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Financial Conditions of the Village.
Let us consider some of the financial and other conditions which lead to this state of affairs. In the first place, I find that the inhabitants have to pay in actual rent to their landlords about £2,500 a year. In fact, the gross estimated rental of the parish is about £3,250, but as there are quite a few small freeholders the amount actually paid in rent is reduced to £2,500. Nearly the whole of this goes off out of the parish and never comes back again. The duke and most of the other landlords are absentees. This forms at once, as is obvious, a severe tax on the inhabitants. One way ore another the hundred families out of what they produce from the land have to pay £2,500 a year into alien hands-or, averaging it, £25 per family! and this, if their average income is now only £60, is certainly a heavy burden; since, if they had not to pay this sum, their income might be £85. No doubt it will be said, "Here we see the advantage of having resident squires. The money would then return to the parish.' But would it? Would it return to those who produced it? No; it would not. The spoliation of the toilers would only be disguised, not remedied. In fact, let us suppose (a quite ordinary case) that the parish in question were owned by a single resident squire, and that the £2,500 were paid to him in rent. That rent would only go to support a small extra population of servants and dependents in the place. One or two small shops might be opened; but to the farmer and farm worker no advantage would accrue. There might be a slightly increased sale of milk and eggs; but this again would be countervailed by many disadvantages. "Sport" over all the farm lands would become a chronic nuisance; the standard and cost of living, dress, etc., would be raised; and the feeble and idiotic life of the "gentry,' combined with their efforts to patronize and intimidate, would go far to corrupt the population generally. In this parish then, of which I am speaking, the people may be truly thankful that they have not any resident squires. All the same, the tax of 25 per family is levied upon them to support such squires in some place or other, and is a permanent burden upon their lives.
Enclosure of the Commons.
Less than a hundred years ago there were in this parish extensive e common lands. In fact, of the 4,600 acres of which the parish. consists, 2,650, or considerably more than half, were commons. They were chiefly moors and woods; but were, needless to say, e very valuable to cottagers and small farmers. Here was pasture for horses, cows, sheep, pigs, geese; here in the woods was firewood to be got, and bracken for bedding; on the moors, rabbits, bilberries, turf for fuel, etc. In 1820 these commons were enclosed; and e this is another thing that has helped to cripple the lives of the. inhabitants. As is well known, during all that period systematic I. enclosure of the common lands of Great Britain was going on. In a landlord House of Parliament it was easy enough to get bills passed. S Any stick will do to beat a dog with; and it was easy to say that
these lands, being common lands, were not so well cultivated as they might be, and that therefore the existing landlords ought to share them up. The logic might not be very convincing, but it served its purpose. The landlords appropriated the common lands; and during the 120 years from 1760 to 1880, ten millions of acres in Great Britain were thus enclosed.*
In 1820 the turn of this particular parish came, and its 2,650 acres of commons "went in." I used to know an old man of the locality who remembered when they "went in." He used to speak of the occurrence as one might speak of a sinister and fatal event of nature-a landslide or an earthquake. There was no idea that it could have been prevented. The commons simply went in! The country folk witnessed the proceeding with dismay; but, terrorized by their landlords, and with no voice in Parliament, they were helpless.
It may be interesting to see some of the details of the operation. In the Enclosure Award Book, still kept in the parish, there remains a full account. The Duke of Rutland, as lord of the manor, impropriator for tithes, as proprietor, and so forth, got the lion's share, nearly 2,000 acres. The remaining 650 acres went to the other landlords. Certain manorial and tithe rights were remitted as a kind of compensation, and the thing was done. In the Award Book the duke's share is given as follows:
1. "As Impropriator for tithes of corn, grain,
6. "By sale to defray the expenses of the Act"
Thus we find, in exchange for the ducal tithes, nearly a third of the whole area of the parish handed over-most of it certainly not the best lands, but lands having considerable value as woods and moors. We find some acres adjudged to the duke in consideration of his kind (6 consent to the transaction. And, most wonderful of all, nearly 450 acres surrendered by the parish to defray the expenses of getting the Act through Parliament! And now to-day in the said parish there is not a little field or corner left-absolutely not a solitary acre out of all the vast domain which was once for the people's use on which the village boys can play their game of cricket! Indeed, most valuable tracts were enclosed quite in the
* See Mulhall's Dictionary of Statistics, “Enclosures."
