 
writing on December 3rd, 1883, said : 

" I regard with anxiety the attempts which are being made to 
introduce principles the full bearing of which is not at once 
obvious, but which are pregnant with the greatest mischief. 
If the country be brought to agree to an identical franchise based 
on household suffrage we shall give Mr. Chamberlain all he wants 
and shall repent our folly, as the trees in the fable repented of 
having given the woodman a handle for his axe." 

Arch was elected to Parliament in November 1885- 
His election throws some hght upon a rural ParMamentary 
contest in the mid-eighties. The well-to-do Liberals wanted 
Sir W. Brampton-Gurdon to represent the constituency. The 
labourers wanted Arch ; and when it was put to the vote 
of the members of the political association. Arch received 
twice the number of votes that Sir Brampton-Gurdon did. 
Lord Henry Bentinck was the Conservative opponent, and 
the Conservatives had held the seat for sixty or seventy 

" They sent a troop of men down," says Arch, " to one of my 


meetings to cripple me. They gave them 5s. and a gallon of 
beer each ; but it so happened that a new line was being cut to 
South Lynn and all the navvies knew me — ^the majority of them 
had come off the land on to the line. One day the ganger went 
to Ljmn to draw the money to pay the men, and on his way he 
called in at a public house, and overheard the men who had been 
sent down by the Tories discussing the best way to pay me out. 
That night he told the navvies what he had heard, and they all 
attended my meeting armed with sticks. When the Tory crowd 
commenced to set about me, the navvies went for them and 
thrashed them most unmercifully, and the Tory, roughs with 
the navvies' mark on them were regularly cowed and slunk off 
out of the way. I remember I rode through Lynn to the Town 
Hall in a donkey cart ; and after the poll had been declared, 
when I rose to thank the electors for the honour they had con- 
ferred upon me, I said that while my opponents with carriages, 
horses, servants, and all their aristocratic paraphernalia had 
failed to accomplish their object, Joseph and his brethren had 
accomplished their object with a donkey cart. That humble 
donkey had drawn me on to triumph and a majority of 600." ^ 

Arch was very proud of the fact that Sandringham was 
in his constituency. " I said to myself," he wrote, " Joseph 
Arch, M.P., you see to it that neither the prince nor the 
labourers have cause to be ashamed of you." 

He made his maiden speech in the House of Commons 
in January, 1886, when he opposed Chaplin's Allotment Bill. 
His speech was characteristic of him : 

" Honourable gentlemen have said that about a quarter of an 
acre is suf&cient for a working man in a village. There may be 
some working men such as shepherds and carters who perhaps 
would be contented with a rood of ground ; but I venture to say 
that a very large number of the labourers in Norfolk — and I am 
speaking now from my own experience in that county — ^would 
only be too glad if they could rent an acre or two at a fair market 
price. On the other hand, I do not find any human or Divine 
law which would confine me as a skilled labourer to one rood of 
God's earth. If I have energy, tact, and skill by which I could 
cultivate my acre or two, and buy my cow into the bargain, I 
do not see any just reason why my energies should be crippled 
and my forces held back, and why I should be content as an 
agricultural labourer with a rood of ground and my nose to the 
grindstone all the days of my life." * 

* Joseph Arch 1 The Story of his Life told by Himself. 
« Ibid. 


In July, 1886, he lost his seat by twenty votes when the 
Liberal Party split over Gladstone's Home Rule Bill. He 
regained his seat in 1892. 

It is interesting to learn for what wages a man hke Arch 
worked as principal official of the Union. In the days 
when the Union flourished he had £3 a week, but from 1879 
to the time the Union collapsed his wages were only £2 los. 
a week. His election expenses were paid for by wealthy 
Liberals, and the Union allowed him certain parhamentary 
expenses, presumably for travelling. 

Dr. Jessopp, a friend of George Meredith, and vicar of a 
country parish in Norfolk, in his interesting book Arcady, 
contended that the agricultural labourer had no pohtical 
opinions whatever, and that he was intensely local in his 
sentiments and prejudices. " You can never persuade a 
Norfolk man that it does not matter where he was born and 
where he is buried. He belongs to this or that parish. He 
is a part of its soil. He has nothing whatever to do with the 
persons living on the other side of the brook." This intense 
parochialism was characteristic of many country parishes, 
yet Dr. Jessopp's picture surely was an exaggerated one, 
even of 1886. Arch's Union had helped men to leap across 
parish boundaries and brooks, giving the hand of fellow- 
ship to the man on the other side of the boundary. Moreover, 
the election of 1885 was a convincing proof that Hodge was 
becoming political, for it was his vote that returned Glad- 
stone to power ; and yet those who took an active part 
in this election seemed doubtful as to whether the agricul- 
tural laboiurer even knew the name of Gladstone ! 

The Rev. W. TuckweU, Rector of Stockton, Warwickshire, 
said when addressing about 800 labourers in a village in 
the Rugby division. 

" I was not a little curious as to the political capacity of a 
purely rustic audience. It was probably the first occasion in 
English history on which any candidate had visited them ; 
certainly the first effort made to explain to them the issues of the 
coming contest and the effect which their votes might exercise 
on their own well-being. Talking with a friendly farmer I had 
said : ' I doubt if these men ever heard of Gladstone.' ' Try 
them,' he answered ; and early in my speech I sent up the name 


as a kite. It met with rapturous response here and everywhere. 
All over England the rustic belief in him was pathetic ; he was in 
the words of Virgil's Nisus, the god of their desires ; they 
believed that he would come like Elias to restore all things ; 
holding in his hands free education, parish councils, three acres 
and a cow. His name, and his name alone, won the rural con- 
stituencies, and created the parliamentary majority. . . . 

" The rapidity of their political growth was astonishing. 
Ten months before scarcely a single agricultural labourer realised 
what the franchise meant ; he did not know the value of his 
vote ; did not believe that it could be secret, or that he could give 
it against the wish of his employer and landlord."^ 

Both of these country parsons wrote after the General 
Election of 1885, and both evidently wrote with some exag- 
geration. That ten months before the election scarcely 
an agricultural labourer knew what the franchise meant 
was stirely over-estimating his ignorance, for Arch and his 
colleagues had been agitating for the vote for some years. 
That the labourer did not believe the baUot could be secret 
was however generally true, as unfortunately it is true even 
to-day in some riu-al districts. Canon TuckweU teUs of the 
pressure brought to bear upon men who were voting for the 
first time by making them sign a pledge that they would 
vote for the Tory candidate. So stern was this fighting 
parson over this act of political intimidation that he pat- 
rolled the village street on election day and threatened 
with confinement in Warwick jail any employer who dared 
to intimidate his labourer. His public statement circulated 
in all the leading papers that if men were asked to make a 
promise which was illegally obtained, they should without 
hesitation break their promise at the polling station, aroused 
a tremendous controversy of moral philosophy which set 
aU the tongues of the impeccable wagging and the pens of 
the casuists scratching. 

That the political education of the agricultural labourer 
was not complete, as far as the knowledge on which side 
well-known statesmen stood, may be taken for granted, and 
that in some counties even Gladstone could not be clearly 
identified, is illustrated by a story told me by a Sussex school- 

* Reminiscences of a Radical Parson. 


master. In the course of a General Election Sir Walter 
Barttelot was standing as a Tory of the old school for the 
Horsham Division. A Liberal was opposing him. The school- 
master asked a Petworth labourer for whom he had voted. 
" Why, Barttelot ; he's the man for the likes of we. I knows 
he." " But," said the schoolmaster, who was a Liberal, 
" don't you know what party he belongs to ? " " Aye ; he's 
for Gladstone, he be." And this happened as late as 1892. 

It was natural that in the clamour of political tongues 
the secession of " Joey Chamberlain," who was their friend 
in things that mattered to them, from Gladstone, who had 
shown himself cold to Land Reform in England, the 
agricultural labourer should feel himself betrayed and should 
transfer his vote to the other party. Home Rule was to 
the Enghsh agricultural labourer a poUtical abstraction which 
evoked no enthusiasm ; he wanted bread and he was told he 
should get justice for Ireland first. 

There was another writer who could get at the minds of 
the agricultural labourers more easily than any parson. He 
was not handicapped by the clerical uniform, and he could sit 
in the kitchen of a country beerhouse, when he chose, as one 
of themselves, and speak their own dialect. Tliis was 
Richard Jefieries, who made a tour of a dozen different coun- 
ties with the express purpose of finding out the pohtical mind 
of the labourer. What seemed to impress him more than 
an3^hing else was that when the labourer was speaking with 
perfect freedom he took a delight in looking forward to the 
day when he would be able to plough the squire's " bloody 
park,"^ which was certainly one manner of bringing grass 
land back to cultivation ! 

In a sense the Enghsh labourer never has been pohtical ; 
that is as a House of Commons man understand pohtics. 
But he is pohtical in the sense of the Russian peasant, 
though the Russian peasant may be more wedded to phrases 
than the son of English soil. 

The parting of the ways came in 1886 when Hodge felt 
that cottages and gardens were slipping away from his grasp 

1 The Rural Exodus, by P. Anderson Graham. 


for what appeared to him political unrealities, and his enthu- 
siasm for Gladstonian candidates distinctly cooled. 

Had Arch stuck to his " last," as in the early days of the 
Union he declared he was determined to do, when poUticians 
tried to lure him to follow will-o'-the-wisp reforms, he would 
not have suffered defeat a second time, and his Union, in my 
opinion, would have had a longer run of prosperity. 

" No, thank you," he said to the political reformers in 1872. 
" I'm for reform as much as anybody, but it's got to be the 
labourer first, and reform all round after. . . . It's a poor shoe- 
maker that can't stick to his last. Well, to raise the wages, 
shorten the hours, and make a free man out of a slave is my last, 
and to that last I'll stick as tight as beeswax for the present. 
Raise a man's material condition to the level of self-respecting 
decency, and the inoral will rise, too." ^ 

Thus spoke the shrewd EngUsh peasant before his head 
was slightly turned by the great politicians at Westminster ; 
and in speaking thus he spoke almost the same words as his 
great predecessor, Cobbett, who said : " I wiU allow nothing 
to be good with regard to the labouring classes unless it 
makes an addition to the victuals, drink, or clothing. As 
to their minds, that is much too subhme a matter for me to 
think about." 

Dr. Jessopp attributed rural depopulation to the shameful 
housing conditions. No less than 92,250 labourers in 
Great Britain had left the land between 1871 and 1881.^ 

" Men do not run away in shoals," he pertinently remarked, 
" from homes where their childhood was happy. . . . They do 
run away from the odious thought of living and dying in a 
squalid hovel with a clay floor and two dark cabins under the 
rafters reached by a ricketty ladder, in the one of which sleep 
father and mother as best they can, while in the foetid air of the 
other their offspring of both sexes huddle, sometimes eight or 
nine of them, among them young men and young women out 
of whom you are stamping all sense of shame. Yes, people do 
run away from a life like this ; leaving it behind them as a 
dreadful past which they remember only with indignation or 
rebelling against the prospect of it as a future too hideous to be 
entertained except with scorn. I, for one, do not blame them." ^ 

* Joseph Arch : The Story of his Life Told by Himself. 

• Census of England and Wales. General Report, 1883. 
' A cady, by Augustus Jessopp. 


Emigration, though, had gone out of fashion, at any rate 
amongst the men of Norfolk. It began to be considered 
derogatory to be an exile. The strong yoimg men went 
navvjdng, or into the Police Force, or on to the railway lines, 
or into the mines. The grown up young men and daughters 
left the countryside — the youths for the towns and the girls 
for domestic service. Few cottages seem to have had more 
than two bedrooms : the exodus was inevitable for those 
intending marriage. 

" I could point," says Dr. Jessopp, " to three disgraceful 
tenements immediately contiguous to one another, in each of 
which, by a strange coincidence, there were lately a father, a 
mother, and seven children all sleeping in a single bedroom. 
In one case the mother produced an eighth child in the night, her 
only helper being her daughter, a girl of fourteen, who did her 
best while the father ran to fetch the midwife. 

" The plain, ugly fact is patent to all who do not resolutely 
keep their eyes shut, that the agricultural labourer's life has had 
all the joy taken out of it, and has become as dull and sodden a 
life as a man's can well be made." '• 

" The poor are hovell'd and hustled together, each sex like swine." 

Then, as now, it was quite common for labourers to 
walk two or three miles to their daily work. 

" Think of the waste," wrote Dr. Jessopp, " of energy, of 
muscular tissue, of nerve force, of actual time taken out of what 
the employer bargains for, or the employed has to give. \Think 
of the weary shambling through the mud, and rain, and blinding 
sleet and snow, of the wet clothes and the soaked dinner in the 
basket and the dreary pounding back at night in the dark, to 
find the baby sick and the doctor having to be fetched, and the 
roof overhead letting in the steady drip, drip, drip, when the 
poor sleeper lays himself down at last." ^ 

He considered that the tramp who sought his bed in a 
barn on a bundle of straw had the selection of a better 
bedroom as a rule than the overcrowded labourers ! 

Arcady was not all hke this. It had its Mayfair and Bel- 
gravia as well as its Bermondsey and its Whitechapel, and 
the best cottages were generally those found on the estates 

1 Arcadv, by Augustus Jessopp. ' Ibid 


of large and wealthy owners. The worst cottage owners, 
then as now, were often those who kept the village shop or 
the pubUc house and Uved much before the world in church 
or chapel " They walked with a stick," as they said in Arcady. 

In Warwickshire the returns of the Medical Officer of 
Health pubUshed at this period showed that 20 per cent, 
of all the cottages in the county possessed only one bedroom 
each ; whilst 50 per cent, had only two bedrooms each 
Farther north, in Yorkshire and the more northern counties, 
many cottages consisted of only two rooms, and it would 
have been difhcult for the visitor to discriminate between 
the kitchen and the sitting-room. Both were fitted with a 
couple of wooden box beds, which took up nearly half the 
available space. The mattress was stuffed with chaff from 
the barn. If the family was a large one, two or three, 
sometimes of different sexes, would be obliged to sleep in 
the same bed. Under these beds would be stored the 
year's potatoes, while ia two chests would be kept 
the flour and oatmeal. Below the table might be a pig 
in pickle. The one jealously guarded box, when the young 
men and young women began to court, would be that 
which contained their Sunday clothes ! 

The bothy system was much in vogue in the north and 
of this a pleasing description is given by Mr. Anderson 
Graham, though one may doubt whether it was typical. 
It is certainly picturesque, and I should like to quote it in 

" A description of one will give those who do not know it some 
idea of a plan carried out here and there chiefly on very large 
farms. It had five inmates, aU young, unmarried men ranging 
in age, to judge by appearance, from eighteen to five or six-and- 
twenty. The building was old and looked like a disused saddle 
room with a loft to it. When I went the family were just about 
to have tea. No cloth was on the table, but it and the floor were 
scrubbed as clean as a ship's deck. They told me that the house- 
work was taken in rotation for a week at a time, he on whom it 
devolved being for that period the ' Bessie ' of the household. 
He had made the tea, cut and buttered the bread, and was 
boiling the eggs as I entered. The most diligent housewife 
might have envied the tidy hearth, the shining fender and 
fire-irons, the weU-brushed pot and kettle. Nor did the sturdy 


labourers show themselves blind to the aesthetic element, though 
a professed ' sesthetician,' as the American journalists call Mr. 
Oscar Wilde, might possibly have laughed at their decorative 
effects, and yet even he would have admitted the beauty of a 
great bunch of red and white roses placed on the table. The wall 
pictures formed a dream of fair women, and apparently had been 
cut from calendars, cheap newspapers, and advertisement sheets. 
As these ploughmen Benedicts took their tea, their eyes were 
feasted on the features of Miss Fortesque, and Miss Mary Ander- 
son, Miss Maud Millet and the Alhambra ballet girls, in addition 
to highly idealised Juliets, Beatrices and other stock subjects 
for the illustration ' given away with this number'. 

" The beds were up in what had once been a loft, and were 
the strong iron variety standing on clean-swept, uncovered deal, 
and looking clean to say the least of it. Until they came together 
at the preceding term, they had all been strangers to one another, 
the men said. They liked the life ' fine,' and did not feel at all 
dull. On winter nights they amused themselves with draughts, 
and one of their number played the concertina. Occasionally 
they moved the table out of their living room and managed to 
get up a dance. ' With the house servants as partners ? ' I 
suggested, and a general smile seemed to show that they were 
not without fem^ale visitors occasionally. Youths placed as 
they were are almost certain to indulge in more or less wild 
' larks,' which, when the prevailing influence happened to be bad, 
easily degenerated into absolute vice. But with all its drawbacks 
the bothy system is an improvement on that which it superseded. 
Not so very long ago each of these men would have been boarded 
in a strange family where the chances were distinctly in favour 
of there being a crowded cottage with grown-up women who 
would have had to sleep, it might be in the same room, but 
certainly in close proximity to them. It was even worse when 
a young woman field-worker came into a strange family with 
full-grown sons. But the more scandalous outrages on decency 
have now become so rare and are so surely disappearing that it 
is unnecessary to do more than give them a passing reference." ^ 

Dr. Jessopp, too, did not dwell entirely on the seamy side 
of Arcady. He found great satisfaction in the labourer 
earning as much as us. a week v/ith additional sums at 
haysel, harvest and turnip hoeing, and a strange exhilaration 
in the spectacle of four of them driving home from work 
each in his own donkey cart. He said he felt proud that he 
was an Englishman when he saw such a sight as that in 

' The Rural Exodus, by P. Anderson Graham. 


1887, a sight which he contended marked the English peas- 
ant as enjoying a " condition of prosperity " greater than 
in any other country on the face of the earth ! ^ 

Farmers wholivedhard andadapted themselves to changing 
conditions seem to have prospered through the depression ; 
whilst the class of tenant farmers who rushed into farming 
in the golden era of the 'fifties, 'sixties, and early 'seventies, 
who occupied substantial farmhouses and hunted, those 
whose sons and daughters despised the day of little things 
— ^the dairy, the henhouse and the orchard, went rapidly 
down hill. They worked less than formerly, kept as many 
servants, and dressed more extravagantly on their diminish- 
ing returns. So much was the dairy neglected that we learn 
of the difficulty of labourers' wives being able to buy rmlk in 
the villages, with the result that the children were improperly 
nourished, as their fathers were robbed of the opportunity 
of depasturing a cow on a bit of Common land. 

The greatest social change noticed by Dr. Jessopp was 
in the note of sadness which had settled like a bUght on 
every village, a sadness he attributed to the decay of music 
and sports. Colour and music had gone out of village life 
with the disappearance of the parish choir with its sackbut, 
psaltery, dulcimer, clarionet, flute, bass viol and trombone. 
In place of these they had the wheezy harmonium and the 
well-groomed choir boys. 

" How has the deplorable effacement of our rural music been 
brought about," he asks. " There is only one answer. " It has 
been brought about by the general deluge of smug and paralysing 
respectability which has overrun our country villages. And for 
this I am bound to say the clergy and their families are in a 
great measure answerable." 

Cotmtry clothing had lost its colour, and craft its individ- 
uality. Black became the symbol of respectability. Village 
wakes and fairs, dancing round the ma5rpole, club dinners 
and wrestling matches were denounced from a thousand 

" We have become so disgustingly orderly, enlightened, and 
decently respectable that a farm labourer is a heavy, sancti- 

» Arcady, by Augustus Jessopp. 


monious, and thoroughly cowed creature who always puts on a 
smooth face and pretends to be a very good boy indeed." ^ 

As we have seen before the close of the 'eighties, 
the life of Under the Greenwood Tiee had entirely disap- 
peared from rural England. The social Hfe which had 
been evolved out of communal rights had been completely 
swept away. In its place the labourer had won the 
right to combine and the right to vote ; but so denuded 
had been the countryside of its most ardent spirits that 
another generation had to be born before advantage was 
taken of the one or the other. 

Many a county in rural England, indeed, began to bear 
signs of neglect as though a blight had settled on the coun- 
tryside. Docks ripening into armouries of seed stained 
the ill-cultivated fields, and argosies of thistledown sailed 
tmchecked over water-logged land. Grass, unfortunately, 
with much couch amongst it, crept steadily over the fields 
of stubble. In ten years one miUion acres were lost to 
the plough. 

The decay of rural population did not affect one class 
alone — ^the labourer — but all classes of rural workers. The 
village blacksmith had fewer horses to shoe ; agricultural 
implements were bought at the ghttering ironmonger's in 
the nearest town, to which the railway swiftly carried the 
farmer. The smithy closed down or dispensed with an 
apprentice, or the smith worked two village forges. He 
was no longer asked to make scythes, billhooks, or mattocks. 
His sole business became that of shoeing horses, sharpening 
the plough coulter, or fitting a new finger to the mowing 
machine which was now displacing the sc5rthe. 

The village carpenter's son did not wait to step into 
his father's shoes, which were already down at heel in this 
iron age. His bicycle took him to the town, and he turned 
up in the village on Sunday with a fashionable billycock, 
a walking stick and a Waterbury, which played havoc 
amongst the beribboned lasses who in their turn were begin- 
ning to cultivate what is called a " taste." His presence 
in the village acted with greater and more magical effect 
* Arcady, by Augustus Jessopp. 


than the emigration agent. Other young fellows borrowed 
or purchased the high bicycle ; and this big wheel was not 
only the symbol, but the actual wheel of fortune which 
revolutionised the social hfe of the countryside. 

The social customs deriving their enduring quahties 
h^om stationary conditions of Mfe were dying out. No 
longer did parties of men and girls contrive a raid upon a 
widow in need, cheering her with a feast and leaving much 
food behind them for the widow's cupboard. Sometimes 
a fiddler or a player of the concertina would be found and 
every man would bring his mug or cup and saucer besides 
food for the feast, and if it was a moonlight night a dance 
would spring up hke magic. This custom was dsdng out, 
and so was the dance in the barn following the village wed- 
ding, with a fiddler on an up-turned tub and a jug of beer 
by his side and tallow candles guttering down the stout 
oaken pillars which supported the roof. 

Wayside pubhc houses which throve on the carters who 
puUed up their heavy loads of corn, or straw, or hay, or 
cake, were left high and dry by the railroad on the one side 
and the uncultivated fields on the other. The pubhcan 
reduced his staff and became more or less a small holder 
or dealer, to keep himself alive. 

The wheelwright's trade languished with that of the 
carpenter's and blacksmith's ; and how many picturesque 
wheelwrights' yards shaded by trees with an amplitude of 
roadside waste there used to be in the 'sixties and 'seventies. 
The rake-maker began to disappear and with him the besom- 
maker and the hurdle-maker would take up their tools and 
seek work in the towns as rakes, brooms, hoops, hurdles and 
gates commenced to be turned out by machinery in the town 
timber-yards. The gossipy pedlar, the cottage woman's 
newsvendor, was driven into the workhouse by the smart 
traveller who drove out from the towns for orders. 

The migration of the " tradesman " class left village 
hfe much poorer socially. It took the colour out of rural 
Hfe. Cricket and football clubs declined in spite of the 
herculean efforts of athletic curates, and the inspiring exam- 
ple of Charles Kingsley. Dreary England had taken the 


place of Merrie England ; the only emotional excitement 
seeming to lie in the direction of religious revivals. I 
remember asking in a village what had become of 
the sexton. The reply was he had gone to Pulborough in 
Sussex, which was " altogether a livelier place because he 
had had two funerals in a fortnight." 

There were no holidays except enforced ones on wet days 
and such as a huing fair or mop fair. The half-hohday, 
in spite of Arch's efforts, had not yet been won by the organ- 
ised workers. Plough Monday in Lincolnshire, when the 
labourers carried round a coulter decorated with ribbons 
and collected money for a supper was still in vogue, it is 
true, and in corners of Lancashire country folk could still 
be found merry enough to perform a mutilated Easter 
Play, as a prelude for asking for the Pace or Paschal eggs 
that once upon a time were sought all over the county. 

But these isolated gatherings appeared more hke ghosts 
at a feast over a decaying rural England which in days gone 
by, we are told, was merry. At any rate, we know that 
once upon a time, as Walter de Henley says in his Dite dc 
Hosebonderie, " you know that there were in the year fifty- 
two weeks. Now take away eight weeks for holidays and 
other hindrances then are there forty-four working weeks 
left," which points to the fact that in the feudal days the 
English labourer had more holidays than when he became 
a " free " man. 

It was not only the disappearance of the labourer 
and the village tradesman which depleted rural life. The 
ruined small yeoman farmer's homestead was vacated ; 
his little farm as well as that of many a tenant farm was 
engrossed. The bailiff began to occupy the better farm- 
house whilst the inferior ones of the bankrupt farmer 
were occupied by the teamster, shepherd, or cowman and 
his family. 

No greater condemnation of the dullness of village Hfe 
could be made than that of a writer in 1891 : " The rustic 
goes to town in part to revive his dying capacity for laugh- 

1 The Rural Exodus, by P.. Anderson Graham 




The " revolt of the field " of 1872 was a spontaneous act 
on the part of the agricultural labourer. It started, as we 
have seen, by a group of labourers asking Joseph Arch, one 
of themselves, to be their leader, and although the towns- 
man element was imported into the movement, its history 
shows that it was purely an agrarian uprising. Its rank 
and file sprang from the hedgerow, and its leader was the 
champion hedge-cutter of England. Not only were its 
members, but its organisation was distinctly rustic in char- 
acter. Branches sprang up suddenly in out-of-the-way 
villages Uke mushrooms in the night ; strikes were decjared 
by little village communities who rarely saw an organiser 
or consulted a leader. Though it received large sums of 
money from sympathetic townsmen, no one could say that 
Arch's movement was organised from the towns. 

The new trade union movement in the early 'nineties, 
however, is a different story. In 1889 the great Dock 
Strike occurred, followed by the gasworkers' strike, and the 
town leaders of the Dockers' Union and of the Gasworkers' 
Union discovered to their cost the danger to the unskilled 
town laboiurer of leaving unorganised the ill-paid agricul- 
tural labourers, who were continually deserting the country- 
side to fight for a crust of bread at the dock gates, or at the 
fiery jaws of great gas retorts. The dockers' delegates 
brought up the question of organising the farm labourer 
at the Trade Union Congress, with the result that during 
1890 their Union and the Navvies' Union sent organisers into 
Oxfordshire, Lincolnshire, and the Home counties, whilst 



the Gasworkers' Union, skirmished round about country 

Yet it was not from town trade unions that the most 
constant evangelists issued, preaching a new economic 
doctrine year after year, and who did most to revive the 
spirit of organisation amongst agricultural labourers. These 
new missionaries entered remote villages in the eastern, 
southern, and midland counties, not by trains, or on bicy- 
cles, but in gipsy vans, some painted red and others painted 
yellow ; the difference in the two colours being that the 
" reds " wished to restore the land to the people by means 
of the Single Tax, whilst the " yellows " wished to accom- 
plish this by means of nationalisation. For landowners it 
was a choice between a Red or Yellow Peril. 

The Land Nationahsation Society took the initiative in 
1889 with open-air meetings in the Wisbech and Swaffham 
districts. In 1890 Mr. Hyder made a journey with the 
Land and Labour Lecture Cart through Norfolk, Suffolk, 
Essex, and thence to Leicestershire, and back through 
Northamptonshire and Cambridge to Dereham in Norfolk. 
It was in 1891 that the first Red Van appeared in Suffolk, 
sent out by the English Land Restoration League with the 
object of obtaining reports on the conditions of rural life and 
at the same time of assisting the newly formed Eastern Coun- 
ties Labour Federation to organise farm workers ; and in 
the same year the first Yellow Van surprised the rustics 
of Middlesex, Berkshire, Wiltshire, Dorsetshire, Somerset- 
shire ; and keeping up the gipsy tradition toured through 
Wales and thence across the north Midlands to Sutton in 

In the following years, and indeed right up to the out- 
break of the great war, the Land Nationalisation Society 
sent out its Yellow Vans not only through the Midlands 
and the north of England, but even as far north as 

The Land Nationalisation Society did not attempt to 
organise the laboxurers, but only asked them to show their 
acceptance of the principles of land nationahsation by 
holding up their hands. The lecturers, however, soon 

VOL. 11. B 


found that labourers, standing under the eyes of their em- 
ployers and others, evinced a dislike to a manifestation 
of their opinions, and adopted a plan of inviting those 
who were against the resolution to put their hands up, 
and those who were in favour of it to keep their hands down. 

The Red Vans travelled whilst funds lasted, and that was 
from 1891 to 1897. The English Land Restoration League 
started organising labourers from the very beginning. 
Indeed they entered Suffolk at the express invitation of the 
newly formed (1890) Eastern Counties Labour Federation, 
which enrolled 3,000 members in one year (eventually the 
membership reached 17,000), though it is probable that 
some of these members were men who worked in the towns, 
such as Ipswich. 

Friendly gipsies fraternising with the Red Vanners, and 
assuming that they had something to sell, would tell them 
that Suffolk, where wages were low, was a poor county for 
trade ; and that better business was to be done in the 
Fenlands ! 

At the beginning of the 'nineties the most important 
union was the Eastern Counties Federation, the strength 
of which lay in Suffolk. In Northumberland, Cumberland, 
and Lancashire trade unions were unknown. Arch's Union 
had sunk to 2,254 members ; whilst an offshoot breaking 
away from the parent society was formed in Norfolk in 
1889. This was called the Norfolk and Norwich Agricul- 
tural Labourers' Union, and Mr. George Edwards became 
its secretary. 

But with the advent of the Red Van into country dis- 
tricts, unions soon began to crop up in Warwickshire, 
Wiltshire, Berkshire, Hertfordshire, and Herefordshire, 
detached from one another and without any central 

Mr. Verinder, the secretary of the Land Restoration 
League, considered that the weakness of Arch's Union lay 
in its centralisation, and that farm labourers became rest- 
less and suspicious of an organisation which had its offices 
and executive at some distant town which rendered control 
ineffective and kept members out of touch with their leaders. 


Under the impetus of the new union movement the old 
Kent and Sussex Labourers' Union ^ sprang into Ufe again, 
and the National Agricultural Labourers' Union, though 
now confined largely to Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, imder 
stimulus of the Red and Yellow Vans increased its 
membership from 2,454 in 1889 to 14,000 in 1890. 

In spite of the rise of the Eastern Counties Federation, 
farmers were lowering wages by is. a week in Suffolk and 
Norfolk in the autumn of 1892 and the spring of 1893, 
and strikes took place on several large farms. 

Although strikes have their tragical side they rarely 
take place without some display of that EngUsh humour 
which has made our working class the most' tolerant and 
orderly working class in the world, even when provoked to 
disorder by the presence of mounted police armed with 

An incident that occurred at St. Faith's — a village four 
miles out of Norwich, which became a storm centre of 
recurring agitation — illustrates that kind of EngHsh horse- 
play, half serious and half fun, characteristic of our race. 
This incident, however, had a dramatic ending. 

A strike took place about 1889. The agricultural labour- 
ers involved were then members of John Ward's Navvies' 
Union, and about a dozen men were imported from Yarmouth 
as strike-breakers and housed in shepherds' huts. Natur- 
ally, these men were not received with any cordiality by 
the villagers, who saw their bread and butter going into other 
mouths. St. Faith's is a village which has always been 
noted for its band, and the bandsmen plajdng a merry time, 
followed by the rest of the villagers, marched up one night 
to the shepherds' huts, and without much ceremony made 
captive the men. Mr. G. E. Hewitt (now a respected mem- 
ber of the Agricultural Wages Board and the Norfolk 
County Council) who was then eighteen years of age (I have 
no doubt he was one of the ringleaders), tells me that they 
marched the unfortunate blacklegs down to the village 

* An old banner of this Union was discovered at the Moon and Stars, 
Preston, Kent, in 1919, by Mr. Baker, the county organiser of the K.A.L.U., 
and Mr, Baker has it in his possession. 


green where a fish hawker named Furness assumed the 

Furness, who was a dissenter of a pronounced type, said 
to the crowd : " Now look here. Let's have a touch of 
the Salvation Army about this," and taking the big drum 
and placing it on the ground he threw a shilling on to it. 
" Let us collect enough money to send these men back to 
their homes in Yarmouth," he said. Sufficient money for 
this purpose was subscribed and it was decided to march 
the men into Norwich railway station next morning, and 
during the night the men were locked up in a cottage and a 
guard stationed round it. 

Early the next morning, at the call of the bugle and the 
beat of the drum, with cheers from the villagers, the men 
were marched into Norwich, and from that station they 
were returned to the bosoms of their famihes and never 

But the farmers had their revenge on the fish hawker. 
They displayed no animus against the farm labourers, for 
probably the incident was talked over at many a bar par- 
lour with a gust of grim laughter in admiration of the auda- 
city of the labourers. But the fish hawker was not a farm 
labourer. "What business was it of his ? Besides, he was 
a ranter, and a ranter was disliked almost as much in those 
days as a trade union agitator ; so he was summoned and 
put out of harm's way for four months at the expense of 
the taxpayers of the country. 

A subscription was immediately raised in Norwich, and 
when the fish hawker had served his four months (becoming 
no doubt in that period a more convinced rebel than ever,) 
his exit from the prison gates was made with musical hon- 
ours and a presentation of a purse of £80. His return to 
St. Faith's was triumphal. 

In the Annual Report of the Eastern Counties Federation 
for 1892 occurs the following passage : — 

" The present distressed condition of many farmers is brought 
about by their own conduct towards their agricultural labourers, 
and the sooner they alter their course of action and treat their 
working-men as human beings, and as Christians, instead of 


making slaves of them and treating them worse than cattle, as 
they have done in the past, the better it will be ; we may then 
get on the highway to agricultural prosperity. . . . 

" The farmers of Suffolk are just now forcing the labourers 
into rebellion. We have offered peaceful arbitration, and some 
of the farmers have returned our kindly offer in insulting lan- 
guage. Still, they are members of Christian Churches : no 
wonder at our churches being unpopular." 

Though it managed to achieve a membership of 17,000 
this Union must have had an uphill fight against declining 
corn prices and the repeated attempts of farmers to lower 
wages. Its financial basis of id. a week was too weak to 
fight foes supported by their bastions of farm-tied cottages. 

The farmers now formed in Norfolk a union for 
their " mutual protection and benefit," one of the objects 
being to assist its members in the event of a strike. 
Possibly farmers were somewhat scared by the programme of 
the Eastern Counties Federation, which contained items be- 
traying its urban genesis. * Possibly" the Union ship was 
carrs^ng too much sail, could not ride the Atlantic breakers, 
and so foundered in 1895. 

But this stimulus projected from the town proved to be 
artificial and short-lived. By 1896 one might say that the 
English agricultural labourer was left destitute of any kind 

* The programme was as follows : — 

Parish Councils wanted in the villages. 

Paid Members of Parliament. 

Boards of Guardians : abolish them. Why not ? 

Old Age Pensions for men and women over 60 years. 

Farming Companies and Co-operative Societies. 

Tax uncultivated land to its fuU value. 

More scientiiic farming wanted. 

Compulsory cultivation of land. 

Co-operative farming and federation trading. 

Labour representatives on all public authorities. 

A proportion of working men as magistrates. 

Religious equality. 

Tax mansions and deer forests to their full value. 

Land-law reforms ; State to own the land. 

Better wages for agricultural labourers. 

Better homes for the workers ; excessive rents reduced. 

Arbitration in trade disputes in place of strikes. 

Arbitration in place of wars. 

Steam tramways constructed by County Councils. 

Municipal workshops and work for the unemployed. 

County Council farms. 

Regular employment for all working men. 


of trade union organisation. The old " National " dis- 
appeared along with the meteoric newer unions, which de- 
pended largely for their existence on the oratory of Single 
Taxers, or Land Nationalisers. This is not to be wondered 
at when one realises that in 1894 wheat had reached the 
lowest price in the whole history of English agriculture. 
Land was steadily going out of cultivation, and farmers 
had either not the heart, or were too conservative to adapt 
themselves readily to the production of nulk, which became 
the most profitable kind of farming. Besides, landowners 
in many instances could not or would not make the neces- 
sary alterations in buildings. Labourers had not the cour- 
age to ask for a rise of wages on a rapidly dechning market ; 
though had they consistently done so and obtained higher 
wages these might have become the best fertiliser our 
dereUct fields could have received. Scotland, which main- 
tained a higher standard rate of wages, did not feel the 
depression to anj^hing like the same extent as England. 
In fact, Scottish farmers, attracted by the low rents, came 
south to seek their fortunes. They may not have succeeded 
in making fortunes ; but they made a living where the less 
efficient and more conservative English farmer failed to 
carry on. 

It is said that high rents in Scotland make the farmers 
cultivate their land thoroughly well. Possibly higher wages 
would have made Enghsh farmers try newer methods — 
turn from corn to milk and stock raising with greater rapid- 
ity. Denmark had to face the same avalanche of cheap 
imported corn, and met it with resilient fortitude. Not 
that I wish to imply that the blame of low wages and 
bad conditions rests upon the shoulders of unprogressive 
farmers. We had unprogressive landlords with tiresome 
covenants on the land, whose one idea of easing the situa- 
tion was that of reducing the rent. This no doubt was a 
wise step, but in some districts it would have been better 
if they had reduced the game as well. 

Whilst the changing world conditions in cereal farming 
made the Dane alter his land system, educate its farmers 
and farmers' sons in every phase of agricultural economy 



and use co-operative methods of production, collection and 
transport, our agricultural community lived under the same 
old land laws, the same old game laws, exacting railway 
rates, and an almost entire lack of agricultural schools and 
colleges, or demonstration farms. 

Facts concerning the wages of the farm labourer in 1890 
are to be found in the writings of several unofficial investi- 
gators. Canon Tuckwell speaks of wages in his own neigh- 
bourhood being as high as 15s. a week, owing to the presence 
of some cement works ; but, he adds, in the south of Eng- 
land wages had fallen as low as 9s. a week. He made the 
discovery in 1885, as Mr. Rowntree made nearly thirty years 
later, that it was not possible for a labourer to live in phy- 
sical efficiency under £1 is. a week. To quote his own 
words : — 

" A house to house enquiry produced the following budget, 
calculated for a family of husband, wife, and four children, 
according to the prices and circumstances current at the time : — ■ 

Rent of cottage with small garden and pigstye, per week 

Sick club 

Bread, eight loaves at 4d. to 4id. 

Flour . 

Meat, 6 lb. at 8d. 


Cheese, i lb. at 8d. 

Sugar, 2 lb. at 3d. 

Tea. j lb. at 2s. 

Butter, I lb. at is. 


Treacle . 

Salt and pepper 

Candles and paraffin 


Clothes — ^washing material, repairs, etc. 

Tools, furniture, sundries 

£1 I o 

" This estimate includes bare necessities only ; it makes no 
allowance for beer or tobacco ; it tallies very nearly with the 
formula in use among cottagers, who will tell you that sixpence 
a day per head is the lowest income on which a family can live 
without anxiety and suffering ; and thus, even in my own dis- 
trict, where wages were much higher than in other parts of 
Warwickshire, a maximum receipt of fifteen shillings had to 
meet a desirable expenditure of twenty-one. How could the 

























deficiency be filled ? How could the income be raised ? I had 
long seen two things clearly ; first, that at the door of every 
poverty-stricken village lay an unworked silver mine in the 
village land ; secondly that to yield its ore this mine must be 
worked under certain definite conditions." ^ 

Thus the Radical parson. It is clear thit if 21 does 
not go in to 15, how much less does it go into 9 or 10 ? 
But were these the wages paid at this time ? Let us now turn 
to the pages of Mr. T. E. Kebbel, a trusted exponent of 
the aristocratic view of the land question. , In his English 
Country Life, published in 1891, he says : — 

" It appears on the whole, that the total yearly income of an 
ordinary English day labourer, including both wages and per- 
quisites of every kind, ranges from about £50 a year in Northum- 
berland to a little over £30 in Wiltshire, and other south-western 
coimties. This gives an average of £40 a year. But it is only 
the exceptionally low wages paid in a few counties which pulls 
down the average even so low as this. In the eastern midlaijd, 
northern, and south-eastern counties it is commoner to find the 
sum total rising to £43, and £44, than sinking to £37 or fyS. 
Shepherds, wagoners, and stockmen are paid at a higher rate, 
and their wages average about £50 a year." ' 

Even if this statement were correct the Wiltshii'e or 
south-western county labourer would get but a grim satis- 
faction out of a national average of £/[0 a year or more paid 
in other counties when he had to sustain life on £30 a year. 

Against this evidence we have that of Mr. MiUin.* 

" In Essex," he says, " so far as I have seen it, I don't think it 
would be far wrong to put down the income of an able-bodied 
labourer at from £5 to ;fio in harvest, and for the rest of the 
year los. or us. a week when in work." 

Mr. MiUin was a special commissioner for the Daily News, 
and Mr. Anderson Graham writing at the same time, in con- 
trasting the statement made by a Tory and a Radical 
jovurnalist, attributes the divergence between the wages 
stated by each to the sources of information. He says 
that the Radical journalist gets his information from the 
labourer, who is tempted to put his wages at a low figure, 

• Reminiscences of a Radical Parson, by the Rev. W. Tuckwell 
' Lifi in our Villages, also published in 1891. 


and that the Tory commissioner goes " to the farmer, squire 
and the parson, and aU three of them are inclined to take 
an exaggerated view of Hodge's income," — especially in 
valuing the payments in kind. 

The latter criticism is damaging to the official figures 
issued from time to time by the Board of Trade, ^ for they 
are made from statements given to the investigators by 
farmers, though doubtless these have been to a certain 
extent checked by questions put to labourers. Mr. Graham 
assumes that the agricultural labourer is inchned to make 
himself out to be a poorer man than he really is. My own 
experience is in the very opposite direction. I am cautious 
about accepting any statement made to me by a farm 
worker as to his wages, because I find he is inclined, like 
any other man in any other class of society, to state his 
income higher than it really is. He is indeed, as a rule, 
nshamed of his poverty, and if his cash wages are very 
low, this feehng prompts him to represent that he has 
certain " privileges," otherwise he would not stay on at 
his job. On further investigation, I generally find these 
"privileges " do not amount to much. 

Being on friendly terms with almost all my neighbours 
who work on the land, I have the same diffidence in asking 
a labourer the extent of his income as I have in asking a 
member of the professional classes, and the information 
has to come to me unsolicited, or, through the medium of 
the wives. Information is much more likely to be obtained 
by questioning one labourer about another labourer's earn- 
ings, though, of course, when one visits new neighbourhoods 
one is less shy of questioning, and as a rule, the farm worker 
is more incUned to be frank to a sympathetic stranger than 
to any one living in his own parish. 

Though the author of The Rural Exodus questions the 
accuracy of Mr. Millin, who he thinks might have been 
biassed by his " Radical " views, he admits himself that he 
found farm labourers in Gloucestershire 

1 0£ficialinformation was gleaned from three sources: (i) Chairmen of 
Poor Law Unions, (2) "Agriculturists," (3) Farmers; but probably (i) 
and (2) were indistinguishable from (3). 


" who have not more than los. a week in money and per- 
quisites that certainly do not come to 2S. more, wherewith 
themselves and a young family have to be fed and dressed and 
lodged. How they manage to thrive in health as they do, is a 

" Again," he adds, " in the neighbouring county of Wilts 
there is equal hardship. There are many neatly-thatched 
picturesque dwellings cosily hidden in nooks of the Downs, in 
dales through which the running water has fretted a channel, 
where the income is not so large. On the east coast there are 
even worse cases. Norfolk and Suffolk give me the impression 
of being at the present moment the most wretched of agricultural 
counties, so far as the labourers are concerned. It was only in 
East Anglia that I found actual cases of able-bodied men keeping 
their families on a wage of eighteen-pence a day, Sundays not 
included. Game preservers complain of the amount of poaching 
that goes on, but one can hardly wonder at it. A man who has 
not meat to his dinner more than once out of seven times, is 
under strong temptation to fill his pot with the first wild thing 
he can lay hands on. Yet I could give the addresses of agricul- 
tural labourers in Essex, Hertfordshire, and even Berkshire, 
where the family income is not much in excess of what I have 
mentioned. The extraordinary contrasts presented by the 
various shires tend to produce a feeling of scepticism in regard 
to averages. Sufficient statistics to make them trustworthy have 
not yet been collected, and it would be a difficult task to do so." ^ 

The aristocrat amongst farm workers south of the Trent, 
was the man who had charge of horses, sheep, or cattle 
all the year round without incurring any loss for wet days 
and enjoying harvest money and cottage accommodation. 
Such, for instance, was the ploughman in Essex as described 
by Mr. James Macdonald, whose revised edition of The 
Book of the Farm appeared in 1891. 

£ s- 


Fifty-two weeks at 14s. per week . 

. 36 8 

Extra for haymaking .... 

I 10 

Do. in harvesting 

3 10 


• 5 

Firewood, beer money, etc., say 

I 2 

Total . . ;£47 1° ° 

" This is the rate for the best men," says Mr. Macdonald. 
" Ordinary men get about is. a week less." If, however, 
1 The Rural Exodus, by P. Anderson Graham, 


one were to put down the number of hours worked by men 
in charge of live stock one would probably find that the rate 
worked out at less per hour than the wages earned by the 
ordinary labourer. " In the neighbourhood of London," 
he adds, " the rate of wages is higher by two or three 
shillings a week. On the other hand, in the counties 
away from London the rate is lower, los., lis., 12s. per 
week, with similar perquisites being paid in several English 

The official summary of the situation was that " the lab- 
ourer was better fed, his education and language improved, 
his amusements less gross, his cottage generally improved, 
though generally on small estates there were very bad 
ones still left."i 

Weekly wages ranged from 10 s. in Wilts and Dorset to 
18s. in Lancashire, and averaged 13s. 6d. for the whole 
country,^ and Mr. W. C. Little, the Senior Assistant Commis- 
sioner in 1893, put the hours worked at 10 and 10^ a day 
for ordinary labourers, and at 12 J hours a day in summer 
and iif in winter for horsemen and cowmen. 

In contrasting the conditions of the northern and eastern 
counties Mr. WUson Fox^ sumnied up the position thus : — 

" The wages paid in the eastern counties are nominally much 
lower than those in the three northern counties I visited, but 
the actual wages received by an eastern counties' labourer, 
greatly depend on whether he is in the service of a farmer who 
employs him in wet weather, and gives him work to do by the 
piece. If he is so fortunate, his nominal cash wages of iis. or 
i2s. a week are frequently converted into 15s., i6s., and 17s. a 
week, harvest of course being included. He may also be living 
on a large estate, where he gets a good cottage and garden for 
£2 los. or £3. Thus, under favourable circumstances, a Norfolk 
or Suffolk labourer is in receipt of a wage which reaches that of a 
married man in Cumberland, but, owing to the uncertainty and 
irregularity of the payments, the possibility of earning such a 
wage is seldom recognised by the men or credited by the public. 

" On the other hand, a man in the service of a farmer who 
sends him back in wet weather, employs him irregularly in the 

* Royal Commission on Labour, 1893-4, XXXV., Index 5, et seq. 

" Parliamentary Reports, 1897, XV., 31 

' Royal Corfimission on Labgur, C. 689/}, III, 


winter time, and finds no piece-work for him, is in an infinitely 
poorer position, for under these circumstances he may lose is. 
to 2s. a week, from his weekly wages of lis. or 12s., but even then 
his wages would be higher than the nominal one when harvest 
money, amounting to ^'j los. and £9 for a month's work, is taken 
into consideration." 

It is probable that aU these authorities were right ; that 
is to say each of them found instances of men being paid 
the wages stated, however divergent one writer may be 
from another, for if there is one thing that is true, 
it is that the wages of farm workers have had very little 
relation to price? of farm products and to the current prices 
of unskilled labour in other trades. Wages of agricultural 
labourers have indeed been a matter of custom, varjdng not 
only in one county from another but also from one parish 
to another, and even from one employer to another. And 
as we have seen wages were lower in the " golden era " of 
the 'fifties and 'sixties than in the depression of the 'eighties 
and 'nineties. 

Custom has largely been fostered by the patriarchal 
system lingering longer in agriculture than in any other 
industry, of a considerable portion of the weekly wage 
being paid in kind, such as cottage accommodation, or board 
and lodging, or litter for pigs, or potato ground or milk and 
other allowances ; each generation of labourers showing a 
pathetic dependence upon the generosity of the farmer. 

Arch's Union was said to have destroyed good feeling 
between master and man. But Arch stoutly denied before 
the Commission of 1881 that this good feeling existed at 
any time. Whether this be true or not the gulf between 
labourer and farmer was widening, firstly by the enrichment 
of farmers in the 'sixties and then again during the depres- 
sion when three or four farms in very many districts were 
thrown into one and the small holder was squeezed out. 

There can be little doubt that wages at the beginning 
of the 'nineties were scandalously low. The Daily News 
Commissioner's investigations which extended beyond 
Essex into Suffolk, Norfolk, Oxford, Berkshire and Bucks, 
were challenged on the attitude of parsons towards 


unions (which was improving since Arch's time), but 
were not challenged as to the accuracy of the rate of wages 
stated, in spite of the publicity given in the columns of a 
daily paper. Close on his heels too came the lecturers of 
the English Land Restoration League, whose business it 
was to find out rates of wages and other conditions, and as 
we shall see their report confirmed that of Mr. MiUin. 

It was no wonder that labourers who were accustomed to 
horses left the land to become grooms ; that is to say, left 
IIS. a week to earn 25s. or 30s. in a more agreeable manner; 
and in this the young labourer was encouraged by his sweet- 
heart, for we must bear in mind that it was she {cherchez 
la femme) who was more responsible for the depopulation 
of the countryside than any Government; One who had 
been a labourer put the case very pertinently when he wrote 
to the Daily News : — 

" My sweetheart is too nice a girl to keep in a hovel on 
los. a week, so I must seek a warmer clime, for English 
charity is too cold for me to thrive on." And the labour- 
er's sweetheart would know from the experiences of h?r 
own father that there was no prospect for her husband of 
higher wages, however skilled he might become, and that 
nearly every farm lane led eventually - to the distant 

Mr. Anderson Graham said that " in the autumn of 1891 
you could drive fifteen miles through Norfolk without passing 
a tenanted farm ; and Mr. MiUin describes the deserted 
villages which lay between Wickford to Althorne and South- 
minster — a. district that became familiar to me a few years 
later — as " A more dreary and depressing stretch of badly 
farmed crops and land out of cultivation, dilapidated cot- 
tages and deserted fields, it would be difiicult to find." 
And it was not only from parishes where the farms were 
badly cultivated, cottages dilapidated, and the squire and 
parson indifferent to social conditions that the young men 
were streaming into the towns or the colonies. In a model 
village, as that of St, Stisted in the same county, where the 
squire took a pride in designing cottages and the rector was 
a large-hearted and liberal-minded friend of the people, 


the tramp, tramp, tramp of the young labourer was noted 
with alarm. Yet even in Stisted men were only getting 
IIS. in summer and los. in winter ! 

Apart from low wages and the absence of any pros- 
pects in life, the school, the penny newspaper, the postage 
stamp, and the bicycle were active agents in luring the 
young from the villages. 

In Suffolk Mr. MiUin found that, in the village of Barnham, 
wages were slightly better than in any other neighbourhood 
he visited. Labourers were " getting i2s. a week — a. frac- 
tion over ajd. an hour it comes to — and £7 10 s. for the har- 
vest." As he says, " one cannot but suspect in moving about 
these rural districts that the wages received by the people 
really have Uttle or no relation either to what they earn 
or to what the master can afford to pay." 

The Duke of Grafton was the owner of Barnham. He paid 
his labourers better than most of the landowners in the 
neighbourhood and his cottages were good and cheap. 
The fly in his ointment was a Uttle Primitive Methodist 
Chapel, which being forbidden a footing, was eventually 
erected on wheels by a sturdy peasant who paid the penalty 
for his daring by lack of emplo3anent and an exUe from his 
village lasting some years ! 

In another village governed by a benevolent despot— 
this time the vicar's wife — every cottage woman had 
a blanket loaned to her for the winter," which was taken 
out of a caUco bag sewn up with string and sealed with 
black wax. In March every blanket was put back into 
its calico bag for the summer. The owner of this pro- 
perty was Lord de Saumarez. In this district los. a week 
was the reigning rate of pay, and one young man of 
twenty was receiving only 8s. 

On the Duke of Marlborough's estate at Woodstock 
the rate of pay for summer was 12s. a week, and in 
the same county of Oxfordshire los. was being paid as the 
normal summer rate, which sank in winter to 9s. It should 
be remembered that this winter pay was subject to deduc- 
tions upon wet days by certain farmers in some districts. 
Nowhere did he find any survival of the old-fashioned- 


Harvest Home, nor of the Sheep-shearing Supper, nor the 
Hay Harvest Supper. 

" The Union killed that," the farmers would tell him ; 
but the Union also killed 7s. a week for a man and his 
family, half of it paid in unsaleable corn dealt out at a good 
stiff profit. He found evidences in Oxfordshire, in spite 
of the suspicion against agitators and the break-up of the 
old " National Union," of a general desire for a new union, 
and "that a young man from the Dockers' Union was 
listened to eagerly." 

In Berkshire he visited the estate of Lord Wantage, who 
owned about 22,000 acres of land, embracing the villages of 
Lockinge and Ardington. Lord Wantage was perhaps the 
finest type of the benevolent landlord to be found in Eng- 
land. The cottages were good and charmingly designed. 
Allotments were abundant. The villages not only had 
their reading rooms, but also their co-operative stores 
and bakery, and their own pubUc houses, where the sale 
of drink was not pushed and where soup in winter, and tea 
and coffee were always to be had. 

Yet here wages were only los. a week and the profits 
yielded by the farms only brought a bonus of 2s. a week 
to the labourers. Everything on the estate was clean and 
orderly, even the pig was considered an undesirable occupant 
of a Wantage cottage-garden and was forbidden unless 
kept on the allotment. Apparently, every one moved about 
Lockinge and Ardington a model of respectability, but 
with just the air of persons who had asked permission 
to inhabit the earth. Politics were rigidly excluded from 
the beautifully kept public house. " They durnt blow 
their noses at Ard'n'ton without the bailiff's leave," re- 
marked a labourer in the neighbourhood. 

Examples of benevolent despotism are given in the Red 
Van Report of 1893. In Bulford, Wilts, an agreement 
was enforced between the owner of the estate and the 
cottagers which stipulated that 

" the landlord reserves the right for himself or his agent of 
entering upon the said premises at any time between the hours 
of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. to view the condition thereof, and, if found 


necessary, to leave notice of all defects and repairs necessary to 
be done. The landlord reserves to himself the right to stipulate 
what portion, if any, of the garden shall be used for the cultiva- 
tion of flowers, and the tenant hereby agrees to use such portion 
for that purpose only." 

The difficulty of working the forthcoming Local Govern- 
ment Act of 1894 on democratic lines was foreseen by the 
Van lecturers when it came to " close " parishes. 

" The village and parish of Stanton St. Bernard, in JEast 
Wilts, is the property of the Rt. Hon. George Robert Charles 
Herbert, Earl of Pembroke and Montgomery and Baron Herbert 
of Cardiff, J.P. ; High Steward of Wilton; of Carlton House 
Terrace, London ; Wilton House, Salisbury, and Mount Merion, 
Co. Dublin ; and of the Carlton, Eton and Harrow, St. James',' 
Marlborough and Travellers' Clubs. His lordship is lord of the 
manor, sole (absentee) land "owner," patron of the living, 
receiver of rent and tithe. Of the nearly 2,000 acres of land in 
the parish about 40 are glebe. The noble owner lets the rest, 
together with all the cottages, to two farmers. The two farmers, 
besides controlling the cultivation of all the land in the parish, 
and the tenancy of practically all the cottages, are the church- 
wardens, and overseers of the poor and the school managers. 
One of them has charge of the rate book. Nothing could well be 
simpler than this system of parish government. The labourer 
who wants to work in the parish must obtain employment on 
the Earl of Pembroke's land under one of the Earl of Pem- 
broke's two farmers, who will house him in one of the Earl's 
cottages, deducting the rent from his weekly wages. He sends 
his children to the ' national ' school (managed by the Earl of 
Pembroke's farmers), and ' goes on Sunday to the Church ' 
where, imder the eyes of the two churchwardens (Lord Pem- 
broke's farmers again), he ' sits under ' a clergyman appointed to 
the parish (by the Earl of Pembroke). When he gets too old to 
work, or is reduced to hopeless poverty by misfortune, he must 
apply for Poor Law relief to the same two farmers. If, in spite of 
all these arrangements for his comfort he is still discontented 
with his lot, there is no building — ^not even a schoolroom which 
is largely subsidised out of the taxes — in which he can meet to 
take counsel with his fellows, unless he first obtains the permission 
of the Earl of Pembroke's farmers. If the parish of Stanton 
St. Bernard were a slave estate, owned by the Earl of Pembroke 
and managed by two overseers on the Earl's behalf, the condition 
of the inhabitants could hardly be more completely one of 
slavery than it is to-day." ^ 

' Among the Agricultttral Labourers with the Red Vans, 1893. 


When the van visited Stoke Gifford, owned by the Duke 
of Beaufort, not a single inhabitant dared to avow himself 
a sympathiser of the Red Van, and it appears that not even 
a Tory, if he made himself unpopular with the Duke, was 
permitted to take office in any public capacity. 

" At a vestry meeting in 1894 the parishioners of Stoke Gifford 
elected as their churchwarden Admiral Close, a local Tory. The 
Duke, who objected to the Admiral, apparently on the ground 
of some difference of opinion as to the restoration of the parish 
church, thereupon gave notice to all his tenants to quit and yield 
up all their holdings. In reply to an appeal for mercy from his 
tenants his Grace wrote on May 11, 1894 : ' Now, on one 
condition only will I withdraw the notices which each of you 
have received, and it is this — that Admiral Close resigns his 
churchwardenship, or if he cannot legally do so, that he appoints 
one of you to be his deputy or sidesman, and that he gives me in 
writing his undertaking not to interfere with the repairs, etc., of 
the parish church, and not to attend any parish meetings called 
in reference to anything to do with the church. If this is not 
done we shall postpone the repairs until his term of office expires, 
and the notices to quit your farms will stand good. I hope such 
will not have to be the case. {Signed, Beaufort).' 

" Rather than let the helpless tenants suffer. Admiral Close, 
protesting against the ' unconstitutional coercion ' accepted 
these conditions, and appointed George Parker (farmer) as his 
sidesman." ^ 

Yet the Duke of Beaufort was a good landlord, who 
paid I2S. a week to his labourers, with half pay when they 
were sick, and pensioned off all his old servants at from 
5s. to 8s. a week. 

Not even so good a landlord as the Duke of Bedford was 
free from the weaknesses which come from overlordship. 
He made it one of the conditions of letting allotments to 
labourers that " no occupier who is at work for any Employer 
will be allowed to work upon his Land after Six in the 
Morning, or before Six in the Evening, without permission 
from his master," to which was added, " AU occupiers wUl 
be expected to conduct themselves with propriety at all 
times, and to bring up their families in a decent and orderly 

1 Bristol Mercury, sth July 1894. 
VOL. 11. I 


Near Di^cot men of a certain village were working for 
gs. a week, and in the adjoining village for los. a week. 
Near Wycombe in Bucks was found a man with a young 
family of six, whose wages did not average 8s. a week. 

In Bedfordshire wages appeared to be 12s. a week with 
2s. or 3s. more for cowmen and horsemen with Sunday 
Work to do. In the correspondence columns of the Daily 
News a Leicestershire farmer stated his wagoner was paid 
19s. per week, his cowman i8s. and his labourers i6s. to 17s. 
all the year round. 

Though Millin made his tour in these counties during 
harvest time, when drink was more abundant than at any 
other period of the year, he found little evidence of drunken- 
ness amongst labourers, despite the fact that he mixed 
freely with them at all hours in the taprooms of public houses. 
He said they drank too much, but even when closing time 
came men as a rule moved with ordinary precision out of 
the taproom into the open street. 

When in the same year of 1891 the lecturers of the English 
Land Restoration League went into Suffolk with the Red 
Van they found that wages were from los. to 12s. a week 
with harvest money averaging from £7 to £g. In a short 
time the newly formed Union, the Eastern Counties 
Federation, raised wages is. a week. Cottages were let at 
fiom £3 to £6 a year. 

The reason why the League decided to send out its lec- 
turers in vans was because of the difficulty in those 
days of obtaining the use of village halls. The labourers 
read newspapers but rarely at this time, and the only way 
to reach them was by means of meetings. Most of the 
meetings were attended by from 100 to 300 labourers, and 
many of the farmers, especially those who employed the 
most labour and paid the best wages, were, on the whole, 
friendly. Difficulty in finding a pitch for the van was 
experienced where the village was owned by one man, 
which led in 1892 to an exhibition of despotic ruling by a 
landowner. Lord Bateman. 

" The organising secretary of the League obtained permission 
from the landlord of the Bateman Arms, Shobdon, Herefordshire, 


to hold a meeting in the large room of the inn, for the purpose of 
forming a branch of the Herefordshire Agricultural and General 
Workers' Union. On arriving at the inn on the night of the 
meeting he was informed that his lordship's secretary had called 
and pointed out a clause in the lease which forbade any meeting 
being held without his lordship's special permission. A similar 
visit had been paid to every tenant holding a field or orchard 
under Lord Bateman, who owns the whole village. An attempt 
to hold a meeting on the waste land was prevented by the super- 
intendent of the County Police, who was accompanied by a 
constable, on the ground that Lord Bateman, as lord of the 
manor, claimed the control of all the waste land ; and the police 
— apparently acting under the instructions of his lordship as 
Lord Lieutenant of the County — similarly prevented the holding 
of a meeting in the public highway." ^ 

This year the League sent out five vans on the road, 
which went to work in Cambridgeshire, Suffolk, Berkshire, 
Wiltshire, Somersetshire and Herefordshire, and the lec- 
turers formed unions in all these counties. Mr. Verinder, 
the secretary of the League, thought that it was not wise to 
attempt to revive Arch's National Union owing to the 
suspicions still rife, — suspicions that had been sedulously 
fostered by squire, parson and farmer, — ^that Arch and his 
paid agitators had robbed the men, and Mr. Verinder 
believed that, owing to the neglect of sufficient supervision 
by a centrahsed organisation, success would be more easily 
achieved by autonomously governed federations of unions. 
Nevertheless these county unions which sprang up like 
mushrooms suffered a rapid decline on the financial 
basis of a penny a week subscription. 

However, they had their day, and they kept the idea of 
organisation alive in the breast of the agricultural labourer, 
and sowed the seed which began to be harvested some 
twenty years later. 

In the Church Reformer, August, 1891, it is stated that 
in some of the Suffolk villages a flourishing branch of Arch's 
National Union was still to be found. Parsons, it appeared, 
stUl held aloof from meetings such as these. " Only on 
one occasion did the parson think it well to hear for him- 
self what the agitators from London were telling his flock." 
* Among the Agricultural Labourers with the Red Vans, 1892. 


The women seem to have possessed more spirit than the 
men. " Ah, sir," they often said, " if the men had only 
stuck to the Union as Mr. Arch wanted them to — ^but the 
men are such cowards. I tell my man that he won't do 
any good to himself or to anybody else until he joins the 
Union." i 

The public house was the People's Parliament, and the 
most independent place in the village. Very little drunken- 
ness was witnessed. The English Land Restoration 
League did not encourage strikes, but attempted to educate 
the labourers to get what they wanted by means of the vote. 
Parish Councils were in the air, and much was hoped from 
the Act which became law in 1894. 

Through the generosity of a subscriber, the Red Vans 
were able to continue their work until 1897, and their 
Reports are exceedingly interesting documents of hfe in 
the eastern and southern counties as viewed from the 
standpoint of the labourer's advocate. In the Report 
issued in 1893 we find the following statement on rates of 
wages : — 

" The ordinary wages of a day labourer in East and South 
Wilts are generally about los. a week (is. 8d. a day), but 9s., and 
even 8s. only, are paid by some employers. Over the greatest 
part of Hertfordshire lis. and 12s. are paid to the daymen, or, 
where a cottage is provided, a shilling a week less. The wages 
in the parts of Norfolk visited this year are about the same as in 
Hertfordshire. 2 The formation of the Labourers' Union in 
Berkshire had the effect, during last winter and summer, of 
preventing a reduction below the figures quoted in last year's 
report. Weekly wages of 13s., 14s., and 15s. are common in 
Warwickshire ; often the pay is lower, and sometimes higher ; 
but cottages are considerably dearer than in the other counties." 

