Copyright
William Cobbett.

Rural rides (Volume 2) online

. (page 5 of 38)
Online LibraryWilliam CobbettRural rides (Volume 2) → online text (page 5 of 38)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


all his family really seemed to be delighted beyond all expression.
When I set out this morning, I intended to go all the way
down to the city of Salisbury (31) to-day ; but I soon found that
to refuse to sleep at Fifield would cost me a great deal more
trouble than a day was worth. So that I made my mind up to
stay in this farm-house, which has one of the nicest gardens, and
it contains some of the finest flowers, that I ever saw, and all is
disposed with as much good taste as I have ever witnessed.
Here I am, then, just going to bed after having spent as pleasant
a day as I ever spent in my life. I have heard to-day that
Birkbeck lost his life by attempting to cross a river on horse-
back; but if what I have heard besides be true, that life must
have been hardly worth preserving; for they say that he was
reduced to a very deplorable state; and I have heard, from what
I deem unquestionable authority, that his two beautiful and
accomplished daughters are married to two common labourers,
one a Yankee and the other an Irishman, neither of whom has,
probably, a second shirt to his back, or a single pair of shoes to
put his feet into ! These poor girls owe their ruin and misery
(if my information be correct), and, at any rate, hundreds besides
Birkbeck himself, owe their utter ruin, the most scandalous
degradation, together with great bodily suffering, to the vanity,
the conceit, the presumption of Birkbeck, who, observe, richly
merited all that he suffered, not excepting his death; for he
sinned with his eyes open ; he rejected all advice; he persevered
after he saw his error; he dragged thousands into ruin along with
him; and he most vilely calumniated the man who, after
having most disinterestedly, but in vain, endeavoured to pre-



The Valley of the Avon 39

serve him from ruin, endeavoured to preserve those who were
in danger of being deluded by him. When, in 1817,, before he
set out for America, I was, in Catherine Street, Strand, London,
so earnestly pressing him not to go to the back countries, he
had one of these daughters with him. After talking to him for
some time, and describing the risks and disadvantages of the
back countries, I turned towards the daughter and, in a sort of
joking way, said: " Miss Birkbeck, take my advice: don't let
anybody get you more than twenty miles from Boston, New
York, Philadelphia, or Baltimore." Upon which he gave me a
most dignified look and observed: " Miss Birkbeck has & father,
sir, whom she knows it to be her duty to obey." This snap was
enough for me. I saw that this was a man so full of self-conceit
that it was impossible to do anything with him. He seemed to
rne to be bent upon his own destruction. I thought it my duty
to warn others of their danger: some took the warning; others
did not; but he and his brother adventurer, Flower, never for-
gave me, and they resorted to all the means in their power to
do me injury. They did me no injury, no thanks to them;
and I have seen them most severely, but most justly, punished.

AMESBURY,
Tuesday, 29 August.

I set off from Fifield this morning, and got here (25 on the
map) about one o'clock, with my clothes wet. While they are
drying, and while a mutton chop is getting ready, I sit down
to make some notes of what I have seen since I left Enford . . .
but here comes my dinner: and I must put off my notes till I
have dined.

SALISBURY,
Wednesday, 30 August.

My ride yesterday, from Milton to this city of Salisbury, was,
without any exception, the most pleasant; it brought before me
the greatest number of, to me, interesting objects, and it gave
rise to more interesting reflections than I remember ever to
have had brought before my eyes, or into my mind, in any one
day of my life; and therefore, this ride was, without any ex-
ception, the most pleasant that I ever had in my life, as far as
my recollection serves me. I got a little wet in the middle of
the day; but I got dry again, and I arrived here in very good
time, though I went over the Accursed Hill (Old Sarum), and
went across to Laverstoke, before I came to Salisbury.