centre of the village itself-as, for instance, a piece which is still called "The Common," though it is no longer common, and many bits on which little cottages had been erected by quite small folk. It would be a very desirable thing that the enclosure award books in other parishes should be investigated, and the corresponding facts with regard to the ancient commons brought to light generally over the country."
Incidence of the Rates.
A third thing which cripples the agricultural interest very considerably is the incidence of the rates. The farmer's dread of a rise in rates has become almost proverbial. And it is by no means unnatural or unreasonable. For there is probably no class whose estimated rental is so large, compared with their actual net income, as the farmer class. A farmer whose farm, after deducting all expenses of rent, rates, manure, wages, etc., yields him a clear profit of no more than 100 a year for his household use is quite probably paying £70 a year in rent. But a superior artizan or small professional man who is making £150 a year will very likely be only paying 20 in rent. It is obvious that any slight increase in the rates will fall much more heavily on the first man than on the second. The rates, therefore, are a serious matter to the farmer; and something in the way of shifting their incidence, and distributing the burden more fairly, ought certainly to be done.t
As an instance of this latter point, let me again refer to the parish in question. We have seen that some 2,600 acres of common lands passed over to the landlords in 1820, ostensibly for the public advantage and benefit. Of these, more than 1,500 acres of moor land, held by the duke, are rated on an estimated rental of less than 2s. 6d. per acre. The general farm lands of the parish are rated on an estimated rental of 14s. or 15s. per acre on the average. Thus the moor lands are assessed at about one-sixth of the value of the farm lands. This is perhaps excessively low; but the matter might pass, if it were not for a somewhat strange fact-namely, that a few years ago when some twenty acres of these very moor lands were wanted for a matter of great public advantage and benefit, that is, for the formation of a reservoir, the ducal estate could not part with them under £50 an acre; and a little later, when an extension of acreage was required, the district council had to pay a much higher price, so that the total purchase, first and last, comes out at more than 150 per acre! Now here is something very seriously out of joint. Either the moor lands are worth a capital value of £150 an acre, in which case they ought to be assessed at, say £5, instead of at 2s. 6d.; or else, if the rating at 2s. 6d. is really just and fair,
* Some Forgotten Facts in the History of Sheffiela ana District (Independent Press, Sheffield, 1907, price 2s. 6d.) contains valuable information of this kind. I am not here discussing the question of how far a rise of rates falls upon the landlord; for, though this may ultimately and in the far distance be so, it is clear that the farmer primarily feels the pinch, and not till he is nearly ruined is there any chance of his getting a corresponding abatement of rent.
surely it is monstrous that the public, having to carry through a most important and necessary improvement, should be "held up" and made to pay a ruinous price, simply because the land cannot be obtained elsewhere. The conclusion is: Let such lands be rated in accordance with the capital value set upon them by their owners, and we shall have a much fairer and more equitable distribution of the public burden.
The Nuisance of "Sport."