The wages above quoted were summer wages, subject in 
most instances to a reduction of 2d. a day in winter, when 
the total weekly earnings were stiU further reduced by the 
greater irregularity of employment, the labourers being 
usually paid only for the days they are actually at work. 

* Church Reformer, July, 1891. 

^ This is confirmed by a statement made by Alderman Geo. Edward 
in 1893. Mr. Wilson Fox put them at I2S. or 13s. a week. 


Wages in Berkshire, Cambridgeshire, Somersetshire, and 
Herefordshire averaged from lis. to 12s. a week, with in 
some cases a cottage free. There were special instances of 
the men in Herefordshire getting i6s. to 17s. In Somerset- 
shire, in certain districts, wages were as low as gs. a week, 
and in one district as high as i6s. a week. In Berkshire, 
at the village of Upton, the wage was only 8s. a week, while 
at Wokingham the maximum was i6s. a week. In East 
Berks wages varied from gs. to iis. and from 12s. to 14s. 
a week. Although the labourer's ordinary wages in Wilt- 
shire were los. a week, we learn ^ that head shepherds re- 
ceived I2S. a week, and provided they reared, on the average, 
go lambs every year from each 100 ewes, they received 
40S. per annum extra. This entailed a good deal of over- 
time. Under-shepherds had iis. a week, and smaller 
bonuses. Forty-two branches of the Wiltshire Agricultural 
and General Labourers' Union with a membership of 1,400 
were formed in i8g2 and i8g3. 

In Wilts a very objectionable form of agreement between 
master and servant was in vogue (vide Church Reformer, 
July, i8g3). A question was asked in the House of ParUa- 
ment with regard to this agreement and the iUegaUty of the 
fines and deductions. The Home Secretary's reply was to 
the effect that the fines were not illegal, but the deductions 

Men in charge of horses and cattle were usually paid 
IS. a week over and above daymen's wages, with sometimes 
a free cottage, but their hours of work were much longer, 
and included Sunday attendance on the stock. Harvest 
pay varied greatly. ^ 

Women who worked in the fields were paid, for somewhat 
shorter hours than the men, from 8d. or gd. to is. 2d. a 

Some labourers' budgets were collected in the counties 
mentioned above which show that a labourer with five 
children spent los. ii|-d. — wages, lis. ; in Herts, with two 

* Church Reformer, June, 1893. 

2 Mr. W. C. Little, one of the Commissioners, stated that horsemen and 
cowmen worked 12 J hours a day in summer and ii| hours in winter. 


children,^ 13s. — ^wages, 13s. and cottage ; in East Wilts, 
with six children, 13s. 8|d. — ^wages, 13s. 6d. Another in 
East Wilts with seven children, lis. 5|d. — ^wages, los. In 
Warwickshire, \yith eight children, 15s. — ^wages 15s. In 
Norfolk, with two children, 12s. 3d. — ^wages, 12s. 6d. 

It is significant that out of four of these six budgets 
no itena appears for ntieat, and in three no item appears for 
milk, though there were families of six, seven, and eight 
children. No item appears in any of the budgets for cloth- 
ing or boots, and when asked how these were bought, the 
reply was they " had to do with something less to eat " when 
purchased. When questioned how they reconciled an 
expenditure of lis. 5|d. with an income of los., or 13s. 8|d. 
with an income of 13s. 6d., the ready reply came that " they 
had to run into debt until the children commenced to work 
and started to pay oft the debt." 

Of the two " independent men " in most parishes, the 
parson and the publican, it appears that of the two the 
publican showed himself the friendlier, though in one or 
two villages he dared not allow the Van lecturer to hold 
a meeting on his premises for fear of being turned out by 
his landlord. Mr. George Edwards gave evidence at a 
meeting held in London in 1893 that pubHcans had told 
him that they had received notice from their landlords to 
prohibit Union meetings held in public houses. It was 
natural, then, that the labourers were looking forward to 
the use of schoolrooms, which they understood would be 
granted under the promised Parish Councils Act. 

During the wet months of November and December many 
of the meetings of the League had to be held in chapels, 
barns, cartsheds, blacksmiths' shops, inns, or cottages. 

The parson was generally regarded as one possessing the 
same political prejudices as the landowner and farmer. 
It was as politician rather than priest that he was regarded 
with hostility. In the words of one report : — ^ 

" There is very little hostility to the parson as clergyman ; 
but the parson as the nominee of the squire, the friend of the 
landlord class, the supporter of ' law and order ' on the magis- 

• Among the Suffolk Labourers, 


terial bench, and the autocratic manager of the school and other 
local institutions, is denounced among the labourers with an 
invective which is almost Elizabethan in its freedom and inten- 
sity. . . . Where one man owns the land and is at the same 
time the patron of the living, the whole government of the 
village, civil and ecclesiastical, is in his hands." 

The Reverend Arnold D. Taylor, rector of a parish in 
South Devonshire, discussed in an outspoken article on 
"Hodge and his Parson" in the Nineteenth Century for 
March, 1892, the relationship between the labourer and 
the clergyman. He tells us that wages in Devon were 
less than los. per week. He denies that the way to the 
labourer's heart is through his stomach. " The way to his 
heart," he says, " is through his sense of justice." Also 
that there is a great feeling of dislike to the parson in some 
country places, and he tells us why. 

" In a great number, I should say in the vast majority, of 
country parishes', the squire, the parson, and the large farmers 
form a ' ring,' which controls all parochial affairs, so that no 
outsider has a chance even of knowing what goes on, much less 
of exerting any real influence on the management of those affairs. 
This ' ring ' practically is the vestry. Whoever heard of lab- 
ourers coming to the vestry meeting, and expressing their view 
of affairs f If they did come what would be the good ? Who 
would listen to them ? And the parson is ex-officio chairman 
of the vestry. He is the leader in Hodge's eye of this exclusive 
' ring,' and perhaps Hodge thinks he is mainly responsible for 
its existence. Hodge may be unjust in this. But who can 
wonder at his suspicion when he never sees the parson insisting 
on having the labourers' side heard, or arranging the vestry 
meeting so that they can attend. . . . Then again, does not 
Hodge remember the use made in school and Confirmation class 
of the Church Catechism ? Is not that generally used to enforce 
on him that it is his duty to remain in the position in which he 
was born, and to look up to and obey the parson and the squire 
and everyone in the place who is better off than himself ? Yes, 
he remembers well enough. I believe that that teaching is a 
gross perversion of the words of the Catechism. The men who 
drew up the Catechism meant ' shall ' and not ' has,' when they 
wrote ' that state of life into which it shaU please God to call 
me ; ' they meant ' betters ' when they wrote ' betters,' and not 
' those who are better off than myself.' " 


Evidently the vestry had not altered since Canon Girdle- 
stone's time. 

An illiterate letter, which throws an extraordinary light 
on the resentment evoked by parsons who preach content- 
ment, was written in pencil and wrapped round a stone for 
safety and found on the platform of the Wiltshire Red Van 
at Durnford. On the outside of the envelope were the 
words : " Please look inside." This was the letter : — 

" Our parson preached yesterday of We Labourers Being 
Dissatisfied and Discontented With our Wages, murmuring of it 
he said We Labouring men ought to Be Satisfied With What we 
got. Be satisfied. We Wish You to Publish it Plese." ^ 

They got los. a week at Durnford ! 

* Church Reformer, August 1893. 


The Local Government Act of 1894 has often been styled 
the Rural Magna Charta. In support of it Gladstone made 
his last speech in the House of Commons. It was hoped 
by many that by the creation of Parish and Rural District 
CouncUs, the agricultural labourer, so long left out in the 
cold from the management of his own parochial affairs, 
would be able to secure allotments easily, would admin- 
ister non-ecclesiastical charities, acquire vOlage greens and 
institutes, and above all a roof over his head which he 
could call his, own by a less cumbrous adoption of the 
Housing of the Working Classes Act of 1890. 

So far, the only cottages buUt under this Act by the rural 
sanitary authorities were eight cottages built at Ixworth 
in Suffolk. This was done in 1893. It was the result of 
labourers forming themselves into the Ixworth Agricultural 
Labourers' Association, with the help of the Mberal-minded 
vicar, the Revd. F. D. Perrott, who instituted a Housing 
Enquiry. There is no doubt about the need of new cot- 
tages, for Ixworth was a rural slum, and a rural slum is 
generally worse than a town slum, if this be possible. 

In a row of houses with forty-four inhabitants there were 
only three closets. Water came into both bedrooms in some 
of the cottages, and a bed quilt was seen covered with holes 
made by the rats. In one cottage, when it rained heavily 
the water ran through the back kitchen into the sitting- 
room and formed a pool in the centre. Dr. Thresh, of the 
Chelmsford and Maiden Unions, who was called in as an 
expert, condemned the condition of the cottages. The 
Enquiry was held in 1890. Overwhelming evidence was 
adduced and the Council were ready to issue their certificate, 



when the Guardians took fright at having to spread the 
rate over the whole of their district instead of hmiting the 
rate to the place immediately benefited. So the building 
of the cottages was delayed for another three years, when 
Ixworth, in spite of the powers given to Rural District 
Councillors, with the parishes of Penshurst, Bradwell, 
Bratoon, Linton, Malpas, were the- only parishes for many 
years which succeeded in putting into operation the Housing 
of the Working Classes Act for rural districts. 

The creation of County Councils in 1888 brought little 
grist to the labourer's mill. It is very doubtful if a single 
labourer had ever sat on a County Council ; but it was 
thought that when Parish Councils were created a large 
number of these Councils would be dominated by labourers. 
There would be no loss of labour-time, as meetings would 
be held in the evening, and so it would be possible for almost 
any man to attend. County Councils had for long been 
considered the preserve of the landed aristocracy and large 
farmers. The lesser fry, the farmer with a moderate sized 
holding, the shopkeeper and the builder might become 
Rural District Councillors, but surely the Parish Council 
would be captured by the labourer ? Now would be their 
opportunity to get land for allotments. They had long 
resented having to pay a rent for their allotments double 
the price that the large farmer paid for his land on the 
other side of the hedge. No longer would they put up with 
inferior land at some distance from their own homes. Now 
they had an Act of Parliament which would entitle each 
man to at least an acre ; and if they could not secure 
the land they wanted voluntarily, they could insist upon 
the County Council obtaining it by compulsion. 

So many thought ; but this is not what actually hap- 
pened. What actually happened was when farmers, vicars, 
and others resented the labourers sitting upon Parish Coun- 
cils, labourers were soon made aware of the undesirability 
of managing their own affairs. 

Farmers were in no mood in 1894, when wheat dropped 
to the lowest price in the history of English agriculture, 
to tolerate social as well as economic extinction. By 1894 


the Labourers' Unions had almost ceased to exist, and the 
labourer had nothing at his back and nobody to stand by 
him, if farmers chose to serve him with a notice to quit his 
cottage or to leave his employment. 

In the first year, in the full flush of testing the value 
of the new power put into their hands, many farm workers 
did seek to capture the Parish Councils and some of them 
succeeded. We learn from the Daily Chronicle, March 9, 
1895, that in the village of Alderminster, Warwickshire, 

" a Union labourer has received notice to quit his cottage in 
March. No reason is given for noticing the labourer to leave, 
and the only reason that can be imagined is that the labourer is 
secretary of the branch of the Union, and that he not only stood 
as a candidate for the Parish Council, but being defeated by the 
show of hands insisted, in spite of the squire, who is sole land- 
owner, and the vicar, in demanding a poll . . . the labourer has 
been a householder under the squire for upwards of twenty years 
and in a month's time, in the ordinary course, he will be driven 
like an outlaw from his native parish, apparently for no other 
reason than exercising the rights of citizenship." 

It is interesting to note that in another Warwickshire 
village, Barford, where Joseph Arch lived, though he appar- 
ently now took no active part in the life of the place, the 
secretary of the Warwickshire Labourers' Union succeeded 
in being elected as a member of the Parish Council. 

It is very difficult to coUect much evidence of the Parish 
Councils where labourers were successful in capturing seats. 
In Warwickshire, however, where the Warwickshire Agri- 
cultural Labourers' Union was still in existence the labourers 
managed to give a good account of themselves. One 
Parish Council, that of Tysoe, took the Glebe Farm in 
1895, and let it as small holdings. 

In the twenty-four parishes with branches of the Union 
where Parish Councils had been established, 91 labourers 
were returned out of a total o'f 140 councillors elected. 
Of the 91 labourers' candidates elected, 54 were farm 
workers, the rest being artisans or tradesmen adopted and 
run by the local branches of the Union. 

In three parishes in South Warwickshire, Whichford, 
Ilmington, and Stretton-on-Fosse, where there were branches 


of the Union, the labourers secured every seat on the 
Parish Councils. Only two purely agricultural labourers 
succeeded in getting on to Rural District Councils in War- 
wickshire. These were both active members of the Union, 
and their names were John Mansfield, of Moreton MoreU, 
and Jarvis, of Warmington. Mr. George Edwards, 
Secretary of the Norfolk and Norwich Amalgamated Labour 
Union, and who became the most prominent leader of farm 
workers since Arch's ecUpse was elected with his wife to 
the Erpingham Rural District Council in Norfolk. 

The 1894 Election at Horsford, St. Faith's Union, Norfolk, 
(which became a storm centre of the revived National 
Agricultural Labourers' Union) was fought with a good deal 
of feeling and resulted in the return of three farm labourers. 
This Council managed to do some good work. It hired 8' 
acres of land for allotments ; obtained a County Council 
Enquiry into the condition of cottages and got some of 
the worst evils remedied. Its most striking success was 
that of preventing 200 acres of heathland being monopolised 
by the squire and the neighbouring landowners. 

Democratic successes such as that at St. Faith's were 
won only, as a rule, in open villages, especially where the 
breath of freedom blew unchecked across heathland ; and 
where squatters and small holders had some foothold upon 
theearth. Where branches of trade unions still existed in 1894 
or where parishes lay close to mining or industrial areas, 
the man who worked with his hands stood a chance of being 
elected to Parish Councils. But in most villages the labour- 
er soon found that it did not pay— at any rate the labourer 
with a wife and family to support ! Here and there, in 
" model " villages, there was a show of democracy. The 
landowner and the vicar, and the landowner's coachman, 
the landowner's gamekeeper, his head-gardener, and his 
butler would sit, though of separate classes, as one happy 
family party, along with the blacksmith who shod the 
landowner's carriage horses, and the saddler who supplied 
the harness. But reforms, as might be imagined under these 
circumstances, had to be warily suggested by any one but 
the chairman. 


I have heard Earl Selborne say that he, as a Conserva- 
tive, found it very difi&cult to get reforms passed by parish 
councillors, who might be Radical in poHtics, but as owners 
of small cottage property were distinctly unprogressive. 
This is probably true, and there is very little to choose 
between the Conservative and the Radical, who are both 
owners of property, however small that property might be, 
when it comes to an extra penny upon the rates. 

To do the landowners justice, although I have given 
instances of autocratic ruhng by the heads of historic families 
who have been trained from childhood to consider that 
they have a kind of divine right to rule over the territory 
which is theirs by inheritance, when the Parish Council 
Act was passed it was not the squire who acted the part of 
village tyrant, so much as the farmer, and his class. As 
the squire and big landowner receded from the field of 
parochial government and became but economic factors 
in the background of rural life, the farming class, who 
lacked the occasional large-handed benevolence and refine- 
ment of those who had dominated the vestry meetings, 
became the dictators. 

The Rural Magna Charta of 1894, though it had made a 
breach in the wall of privilege, had not driven the captains 
of industry from their fort. On the contrary, political 
emancipation having gone ahead of economic emancipation, 
the farmers and the petty bourgeoisie took possession of 
the Parish and the Rural District Councils with £dl the eclat 
of a democratic flourish of trumpets. Government by a 
class, instead of being abolished became firmly entrenched, 
and the petty tyranny exercised was perhaps more intense 
than under the old regime. The historical parallel might be 
sought in the villages of France after the Revolution. 

Labourers welcomed the Parish Councils, because these 
inspired them with the hope that a lever had been put into 
their hands which would be able to raise for immediate 
solution not only the question of cottages and allotments, 
but also of the parish award of Charity Lands and the 
administration of non-ecclesiastical charities. 

For many years they had been suspicious as to the extent 


and right use of these Charity Lands and of the income 
derived therefrom. One of the privileges of a Parish Council 
was that of inspecting the Parish Chest which was kept by 
the incumbent. This was done, for instance, at Barford, 
on the instigation of the labourer, William Ivens, with 
excellent results. But at Angmering, a large Sussex village 
dose to Worthing, an act of vandahsm was performed, not 
by " the people," but by the middle and upper classes who 
monopolised the Parish Council. Fearing, apparently, that 
the contents of the Parish Chest would disclose unpleasant 
facts concerning the distribution of land dating from the 
last Enclosure, the most influential member of the Parish 
Council proposed that the contents of the Parish Chest 
should be burned ! A subservient chairman supported 
the proposition, and the contents of the solid oak chest, 
with its three massive locks and the ancient records, quaint 
documents of priceless value to the parish, were ruthlessly 

There were Parish Councils, however, which managed to 
recover some of the " lost " land through examining the 
Enclosure Awards, Tithe Awards, and Mst of charities. A 
useful quarry at Askern (West Riding of Yorkshire), which 
had been awarded to the parish years ago and quietly 
usurped by a landowner, is an instance of recovered property. 
A Derbyshire Parish Council at Shirland compelled a land- 
owner to give up a strip of land by the highroad which he 
had annexed. In Berkshire, the Hurley Parish Council 
discovered the lord of the manor had been allowing people 
to enclose bits of common land on condition they paid 
him a small quit rent. This was stopped. At Long Preston 
(West Riding of Yorkshire) the lord of the manor trans- 
ferred the village greens to the Parish Council free of charge, 
and at Thundersley, Essex, the same was done with regard 
to a large common. 

The Parish Council of St. Bride's Major (Glamorgan) 
successfully fought the Earl of Dunraver, who had tried 
to make a big encroachment. 

Parishes with a population of less than 300 which had 
to be content with an annual Parish Meeting instead of a 


Parish Council, unfortunately did nothing at aU until the 
passing of the Small Holdings and Allotment Act of 1907, 
and there are over 5,000 of these parishes in England and 
Wales. This fact points conclusively to small rural com- 
munities being overawed by those who possessed or occupied 
the land, and probably in such parishes the majority of the 
labourers live in farm-tied cottages. 

The Parish Councils Act undoubtedly reduced the author- 
ity of the squire and the parson in parochial affairs. The 
farmer class, however, almost everjrwhere captured and 
controlled the Rural District Council, which is the real 
executive body in rural districts. The Rural District 
Councils are largely the Guardians of the Poor. They decide 
whether cottages are to be built or not ; they control the high- 
ways ; they are the sanitary authority, and they are the 
executive body with regard to rights of way, wayside wastes, 
commons, and water supply. The Parish Council may not 
spend beyond the amount of a threepenny rate, without the 
consent of the Parish Meeting, but with its consent the limit 
is extended to the princely rate of 6d. in the pound. 

The County Council in 1894, and for a great number of 
years to follow, was almost as out of reach of the agricultural 
labourer as the House of Lords. Ever since the County 
Council was instituted it was regarded as the preserve of 
the land-owning class with a sprinkling of large farmers, land 
agents, and successful business men. Many County Coun- 
cillors are still returned unopposed ; a selection of suitable 
candidates being arranged at the principal club or hotel of 
the county capital. 

I once assisted a carpenter to contest a County Council 
seat in Suffolk ; but that was not until a year or two before 
the Great War, and even then the good people of Suffolk 
were so amazed that one of their own class should attack a 
county seat that nothing would convince them that a 
County Councillor did not receive a salary of £200 a 
year ! 

It was almost as difficult for a labourer to sit on a Rural 
District Council, for it meant losing a day's work at least 
once a month, and either a very long walk, or else the cost 


of a conveyance ; and the loss of a day's work would in 
many cases mean the loss of regular employment. 

The most reactionary administrative body was, and is 
still, the Rural District Council, and unfortunately, it is the 
body which was, and still is, largely responsible for the 
building of cottages, the reform most needed in rural Eng- 
land. Unfortunately too, for the nation and for the labour- 
ing classes in particular, gentlemen sit on this body who are 
either interested in cottage property as builders, or as the 
landlords of farm-tied cottages, and a Rural District Council 
could nearly always be depended upon to veto a Parish 
Council resolution that the Housing of the Working Classes 
Act of 1890 should be put into force. 

I remember taking part in an election as a candidate 
for a Parish Council in 1897. No labourer had sat on 
this Parish Council since its establishment in 1894, 
and though not an agricultural labourer myself, I was 
asked by labourers to fight their battles for them, 
especially with a view to winning for the parish some 
very much-needed cottages. One ruhng family of farmers, 
who owned most of the farms as well as the tied cottages, 
many of which were defective in sanitation and in 
water supply, had hitherto controlled the Parish Council. 
So effective was the control of this family over the parish 
that not only did it possess the power to say who should or 
should not work in the parish as far as agricultural land 
was concerned, but who should Uve on that land. As it 
also controlled the small waterworks, the miU, the butcher's 
shop, and the bakehouse, it amounted to most of the parish- 
ioners having to depend upon the goodwill of this ruling 
family for work, cottages, water, meat and bread! 

After a fierce contest I managed to get elected with 
a progressive doctor who had acted as chairman. The 
patriarch who supplied the brains for this family of farmers 
was vice-chairman of the Rural District Council, and at 
the first meeting of the Parish Council the sons and nephews 
who were elected proposed that the patriarch should be 
chairman in place of the doctor. Thereupon the doctor 
left the Council, never to return to it ; and I was left facing 


my foes alone. The exit of the doctor brought about an 
embarrassing silence. After a pause some one proposed 
that the son of the patriarch should be sent round for his 
father to ask him to take the chair. Again we sat in silence, 
until the son returned with the announcement that " Dad 
says he has taken off his boots." Another embarrassing 
silence, broken, I am afraid, by a chuckle from me. " Go 
back and tell him it's very purtickler," said one of the 
bolder members of the ruUng family. Again the son 
departed, and eventually brought back the patriarch who 
took the chair with the refreshing statement that " he had 
never read the Parish Councils Act, and never meant to." 

At the second meeting I proposed that we should request 
the Rural District Council to put into operation the Hous- 
ing of the Working Classes Act. No one argued against it, 
and it was passed, though I noticed a significant sly twinkle 
in the patriarch's eye. When my resolution was read 
before the Rural District Council the patriarch coolly pro- 
posed that it should lie on the table. And it has been 
l5dng there, or in the archives of that Rural District Council, 
ever since that day ! 

In spite of the publicity given to the deplorable condition 
of cottage property in nearly every county visited by the 
Red Vans, little was done to build new cottages save by 
the best of the landowners. These Red Van Reports 
give us lurid glimpses into the kind of homes occupied by 
labourers and their families. 

A labourer graphically describes the cottage he hved 
in in a Suffolk village, by the remark, " You may shut the 
doors and windows close enough, but you can't keep the 
cat out." The rich sporting landowner, who cared as Uttle 
for cottage rents as he did for farm rents, was a bad example 
of the English landowner. ^ 

" We met a labourer," writes a lecturer of the Red Van, " pull- 
ing down a cottage in which he formerly lived for years. Accord- 
ing to his account he had been evicted and the ground cleared 
for the better preservation of game ■on the adjoining land, and he 
had also been sacked by the farmer for joining the Union and 

• Amongst the Agricultural Labourers, 1891. 


urging the men to demand a rise of wages. Having no work, he 
applied to the landlord's agent, who set him to work to pull 
down his own cottage and two others adjoining." ^ 

" As long as there are squires," writes Mr. P. Anderson Graham, 
in his Rural Exodus, " it is desirable that they should be encour- 
aged to shoot. The keenest sporting landlord, when out with 
his gun does far more than make a bag. It is his surest way of 
acquiring an accurate and detailed knowledge of his property. 
On the stubble or among the roots in the partridge season, it 
becomes second nature to him to note the result of the tillage of 
his various tenants. Let him be bogged in pursuit of snipe or 
stranded in some miry field, and he will not easily forget where 
the drains should be." 

This is a curious manner of picking up one's education 
as a landowner. In the instance quoted above the keen 
sporting landlord, in acquiring a detailed knowledge of 
his property when out with his gun, must have considered 
that there were a superfluous number of cottages upon his 

" In North Herefordshire," we learn, " some landlords take a 
special interest in having their cottages kept in good order and 
the sanitary inspector's influence is occasionally apparent. 
Still many dwellings are described as ' not fit for a pig to live 
in ' and one labourer complained that he had to keep a bucket 
on his bed during wet nights to catch the rain coming through 
the roof. During the existence of the N.A.L.U., Government 
pressure was brought to compel several large landlords to make 
very substantial improvements in their cottage property. But 
it appears that immediately the active organisers of that Union 
had left the district the repairs in hand were discontinued and 
have never been touched again to this day." * 

" As a general rule, the cottages of Berkshire were found to be 
shockingly bad, and frequently the health of the inmates is 
endangered by the proximity of open drains and stagnant 

" It is in Wiltshire and Norfolk that the evil of tied cottages 
is most severely felt : in the former county returns have been 
obtained from forty-five parishes, showing i,66o tied cottages 
out of a total of 2,958 ; and in some of the villages every cottage 
is under the control of the farmer or farmers for whom the men 

' Amongst the Agncultural Labowers, i8gi. 
» Ihii., 1893. » IJM. 


work. . . . Unfortunately it cannot be said that things are 
often much better when the landlord retains the cottages under 
his control. If the landlord is neglectful the cottages fall into 
decay, and, no new ones being built, the labourers and their 
families dwell in ruins, fit only for bats and owls, till their collapse 
drives their tenants out of the village." ^ 

One of the worst reports comes from Wiltshire. 

" The cottages in this village (Edington, near Westbury)," 
reports the lecturer, " are in the most awful state of dilapidation 
that it is possible to conceive. They are to be seen in every 
stage of ruin — from the cottage that is barely tenable to the 
heap of rubbish that marks the spot where a cottage formerly 
stood. One I inspected consisted of four rooms, two up and two 
down, with what had been formerly a small brewhouse and 
wash-house attached. It adjoined another which was long 
past being tenable, and was already a dangerous ruin. To 
describe the occupied house is almost impossible. The front 
room downstairs, which was the best, measured 15 ft. 8 in. by 
8 ft. 2^ in., the height being 5 ft. 10 in. It was lighted by a 
window which the occupier had put in at her own expense ; the 
old window had fallen out through decay, and the landlord 
refused to replace it. It was the only room where cooking 
could be done or meals taken, but it had no cupboard. A crazy 
staircase, that threatened to give way at every step, led to the 
room above. This was the same in length and breadth, but it 
had an average height of 5 ft. 8 in. only. The roof was in holes, 
and the ceiling, which was cracked and blistered to an almost 
inconceivable extent, had been falling bit by bit for years. No 
repairs had been done to this or any other room by the landlord 
for years. The window is 18 in. square, but the walls are so 
built that only a small ray of light can enter. The back bedroom 
beggars description. Half one side of the room has literally 
fallen out into the garden, and has been in this condition for 
years. Old skirts and rags are hung over great holes to keep 
out wind and rain. But in spite of every precaution, the place 
ia bad weather and in winter is a swamp. The ceiling which is 
falling day by day slopes in such a way that there is only a small 
space in which a man of average height can stand upright. The 
' room ' below this is no better than a yard, and is open to the 
weather on two sides. Of the brewhouse only the walls remain ; 
the door and the roof have rotted away. The whole building 
will probably be blown down by the first rough wind. 

" Another house which the lecturer visited consisted of three 
rooms. Its walls were bxilging out, and had great fissures 

1 Amongst the Agricultural Labourers, 1892. 


threatening total collapse. The ground-floor room had been 
partitioned into two, with the result that both halves were in a 
state of semi-darkness, even when the sun was shining brightly 
and the cottage door wide open. The front room was a stifling 
box in which you might touch both walls with extended arms. 
At the time of his visit the occupier (a woman) and 'a neighbour 
were themselves whitewashing the place. The bedrooms were 
miniature lofts, unpapered, in a crumbling condition, separated 
by a warped and cracked door, which for years had ceased to 
answer its original purpose. One window had lost all its panes 
and was boarded up. The ground-floor window was a curiosity. 
As the panes had fallen out the occupier had put in glass from 
one or two picture frames, but the last collapse having exhausted 
the available glass, a family Bible had been pushed against the 
sash to keep the wind out. The woman who lives in this hovel 
with her boy of nine years (who helps to support the ' home ') 
gave me a heartrending account of her miseries during her first 
confinement in one of these wretched bedrooms. It was in the 
depth of winter and — ^ladies of England, in your sheltered homes, 
think of it ! — the snow lay upon the quilt on her bed, under 
which shivered mother and new-born babe. The melted snow 
produced a flood upon the floor, and found its way through the 
rotten floor and ceiling. Scarcely a ray of light came into the 
room, and at night the place was in utter darkness, for the wind 
blew through great holes in the roof in such a way that a candle 
or lamp was out of the question. On a rough night the cottage 
shakes so much that the occupant is obUged sometimes to leave 
the house for fear of its falling. Is it surprising that the woman 
since the experiences of that awful lying-in, has spent much of 
her time in the hospital, and is now quite unable to do any but 
very light work ? She receives 2s. 6d. from the parish and her 
son earns 5s. a week, and out of this the owner of the hovel takes 
IS. a week for rent. The cottage of a small holder is nearly as 
bad. The whole of the top windows have been blown out, and 
their place is taken by sacks. 

" The owner of all these cottages is Simon Watson-Taylor, 
Esquire, D.L., J. P., lord of the manor, lay impropriator, and 
principal landowner of this and neighbouring villages. At 
Earlstoke he has a noble mansion, commanding from its elevated 
position, beautiful views, surrounded by a well-timberedparkin 
which deer roam by lake and cascade." ^ 

" Warwick (Ratley). In several instances it is impossible, on 
a wet night, to sleep in some of the bedrooms, and in the case of 
one cottage, by standing on a mound close to the house, you may 
look through the roof into the bedrooms. The landlord of some 

* Amongst the Agricultural Labourers, 1894. 


of these cottages is, however, very solicitous about the morals, if 
not about the health, of the inmates. If any tenant's daughter 
' gets into trouble,' the parents must immediately drive the 
unfortunate girl from home, otherwise the whole family is 
evicted." ^ 

" The cottages . . . and the water supply of their inhabitants 
are in many of the villages deplorably bad, and in spite of the 
depopulation which has been going on sometimes the former are 
quite inadequate to the needs of the labourers. At Navestock, 
in Ongar union (Essex), the lecturer found ten small cottages in a 
row, inhabited on the average by ten persons each. Some 
cottages at Maplestead and Pebmarsh he describes as hovels. 
. . . The borough of Saffron Walden deserves reference ; in that 
sanctuary of the Society of Friends, where a publican is regarded 
as almost an outcast, the labourers' cottages are all in one quar- 
ter — a horrible kind of labourers' ghetto, of which Castle Street 
is the centre. The houses are small, inconvenient, without 
proper air space, and in insanitary condition. Some few have 
a few square yards of drying ground." ^ 

The economic grounds on which Rural District Councils 
based their arguments against building cottages were that 
it would entail a charge upon the rates. They showed with 
some reason that you could not compete with cottages let 
at the uneconomic rent of is. 6d. or 2s. a week. That was 
perfectly true of a great many districts, though it never 
seemed to have occurred to the farmers who sat on District 
Councils that if they paid their labourers a shilling or two 
more per week the men would be able to pay the economic 
rent which in some parishes amounted to only 3s. 6d. per 

Cottages at this time were built for about £200 each, 
and were let at Bradwell and Bratton for 3s. 6d. per week, 
at Penshurst for 4s. gd. per week. The Parish Council 
could appeal to the County Council in the event of the 
Rural District Council refusing to build, and this was done 
at Penshurst at the instigation of Miss Jane Escombe. 
But there is no doubt that low wages, besides the uneconomic 
farm-tied cottages, were the deterrent factors, and it seemed 
to many reformers that cottages would never be built in rural 
districts until agricultural labourers received a living 
minimum wage. 

' Amongst the Agricultural Labourers, 1894. ^ Ibid. 


Yet many cottages could have been built in semi- 
suburban districts and in rural areas adjoining industrial 
communities where wages were higher than in the depths of 
the country, and the tenants would readily have paid the 
economic rent of 4s. or 5s. a week. But they were not 
built, save in extremely smaU numbers, and the succeeding 
Housing Act of 1909, instead of creating a great many more 
cottages in the country, had the effect of closing down far 
more cottages than it built. 

I do not wish to convey the idea that Parish Councils 
did no useful work in improving the conditions of village hfe 
for the labourer. That they did many things I shall show ; 
but there is no doubt that labourers were disillusioned over 
the executive powers of Parish Councils, and through the pro- 
cess of continual victimisation lost any enthusiasm they 
had in 1894, andlet those who had been in the habit of govern- 
ing them continue to do so. I know a village in Sussex 
where at this time six farm labourers managed to get 
elected, and every one of these six labourers had eventudly 
to seek his Hving outside the parish. 

To briefly record some of -the work done by Parish Coun- 
cils between 1894 and 1907 besides getting the cottages 
built in the villages I have mentioned, and recovering parish 
land. Parish Halls or Rooms were built at Charing (Kent), 
Boarhunt (Hants), Compton (Hants), Hessle (Yorks), 
Dysarth (Flintshire), Ha wkehurst (Kent), Trefriew (Carnar- 
vonshire), Underskiddaw (Cumberland), Bovey Tracey 
(Devonshire), South Stoke (Oxfordshire), Gunthorpe (Not- 
tinghamshire), Cheddar (Somersetshire). 

Bathing places were estabUshed at Betchworth (Surrey), 
Alveston (Warwick), Snitterfield (Warwick), Ibstock (Leices- 
ter), Snodland (Kent), Blaby (Leicestershire), Campden 
(Gloucestershire) . 

Libraries and Reading Rooms were opened in several 
parishes, the best known of which is at Middle Claydon, 
which was established by the late Sir Edmund Verney, and 
where I learn from Sir Harry Verney, fiction seems to be the 
only kind of literature for which there is a constant demand. 

Curious political prejudices were discovered to rule in 


some of these parishes. In one Parish Reading Room in 
Surrey no Liberal newspaper was allowed, and in a 
Sussex parish the clergyman gave his copy of The Times 
but refused to let the Daily News be presented on the ground 
that it was a " party organ." 

Many foot-bridges over streams have been erected by 
Parish Councils, thus incontestably estabUshing for ever the 
right of way. A number of Recreation Grounds have 
been secured such as at Titchfield (Hants), Nacton (Suffolk), 
Aldenham (Herts), Westbury (Wilts), Mayfield (Staffs), 
Roade (Northants), Calverton (Notts), Bramcote (Notts), 
Harrow Weald (Middlesex), Twyford (Berks), Aston Tirrold 
(Berks), Wymondham (Norfolk), Clifton (Lanes), Naseby 
(Northants), Barrowden (Rutland), Norton-under-Hamdon 
(Somerset),, Barford (Warwickshire), Northolt (Middlesex), 
Aberffraw (Anglesey), Wittington (Worcestershire), Chigwell 
(Essex), Pelsall (Staffs), Chulmleigh (Devon), Horndon-on- 
the-Hill (Essex), Forest Row (East Sussex), Horsepath 
(Oxfordshire), Wattisfield (West Suffolk), Ropley (Hants), 
Burwell (Cambridgeshire), WilUngham (Cambridgeshire), 
Cuddesdon (Oxfordshire), Winterslow (Wilts), Cater ham 
(Surrey), Potton (Bedfordshire), Tiverton (Somerset), Will- 
ingham (Cambridgeshire), South Normanton (Derbyshire), 
Combe Martin (Devon), Aldenham (Herts), Frensham 

Villagers who had strongly resented the closing of ancient 
rights of way by landowners, and who had hitherto taken 
the law into their own hands at the risk of heavy fines and 
imprisonment, now found in the Parish Council a legal 
weapon forged for their using. Obstructions which had 
long eaten hke sores into village life were either removed 
by the writing of a poHte letter, or were beaten down by 
villagers who felt that at last they had the law on their 
side. Sometimes the bolder spirits were made to suffer 
for their zeal, for a stubborn landowner could stUl put up 
a good fight and obtain damages, both moral and material, 
in spite of the fact that obstruction had been proved. 

A friend of mine wrote an article at this time headed 
" Thou shalt not Steal " directed against a landowner who 


had closed a public footpath. An action was brought 
by the landowner against the journalist, and although it 
was admitted that a pubhc footpath had been wrongfully 
clo^d, the Judge declared that the landowner's character 
had suffered by the publication of this article, which cost 
my friend the sum of ^£500 ! 

Parish Councils had often but little assistance from Rural 
District Councils in re-opening rights of way, and a consider- 
able amount of work was given to that excellent body, 
the Commons Preservation Society, in the early years of 
the working of the Parish Councils Act. Boldness, however, 
sometimes had its own reward. When Sir Weetman Pearson 
(now Viscount Cowdray) purchased the Cowdray estate one 
of his first acts was to padlock the iron gates which opened 
on to the ancient right of way across the grounds of Cowdray 
Castle. Thereupon the Chairman of the Midhurst Parish 
Council took the village blacksmith with him, filed through 
the chain, and in full view of the pubhc walked down the 
ancient right of way, thus reclaiming the right of way for- 

Common pasture and grazing grounds were provided at 
Soulbury (Bucks), and at Hasland (Derbyshire). In York- 
shire pasture for the poor man's cow, and the cottager's 
goose or donkey were provided at Ashton-cum-Aughton, 
which rented 8 acres ; at KUham, which rented 21 acres, 
and at Beeford, which rented 48 acres. 

It was, though, in the acquisition of allotments that 
Parish Councils achieved the greatest success. From 1894 
up to 1907 (when the new Small Holding and Allotment 
Act was passed) 40,000 working men were holding land 
directly from their Parish Councils. Under the 1894 Act 
if land was hired compulsorily one tenant could not hold 
more than 4 acres of pasture, or i acre of arable and 3 acres 
of pasture. By voluntary arrangement with acquiescent 
landowners, however, there was no hmit to the acreage 
a Parish Council might lease. 

Compulsory powers had often to be put into force, as 
they were at the following places : — ^Asfordby (Leicester- 
shire), Ashby (Lincolnshire), Beaghall (Yorkshire), Dunsford 


(Devon), East Rusten (Norfolk), Fosdyke (Lincolnshire), 
Gamlingay (Cambs), Garthorpe (Lincolnshire), Goxhill 
(Lincolnshire), Holt (Dorset), Kexby (Lincolnshire), Llandy- 
fricg (Cardiganshire), Potter Heigham (Norfolk), Preston 
(Dorset), Tarvin (Cheshire), Tydd St. Mary (Lincolnshire), 
West Shutford (Oxfordshire). 1 

The most interesting allotment settlements have been 
those carried out by the Parish Councils at Belbroughton 
(Worcestershire) and Moulton (Lincolnshire). Close to 
Belbroughton is CatshUl, and it was at Catshill where some 
attempt was made, and certainly with a modicum of success, 
to carry out the provisions of the Small Holdings Act of 
1892, which proved to be an abortive attempt to establish 
peasant proprietorship in England as a permanent feature 
of land settlement. The Worcester County Council 
was the first to apply the powers provided by this Act, 
and in 1892 it agreed to buy at Catshill the farm of 
147 acres at ;^33 an acre. 

In the usual unthinking, official way 2,oco notices were 
issued in a hole and corner manner, and these received but 
one application in answer. Afterwards, when a meeting 
was held at Catshill and the Act was explained to those 
present, the Council satisfied itself that a number of people 
desiring small holdings were unable to find the necessary 
deposit of 20 per cent., and so agreed to accept a certain 
number of men as tenants besides those willing to purchase. 

A great number of the villagers in this district were 
nail-makers, who were out of work through the intro- 
duction of machinery in the manufacture of hobnails. It 
did not seem to occur to well-meaning bureaucrats that 
there was some irony in offering to sell land to penniless 
men. At Belbroughton, where dire poverty drove many to 
poach, and where the poor rates went up by leaps and 
bounds, the penniless men seized the opportunity through 
their Parish Council to apply their muscles to the labour- 
starved acres that surrounded them. In 1895 the Parish 
Council took a field of 18 acres and accommodated thirty 
nailers. The next year 16 acres were added ; the j^ear 

1 Vide Parish Councils and Village Life, The Fabian Society. 


after 109 acres ; and in 1903 a further 34 acres. These 
177 acres enabled 112 men to obtain a livelihood as market 
gardeners. No less than twenty-six horses were employed 
in ploughing, carting, and carrying the produce to Birming- 
ham and bringing back manure for the land. All this was 
done in spite of the continued opposition of the chief land- 
owner, and to-day (1919), I beheve the Parish Council of 
Belbroughton controls no less than 500 acres. 

The working men of Belbroughton did certainly " grow 
their own poor rate " in a manner which would have amazed 
John Stuart Mill, had he lived to see how they lifted them- 
selves from pauperism to comparative independence. 
Judging by the statistics of pauperism in the county of 
Oxfordshire, which was one of the lowest paid counties 
in England, and one of the highest in the return for allot- 
ments. Mill's contention might have seemed to hold good ; 
but allotments were equally as popular in Norfolk, and 
though wages were low in that county they were not 
lower than some other eastern and southern counties and 
one cannot say that the men of Norfolk have ever been 
backward in the fight for higher wages or shown a spirit 
of subservience. Nor was meekness characteristic of the 
fenland districts where wages were a httle higher and 
allotments as numerous as in any other district in England. 

To point to the absence of what is technically known as 
allotments in the northern counties where wages were 
highest, is no argument in support of MiU's theory; for 
in the north cow-pasturage for the hind or a potato patch in 
the ploughed field was quite a common allowance as a 
supplement to wages. Moreover town workmen who enjoy 
much higher wages than agricultural workers, have always 
shown a greater desire for allotments than the agricultural 
labourer, who finds no recreation in repeating after tea 
what he has been doing all day long. 

Where men are regularly employed it is the bent back of 
the woman who has to bear the burden of allotment tillage, 
especially at planting and harvesting, when the man's 
services are required in his master's fields. Socially, rather 
than economically, there is much to be said against allot- 


merits for agrictiltural labourers, though there is no doubt 
that the allotment is a standby in a time of stress such as 
lock-outs or strikes, as the miners found in the strike of 

If a man turns himself into a drudge by too diligent an 
application to the land that is not the fault of the allotment, 
but is due to the man making a wrongful use of his leisure, 
losing a sense of proportion, and taking up too much time 
on the allotment where others may take up too much time 
in pubHc houses. No allotment, however, ever makes up 
for the lack of a cottage garden of equal size. It is to the 
casually employed labourer, the piece-worker, such as a 
hedger and thatcher, and the man who means to make his 
allotment a stepping stone to a small holding, to whom it is 
most valuable. 

No Allotment Act, not even the Parish Councils Act, which 
had a stormy passage through the House of Lords, was 
designed to free labourers from their economic servitude to 
farmers. Only one or two counties had put into operation 
the Small Holdings Act of 1892, and the few farms purchased 
were quite small. In the same year of the passing of this 
first Small Holdings Act an Allotment Association was 
formed at Spalding under the energetic leadership of Mr. 
Richard Winfrey. A field of 33 acres owned by Lord Car- 
rington was let to the members, and at Ladyday, 1895, 
a farm on good land (Willow Tree Farm) of 217 acres in 
extent becoming vacant was leased by a syndicate formed 
by Mr. Winfrey, from Lord Carrington. This syndicate, 
or association, became known as the Lincolnshire and Norfolk 
Small Holdings Association, with Mr. (now Sir) Richard Win- 
frey as its chairman. Its history might be briefly told here. 

After extending its area round WiUow Tree Farm, thus 
making a total of 650 acres in this district, it purchased 
three farms at Swaffliam and Whissonsett in Norfolk, on 
land far inferior to the Spalding land. It leased 1,000 acres 
at Wingland from the Crown, and eventually became con- 
troller of 2,266 acres worked by 290 tenants with a rent 
roll of ^^4,890. It is significant that this body of small 
holders, who were almost all agricultural labourers, 


risked their livelihood at a time when wheat was 25s. a 
quarter. The last return showed that com crops occupied 
nearly half the acreage, and the loss from rents had been 
less than 10 s. per £100. 

Another development af the SmaU Holding movement 
in South Lincolnshire which takes us to a later date might 
be suitably mentioned here. At Moulton 1,000 acres 
sparsely grazed and badly cultivated were leased to the 
Moulton Parish Council by the Crown. This Parish Council 
consisted almost entirely of working men and the Crown 
Land Commissioners very wisely spent no less than ;f8,ooo 
on the equipment of these holdings in the form of cottages 
and farm buildings. These holdings ranged from allot- 
ments of one rood to smaU farms of 79 acres, though roughly 
speaking the small holders might be divided into two cksses, 
those with 4 or 5 acres working for employers, and those 
with 20 acres to 50 acres working entirely for themselves. 
It is interesting to note here that whilst the rural exodus 
continued through this decade and the next the population 
of the rural area of Spalding increased from 10,751 in 1901 
to 23,497 ^^ 1911. 

In this chapter I have dealt largely with the rising hopes 
of the rural workers to get a footing on the land and a roof 
over their heads by means of the Parish CouncUs Act. 
Two years afterwards, by 1896, farm workers seem to have 
been reduced to the lowest depth of despondency during 
the whole period of agricultural depression. Nearly every 
vestige of a trade union had died out,i and as these died 

• A letter addressed to me from the Registrar (Sept. 25, 1919) con- 
tains the following information : — 

" In the case of the Eastern Counties Federation Register No. 639, there 
appears to have been a Union registered in 1890 under the name of the East- 
em Counties Labour Federation, and a statement accompanied the Return 
for that year to the effect that since the end of 1895 the Eastern Counties 
Labour Federation ' now stands Nil (as regards membership) and the 
funds, after paying all dues and demands, are completely exhausted.' " 

Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Webb in their History of Trade Unionism (190 1) 
give the number enrolled as 17,000, which, if intended as an index of 
membership in that year, was apparently inaccurate. 

I am also informed by the Registrar that returns ceased to be furnished 
after 1894 by the London and Counties Labour League (the old Kent and 
Sussex Labourers' Union) and the National Agricultural Labourers' 
Union, the trustees of which were then given as Messrs. Arch, Baker, and 


there was little or no organised attempt to capture the 
Parish Councils. Wheat was down to 26s. a quarter, and 
there seemed no prospect of getting a rise in wages. If 
they could not get land and so work out their own salvation 
there seemed little hope for them. The workhouse loomed 
larger than ever in their eyes. There was no Old Age 
Pension, and' those beaten in the struggle for existence 
received the parochial dole of a shilling or two a week with 
half a stone of flour. 

It is a great effort for an agrictiltural labourer to pen a 
letter to a local paper, especially to exhibit his poverty, 
but one Daniel Hull, of Tolleshunt-Knights told his story 
in 1897 in a letter sent to the Essex County Council. He 
was eighty-five years of age, of which number of years he 
had put in eighty at work, and had now to " fall back on 
one loaf and 2s. a week." 

Immediately the picture rises to one's eyes of Richard 
Jefferies' labourer, John Brown. " If in front of him could 
be piled up all the work he has done in his life what a huge 
pyramid it would make ; and then if beside him could be 
placed the product and award to himself, he could hold it 
in his clenched hand hke a nut, so that nobody could 
see it." 1 

Rural trade unionism wasnowat its lowest ebb since 1872. 
The National Agricultiiral Labourers' Union had practic- 
ally ceased to exist in every one of its ramifications. But 
a new union entered the field, and as its history has become 
a most remarkable one it is interesting to record its early 
days, however insignificant its doings might have appeared 
to the nation at that time. 

I have said that in the beginning years of the 'nineties 
the stimulus of trade union organisation amongst agricul- 
tural labourers was artificial. It derived from the towns, 
and the rapidly formed country unions had but a meteoric 

Now in May 1898 a new urban union came into being 

1 Lord Rothschild's Committee (1898) reported that two-thirds of the 
people over sixty-five needed " aid." The aged poor, numbering about three- 
quarters of a million, who needed aid to keep alive, had to wait for another 
ten years before the Old Age Pensions Act was passed. 


called the Workers' Union. It was formed to organise aU 
those workers who did not foUow any particular craft or 
had not been catered for by existing unions. Its ambition 
was to organise the whole of the unorganised into one big 
union. Mr. Tom Mann was its president, and Mr. Charles 
Duncan its secretary — on £2 a week. Though it had its 
birth amongst bricks and mortar and the grime of soot, 
its formation fortunately had reached the ears of a skilled 
agricultural worker living in a midland village called Ellerdine 
Heath, and he was determined at the outset to organise 
the farm workers. This was Mr. John Beard. He managed 
to get eight men to join in his own village and then held a 
pubUc meeting at Iron Bridge, Salop, which he invited Mr. 
Charles Duncan to address. Mr. Duncan had been instructed 
to ride a bicycle because the Union was too poor to afford 
travelling expenses. The meeting was held, but nobody 
joined the Union I 

Then another effort was made some months later at the 
same village. This time excitement had been worked up 
by a born advertising agent, who was then working as a 
farm labourer. This was Mr. John Simpson, who afterwards 
became the creator and the secretary of the Planet Friendly 
Assurance Society. Mr. Simpson cleverly created curiosity 
through a newspaper controversy in which he was audacious 
enough to use his own name and address. 

The farmers looked upon this act as a piece of sheer im- 
pudence, while labourers were aghast at his daring. He not 
only attacked the conditions of the labourers but also held 
up to ridicule the private ownership of land. The three 
men, Mr. John Beard, Mr. Charles Duncan, and Mr. John 
Simpson, spoke. Farm workers walked to the meeting 
from irules around. It was a great success, and at the end 
of it a number of labourers joined the Union. 

The next meeting was held at Frees, Salop, and here 
again the men came in from the farms and hamlets around 
and made a big village meeting. 

The next night the three men went to Market Drayton, 
Shropshire, which was near Mr. Simpson's home, and one 
may be assured the ground had been well prepared. Here 


a man turned up in a cart who might have been a successor 
to Arch. He was a bearded vociferous Primitive Methodist, 
a tower of strength to any imion composed of agricultural 
labourers. He was a Parish Councillor and a Guardian of 
the Poor, and before a meeting was held at his own village, 
delightfully called Loggerheads, he would insist on going 
round the neighbourhood singing at the top of his voice 
at the doors of the cottages. To give himself free expansion 
of his chest he took off his coat in addition to roUing up his 
sleeves. His name was Enoch — at least that was his Chris- 
tian name, and who would want to know him by any other ? 

During the course of the year the Union had enrolled 
about 2,000 agricultural labourers in the Midlands, and Mr. 
John Beard having proved himself so capable, was appointed 
an organiser at the princely salary (irregularly paid) of 12s. 
a week — ^the wage of his feUow farm workers. Eventually, 
Mr. Beard became the President of the Union and a member 
of the Agricultural Wages Board, for which his knowledge 
and his tactful negotiating quaUties well fitted him. 

In those days neither publicans nor parsons gave a very 
warm welcome to Trade Union organisers. The publicans 
were often small farmers and as licencees feared the frown 
of a magisterial bench of landowners. When the parson 
was sympathetic he had to face the opposition of hostile 
churchwardens. Mr. Beard tells an amusing incident of a 
vicar who autocratically gave him permission to hold a 
meeting in a village schoolroom, in spite of the veto of 
the other managers, who were farmers. The vicar, in 
explaining the situation, said although lamps could not be 
provided by the school, Mr. Beard would be able to get 
them from the church ! 

The meeting was held and a branch was started, but the 
churchwardens prevented the further use of the school by 
imposing a high rent. The village grocer then came to the 
rescue of the Union by placing his hayloft at its disposal, and 
branch meetings were then held under the light of a horn 
lantern whilst the men sat round on bundles of hay. 

Permission to allow the Union the use of a chapel proved 
to be more embarrassing than the vicar's permission 


to use a schoolroom without lamps. The trustees of a cer- 
tain chapel after much heart-searching decided to let the 
Union have the use of the chapel, on condition that the meet- 
ing followed the lines of areligious service. This Mr. Beard 
assures us was more than a Httle difficult for him, " but quite 
easy for John Simpson, who had been a lay preacher. ' ' When 
the time came, however, the trustees being apprehensive 
of the devotional capacities of trade union officials dele- 
gated one of their own members to take charge of the service. 
Mr. Simpson preached the sermon on a text based on one 
of the hymns selected, " Who is our neighbour ? " Al- 
though it was agreed that the sermon was a good one 
the audience was evidently puzzled and not a member 
was enrolled. 1 

" A post card lying on my desk," writes Mr. Beard, " posted 
to me so long ago as igoo, reminds me of a refusal. This time it 
was from an Oddfellows' Committee which was our last hope in 
that village. The first was the National School, next the Wes- 
leyan Chapel, and then the two public houses. The reason was 
not far to seek. The squire was a National School manager ; the 
leader of the Methodists was head carpenter on the estate ; the 
first public house belonged to the Hall, and the Annual Rent 
dinners were held there ; the second one had as a landlord a man 
who was a farmer as well ; the secretary of the Oddfellows' 
Committee was a farmer and builder, and the Committee were 
the squire's gardeners and estate workmen and village tradesmen. 
This kind of a ring was frequently met with and against it there 
was little hope." 

This ray of hope generated by the Workers' Union which 
penetrated the Midlands at the end of the nineteenth 
century, flickered and sank to a mere spark, until the great 
whirlwind of war which swept over the world fanned it into 
life again. 

1 The Workers' Union Record, August, 1919. 




In 1 90 1, Sir Rider Haggard, the Arthur Young of the twen- 
tieth century, made his famous tour^ through the whole 
of England south of Yorkshire. The picture presented 
to us is a gloomy one : land going back to grass with the 
labourer leaving the land is the recurring note in county 
after county. Arch in 1897 declared that " nothing but 
boys and old men were left." This is an exaggerated state- 
ment, though of the young men who remained the majority 
were not the brightest specimens of their class. It may 
largely account for the decline and almost total extinction 
of trade union organisation in rural England from 1896 
to 1906. Corn prices remained low, and although farmers 
were gradually adapting themselves to the newer conditions, 
turning their attention to dairying rather than to corn pro- 
duction, the upward tendency in their industry did not 
begin until about the year 1906. 

In the meantime, silently but persistently, the inarticulate 
agric\4tural labourer who had no one to speak for him, left 
the open fields for the crowded cities. It is estimated 
that the conversion of arable land into grass between 1881 
and 1901 threw from 60 ,000 to 80 ,000 farm labourers out of 
work, and this was accentuated later by the increasing use 
of labour-saving machinery. 

" This is certain," wrote Sir Rider Haggard, " for I have noted 
it several times, some parts of England are becoming almost as 
lonesome as the Veld of Africa. There ' the highways lie waste, 

1 Rurid England, by Rider Haggard. 
VOL. II. 145 L 


the wayfaring man ceaseth.' The farm labourer is looked down 
upon, especially by young women of his own class, and conse- 
quently he looks down upon himself. He is at the very bottom 
of the social scale." 

Few more poignant stories are told of our empty country- 
side than that of Mr. W. H. Hudson, in the opening chapter 
of his book A Shepherd's Life. Whilst cychng along the 
valley of the Ebble, a farm boy standing alone in the middle 
of a big field raced across the field to the gate which gave on 
to the road. On being questioned as to what he wanted, 
the boy replied, " Nothing ; it was just to see you pass." 
And this was eight years later ! 

Chiefly, Sir Rider Haggard contended, it was a matter 
of wages. " But," he adds, " it was not solely a question of 
wages ; he (Hodge) and his wife seek the change in the excite- 
ment of the streets. Nature has Httle meaning for most of 
them and no charm ; but they love a gas lamp. Nature, 
in my experience, only appeals to the truly educated." 

That it was largely a question of higher wages, to which 
I would add, more abundant leisure, is indubitable ; but it is 
not true in my opinion that Nature makes no apped to those 
who work under the open sky. 

Though often unexpressed— for poets are as rare 
amongst farm labourers as they are am^ongst the educated 
classes — there is a strong, indefinable feeUng for Nature in 
the hearts of those who earn their daily bread in the fields 
and in the woods. 

" Ah," sighingly said a man of my acquaintance who 
had been brought up at the plough-tail, drearning out of a 
dingy city wndow, " the seagulls will now be following the 
plough ! " The cuckoo's first haunting note signalhng the 
eternal youth of the world, invariably evokes from the 
uneducated a thrill of pleasure as if it were the opening 
bar of some well-known melody. 

The beauty of the blackthorn throwing its bridal wreath 
across the hedge when March leans upon April has been often 
pointed out to me by some toil-smitten labourer, and the 
glory of the wild cherry, in snowy blossom has, I have 
noticed, stricken him mute with admiration. The song of the 


nightingale under a still starlit night excites in the swain a 
feeling as intense as the pipings of Pan did in ancient Greece. 
The hiU which has brooded over his village since infancy, 
pulls at the heart-strings of manyashepherd who has watched 
the trifoUum lace the hillside with crimson and the charlock 
weave a cloth of gold at its feet. 

To the lonely woodman the singing brook becomes a hving 
companion. The rainbow in the sky which Unks earth to 
heaven rarely appears without an ejaculation from the man 
with the hoe. Changes in the sky, the reddening of the west, 
and the sinister rising of a grey cloud no larger than a man's 
hand, and the race of the wind is more to the agricultural 
labourer than the doings of ParUament, or the pronounce- 
ments of the Church. Trudging along the lampless lanes 
he watches with interest the sickle moon harvesting its light. 
He has worked in too many wet shirts and under too many 
burning suns to remain indifferent to Nature. 

Those who have lived in any intimacy with the labourer 
know that there were two compelling forces which kept 
men on the land who might have earned with ease the 
higher wages and greater freedom of the towns. One was 
the shackle of debt which kept them in bondage, especially 
at the time when the children were young and unable to 
contribute to the family funds ; the other was this love of 
Nature, not perhaps as understood in the schools, but in 
the peasant's way, in which was mingled a quiet but strong 
affection for live creatures both wild and domesticated. 
Probably the love of his horse is greater in some farm 
worker than the love of his wife ! 

In the early years of the twentieth century I was con- 
stantly working with a labourer who was one of the most 
skilled craftsmen of the fields I have ever known. He was 
very strong as well as skilful. His great fault was his over- 
powering thirst, and one would have imagined that with his 
fondness for the bottle he would live where drink was 
most easily procured ; that is in the crowded street where the 
tap-room door invited entrance at every hundred yards. 
He chose, however, to live in a shed in a field by a copse where 
the nightingales sang in April, situated about two miles 


from the nearest public house, which, owing to his violence 
when " in liquor," he was prohibited from entering. 

Rough, uneducated, and drunken in his habits though 
he was, yet he had a love for Nature akin to the love of a poet. 
He would tell me that the sunset reminded him of the colours 
in a brooch he once saw gracing a farmer's wife. With 
hands torn by bramble, he would, with the Ught of pleasure 
in his eyes, bring from the woods in which he trespassed 
without hesitation " purty leetle " roots of periwinkle which 
he called when variegated " barnicated winkle," besides 
cowslips and primroses, which he loved for their pale beauty 
and knew that my wife loved too. He once asked her to 
give him a few crocus bulbs because they were " like leetle 
bits o' sun," to plant round his battered old shed. 

Another man, brought up as a ploughboy, possessed a 
love of the country which was as indestructible, for he 
chose to remain in a part of Sussex where he once hoed 
in a field alone for four months without seeing a soul 
from morning to night ; and one of these fields in which 
he was the sole worker was 650 paces wide. In spite of the 
fact that his employer was a hard man, — for on one occasion, 
on a very wet day, finding that my old friend was taking 
shelter under a hedge he ordered Mm out to hoe in a field 
where he had to wade knee-deep in mangold leaves — ^in 
spite of such experiences he remained true to his love of the 
soil and to-day is cultivating a small holding of his own. 
Being a handy man not only with the hoe and the biUhook, 
but also with the hammer and chisel, he could have found a 
more profitable job in the towns, but he stayed where he could 
hear the hum of the bees, which he handled with the tender- 
ness of a woman for a chUd, and where he could watch the 
sheep like a string of pearls encircling the shoulder of the 

Lieut-Col. Pedder, in an article^ vividly descriptive of 
rural life at this time, mentions this deep love of the labourer 
for the land. 

" ' Farm-service ' is still subjugation. It yokes and goads and 
brutalises. Men are still dismissed if their acquaintances do not 
• Contemporary Review, February, 1903. 


please their masters. Their wives, though under no legal obliga- 
tion to do so, must still go out to field labour or ' give offence.' 
Opposition in politics may involve ' a march,' as they have 
learnt to call a compulsory flitting. The Parish Council gives 
the master abundant tests of submission. ' I didn't know as he 
was agin' her,' said a labourer of fifty- five, telling how he unad- 
visedly ' held up his hand ' for a lady who was a candidate for a 
seat in the village parliament. ' But didn't he just give it to I 
aterwards ! ' ' Still as a slave before his lord ' represents the 
attitude of the farm hand in the presence of his employer. No 
sheep before her shearers was ever more dumb than the milkers 
and carters and ploughmen at the village meetings to which 
their masters may choose to summon them. They are cowed. 
It is to this that the race have come, whom Froissart described 
as ' le plus perilleux peuple qui soit au monde, et plus outrageux 
et orgueilleux.' Pride is dead in their souls. 

" Is there no germ of independence within them that may 
still be fostered and vivified ? Parish Councils were intended 
for this very purpose and Parish Councils have signally failed. 
As long as the Land is in the hands of a small class straightly 
banded together for the maintenance of their position and their 
authority, the condition of the labourers must remain practically 
one of serfdom. The monopoly of great farmers must be broken 
up before the dawn of hope can rise upon the English peasant. 
And great farmers are upheld by the whole Conservative party 
in England. They play the part of the ' Undertakers ' at the 
election of James I's second Parliament. As a class they 
' undertake ' that the vote of the villages shall be Conservative. 
Their power of paralysing anything like freedom of electoral 
choice in their dependents is a weapon in the hands of a political 
party. But even if Hope were again to shine upon the peasant, 
is there anything left within him to which Hope could appeal ? 

" Yes, deep in the heart of the country labourer there glimmers 
still a tiny spark from which we may yet rekindle the sacred fire 
of independence and self-reverence. That it exists at all is a 
miracle. It has gone on living through the generations of 
hopeless drudgery in which every high aspiration was squeezed 
by famine out of the soul of the farmer's serf, a survival from the 
days when an able-bodied Englishman bred on and to the Land, 
might cherish the hope of one day calling a corner of it his own, 
at least as the tenant of a landlord without personal interest in 
the degradation of his dependents. It is the Love of the Land. 
I know nothing more touching than the rare expression of this 
feeling by men to whom one would naturally expect ' the Land ' 
to be much the same as ' the shirt,' to a Jew-sweated seamstress 
in the East End. ' A beautiful bit of land ! ' says an old labourer 
admiringly, as he watches the plough-share turn the rich furrow. 


He is on his way to the workhouse where his father died before 
him and where his son will follow him. That is what ' the 
Land ' has done for him. And he has never planted so much as 
a potato in a bit of ground from which he could not be ejected by 
a month's warning before Michaelmas." 

He !|: « . 4: * 

In 1901a deputation of Suffolk farmers visited Denmark, 
and this deputation pointed out to their English fraternity 
that the " expense of farming in Denmark appeared to be, 
with the exception of State Aid, quite as high as, or higher 
than in Suffolk. The taxes and rent charge were about the 
same as in East Anglia, but labour, implements, etc., were 
dearer ; but against this must be set the fact that the Danish 
farmer appeared to be satisfied with a much simpler and more 
frugal mode of life than is common here." 

Though the English farmer was becoming more and more 
of a dairy farmer, the proverb was no longer a household word 
that, " If the cows be not milked by the time the herdsman 
blows his horn (sunrise) the dairymaid's wedding is spoiled." 
It was difl&cult for the EngUsh farmers or their families 
to realise that they were not living as their fathers in the 
Golden Age of farming. They complained of the cost of 
labour, and yet labour was the one item of expenditure 
over whifch it was fatal for them to economise. Without a 
word of protest the unshackled labourer silently left the 
farms for the police force, the railway, the contractor's yard, 
the factory and the mine. 

