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(Reprinted by permission from the Albany Review, April 1907.)
My object in this paper is simply to describe the economic conditions of a single country parish, here in England, and from the consideration of these conditions to draw some inferences towards our future policy with regard to the land. In modern life-in every department of it, one may say—bedrock facts are so veiled over by complex and adventitious growths that it is difficult to see the proper and original outline of any problem with which we are dealing; and so it certainly is in this matter of the land question. Anyone glancing at a country village, say in the neighborhood of London, probably sees a mass of villas, people hurrying to a railway station, motor cars, and so forth; but as to where the agricultural workers are, what they are doing, how they live, what their relations may be to the land and the land owners—these things are obscure, not easily seen, and difficult to get information about. And yet these are the things, one may say, which are most vital, most important.
The parish which I have in mind to describe is a rather large and straggling parish in a rural district, with a small population, some 500 souls, almost entirely agricultural in character, consisting of farmers, farm laborers, woodmen, and so forth, with a few miners and small artizans-on the whole a pretty hard-working, industrious lot. Fortunately, one may say, there is hardly anything resembling a villa in the whole parish ; there is no resident squire, and the business man is conspicuous by his absence. The place therefore forms a good example for the study of the agricultural land question. The farms are not over large, being mostly between fifty and one hundred acres in extent. There is just the land, and the population living mainly by the cultivation of it. This population, as I have hinted, is not lacking in industry; it is fairly healthy and well grown; there is no severe poverty; and (probably owing to the absence of the parasite classes) it is better off than most of our agricultural populations. Yet it is poor, one may almost say very poor. Probably, of the hundred families in the parish, the average income is not much over £60 a year ; and many, of course, can by no means reach even that standard.