4-O Rural Rides

Let us now, then, look back over this part of Wiltshire, and
see whether the inhabitants ought to be " transported ' by
order of the " Emigration Committee/' of which we shall see
and say more by and by. I have before described this valley
generally; let me now speak of it a little more in detail. The
farms are all large, and, generally speaking, they were always
large, I dare say; bcause sheep is one of the great things here;
and sheep, in a country like this, must be kept in flocks, to be of
any profit. The sheep principally manure the land. This is
to be done only by folding ; and to fold, you must have a. flock.
Every farm has its portion of down, arable, and meadow; and, in
many places, the latter are watered meadows, which is a great
resource where sheep are kept in flocks ; because these meadows
furnish grass for the suckling ewes early in the spring; and
indeed, because they have always food in them for sheep and
cattle of all sorts. These meadows have had no part of the
suffering from the drought this year. They fed the ewes and
lambs in the spring, and they are now yielding a heavy crop of
hay; for I saw men mowing in them, in several places, particu-
larly about Netheravon (18 in the map), though it was raining
at. the time.

The turnips look pretty well all the way down the valley; but
I see very few, except Swedish turnips. The early common
turnips very nearly all failed, I believe. But the stubbles are
beautifully bright; and the rick-yards tell us that the crops are
good, especially of wheat. This is not a country of pease and
beans, nor of oats, except for home consumption. The crops
are wheat, barley, wool and lambs, and these latter not to be
sold to butchers, but to be sold, at the great fairs, to those who
are going to keep them for some time, whether to breed from or
finally to fat for the butcher. It is the pulse and the oats that
appear to have failed most this year; and, therefore, this valley
has not suffered. I do not perceive that they have many potatoes;
but what they have of this base root seem to look well enough.
It was one of the greatest villains upon earth (Sir Walter
Raleigh) who (they say) first brought this root into England.
He was hanged at last! What a pity, since he was to be
hanged, the hanging did not take place before he became such
a mischievous devil as he was in the latter two-thirds of his
life!

The stack-yards down this valley are beautiful to behold.
They contain from five to fifteen banging wheat-ricks, besides
barley-ricks and hay-ricks, and also besides the contents of the



The Valley of the Avon 41

barns, many of which exceed a hundred, some two hundred, and
I saw one at Pewsey (4 in map), and another at Fittleton (16 in
map), each of which exceeded two hundred and fifty feet in
length. At a farm which, in the old maps, is called Chissenbury
Priory (14 in map), I think I counted twenty-seven ricks of one
sort and another, and sixteen or eighteen of them wheat-ricks.
I could not conveniently get to the yard without longer delay
than I wished to make; but I could not be much out in my
counting. A very fine sight this was, and it could not meet the
eye without making one look round (and in vain) to see the people
who were to eat all this food ; and without making one reflect on
the horrible, the unnatural, the base and infamous state in
which we must be, when projects are on foot, and are openly
avowed, for transporting those who raise this food, because they
want to eat enough of it to keep them alive; and when no
project is on foot for transporting the idlers who live in luxury
upon this same food; when no project is on foot for transporting
pensioners, parsons, or dead-weight people!

A little while before I came to this farm-yard I saw, in one
piece,, about four hundred acres of wheat-stubble, and I saw a
sheep-fold which, I thought, contained an acre of ground, and
had in it about four thousand sheep and lambs. The fold was
divided into three separate flocks; but the piece of ground was
one and the same; and I thought it contained about an acre.
At one farm, between Pewsey and Upavon, I counted more than
300 hogs in one stubble. This is certainly the most delightful
farming in the world. No ditches, no water-furrows, no drains,
hardly any hedges, no dirt and mire, even in the wettest seasons
of the year: and though the downs are naked and cold, the
valleys are snugness itself. They are, as to the downs, what
ah-ahs I are in parks or lawns. When you are going over the
downs, you look over the valleys, as in the case of the ah- ah ; and
if you be not acquainted with the country, your surprise, when
you come to the edge of the hill, is very great. The shelter in
these valleys, and particularly where the downs are steep and
lofty on the sides, is very complete. Then the trees are every-
where lofty. They are generally elms, with some ashes, which
delight in the soil that they find here. There are, almost always,
two or three large clumps of trees in every parish, and a rookery
or two (not nzg-rookery) to every parish. By the water's edge
there are willows; and to almost every farm there is a fine
orchard, the trees being, in general, very fine, and this year
they are, in general, well loaded with fruit. So that, all taken



42 Rural Rides

together, it seems impossible to find a more beautiful and
pleasant country than this, or to imagine any life more easy and
happy than men might here lead if they were untormented by
an accursed system that takes the food from those that raise it,
and gives it to those that do nothing that is useful to man.