A sympathetic Government had passed in 1896 the Agricul- 
tural Ratings Act, which relieved the farmers of half their 
rates on their land, though not on their buildings. And this 
Act was continued in 1902. Critics have scornfully dubbed 
this Act " The Landlord's Relief Act," because, though 
tenants had immediate relief, eventually this sum found its way 
into the landlord's pocket in the form of higher rents. Whilst 
the depression lasted and landlords were seeking good 
tenants this was not possible ; but at the turn of the tide no 
doubt landlord s, by raisirig rents, reaped the benefit of the Act 
instead of the farmers. 

Of more permanent value to farmers was the creation of the 
Board of Agriculture in 1889, and the subsequent grants made 


for agricultural education, especiallyfor technical instruction 
in dair3dng. It was a lucky chance which diverted money 
intended for publicans into the channels of technical educa- 
tion ; and in 1889, on through the 'nineties, agricultural 
instruction was inaugurated at various institutions.^ 

Though farmers' sons were receiving a better technical 
education during this period, none of these grants benefited 
the labourer's son, save when in some miraculous way a 
labourer's son managed to win a scholarship. Whilst far- 
mers had some extra educational advantages for their sons, 
those in the southern and midland counties resented as much 
as ever an Education Rate and the education of labourers. 
Our statesmen were discovering that education was kept 
down to the lowest level by members of country School 
Boards and managers of Church schools. Some slight im- 
provement, however, was effected by the Education Act of 
igo2, when all elementary schools were placed under the local 
authority and the management of non-provided schools, 
such as Church schools, had some shadow of public control 
such as one representative from the Parish Council, one 
appointed by the County Council, besides the four appointed 
under the Trust Deed of the school. 

No radical change, however, took place in the personnel 
of many school management committees, for the one repre- 
sentative from the Parish Council usually turned out to be 
the old cheese-paring educationist under a new name ; 
and the same criticism might be applied to the managers 
appointed by the County Education Committee. 

The opposition of farmers to the labourer's son being 
educated is understandable, as they saw the most intelligent 
lads, equipped with a higher wage-earning capacity acquired 

1 University College of North Wales, Bangor ; University of Leeds ; 
Armstrong College, Newcastle-on-Tyne ; University College of Wales', 
Aberystwyth ; Cambridge University ; University College, Reading ; 
South-Eastern Agricultural College, Wye; Midland Agricultural and 
Dairy College ; Harper Adams Agricultural College ; College of Agri- 
culture and Horticulture, Holmes Chapel ; Agricultural and Horticul- 
tural College, Uckfield ; Essex County Technical Laboratories ; Harris 
Institute, Preston ; British Dairy Institute, Reading ; Eastern Counties 
Dairy Institute, Ipswich ; Royal Veterinary College ; National Fruit 
and Cider Institute ; Cumberland and Westmoreland Farm School ■ 
Hampshire Farm School ; Agricultural Institute, Ridgmount. 


through education, running away to the towns. Through 
books, too, boys had made the discovery of a different world 
outside the parish boundary. 

This antagonism to education was never a marked feature 
of the northern or Scotch farmer who paid higher wages. 
It did not occur to the naidland and southern farmers to 
try the experiment of offering higher wages and so attempt 
to retain the services of the brighter lads, whose quickened 
iiiteUigence might prove of some material advantage to their 
employers. Farmers might retort that this was taking too 
great a risk,for the education giveninrural schools, especially 
in Church schools, fitted no boy for a Ufe on the land. This 
to a large extent was, and is stiU true, though if the boy had 
the priceless advantage of a good teacher who trained the 
young to think instead of stuffing them with facts which 
they could not mentally digest, the farmers would have had 
the advantage of trained intelligences which took an abiding 
interest in hfe and were fiUed with a noble curiosity. 

Chemistry was more and more coming to the aid of the 
farmer ; and agricultural labour-saving machinery was being 
improved. Financially, t];ie turn of the tide in markets 
and prices, though slow in movement, began to be 
appreciable about 1906. The dairy farm, the cattle rear- 
ing-farm, the fruit farm and the market garden began to 
change the aspect of many a district hitherto given over 
to cereals and hops. 

The very interesting Report by Mr. Wilson Fox published 
in 19051 on the Wages, Earnings, and Conditions of Employ- 
ment of Agricultural Labourers in the United Kingdom, 
shows the average earnings per week, including the value of 
aU allowances in kind, in England, to have been i6s. gd. in 
1898 and 17s. 5d. in 1902. The rates of wages in 1903 to 
1905 remained at the same level as at 1902. Mr. Fox 
attributed the slightly upward movement from 1895 to 
1902 to the scarcity of labour which had left the,: land 
for the mines and other industries. The mines of '"Dur- 
ham and Glamorganshire, where wages were respectively 

» Cd. 2376, 


22s. 2d. and 21s. 3d., kept the average higher in England 
and Wales. 

The lowest average weekly earnings in England were in 
Oxfordshire (14s. 6d.). The average rate of weekly cash 
wages in this county, according to Returns from farmers, 
was I2S. and the lowest rate usually paid in any rural dis- 
trict was IIS. The counties where the earnings were next 
lowest were Norfolk (15s. 3d), Gloucestershire (15s. 5d.),and 
Sufolk and Dorsetshire (15s. 6d.) each. The average rates 
of weekly cash wages in Norfolk were 12s. 4d., in Gloucester- 
shire I2S. iid., in Suffolk 12s. gd., and in Dorsetshire 
IIS. iid. In Dorsetshire the rate of weekly cash wages 
was IDS. in some districts. 

In Wales the county where the average weekly earnings 
were lowest was Cardiganshire (15s. 8d.) ; the average rate 
of weekly cash wages being 14s. 6d. 

It should be borne in mind, however, that these official 
figures were made up from the result of Returns filled in 
chiefly by employers who no doubt were accurate enough with 
regard to cash wages, but estimated the value of allowances, 
which brings a margin for error into the calculation. The 
Returns did not include casual labourers. The inclusion of 
the men in charge of animals increased the general averages 
by only lod. a week. 

The weekly average value of food consumed by a farm 
labourer, his wife and four children was found by Mr. Fox 
to be 13s. 6|d. in England, and 15s. 2jd. in Scotland. 

The first independent investigator to present us with a 
carefully drawn picture of village Hfe in the early years of 
the twentieth century was Dr. H. H. Mann, in his Life in an 
Agricultural Village in England.^ There was at this time a 
growing re-orientation of economics in a sociological direc- 
tion. Charles Booth broke new ground in his painstaking 
Life and Labour of the People, which was an extensive enquiry 
into the economic conditions of the life of those who inhabited 
the wilderness of bricks and mortar. Mr. Seebohm Rowntree 
continued this method in his study of York. Then Dr, 
Mann developed the plan in his study of village hfe, and 
I Sociological Papers, Vol. I. 


he was followed by Miss Davies in 1905 by her Life in an 
English Village ; and later on Mr. Rowntree in his How the 
Labourer Lives applied the same method to rural hfe which 
he had to town life.^ 

Ridgmount, lying twelve miles from the county town of 
Bedford, is in the centre of one of the largest purely agricul- 
tural districts in England. The village is bounded on one 
side by the Woburn Park of the Duke of Bedford, who is 
the greatest landowner, house-owner, and employer of labour 
in the district. A considerable amount of freehold land had 
existed in the village, but by the process of absorption, the 
whole parish became almost entirely the ^property of the 

Ridgmount is t3rpically EngHsh, for not only has it its 
Duke, owning and controlling nearly everything, but, besides 
its church it has its Baptist chapel which is said to have 
been founded by John Bunyan. The whole population 
was directly or indirectly engaged in agricultural pursuits. 
The sole exceptions of any importance consisted in the 
residence of two railway signalmen in the village and of 
one man and three lads who worked in the printing, works 
at Aspley Guise, two and a half miles distant. 

The best cottages were those owned by the duke and let 
at IS. 6d. per week, and this sum might be taken as the 
standard rent. 

To get at a minimum standard consistent with physical 
efficiency Dr. Mann accepted Mr, Rowntree's basis, which 
was that the necessary minimum cost for food for a man was 
3s. per week, for a woman 3s., and for a chUd 2S. 3d. 

On enquiry Dr. Mann found that Mr. Rowntree's standard 
of 6d. per week for a man or woman, and 5d. per week for a 
girl or boy under sixteen years of age for clothes, was regarded 
by the people as an absolute minimum and these figures 
were therefore retained. A shilling a week was allowed for 
fuel after taking into consideration the amount of wood 
which could be picked up. Beyond this, 2d. per head per 
week was allowed for other siindries such as soap, light, furni- 
ture, crockery and similar articles. A man, wife and three 
» Poverty : A Study of Town Life, by B. Seebohm Rowntree. 


children would therefore have a minimum necessary expen- 
diture per week of 135. gd. in food, of is. 6d. in rent, of 4s. id. 
in household sundries, making a total of i8s. 4d. to keep them 
in physical efficiency. 

Any family dropping below the minimum standard for 
food as stated is considered in a state of primary poverty, 
and the conclusion to which Dr. Mann came 

" after every allowance had been made for subsidiary sources 
of income is that no less than 34*3 per cent, of the population of 
the t3^ical agricultural village in Bedfordshire do not contain 
the necessary amount of money to enable them to remain in 
physical health. This percentage rises to no less than 4i"o 
when the working class alone is considered." 

Dr. Mann discovered that 

"if foremen be excluded, the average wages paid in the 
village amount to 13s. 7jd. per head per week for pure agri- 
cultural labourers, 65 in number, who are working at full rates. 
The Duke of Bedford's standard is about 15s. per week ; the 
standard of the other farmers 12s. to 14s. ; though, as has been 
said, the latter usually carry more extras than the former. This 
gives an average weekly wage of 14s. 4d. per head." 

Now Mr. Wilson Fox in his Board of Trade investigation 
gave the average earnings in Bedfordshire as i6s. 2d., which 
is nearly 2s. higher than that of Dr. Mann's figures. 

" After very careful examination of Mr. Fox's figures," wrote 
Dr. Mann, " I cannot help thinking that in working out his 
averages he has not allowed enough for the enormously greater 
number of the lower grade of labourers over higher grades ; and 
I think if this were taken into account his figures would not be 
very different to mine. But by taking the actual figures obtained, 
it appears clear that a man earning the average rate of wages and 
the head of a household, must descend below the primary poverty 
line so soon as he has two children, unless he is able to supplement 
his income by an allotment, by fattening and breeding pigs, or 
by other means. It is also clear that he will remain below the 
poverty line imless the eldest child leaves school and begins to 
earn money, and that, even if he has no more than two children, 
his only chance to save will be in his later life when the chUdren 
are grown up and are earning money or have left home ... in 
any case during life it is a weary and continual round of poverty. 
During childhood poverty conditions are almost inevitable. As 


a boy grows up, there are a few years intermission till, as a young 
man, he has two children ; then poverty again, till the children 
grow up, and, finally, at best, a penurious old age barely lifted 
above the poverty line." 

The' subsidiary sources of income for which Dr. Mann gave 
due allowance included allotments, and pig and poultry 
keeping. He found at this time that the profits to be 
obtained from allotments were not great because 

" most of the allotments lie too close to the Duke of Bedford's 
park, where game is strictly preserved ; and the result is that 
havoc is usually wrought amongst the crops sown ; and that 
neither the keeping of pigs nor cows was encouraged by the 
Duke of Bedford." 

The Duke of Bedford has the reputation of being one of 
the best of English landowners, and when further pubUcity 
was given to the above statements in my book The Tyranny 
of the Countryside, published 1913, the Duke's lawyers 
controverted them by pointing out that in, 1912 out of the 21 
acres in allotments eight were cultivated with corn, which 
carries with it the impUcation that game was not so abun- 
dant as in 1903 ; and that the keeping of pigs or poultry 
was not discouraged, but that " leave has to be obtained." 

As to wages, the Duke of Bedford's lawyers stated that one 
of the Duke's men received 28s. a week in 1913, whilst eight of 
them received 15s. with extras that amounted to an average 
of ^5 los. a man. It is not quite clear if these extras were 
subject to a deduction of four weeks' wages during harvest 
time, which would then leave only £2 lOs. net. However, 
rents and rates would swallow up the harvest money, thus 
leaving only 15s. a week for the maintenance of a family. 

Dr. Mann ends his interesting paper with the following 
significant passage : — 

"As at present existing, the standard of life on the land is 
lower than in the cities ; the chances of success are less and of 
poverty are greater ; life is less interesting ; and the likelihood 
of the workhouse as the place of residence in old age, the greater. 
It is evident that the outcry against the depopulation of the 
country and the concentration of population in the towns must 
remain little more than a parrot-cry until something is done to 
raise the standard of life, ajnd hence the standard of wages in our 


purely agricultural districts — to increase the chances of success 
in life, to make life more interesting, and to bring about a more 
attractive old age than at present, when under existing condi- 
tions the workhouse is apt to loom too large on the horizon of the 
agricultural labourer." 

Miss Maude Davies, following in Dr. Mann's footsteps, 
investigated a Wiltshire village in 1905.1 Corsley was 
different to Ridgmount in that it had no ducal park at its 
gates. It breathed a freer atmosphere as it had a class of 
small holders and a sprinkling of artisans such as wagon- 
makers, masons, etc., within its parish. Like Ridgmount 
it once had its home-industries of lace-making and 
strawplaiting, and Corsley also once had its handlooms and 
spinning wheels. 

There were 220 households in Corsley and Miss Davies 
seemed to have managed to enter into aU of them and find out, 
not from the employing class only, as the Board of Trade's 
investigators did, but from the wives and from the men 
themselves, what wages were earned and how they were 

She even gives a detailed account of the topics of conversa- 
tion and the games played at the various public houses on 
one December night ! 

In 1841 the population of Corsley was 1621. In 1901 it 
was 824. During the depression farms, instead of being en- 
grossed, were broken up and leased as small holdings, which 
became dairy farms or market gardens, and thirty families 
were living on their holdings of less than 20 acres each in 
1905. As land reverted to grass, women ceased to be 
employed in agriculture. No longer did women gather 
stones off the plough land, plant beans, tie corn, and hoe 
roots (for a wage of 10 d. a day), since the machine and the 
invading sea of grass drove them from the fields as effectually 
as the steam power of the town factory drove them from the 
land-loom and the spinning-wheel. Thus the girls left to 
don the cap and apron of domestic service, whilst the lads 
sighed and struck out townwards under the magnetic spell 
of the eternal feminine. 

1 Life in an English Village. 


The average earnings of the carters were i6s. gd. per v/eek ; 
of the cowman, 15s, ^d ; and of the ordinary agricultural 
labourer 15s. 3|d., which sums included aU allowance such as 
harvest money, milk, beer, house and garden. 

Having ascertained the earnings of all householders Miss 
Davies next set to work to find out how the money was 
spent. She found twenty-eight families comprising 144 
persons, mostly of the purely labouring class, who were living 
in a state of primary poverty. In order to define primary 
poverty she followed the formula set by Mr. Rowntree ^ and 
Dr. H. H. Mann. An estimate was made of the minimum cost 
at which food, fuel, dress, household sundries, and house room 
sufficient for efficiency could be obtained in the parish, and 
it was then seen how many families were below this standard, 
or in primary poverty. The standard adopted by Mr. Rown- 
tree in York was less generous than that of the Local Govern- 
ment Board Dietaries for Workhouses. As has been shown 
Mr. Rowntree's standard works out at 3s. for a man 
or woman, and 2S. 3d. for a child, as the minimum 
necessary cost of food. Against the dearer prices of pro- 
visions in a vUlage the author offsets the advantage of 
cheaper vegetable's and fruit. No charge was made for 
rent in her table of figures as she considered the garden 
produce covered that ; firing was put at is. ; sundries 
at 2d. ; and clothing at 6d per adult and 3d. per child. This 
meant that even a carter with his, if he had as many 
as three children, would be in primary poverty. All the 
ordinary labourers, with the exception of one, were in 
primary poverty. 

And whilst there were twenty-five families in this condi- 
tion, no less than thirty-seven families were living in what 
Miss Davies calls secondary poverty, under which terms are 
classified those who had a surplus of only is. a head per week 
above the line of primary poverty — a line which unemploy- 
ment or sickness may cast them over at any time, plunging, 
them into the abysmal depths of extreme poverty. 

And yet Corsley was what the author calls a " prosperous 
village," the prosperity of which was due to the distribution 
• Poverty : a Study of Town Life. 


of land in the parish, the good gardens attached to each 
cottage, the abundance of allotment land and the number 
of small holdings contained in the parish. 

The most interesting discovery made by the author was 
that the children of the small holders, who cultivated hold- 
ings of different sizes, from about J acre to 10 acres, were 
infinitely more healthy than the children of the agricultural 
labourers, in spite of the fact that the market gardeners' 
families averaged 67, whilst those of the labourers averaged 
4 '6. There were therefore 2"i per cent, less children 
born on the average in the family of the labourer than 
in that of the market gardener ; and in these small families 
the death rate was just ten times as great. As in the inves- 
tigations of later writers Miss Davies found that poverty 
in the Ufe of the labourer was greatest when the children were 
young and unable to contribute a penny to the family income. 

In 1906 England turned her attention from the ends of 
the earth and glanced at her own wasted acres. A gleam 
of hope entered the benumbed mind of the rural worker. 
The sweeping victory of the Liberal Party, with the election 
of a group of Labour Members independent of the old 
political Party, stirred that slow moving mind with hopes 
of better days to come. The Liberal Party had put forward 
a definite programme of small holdings, and of non- 
contributory Old Age Pensions. 

The Labour Party, which was formed in 1900, committed 
the great Trade Unions of the country to a pohtical policy 
untrammelled by the fetters which had bound men like 
Arch, Burt, Broadhurst, Fenwick, and John Burns. It had 
taken the field with an army of 1,000,000 workers and had 
won its first victory over the outposts of Privilege. 

Once more Ihe difficult task of organising agricultural 
labourers was essayed ; not so much from the point of view, 
apparently, of gaining a great rise in wages, but to make the 
farm- workers class-conscious, and teach them to realise that 
they must win their own salvation by industrial and politi- 
cal action. The cry " Back to the Land " became insistent, 
and if it were not possible to raise wages to any appreciable 


extent, an attempt should be made to get land for the 
labourers so that they could £is cultivators of the soil win 
for themselves the fuU fruits of their labour. 

A new Union came into being. It was called " The 
Eastern Coimties Agricultural Labourers' and Small Hold- 
ers' Union." Mr. George Nicholls, who had been an agri- 
cultural labourer, and was then a small holder, had been 
elected as M.P. for Northants and he was chosen as Presi- 
dent. But the leading spirit was Mr. George Edwards 
who, like Arch, hesitated and, like Arch, was persuaded by 
his wife to respond to the appeals made to him by the 
labourers. He frankly confesses that he had lost faith in 
the ability of labourers to organise, but his wife strenuously 
directed him to where the battle urged. 

" This I would like to say," commented Mr. Edwards 
many years afterwards, " it shows the noble spirit of the 
woman. She knew it meant a Hfe of loneliness for her, by 
taking me from my home, she being in most delicate health." 

Not knowing where the expenses were to come from, he 
called a conference on July 12, 1906, at the Angel Hotel, 
North Walsham. He invited help from Sir Richard Win- 
frey, M.P., Mr. Herbert Day, and Lord Kimberley. He 
received a few pounds, and was able to pay for the rent and 
printing. Mr. W. B. Harris, of Sleafbrd, Lincolnshire, 
attended, as well as representatives from Suffolk, Cam- 
bridgeshire, and Norfolk. It was decided to give the new 
Union a three months' trial, and a committee was appointed, 
pro tern., of which Mr. H. A. Day, Mr. W. G. Codling, 
and Mr. J. Sage were members. 

" I left the Conference," remarked Mr. Edwards, " a 
poorer man. Mr. Day had made himself responsible for 
finding the 13s. per week which was the salary paid to this 
agitator ; the pay of an agricultural labourer." It is in- 
teresting to find that on the day the Union was formed 
Mr. Edwards was elected as a County Councillor at a by- 

A niece of Mr. Edwards did the clerical work at home. 
She had to be kept out of the 13s. a week, and for four 
years the work of the Union was done in Mr. Edwards' 


bedroom in his little cottage at Gresham, for the use of 
which the Union was never charged a penny. By the end 
of December, 1906, fifty branches were opened and 1,500 
members enrolled ; and by the end of the first financial 
year 3,000 members had joined and over one hundred 
branches had been formed. 

When the 13s. a week secretary had cycled over 4,000 
miles, it was decided to appoint Mr. Thomas Thacker, of 
East Dereham, as organiser, with Mr. W. G. Codling as an 
occasional assistant, who was paid, I believe, the modest 
sum of 2s. for every village meeting he attended. 

The path of an organiser, never easy at any time, 
was beset with great difficulties now. Mr. Codhng had 
walked many a mile, willingly giving his time to 
the cause of the farm workers, before he received his 
stupendous fee of 2s. He had, however, to surmoimt many 
a difficulty before he attained the position of a properly 
paid organiser. As a Parish Councillor he was regarded as 
fairly harmless, but when he became a member of a Rural 
District Council — the particular preserve of farmers — on 
returning home at night he received his dismissal from his 
employer. A kind of boycott seems to have been instituted 
against this active member of the Union, and work being 
almost unobtainable, the Union, which was unable through 
lack of funds to appoint him as an organiser, made a collec- 
tion and presented him with a hawker's basket ; and thus he 
tramped the countryside equipping himself with the know- 
ledge which was so useful to the Union in after years. ^ 

The Small Holdings Act of 1907 seemed to give the 
agricultural labourer a chance at last to get his footing on 
the land, so that he might stand the equal of the peasant 
proprietors of nearly every continental country. 

Compulsory powers were now given to County Councils 
to purchase land at the market rate, the Board of Agri- 
culture being the final arbiter. Holdings up to 50 acres, 
or of the value of £50 a year, could be acquired for approved 
applicants. Moreover, Parish Councils had greater powers 

1 In 1919 as Labour Candidate he defeated Lord Hastings for the 
Norfolk County Council. 



with regard to allotments. It became the duty of every 
Parish Council to supply every applicant who desired it 
with an allotment of i acre, with statutory powers to 
acquire 5 acres for every applicant. Parish Councils were 
also empowered to build a cottage on an allotment of not less 
than one acre.^ 

Difficulties in compulsory acquisition and arbitration 
— the blemishes of previous Acts — were to a large extent 

The intending small holder was no longer obliged to 
purchase the land, but could invest his savings in Uve- 
stock and implements.^ Small holdings could be equipped 
by County Councils with not only cottages but also farm 

County Councils were not compelled to buy land but 
could obtain it on a lease of not less than fourteen years or 
longer than thirty-five years (renewable for the same periods) , 
and landlords had, of cpurse, many protective clauses 
which prevented a private park or farm being taken, of 
woodland attached to a country house. Landlords could 
resume ownership if it coiJd be shown to the satisfaction of 
the Board that the land was afterwards required for build- 
ing, mining, or other industrial purposes. 

One striking section in the Small Holdings Act gave 
County Councils the power to " promote the formation or 
extension of, and may, subject to the provisions of this 
section, assist, societies on a co-operative basis, having 
for their object, or one of their objects, the provision or 
the proper working of small holdings or allotments, whether 
in relation to the purchase of requisites, the sale of produce, 
credit banking, or insurance, or otherwise." 

But this laudable provision, which would have been of 
immense value to small holders who lacked capital, has 
never been carried out by any County Council. 

Here we beat up against the rock which barred the path- 
way of the labourer to the Promised Land. Agricultural 

1 It is rather a remarkable fact that no such cottage has ever been 
built under this provision of the Act. 

" Less than 2 per cent, of applicants desired purchase (Cd. 7851). 


labourers who had been trying to make both ends meet on 
a wage of 13s., 14s., or even i8s., a week, were not likely to 
be small capitalists ; and when most County Councils made 
it a rule not to approve of applicants who could not show 
that they were in possession of capital to the extent of ;^io 
an acre, many farm labourers fell out of the ranks of those 
who had been looking with eagerness towards the land 
which had been promised them. 

Soon it was realised that it was not the labourer who was 
to be provided with a small holding,- but the village publi- 
can, the blacksmith, the baker, the carrier, or the wheel- 
wright, who used it in several counties for a, " turn-out " 
for a horse, or a pony. 

In his simplicity, many a labourer having heard the 
Small Holdings Act was passed, thought that he had only 
to pick out a certain field and ask for it, and it would be 
allotted to him. I knew of men who bought live-stock at 
the passing of the Small Holdings Act believing that it was 
only a matter of opening a gate into a field and turning the 
beasts in, and possession would be theirs ! 

Indeed, one or two instances have come to my knowledge 
of men keeping their cattle on the roadside expecting every 
day to hear that small holdings had been allotted to them, 
only to find at the end of the summer that they had to sell 
their stock. These of course would be the more prosperous 
of the men, generally piece-workers, who had already 
probably an acre or two rented from some friendly landowner 
or vicar, or men living adjacent to a common with grazing 

But with the ordinary labourer lack of capital was not the 
only obstacle. Very often he had to make his appearance 
before an unsympathetic, or even hostile Committee of a 
County Council, and be subject to a severe cross-examination 
as to his means and qualifications. 

It was a short-sighted policy in a County Council domin- 
ated by landowners and large farmers, which objected to 
facilitating the working of the SmaU Holdings Act, for as 
has been proved in most districts the landowners obtain a 
higher rent from small holders than they do from farmers ; 


and farmers have the advantage in small holding districts- 
of getting skilled workers to help them at those seasons 
when they are in need of hands. 

Naturally, farmers, more than landowners, feared 
the spirit of independence being created in a class 
which had long been so patiently submissive : and some 
landowners — ^not certainly the most enlightened — feared 
the cutting up of estates where hunting or good shooting 
were to be had. The effective but atrocious barbed wire 
fence, so beloved by small holders, was an impediment or 
a death-trap to those who followed the hounds ; and the 
battue would be signally curtailed by the introduction of 
small holders in game preserving districts. 

Farmers, though, had a genuine grievance in that they 
feared that the " eyes of the farm " would be taken away 
by the acquisition of some essential field, cut out from the 
farm and injuring its economy. This is the strongest econ- 
omic objection to small holdings, as worked under the 
Act. County Councils, however, should have followed the 
practice, which matured twelve years later, of acquiring 
whole estates rather than individual fields for smaU hold- 
ings, making it easy to carry out the provisions for co- 
operation in Section 49. 

What really happened in a great many counties was, 
instead of the eyes of a farm being cut out, smaU holders had 
to be content with land at an inconvenient distance, and 
very often the pobrest land of the parish; and the man 
who simply imitated the methods of the ordinary farmer, 
with less equipment and less facilities for marketing, and 
paying in many instances -a higher rent, did not present a 
cheerful picture of agricultural prosperity. 

Nevertheless, it is extraordinary that, as reports showed 
later on, the County Councils suffered so little in loss of 
rents that in nearly every county it worked out at less than 
I per cent.i 

So slowly did the Act work, that an agitation arose to 
incrccise the number of Commissioners specially appointed 

' In eight counties the loss in rents is " nil." In only two counties 
does the loss reach as much as i per cent. (Cd. 9203.) 


to speed up the County Councils, and six more were ap- 
pointed in addition to the two. This improved matters 
slightly and a certain amount of headway was made by 
counties such as Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Worcestershire, 
Somersetshire, Devon, Lincoln (Holland). Other counties, 
such as West Sussex, Westmoreland and Middlesex, did 
practically nothing at this date. 

Impetus to the Small Holding movement was given by 
the publication of Miss Jebb's book. The Small Holdings of 
England. The founding of several Land Clubs (which had 
their origin in an obscure hamlet), together with the Central 
Small Holdings Society of which Mr. Charles Roden Buxton 
was the sponsor, expressed a wide-spread demand for small 
holdings. These societies became merged into the 
National Land and Home League, which was professedly 
non-party and did most useful work in suggesting amend- 
ments to Small Holding and Housing Acts. Its political 
activity had in many instances the desired effect of speeding 
up the administrative bodies in getting land for men who 
had been kept waiting, and of instituting Housing Enquiries. 

This League embraced a number of Land Clubs in various 
parts of the country, and became perhaps the most expert 
body interested in small holdings, allotments, and cottages. 
Its chief workers were Mr. and Mrs. E. R. Pease, Mr. C. R. 
Buxton, Mr. R. L. Reiss, who afterwards became chief organ- 
iser of the Liberal Land Enquiry ; Lord Henry Bentinck, 
M.P., Lord Saye and Sele, Mr. Lloyd Graeme, M.P., Mr. 
G. H. Roberts, M.P., Mr. Montague Fordham, Sir Richard 
Winfrey, M.P., and Mr. T. Hamilton Fox. Another im- 
portant society was formed in the Midlands with its head- 
quarters at Birmingham. This was the Small Holdings 
and Allotments Association of England. 

During the years which followed after the passing of 
the Small Holdings Act, whilst making my notes in different 
counties for my book. The Awakening of England, and whilst 
giving lantern lectures to labourers in out-of-the-way 
villages in Dorset, the Cotswolds and elsewhere, it was 
borne in upon me as I explained Acts of Parliament to them, 
how difficult it was to get anything done if there were no 


sympathetic clergyman in the village. The men in these 
remote rural parts, and indeed in most counties outside 
Norfolk and Suffolk, were destitute of any shred of organ- 
isation. Hopelessly would I look round for any man left 
in the village capable of forwarding an appUcation to the 
Board of Agriculture in the event of failure to obtain land, 
or to the Local Government Board wherever cottages 
were badly needed. 

In vain too was it to look for " six registered parliament 
ary electors or ratepayers " under Section 23 of the Small 
Holdings Act, when allotments were not forthcoming, to 
send in a representation in writing ; or after the 
passing of the Housing and Town Planning Act, 1909, 
almost in vain was it to find four independent householders 
who would have the courage to sign an appeal to ask the 
Local Government Board to hold an enquiry on a village 
which contained insanitary cottages or needed the erection 
of fresh ones. 

Good as the Housing and Town Planning Act was on 
paper it managed to close eleven cottages to every one it 
caused to be built ; and the Small Holdings Act, though not 
intended to be a housing Act, managed to get many more 
cottages built than the famous Housing Act. Fear of 
eviction kiUed the effectiveness of the Act. 

Two instances will illustrate how fear dominated village 
Hfe. In 1905 the Hemel Hempstead District Council 
instructed the sanitary inspector to make a Report on the 
housing conditions of this village. In the course of his 
Report, referring to the labourers the inspector said : "If 
they complain of the cottages they Kve in they either get 
notice to quit, or if any improvement is made their rent is 

In 1906 the HertfoMshire County Council held a public 
Enquiry on the same subject, when the following evidence 
was given : 

Q. You said people seemed afraid of something. What were 
they afraid of ? 
A. They were afraid to give me evidence because they were 


afraid they would get into trouble. (This witness was a J. P. 
and a member of the County Council.) 

Another witness, a retired solicitor, was asked : — 

Q. Do you know that there is any difficulty in getting them 
(the cottagers) to come and give evidence to-night ? 

A. They are very much afraid ; I have again and again 
talked to them, and they have said, " Don't say a word — don't 

And Chipperfield — the village under investigation— is 
an " open ' ' village and only about twenty miles from 
London ! 

The Duke of Northumberland distinguished himself in 
the House of Lords over the debate on the Housing and 
Town Planning Act of 1909 by saying that " the provision 
of cottages is not an urgent matter, and it is much more 
important that owners should be safegHiarded in the pos- 
session of their property." Verily a peerless ducal utter- 
ance ! 

All this went to prove to the most observant students 
of rural life, that it was no use passing Acts of Parhament 
at Westminster, if the people living in country villages were 
either left ignorant of their existence, or had not the 
courage to get them carried out. Those who lived close 
to the labourer and understood the fear that dominated 
his life realised that without some kind of industrial or- 
ganisation, Acts of Parliament to give him a better time 
were futile pieces of parchment. 

To begin with, the method of approaching a labourer, 
of informing him of the law and of giving him the oppor- 
tunity to conform to it, is altogether a too complicated 
and chilling process. Since the Great War the public have 
had a regular schooling in Forms ; but before the War a 
Form to be filled up was something that was viewed with 
suspicion by untutored minds. (Even landlords seemed 
to find a difficulty in filling up Form IV.) The fear of a 
trap haunted them, and wten unlettered men had to appear 
before an unsympathetic land-agent, backed by a hostile 
County Council, the labourer had a poor chance of communi- 
cating his desires. 


A very learned man living in the county of Dorset set out 
to test the weight of the obstructions placed in the path of 
the labourer applying for a small holding. This was Dr. 
Alfred Russell Wallace, who, in the course of an interview, 
related to me the story of the amazing document he sent 
in to the Dorsetshire County Council making an appUca- 
tion for a small holding. 

He really wanted a small holding for his son and suggested 
to the County Council that if he cultivated some of the waste 
heath land where only gorse and heather flourished it would 
be doing a good thing for the nation. He was prepared to 
pay los. an acre rent, though the only access was by way 
of a cart track, and the tenant at that time was probably 
merely paying a shooting rent for the land. 

The manner in which he filled up his appUcation form 
must have puzzled bucolic councillors. " Age : 89. Experi- 
ence : 65 years' gardening and science ; " and he got the 
village postman to attest to the uprightness of his 
character ! 

He had to wait nine months before anything was done, 
and then the County Council stated that the waste heath- 
land might be let to him at £2 an acre — with the addition 
of a possible compensation to the sitting tenant ! 

" Of course I rejected the offer," said Dr. Wallace, " but it 
proved conclusively to me the failure of the Small Holdings Act 
as administered by a Council like the Dorsetshire County Council. 
This County Council's inquisition is worthy of the Russian 
autocracy. It is preposterous to treat a countryman who is 
naturally cautious and industrious with suspicion. The very 
fact that a man applies for land on which to work shows that he 
has character, without any further evidence. Besides, the 
cultivation of land helps to build up character ; and these County 
Councils overlook the fact, too, that if the applicant has a family, 
he brings with him to the soil potential capital." 

I glanced across the heather, which stretched for miles 
down to Poole, where the harbour ghstened like an in- 
land lake. The air was redolent with pine and bracken. 
Surely it was foolish, I thought, to check the enterprise of 
a wonderful old scientist of ninety years of age, willing to 
use his knowledge on the uncultivated heath. 


It was perhaps fitting that a county which is stained with 
the history of the Tolpuddle deportations, and where the 
pessimism of Thomas Hardy luxuriates, should plan a Small 
Holding Scheme, which but for the indomitable industry 
and pluck of the small holders themselves, was doomed to 
fail. After repeated applications from countrjmien accus- 
tomed to farm work, this Council took over an entire farm 
of some 780 acres at Winterborne Zelston, on a thirty-seven 
years' repairing lease. Approved applicants received the 
following good news from the offices of the County Council : 

" I am desired to remind you that the farm comprises good 
arable and pasture land, and that the holdings will be let at from 
30S. to 40s. per acre, and the sum payable on entrance for tillage, 
etc., will be light." 

Such were the words of the alluring legend written in 
July, 1909 ; and it was with high hopes that many a poor 
countryman read this statement in a letter sent to him. In 
1912 I received a letter from a resident in the county beg- 
ging me to come and look at the estate and exercise any 
influence I possessed to improve matters for the wretched 

I motored past an estate enclosed by miles of wall, broken 
only by gilded gates where massive lions seemed to defy 
entrance to tillers of the soil. Then suddenly I came upon 
a congerie of mud cottages, dilapidated thatched roofs, 
and tumble-down outbuilding's, Is'ing in a hollow through 
which runs a stream. This was not a congested district in 
Ireland, but Winterborne Zelston, in the county of Dorset. 

All cottage doors were thrown open to me. This I knew 
was the outward sign that the -tenants were in the depths 
of despair, for no class objects to strangers entering their 
houses more than the peasant class. 

Inside the first cottage I entered, a thistle seven ft. high 
had sprung up from a floor rich in plant food, in the room 
which was intended as a parlour. Though living amid 
tragic circumstances the tenant had evidently a sense of 
humour. He had tied it to the damp decapng wall with a 
piece of bass, as though it were a precious hothouse plant. 


He dared not open his front window for fear of the bricks 
falling down. A fire could not be lighted in a grate. 
Needless to say the room w£is never occupied. It was pre- 
served as a small holding mausoleum fbr Mr. Runciman to 
see, who was then President of the Board of Agriculture. 

" They say £ioo has been spent on our place," said a 
small holder's wife, pathetically, " and it is now supposed 
to be repaired. We have to pay 6 per cent, on that ;£ioo, 
and yet we don't know how the money has been spent. 
Our rent for the 16 acres, instead of being from 30s. to 
40s. an acre, has now risen to £40." 

An elderly Dorsetshire man, gaitered and wearing the 
look of a yeoman farmer, begged me to come and see how 
the County Council had erected a cowshed for him. He 
farmed only 6 acres, and his rent stood at ^^3 14s. an acre. 
He had to buttress the doors and windows of his cottage, 
and on the other side of his parlour wall his pony was 
stabled. He asked the Council to erect a detached cow- 
shed for about £25. It was built ; but it stood empty. 
The tenant was afraid to house either a pony or a cow 
there. It was made of thin weather-boarding, roofed with 
corrugated iron sheets, which barely met and let in a good 
deal of wet. The concreted floor had to be laid three times. 

The bluff old Dorset farmer drove his fist against the 
weather-boarding to show how easily he could have smashed 
it. This building instead of costing £25 cost £57, on which 
6 per cent, was charged. 

The choicest dwelling, though, was that occupied by a 
man with about 50 acres. It was so bad that the County 
Council had been driven by the sanitary authorities to build 
a brick cottage to take its place. On the occasion of my 
visit the family was still living in this cottage, and it was in 
such a shocking condition that when a storm arose the small 
holders' wife told me, " We dusn't go to bed, it do wave 

Even under normal circumstances few of the family 
dared to sleep upstairs, for all the bedrooms had to be 
propped up to prevent the thatched roof from tumbling in 
upon them ; and having propped up the bedrooms, it was 


found necessary to support the ceilings of the downstairs 
rooms ! 

" Do not stand there, sir," cried the housewife to me, as 
I was walking round to one side of the bed, " you might fall 
through. We always have to make the bed on this side." 

Yet there was one piece of property, on this derelict 
farm, which was of value, and easily saleable at any time, 
and that was the iron fence put up to divide the holdings. 
It cost, I believe, half a crown a yard. On a small holder 
complaining of the heavy cost of this fencing, the cynical 
reply he received was : " Well, if the estate should fail, 
we shall have something solid to sell." " I see," answered 
the shrewd Dorset peasant. " You mean- to charge us, 
then, with the rope with which you are going to hang us ? " 

I am glad to say my appeals to Mr. Runciman and the 
Treasury, through members of the House of Commons, were 
not in vain. Capital was expended on improving the 
estate, and I understand that to-day Winterbome Zelston, 
under war conditions of high prices, is flourishing. 

But Winterborne Zelston must not be taken as a typical 
small holding estate. It was, fortunately, quite the worst 
I have seen. 

Some County Councils, I am glad to say, showed a patri- 
otic interest even before the War in acquiring desirable 
sites for small holders. But in spite of these favourable 
circumstances the lack of capital continually dogged the 
footsteps of the skilled agricultural labourer. Only one in 
three, or 32 per cent., of those who obtained small holdings, 
were farm labourers. ^ 

What really did militate against the working of the 
Small Holdings Act, as well as the Local Government Act 
of 1894, and the Housing and Town Planning Act of 1909, 
was, as I have said, the absence of any organised rural 
democracy. The County Councils were still the exclusive 
preserve of the landed aristocracy, as the Rural District 
Council was of the tenant-farmers. These two classes 
were politically and economically one ; and though they 
may not have had any organisation which differentiated 

f- Cd, 7851, 


them politically froin the labouring class, they had a very 
good understanding, which £is far as local elections were 
concerned, found expression over the " ordinary " at the 
Blue Boar on market days. 

Landlords, in many districts, wisely kept the political 
allegiance of tenant-farmers during the years of depression 
by lowering the rents ; and farmers invariably showed 
their gratitude at the poll whenever an imperial or local 
election took place. 

Farmers in 1908 were meant to derive some benefits 
from the new Agricultural Holdings Act, passed by the 
Liberal Government ; but apparently the thistle of security 
of tenure was never firmly grasped in the hand of the 
statesmen of the day, with the result that tenant farmers 
rarely obtained the full compensation which the Act should 
have given them.^ 

Except for one small comer of England the farm workers 
were destitute of aiiy political or industrial organisation. 
Their friends who exercised any influence as speakers or 
writers lived in towns. Save on paper rural England re- 
mained as undemocratised as it was in the days of the Crim- 
ean War. The one Act which had to some extent dispelled'the 
haunting fear of the Workhouse at the end of a hfe's work 
— the Old Age Pensions Act of 1908 — ^was an Act which 
local oligarchies could not prevent being enforced. The 
pension of 5s. a week, though small, relieved the old labour- 
er from the stigma of pauperism — that intensely hated 
stigma — and at the same time made it more possible for 
sons and daughters to look after their aged parents. 

The folly of the Act lay in its penaMsing thrift, and its 
encouragement of deceit. The State, instead of rewarding 
an old labourer or his wife for performing the miracle 
of saving a sum of money which could bring them in a few 
shUHngs a week, disallowed any pension at all if the yearly 
income exceeded ^£31 los., and the weekly pension was 
reduced in proportion to the thrift of the pensioner. Indeed 

» Sir T. H. Middleton considered that the Act was difficult to work in 
different parts of the country, and that the tenant did not obtain full com- 
pensation under it. — Evidence before the Royal Commission on Agriculture^ 


one might have imagined the Act to have been framed by 
Samuel Butler or Mr. G. B.. Shaw impishly imposing a 
penalty on the poor for their folly of saving. 

Few village Hampdens dared to insist upon more cottages 
and more land whilst cottages were scarce, since almost half 
the labourers in England were liviiig in farm- tied cottages, » 
and the raising of a voice for better conditions inevitably 
meant exile from their village. Foiled right and left in any 
attempt to improve their lot in life the younger generation 
set its face steadily towards the town, some of them under 
a vow to their parents never to become farm labourers. 

It began to be foreshadowed that any improvement 
in the conditions of village hfe must be made by some 
central authority, with the appointment of a large number 
of Commissioners, both for the acquisition of land and the 
building of houses. 

The House of Commons rather than the local council, 
seemed to be the arena where the battle for the emancipation 
of the labourer from chronic poverty would have to be 
fought. The minimum wage began to be seriously dis- 
cussed in the House. Mr. John Burns insisted that few 
cottages could be built and let at an economic rent unless 
labourers were paid a living wage. Mr. Lloyd George was 
agitating the pockets of landowners by his famous Budget 
of 1909. The land was to be re-valued ; there was to be 
a new Domesday Book. He was at war with the House of 
Lords. Soon, very soon, with his Budget of 1909 and his 
National Insurance Scheme of 1911, he became the most 
hated man in England, by those who had many possessions. 

In 1909 one of the members of the new Union in Norfolk, 
Mr. T. G. Higdon, paid a visit to the veteran Joseph Arch, 
now eighty-three years of age and living in retirement in 
his old cottage at Barford. The agricultural labourers' 
movement owed a great deal to the fact that Arch possessed 
a cottage of his own. Had he rented one, it is probable that 
he would never have been allowed to do his work. He had 
married again, this time the daughter of a Norfolk farmer, 

> Vide, Ths Land Enquiry. 


and was living on an annuity purchased by Lord Tweed- 
mouth, Mr. Tom Ellis, and other influential Liberals. 

Arch, with old-fashioned peasant hospitality, immediately 
called to the kitchen for a bottle of beer and set his tobacco 
jar upon the table, and I should hke to record here some of 
the answers made by Arch to the questions put to him by 
Mr. Higdon. 

" Do you take any part in politics, locally, Mr. Arch ? " 
" Me ? No ; I'm too old for that now. Besides, Parish 
Councils cannot do much— neither good nor harm. I have done 
a little for the village in my time. I can remember when the 
people in this village had no idea of freedoin or liberty. I have 
taught the vUlages something of freedom. But my work is all . 
done now, sir. My work is all done," he repeated sadly. 

It must have been with a gleam of triumph that the 
veteran agitator compared the wages received by farm 
workers in 1909 with the wages he managed to get for them 
in the 'seventies. 

" What is this new Labourers' Union they have there now ? " 
he asked suddenly. 

" You have heard about it, then ? " 

" A little ; not much," he said rather sarcastically. 

" I think its objects are similar to those of your own Union — 
better conditions and wages. It also takes up the matter of smal 

" What are the wages in Norfolk now ? " he next enquired. 

" About I2s. or 13s. a week," was the reply. 

" Is that all ? Why," he exclaimed, " I got them up to 15s., 
i6s., and 17s. a week. They got it in Norfolk, they got it all 
down about here. They got it everjnvhere." 

" The new Union has not done that yet," I said. 

" Ah, we did then — in our Union," he said, with evident 
satisfaction at the remembrance of the accomplishment. 

" Could those wages have been kept up, Mr. Arch ?" I asked. 

" Kept up ? Yes. Why weren't they kept up ? Because 
the Union went down — and the wages went down with it. The 
Union was wrecked. They broke up their Union and left me 
without a penny." - 

" You could do no more for them, then ? " 

" No ; of course I could not. I stood by them to the last. I 
could do no more. If they had kept up their Union they would 
have been in a very different position to-day." 

" You sympathise with the labourers still ? " 


" Sympathise with them ? Of course I do ! I shall always 
sympathise with them. What do they get for their harvest 
now ? " 

" About £6 or £7," I replied. 

" We got it up to £8 or £g," said he. " But," he added, " it 
is a bad system of payment. It stands in the way of a better 
weekly wage. I always said it was a bad system. . . . What 
strike pay do they give ? " he asked. 

"Ten shillings a week— lock-out pay. I don't think they 
believe in striking," said I. 

" Oh, we did then," he exclaimed. 

" You ordered a strike sometimes, I suppose." 

" I don't know about ordering a strike. The men would go 
on strike themselves in various places — then they would come to 
me and I always supported them." 

" Would you advocate strikes now ? " 

" Certainly. What else can you do to get the wages up ? " 

Mr. Higdon, mentioning old friends by name, was answered 
by Arch, with a touch of that dramatic fervour which used 
to set the heather on fire in country districts : " My friends 
are all dead." 

When asked if he knew Gladstone, he replied : — 

" Yes, dined with him lots of times. He was always very 
kind and friendly towards me. He was a great man — an 
eloquent man and a good man." 

" From what I have heard about you from the labourers in 
Norfolk, you must have possessed some kind of eloquence your- 
self, Mr. Arch," I said with a laugh. " Was it that in you which 
got hold of the labourers so ? " 

" I don't know about eloquence," he said, laughing too. " I 
used to talk to the farmers a bit, you know, as well as to the 
labourers," he added with a fascinating twinkle in his eye — ■ 
which twinkle gave a glimpse of the old time power and 
personality of Joseph Arch.^ 

After the death of this old champion of the agricultural 
labourer, (which took place in January 1919,) I wrote to the 
Rector of Barford, who used to visit Arch every week and 
had known him for fifteen years, asking him to give me his 
impressions of the old man. 

" He was a man with considerable power of expression," 
replied the Rev. W. Ingham Brooke, " an orator who under- 
1 Interview with Joseph Arch, by T. G. Higdon (pamphlet). 


stood well how to speak to his own class, but he was no adminis- 
trator, and failed in aU matters of management and detail. 
Like all such men he was intensely egotistical, and when we first 
came here, he compared his fame with that of Shakespeare ! 

" He was a man of very moderate opinions — very conservative 
in all his views, and strongly opposed to socialism. He was 
simply out to get justice for his fellow- workmen in the matter of 
wages and allotments, and this purpose he pursued with sim- 
phcity, honesty, and enthusiasm. He possessed no political 
imagination : being simply a Liberal of moderate John Bright 
views, taken more or less secondhand. And I do not think he 
even understood the elements of Liberal politics. He was, 
however, capable of considerable independence in matters within 
his ken, and would on his own subject obstinately maintain his 
opinion. The House of Commons was a great trial to him. He 
could not stand the late hours. 

" I found his opinion in all matters of farming well worth 
listening to, and in my opinion far from ' making money out of 
agitation ' I think he would have done better in his calling as a 
hedge-cutter, at which he was very skilful. 

" He was so ignorant that he actually started a Co-operative 
Society on his own in this village with no connection with the 
great co-operative movement. I gather he had never heard of 
the Rochdale Pioneers. 

" As far as this village was concerned he had no following, and 
was defeated in a local election very easily. I don't think this 
is much to go by, as there are many flunkeys and grooms here, 
and his co-operative failure naturally did not help him. But 
he was very bitter about the desertion of so many labourers from 
his Union. The clergy, I think, backed the farmers, with a few 
exceptions (such as Osbert Mordaunt of Hampton Lucy, and the 
late Dean of Hereford), but Arch was very abusive and certainly 
went for them." 

In a Cotswold village there still lives an old farm labourer 
who will relate how he once carried half a pound of candles on 
his hat to light " Joseph Arch's fe-ace " whilst he was speak- 
ing in the open. This same man will also tell you how he 
was fined before a Bench for poaching and how he vowed 
as he walked down the Court steps that he would snare a 
rabbit for every step he descended ! 

In 1910 a faint wind of freedom arose and stirred the dry 
bones of a shrunken rural democracy. Again it was the 
men of Norfolk who began a revolt of the fields which though 
temporarily a failure had a far-reaching effect. 




The years 1910-14 witnessed a new growth in British 
agriculture. Farmers were doing better than they had 
ever done since 1870. Managers of provincial Banks not- 
iced a distinct improvement in farmers' accounts. ^ But 
the labourers did not share in this slowly rising tide of agri- 
cultural prosperity. Once more the Liberal Party was 
returned to power, but since the last General Election the 
cost of living had risen about 10 per cent.,^ whilst wages 
had remained stationary. The labourers were still living 
upon political promises. Their hopes began to centre 
round the little man who had come from the Welsh moun- 
tains to be their David. At the sound of his carter's whip, 
thoroughbreds had taken fright and with ears Iciid back and 
lips drawn they had scampered to their fat paddocks, 
pawing the earth with irritation ; and many a man who 
had been bold enough in rural districts to exhibit posters in 
favour of Liberal candidates was served with notice to quit.^ 
These were the days before the Labour Party attempted 
to win rural constituencies ; yet as we shall see, farm 

' The statistics of bankruptcies amongst farmers are illuminating. 

Years Annual Average Number 

1893-1898 453 

1899-1905 315 

1906-1912 299 

1913-1918 137 

(Minority Report Royal Commission on Agriculture 1919 ) 
' Cd. 7733- 

' Vide Lord Lucas' reply to Lord Willoughby de Broke's question, 
" whether they can produce any instances of tenant-farmers or agricul- 
tural labourers who have been evicted on account of their having voted 
for Liberal candidates for Parliament," in the ^ouse of Lords, February 
24, 1914. 

VOL. 11. 177 N 


labourers began to turn their attention not only to trade 
union organisation, but also to a political organisation 
independent of the two historic parties. Writers who 
were interested in agriculture began to tour the country 
making notes. Articles appeared with greater frequency 
on the social conditions in rural England followed by a 
crop of books which in 1912-13 amounted to a rural 
hterary Renaissance. 

Whilst Sir Daniel Hall was busy with his Pilgrimage of 
British Farming for The Times I was making my notes in 
England and Ireland, which bore fruit as The Awakening of 
England (i9i2)andrAe Tyranny of the Countryside (1913)." 

In the year 19 12 Lord Ernie published a new edition of 
his memorable book English Farming : Past and Present ; 
J. L. and Barbara Hammond their Village Labourer, 1760- 
1830 ; George Bourne his Change in our Village ; Chris- 
topher Holdenby liis Folk of the Furrow ; the Fabian Society 
The Rural Problem ; Seebohm Rowntree and May Kendall, 
How tlie Labourer Lives ; Miss Dunlop, The Farm Labourer ; 
and finally in 1913 The Land Enquiry which supplied the 
ammunition for Mr. Lloyd George's great Land Campaign. 

The crop was a big one, yet it was significant that every 
investigator's hand found its way to the one upstanding 
thistle which he grasped with unpleasant prickings, and that 
was the lowness of the labourers' wage. 

The right agricultural atmosphere had been created and 
Mr. Lloyd George was too keen a poHtician not to take 
advantage of its favouring breezes. But of this, later. 

Labourers, who were existing on 13s. a week with rising 
prices, could not hve on political promises, nor wait for 
" Enquiries " to mature. Week by week, unceasingly, the 
wolf was knocking at the door. In May, 1910, a strike 
broke out at St. Faith's, Norfolk, which, -though limited 
in area, attracted a great deal of public attention, and was 

• I might be pardoned for mentioning these two books of my own, not 
because of the publicity which they had in the Press — several of our dailies 
praising or condemning them in leading articles — but because jmany men 
who have been farm labourers and are now branch secretaries TO unions, 
or organisers, have been kind enough to inform me whilst I was writing this 
history of their indebtedness to these books. 


destined, in spite of its failure, to lay the foundation stone 
of the now powerful organisation — " The NationaJ Agri- 
cultural Labourers' and Rural Workers' Union." 

The Union was then known as the Eastern Counties 
Agricultural Labourers' and Small Holders' Union, with a 
membership of only 4,000. A branch had been started at 
St. Faith's in September, 1906, by Mr. George Edwards, the 
General Secretary of the Union, who addressed a meeting 
in the village. Twenty labourers joined, and amongst these 
was Mr. G. E. Hewitt, who was elected branch secretary. 

Three and a half years passed, and the Branch member- 
ship rose to 131, but no rise in wages occurred. Men were 
still getting their miserable wage of 13s. a week. On April 
29th, 19 10, a member of the branch proposed that they 
should make a determined effort to secure better wages 
and shorter hours. Mr. Herbert Day, the vice-president of 
the Union, Mr. Thacker, the organiser, and Mr. George 
Edwards were summoned to a special meeting, and a reso- 
lution was p2issed that the General Secretary should write to 
all the employers in the parish requesting a rise of is. per 
week, and that work should cease at i o'clock on Saturdays. 

It is interesting to note that the lack of a half-holiday 
continued to be the hay-seed in the shirt of the labourer. 
The notice was sent out to every employer, but not a single 
answer was vouchsafed. Thereupon it was resolved that 
every man should give notice to his employer to cease work 
on May 21 unless these moderate requests were granted. 
To the surprise of the villagers, the dawn of that morning 
broke with the sight of mounted police riding up and down 
the quiet village street with their warlike trappings gUtter- 
ing in the sim ! 

The Farmers' Federation had evidently impressed the 
chief constable at Norwich with the idea that the agricul- 
tural labourers were a dangerous class, or possibly this 
extraordinary exhibition of force was merely a demonstra- 
tion such as we carry out among the HiU Tribes of India. 

The Farmers' Federation displayed very much the same 
spirit as the last generation of farmers had displayed during 
Arch's active time. They imported men from all parts of 


England and from Ireland, boarding them at great expense 
and paying them much higher wages than their own labour- 
ers had demanded, as an inducement to act as strike-breakers. 
Large huts were erected and poUce were drafted into the 
village to guard these huts from a possible attack of the 
dangerous Norfolk labourers. St. Faith's, indeed, might have 
been a village in the west of Ireland. 

Naturally the farm workers and their wives were very 
indignant, but in spite of all provocation to break the law 
the men behaved with exemplary self-control. 

Nevertheless, the anger of the men was roused when 
two or three of their fellow-workers were seen going back 
to work. These backsliders from trade unionism were 
entertained with some " rough music " drummed out of old 
pans and kettles as they returned from work. This musical 
performance having, as an eye-witness described it, "a 
marvellous effect on deserters," the farmers and the police 
made up their minds to stop it. Their ruse was successful. 
An old lady was sent out to meet her husband, and when 
the music began she shrieked with such dramatic force 
that it was alleged she had been frightened into a shrieking 
fit. No one had been spoken to, and no one had been 
touched, but twelve summonses were served to twelve men, 
some of whom were not there at all. In the next week 
they had to appear before the Bench of Magistrates, who 
promptly fined each man £5 with the option of two 
months' imprisonment. 

Mr. Herbert Day, the vice-president of the Union, with 
great generosity came forward, as the men were about to be 
locked up, and paid the £60 from his own pocket. His 
generosity did not stop here. Whilst the strike lasted he 
gave 6d. a week per child to their parents who were on 
strike, and at Christmas he sent every wife a little present, 
so that the children could enjoy a Christmas dinner. Prob- 
ably the issue would have been different if the men had been 
allowed to go to prison. 

The strike draggted on till the end of the year, when it col- 
lapsed, though not through any faint-heartedness on the part 
of the men, who wanted to go on fighting if the members of 


the Union outside St. Faith's would agree to impose a volun- 
tary levy upon themselves. This they agreed to do. But 
Mr. George NichoUs, M.P., the president, and Sir Richard 
Winfrey, M.P., the treasurer, with other members of the 
Executive, were convinced that the struggle was hopeless, 
especially in view of the fact that it had already cost 
the Union £1,300, and funds were getting extremely 

The strike was declared closed on January 9, 1911. 

A sectional strike at the best of times is always highly 
speculative, and St. Faith's was not only surrounded, but 
permeated by non-unionists. The fanners had every- 
thing in their favour. It was the dead time of the year, and 
the supply of non-union labour seemed unlimited. It 
was a bitter blow to the men to go back to the old wage of 
13s. ; and, although promises had been made by farmers to 
take back their own workmen, victimisation followed. 

Mr. G. E. Hewitt, the local leader, was made to feel the 
full force of the farmers' anger. Work was denied him, 
and he was faced with the prospect of leaving the village in 
which he and his father and grandfather before him had 
been born. Fortunately he was successful in obtaining a 
small holding, and after an uphill fight he managed to 
make a living. 

To follow the history of this village Hampden, it is 
interesting to learn that he was eventually elected a 
member of the Executive of his Union, a member of 
the War Agricultural Committee of his county, a mem- 
ber of the central Agricultural Wages Board, and that he 
defeated with honours a local magnate at a County CouncU 
Election in 1919. Mr. Hewitt is a splendid t3^e of the 
Norfolk peasant who has with great courage and single- 
mindedness fought without reward the battles of his fellow- 

At a conference of the Union in 191 1 a vote of censure 
was passed on the Executive by the members for closing 
the strike, which led to the resignation of the President and 
Treasurer. Councillor W. R. Smith, of Norwich, 1 who had 

' Now M,P. for Wellingborough. 


taken an active interest in the battles of the agricultural 
labourers, became its new President, and Mr. H. A. Day 
was elected its new Treasurer. 

Though the Union had suffered a reverse and its member- 
ship had declined owing to the surrender at St. Faith's, 
the publicity of the strike and the S3rmpathy evoked caused 
its membership to revive in 1912. In that year a confer- 
ence was held, when the rules and objects were revised and 
the name was altered to the National Agricultural Labourers' 
and Rural Workers' Union.^ 

The Union now took a new lease of Ufe. The National 
Insurance Act of 1911, which came into force in 1912, 
helped to bring grist to the Union mill, for labourers found 
it to be more remunerative to take up an Insurance Card 
with the Trade Union than with the Post Ofl&ce. The new 
Uaiion was registered as an Approved Society and many 
members of extinguished small benefit societies joined the 
National Agricultural Labourers' Union.* 

The National Agricultural Labourers' Union now became 
affiliated to the Trade Union Congress, to which they were 
entitied to send two representatives each year. The failure 
at St. Faith's stimulated the organised workers of the town 
to come to the help of the agricultural labourers, and we shall 

» The rural workers embraced those persons " who are Allotment and 
Small Holders, Agricultural Labourers, Gardeners, Navvies, Yardmen, 
Carters, Roadmen, Female Workers, Carpenters and Skilled Artisans, 
who from health, age, distance of nearest branch, or other sufScient reasons, 
are unable to join the recognised Unions of their respective trades, and]any 
other person agreed to by a Branch and not vetoed by the Generail Council 
or the Executive Committee." 

Its objects were declared to be : — 

(a) To improve the social and moral conditions of its members. 

(6) To establish central funds for the purpose of securing a better dis- 
position of the land, by assisting to provide allotments, small holdings, 
improved housing accommodation, and better conditions of living. 

(c) To secure proper legal advice when necessary and to shield members 
from injustice. 

(d) To relieve members out of work through disputes, strikes, or lock- 
outs, when sanctioned by the Executive Committee or the General Council 
of the Union. 

(e) To encourage intercommunication with Unions in other parts of 
this country and other countries. 

' Mr. R. B. Walker tells me he discovered a Benefit Society existing 
near Fakenham which had an unbroken record of membership since the 
halcyon days of Arch's Union, for though it had dropped its trade unionism 
it had retained its Sick Benefit contributors. 


see how in 1913 a grant of ^500 was made by the Congress to 
enable the National Agricultural Labourers' Union to employ 
an extra organiser or two. 

Another Union also took the field on behalf of the agricul- 
tural labourer, a Union which was destined to play a most 
important part in organising the farm worker. This was the 
Workers' Union, which in 1898 could barely find the money 
to pay its country organiser 12s. a week. It had grown into 
a powerful urban union and turned its attention once more 
to its first love — the agricultural labourer. Its organisers 
argued that farm labourers wduld be in a stronger position 
if they joined the agricultural section of an urban imion 
blest with funds, and this appealed to many men who had 
suffered from or heard of the instabihty of Arch's old 
Union. They saw too that it was difficult to carry out a 
successftil strike without money, and there was certainly 
plenty of scope for an organiser who would take the trouble to 
organise agricultural labourers. Few trade unions had 
shown great eagerness to expend money in organising a scat- 
tered and badly paid body of workers on a contribution of 
twopence a week, and credit is certainly due to the Workers' 
Union for cultivating a crop which had borne but little 
fruit and was subject to be nipped in the bud by early frosts. 

The desire of the Workers' Union to make the farm worker 
a trade unionist, was no doubt prompted by the feeling 
that the position of the unskilled workers of the towns was 
jeopardised by the importation of non-union men from the 
country when any industrial trouble arose. The gas- 
workers, the dockers, the navvies, had all experienced this 
cold draught blowing in from the open fields, eddying round 
their gates. Thus their organisers. Alderman Morley of HaU- 
fax, and Councillor Beard of Birmingham, began to send out 
their emissaries into Yorkshire and the Midland counties. 

Fresh interest in Trade Unionism amongst the agricul 
tural workers was evinced in the spring of 1912 by the un- 
veiling of a memorial to the Tolpuddle martyrs on May 
27, 1912. On the top of the curved arch at the entrance 
to the little Wesleyan Methodist chapel of the Dorsetshire 
village are engraved the words "Tolpuddle Martyrs," and on 


each side of the arch is a marble slab with words inscribed 
thus : 

Erected in honour " We have injured no man's 



of this village uniting together to pre- 

WHO IN 1834 so nobly serve OURSELVES, AND OUR 


in the Cause of from utter degradation and 


and RIGHTEOUSNESS (George Loveless. Defence) 

and as a stimulus 
to our own 
and future generations 

George Loveless. 
James Loveless 
James Hammett. 
Thomas Stanfield. 
John Stanfield. 
James Brine. 

Unveiled by Arthur Henderson, M.P., 

May 2yth, 1912.^ 

* It will be remembered that these men asked for an increase in wages 
from 8s. to gs. a week, instead of which wages were reduced to 7s. a week 
and the men were threatened with a reduction to 6s. Only then, 
when driven down to starvation point, did these men attempt to form a 
union. Nothing has been finer in the history of pur courageous peasantry 
than the bearing of these men during this cruel and vindictive trial. Be- 
sides the words of George Loveless it would be interesting to record the 
verses which James Loveless scribbled on a piece of paper and threw 
among the crowd as he was being led away for deportation. 
God is our guide I no swords we draw, 

We kindle not war's battle fires ; 
By reason, union, justice, law. 

We claim the birthright of our sires. 
We raise the watchword Liberty, 
We will, we will, we will be free ! 
The little Wesleyan chapel is where these men used to worship, and 
it is interesting to note that Miss Hamm»tt, a second cousin of James 
Hammett, is a leader at the chapel at the present time ; and a son of 
James Hammett still lives at Tolpuddle. 