And this matter of the moors leads to the consideration of a fourth cause which cripples the land cultivator terribly in this country. I mean Sport. The nuisance and detriment that this is to the farmer has become so great that, unless strict measures are soon taken, widespread ruin will ensue. In many subtle ways this acts. With the enormous growth of wealthy and luxurious classes during the last fifty years, the tendency has been to turn the country districts into a mere playground. The very meaning of the word sport has changed. The careful working of covers by the occasional sportsman has been replaced by clumsy battues, with wild shouts and shrieks of "drivers," and huge slaughter of birds, half tame, and specially bred for the purpose. Mobs of people, anxious to appear fashionable, and rigged out by their tailors in befitting costume, are formed into shooting parties. Rich men, wanting to get into society, hire moors and woods, regardless of expense, regardless of animal slaughter, regardless of agricultural interests, as long as they get an opportunity to invite their friends.* In Devonshire to-day the farms in many parts are simply eaten up by rabbits, because the landlords, in order to provide plenty of shooting, insist on spinneys and copses and hedgerows and waste bits being retained in their wild state for purposes of cover! On the northern moors the rabbits similarly devastate the farms along the moor edges-not because the rabbits are preserved, for the shooting is mainly of grouse and pheasants, but because the moors, being uncared for except in this way, the rabbits are allowed to multiply without check. They are the gamekeeper's perquisite. Yet if the farmer who has a farm adjoining the moor carries a gun to protect himself against their invasions, it is conveyed to him (if a tenant of the same landlord) that he had better not do so, lest he should be suspected of shooting the grouse! Thus he is paralysed from his own defence. In the parish of which I am speaking there are lands along the moor edges which used to grow oats and other crops, but which now, on account of the rabbit nuisance, are quite uncultivable in that way, and only yield the barest pasture.
The financing of these affairs is funny. A large moor will let for the grouse season for £3,000, say on the condition of grouse being bagged up to, but not beyond, 2,400 brace. Mid-week parties hurry in by rail and motor, stay for two or, perhaps, three nights, and hurry off again, to be succeeded by other parties the following weeks. The whole thing is conducted in the most mechanical way, with "drives," "batteries," and so forth. And when the expenses are added up, including men employed, guests entertained, and rent paid, they certainly do not fall far short of the proverbial guinea a bird!
Fifty Years of Agricultural Decay.
In and about 1850, when wheat more than once reached £5 a quarter, the farmers and landlords were doing a roaring trade. Rents were high, but the land could afford it. Farmers were anxious to increase the size of their holdings, and landlords were not averse to this, as it saved them trouble. And so set in that tendency to roll small holdings into big ones which continued, with baneful effect, during all the second half of the century. Sport at the same time came in to increase the action. It was easier to pacify the few than the many over that matter. It was simpler to hunt a pack of hounds over two or three large farms than across a network of small holdings. Besides, the New Rich, as well as the elder gentry, wanted widespread parks, and not a democratic rabble of cottagers at their very doors. And so the game went on. Soon prices of farmstuff fell heavily. But it is easier to get rents up than to get them down again. The alleviations of rent which have taken place since 1854 have been only painfully gained and grudgingly yielded. Wheat which was at 100 shillings a quarter then has been the last few years at about 30 shillings! And though other farmstuffs have not fallen in like degree, yet during all that period of declining prices, the British farmer has been pinched and pined all over the country. The landlord has been on top of him; and with holdings often much too large for his need, and a yearly balance too small, he has employed far less labor and tillage than he ought to have done ; his land has lost heart; and he has lost heart-till he has become to-day probably the least enterprising and least up-to-date of all the agriculturists of Western Europe.*
Such are some at least of the causes which have contributed to the decay of agriculture in this country; and their consideration may indicate the directions in which to seek for a cure.
Security of Tenure Needed.
What is needed, first and foremost, is very obviously security of tenure, under such conditions as shall give both farmer and cottager a powerful interest in the land and its improvement. It is often said, and supposed, that the countryman now-a-days does not care about the land and the rural life, and is longing to exchange it for, town life. I do not find this so. I find that he is compelled into town life by the hard conditions which prevail in the country-but not that he wants to leave the latter. Indeed, I am amazed at the tenacity with which he clings to the land, despite the long hours and the heavy toil; nor can one witness without wonder and admiration the really genuine interest which he feels in its proper treatment, quite apart from any advantage or disadvantage to himself. It is common to find a farm laborer expressing satisfaction or disgust at the good or bad tillage of a field with which he is in no way connected; or to see a small farmer's son working early and late, perhaps up to the age of thirty, with no wages but a mere pittance
* There are many farms of 500 or 600 acres in Gloucestershire only employing five or six hands-or one man to a hundred acres !