Here the farmer has always an abundance of straw. His
farm-yard is never without it. Cattle and horses are bedded up
to their eyes. The yards are put close under the shelter of a hill,
or are protected by lofty and thick-set trees. Every animal
seems comfortably situated; and in the dreariest days of
winter these are, perhaps, the happiest scenes in the world; or,
rather, they would be such, if those, whose labour makes it all,
trees, corn, sheep and everything, had but their fair share of the
produce of that labour. What share they really have of it one
cannot exactly say; but I should suppose that every labouring
man in this valley raises as much food as would suffice for fifty
or a hundred persons, fed like himself !

At a farm at Milton there were, according to my calculation,
600 quarters of wheat and 1200 quarters of barley of the present
year's crop. The farm keeps, on an average, 1400 sheep, it
breeds and rears an usual proportion of pigs, fats the usual pro-
portion of hogs, and, I suppose, rears and fats the usual pro-
portion of poultry. Upon inquiry, I found that this farm was,
in point of produce, about one-fifth of the parish. Therefore,
the land of this parish produces annually about 3000 quarters of
wheat, 6000 quarters of barley, the wool of 7000 sheep, together
with the pigs and poultry. Now, then, leaving green, or moist,
vegetables out of the question as being things that human
creatures, and especially labouring human creatures, ought never
to use as sustenance, and saying nothing at present about milk
and butter; leaving these wholly out of the question, let us see
how many people the produce of this parish would keep, suppos-
ing the people to live all alike, and to have plenty of food and
clothing. In order to come at the fact here, let us see what
would be the consumption of one family; let it be a family of
five persons; a man, wife, and three children, one child big
enough to work, one big enough to eat heartily, and one a baby;
and this is a pretty fair average of the state of people in the
country. Such a family would want 5lb. of bread a day; they
would want a pound of mutton a day; they would want two
pounds of bacon a day; they would want, on an average, winter
and summer, a gallon and a half of beer a day; for I mean that
they should live without the aid of the eastern or the western



The Valley of the Avon 43

slave-drivers. If sweets were absolutely necessary for the baby,
there would be quite honey enough in the parish. Now, then,,
to begin with the bread, a pound of good wheat makes a pound
of good bread; for though the offal be taken out, the water is
put in ; and, indeed, the fact is, that a pound of wheat will make
a pound of bread, leaving the offal of the wheat to feed pigs, or
other animals, and to produce other human food in this way.
The family would, then, use i825lb. of wheat in the year, which
at 6olb. a bushel, would be (leaving out a fraction) 30 bushels, or
three quarters and six bushels, for the year.

Next comes the mutton, 365^. for the year. Next the
bacon, 73olb. As to the quantity of mutton produced; the
sheep are bred here, and not fatted in general; but we may
fairly suppose that each of the sheep kept here, each of the
standing- stock, makes, first or last, half a fat sheep; so that a
farm that keeps, on an average, 100 sheep, produces annually
50 fat sheep. Suppose the mutton to be 1515. a quarter, then
the family will want, within a trifle of, seven sheep a year. Of
bacon or pork, 36 score will be wanted. Hogs differ so much in
their propensity to fat that it is difficult to calculate about them :
but this is a very good rule : when you see a fat hog, and know
how many scores he will weigh, set down to his account a sack
(half a quarter) of barley for every score of his weight; for, let
him have been educated (as the French call it) as he may, this
will be about the real cost of him when he is fat. A sack of
barley will make a score of bacon, and it will not make more.
Therefore, the family would want 18 quarters of barley in the
year for bacon.