I learn that James Loveless and Hammett spoke at one of Arch's 
meetings, and persecution again arose and labourers were evicted from 
their homes. Hammett's cousin then bought a field and built twelve 
cottages on it, so that the tenants could go to chapel and have a union if 
they wished. 

An old lady, Mrs. Bush, the widow of a shepherd, remembers the martyrs 
and is willing to talk of them. Later on the National Agricultural 
Labourers' Union started a branch at Tolpuddle, 


In 1912 labourers were becoming restless, not only as to 
wages, but also as to being secure of a home. They were 
repeatedly told by Lord Lansdowne on behalf of the Conser- 
vatives, and by Mr. Lloyd George on behalf of the Liberals, 
that they should be secure of their cottage homes, but 
instead, they found from bitter experience that their foot- 
hold was as insecure as ever. 

In the depths of the winter of 1912, in January of that 
year, a most discreditable eviction took place at Foxham 
in Wilts, where lies some of Lord Lansdowne's property, 
though I do not mean to imply that he was to blame for what 
happened. The incident is worth recounting in order to 
show how the Town Planning Act worked, or rather how it 
did not work, in rural districts. 

The County Council acquired a farm on Lord Lansdowne's 
property, and eight families received notices to quit their cot- 
tages. Some of the other cottages were bought by farmers 
who wanted them for their own employees, with the result 
that cottage accommodation became extremely scarce. 

The Parish Council, typical of those in Wiltshire, consist- 
ing of seven farmers and two labourers, made no attempt to 
get cottages built ; but two labourers, armed with Mr. John 
Bums' Town Planning Act, sent a petition, signed also by 
two other men, for the application of the Housing Act, to the 
Rural District Council at Calne. Calne is the centre of the 
pig ind'ustry, and its Rural District Councillors, it is recorded, 
received the application with swinish laughter. With a 
chuckle of sardonic merriment they referred the matter to 
the Parish Council of Bremhill — the Parish Council on which 
seven of their farmer friends sat. An application was also 
sent to the County Council. 

No response, save a curt acknowledgment, came from the 
County Council to these poor labourers of Foxham in direful 
distress. " The Cerberus of officialism had snarled them 
back with all his three pairs of jaws," wrote Lieut.-Col. 
D. C. Pedder, who lived in this neighbourhood. The appeal 
then had to go to headquarters — that is, direct to the Presi- 
dent of the Local Government Board. Through the good 
offices of the National Land and Home League, sufficient 


prima facie evidence was adduced for Mr. John Bums to 
order an immediate enquiry. Tliis time twenty men came 
forward in the crowded little village schoolroom to bear wit- 
ness as to the lack of cottages, and how, under notice 
to quit, they had searched in vain for a house. The tragedy 
of one man, with seven children down with whooping cough, 
under notice to quit an overcrowded cottage, was startlingly 
revealed, and the story of how youths and girls were driven 
to the towns was unfolded. 

But all that the Enquiry produced for these people was 
a revengeful retaliation on the part of the recalcitrant 

What happened was an eviction as brutal as any in the 
annals of Enghsh country life. The County Council, one of 
the three jaws of the three-mouthed Cerberus, promptly took 
its revenge. It snapped at the two ringleaders and threw 
them bodily out upon the roadside. In a heap on the deep 
snow under a leaden sky were piled the household goods of 
Robert Grimshaw and Alfred Fortune. In a group collected 
the villagers, standing silent and sullen under the fresh 
indignity dealt out to them. 

Some very extraordinary evidence was brought out at 
the Enquiry. Lord LansdoSvne's agent actually said he had 
never known that there was any demand for cottages at 
Foxham. The Surveyor of the district " had never heard 
of any demand for cottages." The Chairman of the Rural 
District Council, which is held at the centre of the pig indus- 
try, had " never heard of a want of housing accommodation 
in that parish." 

The men who took a leading part in the Enquiry were 
driven out of the neighbourhood. No wonder the village 
labourer felt that the odds were too much for him in a fight 
for justice. In his hazard of hfe he had to play with those 
who had loaded dice. Even when he won, the cost of victory 
was too heavy for him to pay. 

" I do not think there is much difference of opinion as to the 
main facts," said Lord Lansdowne, in 1913, on the subject of 
housing. " There is throughout a great part of this country a 
very serious shortage of housing accommodation in our villages. 


What are the results ? In the first place, a number of houses 
are allowed to survive which beyond all question ought to be 
condemned as unfit for human habitation. The second result is 
that many deserving men and women who want to find a home in 
the village are wholly unable to find it. The third result is that 
where you have barely enough cottages to go round, the man who 
has got a cottage, particularly if the cottage is let with the farm, 
has an uneasy feeling that he is too much at the mercy of his 
employer, and if he loses his job he stands a very good chance of 
losing his home into the bargain. That is not a desirable frame 
of mind." ^ 

A different kind of Enquiry to the one at Foxham was held 
in the adjoining county of Somerset a year later. Here the 
laxity of the Rural District Council was being tried by the 
County Council. The atmosphere was quite different from 
that of Foxham, and the reason not far to seek. The four 
who made the requisition to the County Council were not lab- 
ourers this time, but four influential middle-class Quakers ; 
and the Medical Officer of Health for the County, Dr. Savage, 
was, fortunately, one who possessed a moral passion for 

I happened to be present at the Enquiry ^ and was struck 
by the independence of a workman, who needless, to say 
was not an agricultural labourer. It was when the Chair- 
man of the County Council (who conducted the Enquiry in 
a most admirable manner) asked the workman if he would 
like a cottage with three bedrooms, a Rural District 
Councillor sneeringly interjected : " And a bathroom, too, 
I suppose ? " 

" Yes," retorted the workman sharply, " can't we be clean 
as well as you ? " 

The Enquiry was held both at Shipham and at Wins- 
combe. The conditions of affairs at Shipham were illuminat- 
ing. Many years ago lead mines were worked here by 
squatters, who built their cottages on what appears to have 
been No-man's land. It would be difficult to find a fairer 
spot in England than this, where between the escarpments 

* The Times, June 23, 1913. 

' A Citizens' League had been formed at Winscombe after reading The 
Awakening of England. I had been asked to lecture to it. 


of the Mendip Hills can be seen the Bristol Channel glittering 
in the sun, and, beyond, the shadowy form of the Welsh 
hills, and it is here " small ownership " has been carried out 
to an extent rare in the annals of rural England. 

In 1841 the population w^ 707 ; in 191 1 it was 359. 
Though the population had dwindled to one half , the cottages 
were not only legally overcrowded, but according to the Med- 
ical Officer of Health for the county " grossly and morally 
overcrowded." Thirty-three of the sixty cottages inspected 
that year were occupied by their owners. In one cottage 
three boys and two girls slept in one room, while the mother 
and three children slept in the other. In the bedroom of 
another cottage slept two youths aged sixteen and nineteen, 
and two girls aged fourteen and nineteen. And it should be 
remembered that most of these bedrooms were so small that 
the cubic space allowed for each person was often far less 
than that permitted in a common lodging-house. In one 
bedroom, with an area of not more than 700 cubic ft., slept 
three persons of two sexes aged fifteen, twenty, and twenty- 
one. In two very small bedrooms of a capacity of 660 and 
480 cubic ft. respectively slept a mother and eight children. 
The Clerk to this Council admitted that no systematic 
inspection had been made of this grossly insanitary village 
for at least seventeen years. 

Now at this Enquiry, the ratepayers — that is to say 
the small owners living in their miserable hovels — ^were 
furious at the bare thought of new cottages being built with 
a possibility of an increase in their rates. This hare was, of 
course, soon started by the members of the Rural District 

Where the local authority is lethargic and the parish 
is owned by exceedingly poor people the administration 
of Health Acts becomes a dead letter. 

The Meidical Officer of Health stated that Shipham 
contained the worst cottages to be found in Somerset. 

One can hardly have two more striking instances of the 
evils arising from leaving land in the hands of either large 
or small owners than the parish of Shipham and the adjoining 
parish of Rowberrow, which is entirely owned by its Squire. 


Here the population in 1831 was 392. It has now dwindled 
to one-fourth of that nvunber. 

The village lies in a beautiful gorge, and the wrecked 
roofs and dismantled walls of the stone cottages give it the 
appearance of some Alpine village which has suffered from an 
avalanche. Nothing worthy of the name of farming is to 
be seen on the land, all laid down to grass. Sport alone 
seemed to absorb the energies of the governing classes. The 
vicarage was an empty house and the church was served by 
the Vicar of Shipham. The school had also been closed, 
and on the death of the present generation of squatters every 
bit of land reverts to the Squire, which means that in time 
this beautiful little gorge will be emptied of life. 

The curate of one of the villages, a fine type of the Church 
mihtant, a major who had taken Holy Orders, said to me : 
" I know far better than the inspectors how these rooms are 
overcrowded, for I am called to these cottages at night, and 
I rarely rise from the floor with dry knees. Dirt lies for ever 
entombed between the stone flags. We do not allow this 
scandalous kind of thing in India." 

Not all sporting villages by any means were like Row- 
berrow. Some were extremely tidy and well preserved. 
Such a one was the village of Htiscombe in Surrey, noted 
for its beautiful beeches, which I visited in 1912. Game 
preserving seemed to be the most thriving pursuit, judging 
by the iU-cultivated fields, the number of pheasants to be 
seen, and the luxurious motors disgorging their " guns." 

The entire parish was owned by one man. The wages of 
the labourers, I found, were 13s. a week. 

So dear were the necessities of Ufe here that any one above 
the rank of a labourer who could command the services 
of a horse and trap, drove to Guildford, eight miles away. 
But the married labourer remained tied to his cottage, 
manacled by low wages, and squeezed by high prices. His 
mind, though, was well looked after. There is a beautiful 
little church here, as there generally is in such villages ; 
and the churchyard is kept Mke a gentleman's lawn, to which 
the labourer contributes his bones. He is provided with a 
model village institute and the Morning Post to enlighten 


him with social and political knowledge. In spite of these 
intellectual advantage his wages were 13s. a week 

In one of these cottages a labourer's wife heroically 
brought up a family of nine children on 12s. a week, and 
they all had to sleep in two bedrooms. At times the only 
way the mother could satisfy the pangs of hunger in her 
children was by giving them cooked nettles and bread and a 
hard pudding made of flour and water. For many weeks 
this would be their daily dinner. 

A few miles distant I came to an estate made tragic by 
the death of Whittaker Wright. This was Lea Park, now 
owned by the great Liberal capitalist. Lord Pirrie. There 
was no necessity here to display that excellent electioneering 
placard of his Party, " Keep off the Earth," for five miles 
of brick wall are more compelling than words. Inside these 
walls the good agricultural land nourished deer and phea- 
sants.^ Across the park and over the public highway 
stretched a private motor track which took my lord when 
he pleased to Haslemere. If a carter was fortunate enough to 
obtain employment inside these walls he had to be prepared 
to renounce all worldly pursuits, such as the keeping of fowls 
or pigs, or even that of adding to his family shoiild he be 
fortunate enough to inhabit one of the charming lodges. 

In 1912 wages were still low, cottages scarce and land still 
beyond the reach of most labourers. 

Mr. Runciman in 1913 had to admit to the House of 
Commons that of the 6,000 approved applicants still waiting 
to get land " there were very few labourers amongst the 
applicants because the low wages paid to agricultural labour- 
ers did not enable them to lay by even the small amount 
of capital required for a small holding." To facilitate 
labourers stocking their holdings the Government of 1912 
induced Joint Stock Banks to advance loans to credit socie- 
ties. But this, as can well be imagined, met with little or 
no success. ^ 

* " Lord Pirrie was fined £so at Guildford yesterday for failing to clean 
and cultivate a farm after receiving three notices from the Surrey Agri- 
cultural Committee. " — Daily Mail, 13 March, 1920 

' I painted out at the time that the Government by shirking the straight 
course of lending the money itself would bring about a dismal failure. 


The position of the labourer in 1912 was graphically 
summed up by a Conservative, Mr. R. E. Prothero, who 
has since been made President of the Board of Agriculture 
and a Peer. 

" All the employing classes have moved on and upwards in 
wealth, in education, in tastes, in habits, in their standard of 
living. Except in education, the employed alone have stood 
comparatively stni. The sense of social inferiority which is thus 
fostered has impressed the labourer with the feeling that he is not 
regarded as a member of the community, but only as its helot. 
It is from this point of view that he resents, in a half-humorous, 
half-sullen fashion, the kindly efforts of well-meaning patrons to 
do him good, the restrictions imposed on his occupation of his 
cottage, as well as the paraphernalia of policemen, sanitary and 
medical inspectors, school-attendance officers, who dragoon and 
shepherd him into being sober, law-abiding, clean, healthy and 
considerate of the future of his children. To his mind, it is all 
part of the treatment meted out to a being who is regarded as 
belonging to an inferior race." ^ 

•!• 'I' 1* * 

Mr. Lloyd George kept on making speeches, but the open- 
ing of Parliament, 1913, shattered the rising hopes of the farm 
workers. The King's Speech produced not a ray of light 
in the homes of those who follow the plough. They knew 
the Liberal Land Enquiry had been on foot for some time, and 
when Parliament opened they fully expected a pronounce- 
ment as to wages. Mr. Lloyd George had roused the whole 
countryside into two opposing camps. Was it only poHtical 
window dressing after all. Was all this platform oratory 
merely theatrical display, they began to ask one another. 

" They irritate the sliunbering dominant Party without 

strengthening the insurgent," wrote George Meredith in one 

of his letters. These words might have been written of Mr. 

Lloyd George. Indeed his pubHc performances at this 

period resembled the part of Hairlequin in the great Land 

Campaign Pantomime which was frequently put on for one 

In 1914, sixteen Credit Societies obtained advances from Joint Stock Banks, 
the total amount advanced being ;£i,75o ! The number of small holdings 
provided by County Councils of which the holders were in actual posses- 
sion on December 31, 1914, was only 13,085. The total quantity of land 
acquired under the Act in England and Wales was less than 1 per cent, of 
the whole cultivated area (Cd. 7851). 

1 English Farming : Past and Present. By R. E. Prothero. 


night only when the populace becanie restive, and taken 
off again immediately the plaudits of the crowd rose to fever 

The Government pantomime had the longest run in the 
great, Budget performance of 1909, when Harlequin dis- 
played such antics in smacking landlords with his pliable 
wand that he created quite a commotion in the stalls. 
Thoroughly alarmed they rushed back to their country 
houses and stirred up the countryside. 

There was no doubt about it, the landlords reaUy were 

But it was observed that whilst the Conservative land- 
owners were alarmed, the more intelligent landowning Liber- 
als went their way untroubled. They evidently knew what 
would happen at the fall of the curtain. 

The resounding thwacks of the Harlequin barely bruised 
a single member of the possessing class. Agricultural land 
was exempt from taxation, and land other than agricultural 
had merely to bear the miserable tax of a half-penny in the 
pound, which after all was really not worth the picking up. 
The possessing class sent up a sigh of relief as the price of 
agricultural land steadily rose 15 per cent, in value. When 
the Budget Play was over and those who had toiled in the 
fields went home to find their larders empty, hungry teeth 
began to glisten in rural constituencies. It indicated that 
the Earth Hunger was not satisfied, that those who worked 
for masters still had to rear families on inadequate wages 
and live in wretched cottages. Then it was that the Govern- 
ment sent their popular comedian into the provinces to 
" sever the shackles of feudalism " — with striking phrases. 

It apeared that for the successful presentation of the 
comedy, to equip it thoroughly with trap-doors and exits, 
the services of a great number of scene-shifters had to be 
engaged. This new play they called the Land Ehquiry. 

The Government had suddenly developed a passion for 
rural scenic effects. Most of those who listened to the fiery 
speeches delivered by leading politicians during the Budget 
and the House of Lords Campaign imagined that these 
statesmen were fully equipped with knowledge of rural 


life. But they were mistaken. In spite of the State De- 
partments of the Local Government Board, the Board of 
Trade, and the Board of Agriculture, not a member of that 
essentidly urban Government appeared to know how the 
rural poor lived. Indeed the statesmen seem to be no better 
informed than Pitt, who in 1800 introduced a Bill to 
ameUorate the conditions of the rural poor, but soon 
dropped it because he was " inexperienced himself in 
country affairs, and in the condition of the poor, and would 
not press the Measure on the attention of the House." And 
that was over one hundred years ago ! 

We were assured that the new play would, in scenic 
effects, excel any picture ever presented of rural England. 
But when is it goifig to begin ? " was asked, as people im- 
patiently stamped their feet. "You wait," came the answer. 
" It will be quite worth your while, for Harlequin is getting 
new tights made, scintillating with spangles, and a new wand 
— a perfect weapon that will tickle the bare backs of the occu- 
pants of the stalls, and effectually bring down the gods." 

Whilst clamouring for the new play to begin the people were 
told that a popular spectacular play called The Tragedy of the 
Near East, would have to be put on first ; and then when it 
was found that this drama began to draw very poor houses 
the directors and large shareholders of the State Repertory 
Theatre deciddd that the Trailing of the Red Herring should 
form an attractive feature of the New Pantomime display, 
with the introduction of a new act called the Education Act. 
(This, it was rumoured, was presented to give a chance to 
the heavy tragedian who had taken the lead in military 
dramas. It was said that he had objected to all Government 
pantomime being especially written for Harlequin.) 

But the people said they were tired of education plays. 
These plays always sent them to their homes with a fierce 
hunger for fo6d. 

" Let's have Harlequin ! " they shouted. "He is the 
man for us." So to appeeise the people the Government let 
Harlequin appear again — for one night only — and though 
Columbine had now turned her back on him, he performed at 
the National Liberal Club on Friday, January 31. The 

VOL. II. o 


stalls were again thwacked, and the claque cheered at his 
coruscations. It had its effect. " You see," wrote one of 
the critics in the Stage Box who signed himself P.W.W., and 
who kindly explained all Government plays to the readers of 
the Daily News, " abundant evidence is already available 
to justify the following forecast : — 

" The statutory establishment of a minimum wage of at 
least £i a week for agricultural labourers. 

" Every labourer who requires a cottage shall have one 
(with a plot of land) independent of farmer or landlord." 

Then followed the usual epilogue. Five days later, in 
reply to a question by Mr. Charles Bathurst, who asked if the 
performance at the National Liberal Club represented the 
poUcy of the Government, the Prime Minister answered with 
some asperity that " Mr. Lloyd George did not formulate 
any proposals and that any statements which have since 
appeared in the Press professing to represent the pohcy of the 
Government are pure efforts of imagination." 

And the subtle Harlequin himself, when questioned, had 
to admit with a smile that he had only been having a fling 
on his own, and had propounded no act of statecraft. The 
meaning of that smile has not been lost. 

The " gods " were brought down but to be buried ! 

The curtain then went up on an entirely new play. The 
Prologue had already been uttered, and that great army of the 
dispossessed who toiled long for a mere pittance, housed in 
hovels, and stiU denied access to the land, men who " Learned 
his great language, caught his clear accents," turned 
away heart-broken to their desolate homes. Their leader, 
their one valiant David, who was to have broken the " shack- 
les of feudalism," had deserted them. On March lo 
their doom was seded. The King's Speech had been 
uttered. There was nothing for them. Instead, out of their 
labour, money was to be raised to develop cotton growing 
amongst the Soudanese ; while for them, the Labourers of 
England, there was nothing, not even better wages. 

Country house parties began to assume a more cheerful 
aspect. The densest of backwoodsmen began to realise that 
strong words break no bones, nor do they injure incomes. 

GROWTH Under stormy skies. i$5 

The Chancellor even then might almost be regarded as an 
asset to reaction. It may be very well after aU to have a 
Harlequin who can tickle the palate of the people by refer- 
ences to dukes, but who leaves ducal incomes undisturbed. 
Mr. Lloyd George lost his chance of becoming the Cobbett 
of the twentieth century. Indeed " the raging-tearing 
campaign" (vide Tory papers) forcibly recalled a story told of 
Abraham Lincoln, who when opposed in Court by a vocifer- 
ous and turbulent counsel : " He reminds me," said Lincoln 
to the judge, " of the farmer who was overtaken by a 
thunderstorm and knelt down to pray. ' Oh Lord,' he cried, 
' cannot we have a little less noise and a little more light.' " 

«|C Sp Sfi !(C 

Yet politicians and others who hve in the stately homes of 
England were soon to have a rude shock. In May 1913 a 
strike broke out in South West Lancashire, and where it was 
raging mightily stood the country house of Lord Derby, 
which the King of England was about to visit. 

Whilst Mr. Lloyd George and Lord Lansdowne had been 
making their politictd speeches, the cost of hving had been 
steadily rising, and Lancashire was the first county to express 
its feelings in no imcertain voice. Rents and retail prices 
had risen in Lancashire and Cheshire to 13-3 above 1905.1 
But it was not only a question of wages ; it was primarily a 
matter of hours ; and the refusal of the farmers to negotiate 
with the men's leaders led to the gravest agricultural strike 
in this country since the days of Joseph Arch. 

In the autumn of 1912 the farm workers in South- West 
Lancashire were entirely unorganised, and as many of them, 
especially the wagoners who took market garden produce 
into the large towns, had to work exceedingly long hours 
they appealed to the National Agriculturcd Labourers' Union 
to help them to improve their conditions. Mr. George Ed- 
wards seized the opportunity and the Union quickly grew 
in strength, forming nearly thirty branches during the winter. 

The district was aptly described by Country Life thus : — 

" To many of our readers the district will at once " come home ' 
when we add that it is the country of the Grand National and 
1 Cd. 7733. Vide Appendix. 


the Waterloo Cup, and having said this there is surely little if 
any need to say more as to its position and general appearance." ^ 

Perhaps nothing more need be said to sportsmen, except 
to add that the land here is owned by a trinity of Earls : 
the Earl of Derby, the Earl of Sefton, and the Earl of Lathom, 
and those who are familiar with their Debrett will now feel 
themselves geographically at home. To those not so familiar 
with their Debrett, I might add that this neighbourhood 
had to satisfy with market garden and farm produce the 
insatiable markets of Liverpool, Warrington, St. Helens, 
Wigan and Southport, entailing in many instances extremely 
long hours for the carters ; and it is little wonder that in a 
neighbourhood where football is popular the men resented 
being deprived of a half-holiday, which is claimed by every 
town artisan. 

In May, 1913, the men formulated their demands, which 
were : — 

(i) Saturday half-holiday, work to cease at i p.m. 

(2) Minimum wage of 24s. a week. 

(3) 6d. an hour overtime, and 

(4) Recognition of the Union. 

The Preston Guardian 2 declared " the Union lived in 
Dreamland." If so, it was a Dreamland where tired 
wagoners' journeys were bounded by a horizon of distant 
furnace fires. 

The farmers, though, wasted no time in poetical fancies, 
but promptly dismissed their hands, giving them notices 
to quit their cottages. This action was started by one 
farmer who, without consulting his neighbours, immedi- 
ately dismissed his eight men. This arbitrary action 
caused great indignation amongst the labourers, and a 
demonstration was held one Sunday at Barton, close to the 
residence of an employer who had locked out his men the 
previous Sunday. The procession, headed by a brass band, 
consisted of 4,000 persons. Mr. George Edwards said he 
had never witnessed so much enthusiasm and determination 
in the forty years he had been in public life. 

1 Country Life, May 25, 1913. ' May 24, 1913. 


A resolution was passed unanimously condemning the 
farmers' attempt to prevent the workmen combining. ' 

The farmers stubbornly refused to recognise the men's 
Union. The Chairman of the Farmer's Union declared that, 
" he felt sure that if there were only a united force they could 
squash the Union and take the wind out of the sails of Mr. 
Edwards, the secretary."* 

The usual argument was advanced that the whole move- 
ment was engineered by outside people who were agitators, 
though judging from a statement made by the Graphic, 
the agitators were not very well paid : — 

" As Mr. Edwards (the secretary of the Union), an assistant 
secretary and two organisers receive in all about £200 a year, 
the enthusiasts at the head of the organisation are hardly leading 
it for what they can get out of it." 

Mr. Edwards exhausted every method of persuasion to 
get the farmers to confer with him. Then with that pathetic 
belief, which is characteristic of the English peasant in the 
goodwill of the landed aristocracy, he appealed to Lord 
Derby to act as mediator. 

It was a wise step on Mr. Edwards' part, for the King 
was to be the guest of Lord Derby, upon whose estates the 
men had downed tools. At first Lord Derby definitely 
refused, but later, no doubt feeling that a portion of his 
domain in revolt would not be a pleasant picture to present 
to the King, he consented to act as mediator between the 
Fanners' Union and the Labourers' Union. Since the strike 
had become not only an affair of farm workers but also of 
the Industrial Unions who were showing their sympathy and 
helping the farm workers with their organisers, Mr. James Sex- 
ton, of the Dockers' Union, acted as one of the negotiators. 

Lord Derby's intervention, however, went no further 
than influencing the farmers on his own estate, on which 
the men withdrew their notices unconditionally and returned 
to work. In this strike we get portents of the Federation 
of Transport Workers which came to be such a powerful 
factor in the industrial and political history of our country 

* Reynolds, June i8, 1913. ^ The Times, May 24, 1913. 


By the aid of the Dockers' Union and the National Union 
of Ships' Stewards peaceful picketing was carried out with 
considerable success. Boats landing Irish labourers at 
Liverpool, who were imported as strike-breakers, were met 
by the pickets, and many Irish labourers either joined the 
Union or were persuaded to proceed to Yorkshire for 

On July 4, the Ormskirk Branch of the National Union 
of Railwaymen gave forty-eight hours' notice of refusal to 
handle produce from the affected area, but before the rail- 
wa3mien's threat was carried out the strike was ended. At 
the suggestion of the Superintendent of Police at Ormskirk 
a solicitor, respected by both sides, was called in as mediator, 
and he drafted a report which was accepted as a settlement. 

The men can claim to have won a victory, for in the his- 
tory of agricultural labourers it was the first time they had 
ever received by collective bargaining a reduction in the 
hours. Overtime was granted at the rate of 6d. an hour and 
there was a general rise in wages of 2s. a week. 

The strike lasted about a fortnight, and nearly £800 
were subscribed from outside sources. Nothing, perhaps, 
more fortunate could have happened to the Labourers' 
Union than to have a strike in an industrial county hke 
Lancashire, for hot with the memory of the defenceless con- 
dition of farm workers and the time-honoured arrogant tone 
adopted by their employers, the industrial workers at the 
Trade Union Congress of that year made a memorable grant 
of ^500 to the N.A.L.U.^ for the purpose of helping them to 
organise the whole country. 

To most people unacquainted with the long-dying, 
hard customs of payment for labour in rural districts, it 
came as a surprise to learn that whereas the farm workers of 
Norfolk were beaten in their struggle to obtain a rise of is. 
a week on a low wage of 13s. the farmers of another county 
who were already pa3ang about £1 a week to all classes^of 
workers were able to pay another 2s. a week.^ 

The districts round Ormskirk, Garstang and Fylde jaeld, 

1 For brevity's sake the National Agricultural Labourer's and Rural 
Workers' Union is referred to in these pages as tjie N.A-LU. 
" Cd. 5460. 


it is true, rich harvests, but much of Lancashire soil gets its 
" back broken " and is soured by the poisonous fumes from 
the great alkali and copper works and coke ovens, and soot 
falls like a funeral pall over the farms which skirt the large 
manufacturing towns. Owing to this bad atmosphere 
abortion and tuberculosis are rife among cows and the ani- 
mals' nostrils are found to be sooted up. Round the great 
industrial areas trees, hedges, fruit tree and flowers are 
blighted and killed. 

If farmers were able to pay 22s. in Lancashire why did not 
the farmers in Norfolk pay more than 13s. ? It showed once 
more that payment of good wages was not dependent upon 
prices or climatic conditions. It was a matter of custom in 
Norfolk, and the farmers of Lancashire had to pay more for 
labour because of the competitive industries of the adjacent 

During the Lancashire strike another strike broke out at 
East Chinnock, in Somerset. It was occasioned by the 
action of one of the farmers discharging two men belonging 
to the Union. 

Very strong feeling was evinced over the foolish action 
of the authorities in bringing in the police to protect the 
farmer and the "blackleg" labour he imported, even to 
escort them to church ! An agreement was eventually 
arrived at with the employers resulting in the advance of 2S. 
a week for the men and is. a week for lads. 

The Lancashire strike painfully proved to Mr. George 
Edwards, that veteran fighter for the agricultural labourer, 
that his advancing years and increasing iU health 1 could 
not sustain another such exhausting campaign, and his 
assistant, Mr. R. B. Walker, was elected to take his place. 

Stalwart trade unionist though he was, Mr. Edwards 
had the foresight to reaUse that without a statutory minimum 
wage an advance in wages would never be secure, for it was 
in the spring of this year that he wrote the following 
words : — 

" On the farmer's own figures, the labourer's wages in Nor- 

1 Mr. Edwards sustained an irreparable loss in the death of his wife, 
who had been his inspiring comrade in all his life's work. 


folk are 5s. 6d. below a bare living wage. That is the Union's 
strong argument on the platform. But forty year^ experience 
has convinced me that the labourers cannot get a living wage by 
Trade Union effort alone. The difficulties of organisation are so 
great that we cannot get an organisation strong enough to enforce it."^ 

As Mr. Lloyd George had refused the opportunity in 
March, a BiU was introduced in the House of Commons in 
May by progressive Conservatives, such as Lord Henry 
Bentinck and Mr. Leslie Scott. But it was a poor Bill with 
application only to certain low pa3dng counties. 

A better Bill, which was the forerunner of the Minimum 
Wage Part of the Com Production Act of 1917, was intro- 
duced in the House of Commons on May 27, 1913, by Mr. 
G. H. Roberts. This Bill was largely the work of the 
National Land and Home League. 

It was introduced " to provide for the establishment of a 
Minimum Wage and the regularisation of the hours of labour of 
agricultural labourers. Mr. Roberts said that according to the 
latest available Board of Trade Returns the average weekly wage 
(including allowances, etc.) of the agricultural labourer in 1907 
was 17s. 6d. But that figure was based on information supplied 
by the employers only, and was probably arf over statement. 
As to hours of labour it was common knowledge that in rural 
districts they were inordinately long. The Bill provided for 
the weekly half-holiday for agricultural labourers. As to wages, 
it followed the precedent of the Trade Boards Act. County 
Boards were to be set up. He did not suggest that a flat rate 
should be applied to the whole of the counties." 

Sir F. Banbury supplied the humorous opposition to the 

" Was the honourable gentleman going to regularise the 
weather " ? he asked. " If not, the Bill would mean that the crops 
would be ruined, through not being dealt with when the weather 
was favourable. He would also like to know if cows were to be 
milked on the weekly half-holiday. If there was an industry to 
which proposals of the kind made in the Bill should not be 
applied it was the agricultural industry." 

This agricultural expert sat for the City of London. 
A year later, April 21, 1914, Mr. Leslie Scott introduced 
an Agricultural Employment Boards Bill. 
1 The Land Enquiry. 


The years 1913 and 1914 proved to be two years of con- 
siderable unrest in agricultural districts. In Yorkshire 
and in Herefordshire the Workers' Union made the most 
headway. In Lancashire, Cheshire and Somerset the 
N.A.L.U., was very active. In Yorkshire, the Workers' Union 
began to formulate a demand for the minimum wage of 
24s. a week. Wages there varied from i6s. to 20s. for ordin- 
ary labourers, and from 19s. to 22s. for cattlemen and horse- 
men, plus cottages, potatoes, milk. At the May hiring, 1913 , 
at Brigg the wagoners obtained £22 to £25. A union was 
formed at Scotch Comer, Richmond, called the Richmond and 
District Farm Labourers' Union which demanded a weekly 
half-holiday and overtime pay at the rate of 6d. an hour. 
It was stated that Mr. Harry Evans, through starting the 
Union, was thrown out of work, and could find none in that 
neighbourhood. 1 

The labourers' demand for a living wage became insistent 
in Yorkshire and a year later a strike very nearly took place. 
The Herefordshire labourers in 1913 were also murmurous 
with discontent. A year later, as we shall see, over 1,000 
notices were served on farmers ; and one can hardly feel 
suiprise at the demands made by the men. 

IntheHerefordfournaloiJnlyX2, 1913, there isan illiiminat- 
ingreportof afarmlabourersummonedfordebt. When asked 
by the Judge at the Leominster County Court what his wages 
were, he answered " lis. and a cottage." He had a wife 
and four children to support and his wages stopped on wet 
days. He got a bit of wood now and again and was allowed 
a row of potatoes in a field. He once was paid as much as 13s. 
a week, but this was without a cottage. He had never kept 
a pig or fowls. He offered to pay los. in the pound by in- 
stalments of 4s. a month. The Judge made the order but 
expressed his doubt of the debtor's ability to pay. 

In August and September there was a revival of trade 
unions in Somerset and Wiltshire. 

Much attention was given in this year to the dietary of 
agricultural labourers. Somebudgetsgivenbyme in my book 
The Tyranny of the Countryside, pubhshed in 1913, evoked a 
* Yorkshire Herald, August 22, 1913. 


storm of protest. I received letters from ladies and gentlemen 
living in country houses and from quite a number of country 
parsons. The former were generally angry in tone ; the latter 
sympathetic. A lady who stated she kept ten outdoor ser- 
vants wanted to know why EngUsh labourers in the southern 
counties who " spent their time in sriioking and loafing for 
their 15s. a week could not live Uke the thrifty Scotch by 
making two-thirds of their meals of porridge and milk — say 
3d. a day." 

A gentleman writing from a large country house main- 
tained with righteous asseveration that " 15s. a week was 
quite siif&cient to maintain our race in a state of physical 
efficiency. If there is anything," he went on to say, " that 
is undermining the thrifty habits of the country-side people, 
it is the luxurious style of living pervading the whole 
community. I give you one instance : the substitution of 
packetsof Quaker Oats, costing7d., against good oatmeal cost- 
ing 2d. Why is this ? Because they have lost the patience 
to prepare and boil the oatmeal ; whereas the Quaker Oats 
are ready at once." 

This quaint insistence by the rich, that those who perform 
the hardest physical labour should live upon a monotonous 
diet of oatmeal three times a day, recalls a discussion that 
took place in the House of Commons towards the end of the 
eighteenth century on the deplorably low standard of vitality 
of the rural poor, resulting from the enclosures of commons 
and the deprivation of cottage children of milk. 

When Members were making ponderous speeches over 
the ignorance of the labourer who preferred white to brown 
bread. Fox projected a gleam of humour into the discussion 
by asking if any Members of that House could speak with any 
authority on the subject of bread, as it appeared to form so 
small a proportion of their daily diet ? 

It appeared to me as if the governing classes who live in 
coimtry houses had not progressed much in real knowledge 
of life since the eighteenth century. A great change, how- 
ever, had come over the ministers of religion. Papers 
theologically so wide^ apart as the Catholic Times, the 
Christian Globe, and the Commonwealth gave sympathetic 


and wide publicity to my statements. Clergyman wrote to 
me to bear testimony to the truth contained in my book. 

" Things are not so bad," wrote a Worcester curate 
to me, " as they are in other places. I know a wagoner who 
gets 15s. a week, and who pays 2s. 6d. a week for a good cot- 
tage ; and a cowman who gets 17s. 6d. a week. From my 
own point of view one of the worst things about the poverty 
of the labourer is the absence of privacy." Here he struck 
a note which few are sensitive enough to sound. 

The authors, however, who carried out the most pain- 
staking investigations into labourers' budgets were Miss 
May Kendall and Mr. Seebohm Rowntree. After many 
visits to their homes to get as accurate details as possible, 
the veil was drawn aside and the contents revealed in a 
startling book, called How the Labourer Lives. We have had 
many prose poems written round Harvest Suppers. It was 
left for Mr. Rowntree to write the prose poem of the age 
on suppers of bread and margarine. 

These painstaking investigators delved into the hidden 
mines of the dark larders of the cottagers and produced a 
poignant human document, undecorated by literary adorn- 
ment. Budget after budget, even in 1912-3, showed how 
the labourer's wife was trying to make both ends meet out of 
weekly earnings which did not exceed 12s. to 13s., 14s. or 15s. 
a week. In the northern counties it showed how she man- 
aged to luxuriate upon the higher wage of i6s.,i7s. or £1 a 
week. Budget after budget revealed the fact that in coun-. 
ties overflowing with milk and meat, margarine was eaten 
instead of butter, and that dinner consisted of suet pudding 
and potatoes, varied by bread and margarine and cheese. 
There was a Sunday joint, and occasionally during the week 
bacon or fried liver. 

Invariably for breakfast and tea, bread and margarine 
were repeated with monotonous reiteration. 

Nothing more completely shattered the townsman's 
delusion that life is made easier in the country because 
labourers can produce for themselves the necessaries of 
life, than these household tragedies written in tiny columns 
of pence, A number of these labourers' budgets were ere- 


dited with the produce of allotments or cottage gardens, but 
many men who have to feed their masters' horses and 
cattle were forbidden to keep either poultry or pigs. In the 
case of one woman who was allowed to keep a pig, when 
asked why she did not do so she answered : — 

" What's the use of hungering ourselves to feed a pig ? " 

She could not afford to purchase the necessary weekly 
bag of meal even though that might become a profitable 

These budgets showed how the English agricultural 
labourer, instead of being the most independent, had become 
the most dependent of all European peasants. 

It is borne in upon us with tragic insistence that it is the 
woman who had to bear the brunt of this unending 
battle of trjdng to make both ends meet. With daily 
self-sacrifice she saw that her man and her children were 
fed before herself, and that if there were any meat on the 
table it went to the breadwinner to store up physical energy 
to meet the demands of his master. The village belle 
became a worn-out married woman at thirty. When ques- 
tioned as to how they managed on wages of 13s. a week, a 
woman answered : — 

" I sleep all right till about twelve, and then I wake and 
begin worrying about what I owe, and how to get things. 
Last night I lay and cried for about a couple of hours." 

Another woman, who had to eke out 14s. a week, observed : 

" We've got hell here, we have. We shall get something 
good. But I believe hell's their place what don't look after 
the poor. 

A Yorkshire woman whose husband earned i8s. a week 
said : — 

" When I have seen other children in warm clothing, and 
mine jealous, then I haven't known what to say. I know 
our Master wasn't rich. We've got a roof to cover us and 
He hadn't where to lay His head, so I daresay it's aU for the 
best. But they say English people ought to be strong and 
brave, and I don't know how they expect them — ^Uving as 
they do — to be strong, and brave, and cheerful ! " 

" I couldn't tell you how we live," said a woman whose 


husband earned 12s. a week in Oxfordshire ; " it's a mystery " 
(with the puzzled look of the poor at the perpetual mirade of 
continued existence). " I don't know how we manage ; 
the thing is to get it past." 

It was the woman who invariably raised a note of revolt. 
Certainly it was she who at breaking point bore the strain of 
it all. One of the most terrible indictments of our modem 
civilisation was that uttered by Mr. George Edwards, the 
Secretary of the National Agricultural Labourers' Union 
about this time : — 

" In nine cases out of ten the women starve ; the first thing 
she thinks about is her children and her husband. As a result 
of this chronic underfeeding we have a very large percentage of 
insanity amongst the women. I am on the Asylums Committee 
of the Norfolk County Council and we have over 300 wives of 
the labouring classes under our care. I attribute this large 
number to the anxiety necessitated in making ends meet, and 
to the poor food." 

Mr. Rowntree and Miss May Kendall evidently noticed 
the slumbering feeling of revolt in the breasts of the labour- 
er's wives, for their volume ends with these words : — 

" And yet, especially among the women, there is a slow dis- 
turbance — something that is not yet rebellion, and not yet hope, 
that seems to hold the dim promise of both. The waters are 
troubled, though one hears some very contradictory accounts of 
the appearance of the angel." 

The authors pointed out that so bad were the prospects in 
191 1 that one out of every forty agriculturists decided to 
quit the country altogether ; that between 1900-1910 wages 
had risen 3 per cent, only amongst agricultural labourers, 
whilst the cost of living during the same period had advanced 
about 10 per cent., with a further 5 per cent, in increase 
between 1910-12 with the result that the real wages of 
agriculturaJ labourers had actually diminished since 1900. 

The minimum amount of wages necessary for a family of 
two adults and three children worked out as follows : — 


s. d. 
Food . . . . . . . . .i^Q 

Fuel i 4 

Rsnt .... .....20 

Clothing ......... 2 3 

Insurance .........04 

Sundries . . . . . . . . . o 10 

20 6 

This estimate did not allow for any expenditure on tobacco, 
beer, newspapers, amusement, railway fares, postage, church 
or chapel collections, etc. 

All families living below this sum necessary for the main- 
tenance of physical efficiency were living below the poverty 
line, and with five exceptions — Northtmiberland, Durham, 
Westmoreland, Lancashire and Derbyshire — the average 
earnings in every county in England and Wales were below 

" Let the reader try for a moment to realise what this means. 
It means that from the point of view of judicious expenditure, 
the be-all and the end-all of life should be physical efficiency. 
It means that people have no right to keep in touch with the 
great world outside the village by so much as taking in a weekly 
newspaper. It means that a wise mother, when she is tempted 
to buy her children a pennyworth of cheap oranges, will devote 
the penny to flour instead. It means that the temptation to 
take the shortest railway journey should be strongly resisted. 
It means that toys and dolls and picture books, even of the 
cheapest quality, should never be purchased ; that birthdays 
should be practically indistinguishable from other days. It 
means that every natural longing for pleasure or variety should be 
ignored or set aside. It means, in short, a life without colour, 
space, or atmosphere, that stifles and hems in the labourer's soul 
as in too many cases his cottage does his body." ^ 

Little wonder that Cardinal Manning, who at one time 
lived amongst farm workers in Sussex, said : — 

"The land question means hunger, thirst, nakedness, notice to 
quit, labour spent in vain, the toil of years seized upon, the breaking 
up of homes ; the misery of parents, children, and wives ; the despair 
and wildness that springs up in the hearts of the poor when legal 
force, like a sharp arrow, goes over the most sensitive and vital 
rights of mankind. AU this is contained in the land question." 

A series of articles from my pen appeared in the Daily 
Chronicle dealing with the minimum wage, housing, small 

^ How the Labourer Lives. 


holdings, allotments, cultivating waste land, and I, in com- 
mon with other writers such as Mr. Roden Buxton, Mr. R. V. 
Lennard, urged the necessity of a legal minimum wage 
worked by District Wages Committees ;^ef none of us, not even 
the Conservative advocate for a minimum wage, contemplated 
guaranteeing prices to farmers. Agriculture was a sweated 
industry and should be treated as one of the sweated indus- 
tries under the Trade Boards Act which made no provisions 
for the sale price of manufactured articles. 

The book, however, which produced the most facts and 
arguments for Mr. Lloyd George's protracted Land Cam- 
paign was the Rural Report of the Land Enquiry Com- 
mittee which had been instituted under the sanction of the 
Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, 
though the cost of it was defrayed by private individuals. 
The chief organisers of the Rural Enquiry were Mr. R. L. 
Reiss, Mr. C. Roden Buxton, and Mr. Seebohm Rowntree. 

Investigators were sent into every county of England 
and Wales and searching enquiries were made into wages, 
housing, allotments, small holdings, game preserving, 
security of tenure, etc. When the Report was printed the 
Chairman of the Committee, the Right Hon. A. H. Dyke 
Acland, sponsored it with an introduction. In this intro- 
duction he qnotes the words of an Anglican clergyman who 
wrote of his parish thus : — 

" The recent Small Holdings Acts are dead letters here, being 
completely vetoed by the power of the estate : a Labourers' 
Union would be an unthinkable revolution here. Labourers in 
these feudal villages are not regarded as people who should want 
' to rise.' " 

Writing of the new and growing class of landowners, the 
nouveaux riches, he quotes from Sir H. R. Haggard's Rural 
England : — 

" The new style of owner, who, having accumulated money in 
some commercial pursuit, buys a large estate, makes no legitimate 
use of the land. His, as a rule, is merely a sporting interest, and 
the rent being a matter of indifference to him he seeks to grow, 
not produce, but partridges. ..." 

And from the same author: — 


" In the main, although we may not acknowledge it we look 
upon our land, or much of it, as a pleasure proposition in which 
the individual only is concerned', or so it appears to me. . . . 
One in a hundred becomes a small holder, one in a thousand 
becomes a tenant farmer ; the rest who can find neither work nor 
outlook must perforce migrate to the cities or across the sea." ^ 

Mr. Acland foresaw the difficulties of getting County 
Councils to act, unless men from the working classes could 
be sent to the County Councils and their travelling expenses 
paid out of the rates. He points out that he moved an 
amendment to the County Council Bill proposing payment 
of travelling expenses, but it was lost by forty-four votes. 

Unless there is some radical change in the personnel of 
both County Cotmcils and Rural District Councils he saw 
nothing for it but to increase and use more extensively the 
powers of central authorities. 

These were some of the main conclusions arrived at in 
this Report : — 

A Minimum Wage. — Over 60 per cent, of the ordinary 
adult agricultural labourers received less than i8s. a week 
when aU their earnings from all sources have been taken into 
consideration, whilst there were some 20,000 to 30,000 
labourers whose total earnings were less than i6s. a week. 

Owing to the increase in the cost of living, the real earn- 
ings of the labourers in the low-paid counties had decreased 
since 1907. Low wages lay at the root of the great shortage 
of cottage accommodation in rural districts, and the housing 
problem could never be solved satisfactorily without a rise 
in the wages of agricultural labourers sufficient to enable 
them to pay a commercial rent for the house. 

Many of the most energetic and independent labourers 
were either emigrating to the colonies or migrating to the 

It was suggested that the legal minimiun wage should 
be instituted by some form of wage tribunal, fixed at least 
at such a sum as would enable a labourer to keep himself 
and an average family in a state of physical efficiency, and 
to pay a commercial rent for his cottage. If a farmer was 

^ Rural Denmark and it^ Lessons, by Rider Haggard. 


able to prove the rise in wages had put upon him an increased 
burthen he should have the right to apply to a judicial body 
such as a Land Court for a readjustment of his rent. 

Housing. — They found that the proper administration 
of sections 15 and 17 of the Housing Act of 1909 had prac- 
tically broken down by the lack of alternative accommoda- 
tion; 120,000 new cottages were needed at once in the 
rural districts of England and Wales, and private enterprise 
had entirely failed to provide them. The usual rent for 
old cottages ran from is. to 3s. a week. Against these 
rents no private builder could compete, nor was it possible 
to get District Councils to build at an economic rent unless 
wages rose. Thus the vicious circle went on. The Com- 
mittee proposed grants-in-aid to stimulate local authorities 
to build. It was estimated that, about 300,000 labourers 
lived in tied cottages. 

With regard to these tied cottages, they proposed that 
six months' notice should be given, except in the cases where 
occupation of a cottage was necessary for a man employed 
in the care of animals, when a month's notice was considered 
sufficient. It should be made illegal to let cottages to a 
farmer for him to sub-let to his labourers. 

Access to the Land. — Notices should be exhibited in every 
village post-office telling the villagers what precisely are 
their rights with regard to allotments, small holdings, and 
housing, and the address should be given of some Govern- 
ment official with whom a labourer could communicate 
when he wished to make a demand. 

Cottage Gardens and Allotments. — ^Probably not more than 
one-sixth of the total number of the cottages in rural dis- 
tricts have gardens of one-eighth of an acre or more. The 
labourer preferred a garden of some size near his house to 
an allotment at a distance. Only about two-thirds of all 
the villages had any allotments. Most allotments in exist- 
ence were utilised. Where this was not the case it was 
because the land was of poor quality, or too highly rented, or 
situated too far from the villages, or the hours of the 
labourers were too long to enable them to cultivate their 
allotments. There was still a great unsatisfied demand for 

VOL. II. p 


allotments on the part of the labourer. The reason that 
applications were not made where there was still a demand, 
was due to the apathy of the Council, the hostiUty of the 
farmer, the high price demanded for the land, or the dififi- 
culty of putting the compulsory powers into force through 
the Council. The Committee suggested that the Parish 
Council should have greater powers not only to acquire 
allotments, but also for the acquisition of village greens or 
common pasture ; that Parish CoimcUs should have the 
right to obtain a compulsory order for the purchase of land 
at a price to be fixed by a Land Court. Legal costs should 
be borne by the Exchequer, as in the case of smaU holdings*; 
and the Parish Council rate should be raised. 

Small Holdings. — ^There was a large unsatisfied demand for 
small holdings, which frequently was not voiced, owing to 
the fear of applying, the excessive price paid by the 
Councils for the land, and the rents being higher than they 
should be. These high rents were due to the cost of 
adaptation and equipment being unnecessarily large, the 
sinking fund being too high and included in the 
rent. The Committee suggested that the administration of 
the Act by the County Council should be stimulated by 
withholding grants-in-aid. That the cost of the sinking 
fund in respect to the land should be borne by the State ; 
and other proposals. 

Game. — Considerable damage was done by winged game, 
and the loss caused by such damage is not adequately, com- 
pensated under the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1908, mainly 
owing to the insecurity of the farmer's tenure. A large 
amount of land was withheld from its best use for the 
purposes of sport. The preservation of game to the extent 
to which it is now carried on had injurious social effects, 
which were increased by the right of search on the 
highway without a warrant. The tenant farmer should 
be entitled to kill and take ground game both by him- 
self and by any person authorised by him. He should 
be entitled to snare and entrap rabbits both on his 
land and on the edges of his land, and not be restricted to 
placing traps at the holes. The tenant farmer should have 


compensation for damage done to his crops by ground game 
coming from neighbouring land, whether such ground was 
in the occupation of his landlord or someone else. These 
reforms it was suggested would be of comparatively little 
value without security of tenure. The medieval Prevention 
of Poaching Act, 1862, which gives constables power to 
search on the highway without a warrant should be repealed. 

Other reforms put forward in this Report concern the 
farmer more than the labourer, and I shall therefore omit 

The right agricultural atmosphere having been created 
for him by investigators and publicists working in many 
instances quite detached from one another, and belonging 
to different political parties, Mr. Lloyd George saw the time 
was ripe for another series of orations on the Land Question. 

A Minimum Wage of £1 a week and a Reform of the 
Game Laws constituted his two chief propositions. The 
labourers took fresh courage as their hopes mounted high. 
The landowners and the English farmer took fright and 
became as brothers. Not so the farmers of Scotland and 
Wales, who followed their David in order to obtain security 
of tenure, and the reform of the Game Laws. 

GoUath, now definitely two-headed, issued its counter- 
blast in a pamphlet called " The Land Problem," which 
received the blessing of and was sponsored by both the 
Central Land Union and the National Union of Farmers. 
Gohath had become more cultivated, and sobered. It 
used its brains to good effect and was careful to display 
sympathy with the agricultural labourer, protecting him 
from agitators who might by statutory proposals drive 
him out on to the roadside seeking work ! 

" As to the earnings of agricultural labourers, there are no two 
opinions," they wrote.^ " The broad fact is beyond controversy. 
The rate of cash wages paid in some agricultural districts is very 
low, and everyone is prepared to support any sound measures 
which can be reasonably expected to effect a material rise." 

They criticised the statement " when the increased cost 
of living has been taken into account, the real earnings of 

1 The Land Problem, 1913. 


nearly 60 per cent, of the ordinary agricultural labourers 
have actually decreased since 1907, " by stating, " that the 
Board of Trade Enquiry shows that there has been a smaller 
increase in the south than in fhe north." 

Their argument that though you may establish a legal 
minimum wage you carmot guarantee continuous employ- 
ment is of course true, but in no way mihtated against the 
enforcement of a minimum wage, for labourers had no 
continuous employment secured to them even without a 
minimum wage. 

They went so far as to suggest the forming of District 
Commissions to enquire into earnings and " bring to bear 
the pressure of the pubhc opinion of the district," thus 
instituting an irritating Paul Piy method. They made the 
frank admission that : — 

" A country village at the present day affords scarcely any 
opportunity to its inhabitants of bettering their position. Men 
have no openings, no chance of trying their fortunes. Existence 
has become listless, monotonous, narrow. Something must be 
done to bring new hopes, new interests, new prospects into 
village life, if young, energetic, and vigorous men are to be 
attracted to the cultivation of the soU. Experience shows that 
higher wages are not attraction enough. It is, without any 
exaggeration, probably true that a Saturday half-holiday would 
be a greater inducement to stay on the land than an extra is. 6i. a 
week. The rural exodus is as great where wages are high as 
where they are low. Some other change is needed. The 
reconstruction of village life must be taken in hand. The 
labourer to-day owns practically nothing." 

In conclusion they suggested that he should own his 
cottage and enjoy right of pasture common. 
The economists now entered the fray. 
Professor A. C. Pigou stated ^ that 

'' it appears to be the case that farm wages are sometimes kept 
down, in the face of economic forces tending to raise them, by 
what is, in effect , a species of monopolistic action on the part of 
a group of lo cal farmers. The rate of pay to agricultural labourers 
has become a matter of tradition and custom . . . under present 
arrangements some groups of farmers are unconsciously playing 
the part of a ring of monopolists paying their workpeople less 

1 Nineteenth Century and after, December, 1913. 


than the value of the marginal net product of their work, and 
holding away from agriculture labour that might, with great 
advantage to the whole community, be employed there. . . . 

" Now, everybody is aware that agricultural workmen are 
exceedingly ignorant of what is going on outside their immediate 
neighbourhood, that their poverty is too great to allow them to 
hold out for long against attempts to break down, or keep down, 
the price of their labour, and that they are without the support 
of a trade union organisation. These circumstances place them 
in an exceedingly weak position for bargaining with the farmers — ■ 
a position, too, whose weakness is further emphasised when, as 
is often the case, their employers are also the persons from 
whom they hire their houses ! " 

Professor Pigou suggested that a minimum rate might 
drive the inefficient farmer out of business, which he con- 
sidered a desirable result. He seemed to fear, however, that 
if fixed too high the wage would attract men from the town, 
or from other industries into agriculture, and lead to unem- 
ployment and idleness, and a diminishing of the national 

Armed with the facts brought to light by the Land 
Enquiry Report, Mr. Lloyd George started his Grand Tour, 
in October at Bedford. But here again he was careful 
not to make any definite pronouncement. His speech was 
full of the good things the labourers ought to have, but he 
never outlined a single BiU to contain these things. Instead , 
his supporters had the satisfaction of vociferously singing The 
Land Song, which no doubt cheered them to a certain extent. 

" The first thing you have to do," Mr. George said, "is to 
deal firmly, thoroughly, drastically with the monopoly ' ' 
(of land). 

" Take a political map of England and you will find in the 
main that where the power of the landlord is unchallengeable 
there the wages are lowest. Can you wonder that the young 
labourers are flying by their thousands and scores of thousands 
away across the sea from such a land of mean bondage." 

The campaign was continued at Middlesbrough and other 
places ; but land remained a monopoly. 

Hodge, after being told by the Chancellor of the Ex- 
chequer that he ought to have at least £1 a week, grew 


tired of waiting for a Minimum Wage Bill, and once 
more tried the weapon of the strike. 

This time the trouble arose in a little known village in North 
Essex with the delightfully rustic name of Helions Bump- 
stead. The strike area was small in dimension-; no great 
names figured in it, and the numbers involved were small, 
but it aroused an extraordinary amount of notice. It 
started, not by a demand from the men for more money, 
though wages were miserably small, being 13s. a week, but 
by the farmers' dislike of seeing so many of their men walk- 
ing about with trade union badges ! Four farmers, who 
had met together on market day at Haverhill, decided to 
dismiss their men unless they left the Union, which was 
the NatiouEil Agricultural Labourers' Union. The men 
received notice of dismissal together with a notice to quit 
their cottages unless they surrendered their union cards. 

To the astonishment of the farmers, not only did the 
men refuse to submit, but they walked off the farms, declar- 
ing that they would not return without a rise of wages of 2s. 
a week. Thus the lock-out initiated by four farmers 
developed into a strike, embracing the villages of Steeple 
Bumpstead, Ashdon, Stunner, Ridgewell and Birdbrook, 
besides HeUons Bumpstead. 

The General Secretary of the N.A.L.U. tried to arrange 
a conference with the farmers, but they were Early Victor- 
ians and the Union was anathema to them. They refused 
to have anything to do in any way with a Union man, 
or a Union delegate." It was Lloyd George's fault, they 
said, for unsettling the men's minds. 

Public opinion went dead against the farmers. The 
Times in a sympathetic article said that : " As a dass 
the agricultural labourers of the country are an unorganised 
body, incapable of concerted action in a national strike 
movement, for comparatively few of them are yet enrolled 
on the books of the Union." 1 

Nevertheless, when the lock-out occurred at Helions 
Bumpstead, the farmers discovered that they were now up 
against a new spirit ; and there is no doubt that although 

1 The Times, March 6, 1914. 


Mr. Lloyd George had not drafted a Bill, he had at any 
rate roused high hopes, and a "divine discontent." This is 
what a special correspondent found, at any rate, in North 

" Helions Bumpstead," said this writer, " is certainly a mile- 
stone in this campaign. When you talk to the labourers you 
find that they have been roused by the possibility of a minimum 
wage of a sovereign, which would be riches to them. Soon after 
the Land Campaign started many of the Essex farmers put the 
wages up IS. ; but I am told that now it would be difficult even 
to find a farm in North Essex where the weekly wage is over 

Not only were the wages desperately low, but the housing 
conditions were shockingly bad. Here is a description of 
some of the tied cottages. 

" I looked into one or two of the cottages. They were neat 
outside, but inside one dark and damp little room, I found paper 
peeling off the walls, broken floors, and general disrepair. In 
one bedroom some pieces of sacking were nailed on the wall. 
The old man who lived there said they were to cover holes in 
the plaster. He said that one wet night recently he had to get 
up and nail some more sacking on the wall. Cottages are left 
until they become uninhabitable, and this is one cause of the 
shortage of labour which is being felt severely all over North 
Essex. Very few cottages are being built, and in some villages 
in the Saffron Walden Division there is a serious overcrowding. 
I was told of a two-roomed cottage, in one Essex village, in 
which twelve people are living. Another case was that of a 
woman who moved from a cottage to the one next door ' because 
she did not feel easy in it.' The day after she left it the cottage 
collapsed from decrepitude." * 

Not all the fanners, though, in North Essex were mentally 
Uving in the remote Early Victorian times, for one of the 
largest, Mr. Cowell, a magistrate, observed to a Daily News 
representative : — " There is no getting away from the fact 
that fanners will have to pay more money to their labourers, 
and as for the Helions Bumpstead farmers saying their 
men must not belong to the Union, it is out of the question. 
They are years behind the times." 

1 Manchester Guardian, March 14, 1914. 
' Ibid. 


A remarkable letter also appeared in the Press,^ written 
by Mr. James Middlehurst, senr., a farmer of Great Chester- 
ford, who said : " Why should the labourer not form a 
union if he likes ? What business is it of anybody but him- 
self ? Suppose he should say to his farmer-employer, ' If 
you do not leave your Chamber of Agriculture you shall 
not harvest your crops.' What would the farmer think 
and do ? " 

There was trouble also brewing amongst the 14s. a week 
labourers of Norfolk, the dramatic side of which was in- 
creased by the King being involved in it. But we will 
finish with the Helion Bumpstead strike first. 

The farm labourers of Helions Bumpstead adopted primi- 
tive but picturesque methods to win solidarity in the neigh- 
bouring villages. When as the result of a ballot all the 
men in the neighbourhood voted in favour of the strike — 
that is between 350 and 400 farm workers — groups of men 
went round the villages at naidnight and at the break of 
dawn rousing the inmates of cottages by bell, whistle and 
tin can, declaring the strike to have begim. 

The chief demands of the men were now as follows : the 
labourer should get i6s. ; stockmen i8s. to 20s. ; horsemen 
20S. ; overtime, at 6d. an hour ; harvest work, £8 for 4 
weeks, and 5s. a day beyond 4 weeks ; weekly half-holiday ; 
holidays on recognised Bank holidays ; and the tied cot- 
tage to be held on a three months' tenancy. 

June arrived, when the luscious grass was ready for 
cutting, but rather than give way the farmers were pre- 
pared to lose the harvest. They imported police to afford 
protection to themselves whilst working in the hajTfield. 
The Bishop of Chelmsford tried to settle the strike at Haver- 
hill at a conference of masters and men, but the fanners 
refused to deal with any men who were branch secretaries.* 

" The men have formed the Union to rebel against their 
masters, and I won't have none on't," said one employer, 
which fittingly expressed the mentality of the Bumpstead 
farmer. Eight men were prosecuted and fined by the 
Bench for leaving work without proper notice. These men, 

» Paily Citizen, March 13, 1914. ' Morning Post, July 12, 1914. 


rather than pay the fine, accompanied by 200 comrades, 
carr3dng hayrakes, forks and red flags and singing Labour 
songs, marched to the Police Station to deliver themselves 
up. They preferred imprisonment for a good cause to 
being fined. The Superintendent of Police, of course, 
refused to take them, and once more on the march home 
the good people of Saffron Walden opened their eyes very 
wide at this motley, bucolic crowd singing songs and lifting 
hayrakes and forks high aloft Hke some decorative panel 
of Walter Crane's. 

Though a dispute had arisen as far back as February, 
the strike itself lasted only about eight weeks, for the begin- 
ning was a lock-out by the farmers. Twenty-three members 
of the Union were victimised well into the summer and it 
was not till then that the strike was actually declared, in- 
volving over 400 men. And, strangely enough, a settle- 
ment only occurred on the day before the whole nation 
was involved in a militant strike against German despotism. 

On August 3 the Federation of Farmers agreed to the 
following terms : — 

" The Federation of Farmers agree to reinstate all men going 
out at time of strike. Harvest men to be paid not less than £8, 
other hands and these also, not to have less than 15s. per week ; 
men not to be refused work wet or fine." ^ 

This was a distinct gain for the men, for not only did 
it mean a rise of 2S. a week, but that wages should be paid 
wet or fine. 

Whilst the farmers in North Essex were locking-out 
labourers for daring to join a trade union to better their 
conditions, the King was taking steps to recognise the 
National Agricultural Labourers' Union at Sandringham. 
It might be said indeed that his Majesty the King was the 
first farmer to recognise an agricultureJ labourers' union 
in England. This decision had far-reaching effects. 

In March, 1914, there was much unrest amongst the farm 

workers of Norfolk and Nottingham. In Nottingham two 

members of the Farmers' Union granted is. increase to all 

men in their employ, whilst the Nottingham Corporation, 

1 Trade Union Congress Report, 1915. 


which farmed nearly 2,000 acres at Stoke Bardolph and 
Bulcote, decided to advance all labourers' wages to 19s. 
and wagoners' to 22s., with free cottage and garden for 
both classes. The Earl of Kimberley raised his men is. 
a week in Norfolk, and so did Sir Ailwyn Fellowes on his 
estate at Honningham. The tenants on the Earl of Leices- 
ter's Holkham estate in Norfolk also agreed to give their 
farm labourers a rise of is. a week, which made their wages 

But on estates outside those owned by these excellent 
landowners, wages were still 14s., and even 13s., and the 
men made a demand for i6s. and a weekly hglf-holiday. 
These demands were voiced all over the county. 

Trade Unionism now took root within the gates of 
Sandringham.^ The demand for a half-holiday became 
insistent, and wishing to avoid any friction, the King's agent. 
Captain Beck, agreed to grant an interview to Mr. R. B. 
Walker, general secretary of the N.A.LiU. It was then 
Mr. Walker had the surprise of his life. Accompanied by an 
organiser he took the train to HiUington station, and when 
he arrived he proceeded to get his bicycle out of the guard's 
van. The station-master, however, quickly informed him 
that his bicycle was not needed for the journey to Sandring- 
ham since his Majesty had sent a carriage and pair to 
convey the two agitators to Mr. Beck ! 

Wondering if some Royalist plot lay hidden behind this 
gracious act, Mr. Walker, with some trepidation, stepped into 
the carriage, assisted by one of the King's footmen. Arriving 
at the inn where the meeting was to take place with Captain 
Beck,* the two agitators found a resplendent liuich spread 
for them. 

The interview with Captain Beck resulted in all men work- 
ing on the King's own farm receiving i6s. a week and a 
weekly half-hoHday. Further, Captain Beck agreed to 
recommend to the King's tenants that cottagers should hold 
their houses on a six months' tenancy. 

' I understand all the King's men are now trade unionists. 
' Capt. Beck's tragic disappearance in the wood in Gallipoli will be 
remembered by most readers. 


These terms, when bruited abroad, gave rise to much 
heart-burning, for if there is one point of honour amongst 
farmers it is this : that no one should raise wages without 
consulting his brother farmers first in the same neighbour- 

Viewed in this light the action of Captain Beck was most 
ungentlemanly ! On the other hand the men regarded the 
action as one of long delayed justice, and " The King's Pay 
and the King's Conditions " became the slogan of all Norfolk 

As the farmers were slow to follow the King's example 
trouble soon broke out between the King's tenant farmers 
and their labourers. The men working at the Babingley 
and Flitcham farms on the Sandringham estate demanded 
shorter hours and i6s. a week. About forty men went 
on strike on the farmers' refusal to entertain the King's 
conditions, and a hut was erected for the housing of a 
number of strike-breakers. The strike was quite spontan- 
eous on the part of the men, but their Executive decided to 
support them and make a general demand throughout 
Norfolk for i6s. a week and a Sat\u-day half-holiday. 

The Farmers' Federation assisted the King's tenants by 
supplying them with a sufficient number of workers for 
their immediate needs. The moment chosen for the strike 
was not a good one, the spring sowing being well advanced ; 
yet, in spite of this, the men won an advance of is. a week ; 
and, as it was observed afterwards, they would have got their 
Saturday half-hohday had they held out a little longer. 

During the strike the N.A.L.U. started a weekly journal 
called The Labourer, but after four issues, it ceased as a 
weekly paper. It started again as a quarterly in February, 


Though apparently the men were not successful in win- 
ning all their demands, there appears'to have been a general 
rise to 15s. in many parts of Norfolk, which was the highest 
cash wage recorded since the days of Arch,^ but another 

' It was decided at the annual conference of the N.A.L.U. at King's 
Lynn on March 14, 1914, to take a ballot of all the members in favour 
of financing a member of the Union for Parliament. 


year had wearily to pass before this became the standard 
wage recognised by the Fanners' Federation. 

The farm workers of other counties besides Norfolk were 
demanding better wages and shorter hours. The men of 
Wiltshire, Herefordshire, Kent and Bedfordshire showed 
great signs of a newly awakened sense of solidarity. 

A strike at Trunch, near Mundesley, in Norfolk, for a 
shilling or two rise and a shorter working day is worth re- 
cording, because the settlement showed how keen was the 
growing demand for more leisure. The farmers refusing 
to grant both more wages and shorter hours, gave the men 
their choice, and the men chose the shorter hours. 

However, the most surprising and dramatic rural revolt in 
the spring of 1914 was the Burston School Strike. This 
strike of the children of farm labourers was one of the links 
which drew the industrial and eigricultural workers closer 
together ; and illustrated the innate love of justice in the 
breast of the English labourer. The strike took place on 
April I, 1914, in this Norfolk village close to Diss. 

The reason why this strike should find a place in this 
history of the agricultural labourer is because the labourers, 
their wives, and even their children, knew that it was not the 
trumped-up case of the caning of a Bamardo child, or even 
discourtesy to the Rector's wife and the Rector's daughter, 
but the determination of the " powers that be " to get rid 
of a school teacher who deliberately set himself the task 
as a labour of love to organise the ill-paid Norfolk labourer 
and to remedy the bad housing conditions. Not only 
had Mr. Higdon committed these offences, but he also 
helped labourers to get elected to Parish Councils, to 
manage their own village affairs, and had thus turned 
out old Parish Councillors who were also school man- 
agers. In fact the whole trouble, the conflict between 
the schoolmaster and his school managers, began at the 
Parish Council Election in March, 1913. Mr. Higdon at 
this election was the acknowledged leader of the labourers, 
who defeated the farmers and churchwardens who sat on 
the Council, and brought about a " Labour " victory. The 
Crown Inn was crowded that night of the election, and great 


excitement prevailed in the village. The news spread inti 
other villages and circulated in the town of Diss. It resulte( 
in newspaper men visiting Burston, and one local newspape 
referred to it in an exaggerated headline as " The Bursto: 

It was a fitting day, this ist of April, for the count; 
constabulary to parade in force to overawe the chil 
dren ; but it was not the chattering, smiling childrei 
who looked foolish. They, arrayed in their brightes 
pinafores and carrjdng Uttle flags, assembled on the villag 
green and, marshalled by their mothers, marched in pre 
cession past the open gates of the Council school, which the; 
were determined never to enter again until their dismisset 
and weU-loved teachers had been reinstated. Rather, i 
was the large-limbed, blue-coated constabulary paradin: 
in front of the fearless children, as well as the schoc 
managers, the Rector, another clergyman and the Rector' 
wife, who looked exceedingly foolish. 

It was a curious scene, fuU of colour and movemeni 
which must have appeared to the detached spectator as 
pastoral play with a strong element of comedy, and to 
student of Uterature as a scene of rustic life in the earl; 
nineteenth century, rather than a hundred years later whei 
we were on the eve of a world struggle for the defence c 

The pronouncements of County Councillors, of lawyers, c 
managers, had been set at naught by these simple villager 
and their children, who felt that their teachers, Mr. and Mn 
Higdon, had been vm justly dismissed and victimised fo 
their championship of the labourer's cause. 

On the moonlit village green, even as late as midnigh 
with a keen east wind blowing, mothers and fathers 
girls and boys, had assembled to protest against th 
dismissal and to decide upon future action. Parent 
and children had been helping by means of donkey cart 
and wheelbarrows to move their evicted teachers' goods t 
the only possible places in overcrowded labourers' cottage: 
that is, to empty coal holes and larders, whilst the teachei 
took up their quarters at lodgings proffered at the mil 


A resolution was passed that night declaring the intention 
of the parents not to send their children to school before 
justice was done. 

The next morning, in spite of the ringing of the statutory 
beU, which rang longer and more violently than usual, the 
whole school marched past the school gates, with the 
exception of one Burston scholar, the son of a glebe-renting 
farmer, and three Bamado children. Thus the school forms 
remained scornfully empty of life. The whole village was 
in revolt against the powers that be. 

In spite of prosecutions, fines, and victimisations the 
parents displayed a stubborn loyalty to the teachers. 

A remarkable scene took place at the county town at 
Diss when eighteen parents were summoned and individually 
charged and fined half-a-crown for refusing to send their 
children to the Council School : — 

" The proceedings," reported the East Anglian Times, 
" aroused a great deal of interest in the town and there was a 
large gathering in the vicinity of the Court Room to watch the 
arrival of the strikers and their parents. Preceded by a little 
girl riding a decorated bicycle and headed by a red banner 
bearing the words, ' We Want Justice ' borne by a couple of 
lads, the strikers, who numbered about fifty, set out from Burston 
with their parents shortly after nine o'clock, and marched the 
three miles to the Court House, which is part of the Com Hall 
Buildings in Diss. Many of the children carried miniature 
Union Jacks whilst most of them had placards on which were 
inscribed the words, ' We want our old teachers back, and 
Justice.' Several mothers were in the party with collection 
boxes, and their appeals for support for the strike met with a 
fair amount of response." 

The necessary £2 5s. to pay the fines was collected on 
the village green on the following Svmday and the money 
duly paid. Still the parents held out. In a fortnight's 
time, instead of eighteen summonses being issued there 
were thirty-two, and the fine was doubled ! This heavier 
burden of £8 was collected and paid, and still the parents 
held out, not for higher wages or for better conditions, not 
for anything that concerned them materially, but for 
justice to be done to the teachers. 


All the villagers turned out to welcome them on their 
return from the Court House. It must not be imagined, 
though, that the children were not being educated. Their 
emotions being aroused, probably their receptivity was 
greater for the assimilation of knowledge. Their teachers, 
Mr. and Mrs. Higdon, gave classes when the weather was 
fine on the village green, and when it was wet these were held 
in a carpenter's shop which, whitewashed and repaired, 
became known as the Strike School. Inspectors, councillors, 
school attendance officers visited the school, found the regis- 
ters carefully marked, the room warm and comfortable, 
and the children very happy at their lessons. The Chair- 
man of the Depwade District Council had to confess " that 
the parents of Burston were but exercising their right to 
send their children to whatever school they liked." The 
Government Inspector was satisfied with the educational 
work being done at the school, and the educational autho- 
rities were completely beaten by this form of Soviet edu- 
cational government set up by the villagers of Burston. 

Naturedly the question is asked how could this school 
be maintained without school fees, for how could the 
teachers live ? As the revolt attracted a good deal of Press 
notice, sympathisers, chiefly trade unionists, in particular 
railwaymen and miners, sent money to a central fund, and 
out of this the teachers have been paid. 

But the villagers themselves, recognising the self-sacrifice 
of the school teachers, gave what they could in kind in the 
generous manner of the poor. That the Strike School should 
stiU (1930) be kept open after six years, is a rather remarkable 
record for a movement which was scoffed at by the authori- 
ties as aU moonshine and a nine days' wonder, bom on April 
Fool's Day. 

The character of Mr. Higdon needs no defence. Since 
the school strike he has been made the treasurer of the 
National Agricultural and Rural Workers' Union, a member 
of the War Agricultural Committee, and a member of the 
Agricultural Wages Board. 

An extraordinary feature of the School Strike at Burston 
was the notices to quit issued by the rector to three allotment 


holders of the Glebe land. One of these was the owner 
of the carpenter's shop, who was bUnd. The other two 
attended the Strike School meetings. Mr. Sandy, the 
blind man, gave up his land and went away ; but the other 
two who would not give up their allotments were summoned 
and had to go to Court three times. The Judge upheld 
the legality of the notice, as he was obliged to do, but the men, 
who were tj^pical of those who followed the plough, knew 
their Bible quite as well as the rector, and could interpret 
it better, contended that they were carrjdng out a Divine 
Law which said " As a man sows, so shall he reap." They 
had sown their crops, and they were determined ^to carry 
out the biblical injunction to reap what they had sown. 
And in spite of the rector, in spite of the ponderous law, 
reap their crops they did ! 

On Sunday, July i6, 1915, a great demonstration was 
held in this Uttle village, when eighteen trade union banners 
were displayed, brass bands from Norwich and London 
played, a special train from London ran conveying hundreds 
of railwaymen, and 1,500 people assembled. Special 
constables were suminoned, but for what purpose no one 
seemed clearly to know. BUnd Mr. Sandy, one of the 
evicted Glebe tenants, returned to the village that day to 
receive innumerable handshakes. 

An attempt was made to convert the school into a 
Council School, which perhaps would have been the wisest 
course to adopt. This, however, was not done, and the 
Burston Strike School still (in 1920) remains a successful 
institution controlled by a " National Committee," consist- 
ing chiefly of trade unionists, of which Mr. F. O. Roberts, 
M.P., is the secretary. 

Strikes and rumours of strikes filled the air in rural Eng- 
land in the spring of 1914. Living under the grinding 
poverty of 12s. a week, some eighty labourers in the neigh- 
bourhood of Chitteme, on the Wiltshire Downs, struck work 
in February for a rise of is. in wages, and an hour less 
work a day. The strike at Chitterne was a rebuke to those 
farmers who are continually asserting that the men are quite 
contented as long as they are not interfered with by agita- 


tors. Apparently none of these men were members of a 
union, but every man was an unpaid agitator. 

With the placidity, patience, and kindliness of the peasant, 
the carters, though on strike, attended to and fed their 
horses, the cowmen looked after the cattle, and on the last 
day of the strike, when the South and West Wilts Hounds 
met at Chitterne, they joined in an exciting chase over the 
Down after the fox ! Who can say after this that those 
who tie their trousers with string under the knee are filled 
with class hatred for the booted and spurred ? 

A meeting was held at Heytesbury tmder the historic 
chestnut tree. It was a dark February night. One man 
told the audience that he " took home lis. gd. and the 
baker wanted lis. 8|d. of it. (Instead of bitterness this 
statement raised a laugh.) He asked, what had he left 
for boots and clothing and everything else ? 

An old man whose hair was white, stood bareheaded and 
asked, with that pathetic love of men for their horses, how 
he could strike, as he had his cattle to feed. He was told 
he could feed his cattle, but do no more. Then some one 
suggested that they should start a trade union. 

No animosity was displayed. They were unorganised, 
but the men had come to the end of their tether : they could 
not carry on with only 12s. a week. This tolerant placidity 
was too much for the farmers. They granted an immediate 
advance of is. a week to all over 16 years of age, and of 6d. 
a week to boys under that age. 

The Workers' Union soon visited the villages in this 
county and made rapid strides in organising farm labourers. 
Branches were formed, but the farm worker very quickly 
learnt how impolitic it was to be the secretary of a branch 
when his employer refused his labourer the same right to 
combine as himself. At Broad Hinton, a local secretary 
was dismissed. Immediately, one hundred men on the neigh- 
bouring farms struck work, which sign of soUdarity and 
disciphne took the local farmers completely by surprise. 

A large protest meeting was held, at which an improvised 
band consisting of melodeons, concertinas, triangles and 
tambourines discoursed anything but sweet music, for the 



benefit of the exacting farmer. But the farmers stubbornly 
refused to recognise the Union. 

At the end of February the Workers' Union held a confer- 
ence of farm workers from Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire 
and Wiltshire to draw up a scale of wages and hours. The 
following programme was then drawn up : Minimum wage, 
i8s. ; shepherds and cattlemen, 22s. ; hay and corn har- 
vest, 5s. a day ; half-hohday ; hours to be fifty-four in 
summer and fifty in winter; and tenants of farm- tied 
cottages to have six months' notice to quit. 

A conference was also held at Haverhill Town Hall; 
Suffolk, at which Councillor Beard presided. Wages 
decided upon for the eastern counties were i8s. for ordin- 
ary labourers ; shepherds 21s. ; horsemen and cowmen 22s. ; 
harvest money ;^io for 4 weeks ; weekly half-holiday. 

Another conference held by the Workers' Union was that 
at Hereford, where a chaxter similar to that of Cirencester 
was drawn up. The Herefordshire Farmers' Union, like 
that of Wiltshire, stubbornly challenged the right of the men 
to any form of trade union organisation, which impelled 
Mr. E. W. Langford, one of the leading farmers, to declare 
that " I am of opinion that a big mistake is being made by 
farmers in refusing to treat through their own Union the 
men as represented by their Union." » 

The Lord-Lieutenant, Sir John Cotterell, however, granted 
a rise of 3s. and a Saturday half-hoUday. Several other 
farmers raised wages to i8s., but the majority refused to 
make any concessions. Thus the position dangerously 
stood in June and even in July, when both Herefordshire 
and Wiltshire were rapidly moving towards a great strike. 

In Shropshire, the Workers' Union submitted a scale of 
wages to the Fanners' Union formulating a demand for 
payment of 19s. a week for ordinary labourers and 22s. a 
week for wagoners, cowmen, and shepherds. In Worcester 
the N.A.L.U. decided upon a demand for i8s. a week for 
a sixty-hour week, with half-holiday on Saturday and 4d. 
an hour overtime, A seven weeks' strike occurred in the 

* President of the National Farmers' Union and member of the Royal 
Commission on Agriculture, 1920. He paid his men £1 a week. 


Wilmslow and Alderley Edge districts in June and resulted 
in an increase of |d. an hour. 

In the market garden district of Wallasey, Cheshire, a 
strike had begun on April 12. The labourers, numbering 
about 150 or 160, demanded 27s. a week, yd. an hour 
overtime and a Saturday half-holiday. The strike lasted 
nine days, the masters agreeing to the Saturday half-holiday 
but declining to go further than 24s. a week for drivers 
and experienced men, with 2s. extra for drivers on market 
mornings and 6d. an hour for overtime. Before the dis- 
pute the average wage had been 22s. The Union in this dis- 
trict was still young and lacking in funds, and the organiser 
there, Mr. J. Phipps, considered the result satisfactory. 

In Jime many of the branches of the N.A.L.U. in Cheshire 
and South-West Lancashire broke away from the parent 
Union and formed a new one called the Farm and Dairy 
Workers' Union, with Mr. Phipps as secretary, and this 
later, during the war, became merged in the Workers' 

A farm strike occurred at Swanley in Kent when a de- 
mand was made for a minimum wage of 24s. by branches 
of the National Agricultural Labourers' Union, and in 
June a strike was proclaimed involving some 500 men. 

In Jime farmers were discharging men at Whittlesford 
and Duxford near Cambridge for joining the N.A.L.U. 
"We don't want our men to be led away by agitators," 
they said compassionately ; " if they want to come back 
they must ask us and they will have to come back as non- 
union men."i 

In this summer of impending strikes, when farmers in 
every county without exception refused officially to recog- 
nise the existence of an agricultural labourer's union, 
declining to confer with the men's leaders, when Hereford- 
shire and Wiltshire were smouldering with revolt, it was 
aroxmd a tiny village in the county of Northampton that 
public interest centred in the fight for recognition. 

Just a handful of farm labourers pitted their united 
strength against a great landowner, a Peer of the Realm, 

• Daily Chronicle, June 13, 1914. 


Lord Lilford, who employed them and owned their cottages. 

It was a conflict between the pride of the peasant and the 
pride of the peer ; and the pride of the peasant was nobler ; 
for it was less personal, being instinct with race : the fight 
for the freedom of aU EngUshmen ; whilst the other was 
coloured with the baser passion of repression of Liberty. 

Hitherto, at any rate since Queen Victoria mounted the 
throne, our landed aristocracy, displaying the EngUsh 
characteristic for compromise, had kept out of any violent 
collision with their labourers. Thus by never challenging 
the landless to action they had made themselves the strong- 
est aristocracy in the world. They had left it to their ten- 
ants to squeeze rents out of the bones of the labourers. 
But they, the lords of the soil, had always held themselves 
like a squadron of cavalry in reserve at the base — ^in reserve 
for the farmers. Petulantly, and somewhat ingloriously, 
one or two of the vmdisciplined of the booted and spurred 
had sounded a faint note of challenge from the horn in 
their backwoods in 1874 and again in 1909. 

Now, for the first time, a noble peer was courageously 
heard to sound the horn, and it was on the hunting field 
amongst his mounted companions that he gave full cry. 
Every Union man was to be himted like a fox from his hole 
of a cottage. Northamptonshire was to be purged of 

Northamptonshire had stood foremost amongst the coun- 
ties of England which had robbed the peasantry of common 
land, and it was equally noted for the payment of low 

The N.A.L.U. had been at work in the district of Thrap- 
stone in 1913, and sixty faim workers on Lord Lilford's 
estate had joined the Union. In April, 1914, the men 
asked that their wages should be raised from 14s. to i6s. 
a week and that they should enjoy a weekly half-hoUday. 
They asked for the " King's Pay and the King's Conditions." 
Lord Lilford agreed to give his men the much needed rise 
of IS. a week, but refused the Saturday half-hohday, and 
the rise of the shiUing a week was on the condition that the 
men should be disloyal to their Union. As each labourer 


presented himself at the estate ofSBce for his wages, he was 
told he must either give his word of honour that he would 
not join the Union or else leave his work and his cottage. 
To their honour, rather than surrender an elementary and 
statutory right twenty-four men chose exile. 

" Unless they tell us they, leave the Union they must 
leave our employ." Thus spoke the agent.^ And the ukase 
went forth to all his lordship's villages Thorpe, Thorpe 
Achurch, Lilford, Clopton, Aldwinckle, Wigsthorpe and 

An attempt was made by the local branch secretary to 
settle the matter with Lord Lilford, but the attempt was 
not successful. Seven men employed on the home farm 
who refused to leave the Union were instantly dismissed, 
and no farmer on the Lilford estate dared to employ them. 
These men, like nearly all the others, lived in Lord Lilford's 
cottages and the branch secretary was forced to suffer 

Charles Robinson, a horse-keeper, after eighteen years 
of faithful service received notice to leave his employment 
and quit the house in which he was bom. His mother, 
aged eighty, who had spent her whole life there, was heart- 
broken at being turned out. 

Mr. W. R. Smith witnessed the throwing out of the fur- 
niture on to the roadsid? in the rain. Fortimately he 
managed to enlist the sympathy of a farmer who protected 
the beds and the few household gods which form all 
there is of a labourer's furniture from the weather, by 
housing them in a bam. 

The effect of Lord Lilford's act of feudal tyranny was 
electrical. Every workman in the county, whether he was 
a bootmaker or a farm labourer, felt lowered in the eyes of 
his fellow-men by this action. It roused the whole coimtry- 
side. On a Sunday, men and women on foot and on cycles 
surged into the Uftle hamlet of Thorpe from Northampton, 
Wellingborough, and Kettering, and in a village boasting 
of not more than twenty-five houses 1,000 people assembled. 
Speeches were made by Mr. McCurdy, M.P., Mr. Lees 

1 Northampton Mercury, April 17, 1914. 


Smith, and Mr. F. O. Roberts, (both of whom also became 
Members of Parliament,) and collections were taken up 
through the country for the victimised men. Cycling corps 
were organised by the Trade and Labour Councils of North- 
ampton, Kettering and Wellingborough. The membership of 
the N.A.L.U. increased rapidly and spread its influence 
into the adjoining counties. 

In justice to the fanners, let it be here said, that officially 
they did not approve of Lord Lilford's action. The Mark 
Lane Express, the official organ of the Farmers' Union, on 
June 29, 1914, said : — 

" We utterly fail to understand the attitude of the farmers of 
these localities. We have heard a good deal lately of the blessed 
word ' recognition.' Whatever it may really mean, might we 
point out that one weak ineffective way of recognising the 
labourers' effort to combine is to attempt to kill it by coercive 
measures ? " 

The Times commenting upon Lord Lilford's attitude 
said : — 

" To turn good men off the land merely because they choose 
to belong to a union, as we understand that he has done, is to 
adopt an antiquated attitude wholly out of touch with the 
current of thought and feeling to-day. He is trying to swim 
against the stream, which is an exceedingly foolish proceeding. 
The men have just as much right to belong to the Union, if they 
choose, as he has to belong to the Carlton Club. . . . Lord 
Lilford has taken the best possible course to stimulate the 
movement he dislikes and to justify Mr. Lloyd George." ^ 

The labourers' wives encouraged their husbands to hold 
out, displaying that endurance which invariably distin- 
guished their action in a strike. 

As the movement spread to Raunds and other villages, 
inevitably the farmers were drawn into the dispute, and in 
July they came to terms with the men, when it was agreed 
that there' should be is. a week increase wages for men, 
6d. a week for boys ; 6d. an hour overtime for men earning 
more than i6s. a week ; 4 o'clock stop on Saturdays ; rein- 
statement of all men ; and withdrawal of all notices to quit. 

The Union was now " recognised " all over the Lilford 
t The Times f April 21, 191 4, 


estate — except on his lordship's farm. The seven dismissed 
men were never reinstated, but found work in the district. 
Thus the fight ended, and soon, very soon, there was another 
battle cry sounded both for masters and men, and it 
was not long before one of these men who had been fighting 
for freedom at home laid down his Hfe fighting for the free- 
dom of little nations, despite the fact that he was refused 
a living wage and a roof over his head in the land of his 
birth. The pride of the aristocrat surely was humbled 
before the exsilted patriotism of the peasant. 

Evidently the shackles of feudalism had not been severed 
by July 1914. But what of Mr. Lloyd George's great Land 
Campaign, it may be asked, with his promises of land, of 
higher wages, of " free " and abundant houses ? In May 
of this year in a preface to a little book written by Mr. 
Rowntree ^ Mr. Lloyd George wrote : — 

" More than half the wage earners in the most ancient, the 
most worthy, and the most vital of our industries are living on 
wages which do not allow them and their families the same 
amount of nourishment which they could obtain in a workhouse 
or a prison. Many thousands of them are lodged in dwellings 
which are damp or insanitary or too small to provide for the 
decent separation of the sexes. 

" Future generations will ask with astonishment why this 
great, rich nation, nineteen centuries after Christianity began 
its work in the world, tolerated with so little indignation so 
shameful a blot alike on its religion and its civilisation. . . . 
The attack must be made from many sides and by many methods. 
It must be made with untiring energy and, above all, with uncon- 
querable hope. Legislation cannot do everything, but it can 
do much, and it can do some things which no other power can 
accomplish. At any rate, the Government of which I am a 
member is firmly resolved that the strong arm of the State shall 
be used to obtain for the labourer a living wage, a decent house, 
and the right to cultivate, in independence and security, the soil 
of his native land." 

From the clatter of political tongues sounded during this 
year, it seemed as if noble earls and landed plutocrats were 
rushing off to their armouries, to defend their old and new 
estates to the last ditch against the expected surging tide 

^ The Land and the Labourer. 


of the landless proletariat. They envisaged England like 
a familiar old threadbare carpet of excellent quality cut up 
into a patchwork quilt of holdings as they had seen in 
France. Their minds swung back to the French Revolution 
and they feared that private parks even would not be 

Then to the intense relief of landowners, the Dublin 
riots J followed by the Ulster " rising " backed by Sir Edward 
Carson and Mr. F. E. Smith, now the Lord Chancellor, 
administered the death blow to Mr. Lloyd George's Land 

But the farm workers in Bedfordshire, Kent, Hereford- 
shire and Wiltshire, impatient for the long-delayed act of 
justice had struck their tents and were on the march. 

By the third week of July over a thousand notices had 
been served in Herefordshire by the Workers' Union to 
recalcitrant farmers. Strike Committees had been formed 
and picketing arranged. In Wiltshire the same Union was 
preparing for a big strike for the minimum wage of i8s., 
and it was estimated that 10,000 men might be involved in 
Wiltshire and the surrounding counties. 

Then came August 4. 

In tragic silence the men went back to their work and to 
their tents to equip themselves for a greater struggle. 
Their country was in danger, and to avoid discord they 
were content to return to the plough and work long hours 
for their old meagre wages, whilst thousands offered 
their lives to defend their country for a shilling a day. 
And the farmers ? They, for the most part, continued 
to pay the old wages, worked the men for long hours and 
received the benefit of the steadily rising prices. 




As German guns battered down the gates of Western 
civilisation there was a quickening of fellowship amongst 
all classes in rural England. The enemy's high explosives 
had done" what the churches and politicians had failed to 
do. Squire and squatter, peasant and plutocrat, farmer 
and labourer grasped hands during this tense moment of 
spiritual aiHatus. 

The first to leave the farms were the reservists, then, 
with that implacable patriotism which always distinguishes 
the EngHsh peasantry, the youths and unmarried men left 
the plough and byre to shoulder a rifle. The farmer's boy, 
so long despised, was appealed to by patriotic songs sung by 
fine ladies to defend them and all EngUsh women ; and the 
rich man's motor car swiftly sped these lads to the nearest 
recruiting station. Then it was that the well-fed, well- 
housed, learnt with a shock the number of lads reared in 
country cottages, who had to be rejected on account of 
rupture, varicose veins, defective hearts, and bad teeth. 

Then, too, it was that the man who could swing an axe, 
who could turn a furrow, or milk a cow, was acknowledged 
to be of more importance than the man who spent his days 
in driving a ball across a common or loimging about a Club. 
The squire who sat on the Bench looked for the moment 
with a tolerant eye upon the well-known poacher who might 
make a useful sniper in the ranks of the British Army. 

Yet in spite of our terrible losses in man-power, and the 
danger in which our island-home stood of being cut off 
from food supplies, men still gaily rode in pink, hounds were 



still fed on the best oatmeal, the gamekeeper still kept 
his job and the landowner still reared pheasants on the best 

As autumn passed and winter wore on, the stay-at-homes 
who were needed to grow food, corpulent farmers and lean 
labourers, stood side by side in the ranks of the Volunteers 
forming fours. This comradeship, and the feeling amongst 
farmers that as labourers became scarcer they should behave 
more kindly towards them, as well as the common danger 
threatening aU classes, broke down for a time that barrier 
which had divided them since comparative comfort had 
been the lot of one class, and poverty that of the other. 

The quality of the education meted out to our rural 
democracy became strikingly apparent in these early days 
of the war. Maps exposed at village clubs and inns were 
almost meaningless to the farm workers. The treasure 
houses of the mind had been closed to them, and their imag- 
ination failed to grasp even vaguely the disposition of the 
far-flung battle line. 

" Do Belgium belong to us ? " asked a cowman I knew. 
" Is India this side or t'other of Egypt ? " anxiously ques- 
tioned an old man whose son had gone to the banks of the 

The women, puzzled and distraught at the son or 
husband slipping away in the dark to some imknown bourne, 
were perhaps in the most pathetic plight. 

Those who lived close to the sea, men who were jerseyed 
seamen to their waist, and corduroyed labourers from their 
waist to their boots, would steal away in the night on some 
dangerous mine-sweeping adventure, and many a branch 
of a labourers' vmion recently formed during the stressful 
months of June and July rapidly dissolved, and iii some 
cases every member of a branch joined either the Army or 
the Navy. 

The farmers were losing the services of the strong, active 
young men this winter, yet the step they took to replace 
this skilled labour was as foolish as it was mean. 

Men and women were beginning to register themselves 
at Labour Exchanges volunteering to work on the land 


wherever labour was short. But many farmers refused to 
avail themselves of these Exchanges, and instead, petitioned 
the County Education Committees to release httle boys of 
thirteen, or even of twelve years of age from school attend- 
ance to come to the rescue of British agriculture ! 

The Board of Education had no powers to override the 
law with regard to school attendance in the employmeint of 
children, and the local authority was under no obUgation 
to take proceedings for non-attendance if they were satis- 
fied that a reasonable excuse had been given. The farmers 
who controlled the Rural Education Committees stretched 
this elastic " reasonable excuse " to cover in some districts 
children of twelve and even eleven years of age whom they 
wanted to employ. 

Between the beginning of September, 1914, and the end 
of January, 1915, no less than 1,152 boys and 42 girls had 
been allowed to leave school, ^ including 34 between eleven 
and twelve and 7613 between twelve and thirteen.^ 

It soon became evident that the children needed pro- 
tection against being robbed of their education, whilst 
their natural protector was away fighting our battles in 
the trenches. 

Nothing is meaner in our war annals than this exploit- 
ation of childhood ; nothing rendered us smaller in the eyes 
of the world. The action of farmers, who had always looked 
upon the education of their labourers' children with a cold 
eye, we can understand ; but what are we to say of " cul- 
tured " persons who presided over Education Committees 
and supported this exploitation with Gradgrind fervour ? 
They displayed little exquisite sensibility. For that high 
quality we had to look to the man who had followed the 
plough — the man who was sorely tempted to stoop to this 
mercenary traffic in childhood — ^to condemn it with no 
uncertain voice. The National Agricultural Labourers' 
Union strongly protested against the employment of child- 
labour, and the crime for doing so rests primarily with our 

1 Of these West Sussex was responsible for 210. The Board of Edu- 
cation informs me that complete figures up to date are not available, 
? ffie Times, Jfarch 5, 191^, 


.Government, led at that time by Mr. Asquith, who refused 
to interfere. The Bishop of Oxford, to his honour, opposed 
it vehemently, as a " disastrous reactionary measure " ; and 
the Liverpool and District Farmers' Club had the manhood 
to discountenance the employment of boy labour on farms. ^ 

But what can we say of the spirit displayed by some 
Education Committees ? Take, for instance, a committee 
of what has always been considered a highly educational 
county — Oxford. A farmer at Kelmscott (oh, shades of 
WiUiam Morris!) proposed that " any boy may be exempted 
from attending school on the production of a certificate 
from a farmer saying that he is engaged in the production 
of food." As to age, he said " he would accept ten, for at 
that age a boy could lead a horse as well as a man." After 
a discussion a resolution was finally passed to the effect that 
the Attendance Committee of the county be asked to con- 
sider favourably the absence from school of any boy not 
under eleven years of age, who was temporarily employed 
by a farmer in agricultural work ! ^ 

Mr. Reginald Lennard in a letter to the Westminster 
Gazette made the following caustic comment concerning 
this resolution : " that hunting fixtures were still frequent 
with the three Oxfordshire Packs, though hunting uses a 
good deal of labour ; and that if there has been any transfer 
of male domestic servants to agricultural work it has been 
kept singularly quiet." 

It is no wonder, surely, that an accident occurred of a 
boy aged fourteen, the son of a farm labourer, dying as the 
result of injuries received when in charge of two horses.' 

I ventured to protest one day with a farmer, from whom I 
was purchasing calves, for employing a boy of twelve 
to harrow with a pair of horses. And to walk over a 
ploughed field is more tiring to the feet than to walk in the 
furrow behind the plough. He answered me shortly with 
the remark : " What do these little beggars come into the 
world for but to work for us ? " He had taken the boy 

* Farmer and Stockbreeder, February 8, 1915. 

^ The Times, January 23, 1915. 

^ Doncaster Chronicle, May 31, igij. 


away from school without consulting the school managers, 
and he said he did not care if they fined him, as it would 
still pay him, as he was getting the boy for 6s. a week ! 
Needless to say, the boy's father was a cowman employed 
by the farmer and was hving in a farm- tied cottage. » 

This bears out a remark of a farmer at a meeting of the 
National Farmers' Union who " had no hesitation in advising 
any farmer who wanted a boy of that age (twelve) to take 
him, and ask permission afterwards." " Mr. Nunneley 
(a prominent member of the National Farmers' Union and 
Chairman of the Northamptonshire Agricultural Committee) 
in supporting the employment of boys at school said that : — 

" hours were long, but not what they used to be. A boy's hours 
were perhaps from half-past five in the morning till eight. That 
was 14I hours. Well, 2 J hours were taken up with meals ; 4 
hours riding on a cart ; 4 hours driving ; and 4 hours waiting 
till the cart was emptied or filled. (Laughter.) In fact, a boy 
did not do more than 4 or 5 hours a day." ^ 

Lord Chaplin advocated the wholesale surrender of Uttle 
boys to farmers, and in doing so made the significant 
admission that they (the farmers) may get them, he said, 
" from the Reformatory Schools, but what are they as 
compared with the boys living under their own thumb and 
known to them." * 

Later, the Paignton magistrates went so far as to rule 
" that the exigencies of the present time override aU by- 
laws relating to education and that a farmer may employ 
a boy of eleven on farm work." 

These meannesses on the part of some farmers did not 
pass unchallenged by the Press. The Morning Post, while 
condoning the use of child labour) said the " farmer has come 
to depend too much on cheap and casual labour, casueil 
because it is cheap, and cheap because it is casual." * 

' In .West Sussex boys over twelve were being released from school 
to work for lod. a day. — West Sussex Gazette, February i8, 1915. 

' Middlesex Advertiser, March 6, 1915. 

» Report of a meeting held at the Shire Buildings by the Northampton- 
shire County Council. — Northampton Mercury, March 20, 1913. 

* The Vote, March 19, 1915. 

• March 6, 1915. 


Canon Scott Holland in The Commonwealth said : — 

"There is no class more terribly in danger of missing its 
heritage than the agricultural labourer's boys. There is no 
class more ready to skimp their hold upon it than the farmers. 
There are a dozen ways out of the difficulties in which the agri- 
cultural labourer is placed. A decent wage would bring men in 
out of the trades that are suffering by the war." 

But it was a decent wage which the farmers as a class 
still refused to pay. 

Mr. W. Bartlett made a strong protest against the employ- 
ment of children of twelve years of age. 

"It is said they will be ' only employed in light work with 
horses.' I have bitter memories of a personal experience of 
what work on farms meant to a child of twelve, and have seen 
others, younger and less happily placed, leading these quiet 
horses, stumbling up and down with weary feet over the rough 
clods of a ploughed field, poorly clad and not always well fed, 
their hands, feet, and ears covered with chilblains, shivering 
in the bleak wind of a March day, their eyes blinded with the tears 
they vainly strive to repress, a picture of suffering and child 
misery." ^ 

Lieut.-Col. Pedder suggested that the farmers were 
desiring a return of the Crimean days " when much of their 
work was done by women at 6d. and gd. a day and the men 
who got 9s. a week were lucky." * 

Nor did resolutions at County Education Committees 
pass without opposition. In the Salop County Court Mr. 
William Latham, a miners' representative, made a spirited 

" He spoke as one who had been under that foul system of 
boy labour on the farm. Soon after he was ten years of age he 
was at work on a farm with a whip in his hand — ^thirteen hours 
for 6d. (cries of ' Order,' ' Order '), and the farmer at night too 
drunk to pay him. (Loud cries of ' Order ' and ' Chair.') Could 
they wonder that he was on his feet, protesting ? He was there 
to protect the lads of the agricultural workers, 90 per cent, of 
whom, owing to the tied-cottage anomaly and the Registration 

1 Daily Chronicle, February 23, 1915. 

' In February, 1916, a case was mentioned before the Somerset Educa- 
tion Committee of a farmer who was offering a boy of twelve years of age 
Jd. an hour, with no pay for Sunday work. — DaUy News, February 27, 


Laws, were not represented on that Council. The farm labourer 
was tied hand and foot to the farmer. He was reminded of the 
saying that — 

To be Shropshire born and bred 
Is to be strong in the muscle. 
And weak in the yed. 

And it is to keep these children weak in the head that they had 
this request for boys of twelve on the land." ^ 

Few more poignant statements have been made than the 
passionate utterance of Mr. George Edwards at a Norfolk 
County Council meeting : — 

" He owed," he declared, " his smallness of stature to being 
dragged into the fields as a boy of six years of age ; to overwork 
and bad living ; and he was anxious that the rising generation 
should not be dragged into the field and back into the old system. 
... He had followed the plough when he was ten, and he had 
been handicai^ped all his life in consequence." 

^ Our country had not sunk to such depths of despair that 
farmers were obliged to call in the labour of little children 
of twelve years of age to help us to fight the enemy at our 
gates. Had they offered higher wages, they might have 
obtained, perhaps not all, but most of the men they wanted. 
Though the War Office was responsible at a later stage in 
endangering our food supply by a reckless enlistment of 
men from the land, the blame was not theirs in the winter 
of 1914-15. Soldier labour was offered, and strong, 
robust girls were eager to lend a hand ; an^ had the mem- 
bers of education committees shown the same eagerness 
to have their own children taken away from school as they 
did the children of labourers, farmers could have had the 
labour of athletic boys of fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, and 
seventeen years of age. But the farmers would not pay 
sufficiently high wages to attract adult men ; their conser- 
vatism at first prevented them from employing strong girls 
of the middle classes ; and the just pa5mient demanded by 
the War Office for soldier labour found no favour in the 
eyes of the farmer. 

" The truth of the whole matter," wrote a land agent, " is that 
I Oswestry Advertiser, March 17, 1919. 


with the increasing prosperity that has come to the farmer of 
late years, Uttle or none of this has filtered through to the lab- 
ourers, who are (with all the benefits that the State has tried to 
shower upon them), little better off than twenty years ago." i 

It is enough to make us as Englishmen blush for shame 
when we compare our attitude with that of the French 
nation, stricken sore by a remorseless enemy. Their cir- 
cular to local authorities ran thus : — 

" The existing laws on the attendance of boys at school must 
be maintained tiiis year with more strictness than ever. ... It 
would be disgraceful to see children robbed of their education as 
if the military service of their fathers had left them only the 
choice between beggary and premature wage-labour." 

By the end of May the number of exemptions from 
school attendance had increased to 5,000.* 

An attempt was made in the Press by myself, the Coun- 
tess of Warwick and others to get our large Pubhc Schools to 
show some sense of equality of sacrifice, but beyond the 
formation of holiday camps little was done in this direction. 
That the labourers felt that there was a class difference 
involved here is evidenced by a statement made by a 
Shropshire branch of a labourers' union. 

" We poor labourers have as much respect for our children as 
the farmer, of whose sons there are some going to school in 
Shropshire at fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen, and not 
called on to do the least little job because they are farmers' sons, 
and yet they are asking for ours without the parents' consent." * 

To avoid misunderstanding, let me here say that I hold 
no exalted ideas as to the value of the scraps of education 
picked up at the village school (how could I, being a school 
manager ?) ; but as every one knows it is the last year 
spent at school — the year between thirteen and fourteen — 
which counts so enormously in the educational life of a 
poor boy. To rob him of this year, to say nothing of the 
year before, is to rob him of a ripe apple after he has tasted 
one bite. 

' The Land Agent's Record, Maxch 23, 1915. 

* Daily News, June 2, 1915. 

' Village Trade Unions, by Ernest Selley. 


The farmers' complaint was the lack of skilled labour, and 
yet they employed the most unskilled labour possible. 
One can only come to the conclusion that they did so 
because it was cheap. 

I do not wish to indict a whole class. There were many 
farmers who refused to dishonour their manhood by the 
exploitation of children of twelve. The " cultured " 
classes who sat on Education Committees were more, and 
the Government was most, to blame, over this disgraceful 
episode in our national history. But unfortunately for 
the farmers, their Union officially declared in favour of 
the employment of children of school age, and as a class 
they were tarred by this brush. The teachers through 
their Union expressed strong disapproval of the entire 

The scale of wages rose with terrible slowness in the spring 
of 1915, whilst the cost of living was steadily rising (20 per 
cent.), and farmers were begiiming to experience the benefit 
of war prices for their produce. The Times said " the 
farmer was having the time of his life." ^ 

In the north, at the hiring fairs, the hinds were engaged 
at rates showing a rise of 3s. or 4s. a week, with the usual 
perquisites ; that is to say a free cottage, potato ground, 
or cow pasturage and a fortnight's hoUday. The written 
agreement was becoming genereJ in these northern coimties 
and the farm servant insisted on the holiday bargain 
being set down definitely. The Yorkshire Farmers' Union 
increased wages to ^^i a week, but in the southern and 
eastern counties wages remained dangerously low. 

In the Braintree and CoggeshaU districts of Essex wages 
were 17s. only. At the Dorchester hiring fair they were 
advanced by is. to 2s. weekly. Parts of Somerset had 
advanced wages only 2s. above the pre-war rate of 12s. 
Advances in Wiltshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, North- 
amptonshire, Cambridge, Nottingham and Worcestershire 
were made at var3dng rates of is., 2s. and 3s. 6d. per week. 
The higher rates were obtained only where the Union was 
comparatively strong. 

I March 15, 1915. 


In Norfolk 15s. a week became the standard rate only 
by January, 1915. 

At Thetford County Court the Judge said that in some 
cases in Norfolk that came before him the agricultural 
labourers only earned 3d. per hour. " That did not seem 
to be a wage upon which a man could very well keep a 
family," observed the Judge.^ 

With the cost of hving risen 20 per cent., the National 
Agricultural Labourers' Union now made a determined 
effort in Norfolk to obtain 3s. a week increase, which would 
make the minimum i8s. 

In spite of the fact that we were at grips in a deadly 
struggle with the enemy, the farmers actually went to the 
length of refusing to meet the men's Union,* risking a 
strike and all that a strike entailed. Their stubbornness 
went so far as to compel the men to issue strike notices, 
and these were served in a large area of Norfolk on the last 
day of February. Then, and not tiU then, was a confer- 
ence agreed upon ; and this was due to a chance meeting in 
Norwich, of Mr. Overman (one of the best and most enlight- 
ened farmers) and Earl Leicester, the Lord Lieutenant of 
the County, with Mr. George Edwards and Mr. H. A. Day. 
Even then the farmers officially held back. However, on 
March 11, the conference took place at Fakenham, where 
Earl Leicester, Colonel J. E. Groom, and Mr. Lionel Rod- 
well, Mr. W. Everington, Mr. A. Keith, and Mr. H. Over- 
man represented the employers ; whilst Mr. W. R. Smith, 
Mr. George Edwards, Mr. G. E. Hewitt, Mr. James Coe, 
and Mr. R. B. Walker represented the Union. This meet- 
ing was momentous and had a far-reaching effect. It was, 
I think, the first time on record that a group of farmers 
and landowners met representatives of a labourers' union. 

Mr. W. R. Smith most ably conducted the case for the 
men, and on the promise that all strike notices should be 
withdrawn it was agreed that the minimum wage should be 
i8s. Mr. Overman said that the spirit displayed by the 

1 Richmond Herald, February 27, 1915. 
» Eastern Daily Press, February 26, 1915. 


men was simply splendid, and that " the men did a fine thing 
in withdrawing their notices."^ 

Unfortunately, not all farmers honoured this agreement, 
which caused some men at Swanton Morley to come out on 
strike to demand their i8s. They marched in a body one 
Sunday into the parish church, where the sight of a number 
of agricultural labourers attending Divine Service so sur- 
prised the Rector that he walked down the aisle to ask the 
men if they had come to worship ! The strike lasted only 
eight days, when the farmers agreed to pay the i8s. 

Now the southern and midland farmers would have been 
spared the hostility and suspicion which were evinced in 
the years that followed, had they shown at this time the 
common humanity of anticipating the 25s. minimiun wage 
which did not become law until August 21, 1917. Prices 
of all farm products had risen,^ and in the northern counties 
of Westmoreland, Durham, Northumberland, wages in 
1915 had risen to 25s., as well as in parts of Lancashire and 

But the farmers were not to blame so much as the Gov- 
ernment. Farmers were living in a state of imcertainty. 
Traffic was becoming disorganised and blocked. Supplies 
of feeding stuffs and fertilisers were being rigorously re- 
duced. Farmers were losing many of their best men. Hay and 
horses were conscripted and it was bruited abroad that farms 
might be conscripted, too. They certainly had their diffi- 
culties, but this was no excuse for placing their burthens upon 
the backs of the children. Mr. Asquith, or Mr. Lloyd George, 
had he been wise, would have pronounced early in 1915, 
or even in the autiunn.of 1914, a definite agricultural policy, 
including a minimum wage, for which the country had to 
wait nearly three years. By the Government's procrastina- 
tion the food supply of the nation was seriously endangered. 

Those farmers who did behave well to their men did not 
apparently meet with the approval of other farmers. The 
Chairman of the Oswestry Farmers' Union, for instance, 

1 Norfolk News, March 13, 191 5. 

• Wheat was 56s. and oats 31s. 8d. in 1915 as compared with 34s. and 
19s. gd. in July 1914. 


stated that " some farmers were enticing labourers from 
their neighbours '6y offering them a higher wage. He thought 
farmers would have been too gentlemanly to do that."^ 
Certainly, farmers have generally shown a nice, gentlenianly 
feehng in this matter. 

At a large conference of Yorkshire agriculturists at York, 
Mr. Furness had the temerity to say that, " they would 
have to give men less hours or something. He had come 
to the conclusion that if they could allow the men off at 
one o'clock Saturday until Monday morning there would 
be no scarcity of labourers."* 

Early in 1915 another difficulty arose. Landowners and 
agents were urging farmers not to employ men of mihtary 
age. Now it was estimated that up to July, 1915, 243,000 
agricultural labourers volunteered for the Army and Navy, 
and eventually, according to the Wages Board Gazette, 
September 15, 1919, no less than 400,000 left the land 
for the Services. Apart altogether from the insult con- 
tained in this circular, it was a foolish pohcy to enlist a]l 
men of military age, as the nation soon discovered, when it 
needed the services of the skilled agricultural labourer on 
the land more urgently than it needed him in the ranks. 
Besides, at this time there were thousands of men working 
at parasitical luxury trades. 

The War Office now began to offer the help of soldier- 
labourers to the farmers, but the War Office quite rightly 
insisted that these men should be properly paid. This 
insistence on an adequate wage was resented by many far- 
mers, and at a meeting of Malton Agricultural Club, in 
discussing the schedule of rates from 4s. a day for the hay 
harvest to 5s. a day for the com harvest, Mr. F. Dee, with 
a curious sense of patriotism, declared he 

" would rather let his crops rot than accept those terms, and he 
moved a resolution, which was carried, that unless the pay was 
the same as for ordinary agricultural labourers, soldier labour 
must be declined." 

Mr. Dee did not stand alone. Personally, I knew one 

1 Manchester Guardian, April 16, 1915. 
' Yorkshire Herald, April 3, 1915. 


or two farmers in 1915 who refused to cut their hay rather 
than pay soldiers 4s. 6d. a day. 

On the fanners' side, it is only fair to say, that they had 
to put up with a number of useless substitutes, but eventu- 
ally these were removed and the skilled agricultural labourer 
in khaki became a feature on a great number of farms ; 
and it is undoubtedly the fact that the 4s. 6d. a day usually 
paid to soldiers became a powerful lever for raising wages 
all round. Another factor in raising wages was the 25s. 
a week instituted later on by Mr. Neville Chamberlain in 
his ill-fated National Service Scheme. 

•A sinister feature of the farm-tied cottage cropped up 
in the spring of this year. Women, whose husbands were 
fighting abroad, began to be evicted from their cottages by 
farmers. A memorable case was fought at Tewkesbury 
Police Court on February 4. A member of the N.A.L.U. 
was disabled at the battle of Mons, and after receiving hos- 
pital treatment in England rejoined his regiment in the 
fighting line. Whilst there, his wife, the mother of four 
young children, received notice that the farmer was apply- 
ing for an ejectment order. The Union fought the case 
for the wife and won it with honours. 

At the Trade Union Congress of this year a resolution 
was proposed by Mr. J. Coe, and seconded by Mr. R. B. 
Walker, calling upon the Government to insist upon the 
" compulsory cultivation of all agricultural land and when 
and wherever practicable to acquire and retain land to be 
worked and controlled by the State." This was the fore- 
runner of the Cultivation Orders worked under the Defence 
of the Realm Act by the War Agricultural Committees ; and 
in spite of the fact that agricultural labourers showed their 
keenness for good husbandry before either landlord or 
farmer did, very few of them were invited at first to sit on 
these committees. This omission, from the national 
standpoint, was a bad one, for not only were the skilled 
farm workers in many cases more intimate with the land, 
but they would have shown more independence in criticis- 
ing farmers (those who, at any rate, were not their employ- 
ers) who were neglecting to cultivate the land properly. 


On August 23 the Small Holdings Colonies Act, 1916, 
came into force, but this I will discuss later. 

Before the year was out a demand was voiced by the 
N.A.L.U. for a minimum wage of 25s. a week, which was the 
minimtun being paid in Nottingham. The Scottish agri- 
cultural labourer had secured his 30s. a week by January, 
1916, with meal, potatoes, and a free house ; and yet in 
England farmers in many counties were still paying less 
than £1 a week, although the cost of Uving had risen in 
January, 1916, 45 per cent. In Bucks only i6s. was being 
paid in the Cuddington district, and Essex workers had not 
yet been able to secure i8s. a week ; whilst in Dorset wages 
were still as low as even 14s. I myself, whilst staying in 
the Isle of Purbeck in September of 1916, came across 
instances of able-bodied men who were working at as low 
a wage as 13s. and 14s. a week ! 

A great stride was made in the spring of this year in 
Norfolk by the N.A.L.U. when for the first time the farmers 
officially recognised the men's Union, and held a conference 
at the Royal Hotel, Norwich, on February 19, with the 
result that the minimum wage of £1 per week, with over- 
time payment of 6d. per hour, was agreed upon for the 
whole county. 

In Shropshire, a dispute arose this summer at the Earl 
of Powis's estate at Bishop's Castle. The Earl, it appears, 
was pa5dhg wages on his home farm lower than his tenants 
round him, and after serving notices the organiser secured 
an increase of 2s. 6d. a week, bringing the simi up to 
25s., which was higher than in most midland and southern 
counties. Some stiff fighting, though, even up to the 
application for ejectments, had to be undergone before in- 
creases were obtained in this campaign. By October, 25s. per 
week was the common wage throughout the whole county. 

A dispute at Bassingham, Lincolnshire, took place in 
Jime, during which one employer dismissed two members 
for daring to ask another workman to join the Union. This 
action was resented by the men, and they withdrew their 
labour from his farm. This resulted in an increase of 
as. 6d. per week. 


By September the cost of living had risen 65 per cent, 
over pre-war costs, and Mr. George Edwards showed by 
publishing a labourer's budget at this time ^ that in Norfolk 
the men were worse off than they had been in 1914. In- 
cluding harvest the total earnings were only £1 3s. i|d. 

Trouble arose in Norfolk during harvest time over the 
harvest rates which were agreed upon at a conference at 
King's Lyim, in 1915. Mr. G. H. Roberts, M.P., was called 
in as Government mediator, with the result that he awarded 
a 25s. advance on the hairvest rates of 1915. 

Life pressed very heavily upon the agricultural labourer, 
especially upon his wife, in the spring of 1917. The cost 
of living on January i showed an increase of 87 per cent., 
and wages had risen only 42 per cent., and many other 
factors led to a smouldering spirit of discontent in rural 
districts. At the end of 1916 farmers made as much as 
75s. lod. a quarter on their wheat, 67s. 5d. on their barley, 
and 47s. 4d. on their oats ; ^ and they made, too, enormous 
sums on their bullocks.^ Furthermore,, whilst labourers 
were asked to economise in every way, dn fuel, in bread, 
and in meat, up to December pheasants were still being fed 
by hand on the best grain. That is to say, whilst they were 
restricted in their bread, and even cheese, which forms so 
large a part of a labourer's diet, they saw wheat being 
wantonly used in order to provide sport for the rich man. 
This iniquity was, fortunately, stoppeid in January, 1917. 

But though this was stopped, the labourer felt the injus- 
tice of being restricted in his meat rations whilst the farmer 
or landowner could sally forth gvm in hand over his fields 
and shoot innumerable pheasants, rabbits, partridges, 
hares, wood-pigeons and wild ducks. 

Farm labourers, too, were now told that the pig in the 
stye which they had bought and industriously fed, was to 
count as part of their rations, at a time when they saw 
round about them the fiUing of big bags of game which went 
to the rich man's table. The feeling that there was one law 

• The Labourer, October, 1916. 

* Journal of the Board of Agriculture, January, 1917. 

" Wages in some counties were still under £1 a week in xgi6 {vide Cmd 


for the rich and another for the poor was expressed in a 
letter I had sent me from a Hampshire cottage. I will 
quote it just as it was written, with its appalling lack of 
erudition and its sound common sense : — 

" The man must deprive him self of something to get a pig in 
the house wich a lot mor people could do if they ware to try 
wich they ought to do at these times but the man that do keep 
a pig ought to have the benefit of it the same as the uper tens 
that got land and can go out and can kill Rabbits, Hares, and 
wild birds as they please but what I want to know is does the 
poor man's pig come in with the Meat Rations or not ? " 

The labourer could still be fined or imprisoned for snaring 
the rabbit which was so destructive to our crops. It was not 
until later, that the County Agricultural Committees placed 
warreners on estates overrun with game and issued certifir 
cates to farmers or their appointed men to destroy game. 

But in spite of the wedge driven into the Game Laws by 
an order issued by the Board of Agriculture prosecutions 
for being in pursuit of game continued through the whole 
of war time. The Government repeatedly asked every one 
to produce as much food as possible and to keep down all 
pests, and yet poor folk were still living under the shadow 
of the iniquitous law of 1862 which subjected them to the 
indignity of a search without a warrant. It is extraordinary 
what a difference there is between a good and ragged coat 
in the eyes of the law. Walking through a wood my dog 
ran down and killed a rabbit. I picked up the dead rabbit 
and carried it boldly through the wood past a row of cot- 
tages and a policeman. Though the policeman saw me 
carrying the rabbit almost immediately after I left the wood, 
I was never questioned. 

These petty prosecutions angered many men, especially 
those who had been fighting. I remember a case before the 
Bench at Horsham where a discharged soldier was fined £1 
for being in pursuit of conies. As he left the Court he 
flung out this taunt to an astonished Bench : 

" If I kill three Germans I am a sanguinary hero ; now 
if I snare a rabbit I am a sanguinary felon." 

Fortunately, sport has its Ughter side, and I was very 


much amused at a list of crimes presented to me by a young 
officer who had lost his eye and won the M.C. in France. 
I lent him my gun one day when he was at home on leave, 
and after half an hour he returned with a pheasant, saying 
with a smile of triumph, " I have broken the law in five 
places. I have shot without a licence ; I have killed a 
pheasant ; I have trespassed ; I have shot after sundown ; 
and I have committed these crimes on a Sunday." 

Farm workers are quick to respond to the change in the 
social conscience with regard to game. They are growing 
bolder and more independent with their rise in status as 
essential food producers, and the following anecdote will illus- 
trate their greater assertion of manhood. A ploughman well 
known to me was told by his mates that " Farmer John," 
who looked with an evil eye upon the ploughman's black 
dog, had said in the taproom of the King's Head that there 
was no chance of getting a hare whilst somebody's black dog 
was about. Thereupon the ploughman walked into the 
King's Head and intentionally not noticing the farmer, who 
was sipping his whisky, said in a loud voice : "I say, you 
chaps, what do you think I saw to-night ? — such a strange 
thing. I saw a hare miming up the road with a card round 
his neck, and on this card was wrote : ' / come from Farmer 
John's wood.' " 

Fuel was getting increasingly dear, even in woodland 
districts. The cottager had to pay 26s. for his cord wood 
instead of i8s. ; 26s. for spray faggots instead of 12s. ; yet 
he saw great logs being continually drawn. out of the woods 
to warm the landowner's spacious hearth. 

Munition factories and aerodromes had invaded the 
most remote country districts by 1917, and farm workers 
regarded with curious eyes the spectacle of men and women 
earning large wages to make things to destroy life, while 
they, who produced the food to sustain life, remained the 
worst paid workers of the whole community. They heeded, 
too, that their fellow workers in these industries were able 
to keep almost abreast with rising prices by means of trade 
unions. Thus it came about in places where trade unionism 
had never before taken root the feeling arose that it was only 


by combination that a living wage could be secured. 

In many country districts unionism had been regarded 
as some alien antagonistic force which increased the cost of 
the farm worker's coal, or of his oil, or of his boots. But 
the war, which dispelled so many illusions, dispelled this 
one too. Had not farmers, in their very presence, told trib- 
unals that without Hodge they could not carry on their 
farms ? There were rumours, too, that District Wages 
Committees were to be set up to fix a minimum rate 
of wages, and on these Hodge must get men appointed who 
could argue with the farmers ; and how could that be done 
-without combination ? 

In the beginning of 1917 the National Agricultural 
Labourers' Union asked for 30s. a week. The 
Farmers' Federation offered 25s. a week and as the 
employers and men could not come to any agreement an 
arbitrator was called in, who was Mr. Harry Courthorpe- 
Munroe. To the astonishment of both employers and men, 
Mr. Courthorpe-Munroe, on March 12, 1917, made an 
award of exactly 25s. a week. Naturally, this award 
gave rise to much discontent amongst the Norfolk farm 
workers. It was considered that the Goverimient's an- 
nouncement that a minimum wage of 25s. would be in- 
serted in the forthcoming Com Production Act prejudiced 
the decision of the arbitrator, especially as 25s. was to include 
aU extras. 

The demand for 30s. in Norfolk soon became the minimum 
demand in other counties. In some counties, such as 
Nottingham, the wages rose to 27s., though in other coun- 
ties, such as Somerset, Suffolk and Worcester they were as 
low as 22s., and in Bucks even as low as 21s. 

On February 14, 1917, the Trade Union Parliamentary 
Committee presented themselves before Mr. Prothero, 
(now Lord Ernie), the President of the Board of Agriculture, 
to submit to him the resolution passed by the Trade Union 
Congress held in Birmingham, 1916, which was as follows : — 

" That while recognising the land problem cannot be effectively 
dealt with outside national ownership and control, this Congress 
is strongly of opinion that any scheme that has for its purpose 


the re-establishment of the industry of agriculture, will be most 
unsatisfactory and unacceptable unless it secures to the labourer 
(i) an adequate wage ; (2) good housing free from the tied- 
cottage system ; and hereby requests the Parliamentary Com- 
mittee to use their best endeavours to secure these in any measure 
or effort that may be made to deal with this question." 

Mr. R. B. Walker was the chief spokesman for the agri- 
cultural labourers. In the course of a speech he said that 
" in certain rural parts men were even charged for buckets 
of water for ordinary use, and even that charge had gone 
up to the extent of 50 per cent." He quoted Mr. A. J. 
Balfour's famous declaration, that " if the owner of every 
insanitary dwelling was hung at his doorpost he would not 
weep his eyes out." 

Mr. Prothero, in replying, said he could see no solution 
to the tied-cottage system other than that the cottage 
should be let direct to the labourer by the landowner and 
not by the farmer. 

Mr. J. H. Thomas asked if an appeal covld be made to 
the proposed Wages Boards in the case of unfair evictions. 
Mr. Prothero expressed his opinion that such Boards would 
be able to deal with those cases. Unfortunately, though, 
as after events proved, neither of Mr. Prothero's suggestions 
were effectively dealt with under the Act. 

On February 23, 1917, Mr. Lloyd George made his 
memorable speech in which he outlined the new agricul- 
tural policy committing the nation to guaranteed prices 
to farmers for wheat and oats during a period of six years. 
Able-bodied agricultural workers were to have a minimum 
wage of 25s. a week. 

It should be distinctly understood though that the 
minimum wage had no connection with guaranteed prices. 
As a writer in the Wages Board Gazette aptly observes : 

" There is no real connection between the two, and any attempt 
to make a guaranteed price of wheat a corollary to an Agricul- 
tural Wages Board should be strenuously resisted as having no 
foundation in history. Wheat growing, it must be remembered, 
forms a very small part of the English farmers' output of agri- 
cultural produce. No minimum price is guaranteed for milk, a 
necessity as great as bread, for meat or for fruit and vegetables. 


and yet the minimum wage applies equally to all persons em- 
ployed in agriculture whether they are engaged in wheat and oat 
production or. not." ^ 

That the farmers hailed Mr. Lloyd George's speech with 
elation could be seen by reading the farmers' papers which 
were published immediately afterwards. They had been 
given their price for 1917 — 60s. — which was a distinct 
advance from the 42s. recommended by the Selbome Com- 
mittee of 1916.2 They would not meet trouble half way Ijy 
looking at the declining figures for the following years. 
Mr. Lloyd George was indubitably their champion. They 
would forgive him all the unkind things he had said in his 
Land Campaign. 

How Mr. Lloyd George arrived at these figures no one seems 
to have been able to discover. We only know that he was 
" assured by a farmer who is one of the most upright men 
I have ever met and who I am perfectly certain would not 
mislead the Government that on the prices we were guar- 
anteeing the farmer on the whole he would not get much 
out of them having regard to all the conditions." One 
wonders who this upright gentleman was who had so im- 
pressed the ingenuous Premier. Mr. Lloyd George, appar- 
ently, never stopped to enquire of a labourer how much it 
cost to maintain him and his family in a condition of 
physical efficiency and comfort. 

Wages had now risen generally to 22s. a week. There 
were instances, as in Dorset, where i6s. was the wage in 
January, and at Ledbury, in February, it was discovered 
on a farmer making an appeal for exemption for his son, that 
he had been papng a man who had just left him only los. 
a week. But these instances, we hope, were isolated cases. 

During the summer of this year the N.A.L.U. managed 
to raise wages in the Thorne district of Lincolnshire from 
24s. to 30s. a week. The Nottingham Co-operative Society 
granted the full demands of 30s. and 32s. respectively to 
the different grades of men working on their farms, whilst 
in Salop the average wage was brought up to the 25s. 
standard. In Su:ffolk, a lock-out occurred in the Darsham 

* Wages Board Gazette, ist April, 1920. ' Cd. 9079. 


district on the men demanding the Norfolk conditions. 
But after several weeks the Norfolk terms were conceded 
by the farmers. 

Naturally the 25s. did not evoke- much enthusiasm 
amongst labourers (except in those rural backwaters where 
wages were much lower), especially when it dawned upon 
the farm workers that the 25s. was to include all " allow- 
ances," even the rent of farm- tied cottages. But there was 
one ray of hope : a Wages Board was to be set up with 
equal representation for farmers and workers. District 
Committees were to be established under it and a higher 
wage than 25s. could be fixed if they had the right men on 
these District Committees and on the Wages Board to fight 
for them. 

This meant combination, and here came the supreme 
opportunity of the trade union organiser. 

Thus, during the spring and summer of 1917 an exceed- 
ingly active campaign was carried on by the Workers' 
Union as well as by the N.A.L.U. The leaders of the Workers' 
Union, Mr. John Beard, who organised agriculturcil labourers 
in the midlands in the first year of the Union's existence, 
and Mr. George Dallas, had the foresight to seize the oppor- 
tunity which the formation of^the District Wages Committees 
in the forthcoming Com Production Act gave to trade 
unionism amongst farm workers. 