As to the beer, 18 gallons to the bushel of malt is very good;
but as we allow of no spirits, no wine, and none of the slave
produce, we will suppose that a sixth part of the beer is strong
stuff. This would require two bushels of malt to the 18 gallons.
The whole would, therefore, take 35 bushels of malt; and a
bushel of barley makes a bushel of malt, and by the increase
pays the expense of malting. Here, then, the family would
want, for beer, four quarters and three bushels of barley. The
annual consumption of the family, in victuals and drink, would
then be as follows:

Qrs. Bush.

Wheat .... 36

Barley . ... 22 3

Sheep . . < 7



44 Rural Rides

This being the case, the 3000 quarters of wheat, which the
parish annually produces, would suffice for 800 families. The
6000 quarters of barley would suffice for 207 families. The
3500 fat sheep, being half the number kept, would suffice for
500 families. So that here is produced in the parish of Milton
bread for 800, mutton for 500, and bacon and beer for 207 families.
Besides victuals and drink, there are clothes, fuel, tools, and
household goods wanting; but there are milk, butter, eggs,
poultry, rabbits, hares, and partridges, which I have not noticed,
and these are all eatables, and are all eaten too. And as to
clothing, and, indeed, fuel and all other wants beyond eating
and drinking, are there not 7000 fleeces of South Down wool,
weighing, all together, 2i,ooolb., and capable of being made
into 8400 yards of broad cloth, at two pounds and a half of wool
to the yard? Setting, therefore, the wool, the milk, butter,
eggs, poultry, and game against all the wants beyond the solid
food and drink, we see that the parish of Milton, that we have
under our eye, would give bread to 800 families, mutton to 580,
and bacon and beer to 207. The reason why wheat and mutton
are produced in a proportion so much greater than the materials
for making bacon and beer is that the wheat and the mutton
are more loudly demanded from a distance, and are much more
cheaply conveyed away in proportion to their value. For
instance, the wheat and mutton are wanted in the infernal Wen,
and some barley is wanted there in the shape of malt; but hogs
are not fatted in the Wen, and a larger proportion of the barley is
used where it is grown.

Here is, then, bread for 800 families, mutton for 500, and
bacon and beer for 207. Let us take the average of the three,
and then we have 502 families, for the keeping of whom, and in
this good manner too, the parish of Milton yields a sufficiency.
In the wool, the milk, butter, eggs, poultry, and game, we have
seen ample, and much more than ample, provision for all wants,
other than those of mere food and drink. What I have allowed
in food and drink is by no means excessive. It is but a
pound of bread and a little more than half-a-pound of meat
a day to each person on an average; and the beer is not a
drop too much. There are no green and moist vegetables
included in my account; but there would be some, and they
would not do any harm; but no man can say, or, at least,
none but a base usurer, who would grind money out of the
bones of his own father; no other man can, or will, say that I
have been too liberal to this family; and yet, good God! what



The Valley of the Avon 45

extravagance is here, if the labourers of England be now
treated justly!

Is there a family, even amongst those who live the hardest,
in the Wen, that would not shudder at the thought of living
upon what I have allowed to this family? Yet what do
labourers' families get compared to this? The answer to that
question ought to make us shudder indeed. The amount of
my allowance, compared with the amount of the allowance that
labourers now have, is necessary to be stated here, before I
proceed further. The wheat 3 qrs. and 6 bushels, at present
price (565, the quarter), amounts to 10 IDS. The barley (for
bacon and beer) 22 qrs. 3 bushels, at present price (345. the
quarter), amounts to 37 165. Sd. The seven sheep, at 405. each,
amount to 14. The total is 62 65. Sd. ; and this, observe, for
bare victuals and drink ; just food and drink enough to keep
people in working condition.