They, and the organisers acting under them, realised 
that the new Act gave a tremendous impetus to trade 
union organisation. They visited remote villages in the 
southern, eastern, midland, and south-western counties 
and spread the news to men, many of whom had even 
regarded trade unions with aversion, that if they would only 
organise and secure adequate representation on these Dis- 
trict Wages Committees they could forge a powerful lever 
to raise wages and shorten hours. These organisers 
worked day and night and put an extraordinary amount of 
energy into their work, infusing enthusiasm amongst middle- 
aged and even old men who glimpsed the dawn of a new day. 
With rising prices the seed did not fall on stony groimd. 

The war had taken its toll of young and active organisers. 


which put an enormous strain upon the older men, for the 
life of an organiser in rural districts is only compassable 
by a strong, young man. 

Meanwhile, the Board of Agriculture in order to obtain 
reliable, up-to-date information as to conditions of employ- 
ment in agriculture, sent out in 1917 a body of investigators 
into every county under the direction of Mr. Geoffrey Drage. 
These Reports deserve a better fate than internment as 
official documents in their monumental drapery of Blue. 
They give us not only a bird's-eye view of men and women 
working in the fields, and of their cottages, but also a survey 
of farming in England and Wales in 1917, and are written 
with a literary skill which might be expected from authors 
Uke Mr. Maurice Hewlett and Mr. A. D. Bradley. One of 
these investigators aptly summed up the labourer's position 
thus : 

" It may, I think, be taken for granted, since it is universally 
agreed that the farm labourer is the hardest-worked, lowest- 
paid, worst-fed and clothed, and worst-housed class of the 
whole British community. 

" His pre-war wages did not even warrant him paying 2S. 6d. 
a week in rent, and, in the vast majority of cases, neither he nor 
his family could have existed at all but for the supplementary 
earnings of his wife. In having to work, the wife almost invari- 
ably suffered in health, as in spirit ; she was obliged to neglect 
herself, her children, her husband, and her home. Both 
she and her family occupy the lowest rung upon the social ladder, 
and they are spoken of in tones of pity, if not of contempt, by 
their more fortunate, better organised brethren and fellow- 

" The farm labourer now, as in the past, approaches nearest 
the state of serfdom. He is, in fact, a serf, with the privilege of 
sleeping under a roof which, by courtesy, is called his own, 
though his wages would not allow of him paying a just rent for 

" Hitherto he has had no Union to defend his interests ; had 
not a copper a week to spare for contribution to any scheme of 
co-operation amongst his class." ^ 

In August, 1917, the Corn Production Act became law. 
An attempt was made by the Labour Party to substitute 
a minimum of 30s. for 25s., but this Mr. Prothero refused 

» Wages and Conditions of Employment in AgricuHure, Vol. II. Cmd. 
25. 1919. 


to accept. He said that if he did, the Com Production 
Act would soon become a Grass Production Act. I wonder 
if Mr. Prothero (now Lord Ernie) ever considers what a 
false prophet he was to his own child, for the lowest mini- 
mum fixed imder the Agricultural Wages Board was 30s. 
and the acreage of grassland which came under the plough 
showed an increase in 1917-18 over 1916 of 1,806,601 acres. 

The hard logic of events two years later produced the 
most destructive criticism of the economic theory that agri- 
cultural wages have been dependent upon prices. When 
the Act was passed, instituting a minimum wage of 25s., 
farmers were obtaining 78s. 7d. per quarter for their 
wheat, 1 hours were not then defined, and cattlemen were 
working overtime without extra payment.^ 

On October 6, 1919, when a new Order came into force 
fixing an increase in wages of 6s. 6d. a week, the price of 
wheat was 5s. 6d. a quarter less (it was 73s. id.), and many 
men in charge of horses and cows who worked about the 
same number of hours as in 1917 earned on an average 50s. 
a week, that is, exactly double wages. 

Under the Act " permits " were allowed to employ a man 
at less than the minimum who was " affected by any mental 
or other infirmity or physical injury which renders him 
incapable of earning that minimum rate." This provision 
rendered innocuous the cry that a legal minimum wage 
would deprive old men of their hvelihood. 

The able-bodied men were to have wages fixed by the 
Agricultural Wages Board high enough to " promote 
efficiency and to enable a man in an ordinary case to 
maintain himself and his family in accordance with 
such standard of comfort as may be reasonable in rela- 
tion to the nature of his occupation." All those, of either 
sex came under the Act, who worked on farms, nursery 
and market gardens, in woods, orchards, or osier land. 

When the benefits or advantages received by the labourer 

• Vide Average Prices of British Corn, Journal of the Board of Agriculture. 

* " At Christmas, 1917, was a period, lasting tjiree or four weeks, when 
little fortunes in some instances were made ... in the fat stock market. 
Instances are known where as much as £50 profit per beast was made." 
. , . Minutes of Evidence Royal Commission on A^culture, 1919. Vol. 
II. Appendix No. V. 


as part of his wages were defined by the Wages Board, these 
consisted of cottages which were rent free, mUk, potatoes, 
and board and lodging, and no others. 

The farmers were guaranteed 60s. a quarter for wheat 
for 1917 crop, 55s. for 1918-ig, and 45s. 1920-22. For oats 
they were guaranteed 38s. 6d. for 1917, 32s. for 1918-19, 
and 24s. for 1920-22. 

Landlords were forbidden to raise rents if this part of 
the Act came into force. The farmers on their part were to 
cultivate their land according to good husbandry ; and 
" for the purpose of increasing the national interest of the 
production of food the mode of cultivating any land or the 
use to which any land is being put should be changed." 

The Board of Agriculture had wide powers under this 
Act : to enter on and take possession of any land which 
is not being cultivated according to the rules of good hus- 
bandry or growing crops required in the national interest. 
These powers were reinforced by Orders under D.O.R.A., 
which as subsequent events proved became more powerful 
agents for speeding the plough than any guaranteed prices 
contained in the Act. 

The first meeting of the Wages Board did not take place 
until December 6, 1917. It consisted of the following 
members : — 

Appointed Members. 
The Rt. Hon. Sir Ailwyn Fellowes, K.C.V.O., K.B.E. {Chairman). 
Sir Henry Rew, K.C.B. {Deputy Chairman). 
The Rt. Hon. F. D. Acland, M.P. 
The Rt. Hon. The Lord Kenyon, K.C.V.O. 
Mr. C. B. Orwin. 
Mrs. Roland Wilkins, O.B.E. 
Mr. W. B. Yates. 

Repeesentatives of Employers. 

Mr. Colin Campbell. Mr. Ivo Neame. 

Mr. John Evens. Mr. H. Overman, O.B.E. 

Mr. W. S. Gibbard. Mr. H. Padwick. C.B.E. 

Mr. R. W. Hobbs. Mr. R. G. Patterson, O.B.E. 

Mr. M. H. Holman. Mr. G. G. Rea, C.B.E. 

Mr. S. Kidner, O.B.E. Mr. R. R. Robbins, 

Mr. W. S. Miller. Mr. J. Roberts. 

Mr. A. Moscrop, O.B.E. Mr. S. T. Rosbotham. 


Representatives of Workers. 

Councillor John Beard. Mr. Thomas Lovell. 

Mr. George Dallas. Mr. G. Nicholls. 

Mr. George Edwards, J.P. Mr. Haman Porter. 

Mr. Robert Green. Mr. Robert Richards. 

Mr. J. T. Gurd. Mr. W. R. Smith, M.P. 

Mr. G. E. Hewitt. Mrs. F. R. Toon. 

Mr. T. G. Higdon. Mr. R. B. Walker. 

Mr. W. Holmes. Mr. Denton Woodhead. 

The appointed or " Impartial " members were appointed 
by the President of the Board of Agriculture. Of the 
sixteen representatives of the employers, the National 
Farmers' Union were responsible for eight, whilst the other 
eight were selected ty the Board of Agriculture from lists 
submitted to them by employers' associations such as the 
R.A.S.E. Of the sixteen workers' representatives, six were 
selected by the N.A.L.U., two by the Workers' Union, and 
eight were selected by the Board of Agriculture from names 
submitted to them by the workers. These eight were gener- 
ally speaking workers selected from areas where unions 
were non-existent, but since their appointment they have 
attached themselves to one union or the other. 

Amongst the appointed members of the Wages Board 
and the District Wages Committees, one had to be a woman, 
and the same rule applied to the workers' representatives. 
The first duty of the Board was to form District Wages Com- 
mittees, which, with one or two exceptions in England, 
were confined to the county area. In Wales the counties 
were grouped to form District Committees. 

No less than thirty-nine District Committees had to be 
formed, with representatives of employers and workers in 
equal numbers, and appointed members not exceeding a 
fourth of the whole numbers of representatives. The 
formation of these District Committees was not completed 
until May, 1918. 

The trouble was to get suitable representatives on the 
workers' side. The farmers, who were better organised than 
the men, found little difficulty, to appoint their representa- 
tives ; but amongst the farm workers there were districts, 

VOL. n. s 


especially in the north of England and in Wales, where 
trade unionism was still weak, or non-existent. 

At this stage of the history of the farm workers we get 
the organiser systematically entering every county of 
England and Wales and making desperate efforts to find 
suitable men to sit on the District Committees. Organisers 
can teU humorous stories of how they have descended, 
when hard put to it, upon a man who was not even a trade 
unionist, milking a cow or baiting a horse, insisting upon 
him serving on the Committee. The part the organiser 
played in improving the condition of the farm worker 
is so great that, though I am nearing the end of my history, 
I feel I must devote an entire chapter to this modern 
product of agricultural trade unionism. That the farm 
worker was ready to listen to the organiser one can 
easily understand, for even as late as January, 1918, 
official investigators declared that the average wage of 
the ordinary agricultural labourer in sixteen counties 
was 25s., or less,^ whilst the cost of living had risen 
106 per cent. 

* Wages and Conditions of Employment in Agriculture. Cmd. 24, p. 




Nearly every man who has spent his energies in champion- 
ing the cause of the agricultural labourer has been broken 
on the ruthless wheel of fortune. Though his spirit burned 
like a bright flame to the very last, Cobbett, was broken 
financially ; Arch was broken ; Vincent was broken ; and 
those secretaries who attempted to organise the counties 
of Kent and Suffolk disappeared in the darkness of financial 
difficulties. Nearing the end of a long and strenuous career, 
the South-West Lancashire strike almost killed Mr. George 
Edwards, and financially, but for the assistance of friends, 
even he, in these days of revived trade unionism, would have 
been a broken man. 

During the war, in the freer atmosphere of a growing 
spirit of independence, organisers had an easier task than 
their forerunners, and when the Corn Production Act was 
passed, not only was it lawful to be a trade unionist, but it 
really became an injunction upon every labourer as well as 
every farmer to belong to some organisation ; otherwise 
the Act would be inoperative. No longer could any patron 
of a village institute, be he squire or parson, refuse with 
reason the use of the room for a meeting " to explain the 
Act." Unreasonable men of course did refuse under the 
plea that this was entering into the realm of politi-cs ; 
and it should not be assumed that the organiser was re- 
ceived with open arms by the dominant class. Obstacles 
had still to be overcome and organisers have many a story 
to teU showing the hostility they had to meet. In Wilt- 
shire, for instance, which has always been a county of hard 



taskmasters, a branch of the Workers' Union was formed in 
a village which shall be nameless. The farmers visited each 
of their men and told them to hand over to them their 
trade union cards. The men meekly obeyed ! The fanners 
thereupon returned these cards to the office of the Union. 
And that, for the time being, was the end of this branch. 

It may seem strange to the factory worker that men 
shoiild meekly obey these injunctions from their employers, 
but a factory worker does not understand the isolated posi-^ 
tion, and what has been termed the " human relationship " 
existing between the farmer and his men. The farmer has 
unlimited opportunities for sapping the independence and 
undermining the courage of the labourer. He may follow 
the ploughman across the field nagging at him ; he may 
stand about the stable whilst the carter is feeding the horses 
and cajole him. He may sit on the stool or corn-bin in the 
cowshed and expostulate with the cowman as he nulks the 
cows, until the farm worker either throws up his job or 
turns down his card. 

One or two humorous instances have been related to 
me by trade union organisers. Oxfordshire — that is 
to say, the Oxfordshire of low-lying fields in contradistinc- 
tion to hilly country — ^has bred a timid race of men. Into 
this part of the country went two organisers to hold a meet- 
ing. As they were unable to obtain a room they held the 
meeting on a piece of roadside waste. They spoke to an 
entirely empty road and a deserted wayside green, but they 
were conscious that at the back of them stood a blacksmith's 
shop fuU of men secretly hstening. Thus the trade union 
orators had the strange experience of addressing an empty 
space in front of them, whilst behind them was an audience 
craning necks out of windows to catch the words of the 

As darkness fell the men crept out of their dug-out in 
the rear, and many had the courage to join the Union. 

In another part of the county they addressed a meeting 
in front of a barn, whilst their listeners for the most part 
stood behind the barn so that they should not be visible to 
vigilant farmers passing along the road ! 


It is strange to learn that before the men on a certain 
great duke's estate decided to join a union they asked for 
his sanction. The duke graciously conceded this their 
right as EngUshmen — even though only labourers — to 
protect themselves. 

But the most amusing incident of aU happened to a trade 
union organiser in Wiltshire. His rostrum was a roadside 
bank, and his audience Uned up in extended order behind 
the hedge to listen. Presently a well-known figure rode 
proudly by. Every labourer's head immediately disap- 
peared below that hedge as though a German machine-gun 
were enfilading the road, whilst the rider rode on staring 
hard into the face of the astonished and silent orator, erect 
and bare-headed on the bank. 

It was during the earlier years of the war when the 
grea;test hostility was shown to organisers. In Nottingham, 
yo\mg farmers, who should have been displaying their pug- 
nacity at the Front, found a safer place for displaying it 
at open-air meetings held in English villages. Here the 
organiser was met with threats of violence and filthy lan- 
guage.^ So bitter was the opposition in one village that 
both the Vicar and his wife came to the meeting to appeal 
to the farmers " to preserve the fair name of the community 
and the rights of British citizenship." On the following 
Sunday the Vicar reproached those who had acted so un- 
fairly, declaring that " while he did not hold with all that 
had been spoken at the meeting, a case had in his opinion 
been made out for a vast improvement in the lot of the 
agricultural labourer." 

Another incident occurred in one of Mr. Mackley's meet- 
ings at Bingham market place, where the Rector displayed 
a spirit worthy of Bishop Ellicott of Arch's days. He 
suggested in his Parish Magazine that if the Union speakers 
dared to come to the parish again they should have " free 
baptism in the rectory pond."^ This was the kind of chal- 
lenge dear to the heart of Mr. Mackley, and it lured him to 
the spot again like a magnet ; but he found every public 

1 The Labourer, 1915. « Ibid., January, 1916. 


hall closed against him, and that the tenant of the market 
place had orders not to allow any more meetings there. 
He immediately axmounced through the local Press that 
he would hold a meeting and take the consequences, when to 
the credit of one reUgious body he was offered the free use 
of a schoolroom, and there the meeting was held with 
successful results. 

I should like to say a word here as to the attitude of the 
clergy. The hostiUty shown, as instanced above, has, I 
think, been rare in recent years. Many clergymen to-day 
not only are showing their sympathy in an unobtrusive 
manner, but several, who are personal friends of mine, 
are exceedingly active branch secretaries of unions ; and 
where they do take the lead the branches thrive with 
amazing rapidity. 

The majority of the meetings, however, have been held 
not in schoolrooms or institutes, but in public-houses. 
I have attended a number of these meetings and have been 
struck with the pertinacity of the organiser, who, if he 
could not make the slow-moving peasants shift from the tap- 
room to a room adjoining, would address the men as they 
sat, or stood, drinking their beer in the tap-room through a 
fog of tobacco smoke. PubUcans have become new and use- 
ful aUies of Labour. It is in the interest of a pubhcan to 
get a branch estabhshed in his public-house, but this does 
not altogether account for the sjonpathy shown by them 
to organised labour. I found that the new race of pub- 
licans who cropped up during the war have been recruited 
from old trade unionists, who have worked as carpenters, 
or railway workers, or bricklayers. 

Trade union organisers visited places other than public- 
houses. They entered the private domains of Royalty ! 
Before the war they had invaded Sandringham, and 
now in 1917 they boldly entered the gates of Windsor 
Castle and drew up an agreement signed by a Court func- 
tionary which gave the men working in the Royal park 
and farm an increase of los. a week. Here, every 
man excepting two old men, joined the Workers' 


It has been a complaint of farmers * that the men's 
unions have selected for their organisers railway men, 
miners, and other industrial workers, which makes it 
difficult for farmers to negotiate with them. They forget 
when they urge this in defence of their past aloofness to 
trade union organisers, that they themselves selected a 
schoolmaster who had been called to the Bar to act as the 
chief organiser of their own powerful tinion ; an organiser 
who has proved himself to be exceedingly capable. 

The farmers' criticism, if well founded, is one which reacts 
upon themselves. The unfortunate experiences of the men 
at St. Faith's, Lilford, Potter Heigham, and other places 
prove that a farm worker required a singular amount of 
moral courage to undertake the duties of branch secretary, 
and it was natural to appoint as organiser the most capable 
of the branch or district secretaries. 

Fearing dismissal, or eviction, in many a country district 
served by a railway, farm workers frequently sought the help 
of a signalman, or a porter, who had some acquaintance with 
trade unionism and was usually a better penman than those 
who had 1been bred at the plough tail. Often, railway men 
who act as branch secretaries have themselves worked as 
youths on the land, leaving it for the higher wages and the 
greater freedom of service on the railways. Many of these 
men lodge in farm labourers' cottages and are as intimate 
with the life as the farm worker himself. 

The agricultural labourer owes a great debt to the rail- 
way worker for the voluntary part the latter has played 
in helping to lift his fellow-worker from the mire of low 
wages and long hours. Indeed, it was considered before all 
the counties became organised, whichever agricultural imion 
obtained the help of the railway workers first, that union 
was the most successful in estabUshing branches. 

Of the leading workers' representatives on the Agricultural 
Wages Board, Mr. George Edwards is the most honoured. 
No one can say that he has no knowledge of farm life, or 

* I have heard this complaint made by farmers at a small conference 
held in Lord Ernie's room at the Board of Agriculture and at the Royal 
Commission on Agriculture. 


of the conditions under which his class lives. As a child 
he had known the gloomy interior of a workhouse, for his 
father, after fighting for his country, was imprisoned for 
taking turnips from a field in order to feed his family. 
George had never been to school in his life, being at work at 
the age of six, for there were seven children besides his 
father and mother to be kept on a wage of 8s. a week. His 
wife, who was his devoted companion, taught him to read, 
and helped him to memorise the first chapter of St. John 
and three hymns for the first service he conducted at the 
age of twenty-two as a Primitive Methodist local preacher ! 

Mr. John Beard, who shares with Mr. George Dallas the 
honour of being one of two representatives of the Workers' 
Union on the Wages Board, started his career in life as a 
farm labourer. Mr. Dallas, the chief agricultural organ- 
iser for the Workers' Union, Mr. W. R. Smith, M.P.,.the 
president of the N.A.L.U., and Mr. R. B. Walker, its secre- 
tary, have not, it is true, earned their living as farm workers ; 
but, judging by the resolutions passed by county execu- 
tives of the Farmers' Unions, these three gentlemen have 
been more than capable of holding their own on practical 
questions over which controversies have raged at the 
Agricultural Wages Board. It should be remembered that 
Taylor, Arch's capable secretary, was a carpenter by trade ; 
and fanners have now learnt that settlements can be arrived 
at more quickly by dealing with men who by training can 
seize upon the essential points in negotiations, and do not 
fritter away time in side issues which a purely " practical " 
man so often does. 

However, it is the organiser who goes out into remote 
places bringing men into the unions from the highways and 
byways, with whom we are chiefly concerned. To obtain 
their experiences I addressed a questionaire to all the rural 
organisers of the two unions late in the summer of 19191 
and I have rhade a selection from some of the more interest- 
ing letters I have received. . 

" It is a great pleasure to me to know," writes Mr. H. J. 
Vaisey, who is organiser for the Workers' Union in Wilt- 
shire, " that' you are writing a History of the Agricultural 


Labourer, or rather. Agricultural Mechanic. This matter is 
of life interest to me, as all my relations are working upon the 
land. If you go into Gloucestershire round Tetbury way and 
ask for Vaisey, they will ask you if it is Vaisey the carter that 
you want. All Vaiseys are carters except me, and I kicked 
over the traces. But nevertheless, I was being brought up to 
be a carter. My father can neither read nor write, but can plough 
with the next man in the county. He has been ploughing at 
ploughing matches since the time when he was not strong 
enough to turn the plough at the ends ; when grandfather 
helped him at one end and uncle at the other in the matches. 
He won prizes in the boys' class, in the undercarters' class, 
as a carter, and then had to plough in the open championship 
class. He ploughed and won in the double furrow class until 
no one would compete against him, and was barred even from 
the championship class at one of the places where the plough- 
ing matches were held. 

" I was brought up to plough like father, and even got as far 
as to fancy my chance. When my legs were long enough to go 
across the horses' backs, I was put upon them. Many a time as 
a schoolboy I have got up early in the morning to fetch the 
horses in from the field for father, and have caught one of them 
and mounted upon his back without a halter, whip in hand driv- 
ing the other horses in front of me. Saturdays and Sundays I 
have put in at crow scaring for a few coppers. At eleven years 
of age I started work in earnest with the horses. Horses are 
lovable animals, but their big feet used to be pretty hard when 
they stepped upon mine, as they sometimes did as I well remem- 
ber. I remember once that I fell down over the rough land 
when leading four horses, and they all stepped over me with 
such care, that I came out at the other end little the worse had 
it not been for the drags that were following on behind. I 
was holding the plough with a pair of horses for the large wage of 
3s. 6d. per week, when more often than not the plough turned me 
at the ends instead of me turning the plough, in the winter time, 
when the ends were all mud or rough land. I have been dragged 
round many a time under the handles of the plough, and then 
heard the carter shout that he would come and put his hand up 
against my ear, all for 3s. 6d. a week. I was riding mowing 
machines when my legs were not long enough to reach the 
footrests, and I was sitting up on the seat like a crow upon his 
perch, with about as much control over the horses, seeing that I 
had to slip down off the seat to get a grip with my legs before I 
could pull on the reins. This is how farmers treat boys at 
work. Do you remember reading the county papers ' Wanted 
a man, with boys preferred ' ? They did not want the man at 
all ! they wanted the boys to do men's work for boys' wages. 


" At a very early age I began to feel that things were not 
very satisfactory, and had a desire to join the Navy. When I 
was eighteen years of age I had a feeling that I would get into 
a town, and on my nineteenth birthday I set out for Swindon 
to look for work, with i8s. in my pocket and all my belongings 
tied up in a red handkerchief. Boys in a town don't know what 
an effort has got to be made to get away from the serfdom of the 
land. I trudged away like Dick Whittington to become a Coun- 
cillor of Swindon, instead of Lord Mayor of London. I was out 
of work for four weeks and worked in the townsmen's gardens 
for odd shillings to keep up the i8s. I started. with. At last I 
got a job in the Railway Works. The laugh that went round 
the others when they saw me with my brown corduroys on 
covered with plough dirt, and when I took my coat off and they 
saw the way my shirts were made, then they tumbled at the 
truth, that I came from some outlandish place where ignorance 
was bliss. 

" The lot of the agricultural labourer was going down the 
hill previous to the war. Piecework and privileges were drop- 
ping off fast, and prices had a tendency to rise. I remember 
the time when home-bred meat could be bought for 8d. per lb. 
and I have bought 24 eggs for is. We used to go to Cirencester 
Mop with a few pounds in our pockets which we earned in the 
summer time at piecework. But the self-binder came in to 
tie up the corn, and the farmers left the corn to hoe itself rather 
than pay for its being done. Wages may have stopped still, 
or even rose is., but the allowances and privileges went, and 
the piecework gradually dwindled to none at all, and prices went 
up, while the farm workers grumbled. 

"I cannot say that farm workers generally are more difficult to 
organise than other men, providing all things were equal, which 
they are not. In the first place town workers live and work in 
hundreds and thousands, and it is very easy to put their heads 
together on any matter if they desire to. If farm workers have 
a meeting at night, then the farmer comes round to overawe 
them individually in the morning while at work. If that hap- 
pened in a factory, it would have to happen before the eyes of 
all the other workers, who would want to know what was on. 
The farm workers Uve in tied cottages, of which town workers 
generally know nothing of the drawbacks. Men in the villages 
have all the maiihood knocked out of them long before they are 
grown men, for the reasons I have stated before, and because 
men cannot be produced on 14s. per week. Village influence, 
and village schools, are inferior to town schools. Generally, if 
the townsmen had the same difficulties to overcome they would 
be in the same position as the villagers. 

" I started as organiser for the W.U. early in 1914, and I 


should say that the main factors then that helped us were that 
the villagers thought that they had a backing by Lloyd George's 
campaign, and they had a further backing by the offer to them of 
a townsman's Union. The fact that we told the men that the 
Union would back them at once if they joined us, gave them much 
courage, and they mustered up their strength with such force 
that I believe we were well on the road to success when the war 
started. The war took the live blood from our new branches. 
I had one branch, which, after I had been waiting for some time 
for a reply for the secretary, I went over to see what had hap- 
pened, and found that the secretary, president, and all the mem- 
bers but five old men, had gone off one morning to join the army. 
Times again, as fast as we got a secretary the army got him, 
and after making every effort to officer a branch, it would dwin- 
dle down to nothing. I have never had a rowdy meeting of farm 
workers, except at Eynsham, Oxon., where a butcher and a 
farmer's son tried to upset the meeting. If the Unions go down 
in the village^ now, it will be the greatest calamity that could 
happen to the villages." 

" Regarding my own history," writes Mr. Tom Mackley, 
organiser for the N.A.L.U. in Nottingham and Lincolnshire, 
" one feels somewhat diffident about doing more than just out- 
lining a few of the more pertinent incidents in a life that never 
was three weeks from the workhouse door for nearly forty-five 
years. Bom in the little hamlet of Garthorpe, near Melton 
Mowbray, Leics., of hard-working parents, fifty-four years ago 
on August 18, 1919, I have had some experience of the lot 
of the land worker. 

" My father married twice, and all his family (six) being from 
his second wife, we were young when he was grey. I was the 
second son and second in family. My father having got his feet 
frozen cutting hedges in winter of 1873, and gangrene intervening, 
he was taken to Leicester infirmary, leaving my mother with 
six children, and only one working and being paid 3s. 6d. weekly. 
I was taken from school at nine years of age and got 3s. a week 
as a bird-tender, 6s. 6d. all told to keep mother and six chil- 
dren, not to mention the expense of my father at JLeicester. 
My father worked on the same farm for 55I years without any 
break whatever, and won the long service prize given by the 
Leicester Agricultural Society for Long Service the year he had 
to cease work. His employer got the prize-money and was 
going to dole it out in usual fashion until my mother threw it 
back at the person who brought it. 

" At just turned ten years I was packed off to Farm Service, 
i.e. Slavery, and did some five years at various places. At 
the last place I had to clean thirteen pairs of boots, milk seven 


cows and look after two ponies and then be ready to start working 
with labourers. However I had to go home to hold it and pro- 
tect my parents when sixteen years of age, and got the magnifi- 
cent offer of gs. od. per week and keep myself. When nineteen 
my father passed away, and I had to look after a widowed mother 
and young sister on a man's full wage of i2s. per week, pay rent 
to an idle landlord, bow to the parson and go to church each 
Sunday and sing in the choir that famous Doxology, ' Praise 
God from whom all blessings flow,' a mockery to me all the time, 
and only my love for my mother made me bear it. 

" However events were shaping my future. The old employer 
retired from active management of the farm, got a bailiff to do 
it and, like many workers when put in authority proved to be 
a greater tyrant than his real employer. For my daring to 
exchange with an old man and do his heavy job whilst he did 
my light one I got into trouble, and on hearing the bailiff tell this 
old man that it was time he was either dead or in the work- 
house, I lost my temper and knocked him down, and for that I 
got instantly dismissed from my work, followed by having to 
leave my native place and take my mother and sister to new 
fields of labour. I vowed then, and I have kept it, I would never 
again work for a farmer until I had made the lot of the 
agricultural labourer much better. 

" From being an agricultural labourer, I became a gentleman's 
coachman, and whilst I had a thorough gentleman for a master, 
the old spirit of revolt against being a slave to others' bidding 
possessed me, and when he left the district I parted company 
with him. In the meantime I managed to scrape a home to- 
gether and get married and went into a mechanic's shop as a 

" I was for ten years the only member of the ' Gasworkers' 
Union,' now the National Union of General Workers, in that shop 
or town, and I paid the penalty once more by being dismissed 
for refusing to leave my Trade Union. When offered the choice 
between leaving trade unionism or my work I had to consider 
I had four children under ten years of age, so I consulted my wife- 
and she decided. Her decision was I was to maintain my Union 
card no matter the cost, and it proved a very heavy cost, too, 
for it meant I walked the streets for 15 long weary months out 
of work, and never once during that trying period did the part- 
ner of my joys and sorrows ever complain. Only those who 
have been through such an experience can really grasp what 
that meant. 

" Eventually I secured work as a drayman on a canal company, 
and even there the fangs of capitalism tried to bite me, but once 
I found a man and a brother who absolutely refused the many 
appeals to sack me because I was a Trade Union and Labour 


Agitator. For some nine years I did my duty to that company, 
joined the United Carters' Trade Union and became a member of 
its Executive Committee and did much spade work in the Trade 
Union movement on the new order. 

" In 1908 I was selected as I.L.P. Organiser for Woolwich, 
and for two years did some good work there for Political Labour 
and SociaUsm. Taking advantage of the Tutorial Class then 
being formed, I tried to make amends for early years in edu- 
cation. I attended them regularly and have much to thank a 
good friend. Rev. C. H. Grinling, for during that time. 

" My stay in Woolwich terminated in Dec. 1912, when I re- 
moved to Nottingham where for some short time I was Secretary 
of the local I.L.P. Eventually I was asked, through Mrs. Bruce 
Glasier, to consider taking a post of organiser in the National 
Agricultural Labourers' and Rural Workers' Union, which 
eventually I accepted. One word about the rural workers' 
child I must mention. I have five children. The two eldest 
never had any chance beyond an Elementary school education. 
The other three have passed or are passing through the Secondary 
Schools, two now hold good positions as a result and the third 
promises to eclipse them later on. The point I wish to empha- 

" My work amongst the Land Workers during the past 
few years is an open book. In the early days I covered or vis- 
ited no less than 17 counties in England and Wales. Eventually 
I was put down in Lines, and Notts. At that time just one 
branch with forty-three members existed in Lines, and none 
whatever in Notts. To-day we have in the former coimty 
about 228 real strong live branches of the Union with about 
22,000 members, making it the premier county for numbers in 
the country. We have also done well in the latter county and 
still growing every week. 

" Our success I hold is due to several causes, but mainly to 
two things outside of the militant propaganda carried oftHby our 
numerous officers of the Union, helped by many enthusiasts 
both inside and outside our own membership ranks. The two 
causes are, — (i) Education. (2) Economic Forces. The first 
is far from complete, but, whereas I hold that one great cause of 
our predecessor Joseph Arch's failure was the fact that at least 
90 per cent, of the rural workers could neither read nor write, 
to-day there are very few comparatively but can read a printed 
document, even if they do not always grasp the meaning of what 
they read. Give the coming generation in rural England better 
means of education, and they will once again lead the world in 
progress towards the Light. The other cause is the. fact that 


Mrs. Hodge has found out her husband's money will not pur- 
chase as much as in the past, and she has grumbled at her hus- 
band about it until both have often got to words and finally 
he hears of a Trade Union meeting somewhere ; he goes to get out 
of her company, he listens, and the dawn of a new world opens 
before his vision, he joins and becomes an enthusiast, gets more 
and so the cause has spread, is spreading, so fast that, given the 
same rate of progress for another five years we shall come near 
the top of the Trade Union tree, and what applies industrially 
applies also politically. Every member of our Union is a poten- 
tial Labour Voter given the chance at any and every election 
from the Parish Council to the British Parliament." 

Mr. S. E. George, the N.A.L.U. organiser for Leicester, 
vmtes : — 

" The N.A.L.U. seems to have been re-bom at Fenny-Drayton 
in 1915 and at Empingham later, but no great strides were made 
until 1918-19, when the membership rose from 500 to 3,000. 
The Union not only brings men together, but is the means of 
making them discuss the cost of living, the economics of farming, 
etc. The men are certainly more independent ; more like men 
and less like sheep. The trouble lies in getting suitable rooms 
in which to hold meetings. We are barred from church and 
chapel schoolrooms ; I don't know why, for I am sure we should 
be more use there practising temperance than they are preach- 
ing it to teetotallers. The parson generally asks me if I have 
tried to get a room at the pub. 

" At one place — Medboume, near Market Harboro' — ^we had 
the use of a Church Army hut. It was purchased by a kindly- 
natured woman when she discovered we had been debarred 
from the church schoolroom. Three classes are now running 
for farm labourers : two dancing classes, a reading circle, and 
a book club, and we are going to make an outdoor skittle alley 
in the summer. 

" I once rode with a farmer towards Melton in the train, and 
although a member of his own union, he absolutely denied his 
men the right to join their union. He said ' I am done with 
them directly they join the imion. I keep them no longer.' 

" He quite forgets," caustically adds Mr. George, " it is not 
he who has kept the men but the men who have kept him and 
allowed him to put a pile away." 

In the outlying districts he finds that the men are still 
given a week's notice to qtiit their cottage if they join the 
union, and that it is difficult to convince some of the men 


in these rural areas that the ininimum wage is compulsory, 
though round the coal-pits and ironstone works and quar- 
ries many of the farm workers were receiving 50s. for the 
forty-eight hours week. He thinks it is quite remarkable 
that in a grazing county so many men have joined the union. 
He has about eighty branches to look after, each branch, 
averaging about thirty-eight members. 

" The tied cottage is an abuse," he adds, " which will have to 
be fought by getting workers on the R.D.C. and the C.C., and 
a plentiful supply of cottages at a nominal rent." 

Mr. T. Roberts, the organiser for the-N.A.L.U. for Cum- 
berland, Westmoreland, and Fumess, has a more difficult 
task to perform to organise farm labourers in rural areas 
where trade unionism has never taken root, and where 
men are not only habitually boarded, but also have to sleep 
with their masters. In these counties, too, the annual or 
six-monthly hirings have assured farm labourers of a regular 
wage, wet or fine. 

He held his first meeting on August 24, 1918, and opened 
a branch of nine men at Dalton-in-Fumess. He himself 
acted as secretary pro tern. The second meeting was held 
on a Sunday morning, September i, 

" in Mr. Dunn's cowshed, at Rocs, near Barrow-in-Furness, 
where a branch of twenty-four stalwarts was opened. During 
the meeting the farmer's wife came into the cowshed to feed the 
calves and enquired as to ' whether the meeting was for the 
benefit of the farmers, or what ? ' " 

The next meeting was also held on a Sunday morning, 
on the seashore, and though the farm labourers had to rush 
off to rescue twenty sheep which were sinking into the 
quicksands ; and despite many of the men being wet 
through, they stayed to the meeting and opened a branch of 

As the Union is opposed to hiring, the organiser has a 
difficult task to get men to join, for it means a definite break 
with the farmers who insist upon the continuance of the 
hiring system. Though the northern farmer, as a rule, 
feeds his hind or farm-servant fairly well he is sometimes 


a hard taskmaster, and exercises an old-world patriarchal 
tyranny over the lads, and even the married men, when they 
are weak in the powers of resistance, Mr. Roberts tells 
us of one or two instances of this. 

"A young lad arrived at the house of our branch secretary 
in a certain village early one morning seeking advice, for his 
employer having heard he had joined our organisation threat- 
ened to take two meals a day from him and work him out in 
all weathers." 

He knows " of a man with a wife about to be confined 
being engaged on low wages and damnable conditions be- 
cause he knew the man could not move on," and of a West- 
moreland farmer, who said to his men, when the milk was 
raised in price : " The kids will have to get some oot of 
their mothers' chests." 

At one meeting the lads left in order to be in at 9 p.m., 
one youth leaving early to sleep in the cowshed, the door 
being barred at 9.15 in the month of June. 

He, like other organisers, found difficulty in obtaining 
rooms for meetings. At Kirkby Lonsdale his meeting 
was broken up by farmers. At Kirkhampton the meeting 
being again broken up by the farmers, " a comrade Steel of 
the N.U.R." challenged any man to come on to the King's 
highway. No one accepted the challenge, although the 
whole village resolved to kick out the agitators. It is very 
rare to find an instance like this where agricultural labourers 
and farmers combine together to hound out an organiser. 

In many of these small farms, it must be remembered 
that the entire work is accomplished by the farmer's family. 
Mr. Roberts tells us he has worked on farms in this district 
on an average thirteen hours a day with four hours on 
Sundays. " The last hay-time I put in was during a fine 
smnmer when we worked from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. for three 
weeks except Sundays, receiving no overtime pay, only my 
weekly wage of ids. 6d. and food." 

He admits that both wages and food are now better 
than they used to be, and that there are certain advantages 
in the hiring system, such as drawing wages during sick- 
ness and having clothes mended and washed. 


The terrible long customary hours have been considerably 
curtailed since the Agricultural Wages Board came into 
existence, Prior to 1918 he contends it was customary 
to work in summer, thirteen to fifteen hours per day, and in 
winter Sunday's work would average seven hours. 

The Workers' Union started organising Yorkshire in 
1911. Their East Riding District organiser, Mr. J. A. 
Aldous, worked as a farm labourer all his life until 1918, 
when he was appointed organiser. 

" I was brought up in South Suffolk," he writes, " where I 
worked untU seventeen years of age. The workers in Suffolk 
at that time were receiving 12s. per week, and I, being small, 
was receiving 6s. and my parents had to keep me on that amount. 
In Yorkshire wages were then 15s. ; and hired lads fourteen 
to seventeen years of age received £5 to £15. The hours of work 
were very long. In spring hired lads used to work from 4 a.m. 
to 8 p.m. When the W.U. began to organise in Yorkshire in 
igii we managed to get leaving time on a Saturday from 5 to 
6 p.m. A number of estates gave the half-day, but the farmers 
greatly objected. Wages rose very slowly from 1914 until the 
minimum wage of 25s. was established in August, 1917. 

"The instant the weekly men received 25s. instead of 15s., 
hired lads who received £20 got £40 , and casual men for thresh- 
iag received 8s. per day instead of 4s. 

" What the workers require most now is recreation and edu- 
cation. I should like to see night schools established, because in 
four years at a night school I learnt more than I ever did at a 
day school. Many a man never reads a newspaper, to say no- 
thing of books, and is easily led astray, especially in politics. 
We have still to educate them that they should elect men from 
their own class to represent them. 

" The tied house remains the curse. We have power now to 
get some land, but those who live in tied cottages dare not apply, 
never knowing when the employer is going to get out of bed the 
wrong side. 

" One C.C. landowner said the other week that he did not 
believe in allotments, because if a man had done his duty he 
would not require any work after tea — as much as to say, if he 
wasn't tired he ought to be. 

" Small holdings in Yorkshire have not been as successful 
as one would wish, owing to land being often unsuitable, too 
heavily rented, too scattered, and most of all, because the small 
holder tries to farm on the same lines as the farmer. 



" In Yorkshire farmers attend all markets and sales, even if 
there is one every day. A good number have their motor cars, 
whilst many are buying their farms. The yearly and half- 
yearly hiring is still in operation, though a good number were 
engaged by the week last Martinmas." 

Mr. Aldous was himself victimised for his activities on 
behalf of his fellow workers, and modestly refers to his lack 
of education, thus : — 

" I am still at school, though over thirty years of age. I 
have not the education to write as I should hke, having been 
a farm worker until 1918, and much time that ought to have 
been spent in reading was not allowed to us when we used to 
work on the land." 

The concluding paragraph of his letter is significant, 
illustrating the demand by the agricultural labourer for a 
fuller intellectual life : — 

" One thing that I have not mentioned is that a number of 
branches have sent to the Fabian Society for the box of books 
which should prove helpful." 

The taunt that the organisers of farm workers are towns- 
men unaccustomed to farming becomes an iU-placed gibe, 
when we find an organiser jumping off his bicycle to doctor 
a cow belonging to a distressed fanner, as an incident in 
the following letter illustrates : — 

Mr. W. B. Whittle is the district organiser in Lancashire 
for the N.A.L.U. " The Union," he writes, " came into being 
in the Ormskirk district in 191 1. In 1913 the memorable Lan- 
cashire strike took place. The outbreak of war suspended trade 
union activities. In 1915 a new start was made and right 
through up to the present the growth is wonderful. 

"In S. and S.W. Lancashire the minimum wage has been 
left behind, and at present the majority of practical farm hands 
are ranging from 48s. to 50s. a week, whilst in the case of first 
or leading hands 55s. is given. In other parts of Lancashire 
(notably east) wages are not so good, and as the larger parts 
are in the dairy interest, workable conditions are more difi&cult 
to arrange. Men are not so independent as in the S. and S.W. 
and naturally do not strike one as being of the same calibre 
regarding trade unionism generally. 

" Regarding R.D.C. contests, one stands out very promin- 
ently where only last week (September) a branch secretary 


(Tarbock) contested the position with a noted gentleman of 
means. The voting was equal. A recount occurred. Again 
the votes were equal. To settle the question it was decided to 
spin a coin, which, unfortunately (from our standpoint) came 
to the ground in favour of the opposite side. 

" Men of to-day are certainly better off, in spite of much that 
is said to the contrary, than in pre-war days. Logically this 
is the outcome of the organisation to which they belong. Many 
a man to-day is in receipt of 48s. and 50s. a week who was only 
in receipt of 22s. 6d. and 23s. and £1 a week when war was de- 
clared. I have known agricultural labourers spend £2 in a trip 
in a Sopwith this summer at Southport." 

Even the heavy-footed have an ambition to fly ! 

" Manliness is asserting itself. Men on the land are realis- 
ing their importance ; but unfortunately tyranny still exists. 
There was a case of a member threatened for being in a union 
in the Burnley district. Waylaid by farmers (father and son) 
he was kicked mercilessly and left to die. The wife started in 
search and found her husband torn and bleeding in a lonely 
road (Worsthome). She summoned medical and police aid. 
The doctor pronounced the case serious. A solicitor was en- 
gaged, and the case would have been tried at Burnley. It was 
settled before going into court for the miserable sum of £8. 

" The farm-tied cottage is the modem curse of agriculture. 
Men loathe the system ; masters, cling to it. 

" North and East Lanes, are notoriously bad in this respect 
and there will never be any improvement substantially until 
the system is totally abolished. Bad sanitation ; impure water ; 
dampness ; defective roofs ; are amongst the main grievances. 
The Fylde area is particularly bad. At Westby Mills (where I 
have slept myself) these facts are glaring. In the Reedley 
Hallows, Pendle Bridge and Cliviger districts of East Lanes, 
the same conditions exist and there is almost a feeling of des- 
pair amongst the dwellers. The Bolton-Bury district is similar; 
and as the farmer is both landlord and architect, as well as a 
shielded person, there is very little chance of successful appeal. 

" The boon of shorter hours is a great one to the agricultural 
labourer. All that is needed to perfect any working arrange- 
ment is an improved organisation of the conditions. To-day 
hours are wasted in the conveyance of food to cattle, also lack 
of better arrangement for preparing same. There is a consider- 
able mileage covered by the ordinary cattleman in connection 
with watering and feeding. 

" In my work as an organiser my experience with farming 
since childhood has been invaluable. Sometimes I have posed 


as a salesman for cattle drinks in order to introduce the sub- 
ject for conversation. At other times I have walked leisurely 
along and gone into the hayfield or cornfield and assisted to load, 
stack or stook com, in order to get into touch with the 
workmen, and introduce myself. 

" On one occasion on passing a farmhouse, die old farmer, 
who was alone at the gate, was in great distress. Jumping from 
ray cycle, I was informed that his three men had gone with pro- 
duce to the market town and during their absence a valuable cow 
was taken ill. I went along to the shippon, examined the cow, 
procured the old-fashioned horn, and donning the mistress's 
apron administered a drink. 

" ' Whoa are yo ? " exclaimed the farmer. 

" ' I am a Labour organiser,' was my reply. 

" ' Is it yo that puts men into the Union ? ' 

" ' I'm him.' 

" ' Well, put my three in, and I'll pay for them .' 

" One of these men is a branch secretary to-day ! 

" One day when visiting an employer in connection with a 
wages dispute, the gun was taken down, but no threat was 
uttered. It was a rough argument, but a challenge to a sparrow 
shoot which followed settled the matter. 

" Disputes are much more easily settled at a conference than 
individually, as numbers produce thought. The individual 
farmer is stUl behind the times in many ways and needs great 
education. The lot of the organiser is hard and entails a great 
deal of sacrifice. I have done all kinds of things to settle dis- 
putes ; sometimes drawn " shorts " and sometimes spim a 
coin. My latest experience is one of being boycotted in a remote 
district where I could not get lodgings anywhere. One could 
hardly fancy such a state of things as this in these days, though 
one of the world's greatest Reformers had not where to lay 
His head." 

Mr. W. T. Fielding, the organiser of the N.A.L.U. in 
Salop, left farm work to become a railway servant, and then 
returned to help those who followed the plough as an organ- 
iser. He tells me that at a meeting at Craven Arms, two 
veterans came forward to testify that they had been 
members of Joseph Arch's old Union in 1872. 

"Shropshire" he says, "has had small branches in the 
county for about eleven years, but it was not until the last 
two or three years that the spirit of combination began to 
take hold of the workers." Writing in September, 1919, 
Mr. Fielding says " 76 branches have been started with 4,000 



members. Before the war there were not 500 members." 
He considers that the greatest stride that the farmworkers 
have made has been in the shortening of the hours of 
labour and in the fixing of overtime rates. He finds 

" The farm worker is not the docile creature he was twenty 
years ago. More intelligent, he has now more initiative, 
greater capacity, and desires a higher standard of comfort — ■ 
— ^better houses, more furniture, musical instruments, a good 
class of literature . . . how many embryo Miltons and Shake- 
speares have human society pounded back to the earth again : 
their latent genius and talent buried without opportunities of 
development ! 

" With regard to my own experiences as an organiser I think 
every organiser will agree with me that our life is not exactly 
on a bed of roses. We are moving about every day from village 
to village in all kinds of weather. With strange lodgings almost 
every night, and correspondence following us about which has 
to be dealt with under great difficulties — very often not able to 
secure a diet to keep one fit and well. 

" We are regarded by the farmers mostly as firebrands who 
are bent on stirring up discontent where previously nothing but 
content existed. Even by the most business-like farmers 
we are regarded as a beastly nuisance and one that has to be 

Mr. S. Box, the Workers' Union organiser in Hereford- 
shire is one of a family of ten, and was left an orphan at 
eight. He has been at work since he was nine, his school- 
ing consisting of three years at a natiopal school. He has 
been a farm labourer all his life, and before me lies a pam- 
phlet containing verses written by him descriptive of the 
life of the labourer. 

He says that wages remained practically stationary in 
Herefordshire from 1872 to 1912, when he, Mr. W. Palmer 
and two others began to start a union of labourers for the 
county. The Workers' Union came to their assistance, 
resulting in Mr. Box being appointed organiser. 

" The work was highly successful," he adds, " but met with 
intense opposition from the farmers of the coimty. The farmers 
circulated a canard that Joseph Arch had collected enough money 
to purchase a mansion and live in retirement and had become 
Sir Joseph Arch. Even many labourers believed this and speak 
of him as Sir Joseph. 


" During 1912-14 fifty branches were opened and upwards 
of 2,000 members were enrolled. Conferences were held, rates 
of wages tabulated, and presented to the local Farmers' Union, 
but were rejected. Still, wherever branches existed, wages rose 
at the rate of 2s. to 6s. per week. Where no branch existed, 
wages remained stationary. 

" A strike was raging when the Great War broke out. The 
result was disastrous to many branches, the members enhsting 
en bloc. The strike was closed, propaganda ceased, and I took 
up work again in another sphere. I was reappointed in April, 
1919, and now have upwards of 5,000 members and the member- 
ship is rapidly increasing. 

" The remarkable fact was that few farmers in Herefordshire 
were paying 25s. a week when it became law, thus showing the 
fallacy tiiat wages were paid according to the prosperity of the 
industry. Very few farmers pay above the minimum, and the 
scarcity of cottages combined with the tied-cottage system — 
the curse of the agricultural labourer's life — ^make further 
advances difficult. 

" So cruel has been the tied-cottage system that it will be well 
to cite a few cases. In 1914, when the men of N. Herefordshire 
were standing out for i6s. to i8s. a week of sixty hours, they 
received lawyers' letters from their employers ordering them to 
quit their cottages. I have many of the original notices in my 
possession. In S. Herefordshire a workman who had been a 
wagoner for thirty years to the same farmer, was sacked for a 
younger man and ordered to leave his home in less than two hours. 
He became insane, and an inmate of the asylum for months. 
Another case in S. Herefordshire which occurred during the war 
was that of a labourer who had worked on the same farm for 
forty years receiving notice to quit. His three sons had volun- 
tarily enlisted. Two of these were killed and the third returned 
home to see his dear old dad die a week after. In less than a 
week after the burial the farmer, a very wealthy man, ordered 
the poor old widow to quit her home to make room for a young 
man. The returned soldier, to save his old mother's home, 
offered his services to the farmer, which were accepted, but he 
sacrificed a higher position elsewhere to prevent his mother 
being turned out. 

" But the Union has now taught the labourer to respect him- 
self, and given him confidence, creating a more manly and inde- 
pendent spirit which wiU act for the good of the community." 

Mr. H6v?ard, the Workers' Union organiser in the Basing- 
stoke district of Hampshire, writes to say that in some parts 
of his district 90 per cent, of the men are organised and that 


the labourers have about forty representatives in Parish 
and Rural District Councils, though the district is unde- 
fined. He finds that on large farms the men are " more inde- 
pendent and more prepared to insist on their rights than 
on small farms." 

" I have recently," he adds, " been endeavouring to get all 
cottages examined lay the District Wages Committee in view 
of getting the rent of 3s. reduced where cottages are in a bad 
state. I got more opposition from farmers on this than on any 
other question, but we have been successful in getting rents 
reduced in bad cases. The tied house is the thing that to-day 
is preventing men from being independent, as they are afraid 
of being turned out into the road. 

" I know of a case near Alton where a man knowingly agreed 
that his son should work at a lower rate than the minimum 
because he was afraid of being turned out. This he admitted 
only when he left his situation through a quarrel. He said 
it was a common practice to do this where a man had one or 
two sons, and that they do not complain, because of the housing 
difficulty. Some farmers deduct from each employee living in 
the same cottage the 3s. a week for rent. I have known 9s. 
deducted in this way at one cottage. We got two cases settled 
in favour of the men. Owing to years of oppression the rural 
mind is less receptive than that of most workers." 

Mr. G. C. Piggott, the Isle of Wight and Hants organiser 
of the N.A.L.U., tells me of the curious way in which he 
became an organiser : — 

" With regard to the birth of our imion in the Isle of Wight 
it was brought about in this way. My late employer had been 
to London as the representative to the Central Chamber of 
Agriculture and I had to meet him at the station on his return. 
On his way home he kept on telling me what they were going to 
do and what they were not going to do, and I said, ' What is 
wanted is an Agricultural Labourers' Union in this district, 
and I'm going to try and get one.' He said ' I agree with you,' 
and I immediately set to work. I got two dock workers from 
Cowes to speak, and we started our first branch at Newport 
with forty-seven members. That was on January 12, 1918, 
That branch is now 257 strong, and there are altogether fourteen 
branches on the island with a total of over 1,000 members." 

Farmers continually complain that the objection to a 
trade union rate of wages is that you have to pay aU men 
alike. This of course is not true, (except in so far as 


a minimum has to be paid), and Mr. Piggott gives an 
amusing instance of how a man who had always been paid 
5s. a week more than the other workmen on the farm 
demanded the extra sum when the minimum wage was 
fixed — and got it ! 

Before the war Mr. Piggott was working for a farmer 
for £i a week with a cottage, and he worked for this wage 
right up to 1915, when he had a wife and five children under 
eight years of age to support. His work started at five 
o'clock in the morning and ceased only at the pleasure of 
the farmer, without a penny being paid for overtime. 

" I have known the time when I have been cutting up man- 
golds on Saturday night up till ten o'clock so that I should not 
do this on Sunday. On one occasion we had a cow bad, and I 
sat up with her nearly all night. When I asked for some pay- 
ment for this, my employer replied, ' I lost the cow.' I was 
told I could have separated mUk free, but he never failed to 
remind me of this act of generosity afterwards." 

Like all other organisers he condemns the tied- cottage 
system. To illustrate the ceaseless drudgery of farm work 
he writes : 

" I have just had a farm labourer, one of my old mates, stay- 
ing with me. He is 35 years of age, and this is the first holiday 
he has had for ten years. Another one wrote me a few weeks 
ago to say that he had drawn all his harvest pay and was now 
going to spend it. This was the first holiday he had ever had, 
and he was going to London. Fancy Hodge in London ! It 
would be good material for your book." 

I wonder what the effect would have been amongst the 
Brotherhood of Thackeray's days who possessed fine 
calves and wore yellow plushes if they knew that a footman 
was destined to become one of the most successful organisers 
of the agricultural labourers ? You could not shock a 
footman to-day by such an announcement if one is to judge 
the fraternity by a visit I paid during war-time to an 
exceedingly exclusive club in St. James' Street. Here I 
handed my card to a white-haired gentleman arrayed in 
spotless Unen who might have been the family butler to 


the distinguished Peer upon whom I was calling. My 
astonishment was great when this very respectable elderly 
waiter asked me in a voice audible to others if I knew if his 
lordship paid good wages to farm workers. I answered that 
I hoped so. Thereupon he burst out with : " It's about 
time they did. My father was an agricultural labourer and 
he had to bring nine of us up on los. a week." He said it 
with such feeling that I felt that if I had put a Red Flag 
into his hand he would have rushed out into the street 
heralding the Social Revolution ! 

Mr. Jack Shingfield, the Workers' Union organiser of 
the farm labourers in Suffolk, was at one time a footman. 
His father was a farm labourer and a member of Joseph 
Arch's Union. Jack left school at eleven years of age, 
when he worked in the gardens attached to a castle. As 
his calves developed it was but a short flight of steps into 
the servants' hall ; and he took his calves in the wake of 
a sporting gentleman on to the hunting fields, the grouse 
moors and the deck of a yacht. 

Bored with this parasitical kind of labour, and throwing 
respectability to the winds, he became a London dairyman, 
and soon agitated to improve conditions for his fellow work- 
ers, forming what was then known as the National Union of 
Dairy Employees. Despite his twelve hours a day for seven 
days a week, he attended classes at the Polytechnic and 
secured diplomas. At the beginning of the war he was 
fired with the desire to organise the class from which he had 
sprung, and he was appointed an eastern counties organiser 
for the Workers' Union. 

Under forty years of age, he is still young, and his energy 
found a boundless field in Suffolk and in Essex, where 
since his appointment as organiser in 1915 he has opened 
200 new branches with a membership of nearly 30,000. 
He organised one of the largest and most successful farm 
labourers' demonstrations ever held in England. This was 
at Bury St. Edmunds, when it was estimated that 20,000 
men were present (June, 1919). 

Mr. Shingfield believes in plain language when speaking 
to labourers, and as an organiser, in giving simple directions 


even as to the smallest details to men who are unaccustomed 
to print. 

" I have long ago discovered," he writes, " that you have got 
to lead the farm worker ; tell him what he has to do and he will 
do it to a man. But leave it to him to think it out for himself 
and you won't get much response. Just tell him what you want, 
and tell him plain and straight, and he will be with you. It's 
his class-consciousness that you want to discover. It is there, 
though it is difficult to find. I know, because I am one of them 
and have felt the stifling, stunting atmosphere of the great 

Though Mr. Shingfield is a member of the District Wages 
Committee, he has found it necessary to institute a standing 
joint council of the Farmers' Union and the Workers' Union, 
which has done very useful work in settling disputes as to 
the tenancy of cottages, victimisation, and the non-pasmient 
of the minimmn wage. By avoiding sending reports to the 
Agricultural Wages Board and the consequent visitation 
of an inspector (which often results in the labourer being 
dismissed) this Council, by frank discussion, has prevented 
a good deal of friction between the farmers and the workers. 

Of the new school of organisers similar to that of Mr. 
Shingfield belongs Mr. Harry White, the Workers' Union 
organiser for the county of Bedford. The two men are 
quite dissimilar in character and temperament ; but both 
are sons of farm labourers and being deprived of education at 
an early age they sought knowledge where the poor man only 
can gain it, that is in the towns. Mr. White's father worked 
in the Bedfordshire village of Leagrave, seven days a week 
for I2S. a week. Harry was the second of a family of eight. 
He left school at ii| years of age, being driven to increase the 
family earnings by 2s. 6d. a week as carter's boy. 

At the first opportunity he abandoned this fife to bepome 
an errand boy to a firm of straw hat manufacturers. At 
seventeen he began to take a keen interest in social and 
political problems, joined an adult school in the village and 
became a convinced socialist. Two years later, at the age 
of nineteen, he, with one or two others, gave his village a 
profound shock by opening a branch of the I.L.P. He soon 


came into touch with the Workers' Educational Associa- 
tion, being one of the first members to join the Luton 
tutorial class. He attended these classes for four years, 
walking six miles after his factory work ended. 

In 191 1 he moved to Luton, and there when Alderman 
Morley opened a branch of the Workers' Union he joined 
it, and in 1914 became branch secretary. In 1915 he was 
appointed organiser in Bedfordshire and the surrounding 
counties. Since he took this work in hand the membership 
increased from 1,000 to 15,000 in the space of four years. 
Like most organisers who belong to the " advanced " 
movement he is a tactful negotiator, displaying this gift with 
success when he handled the Chatteris strike, with which 
I will deal later. 

Writing to me of the social conditions at Ridgmount, 
which is in the centre of the Duke of Bedford's estate, he 
says : — 

" It was in the autumn of 1917 when I tried to fix up a meeting 
but could not get a room for some time. Then a friendly publi- 
can offered the use of a room and we opened a small branch 
with the publican as secretary. Since that time quite a trans- 
formation has taken place. Our membership has grown to about 
250 and the old influence has gone, as is proved by the fact 
that at the last Parish Council all its successful candidates were 
members of our Union ! " 

There are other organisers as able and successful as these 
I have mentioned, but their replies have not reached me in 
time for publication. Yet there is one other letter from which 
I should like to quote, and this comes not from an organiser, 
but from a branch secretary still working as a farm labourer. 

This poignant human document, consisting of thirty-one 
pages of closely written clear handwriting, was sent to me by 
the writer last autumn. It was the record of the Hfe of a 
farm labourer in Sussex, and is written by the man himself. 
Considering how loth men who handle the plough are to put 
pen to paper, one can imagine the nights this man has 
spent of his scanty leisure laboriously penning the salient 
facts of his life. Unfortunately I have space only to 
include extracts. 


" Bom in the year 1873," he writes, " my father was a carter 
at Brede in the county of Sussex. Before my birth there were 
in the family two boys and one girl. My father's wage was 15s. 
per week with his cottage, then out of that his employer stopped 
IS. per week for the firing, so that left 14s. to keep my father, 
mother, and the three little ones, and then, of course, there arrived 
myself to increase the family. Unfortunately, I lived to add to 
their great burden. Then another girl was bom, which like 
myself lived and had to be kept, on the same wage, and 
after her two others, making a family of nine living upon 

" When I was attending school a stroke of luck fell upon my 
father. His employer wanted a carter's boy for 4s. a week, 
so of course my brother started work with the horses, not be- 
cause he had had sufficient schooling, but because his 4s. were 
wanted to make ends meet in the home. He was out in the stable 
in the moming by six to go either to Rye or Hastings, and as 
there was no compulsory school attendance in those days I 
often went with my father and brother for a ride in the wagon, 
and I carmot tell you how I enjoyed those rides along the Udimore 
Road on the starUght mornings in the winter ! 

" Whilst I was attending school in this kind of way my mother 
fell ill, and the cottage where we lived, like many others, had no 
water close to it — ^the nearest being about two furlongs from the 
house — so again I kept away from school, for on the' day my 
mother did the washing I used to be at home to fetch the water 
with two small buckets. 

" I loved my mother so much that I felt I must always be 
with her, but how she managed to make ends meet God only 
knows. Often at dinner I have seen the tears come in her eyes 
when father asked her if she could not eat more dinner and her 
answer was, ' I must think of those vAio go to work and the 
children,' and often I am sure she has gone short of food through 
thought of the children. 

" Another stroke of luck though fell to the home, when my 
eldest sister was old enough to go to service ; but the struggle 
was no less as those at home still grew older and wanted more to 
eat ; but the wage of my father never grew. 

" My mother, though often ill, had to go to work in the field 
and hop-garden to help support the home. When my father 
had worked at that farm for nearly nine years my mother's 
illness led to calling in the doctor, who told my father that if 
he wished to save my mother's life he must get a better house. 
So on Monday, February 25, 1884, my father heard of another 
situation. It was a lovely, clear day, and as it was mother's 
washing day I was at home fetching water and seeing to the 
fire, and my father, as he sat at dinner, said he was going, as 


soon as he got the horses in the stables, to Udimore to see about 
another situation. 

" The home was made clean and as comfortable as circum- 
stances would allow, and my mother got herself dressed with 
the intention of visiting a friend, but she complained of feeling 
so tired and said she must rest awhile. So she made herseH 
comfortable upon the sofa, and there, on that lovely bright after- 
noon, on February 23, 1884, she passed away. 

" My father got his situation, not realising the news that was 
awaiting him on his return. His old employer to show his appre- 
ciation of my father's nine years' service offered, free of charge, 
one of his manure carts to carry all that remained of a loving 
mother to the church. 

" I may say that just before that time, there was in existence 
a union known as the Kent and Sussex Laboinrers' Union, of 
which my father and a few others in Brede were members ; 
but not being far enough of years off the Peterloo slaughter it 
had to be kept pretty secret, and whether it got to the know- 
ledge of the employer or not one cannot say, but if it did, that 
was no doubt the reason of him offering so respectable a convey- 
ance to convey my mother to the church, though my father 
worked very long hours, receiving no pay for overtime. 

" We moved to Udimore, and I, though not twelve years of 
age, was compelled to leave school to help to maintain the home 
on a wage of 3s. a week, getting to the stable in the morning 
at half-past six and not leaving till the evening. The ordinary 
labourer's wage was then 12s. a week, losing time on wet days. 
I worked for 3s. a week for two years and then made up my 
mind to ask for more money, as I was over thirteen years of age. 
But all that I was told by master was that he thought of lower- 
ing wages. That was the cause of my father in 1887 leaving 
Udimore to go to Westfield. 

" At that time, about 1886, there was a talk of raising the 
wages from 2s. to 2S. 3d. a day, and the farmers said that if the 
wages did go up 3d. a day they would lay their land down to 
grass. Some of the Sussex farmers openly said it was a pity 
men were not like mangolds, that they could be buried in the 
autumn and dug up again in the spring. Labour was plentiful 
but work was scarce, and many children were then learning 
what it was to go to bed hungry. 

" At the age of fourteen I was getting 5s. per week, but as my 
father, through getting older, and through being kicked while 
harnessing a colt, was beginning to get very lame and unable 
to follow his occupation as carter, we did not stay there long, 
so in August of 1887 we left Westfield for Brede. Then it was 
I began to realise more of the hardships of life. My father 
unable to get work, and I only getting 5s. a week to buy bread 


for father my three sisters and myself, often worked all day with 
nothing but a piece of bread to eat not so large as the hand. 
1 hat IS how our family existed in the winter of 1887-8 

iiut m the spring of 1888 my father got work again at 3s. 
a day when fine, and this continued to be the wage in E. Sussex, 
between 1890 and 1900, though some were being paid as low as 
los. a week. 

'• One neighbour of ours through losing time on wet days 
got only 7s. a week to keep- his wife and family on. 

" I remember about this time during the harvest there were 
some oats to be carried on another farm, and being fine the men 
worked on till it got dark. Then it was necessary to have a 
light m the bam, and at twenty minutes past ten one of the 
lights was gettmg low. The boss came into the bam and see- 
ing one lamp abnost out asked the poor old chap who was stack- 
mg the oats if he didn't want a candle. The poor old fellow 
replied that he wanted his tea more. 

" When all the com was carried next week and the old chap 
went for his 12s., his kind employer took into consideration 
what had been done and how late they had worked without 

overtime pay by saying: "Well, S , the com is all got 

together so I shall not want you again. Then perhaps you will 
be able to get your tea a little earlier in the future ! ' And the 
man was unemployed for many weeks. 

" Fortunately for us a brickfield was opened in the district 
in 1891 or 1892, whilst I was eighteen years of age. The pay at 
the brickfield was double the pay on the farms, so you may guess 
what a godsend it was to the labourers. But the land was still 
being laid down to grass, and many that could not get work in the 
brickfields, emigrated to other lands to take up their abode there, 
to grow com to feed those in the country they had left behind. 

"My father, though now a cripple, was made the foreman of 
the brickfield on a wage of 24s. a week. I need not tell you how 
annoyed the farmers were over the brickfield. The worst of 
it was that as soon as the brickmaking season came to an end, 
the hands were stood off, and the men had to find work wood- 
cutting, or on the road, or threshing. 

"An attempt was made to organise the agricultural labourers, 
but it failed, and a man who was then a member of the old 
Labourers' Union had to flee the parish for trying to better the 
condition of his fellow working men. The agricultural labourer 
was not allowed to have a union at this time, and if a poor girl 
met with a misfortune she had to leave the parish by order of 
ihe parson, knd if the father refused to let his daughter go he 
had to clear out too. 

" I think we can leave this terrible time and step on to 19141 
when the beginning of the awful sacrifice had to be made. Many 


a worker had to leave his situation so that the farmer's son 
could take his place mstead of going into the army, and often 
the worker was married with a family, whilst the son of the 
farmer was a single young man. I could state many cases 
where that was done. 

" But I must go back a few years, as there are one or two 
things that I have omitted. There was the Old Age Pensions 
Act, and I was thinking of the trouble the workers were put to 
to get it. I well remember when my father reached the age of 
seventy the Pension Officer called to see him to make sure that 
he was not a wealthy man ; asked him if he had any cash in the 
Bank. What a lot the poor agricultural labourer ought to have 
done out of their poor wages after bringing up a family ! Far- 
mers became very thoughtful about a labourer's age, and would 
do all they could to help them to get the Old Age Pension, and 
when they got it for them they hired them at lower wages. 

" I well remember one poor old worker, nearly eighty years 
of age, still forced to work to keep himself alive ; but one day 
he could not be seen in the field. So a search was made and the 
poor old chap was foimd in the hedge dying, but as he was only 
an agricultural labourer no notice was taken of him. 

" When the war started the recruiting officer would tell the 
farm worker if he joined the army it would be a holiday for him ; 
no food or clothes to buy, and he would be able to see the lands 
beyond the seas, and many of the employers went so far as to 
promise the men half their wage and to look after their wives 
and families while they were away ; but these promises were 
soon forgotten. Farm workers began to be attracted by higher 
wages elsewhere, but the Labour Exchanges soon stopped 
all that, and when tribunals were set up as soon as a man was 
exempt from service he was threatened with military service 
if he asked for higher wages. 

" In 1917, when a few of us held our first meeting in Westfield, 
many farmers refused to pay the minimum wage, but as the guns 
still roared, and the blank places in the battle lines had to be 
filled and labour became scarce they had to pay the 32s. per week 
for Sussex, and were compelled to plough the land, though many 
of them would not do that — grow food for the people — ^without 
the compulsory order. Though the cost of living went up twice 
as high as before the war, and the farmers were making large 
profits they still said they could not afford to pay 32s. Now 
they have to pay 38s. 6d. 

" But the slaughter is finished and the brave lads are at home 
again, though not all of them that went away. . . . But 
oh, how we all longed for the return of those who did come back, 
that after all the horrors and hardships that they have had to 
endure, they would return to a better England than when 
they left. But what do we find ? . . ." 




Farmers were no less busy than labour organisers, and 
whilst combination was going on apace amid the armies 
of the two opposing forces, the Agricultural Wages Board 
had set its house in order, formed its District Wages Com- 
mittees, and made its first pronouncement as to wages and 
hours. Norfolk was the first county for which an Order 
was made, and this was dated May 20, 1918. Wages for 
ordinary labourers were fixed at 30s. for a fifty-four hour 
week in the summer and a forty-eight hour week for the 
winter months of November to February. A special 
class was made of cowmen, who had to work the " customary " 
hours for 36s. Overtime rates of pay were fixed at 8|d. 
an hour for week-days and lod. for Sundays. These wages 
came into operation for all male workers over eighteen. 

It was not until September that the Orders were eventu- 
ally issued for all counties. Based on the Norfolk stan- 
dard, many counties had 30s. fixed for them, others 31s. and 
32s. whilst Kent and Surrey had 33s., and Middlesex and 
Lincolnshire 34s., and the northern counties 35s. for the 
same number of hours. Some counties decided that eighteen 
years was too young an age to receive manhood's pay, 
fixing this at twenty-one years. Most cowmen, shepherds 
and carters had to work the " customary hours " for an 
additional sum of 6s. As these Orders were abrogated in 
1919 when an increase of 6s. 6d. a week was granted we need 
not detail the varying district rates. 

As the cost of living had risen 106 per cent. ^ these rates 

' Large towns no per cent., small towns and villages 102 per cent., 
United Kingdom 106 per cent. — Labour Gazette, April, 1918. 



were by no means received with universal satisfaction. 
It was unfortunate that a low-paying county like Norfolk 
should have been the first county for which an Order was 
made. High as the wages appeared compared with the 
ordinary pre-war wages, the labourer was no better off 
save in one way ; he had his hours defined, and for the first 
time in his life he could legally claim a definite overtime 
rate. By a restriction of his hours of labour he was able 
to earn more overtime, and in that manner he gained some- 
thing. He at least gained more leisure. 

But the man in charge of stock was kept in his old state 
of servitude by the unfortunate clause " customary hours." 

I strenuously opposed this clause on my District Wages 
Committee, as I knew that it would give rise to much dissat- 
isfaction, varying not only from county to county, and parish 
to parish, but even from farm to farm. It bore grievously hard 
upon cowmen in particular. I knew cowmen, for instance, 
who were still getting up at 3.30 in the morning to milk, 
and were kept at work until half-past five in the afternoon, 
with hours on Sunday beginning at 4 a.m. and lasting until 

II a.m., when there was a break of an hour for pious medita- 
tion ; and then work again until 1.30. For working these 
long hours in 19 14 men were paid £1 a week in the county of 
Surrey ! Such men under the Order were paid higher 
wages than the ordinary labourer, but they were working 
many more hours, and in spite of being generally considered 
more highly skilled men, were paid less per hour. Though 
there was a scarcity of labour, it was an injustice difficult 
to combat, for cottages were scarcer than men, and most 
cattlemen lived in farm-tied cottages. The hard task- 
master still wielded great powers. Nevertheless, this was 
remedied in 1919, when farm workers in most counties, 
irrespective of their duties, came under the general Order 
of fifty hours for summer, and forty-eight hours for winter. 
The abolition of " customary hours " was a distinct im- 
provement, welcomed by the best of the employers, and one 
which made the worst employers not only shorten their hours 
but improve their methods of organisation. 

It was an arduous task to raise the minimum higher 

VOL. II. u 


than 30s. after the Board's Order had been fixed for Nor- 
folk. In my opinion the minimum rate should have been 
fixed in 1918 at not lower than £2, which, considering the 
rise in the cost of living, was barely eqtiivalent to the £t 
a week which Mr. Rowntree showed us was absolutely 
necessary to sustain physical efficiency before the war. 
Farmers were rising on the high tide of their prosperity, and 
if they were capable of paying £2 a week, as approximately 
they did, in 1919, they were capable of pa57ing £2 a week 
in 1918. The Order of 30s. for Norfolk was due to the mod- 
eration of the workers' representatives, combined with the 
lack of data at that time as to farmers' profits to convince 
the appointed members that farmers would not be ruined 
by a higher standard. 

Complaints were made both by farmers and workers 
of the bias displayed by these appointed members of the 
District Wages Committees, who, after all, were the jury 
which tipped the scale one way or the other, and so decided 
the rate. Although the District Wages Committees can 
only recommend to the Central Board rates and hours, 
their decisions are generally accepted with shght modi- 
fications. The appointed members therefore stand as the 
figiure of Fate, uncomfortably balancing itself on the tight- 
rope stretched between the two parties pulling with all 
their strength. 

I find that there are one earl, three barons, four ladies, 
of title, three " honourables," thirteen baronets and knights, 
fourteen colonels, some landowners and quite a number of 
Justices of the Peace, amongst those selected for pos- 
sessing minds so equipoised that they can give an imbiased 
judgment between capital and labour. 

It was natural that the workers viewed with misgiving 
the decisions of men and women drawn almost entirely 
from the employing class and felt that they were negotiating 
with opponents who had strong allies.* 

• The inner history of the selection of appointed members should make 
curious reading. For the most part names were suggested by the Lord 
Lieutenant of each county. Now a Lord Lieutenant cannot be said to 
possess a strong bias towards Labour, and feeling the scales w^ould be 
v/eighted against Labour I ventured (unofficially) to suggest one or two 


I gather, however, from the workers' representatives 
who sit on the Central Wages Board that the appointed 
members have behaved with commendable fairness. These 
gentlemen, and the one lady, Mrs. Roland Wilkins, bear 
names which are honoured by all classes of the agricultural 
community ; but I do not feel quite so sure that the ap- 
pointed members on the District Committees were selected 
with the same care by the Board of Agriculture. Decisions 
arrived at show that the appointed members on these Dis- 
trict Committees invariably tipped the scale on the side 
of the farmers, \yhen workers' representatives were mak- 
ing demands for £2 a week and the farmers refused to go 
beyond 30s., there were but few instances where the ap- 
pointed members gave their vote for a rate of more than 
a shilhng or two above the farmers. The appointed mem- 
bers may attempt to justify their decision by the assertion 
that the workers made too high a demand, but this falls 
to the ground in the light of the decision of the following 
year when the minimum rates ranged from 36s. 6d. to 
42s. 6d. and the hours were materially shortened. 

On the workers' side of the District Committees, the 
trade union organiser is generally the chief spokesman. 
Yet the farm workers are beginning to feel their feet, for 
though most of them have never opened their lips on any 
public body before, it is extraordinary what advances 
they have made in the art of expressing themselves. For 
the first time in their lives they sit on an equality with 
farmers and draw the same payment for their public work.^ 

It is a common error to regard the farm labourer 
as stolid as an ox in a fattening stall. Wordsworth grasped 
the truth when he wrote of the peasant : — 

persons in different counties whom I knew to possess a sympathetic know- 
ledge of the life of the rural poor. One or two of these were eventually 
appointed, but I was not so fortunate with a lady whose knowledge of 
the farm workers of her county exceeded that of any other educated person 
of my acquaintance. I thought if it was pointed out that her grand- 
father was a Baron, whose peerage dated back to the middle ages, she 
would pass without further scrutiny. Unfortunately enquiry was made 
of the Lord Lieutenant of the county, who replied, " By no conceivable 
stretch of the imagination could this lady be called impartial^' 
1 That is I OS. and their travelling expenses. 


" Words are but under-agents in their souls ; 
When they are grasping with their greatest strength 
They do not breathe among them." 

Scrutinise the faces of the men selected to negotiate and 
you will find them anything but immobile. Every facijil 
muscle moves, as they sit listening with watchful intentness. 
Nervous tension is betrayed by the eye, which is as keen as 
a hawk's ; and when their silence is broken it is by the 
language of a long pent-up pain. 

I shall never forget the outburst of a sunburnt plough- 
man who sat by my side on a Wages Committee and who 
had through several sittings never uttered a word. The 
farmers were complaining that boys of eighteen could 
not plough ; that they were all but useless, when he, with 
every nerve twitching, broke out with : " Lookee 'ere, 
guvnors. You say that our boys are no good. They 
think this country is no good for them, and yet I have four 
sons fighting for it. In 1912 one of these boys, then aged 
sixteen, who was ploughing for a few shillings a week, said to 
me, ' Dad, I'm going to chuck this old country ; it ain't good 
enough for the likes of us.' Well, he emigrated to Australia. 
In 1914 he came home with £200 in his pocket to fight for 
the country that had refused to give him a living wage."* 

This speech rendered us all dumb for a few minutes. 
And this man had known what it was for nine in the family 
to sit down to a table with himself as the only breadwinner. 

The farmers have behaved with exemplary fairness to 
• their men who sat on District Wages Committees. I heard 
of only one unpleasant incident, and over this the National 
Farmers' Union very properly used its influence. 

Let us take a lightning glance at an imaginary sitting of 
a District Wages Committee. Eight farmers sit on one side 
of the table ; eight workers' representatives on the other ; 
and five appointed members divide the two opposing fac- 
tions. Like an auctioneer, the Chairman cautiously feels 
his way for a bid. How much wiU the farmers offer ? What 
price do the workers put upon the vedue of their labour ? 

^ Vide The Awakening of England, 191 8 edition. 

' It is easy to soo the fanners have the weight on their side. 


There is a dead silence. Each side waits like diplomats 
for the other side to show its hand. " Come on, gentle- 
men," pleads the Chairman. " Some one must make a 

" Well, we want 40s.," blurts out the spokesman of the 
workers, who is the county organiser. He gives his reason : 
the extra cost of living ; the profits the farmers are making, 
etc. The farmers lean back in their chairs, puff out their 
cheeks, and murmur the word " ruination." 

" What about the poor land we have to farm ? " shouts 
a fanner across the table, as though he were driving a horse- 
rake across the stubble, and ignoring the Chairman. 

" Settle that with your landlord," replies a worker 
promptly. An appointed member who is a landowner 
moves uneasily in his chair. 

" Oh, the rent — that's nothing," exclaims another farmer. 
The appointed member looks relieved. 

" Then why make such a song of the Income Tax, now 
that you are assessed on double rents because you won't 
show your profits. And what about the profits you claim 
to make when the Government wants your land for an 
aerodrome ? " 

" Address the Chair, gentlemen, please," interposes 
the Chairman, feeling his position is being rendered super- 
fluous. " Be reasonable, and come to terms if you can." 

" Not a penny above 30s.," declares the most dogged of 
the farmers, " or the Government can take our farms." 

" Mr. Chairman," says the workers' representative, 
" we are prepared to take possession." 

" Oh, I am not aware you are the Government," chides 
the Chairman. The farmers laugh ; but neither side bates 
a shilling. The Chairman then asks each side to retire. 
They do so ; and pull out their pipes At the end of a 
quarter of an hour each side is summoned back and the 
Chairman gives the appointed members' decision : 32s. 
Thus does impartiahty triumph. 

Then as the meeting closes one of the fanners greets 
a ploughman with the remark : " You know, you fellows 
would be quite content but for your trade union agitators " 


And the reply now comes without hesitation : " Ain't 
you got any agitators in your Union ? " 

At the end of four or five weeks the Agricultural Wages 
Board advertises the minimum for the county to be 32s. 
Then both sides declare the decision of the A.W.B. to be 
" monstrous." This is about the only time that they 
ever do agree over wages or hours. 

Where the District Committees have real powers beyond 
merely " recommending," is in the issuing Permits to men 
incapable through infirmity of earning the minimum wage, 
and in deciding that a cottage through insanitation, defective 
water supply or want of repair, is not worth the 3s. a week 
which the farmer has the power to deduct as an " allow- 
ance " for the occupation of a farm-tied cottage. 

When the Agricultural Wages Board decided that 3s. 
should be the maximum sum which farmers could deduct 
from wages for the occupation of a cottage, in counties 
where it has been customary to deduct only is., is. 6d., 
or 2s. for cottages, much discontent arose. Hence an Order 
was made for certain counties such as Northamptonshire, 
Herefordshire, Mid-Bucks and parts of Somerset, where 
2S. 6d. only, and in North Bucks 2S. only, can be deducted 
for the occupation of a farm-tied cottage. 

Some curious instances came under my notice with regard 
to this deduction of 3s. 

In the comer of a meadow, under an oak tree, close to a 
by-road connecting one Surrey village with another might 
have been seen a tent, locally known as a " bender." It 
was like a diminutive Chinese sampan, or river boat, and 
close to it were two brown baby tents in which there was 
just room to boil a kettle of water. From a distance these 
appear Uke toadstools springing up from the green meadow. 

In the tent slept a carter, his wife and two children. 
Let no one imagine, however, that this tent was a Bell tent 
in which a person could stand erect. Its occupants had 
to creep in like rabbits and sit down or he prostrate under 
the old sacks which formed the tunnel-shaped roof. For this 
country residence, which had been erected by the man him- 
self, the farmer who engaged the carter deducted th? 


sum of 3s. from the latter's weekly wage — regarding the 
edifice as a farm-tied cottage for which he imagined he was 
legally entitled to charge the maximum sum of 3s. 

It certainly was " farm-tied," but that was about all 
that could be said for it, as it was " tied " to one of the 
farmer's fields. Instead, however, of paying for house 
accommodation, what the carter was really paying was 
£y i6s. per annum as ground rent for a few feet of bare 
earth. Worked out in cubic space it was assuredly the most 
expensive cottage in England ; probably it is more expensive, 
cubic foot for cubic foot, than a mansion in Park Lane. 

Let it not be supposed, however, that the man regarded 
it as a grievance to live amid sackcloth and ashes. It was 
his choice, and had been his choice, for a number of years 
to live under " canvas," but what he did complain of — 
and very rightly, too — was the iniquitous deduction of 3s. 
a week from his wages for the space of a man's grave ! 

I also visited a cottage, for the use of which 3s. was 
deducted from another carter's wages. One bedroom was 
uninhabitable because rats came down the ivy inside the 
room, through the roof of which rain dripped on wet nights ; 
and while the unhappy carter ate his meals in the kitchen 
he could watch through the cracks in the wall the leaves 
dropping in the orchard ! A pond green with slime was 
the water supply ! 

As a member of the Cottage Committee, Mr. Jack Shing- 
field visited a cottage in his area in response to a complaint. 
He asked the cottager's wife where the oven was. " There," 
she said, pointing to a comer of the room, " but it's no good." 
" Why not ? ' he asked. " Because it has no top." 
" Where's the copper ? " " There," she answered, point- 
ing to another corner, " but that's no good either." " Why 
not ? " " Because it has no bottom." " Where's the well ? " 
he next asked. " We haven't got one ; we have to fetch 
the water from 300 yards away," came the answer. " Well, 
let's have a look at the bedroom," he said finally. " Wait 
till I fetch a ladder," said the woman, at which she brought 
a ladder and thrust it through a hole in the ceiling. The 
value of this allowance was reduced to 6d. 


So bad have housing conditions become that many 
instances could be cited of the shifts to which both farmers 
and men were put to find accommodation. A farmer at 
Woking told the Court on June 29, 1918, that his carter 
with his wife and three young children were living in a 
cowstall without any sanitary or other convenience. 

At Oswestry the Rev. D. Gwynfryn Jones gave an instance 
of a house in Flintshire, " with only five rooms, counting 
the coal-house, with four families living in it."» 

It was found, however, that men living in farm-tied 
cottages were extremely chary of reporting insanitation, 
for fear of eviction, and through this conspiracy of silence 
the public has no idea of the terrible conditions under 
which many of the families of farm labourers are living at 
the present day. 

Some persons have curious ideas on housing reform. 
At Montacute, in Somerset, a land agent suggested, that 
" there were persons in receipt of relief under the Poor Law, 
who occupy whole cottages at Montacute, who might very 
well be lodged together in one cottage to their own greater 
comfort, economy and convenience. ' ' The reply of the Rural 
District Council was commendably brief ; it was " There 
is no need to comment on this most inhuman suggestion." 

In the case of Permits for the old men it is very gratifying 
to find that in the majority of cases farmers are paying their 
old retainers sums which fairly approximate to the minimum 
wage. One humorous case came under my notice of a farmer 
who sent for Permits for four of his men working in the prime 
of life. The reason given why he was not paying the mini- 
mum wage was that ' ' the price of com was not high enough. " 
On the forms filled in by the same men the reason given why 
they wished to work under the minimum wage was " be- 
cause master couldn't afford to pay them such high wages 
with com at the price it is." Feudalism is not quite dead 
yet ! Of course the Permits were refused — and this hap- 
pened before every farm worker got his rise of 6s. 6d. 

One unpleasant incident which very nearly precipitated 
a strike at harvest occurred this year. It will be noted 

* Daily News, 24 April, 1920, 


that though the Corn Production Act was passed in 1917, 
men were, with rapidly rising prices, entitled legally only 
to 25s. a week, until the Agricultural Wages Board had fixed 
the minimum rate for the district. As we have seen the 
first Order was made only on May 20, 1918, whilst others 
were made three or four months later. This gave rise to much 
discontent, and the workers' representative on the Central 
Board, to prevent strikes breaking out, asked the farmers if 
they would not agree to all minima when fixed being retro- 
spective from the end of March ; and at their meeting 
on March 28, 1918, the following resolution was passed : 

" That having regard to the fact that it is not possible for all 
the District Wages Committees to meet at once and determine 
what recommendations they wish to make regarding wages, 
etc., this Board is of the opinion that by mutual agreement 
between employers and workers it is desirable that any minimum 
rate of wages which may be fixed should be made retrospective 
as from the end of March." 

Unfortunately, however, many farmers did not consider 
this resolution one which they were bound to honour 
as they were not consulted, and a good deal of 
strong feeling was displayed over the matter in many 
counties. Compromises were made in various counties ; 
but I am afraid very few of the farm workers got their 
" back pay " as far back as March. The most honourable 
farmers of course fulfilled their moral obhgations, but in a 
great many cases the partial fulfilment, or non-fulfilment, 
roused a good deal of bitter feeHng, sundering at a blow 
every vestige of respect existing between master and man. 

That there was no strike in the harvest field before 
victory was won on the battle field, credit must be given 
to the farm workers, who felt that they had been betrayed 
by the farmers. Indeed, it should be remembered that 
during the whole of war-time, in spite of, or perhaps because 
of, the astonishing rise of trade unionism amongst farm 
labourers not a single strike had taken place. 

Owing to the rather clumsy machinery of the Com 
Production Act, the Agricultural Wages Board found it 
was too late to fix the harvest rates for 1918 and left em- 


ployers and workmen to make their own arrangemenis. In 
some counties special overtime rates were atranged by mas- 
ters and men, in others a lump sum was 2^;reed upon, such 
sums as £13, £14 or £15, irrespective of the time occupied. 
In Essex, the following agreement was drawn up between 
the Farmers' Union and the Workers' Union : — 

"It is hereby agreed between five representatives of the Essex 
Comity Farmers' Union, and five representatives of the Workers' 
Union, that the harv^t wages for 1918 shall be paid at the rate 
of 32s. per week for 54 hours, plus payment for overtime at the 
rate of is. gd. per hour, and that the men shall be given the 
opportunity of working three hours' overtime per day, and that 
if the harvest is not completed within twenty-four fine harvest 
days, and the men have not been given the opportunity of 
working seventy-two hours' overtime in that period, they shall 
receive pajrment for seventy-two hoius' overtime ; and it is 
also agreed that boys be paid overtime rates in proportion to 
their wages." 

The setting up of the Agricultural Wages Board coinci- 
dent with the growing confidence amongst the workers 
that they could improve their conditions by organisation 
and negotiation no doubt accounted for the weapon of 
the strike being laid aside for the time being. When the 
country was stampeded into a General Election in Novem- 
ber, 191 8, some very remarkable results were achieved by 
rural Labour Parties which had hitherto never attempted 
to contest the parliamentary seat. These Labour Parties in 
rural areas, were for the most part made up of branches of the 
farm workers' tmions, and for the first time in his history 
Hodge had become not only industrially class-conscious, 
but poUticaUy class-conscious. The votes won by the fol- 
lowing Labour candidates at the General Election, 1918, 
indicated the growing tendency of the rural worker to dis- 
card the old political parties and support the Party to which 
his trade union is affiliated. 

Bridgwater (Somerset) S. J. Plummer 5.771 

Dorset (East) A. Smith 4,321 

Dorset (South ) Brette Morgan 5.i59 

Maldon (Essex) G. Dallas 6,315 

Saffron Walden (Essex) J. J. Mallon 4,531 

Petersfield (Hants) J. Pile 4,267 


Hereford S. Box 3,730 

Kitchen (Herts) R. Green 5,661 

Epsom (Surrey) J. Chuter Ede 4.796 

Famham (Surrey) J. Hayes 3.534 

Guildford (Surrey) W. Bennet 5,078 

East Grinstead (Sussex) Major D. Graham Pole 6,208 

Chichester (Sussex) F. E. Green 6,705 

Lewes (Sussex) T. Pargeter 4.164 

Westbury (Wilts) Captain E. N. Bennet 3,537 

Camborne (Wilts) G. Nicholls 6,546 

Kings Lynn (Norfolk) R. B. Walker 9,780 

Norfolk (South) George Edwards 6,536 

Stroud (Glos) Captain Kendall. 8,522 

Though none of these were elected, Mr. Walker came 
within an ace of election, whilst Mr. R. Green, who had only 
a fortnight in which to conduct his campaign, scored aston- 
ishingly well. It is remarkable, surely, that Mr. Plummer, 
who consented to stand only two hours before the time 
for nomination, polled 5,771 votes. Very few, if any, of 
the candidates possessed any shred of political organisation, 
or an agent, before the campaign started, and most were 
in desperate financial straits to meet the ;f 150 necessary 
for the Returning Officer. At the Wrekin by-election, 
February, 1920, Mr. Charles Duncan, the secretary of the 
Workers' Union, though not elected, polled very heavily, 
and easily beat the Coalition candidate. Mr. W. R. Smith, 
the President of the National Agriculturcd Labourers' 
Union was successful, but he stood for a constituency which 
cannot be called rural. Mr. George Edwards, in delicate 
health, made a splendid fight of it for a man of sixty-nine. 
Unfortunately, Mr. J. Pile succumbed under the stress of 
political warfare waged in all weathers without adequate 
transport service, and died on the day the poU was declared. 

In January, 1919, Joseph Arch passed away at his cottage 
at Barford at the advanced age of ninety-three. The King 
paid a graceful tribute to the whilom champion hedge-cutter 
of England by sending expressions of regret to his widow. 

The New Year opened with a strike at Chatteris, which 
lies in the centre of the fen district of North Cambridge- 
shire. A minimum rate of 30s. a week had been fixed 
for Cambridgeshire, in spite of the fact that the wages of 


the ordinary labourers varied from 36s. to 42s. per week 
— the majority receiving the higher rate. 

On December 28, 1918, the farmers took advantage of 
this low minimum to reduce the wages of all labourers to 
36s. a week, on the ground that it was customary to reduce 
wages for the winter period. As the cost of living was 
still rising, the workers determined to resist this reduction, 
and demanded in its place an increased minimum wage of 
45s. per week, resolving to give a week's notice to stop 
work if it was not granted. 

Now, though the Corn Production Act had been in exist- 
ence over sixteen months the farmers refused to acknowledge 
any communication from the Secretary of the Workers' 
Union, but instead, published their decision in the local 
press on January 3, 1919, which was that the labourers 
were to have £2 per week, horsekeepers and cowmen 
£2 4s., rootmen 8s. a day and threshing men gs. a day. 
These rates were rejected by the men, who resented the 
attitude of. the farmers in not recognising their Union. 

Mr. Harry White, the organiser, failed to secure an 
interview with the farmers' chairman, and on January 6, 
300 men ceased work, including 30 non-union men. By the 
end of the week over 400 men were out, including 100 non- 
unionists, aU of whom joined the Union diuing the strike. 

The Agricultural Wages Board and the Food Production 
Department now came on the scene, with the result that 
on January 17 a conference was arranged between the 
farmers and workers, and it was mutually decided to refer 
the matter to arbitration, the men returning to work on 
the 20th, after being out a fortnight. 

Sir Charles Longmore was appointed arbitrator. He met 
representatives from both sides on February 20. Mr. 
Harry White stated the workers' case whilst Mr. Ruston 
stated the employers'. On March 8 the award was 
issued. It declared that from January 17 to the com 
harvest the following rates should be paid : labourers 
and yardmen, 42s. for a forty-eight hours' week ; horse- 
keepers and cowmen 50s. for customary hours ; rootmen 
IIS. per day of eight hours ; threshing men, 12s. per day 


of eight hours ; with proportionate overtime rates for the 
various classes of workers. 

It will be observed how far the minimum rate fixed by 
the Board fell short of the wages awarded here. This was 
the first victory won by the farm workers for a forty-eight 
hours week. 

Employers openly confessed afterwards that they admired 
the manner in which the strike was conducted, and an 
incident occurred which confirms the statement. On 
Sunday, January 13, all the strikers went to church in 
the afternoon, when the curate congratulated the men 
and the Workers' Union on the Way in which the strike 
was being carried on, and he brought a similar message 
from the Vicar, who was indisposed. 

On the previous night at an open-air meeting one of the 
two men who addressed the meeting was the leader of the 
Salvation Army, and the other a local nonconformist 
preacher, while the chairman was a local publican. 

Whilst ominous clouds were gathering over the fenland 
district of Chatteris, battaHons of darker clouds charged 
with electricity were massing over the whole countryside. 
The cost of living, instead of going down, as the Prime 
Minister assured the workers it would after the Armistice, 
steadily rose. Since January i, 1919, it had risen twenty- 
four points. 

Finding that the newly elected Coalition Government 
did nothing to control profiteers effectively and that relief 
from such a source seemed hopeless, the strike fever began to 
rise in the veins of the torpid south as well as in the fiery 
north. Soldiers returning to the land from the War found 
that the New Earth which had been promised them was 
very much hke the old, old earth ; that 30s. a week pur- 
chased no more than 13s. or 14s. had before the war— ^nd 
it should always be remembered that the 30s. included 
" allowances." Things were better in one respect : their 
hours of labour were curtailed and payment for overtime 
could be legally enforced. 

But it WEis felt, and rightly felt, that a workman should 
be able to maintain himself at a reasonable standard of 


comfort on wages earned by a working week of forty-eight 
hours without being compelled to resort to overtime to 
make both ends meet. Conditions should be better, and 
not merely on an equality with the servitude of pre-war days. 

The agricultural labourer who could barely raise an 
organised army of 15,000 before the war now had a dis- 
ciplined army of nearly 200,000. No body of workers 
had in the history of the English working class organised 
with such rapidity in spite of the tremendous difficulties 
which lay in the path — a path on which the milestones 
were few and far between. 

Now, on January 15, 1919, through their representatives on 
the Agricultural Wages Board they made a bold demand 
of an aU-round £1 increase for a forty-eight hours' working 
week. Mr. W. R. Smith, M.P., their leader, said they 
wished to lift the farm- worker above the pre-war conditions 
of life which aU classes had now condemned as a degrading 
poverty. The meeting which followed was stormy. Every 
section of the Wages Board was filled with grave anxiety. 
If a strike took place now it would not be confined to a 
few parishes, but would become a national strike imperilling 
the food supply of the nation. This momentous time was 
aptly described by Sir Ailwyn Fellowes at a Conference 
with District Wages Committees held in May : 

" The workers had made no secret of a demand for an all- 
round increase. From their point of view an increase was 
over-due when they made their demand last January. 
Their representatives had great difficulty in agreeing to 
the postponement of the matter, but they loyally accepted 
the Board's decision and did their best to curb the im- 
patience of those whom they represent . . . the general 
situation in regard to the relations between capital and labour 
was disturbed ; I may even say it was inflammable. Incon- 
siderate action might have had disastrous consequences. It 
is not too much to say that the country was on the edge of a 
precipice where a rash step might have led to a catastrophe." 

Indeed, preparations were on foot for a strike on a large 
scale if the farmers had refused to concede anything. 
Farm workers around Chatteris in Cambridgeshire, in 
Cheshire and South-West Lancashire were getting their 


50s. a week, so why could not other farmers pay the same 
was asked. When the matter came up for discussion again 
in March, the appointed members let the farmers and the 
workers thrash it out between themselves in an exhaustive 
conference of three days, which resulted in the farmers 
agreeing to an all-round increase of 6s. 6d. a week for male 
workers over twenty-one years of age. The farmers had 
offered an advance of 5s., which was rejected ; then 6s., 
and finally 6s. 6d. The whole Board had three successive 
meetings in March when the discussion centred largely 
round hours. A compromise was arrived at, it being 
agreed on both sides that the hotrrs without overtime pay 
should be fifty-four until October, when fifty hours should 
come into force for one month, forty-eight hours for the 
winter, and fifty hours for the following, summer. 

The workers made it understood that though they would 
loyally abide by this compromise, it should not prejudice 
them in fighting to include agriculture in the " Forty-eight 
Hours Bill " for all industries. The Agricultural Wages 
Board took up the position that the grave state of affairs 
in the country warranted no delay caused by referring to 
District Wages Committees, so immediately advertised 
the proposal for a month to hear objections as enjoined by 
the Act, and made the Order on May 6, 1919. 

One result of this Order was that three or four farmers' 
representatives on the Sussex District Wages Committee 
resigned, on the grounds that when 32s. was fixed for Sussex 
as the minimum wage, they had carried out the law in giving 
the workers a " reasonable standard of comfort " ! 

No minimum was now less than 36s. 6d., and customary 
hours were abolished save in Northumberland and Durham 
(for which a wage of 49s. 6d. a week was fixed) and the 
administrative counties of Cambridge, Isle of Ely, Hunt- 
ingdon, Bedford, Cumberland, Westmoreland, part of Lan- 
caster, Denbigh, Flint, Carnarvon, Gloucester, Worcester, 
Merioneth, Montgomery, and Warwick, for which special 
arrangements were made. It wiU be observed that the 
farmers in many counties, who said in 1918 that they 
could not carry on the farms unless an Order were made 


for customary hours, or hours ranging from sixty to seventy 
or more, now submitted to the new Order for fifty or forty- 
eight hours. 

On March 3, 1919, the farm workers were granted their 
first great charter of leisure. ' After this date no farmer 
could insist upon any of his employees working for more 
than 6J hours on one working day of the week without 
payment of overtime. This became popularly known as 
the Saturday half-holiday. 

The Press, including The Times, and even papers written 
for the country gentleman, displayed a lamentable ignor- 
ance over this new Order. Without troubling to read it 
with any care, or at any rate with any intelligence, they 
jumped to the conclusion that all farm workers would down 
tools on Satiurday at about i o'clock and the cows would 
remain immilked and the horses unfed. In reality the 
Order did not stipulate that the half-holiday should fall 
on one particular day, nor that overtime could not be 
worked on that day. 

In practice, of course, Saturday was the day generally 
chosen by the workers, and the milking of cows and tending 
of stock went on just the same by mutual agreement be- 
tween the workers and the farmers. It meant that fewer 
men were engaged on Saturday afternoon, the workers 
taking turns alternately to do the necessary work. Where 
a farmer employed one man only, that fanner would either 
milk his own cows on, say, Saturday afternoon or the 
cowman would agree to work every Saturday afternoon at 
overtime rates. 

A modification was made which affected the position 
of special classes of workers whose weekly wages were 
based on customary hours. In these cases time spent in 
feeding and cleaning stock did not rank as overtime em- 
ployment. In some counties arrangements were made 
between farmers and men for a fortnight's holiday at special 
overtime rates of pa37ment, in lieu of the weekly half-holiday. 

1 When the Wages Board was set up the workers hoped that the half- 
holiday would be instantly instituted, but it was agreed to postpone it 
until three months after tiie cessation of hostilities. 


The importance of farm workers obtaining one half- 
holiday a week of a day which is not Sunday, cannot be 
over-emphasised both from the national point of view and 
from the workers'. This particular hay-seed of having to 
work every day of the week for the same hours was at last 
removed from the labourer's shirt. The absence of a half- 
holiday had largely been the cause of young fellows refusing 
to stay in the country and drifting away into the towns. 
By the institution of the half-hoUday village sports began 
to be revived at once. The attractions of town life were 
dimmed, and the long-closed avenue was opened for farm 
labourers living in districts badly served by railways, to 
meet together in conference to educate themselves in a 
manner hitherto rendered almost impossible. 

In the spring of this year Orders were made for the fixing 
of the minimum wage for women and girls, which resulted 
in those over eighteen years of age receiving wages of 5d. 
an hour in all counties excepting Northumberland, Cum- 
berland, the Furness district of Lancashire, Yorkshire and 
Westmoreland, where 6d. an hour was paid.^ 

Not only had the organised workers made a step forward 
in the spring of 19x9, but the political class-consciousness 
which was expressed at the General Election found a more 
universal application when it reached the point of capturing 
many seats on Parish Councils, Rural Councils and even on 
that hitherto sacrosanct body, the County Council. During 
the war no municipal elections had taken place, and now in 
nearly every village where there was a branch of the N. A.L.U. 
or the W.U. an attempt was made to infuse life into the 
moribund Parish Councils. 

Hitherto, with few notable exceptions, the farm worker 
who stood as a candidate, as I have said, found his pathway 
in life anything but pleasant, without an organised company 
of comrades to render him support either in victory or 

Amongst the exceptions I should like to mention the 
village of Hitcham, near Ipswich, Suffolk, where seven 

' In July an increase of one penny an hour was granted in all counties. 
— Vide Note to Appendix IV. 



labourers formed the first Parish Council, and seven labourers 
have held the citadel ever since ! The farmers fought the 
first two or three elections and then gave up the contest 
in despair. But Hitcham is, I think, unique in the history 
of Parish Councils. 

Now a greater breath of freedom was abroad in the 
land and it was the Union, and not a Liberal Association, 
or a Gladstone League, which fought the elections as an 
organised political body, and some democratic successes 
were achieved. 

In the parish of Ascot Wing, where six members of the 
Workers' Union were nominated, all were elected with a 
big majority. Amongst the defeated candidates was 
Mrs. Leopold de Rothschild, who, I have been told, owns 
practically the whole parish.^ 

Another remarkable election took place which throws a 
flood of light on the moribund condition of many a Parish 
Council and the quickened political sense of the workers. 
At the Parish Meeting of Idsworth, Hants, held at the 
Parish Hall, Rowlands Castle, on March 17, 1919, besides the 
chairman, vice-chairman and clerk, only one Local Govern- 
ment elector attended. The clerk explained that no nom- 
ination papers had been asked for up to the time. The 
chairman decided to wait until 8.15, but as no other persons 
turned up, and as none of the old members offered them- 
selves for re-election, the chairman, after waiting a little 
longer, declared the meeting closed and instructed the 
clerk to report to the Returning Ofiicer at Havant the 
state of affairs. 

In the meantime, the local branch of the Workers' 
Union became very active, and a further Parish Meeting was 
summoned on June 16. There were fifty persons present. 
Seven nomination papers were handed in this time, all from 
members of the local Labour Party, and these were unan- 
imously elected by the fifty persons present. Amongst 
the Labour candidates were a major and a parson. 

1 " You should have seen the old ones ; they was Uke anything mesmerised ; 
it seemed to take them by storm as the saying is, didn't seem to reaUse 
it could be true," writes a farm worker to me. 


Yet this Hampshire village by no means stood alone in 
betrasdng the low pulse into which parochial politics had 
sunk where no workers' organisation revived the interest. 
In a West Sussex village, lying in a charming, but sleepy 
hollow of the South Downs, five persons only made their 
appearance at the Annual Parish Meeting. 

In my own parish no organised attempt had ever been 
made by the workers to capture the Parish Council before 
1919. The farm workers pressed me to stand with six of 
them, and I agreed to become once more a Parish Council 
candidate after a lapse of twenty years. The experience 
was interesting to me, for it marked a distinct milestone on 
the road towards freedom taken by the agricultural worker. 
I managed to borrow a motor car from a well-to-do gen- 
tleman who considered Parish Councils were quite harmless 
institutions, and I conveyed a nimiber of electors from dis- 
tant farm-tied cottages to the polling station. The marked 
difference I noted between 1897 and 1919 was the growing 
fearlessness of farm-workers and their wives. In broad 
daylight I whisked them away from under the very noses 
of their employers and from under the eyes of the Rector, 
who dispensed the loaves and fishes, and was working 
against us. Even the elderly, reared in the old school of 
servitude, displayed an astonishingly gay spirit of indepen- 
dence. Amongst these I shall always remember with 
special interest an old man in his smock frock who could 
neither read nor write and retired to bed every night at 
six, and an old lady of eighty who could read and write 
and who proudly refused any help on the score of failing 
eyesight. Had she not stitched a smock-frock for me fifteen 
years ago for 3s. and a brace of rabbits ? 

It has been impossible to obtain a list of farm workers 
who won seats on Parish Councils, but the number must be 
very considerable, judging by reports sent to me by organ- 
isers. I have, however, been able to obtain figures, which 
are still incomplete, of the number of " Labour " Rural 
District Councillors in England and Wales, and that number 
is 860.1 An incomplete list of County Council seats won 

1 Supplied by the Labour Party. 


by Labour representatives, excluding London, gives the 
number as 235. These figures are swollen by the great 
triumphs in the mining counties of Durham and Monmouth, 
where the miracle happened of Labour being in the ascen- 
dant. Members of the Workers' Union won striking victor- 
ies in Essex, Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Bedfordshire, Bucks, 
Wilts and Suffolk ; whilst the N.A.L.U. won their most 
remarkable victories in Norfolk, where Mr. Codling, who had 
been forced to earn his living with a pedlar's basket on his 
back, won a sensational victory over Lord Hastings, and 
where seats were also won by Messrs. Hewitt, Peel, and 
Taylor, whilst Mr. Edwards remained an alderman. At the 
by-election in 1920 Messrs. W. Smith and Jesse Brighton 
have captured seats. The victory in Dorset of Mr. James, 
an ex-farm worker, was significant, for in that county 
Labour representation had been hitherto unknown. 

Though the farm worker will undoubtedly play an in- 
creasing part as a candidate for the County Council, it is 
the Parish Council only on which he tan afford to sit. The 
County Council will surely remain the citadel of the well-to- 
do until payment for attendance and travelling becomes law. 
Whether the Parish Coimcil will ever become an effective 
regenerating force is doubtful. Certainly little can be done 
with a rate limited to 3d. in the pound, extended only to 
6d. for special purposes by the approval of a Parish Meet- 
ing. The powers of a Parish Council may be extended, it 
is true. On the other hand it may be found that the unit 
of the parish is too small for effective village planning and 
the re-enclosure of land, especially where road-making 
water supply, and electric power on an extensive scale 
are involved. 

An unfortunate strike broke out in Staffordshire at the 
end of August. The farm workers of Staffordshire were 
bitterly disappointed at no special harvest rates being 
fixed for them. Other coimties, such as Cambridgeshire 
and Gloucestershire, were awarded is. 8d., Derbyshire 
IS. 9d., and Yorkshire is. iid. an hour for harvest over- 
time rates, but the farm labourers of Stafford were told to 
work overtime at the normal overtime rate of lojd. an hour, 


unless employers and employed made special arrange- 
ments. A conference between the Farmers' Union and the 
N.A.L.U. resulted in a refusal on the farmers' part to agree 
to fix any definite rate. Thereupon a number of men round 
about Tamworth, GonsaU, Eccleshall, and Wolverhampton 
struck work, apparently without giving proper notice. 
The strike dragged on for four weeks. The farmers man- 
aged to get in their crops, and the men were beaten. They 
had yet to learn the lesson that harvest is the worst time 
of all, from the workers' point of view, to succeed with a 

Bad feeling, unfortunately, was shown, and a few assaults 
took place, the strikers being heavily fined. Such instances, 
however, have been rare in agricultural disputes ; and when 
the workers' leaders called off the strike, the farmers, to 
their credit, agreed to reinstate every man. 

On the very day the Staffordshire strike was ended — > 
Saturday, September 27 — ^the great railway strike started. 

Now came the test as to whether that hnk which had been 
forged in the fiery furnace of war between the industrial 
and the rural workers would stand the strain of a great 
railway strike. Hitherto, the temptation to leave iU-paid 
work on the land for the railway had been irresistible. 
The railway porter's minimum was 51s. ; the farm worker's 
average minimum was 37s. 6d. 

But the farm worker and the railway porter, the plate- 
layer and the signalman, even in the most remote country 
districts, had now become comrades in the new trade union 
and political movement ; and many of them had seen a 
vision of a new eaxth as they stood close to one another 
in the ordeal of battle. The link, as of truest steel, held. 

To most, not excluding those who had been watching 
the growing solidarity of labour, the loyalty of the farm 
workers to the men on the line came as a surprise. They 
were firmer in their determination to stand by the railway 
men even than the industrial workers, and this, I think, 
can be traced to their minds being uninfluenced by the daily 
press to the same extent as townsmen. They learn not 
from the printed page, but from Nature and their nearest 


neighbours ; and the younger men through the ordeal of 
battle had learnt much from the null-hand and the miner. 

As more and more labourers became demobilised and 
returned to their homes, after the feeUng of relief of being 
discharged from military service had evaporated and they 
looked for the cottage with an brchard or a few acres of 
land which had been promised them, and found it not, 
a new feeling took possession of them — a feeUng of bitter 
disappointment. Had they then fought in vain ? Were 
they only to return to the overcrowded, insanitary cot- 
tage and be subject to be treated as a trespasser if they 
strayed off the road ? The Government pointed to the 
60,000 acres they were in the course of acquiring for settHng 
soldiers, but even so, 60,000 acres could only settle 6,000 
if we allot 10 acres to every man. 

The scheme — on paper — was a good one, it was true.^ 
The Government had, strange to relate, thought of making 
those colonies attractive to the wives and daughters. There 
were to be good schools, institutes, sports, dances, and even 
telephones and motor services. But what about a man who 
did not want to live in a colony in some distant county, 
and craved to live where all his friends were, in his native 
village ? To provide for these County Councils were speeded 
up ; and as much land was acquired in a year as it had taken 
County CouncUs ten years to acquire ; which proved, at any 
rate, that the critics of County Councils were right in blaming 
them for their supineness in the past. The Land Settle- 
ment (Facilities) Act was passed giving the County 
Councils further compulsory powers. 

County Councils are now bujTing estates large enough to 
encourage co-operation amongst the settlers, but they stiU 
have to pay the landlord's price, which has advanced 30 
per cent., 40 per cent, or even 50 per cent. The trouble is 
that after a few years have passed ex-soldiers will be called 

* Credit should be given to Sir Harry Vemey and his Committee for 
drafting the scheme (Cd. 8182). The absurd Umitations as to borrowing 
necessary capital embodied in the 1916 Act have now been broadened 
(Vide First Advice to Would-be Farmers by F. E. Green. — Country Life 


upon to pay heavily for the footing on the land for which 
they have fought. They wiU find, as Mr. Joseph Fels did 
at Mayland in Essex, that the acquisition of land for small 
holdings inevitably means the growth of a golden harvest 
for the surrounding landlords. And although the approved 
ex-soldier may be granted land in his own county, the cot- 
tage with an acre, or even half an acre, attached, which he 
desires to possess in his own vUlage, remains as elusive as 
ever. Already the Ministry of Agriculture is discouraging 
County Councils creating isolated holdings in villages 
and thereby defeating one of the features of the Land 
Settlement (Facilities) Act.* No doubt it is wiser to en- 
courage colony making, but why make the special promises 
and special provisions unless it is intended to carry them 
out ? Discharged soldiers now recall with bitter reflec- 
tions the recruiting posters of a picturesque cottage, a 
meadow and an orchard, with the alluring legend, " Is 
this worth fighting for ? " 

Controversy in the late summer and autumn of 1919 
in the agricultural world raged round the Hours of Employ- 
ment BUI. The ways of the Government in regard to this 
BiU were conducted behind a veil of mystery. Farmers 
had declared vociferously that they must know what the 
future agricultural policy of the Government was before 
they could plan the cultivation of their farms. One would 
have thought that the sense of " insecurity " under which 
they smarted, as farm after farm was thrown into the 
auction market, derived from the tenuous hold they had on 
the land, rather than from any other cause. 

However, a Royal Commission on Agriculture was insti- 
tuted on which, excepting the Coal Commission, for the 
first time Labour representatives were asked to sit. Har- 
assed by the importunities of his landowning friends, who 

• Besides permitting the acquisition of holdings of less than an acre 
(half-an-acre) this Act contains this useful clause : " The Council of any 
borough, urban district or parish may purchase any fruit trees, seeds, 
plants, fertilizers or implements required for the purposes of allotments 
cultivated as gardens, whether provided by the Counal or otherwise, and 
sell any article so purchased to the cultivators, or, in the case of .imple- 
ments, allow their use, at a price or charge sufficient to cover the cost of 


had resented the invasion of the State tractor in their parks 
and meadows, and certain features of the Land Facilities 
Bill, and attacked right and left by the farmers, who de- 
tested the policy of control and supervision. Lord Ernie 
resigned office. Thus passed a great gentleman from the 
high office he had filled with dignity and fairness during 
the nation's darkest hours. Before he resigned the Govern- 
ment had agreed, after receiving the decision of the Indus- 
trial Council, at which employers and employed were equally 
represented, to include agriculture in the forthcoming 
Forty-eight Hours Bill. 

Into Lord Ernie's place stepped Lord Lee, the friend of 
the Prime Minister. No sooner was the Baron seated than 
he tried to break a lance with that doughty Knight, Sir 
Ailwyn Fellowes, and the Baron fell most ingloriously in 
combat. Without understanding, he tilted at the new 
fifty and forty-eight hours Order, making the blunder, which 
no Minister of Agriculture should have made, of assuming 
that no farm labourer was to be allowed to work more than 
these hours. The Knight, backed by his loyal followers, 
fell upon the Baron and wounded him sorely, telling him 
unequivocally that there was no law in the land to prevent 
the farm labourer if he chose from working all day and all 
night provided the proper overtime rates were paid. 

The Royal Commission on Agriculture, owing to the 
clumsiness of the Government, did not meet imtil July was 
far advanced, and when the members sat round the table 
for the first time, they discovered that the terms of refer- 
ence on which they had consented to enquire had been 
altered since acceptance by the majority of them. The 
terms were now " to enquire into the economic prospects 
of the agricultural industry in Great Britain with special 
reference to the adjustment of a balance between the 
prices of agricultural commodities, the costs of production, 
the remuneration of labour, and hours of employment." 

The words " hours of employment " had been added to 
the original terms of reference. Why ? 

Because the Government had after including agriculture 
in the first Bill presented decided to exclude agriculture from 


the Forty-eight Hours Bill ; and it was evidently their 
policy to place on the shoulders of the Commission not only 
the onus of fixing the guaranteed prices, but also the hours 
of employment. 

Naturally, the Labour members on the Commission felt 
that they had been led into a political trap. Their repre- 
sentatives had already fought and won the battle on the 
Industrial Council, and they had no intention of fighting 
it over again ; at any rate, they considered it an unjusti- 
fiable act on the part of the Government to alter the terms 
of reference without proper notification. In this the 
farmers and economists sitting on the Commission loyally 
supported their colleagues. Furthermore, the whole Com- 
mission, with one exception, intimated to the Board of Agri- 
culture, that, in spite of its protestation, they considered it 
their duty to enquire into security of tenure, if they had to 
consider the " economic prospects " of the agricultural 

It became evident that neither Mr. Lloyd George nor 
Lord Lee appreciated the independent spirit shown by the 
members of the Commission. This was shown in the speech 
which was delivered by the Prime Minister at Caxton Hall, 
and by statements made by officers of the Board, to the 
effect that the Commission were responsible for checking 
the hand of the sower in putting in the Michaelmas corn. 
The Government had intimated they wanted an Interim 
Report by September though the first sitting of the Commis- 
sion to take evidence did not take place until August 5, and 
the Commission had to cover the whole field of the cost of 
production with all the data available. Delay had been caused 
by the questionable political manoeuvres of the Govern- 
ment ; but even without the delay accountants agreed 
that neither the Costings Committee appointed by the 
Government nor the farmers had sufficient costings data 
to justify any report being made before the end of the year. 

As the Commission proceeded it became obvious to those 
Government officials who followed the printed evidence 
carefully, that the majority of the Commission might 
declare against guaranteed prices. Mr. Lloyd George 


(flushed with having victoriously torpedoed the Profiteering 
Committee) at a meeting of agriculturists at Caxton 
Hall on October 21, with Lord Lee at his elbow, de- 
livered a lecture to the members of the Royal Commis- 
sion on Agriculture, in which, without waiting for that 
Commission's Rejport, he outlined a policy of guaranteed 
prices for a period (unstated) of years and at a figure 
(unstated) approximating to the present prices. 

At Labour — it is true there was hardly an agricultural 
labourer present though there were a few workers' repre- 
sentatives — ^he shook an admonitory finger, warning them 
not " to drive too hard a bargain." It became evident, 
even to the dullest intellect, that Mr. Lloyd George 
could no longer be considered a champion of the agricul- 
tural labourer. Before the landowners present he sat on 
the stool of repentance. He prayed forgiveness for his 
Limehouse speeches. He evidently wanted them to forget 
he had ever made this famous peroration: "We want 
to do something to bring the land within the grasp of the 
people. The resources of the land are frozen by the old 
feudal system. I am looking forward to the spring-time 
when the thaw will set in, and when the people, and the 
children of the people, shall enter into the inheritance 
given them from on high." 

The Commission published its Interim Report in Decem- 
ber. The Majority, viz. twelve, including the Chairman, 
out of twenty-three members — ^with many reservations 
by Mr. Cautley — ^recommended : — 

" That whilst the producer should be allowed an unrestricted 
market for his produce, that for the grain crops of 1920 and subse- 
quent years the guarantees be calculated from year to year on a 
sliding scale based on the average bare costs of cereal production of 
the preceding year, rent being disregarded for this purpose ; and 
that the datum line to which increases or decreases in the average 
costs of the 1920 grain crops above or below those of 1919 
should be applied, shall be 68s. per quarter of 504 lb. of wheat, 
59s. per quarter of 448 lb. of barley, and 46s. per quarter of 
336 lb. of oats. 

"That the guarantees be continued until Parliament 
otherwise decides, subject to not less than four years' notice 
of withdrawal being given." 


The Minority Report recommended. 

" That farmers be informed that they shall be left free to 
cultivate their land in such manner as they deem best, in accord- 
ance with the rules of good husbandry. 

" That the Boards of Agriculture organise an efficient system 
of distribution of all available information relating to the pro- 
gress and prospects of agriculture, with special reference to the 
course of world prices. 

"That, so long as prices of cereals are controlled by the 
Government, the farmers be paid at prices not less than those 
at which commodities can be imported." 

It also accentuated the need for further report on security 
of tenure and other matters. 

The Majority Report was signed by Sir William B. 
Peat (Chairman), Sir William Ashley, and Messrs. Charles 
Douglas, G. G. Rea, W. Anker Simmons, H. Overman, 
A. Batchelor, H. S. Cautley, E. W. Langford, George Nich- 
olls, E. H. Parker, and Rowland R. Robbins. The Minority 
Report was signed by Messrs. Arthur W. Ashby, George 
Dallas, Joseph F. Duncan, WilUam Edwards. F. E. Green, 
J. M. Henderson, Thomas Henderson, Thomas P. Jones, 
Reginald Lennard, Walter R. Smith, and R. B. Walker. 

I was convinced, both by the evidence and by my own 
personal knowledge, that the plough which drove its share 
through the grass-land in war time was not drawn by the 
team of guaranteed prices for wheat and oats, but by the 
petrol power of Compulsory Orders. Writing as a member 
of the Commission I may say that the whole problem of 
guaranteed prices resolved itself into a psychological one. 
The prices that farmers received for their corn were, 
and still are, high above the guaranteed prices of the 
Act ; but the fear that the world's prices might 
drop considerably in a short time was honestly felt by a 
great number of uneducated farmers, who had been fright- 
ened by stories of vast stretches of golden grain in Siberia ; 
of plains of luxiuiant wheat watered by the Euphrates 
and Tigris ; of giant granaries of grain waiting for ship- 
ment on the seaboard of the Argentine prairies, sedulously 
circulated by interested propagandists. The more en- 
lightened and progressive farmers showed greater keen- 


ness over security of tenure, transport, equipment, and the 
game laws, than they did over a guaranteed price, which 
few of them cared to see estabhshed as a permanent feature 
in British agriculture, carrying with it as it does the danger- 
ous tendency to encourage slovenly farming. I felt con- 
vinced, too, that a guaranteed price of 68s. per quarter 
for wheat would not help to produce a single extra acre 
of wheat in this country. Whilst the farmer knew that 
the world's price was approximately loos. a quarter, he 
resented being paid only 76s., and whilst he was in that 
mood 68s. made no appeal to him. But as we shall see the 
Commission was not allowed to investigate those regions 
of reform which would be of permanent value to British 



IV. 1920. 

It would be an error to assume that though agricultural 
workers had the protection of the law in demanding the 
minimum wage, that they always obtained it. The number 
of enquiries and prosecutions wMch had to be taken up by the 
Wages Board Inspectors, show how secure farmers still con- 
sidered their position to be if they stubbornly set their faces 
against the law. The number of complaints received at the 
Wages Board from October 28, 1918, to December 31, 
1919, were no less than 5,266. The number of cases " com- 
pleted " were 3,898. The amount recovered by the Board, 
of wages due, was £9,532. The number of cases in which 
prosecutions were entered into were 127. 

These figures give no indication of the wages recovered 
(without reference to the Board) by the agricultural unions ;* 
but they are large enough to show us how necessary have 
been the unions to the men, for in the majority of cases cited 
above, the amounts were recovered by Trade Union secre- 
taries reporting cases to the Board after faiUng to make far- 
mers pay. Indeed, so congested has become this Department 
of the Board that steps should be taken to delegate to District 
Committees the duties of inspection and prosecution. Dis- 
trict Committees could do this work more expeditiously than 
a centralised Department, and they would then have some- 
thing more to do than issue permits and glance occasionally 
at an insanitary cottage. 

That Justices of the Peace in rural areas betrayed their 
bias in favour of the emplo5dng class, is evinced by the num- 

' According to The Land Worker, March i8, 1920, the N.A.L.U. in one 
month alone recovered over ;£i,ooo of arrejirs of pay, and every month 
hundreds of pounds are recovered by trade union effort. 



ber of prosecutions reported in the Wages Board Gazette in 
which the statutory fine, " not exceeding £20 and to a fine 
not exceeding £z for each day on which the offence is con- 
tintied after conviction therefor," were not imposed in 
spite of many a flagrant defiance of the law. 

This, unfortunately, is not the end of the story. The 
victimisation pay-sheets of the two Unions reveal a state 
of things which is discreditable to a civilised community. 
In the winter of 1919, a number of men were discharged 
and it was invariably the active trade unionist who received 
his " marching orders," in spite of the fact that in many 
instances he had fought for his country, whUe his employer 
had remained at home. These dismissals are aU the more 
significant when we learn from the January Report of the 
Ministry of Labour that there was a shortage of skilled labour. 

When inspectors called upon the farmers to enquire 
about the non-payment of the minimum wage, farmers have 
been known again and again to give an instant notice to the 
man who had made the complaint. Consequently there are, 
at the present moment a number of farm labourers working 
for less than the minimum wage because of the fear of dis- 
missal or eviction. I have followed up a niunber of these 
cases myself and ventured to appeal to the sense of justice 
in aU farmers in an open letter which was printed in a number 
of newspapers. 1 I may say that the National Farmers' 
Union deny any official knowledge of victimisation, and 

1 CLEAN fighting; 

An Appeal to Farmers. 

I know some of you in Surrey, Hants, and Sussex, as straightforward, 
clean-fighting, honest English gentlemen, but what, oh ! what am I to 
call those farmers who to-day are putting men out on the roadside — ^men 
who went across the seas to fight for you whilst you were permitted to stay 
at home to make money. You know that the bones of many thousands 
of farm labourers have been bleaching on the plains of Flanders while most of 
you have been able to remain at home in your comfortable homesteads. 

It has come to my knowledge that some farmers are victimising dis- 
charged soldiers and other labourers who have taken an active part in 
their Trade Unions. They have not been given notice in a straightforward 
manner, but have been sacked under some pretext or other. I ask you, 
is this plajdng the game ? Is it clean fighting ? Is it English ? Is it not 
hitting below the belt ? 

Don't you admire these men who stand up pluckily for their rights, 
and the rights of their mates ? Do you want to rear a race of broken 


thoroughly disapprove of the actions of black sheep amongst 
their flock over whom they contend they have Httle control. 
But it seems as if a little more effective shepherding would 
check that spirit of hostility which is steadily growing in 
certain districts. 

My own experience is that the worst offenders in refusing 
to pay the legal minimum wage are not farmers, but land- 
owners farming their own land. I have reported several of 
these to the Board, and in each case they have been very 
wealthy men who can plead neither poverty nor ignorance. 
In one instance the bailiff went so far as to advertise that 
' no Union man need apply,' and when the men asked for the 
correct wage he gave them a week's notice ! Herein Ues the 
power of the large landowner. He owns the cottages ; and 
the men, afraid of being turned out on to the roadside, 
submit to being robbed. 

Apparently, there is no feeling of noblesse oblige amongst 
even these titled gentry, and they seem to experience no 
dishonour in being fined. Each case should now be taken 
separately, costs assessed separately, and the maximimi 
fine imposed on those who are flagrantly defjdng the law. 

A sad case was reported in a Sussex paper in 1919 of a 
man who won his appeal for his minimum wage, which he 
recovered at a court of law, and then was sent to Coventry 
by his new employer by being made to work alone in a field, 

spirited, servile English peasants ? For you must recognise that these are 
the most EngUsh — the white men— -amongst our workers — ^these men who will 
sacrifice their job to win justice for their comrades. These are the very men 
who made the best fighters at the Front. Surely you must admire them 
for displaying the sturdy independence of our historic British peasantry ? 

Therefore I appeal to you, to the sportsman in you, to bring pressure to 
bear upon the black sheep amongst your own flock, upon the mean farmers, 
who are cowardly enough to victimise men who show any moral courage. 

We respect those of you who take an active part in your own Trade 
Union. Surely you should return the compliment. You have never heard 
of labourers victimising a farmer by striking because he belongs to his 
Union. You cannot approve of labourers being victimised because they 
are doing what the best of you are doing. 

I appeal to you therefore as lovers of British fair play to put a stop to 
this evil spirit of persecution which has taken possession of the meaner 
members of your fraternity, and insist upon them fighting in a clean way. 
Your Union is now strong enough to do this. Give these members a 
straight talking to. Do it now — ^before it is too late — ^before all farmers 
are looked upon as being tarred with the same brush. 

F. E. Green. 


This so preyed upon his mind that he committed suicide. 

The Jear of eviction is greater than the fear of dismissal, 
and until the labourer is as secure of his home as the farmer 
is of his holding, beneficent Acts of Parliament will fail to 
operate effectively. ' Arch's " cottage-right " is as much 
needed now as it was in 1881. 

Terrible as was the shortage of cottages before the war, 
that shortage has been infinitely increased during war-time. 
Eviction from a cottage now almost inevitably leads to exile 
from the parish, and the fear of eviction holds the man who 
has taken root in his own parish from asking for his rights 
more than the fear of dismissal. In 19131 it was estimated 
that from 300,000 to 350,000 farm workers lived in farm- 
tied cottages, which means, according to current figures, more 
than half of our agricultural labourers are doing so to-day. 

An amendment to the Rent Restriction Act was passed in 
December, 1919, which appeared to make it difficult to evict 
a tenant if there is no alternative accommodation ; but few 
imderstand this Act,* and fear takes a long time to die. Un- 
fortunately, the absence of "alternative accommodation" 
does not afford sufficient protection to the farm labourer 
from eviction, especially if he lives in a tied cottage. The 
Court can go through the form of " considering " the alter- 
native accommodation, and issue the ejectment order if it 
pleases. The Act, even as amended, is still quite unsatis- 
factory, and as loosely worded as any County Court lawyer 
could wish. 

The cottage problem is indeed the most serious problem 
of all in rural England to-day. It is difficult to see how we 
are going to retain the services of our most virile young men 
on the land until new cottages are built. Young men and 
women have nowhere to go if they wish to get married, but 
to drift to the towns and add to the congested areas of our 
great cities. 

The Government delivered a cruel blow to agriculture 
when it played into the hands of the large profiteering con- 
tractors by ceeising to control building materials. Our 

>• The Land Enquiry. 

• This Act which expired in June, 1919, is now being extended. 


one hope seems now to be in Guilds of Building Operatives 
erecting cottages, dispensing with the profit-taking builder. 

Tragic as many of these eviction cases are, fortunately 
there is sometimes a humorous side to them. The follow- 
ing report was given me by an eye-witness at the County 
Court at Arundel, in 1919. 

A discharged soldier found on being demobilised Christ- 
mas, 1918, that his wife and family, goods and chattels 
had been removed by a farmer from one cottage to another 
without his, or his wife's, consent. On returning home he re- 
fused to pay rent, except from the time of demobilisation. 
This the new owner of the farm and cottage refused to accept, 
and summoned the discharged soldier for arrears of rent. 
When the case came up the folldwing conversation took 
place between the Judge and the farmer : Judge: " How do 
you prove your title to these cottages ? " Farmer : " I don't 
know what you mean." Judge : " Surely you know what a 
title is ; you've been to school." Farmer : " We bought 

the property in the name of and rent it with the farm." 

Judge : " How do you prove the cottage is yours, and that 
this man has not as much right as you have to the cottage ? " 
Farmer : " I moved the woman there because I wanted the 
cottage she lived in." Judge : " You say you moved her 
there, and dumped her and the nine children down as if they 
were chairs or tables without proving your title to the cot- 
tage ? " Farmer : " We bought it, your Honour." Judge : 
" How do you prove it ? Have you the title deeds ? " 
Farmer : " No." Judge : " Then you have no case." 
Farmer : " But they pay no rent, your Honour." Judge : 
" And you have not proved you are entitled to collect rent." 
Farmer : " The man has come home and is living in the 
cottage with his wife." Judge : " Surely you do not object 
to the man living with his wife. You are not jealous, are 
you ? " 

The Judge dismissed the case, advising the farmer to engage 
counsel next time. The farmer has since admitted that he 
never felt such a fool in his life ! 

According to calculations made in April, 1916, the niunber 
of permanent full-time workers employed in agriculture 

VOL. n. y 


in England and Wales in July, 1914. was approximately 
750,000, of whom about 693,000 were males and 57,000 
females. These numbers were considerably reduced during 
the war owing to enlistment, but in November, 1919, the 
numbers rose again to 554,000 males and 60,000 females; 
and in January, 1920, it was estimated that there were 
462,000 men, 588,000 boys and 49,000 women and girls.^ 
These figures show, especially after the increase of arable 
farming which took place during the war, that the land must 
be starved of labour even more than it was in 1914.* But it 
is difl&cult to see how we are going to increase the number of 
agricultural workers until there is more housing accommo- 
dation available. 

In comparing these figures with those of the men 
organised we realise how amazing has been the growth 
of trade imionism amongst agricultural workers. Before 
the war, or even in 1914, I doubt if there were more 
than 15,000 farm labourers enrolled as members of the 
National Agricultural Labourers' Union and the Workers' 
Union, giving 10,000 to the former, according to their Trade 
Union Congress figures in 1914, and 5,000 to the latter, based 
on estimates I have made from enquiries of the chief officials. 

At the Conference of representatives of agricultural 
workers in the Workers' Union held in Januaiy, 1920, in their 
agricultural section alone a membership of 150,000 was 
claimed. In the same month the N.A.L.U. reported to 
me a membership of 200,Q00, all being farm workers, with 
the exception of about 2,200, who are village blacksmiths, 
and village carpenters, etc.* It is historic justice that 
the town of Dorchester which condemned six men in 1834 
to transportation for joining a trade union, should to-day 
possess the strongest branch, with a membership of 900, 
of any agricultural labourer's union. Amazing as was the 
rapid gr(Jwth of the N.A.L.U., that of the Workers' Union 
was still more astonishing. Besides there are a number of 
farm labourers enrolled in the National Union of Gen- 

' Wages Board Gazette, April, 1920. 
' Ibid., January i, 1920. 

' In October 1919 the actual numbers were 170,749, which I take from 
an official return I was privileged to see. 


eral Workers, National Amalgamated Labourers' Union, 
National Union of Labour, the Navvies' and the National 
Bricklayers' Labourers' Union. We may therefore reckon 
that more than half of the agricultural labourers in England 
and Wales are now organised industrially. 

In January, 1920, a demand was made by the farm workers 
for a minimum wage of 50s. on a forty-eight hours' week. 
His average earnings, including all allowances, stood in 
1919 at 37s. 6d., and the cost of living had steadily risen. 
To spend a whole week's wages on purchasing a pair of boots 
for her ploughman-husband — boots which lasted only six 
months — let alone the purchase of shoes for her children 
and clothes (which had risen 300 per cent, in price) for all the 
family, filled every wife with anxiety. Had not farmers 
declared before the Tribunals that their farms could not be 
worked without the labour of this or that man ? As the 
unskilled labourer in any industry was awarded 50s. or more 
why should not the craftsman of the fields be paid as much ? 
All workers began to feel it would be disastrous to British 
agriculture if farm labourers left the land as soon as the 
building boom began, in order to obtain the £3 a week, or 
more, paid to any bricklayer's labourer. 

Furthermore, in the face of the evidence before the Royal 
Commission on Agriculture, that the Forfar farmer paid 
his ploughman £3 a week, and provided him with meal, milk, 
potatoes, a cottage, and fuel, which altogether were equiva- 
lent to £190 a yeari the claim for 50s. seemed irresistible. 
That much of the land in Forfar is first-class is undeniable, 
but there is also poor land in this county on which the 
farmer has to pay exactly the same wages, and the £190 a 
year is paid in cash and kind on land which is rented as highly 
as £2 los. an acre. 

However, the 50s. a week minimum was not granted, 
but on March 8, after consulting the District Wages Com- 
mittees, the Agricultural Wages Board decided to pubhsh a 
proposal to raise the minimum wage to 42s. , with an increase 
of 4S.2 a week in areas where the rate was already fixed 

' Minutes of Evidence, Royal Commission on Agriculture, Vol. II., pax.8705. 
' With the recent incresise in the price of bread the 4s. increase in the 
wage of a farm labourer with a family will be rendered nugatory. 


higher than 38s. ^ The Order took effect from April 19, 
and Proposals were made for proportionate higher scales 
for male workers under 21 and for women, (vide Appendix)* 

On the pubhcation of the Proposal with the meagre 
increase in the minimum wage, trouble immediately broke 
out in Lancashire and Essex. West Lancashire once 
again became the storm-centre and a strike on March 20 
was averted only by the farmers and workers coming 
to an agreement for a standard wage of £3 a week, which 
is the highest regular rate of payment for agricultural 
labour in England. 

Despite the fact that farms had been worked during the 
War with at least 100,000 fewer male workers, agriculture 
was the one industry which could show an increase in pro- 
duction. Even before the War (1911) the stockman was 
tending twice the number of cattle that he looked after 
in 1871.^ 

Almost simultaneously the Government announced the 
fact that in view of the serious decUne of the wheat area 
since last year, they would guarantee the farmer the average 
world price of imported wheat up to a maximiun of 95s. per 
quarter of 504 lb., for 1920, and loos. for 1921 ; and at 
the same time announced their intention to introduce a 
BUI early in the session to carry into effect the recom- 
mendation of the Royal Commission on Agriculture, that 
minimum prices should be beised upon and varying with the 
cost of production as a continuous policy, subject to four 
years' notice, before it can be withdrawn. 

In the previous month Lord Lee intimated to the Chair- 
man of the Royal Commission on Agriculture, that the Prime 
Minister was advising his Majesty to release the Commission 
from its duties and to bring its proceedings to a close. This 
letter followed after the resignations of seven members of 
the Commission had taken place — ^seven members who had 
apparently grown weary of well-doing. The sixteen re- 
maining members, including all the Scotch and Welsh 
members, had decided to continue to sit and to carry out 

1 Vide Appendix IV of complete schedule of all counties. 
* A proposal for a further increase of 4/- a week on all minima rates was 
made by the A.W.B. on the 3rd June, X920, bringing the minimum to 46-/. 
» Wages and Conditions of Employment in Agriculture. — Cd. 24, igig. 


the terms of reference, to consider the economic prospects 
of agricultiire and to issue their Final Report. 

But it was soon made manifest, as I have ahready inti- 
mated, that the Government were not serious in appointing 
the Commission " to consider the economic prospects of 
agriculttire " : they were only serious in obtaining a deci- 
sion as to the price to offer farmers for their cereals. It 
was not an unusual line for this Government to take, which 
ever since its formation has lived from hand to mouth. But 
the Minister of Agriculture had surely put himself out of 
court in the eyes of the public, in refusing to allow the 
presentation of a Final Report by a Commission which his 
Ministry had created. 

Lord Lee, in a letter addressed to Sir William Peat, stated 
his objection to any enquiry into security of tenure without 
the presence of landowners on the Commission, and that the 
subjects which the Commission intended to investigate were 
outside the terms of reference and had already been dealt 
with by Lord Selborne's Committee. 

Now Lord Selborne's Committee was appointed in 1916, 
and since then the ownership of half the farms in many coun- 
ties in England and Wales had changed hands. Thus new 
conditions had been created giving farmers a sense of 
insecurity greater than they had hitherto experienced. 

In a dignified, but scathing letter, signed by the sixteen 
members of the Commission (that is, by the total body since 
seven had resigned) addressed to Lord Lee, it was poiiilted 
out to him that at the very first sitting of the Commission 

" it was resolved, one member alone dissenting, ' that the 
Royal Commission agrees to consider the subject of security of 
tenure in relation to the costs of production and to the general 
economic prospects of the farming industry.' It had thus been 
resolved by the Commission and apparently agreed by the Gov- 
ernment that security of tenure is a factor which cannot be omit- 
ted in any adequate examination of the economic conditions 
of production. The Commission had at no stage resolved 
or intended to consider this subject otherwise than in its rela- 
tion to agricultural production, but they had thought it right to 
point out to H. M. Government that the problem could not be 
discussed at all unless the possible solutions were allowed to 
be examined without restriction of their method or scope." 


The Commission had already welcomed the addition of 
landowning members which it imagined the Government 
would appoint in due course, and it had no intention of 
spending" much time on hackneyed subjects such as co- 
operation and smaU-holdings, which had been fully discussed 
by the Selbome Committee. 

Every economist has agreed that a policy of guaranteed 
prices, whether one is in favour of it or is not, can only 
be a temporary, artificial device, and that if the economic 
prospect of agriculture is to build on that as a foundation 
stone, it will be buUt on shifting sands, swayed by varying 
political waves of feeling. Its permanent prosperity is surely 
dependent upon giving security of tenure to farmers, cottage- 
rights to labourers, a new system of transport and marketing, 
drainage, equipment of farms, the abolition of game laws, 
which are by no means efficiently explored by the Selborne 
Committee, especially in view of the changed conditions 
since the end of the war. But as the editor of Farm Life 
wrote : — * 

" the Government had already made up its mind and did not 
intend to do anything suggested by the Commission that had 
not been agreed upon previously by the gentlemen behind the 
scenes who manage these affairs whether they concern corn 
or coal or less essential matters. ... No body of men has ever 
enquired into the agricultural problem more ably, or painstak- 
ingly, or courageously than the Farmer and Labour members 
of this Commission ; and the present day student and the 
future historian alike will find in the evidence, and especially 
in the replies to questions, more illumination on the details of 
British agriculture in our time than can be found anj^where else." 

Though the Interim Report was restricted to a statement 
on the merits or demerits of guaranteed prices, and concerned 
the farmer more than the labourer, the student will find in 
the printed evidence abundant information dealing with the 
life of the labourer. 

Lord Lee, though possessing great energy, is a man of war 
rather than an agriculturist ; and his Prime Minister is essen- 
tially a politician. Neither of them is an economist. Neither 
of them seems to have grasped the fact, for instance, that if 
1 March 6, 1920, 


farmers are locking up their available capital in the forced 
purchase of farms they will have less capital to develop them. 
Both Mr. Lloyd George and Lord Lee have uttered economic 
puerilities in tr3dng to scare the public into the behef that 
our adverse exchange is due to the British farmer not growing 
quite so much wheat. As long as the British Government 
are permitted to borrow from day to day from international 
financiers in the City, instead of taxing them, so long will 
British credit suffer ; and it will continue to suffer if labour is 
diverted from the highly productive industries such as ship- 
building, to plough the unprofitable field, for to pursue that 
policy, as opposed to arable dairying, is to plough the sands. 

The Government, as usual, had but one panacea — ^high 
prices ; and in spite of the fact that farmers had again 
and again in giving evidence declared that guaranteed prices 
were of little avail without security of tenure, refused to 
allow a discussion on that point. Thus the Commission 
which would have attempted to outline a real agricultural 
policy of lasting benefit to the country was suddenly brought 
to a close by the ulcase of Lord Lee. 

Perhaps it was not to be wondered at that the Govern- 
ment should view with disquietude the findings of a Commis- 
sion on which it was plain to all who read the Evidence, that 
after the dangerous rock of guaranteed prices had been 
passed the opposing elements of farmer and labourer were 

We have seen that farm labourers have been rapidly becom- 
ing one of the best organised crafts in the country ; but farmers 
have not been behindhand either, and the National Farmers' 
Union now numbers some 100,000 members. Are labourers, 
now that they are so well organised, more antagonistic to 
farmers than they were in the 'seventies or 'eighties ? To 
this I would answer unhesitatingly, that the antagonism 
has moved to a higher plane. It is less bitter ; less personal. 
In Arch's time the farmers were unorganised, and the men 
regarded their masters a& personally responsible for the undue 
hardships, the unjustifiably long hours and low wages which 
were their lot in life. Masters and men never met in con- 
ference. They never thrashed out things together. Now 


they do, and though antagonism exists, both farmers and 
men are more educated; their understanding is greater; 
their horizon has widened. The farmers on their side, since 
they have been organised, have shed certain industrial and 
political prejudices and acquired more political principles. 
They are beginning to view affairs from a national, rather 
than from a class point of view. 

Both classes have come to realise that it is not only 
a question of wages and hours, but that it is equally as much 
a question of more and better cottages, of tenure, of trans- 
port, of markets, of drainage, of equipment, of coal and elec- 
tric power. The labourers understand quite as well as the 
farmers that agriculture can never prosper, and be remuner- 
ative either to employer or employed, where the land is water- 
logged ; where tenants are subject to quit without proper 
compensation ; where capital and machinery are lacking. 
Labourers no longer worry themselves over the disestabUsh- 
ment of the Church, as Arch did. Cobbett regarded " a 
couple of flitches worth 50,000 Methodist sermons," and 
men to-day are regarding the right distribution of water as 
of more importance than the re-distribution of tithes ; for 
this new orientation of knowledge the much mahgned agi- 
tator is responsible. The farm labourer is beginning to read 
tracts other than those to be found within the pages of the 
Parish Magazine ; and it is to be hoped that the subjective 
poverty which he has endured through the dark depressing 
ages covered by this history, will be lightened by an extension 
of public libraries in the villages under the operations of the 
Public Libraries Act, December, I'gig. 

It may be, as they watch the successful development of 
State Co-partnership farms at Patringdon and elsewhere, 
that they wiU regard communal ownership and working 
of land as the only goal in the race of wages and prices. 

And what of their attitude to the squire or landlord? 
There is little or none of that class hatred so vividly imagined 
by nervous persons. The attitude of mind towards the 
squire has been that of tolerant puzzlement ; of disappoint- 
ment : "like only knew, if we could only get at him, things 
would have been different ; but it is that bailiff," 


has been the commonly expressed sentiment. But the 
landlord is receding more and more into the background ; and 
the farmer, as owner, is rapidly taking his place. 

More and more the farmer and the farm labourer will be 
drawn together, not only on agricultural wages boards and 
committees but also on the new Council of Agriculture for 
England » in which the agricultural labourer is to take a seat 
by statutory right. He may be selected to sit as an expert 
on a County Agricultural Committee. The State now recog- 
nises that he is as much interested in good husbandry as the 
fanner, and as there are three labourers to one farmer, the 
prosperity of the industry is even more his concern than the 

The farm labourer's social status has altered for the better 
in war-time, and with this improvement we may look for a 
change in the attitude of the girls to the farm worker as 
a Ufe-companion. No longer, let us hope, shall we hear 
wives of farm labourers imploring their daughters, as 
one mother implored her daughter who is known to me, 
" Promise me never to marry a farm labourer, my dear." 
She promised, and did not marry a farm labourer. Neverthe- 
less she never deserted her class, but to-day sits on a Wages 
Committee as a representative of the workers. Since the 
passing of the Corn Production Act the farm worker has 
become socially a more desirable mate than the smart young 
gardener at the big house, for the farm worker has a wage 
higher than the gardener's. When employers refused to pay 
their gardeners the labourer's wage the gardener on many 
an estate stepped up and not down the social scale as he 
became a farm worker. 

Cottage girls who have watched during war-time rich 
men doing work of " national importance " in loading tum- 
brils with dung with the exalted look of a saint ; who have 
seen the squire's and the vicar's daughters working as field 
labourer's, milking cows and cleaning out byres, have come to 
realise that there is no indignity in farm work — that the indig- 
nity lies only in the sordid conditions which have prevailed. 

The objection to farm work on the part of cottage women, 

■ Vide Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Act, December, 1919. 


even by those who have no children to care for, is not to be 
condemned as an example of the perverse snobbery of the 
poor. Its roots lie deep in the rank soil of social degradation 
when poverty drove their mothers to work as field labourers 
in gangs hovelled promiscuously like swine. In those 
dark days to be a female worker in a gang was to be a social 
outcast ; and the miserable pittance meted out to women 
for milking cows or cleaning roots since the gang system 
was abolished did not compensate for the damage done to 
their health, their skirts, or their boots in wet weather.^ 

To work at haymaking, harvesting, and fruit-picking 
when the sun is shining was one thing, but to get your 
skirts saturated by wet sprouts or roots, or soiled by the mire 
of the cow-yard, even for is. 6d. a day, was another matter. 
The sensible introduction of breeches and leggings ; the 
higher wages fixed by the Agricultural Wages Board ; and 
the greater respect shown by farmers to women workers 
on the land effected a speedy transformation. 

The farm -worker is once more taking his place in the 
social life of the village as he did in the more leisured days 
of a hundred and fifty years ago. As a member of a Trade 
Union, of a Sports, of a District Wages Committee, or of a 
Food Control Committee ; as a parish councillor, or even as a 
county councillor, though still a farm labourer, he is a worker 
who is able to hold his head higher than has been his lot for 
many a long year. He walks, even on heavy clay soil, with 
a more elastic step, and since demobilisation he joins in 
country dances and impromptu concerts. He has expressed 
himself in drama at Glastonbury of Arthurian legends ; and 
across the melancholy meres of Cambridge, the deep- throated 
fenman sings a song in which the cadences are in flawless 
unison with life. His manners are not to be judged by the 
conventions of other classes. The gentleman who is the 
first to open a door to a lady is often the first to shut it in 
the face of Woman. , His manners are not the manners of 
those -who hve on terms of good-humoured friendship with 
their wives. 

* Even as late as May, 1916, a case was reported by the Somerset 
Women's War Service Committee of a labourer's wife who was paid only 
4s. $d. a week for milMng twelve cows morning and evening. 


It may be as Professor Pigou pointed out, that higher 
wages will drive the inefficient farmer from business, but 
that surely is not an undesirable consimimation. What 
the farm labourer has won in better conditions he wiU never 
relinquish. Landlords may go ; the inefficient farmer may 
go ; and if neither landlord nor farmer will cultivate the 
land, he, the peasant, will remain to reap what he has sown 


Hammond, J. L. and Barbara. The Village Labourer. 
Hasbach, W. a History of the English Agricultural Labourer. 
Slater, G. The English Peasantry and the Enclosure of 

Common Fields. 
Prothero, R. E. English Farming : Past and Present. 
Melville, Lewis. Life and Letters of William Cobbett. 
Clayden, Arthur. The Revolt of the Field. 
"The Labourers' Union" Chronicle. 1872-76. 
"The CongregationaUst." 1872. 

Clifford, Frederick. The Agricultural Lock-out. 1874. 
Heath, F. G. The Romance of Peasant Life in the West of 

England. 1872. 
Girdlestone, Canon. The Agricultural Labourers' Union, 1874. 
Joseph Arch : the Story of his Life, told by Himself. 
EvERSLEY, Lord. Commons, Forests and Footpaths. 
Heath, Richard. The English Peasant. 
Smart, W. Economic Annals of the Nineteenth Century. 
Garnier, Russell M. Annals of British Peasantry. 
CoLLiNGS, Jesse. Land Reform. 

CuRTLER, W. H. R. A Short History of English Agriculture. 
Lawson, William. Ten Years of Gentleman Farming. 
HosKYNS, C. W. Chronicles of a Clay Farm. 
Webb, Sidney and Beatrice. History of Trade Unionism. 
Heath, F. G. British Rural Life and Labour. 
Hewlett, Maurice. The Song of the Plow. 
Jefferies, Richard. Hodge and his Masters. 
Graham, P. Anderson. The Rural Exodus. 
Royal Commission on Agriculture. 1880-82. 
TucKWELL, Rev. W. Reminiscences of a Radical Parson. 
Kebbel, T. E. The Agricultural Labourer. 
Plowman, Thomas. Fifty Years of a Showman's Life. 
Jessopp, Augustus. Arcady for Better or for Worse. 
FoRDHAM, Montague. A History of English Rural Life. 
Paul, Herbert. Modem History of England. 
Baverstock, Rev. A. H. The English Agricultural Labourer. 
DuNLOP, JocELYN. The Farm Labourer. 
Stubbs, C. W. The Land and the Labourers. 
Haggard, H. Rider. Rural England. 



Report on the Decline in the Agricultural Population. 1881- 
1906. Cd. 3273. 

Report of Royal Commission on Labour : The Agricultural 
Labourer. 1831-94. 

"The Church Reformer." 1890-93. 

Enghsh Land Restoration League Reports. 1891-97. 

"Among the Suffolk Labourers with the Red Van." 1891. 

"Among the Agricultural Labourers with the Red Vans." 1892-97. 

MiLLiN, G. F. Life in our Villages. 

Mann, H. H. Life in an Agricultural Village in England. 
(Sociological Papers. 1904.) 

Davies, Maude. Life in an English Village. 

Rogers, Professor Thorold. Six Centuries of Work and 

Fox, Wilson. Reports by. Wages and Earnings of Agricul- 
tural Labourers. Cd. 2376. 1905. 

Earnings and Hours of Labour : Agriculture, 1907. Cd. 5460. 

Graham, A. H. and Brodhurst, Spencer. Parish Councils 

Fabian Society, The. Parish Councils and Village Life. 

Pedder, Lieut. -Col. D. C. Where Men Decay. 

Matthews, A. H. H. Fifty Years of Agricultural Politics. 

Masterman, C. F. G. To Colonise England. 

Bourne, George. The Bettesworth Book. 

Bourne, George. Lucy Bettesworth. 

Bourne, George. Change in our Village. 

Williams, Alfred. A Wiltshire Village. 

Hudson, W. H. Nature in Downland. 

Hudson, W. H. Afoot in England. 

Lennard, Reginald. Enghsh Agricultural Wages. 

Small Holdings and Allotments Act. 1908. 

Jebb, L. Small Holdings. 

Agricultural Holdings Act, 1908. 

Gambier-Parry, Major. Allegories of the Land. 

Wolff, H. W. Co-operation in Agriculture. 

Housing and Town Planning Act. 1909. 

Scott, J. Robertson. The Land Problem. 

Scott, if. Robertson. The Townsman's Farm. 

Sutherland, William. Rural Regeneration in England. 

Unwin, Mrs. Cobden. The Land Hunger. 

Bryce, James. The Story of a Ploughboy. 

HoLDENBY, Christopher. Folk of the Furrow. 

RowNTREE, B. Seebohm. How the Labourer Lives. 

Hall, A. D. A Pilgrimage of British Farming. 

PiGOU, A. C. The Miminum Wage {Nineteenth Century, 
December, 1913). 

The Land : Report of the Land Enquiry Committee. 


Welsh Land : Report of the Land Enquiry Committee. 

The Land Problem. 1913. (A Reply to the Liberal Land 

Harben, Henry D. The Rural Problem. 

Aronson, Hugh. Our Village Homes. 

Radford, George. The State as Farmer. 

Green, F. E. The Tyranny of the Countryside. 

Annual Report of Small Holdings. 1914. Cd. 7851. 

Agricultural Holdings Act, 1914. 

AsHBY, Arthur. Allotments and Small Holdings in Oxford- 

Orr, J. Agriculture in Oxfordshire. 

Orr, J. Agriculture in Berkshire. 

Orwin, C. S. Determination of Farming Costs. 

Russell, George W. (A.E.). Co-operation and Nationality. 

EngUsh Agriculture : the Nation's Opportunity. 

Green, F. E. Home Colonisation by Soldiers and Sailors. 
{Nineteenth Century, April, 1916.) 

Hall, A. D. Agriculture after the War. 

Report on Settlement or Employment on the Land of Discharged 
Soldiers cUid Sailors. Cd. 8182. 

Seventeenth Abstract of Labour Statistics. 1915. Cd. 7733. 

Small Holdings Colonies Act, 1916. 

"The Labourer." 

"The Land Worker." 

" The Worker's Record." 

Green, F. E. Agriculture and the Minimum Wage. {Nine- 
teenth Century, September, 1917.) 

HocKiN, Olive. Two Girls on the Land. 

Wolseley, Countess. Women and the Land. 

Com Production Act, 1917. 

Report of Agricultural Policy Sub-Committee. 1918. Cd. 9079. 

Green, F. E. The Awakening of England. (1918 Edition.) 

Sayle, a. Village Libraries. 

Selley, Ernest. Village Trade Unions in Two Centuries. 

Land Drainage Act, 1918. 

Report of the Cost of Living of Rural Workers. 1919. Cd. 76. 

Agricultural Land Sales Act, 1919. 

Wages and Conditions of Emplo37ment in Agriculture. 1919. 
Cd. 24. 

Journal of the Board of Agriculture. 

Royal Commission on Agriculture. Reports of Evidence. 

Wages Board Gazette. 

Housing (Financial Assistance) Committee's Final Report. 1919. 
Cd. 9238. 

Land Settlement '(Facilities) Act, 1919. 


1850 TO 1919 











S. d. 

s. d. 

s. d. 

S. d. 

s. d. 




23 5 

16 5 


32 10 

30 I 

20 7 




24 9 

18 7 



a6 7 





28 6 

19 r 


32 6 

25 4 

16 3 




33 2 



31 10 

27 10 

16 9 





27 II 


29 9 

25 10 

17 9 




34 9 

27 5 


31 II 

28 8 

18 7 




41 I 

25 2 



28 2 





42 I 



30 3 

26 2 

19 10 




34 8 

24 6 


26 4 

25 7 

18 9 




33 6 

23 2 


22 10 

24 6 

17 I 




36 7 

24 5 


23 I 

21 II 

14 6 




36 I 

23 9 


26 2 

22 II 

14 9 




35 I 

22 7 


30 2 

23 6 

16 II 




33 II 

21 2 



27 2 

18 5 




29 II 

20 I 


25 8 

25 7 





29 9 

21 10 


26 II 

24 II 

17 7 




37 5 

2-4 7 


26 9 

25 2 

18 5 







28 I 

25 8 

20 2 





28 I 


26 9 

22 8 

17 2 




39 5 



28 4 

22 4 

16 4 




34 7 

22 10 


29 8 

24 4 

17 4 




36 2 

25 2 


28 3 

24 2 

18 4 



37 4 

23 2 


30 7 

25 I 

18 10 




40 5 

25 5 



25 10 

17 10 




44 II 

28 10 


36 II 

26 10 

18 II 




38 5 

28 8 


31 8 

23 I 

17 4 




35 2 

26 3 


31 8 

27 3 

18 10 




39 8 

25 II 


34 9 

30 8 

21 6 




40 2 

24 4 


31 8 

27 3 

19 I 





2I 9 


34 II 

27 2 

20 II 




33 I 

23 I 


52 10 

37 4 

30 2 




31 II 

2I 9 


58 5 

53 6 

33 5 




31 2 

21 10 


75 9 

64 9 

49 10 




31 10 

2I 5 


72 10 


49 4 




30 8 

20 3 


72 II 

75 9 

52 5 




From Mr. Wilson Fox's Report on Wages, etc., of Agricultural 
Labourers in the United Kingdom, 1905. Cd. 2376. 
This Table should be compared with prices of British corn. 













of England, 

I 850-1 903 

{12 farms). 








of Eng- 


England and 



(128 farms). 


s. d. 

s. d. 

s. d. 

s. d. 


9 3i 

8 8 


13 7 

13 2-1 

13 114 ^ 


9 2i 

8 3 


13 7 

12 11^ 



9 3 

8 6i ,,, 


13 8 

13 I 

14 14 


9 II 

9 Hi 



13 8 

12 10 1 

14 14 


10 8 

II 2 



13 8 

13 oj 

14 oj 


10 ii| 

II 5 


13 3i 

12 54 

13 8i 



II oj 

II 5 



13 2j 

12 I 

13 74 



10 ii| 

10 II 



13 2 


13 74 



10 gi 

10 5i 


13 2i 

12 I 

13 74 


10 8i 

10 2f 



13 3 

12 0| 

13 8 



10 II 

10 8 



13 2^ 

II Il| 

13 74 




10 10 


13 I 

II 5 

13 54 




10 7 . 


12 II 

II 2j 

13 4 




10 i^ = * 


12 9i 

10 Il| 

13 24 



II oj 

10 3 


12 9i 

10 7i 

13 24 



II 3 

10 5 


12 10 1 

10 II 

13 4 



II 6 

10 i^ 


13 oj 

II oi 

13 6 




II 6i 


13 4 

II 94 

13 94 




II 9 


13 5 

II 8 

13 10 



II 8i 

II 3 


13 3i 

II 44 

13 9 



II io| 

II li 


13 3 


13 8 



12 I 

II 7i 


13 2i 


13 84 



12 8i 

12 4^ 


13 4 

II 14 

13 9 



13 4 

13 0^ 


13 5 

II 6 

13 104 



13 8i 
13 10 i 

12 3 
12 64 

14 14 
14 4 




14 5i 

13 14 

14 10 


14 6J 

13 24 

14 II 


14 7 

13 24 

14 114 


14 7 

13 24 

II ii4 J 


14 9 

12 62 

y / 


Norfolk & 



Note. — Extra earnings per week : Ordinary Labourers, lod. ; Horse- 
men, IS. 6d. ; Cattlemen, is. 8d. ; Shepherds, is. lod. 

• In 1894 wheat dropped to its lowest recorded figure, aas. lod. 
' Cd. 5460. 




Including Cash Wages, Extras and Allowances together with minimum 
Weekly Wage and Hours of Employment for Male Agricultural 
Workers of 21 years and upwards on October 6, 1919. 



1907. » 

of Agri- 







Wages Board, 
October, 1919. 


Sum- Win- 
mcr. ter. 


Northern Counties. 
Northumberland. . . . 



Westmorland .... 


YoRKS, "Lancashire and 
Yorks — East Riding 

North Riding . 
West Riding 
Whole County . 




North and West Midla 


Lincolnshire .... 
Derbyshire .... 
Gloucestershire • 
Shropshire .... 
Staffordshire .... 
Worcestershire . 

Average .... 
South Midland and East 


Hertfordshire .... 


Northamptonshire . 
Bedfordshire .... 
Cambridgeshire .... 





South Eastern Counties, 







South Western Counties. 





Somersetshire .... 


s. d. 

20 3 
20 q 
20 5 
ig 6 

19 10 

20 2 

19 10 

20 8 
19 I 
19 9 


18 9 
I? O 

19 5 

19 5 

20 10 

16 3 

17 I 

18 2 
18 10 

16 3 

17 2 

18 4 

20 3 
16 10 
16 II 
14 II 
16 9 

S. d. 

24 8 

24 8 

18 6 

15 6 


20 10 

20 2 

22 O 

18 8 


17 I 

17 6 

19 5 

22 6 



16 3 


15 II 

18 9 
18 10 
17 9 

17 5 
16 8 

18 1 


16 10 

18 7 
18 3 
17 4 

s. d. 
24 8 
24 10 
22 6 
18 o 
22 6 





19 8 

18 6 

19 7 
21 10 
19 2 
18. II 

18 9 

19 7 

17 2 
17 7 
19 o 

17 o 

18 6 
17 10 

s. d. 
25 0I 
25 6) 
20 o 
20 6 
23 3 

20 8/ 

21 5 

20 2 

20 9 

19 8 

20 O 

19 8 


19 10 
19 6 
17 II 
17 4 
19 2 




18 10 
21 2 
18 2 
16 10 
16 10 
IS i 




s. d. 

42 6 

40 o 

40 o 

41 o 

39 6 
39 o 

38 6 
36 6 
36 6 










Av erage for England 

17 6 -'- 

19 10 

37 6 

50 I 48 

* For purposes of comparison these wages are based 
of 50 and 48 hours, though higher rates were allowed 
were longer. 

VOL. II. 337 

on a uniform working week 
where the>tatutory hours 





All Classes 

Cash Wages. 

and Extra 

Total Earnings. 

Wages Board. 
October, 1919. 







Board of 



Board of 

















S. d. 

s. d. 

S. d. 

s. d. 



S. d. 

S. d. 

Flintshire . 

15 II 


2 II 

3 8 



21 8 

36 6 



Denbighsiiire . 

13 II 


4 z 

4 6 



24 6 

36 6 



Carnarvon . 

13 10 

17 6 

4 9 




20 6 

36 6 



Anglesey . . 

II 9 

16 6 

5 9 

3 3 



19 9 

36 6 



Merionethsliirc ■ 

13 3 

1+ 3 

4 II 

7 6 



21 9 

36 6 




12 8 

18 I 

3 II 

3 I 



21 2 

36 6 



Cardiganshire . 

II 6 

15 9 


I 6 



17 3 

37 6 






5 7 

7 6 



17 6 

36 6 




14 1 

13 10 

4 2 

5 6 



19 4 

36 6 




13 9 

19 I 

4 4 




24 I 

37 6 




12 9 

9 10 

4 6 

8 6 



18 4 

37 6 




15 8 

19 5 

3 7 

3 3 



22 8 

41 6 




14 9 

17 3 

3 4 

I 10 



19 I 

41 6 



Average for 

13 9 

16 2 

4 3 

4 5 


20 7 

37 6 



NoU. — In some cases the Minimum Wage applies to all classes./ In others 
higher rates are allowed for horsemen, shepherds, etc., 




a ai S, 
















■ m 

(U !» 

■ ■ o 

.b 'So =^ !3 5 .a 

^3 8 1^1 


■ ■•a 


• fi 



2 CI V 

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IN GREAT BRITAIN (Cost in 1900 = 100). 

Extracted from Second Series of " Memoranda, Statisticai. Tables 
AND Charts." Cd. 2337 of 1904. 





Fuel and 

Cost of the 

1880 . . 





121 -7 

1881 . . 






1882 . . 

140 -I 





1883 . . 






1884 . . 






1885 . . 






1886 . . 

110 -3 





1887 . . 






1888 . . 






1889 . . 






1890 . . 






1891 . . 






1892 . . 



10 1 -0 



1893 . . 






1894 . . 

100 -0 





1895 • • 






1896 . . 






^^97 • • 






1898 . . 






1899 . . 






1900 . . 

100 -0 

100 -0 

100 -0 

100 -0 

100 -0 

1901 . . 






1902 . . 






1903 • . 






• In the case of rent only the figures for 1880, 1885, 1890, 1895 and 
1900 are ascertained data. The intermediate figures are interpolated 
on the assumption that the average level of rents within each five year 
period changed at a uniform rate. For 1901-3 the rate of increase between 
1895 3nd '900 has been assumed to have continued. 

' Figure for i88i has been used, earlier information not being available. 



MAN'S FAMILY (Average Price in 1900 = 100). 

Extracted from " Memoranda, Statistical Tables, and Charts 


Conditions." Cd. 1761 of 1903. 























































Extracted from " Seventeenth Abstract of Labour Statistics." 
Cd. 7733 of 1915. 

Mean Percentage Increase {+) 

or Decrease (— 



Geographical Group. 








I'Middle Zone . . 




London Area] Inner Zone . . . 




I Outer Zone . . . 




Northern Counties and Cleveland. 




Yorkshire (except Cleveland) . . 




Lancashire and Cheshire . . . 








Eastern and East Midland Counties 




Southern Counties 


+ 9-8 

+ 8-1 

Wales and Monmouth .... 
















Extracted from the " Labour Gazette." 


January ist, 1915 

January ist, 1916 

January ist, 1917 

January ist, 1918 

January ist, 1919 

January ist, 1920 

Increase per cent. 




AT THE CENSUS OF 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901 AND 1911 

Agricultural Labourers (incl. ) 
cattlemen and horsemen . [ 

Shepherds j 

Nurserymen, Seedsmen, Florists'\ 
Market Gardeners, Other I 
Gardeners (incl. Domesticj 
Gardeners) / 

England and Wales 
Great Britain 
England and Wales 
Great Britain . 

England and Wales 
Great Britain . 
















Agricultural Labourers \ 
incl. cattlemen and I 
horsemen) j 

Shepherds . . . | 

Nurserymen, Seeds- \ 
men. Florists, Mar- 1 
ket Gardeners, other ?■ 
Gardeners (incl. I 

Domestic Gardeners) ' 

England and Wales 
Great Britain . 

England and Wales 
Great Britain . 

England and Wales 
Great Britain . 












Adderley, Sir Charles, 40 
Agricultural education, grants for, 


Agricultural Employment Board's 
Bill, 1914, 200 

Agricultural Holdings Act, 68, 172 

Agricultural Ratings Acts, 1896- 
1902, 150 

Agricultural Wages Boards : — 
Creation of, 253 et seq., 298 
District Wages Committees, 

see that title. 
First meeting, 256 
Harvest rates, 1918, 297 
Minimum wage, see that title. 
Orders, 288 

Aldous, J. A., 273 

Allotments and Small Holdings : — 
Act of 1887. 82 
Chaplin's Bill, 1886, 84 
Co-operative Society, i6g 
County Councils, powers of, 

Ex-soldiers' settlement, 310 
Extension Act, 1882, 80 
Glebe land used as, 80 
Labourer's Friend Society, 

1834. 79 
Land Enquiry Report, 209 
Liberal Party's programme, 

1906, 159 
Organization, lack of, 165, 171 
Parish Councils, powers of, 136, 

161, 162 
Popularity of, 81 
Small Holdings and Allotments 

Act, 1907, 127, 136, 161, 163 
Small Holdings Act, 1892, 137, 

Small Holdings (Colonies) Act, 

1916, 246 
Spalding Association, 1892, 139 
Appeal to Farmers," 1920, 317 

Arch, Joseph, 6, 12, 14, 28, 29, 31, 
33. 34. 36, 37. 38, 41. 44. 45. 
46. 50. 53. 58, 69, 70, 277 
Death of, 299 
Emigration schemes, 45 
First meeting held by, 34 
Grace — Joseph Arch's grace, 

Interview with, 1909, 173 
Parliament, election to, 83, 

84, 85 
Royal Commission, 1880-2, 
evidence by, 71-7 
Arnold, A., 38 
Ashby, Arthur W., 315 
Ashley, Sir William, 315 
Asquith, Rt. Hon. H. H., 243 

Back to the Land movement, 159 

Balfour, A. J., 251 

Ball, R., 61, 63 

Bankruptcy statistics, 1 892-1918, 

Barttelot, Sir Walter, 87, 238 

Batchelor, W., 315 

Bateman, Lord, 114 

Beard, John, 142, 143, 144, 183 
257. 264 

Beaufort, Duke of, 113 

Bedford, Duke of, 74, 113, 154 

Bedfordshire labourer, conditions 
before 1872, 19 

Bennet, Capt. E. N., 297, 299 

Bennett, Sir John, 40 

Bennett, W., 299 

Bentinck, Lord Henry, 83, 165, 200 

Berkshire labourer, conditions be- 
fore 1872, 20 

Birkenhead, Lord, 232 

" Black Year," 1879, 67 

Board of Agriculture, creation of, 
1899, 150 

Booth, Charles, 153 




Bothy system, 90 

Bourne, George, 178 

Box, S., 277, 299 

Bradlaugh, Charles, 40 

Bradley, A. D., 254 

Brighton, Jesse, 308 

Brine, James, 184 

Bristol, Marquis of, 62 

Buckinghamshire labourer, con- 
ditions before 1872, 19 

Budgets, Labourers', 78 note, 203 
et seq.. 344. 345, 346. 

Burns, John, 173, 185 

Burston school strike, 220 

Buxton, Charles Roden, 165, 207 

Cambridgeshire labourer, con- 
ditions before 1872, 19 
Campbell, Colin, 256 
Carrington, Lord, 139 
Carson, Sir Edward, 232 
Cautley, H. S., 315 
Caxton Hall Meeting, October, 

1919, 313 
Census of agricultural labourers, 

322, 347 
Central Land Union, 211 
Chamberlain, Joseph, 70, 87 
Chamberlain, Nevflle, 245 
Chaplin, Lord, 237 
Charitable Trusts Act, 1884, 

80 note 
Charity lands : — 

Allotments Act, 1882, 80-126 
Maladministration of, 79 
Chatteris strike, 1919, 299 
Cheshire labourer, conditions be- 
fore 1872, 21 
Child-labour, war exemptions, 

235 et seq. 
Chitteme (Wilts) strike, 1914, 224 
Clayden, Arthur, 14, 46 note 
Clergy, attitude towards labourers, 

42, 44, 118, 119, 262 
CUfford, Frederick, 14, 49, 52, 

56 note, 58 note 
Cobbett, William, 6 et seq. 
CodUng, W. G., 160 
Coe, James, 242, 245 
Close, Admiral, 113 
Collings, Jesse, 38, 79 
Common and grazing rights, 136 
Conference of agricultural workers, 

Jan. 1920, 322 
Co-operative Land Company, 69 
Co-operative Small Holdings 

Society, 165 
Co-partnership State farms, 328 

Corn prices, 1850-1919, 335 
Corn Production Act, 1917, 200, 
250. 253. 254, 297 

General working of, 288 et seq. 
See also Wheat, etc. 
Corsley village, investigation re- 
ports, 157 et seq. 
Cost of living : — 

Kises in, 241, 247, 287, 301 
Workmen's Budgets, 78 note, 
203 et seq., 344, 345, 346 
Costings Committee, 313 
Cottages, see Housing. 
Cotterell, Sir John, 226 
Council of Agriculture, labourers 

eligible for, 127, 329 
County Agricultural Committee, 

eUgibility of labourer, 329 
County Councils : — 

Allotments, powers as to, 

162 et seq. 
Creation of, 122, 127 
Elections, 1919, 307 
Ex-soldiers' settlement, 310 
Courthope-Munroe, Harry, 250 
Cowdray, Viscount, 136 
Cox, J. C, 41 
Credit Societies, advances to, 191 

Cultivation of unused land, 245, 

Cumberland and Westmoreland 
labourers, conditions before 
1872, 17 
Curtler, W. H. R., 30 note, 31 

note, 32 note, 67 note 
" Customary Hours " Clause, 288, 

Dailt Chsonicle reports, 206 
Daily News reports, 37, 104, 108, 

Dallas, George, 253, 257, 264, 298, 


Davenport, Bromley, 45 

Davies, Maude, 154, 157 

Day, H. A., 160, 179, 180, 182, 242 

Dee, F., 244 

DemobiUsed soldiers, settlement 
of, 309 

Denmark, Suffolk Farmers' Depu- 
tation to, 1901, 150 

Depopulation of Rural Districts, 
88, 93 

Derby, Lord, 195, 196, 197 

Derbyshire labourer, conditions be- 
fore 1872, 18 



Devonshire labourer, conditions 

before 1872, 21 
Dilke, Sir Charles, 40, 80 
District Wages Committees, 207, 

212, 250, 253 

Bias of members, 290 
Working of, 288 et seq. 
Dixon, 9, 38 
Dockers' Union, 197 
Dodd, J. Theodore, 80 
Dorsetshire labourer, conditions 

before 1872, 20, 183 note 
Douglas, Charles, 315 
Drainage — Peel's Drainage Loan, 

Drage, Geofirey, 254 
Duncan, Charles, 142, 299 
Duncan, Joseph F., 315 
Durilop, Miss, 178 
Dyke-Acland, Rt. Hon. A. H., 

207, 256 

Eastern Counties Agricultural 
Labourers' and Small Holders' 
Union, 160, 179 
Eastern Counties Labour Federa- 
tion, 97, 98, 100, loi, 114, 140 
Ede, J. Chuter, 299 
Education : — 

Child labour exemptions, 235 
Rural, in 1872, 70 
Technical, in 1889, 151 
Edwards, George, 29, 44, 73, 118, 
124, 160, 179, 195, 196, 199, 
239, 242, 247, 257, 259, 263, 299 
Edwards, William, 315 
Eliot, George, 13 
Ellicott, Dr., 37 

Emigration schemes, 37, 45, 58 
Enclosures : — 

Acts, 1 760-1 867, 16, 79 
Arch's statements, 62 
Parish Council's action, i 
Royal Commission on In- 
closures of Commons, 1869, 
English Land Restoration League, 

97. 98. 109, 114, 116 
Engineers, Amalgamated Society 

of, 56 
Ernie, Lord, 14, 30 note, 178, 250, 

254. 255. 312 

Escombe, Jane, 133 

Essex and Suffolk Farmers' Associ- 
ation, 54 

Essex Labourers' Union notices, 
1872, 52, 53 

Evans, Howard, 80 
Evens, John, 256 
Everington, W., 242 
Exodus from villages, 88, 93 

Fabian Society pamphlets, 137, 

Farm and Dairy Workers' Union, 

Farmers' Federation, 219 

St. Faith's strike, 179 
Farmers' Union, 197, 211, 226, 
237, 264, 292 
Workers and Farmers Joint 
Council, 282 
Farming : — 

Corn Production Act, see that 

Improvements, growth of, 31 
War profits, 1916-17, 247 
Federal Union of Agricultural 

General Labourers, 55 
Fellowes, Sir Ailwyn, 256, 301, 311 
Fels, Joseph, 311 
Fielding, W. T., 276 
Footpath rights, 135 
Forbes, Archibald, 37, 38 
Fordham, Montague, 165 
Forfarshire labourers, wages in 

kind, 323 
Forty-eight Hours Bill, 1919, 312 
Fox, T. Hamilton, 165 
Fox, Wilson, 16, 116 note 

Wages, etc., report, 1905, 152, 

Franchise, agricultural, 86 
Eraser, Bishop, 37 
Frozen meat, 76 

Game Laws : — 

Committee, 1873, 33 note 
Ground Game Act, 68 
Land Enquiry Report, 210 
Warreners, appointment of, 
" Gang " system for field work, 77 
General election, 1918, rural vote, 

George, S. E., 270 
Gibbard, W. S., 256 
Girdlestone, Canon, 19, 21, 37, 44 
Gladstone, Rt. Hon. W. E., 85 
Gore, Bishop, 46 note, 235 
Graeme, Lloyd, 165 
Grafton, Duke of, 74, no 
Graham, Anderson, 87 note, go, 

104, 109 
Green, Robert, 257, 299 



Groom, Col. J. E., 242 
Ground Game Act, 68 
Guaranteed prices, wheat and oats, 

251. 255. 315. 324 
Gurd, J. T., 256 
Gurdon, Sir W. Brampton, 83 

Haggard, Sir H. R., 145, 207 
Hall, Sir Daniel, 178 
Hammett, James, 184 
Hammond, J. L., and Barbara, 16, 

Hampshure labourer, conditions be- 
fore 1872, 19 
Hardy, Thomas, 14 
Harvest rates, 296, 308 
Hasbach, Dr., 6 
Hastings, Lord, 308 
Hayes, J., 299 
Heath, F. G., 15, 23 note, 49 
Helions Bumpstead strike, 1914, 

214 et seg. 
Henderson, J. M., 315 
Henderson, Thomas, 315 
Herbert, Hon. Amberon, 38 
Hereford, Dean of, 37 
Herefordshire labourer, conditions 

before 1872, 21, 25 
Herts County Council Housing 

Inquiry, 1906, 166 
Hewitt, G. E., 99, 181, 242, 257 
Hewlett, Maurice, 254 
Higdon, T. G., 173, 220, 257 
Holdenby, Christopher, 178 
Hours of Employment Bill, 1919, 

Heath, Richard, 15, 35 
Hobbs, R. W., 256 
Holman, M. H., 256 
Holmes, W., 257 
Hours of labour, decreased, 

298 et seq., 303 et seq. 
Housing : — 

Bothy system, 90 
Conditions, 1853-92, 32 
" Cottage Right," 72, 73 
Depopulation caused by bad 

housing, 88 
Heath's Report, 1872, 35 
Herts County Cotmcil Inquiry, 

1906. 166 
Insanitary conditions, 32, 52, 

295, 296 
Ixworth Cottages Inquiry, 121 
Land Enquiry Report, 1912, 

Rural District Councils' atti- 
tude, 133 

Housing — continued. 

Tied cottages, 72, 73, 173. 

209, 24s, 251, 294 
Times reports, 1874, 52 
Workers' Union reports, 
264 et seq. 
Housing and Town Planning Act, 

1909, 134, 166, 185 
Housing o5e the Working Classes 

Act, 1890, . 121, 122 
Hudson, W. H., 14, 23, 146 
Hughes, Tom, 40 
Hull, Daniel, letter to Essex 

County Council, 141 
Hyder, Joseph, 97 

Ixworth Agricultural Labourers' 
Association, 121 

Jebb, Miss, 165 

Jefieries, Richard, 15, 87 

Jenkins, E., 38 

Jessopp, Dr., 1% 85, 88, 89, 91, 92 

Jones, Thomas P., 314 

Kebbel, T. E., 104 

Keith, A., 242 

Kendall, Capt., 299 

Kendall, May, 178, 203 

Kent and Sussex Labourers' Union, 

64, 99 
Kent labourer, conditions before 

1872, 19 
Kenyon, Lord, 256 
Kerrison, Sir Edward, 62, 174 
Kidner, S., 256 
Kimberley, Lord, 160 

Labour Party Policy, 159 

Labour Party Rural Vote, 1918, 

Labour, Royal Commission on, 
107 note 

" Labourer," 219 

Labourer's Friend Society, 1834, 79 

Labourers' Unions : — 

" Black Year," effect on, 68, 69 
Circular notices, 50, 51, 52, 53 
Clergy, attitude of, 42, 44 
Congress, 1872, 38, 39 
Corn Production Act, 1917, 

effect on, 259 
Creation of, 1872, 29, 34 
" Federals," 69 
Imprisonment of women, 41 



Labourers' Unions — continued. 
King George, reconigtion 

Unions, 217 et seq. 
Letter to farmers, 1872, 36 
Magistrates, attitude of, 41, 42 
Meetings, 46, 47, 261, 262 
Membership, growth of, 322 
National Agricultural Union, 

see that title 
National Unions, formation of, 

Organiser's reports, 264 et seq. 
Revival of Agricultural 

Unions, 201 et seq. 
Right of meeting, 41 
Victimisation cases, 318 
Warwickshire Union, forma- 
tion of, 38 
Laiotirer's Union Chronicle, 35, 39 

note, 42, 47 
Land Enquiry, 1912, 191 et seq. 

Rural report, 207 
Land Nationalization Society, 97 
Land Settlement (Facilities) Act, 

1919, 310, 311, 312 
Landlords laenevolent despotism, 

Langford, E. W., 38, 315 
Lansdowne, Lord, eviction on 

estate, 1912, 185 
Latham, William, 238 
Leamington Chronicle, 34, 36 
Leamington demonstration, 1872, 

Lee of Fareham, Lord, 312, 313, 

324, 325, 326, 327 
Leicester, Earl, 242 
Leicestershire labourer, conditions 

before 1872, 20 
Leigh, Hon. and Rev. J. W., 37 
Leigh, Lord, 37 
Leighton, Sir Baldwin, 38 
Lennard, R. V., 207, 236, 315 ' 
Liberal Party Programme, 1906, 

Libraries, village, 134, 328 
Lilford, Lord, dispute with labour- 
ers, 1913-14, 228 
Lincolnshire Labourers' Union, 56 
Lines and Norfolk Small Holdings 

Association, 139 
Literature, agricultural labourer 

in, 13 et seq. 
Little, W. C, 107, 117 note 
Lloyd George, Rt. Hon. D., 191. 
207, 231, 232, 243, 251, 252, 313, 

Land campaign, 173, 177, 178 

Local Government Act, 1894, 112, 

116, 121, 125, 127 
Lock-outs : — 

Agricultural lock-out, 1874, 

49 et seq. 
Warwickshire Labourers' 

Union, 38 
See also Strikes 
London and Southern Counties 

Labour League, 50 
London Trades Council, 37, 40 
Longmore, Sir Charles, 300 
Loveless, James and George, 184 
Lovell, M., 257 

Macdonald, James, 106, 
Machinery, displacement of la- 
bour by, 145 
Mackley, Tom, 261, 267 
Magistrates, attitude of, 41, 43 
Mallon, J. J., 298 
Mann, Dr. H. H., 153 et seq. 
Mann, Tom, 142 
Manning, Cardinal, 40 
Marlborough, Duke of, 40, no 
Meetings, open air, disallowed, 41 
Meredith, George, 14 
Military, use of, in strikes, 40 
Mill, John Stuart, 81, 13S 
Miller, W. S., 256 
Millin, G. F., 104, 105, 109, no, 114 
Minimum wage : — 

Complaints and prosecutions, 

Corn Production Act, working 

of, 288 et seq. 
Demand, January, 1920, 323 
Land Enquiry Report, 1912, 

Lloyd George campaign, 211, 

Rates in force, 1920, table, 

339 et seq. 
Twenty-five shilling minimum, 

243, 246 
Women and girls, 305 
Mordaunt, Sir Charles, 37 
Morgan, Brette, 298 
Morley, Alderman, 1S3, 282 
Morley, Samuel, 40, 60 
Morris dancing, 47 
Moscrop, A., 256 

Moulton Small Holdings move- 
ment, 140 
Mundella, A. J., 40 
Music in villages, decay of, 92 




National Agricultural Labourers' 
Union, 34, 38, 42, 50, 51, 155, 
195, 217, 250, 322, 323 
Conference, 1915, 235, 242 
Decline of, 69, 70 
Increased membership, 1890, 

Trade Union grant to, 198 
National Agricultural Labourers' 
and Rural Workers' Union, 
179, 182 
National Farmers' Union, 211, 291 
National Insurance Act, 1911, 182 
National Land and Home League, 

165, 185, 200 
National Union of Railwaymen, 

Ormskirk Branch, 197 
National Unions, 1872, 38 
Nationalisation of Land, early pro- 
paganda, 97 
Navvies' and National Brick- 
layer's Labourers Union, 323 
Neame, Ivo, 356 

Newmarket Agricultural Associ- 
ation, 54 
NichoUs, George, 160, 181, 256, 

299, 315 
Northcote, Sir Stafford, 83 
Nottingham Co-operative Society, 

Northumberland, Duke of, 167 
Northumberland labourer, condi- 
tions before 1872, 17 

Old Age Pensions Act, 1908, 172 
Old Age Pensions, Liberal Party 

programme, 1906, 159 
Orwin, C. B., 256 
Oswestry Farmers' Union, 243 
Overman, H., 242, 256, 315 
Overwell, H., 242 
Oxford, Bishop of, 46 note, 235 
Oxfordshire labourers, conditions 

before 1872, 20 

Padwick, H., 256 
Pargeter, T., 299 
Parish Councils : — 

Creation of, 116, 118 
Elections, 1919, 305, 306 
Labourers' eligibility, 122, 123, 

Powers and work of, 134 et 
Parish Councils Act, 1894, 112, 

116, 121, 125, 127 
Parker, E. H., 315 
Patterson, P. G., 256 

Paul, Herbert, 28, 46 note 

Pease, Edward R., 165 

Pease, Mrs. Edward R., . 165 

Peat, Sir William B., 315, 325 

Pedder, Lt.-Col., 148, 185, 238 

Penshurst cottage building, 133 

Perrott, F. D., 121 

Phipps, J., 227 

Piggott, Professor G. C, 279 

Pigou, Professor A. C., 212 

Pile, J., 298, 299 

Pilgrims' march, 1874, 56 et seq. 

Pirrie, Lord, 190 

Plowman, Thomas, 48 note, 59 

Plummer, S. J., 298 

Poaching Prevention Act, 1862, 

33. 211 
Pole, Major D. G., 299 
Politics of the agricultural labourer, 

86 et seq. 
Porter, Haman, 257 
Powis estate dispute, 246 
Prothero, R. E., see Lord Ernie 
Public Libraries Act, 1919, 328 

Railway strike, 1919, 309 

Rea, G. G., 256, 315 

Read, C. S., 49 

Reading rooms, parish, 134, 135 

Red Van reports, 1893, in et 

seq., 129 
Reiss, R. L., 165, 207 
Rents : — 

Increase forbidden, 256 
Rebates in 1881, 68 
Revolt of the Field, 1872, 28 et seq. 
Rew, Sir Henry, 256 
Reynolds, James, 63 
Richards, Robert, 257 
Richmond and District Farm 

Labourers' Union, 201 
Richmond, Duke of, 68, 71 
Ridgmount village, investigations, 

Ridgmount estate, conditions, 

1917, 283 
Rights of way, 135 
Robbins, Roland R., 256, 315 
Roberts, G. H., 165, 200, 247 
Roberts, J., 256 
Roberts, T., 271 
Rodwell, Lionel, 242 
Rogers, Thorold, 2 
Rosbotham, S. T., 256 
Rothschild Committee, 1898, 141 

Rothschild, Mrs. Leopold de, 306 



Rowntree, H. Seebohm, i6, 153, 

158, 178, 203, 207 
Royal Commission on Agriculture, 

1880-2, evidence before, 65 
Royal Commission on Agriculture, 

1919, 177 note, 254 note, 311 et 
seg., 323 

Resignations, 1920, 324 
Royal Commission on Labour, 

107 note 
Runciman, Walter, 190 
Rural District Councillors, labourers 

as, 127 
Rutland, Duke of, 60 

Sage, J., 160 

St. Faith's strike, 1889, 99 

St. Faith's strike, 1910, 178 et seq. 

Sandringham estate wages, 217 

et seq. 
Saturday Half Holiday Order, 304 
Saumarez, Lord de, no 
Saye and Sele, Lord, 165 
Scott, Leslie, 200 
Scott, Holland, 238 
Selbome Committee, 1916, 325 
Selborne, Earl of, 125 
Selley, E., 39 note 
Sexton, James, 197 
Sheep counting, Sussex methods, 

1880, 71 
Shingfield, Jack, 281, 295 
Shipham and Winscombe Inquiry, 

1913. 187 

Shropshire labourer, conditions be- 
fore 1872, 20 

Simmons, W. Anker, 50, 64, 65, 
73 note, 315 

Simpson, John, 142, 144 

Single Tax movement, 97, 102 

Skilled work in agriculture, 2 et seg. 

Small Holdings, see Allotments and 
Small Holdings 

Smith, A., 298 

Smith, Adam, 9, 43 

Smith, W., 308 

Smith, W. P., 181, 242, 257, 264, 
299, 302, 315 

Social status of farm labourer, 

1920, 329 
Soldiers : — 

Demobilised, settlement of, 

Soldier labour on farms, 239, 

Strikes, use of military in, 40 
South West Lancashire strike, 
1913. 195 

Sports, village, decay of, 92 
Staffordshire strike, 1919, 308 
"Standard" articles, 40 note 
Stanfield, John and Thomas, 184 
State co-partnership farms, 328 
Stradbroke, Lord, 74 
Strikes : — 

Burston school, 220 
Chatteris, 1919, 299 
Chitterne (Wilts), 1914, 224 
Dockers' strike, 1 889, effect on 

labourers' unions, 96 
Helions Bumpstead, 1914, 214 

et seq. 
Military, use of, 40 
Railway strike, 1919, 309 
St. Faith's, 1889, 99 
St. Faith's, 1910, 178 

et seq. 
Staffordshire, 1919, 308 
South West Lancashire, 1913, 

Trunch, 220 
Wellsbourne district, 1872, 36, 

Surrey labourer, conditions before 

1872, 20 
Sussex labourer, conditions before 

1872, 19 

Taylor, Arnold, 119 
Taylor, Henry, 38, 44, 56 
Technique in agricultural work, 

2 et seq. 
Thomas, J. H., 251 
Tied cottages, 72, 73, 193, 209, 245, 
251, 294 

Workers' Union reports, 264 et 
Times reports, 43 note, 49, 52 
Tolpuddle Martyrs' memorial, 183 
Toon, Mrs. F. R.j 257 
Trade Unions, see Labourers' Unions 
Trades Union Congress, 1890, 96 
Birmingham resolution, 1916, 

Compulsory cultivation reso- 
lution, 1915, 245 
Transport Workers' Federation, 197 
Trevelyan, Sir C, 40 
Trunch strike, 220 
Tuckwell, Canon, 37, 80, 85, 103 

Vaisey, H. J., 264 

Verinder, H, 98, 115 

Verney, Sir Edmund, 134, 309 note 

Vemey, Sir Harry, 134 

Villages, social life in, 134, 327, 330 



Vincent, J. E. Matthew, 34, 36, 38, 
47. 69 

Walks, agricultural labourers be- 
fore 1872, 21 
Walker, P. B., 199, 242, 245, 257, 

264, 299, 315 
Wallace, ]>. Alfred Russel, 168 
Walsingham, Lord, 62 
Wantage, Lord, good conditions 

on estate of, iii 
War :— 

Agricultural committees, 245 
Disorganisation caused by, 233 
et seg. 
Ward, W. G., 38 
Warwickshire Agricultural Union, 

Wages : — 

Agricultural Wages Board, see 

that title 
" Back Pay "— Cotn Produc- 
tion Act, 1917, 297 
Board of Agriculture investi- 
gation reports, 1917, 254 
Custom, cause of variation, 108 
Diminution, 1900-10, 205 
District Wages Committees, 

see that title 
Fines and deductions, 117 
Fox, Wilson, report, 1905, 

152 et seq. 
Harvest rates, 296, 308 
Investigations, 1890-3, 103 

et seq. 
Increased demand, 1919, 301 
Kind, wages paid in, 108, 323 
Lock-out, 1874, non-union 

wages, 60 
Minimum wage, see that title 
Prices and wages, 1853-72, 
17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 31 et seq. 
Rates, 1915, 241 et seq. 
Royal Commission, 1880-2, 

Arch's evidence, 72 
Sandringham, estate, zijet seq. 
Soldier labour, 239, 244 
Tables, 76, 336, 337, 338 
Victimisation of Trade Union- 
ists, 318 
Wet weather losses, 77, 78, no 

Wages — continued. 

Winter and summer rates, 1 16, 

Women field workers, 117, 303 
Workers' Union campaign, 

1917, 253, 264 et seq. 
Workers' Union scale, 191 4, 
Wages Board Gaiette, 318 
Webb, Mr. and Mrs. Sidney, 114 

Wet weather wage losses, 77, 78, 

Wheat and Oats : — 

Com Production Act, see that 

Guaranteed prices, 251, 255, 

315. 324 
Prices, 1850-1919, table, 335 
White, Harry, 282, 300 
Whittle, W. B., 274 
Wilkins, Mrs. Roland, 256, 291 
Wilson, P. W., 194 
Wilts Agricultural and General 

Labourers' Union, 117 
Wilts labourer, conditions before 

1872, 21 
Winfrey, Sir Richard, 139, 160, 165, 

Winscombe and Shipham Inquiry, 

1913, 187 
Winterbourne, Dorset, small hold- 
ings, 169 
Women, imprisonment, Oxford- 
shire case, 41 
Women farm workers : — 
Social status, 329, 330 
Wages, 117, 305 
Woodhead, Denton, 257 
Workers' Union, 142, 144, 183, 201, 
Organisers' reports, 264 et seq. 
Wages and hours scale, 1914, 

Yates, W. B., 256 

Yorkshire Agricultural Union, 1915, 

Yorkshire labourer, conditions be- 
fore 1872, 17 

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