What then do the labourers get? To what fare has this
wretched and most infamous system brought them ! Why such
a family as I have described is allowed to have, at the utmost,
only about 95. a week. The parish allowance is only about
75. 6d. for the five people, including clothing, fuel, bedding and
everything! Monstrous state of things! But let us suppose it
to be nine shillings. Even that makes only 23 8s. a year, for
food, drink, clothing, fuel and everything, whereas I allow
62 6s. Sd. a year for the bare eating and drinking; and that is
little enough. Monstrous, barbarous, horrible as this appears,
we do not, however, see it in half its horrors; our indignation
and rage against this infernal system is not half roused, till we
see the small number of labourers who raise all the food and the
drink, and, of course, the mere trifling portion of it that they are
suffered to retain for their own use.

The parish of Milton does, as we have seen, produce food,
drink, clothing, and all other things, enough for 502 families, or
2510 persons upon my allowance, which is a great deal more
than three times the present allowance, because the present
allowance includes clothing, fuel, tools and everything. Now,
then, according to the " Population Return," laid before parlia-
ment, this parish contains 500 persons, or, according to my
division, one hundred families. So that here are about one
hundred families to raise food and drink enough, and to raise
wool and other things to pay for all other necessaries, for five
hundred and two families! Aye, and five hundred and two
families fed and lodged, too, on my liberal scale. Fed and



Rural Rides

lodged according to the present scale, this one hundred families
raise enough to supply more, and many more, than fifteen
hundred families; or seven thousand five hundred persons!
And yet those who do the work are half starved! In the 100
families there are, we will suppose, 80 able working men, and as
many boys, sometimes assisted by the women and stout girls.
What a handful of people to raise such a quantity of food!
What injustice, what a hellish system it must be, to make those
who raise it skin and bone and nakedness, while the food and
drink and wool are almost all carried away to be heaped on
the fund-holders, pensioners, soldiers, dead-weight, and other
swarms of tax-eaters ! If such an operation do not need putting
an end to, then the devil himself is a saint.

Thus it must be, or much about thus, all the way down this
fine and beautiful and interesting valley. There are 29 agri-
cultural parishes, the two last (30 and 31) being in town; being
Fisherton and Salisbury. Now, according to the " Population
Return," the whole of these 29 parishes contain 9116 persons;
or according to my division 1823 families. There is no reason
to believe that the proportion that we have seen in the case of
Milton does not hold good all the way through ; that is, there is
no reason to suppose that the produce does not exceed the con-
sumption in every other case in the same degree that it does in
the case of Milton. And indeed, if I were to judge from the
number of houses and the number of ricks of corn, I should
suppose that the excess was still greater in several of the other
parishes. But supposing it to be no greater; supposing the
same proportion to continue all the way from Watton Rivers (i
in map) to Stratford Dean (29 in map), then here are 9116
persons raising food and raiment sufficient for 45,580 persons,
fed and lodged according to my scale; and sufficient for 136,740
persons, according to the scale on which the unhappy labourers
of this fine valley are now fed and lodged !

And yet there is an " emigration committee " sitting to devise
the means of getting rid, not of the idlers, not of the pensioners,
not of the dead-weight, not of the parsons (to " relieve " whom
we have seen the poor labourers taxed to the tune of a million
and a half of money), not of the soldiers; but to devise means of
getting rid of these working people, who are grudged even the
miserable morsel that they get! There is in the men calling
themselves " English country gentlemen ' something super-
latively base. They are, I sincerely believe, the most cruel, the
most unfeeling, the most brutally insolent: but I know, I can



The Valley of the Avon 47

prove, I can safely take my oath, that they are the most base of
all the creatures that God ever suffered to disgrace the human
shape. The base wretches know well that the taxes amount to
more than sixty millions a year, and that the poor-rates amount
to about seven millions ; yet, while the cowardly reptiles never
utter a word against the taxes, they are incessantly railing
against the poor-rates, though it is (and they know it) the taxes
that make the paupers. The base wretches know well that the
sum of money given, even to the fellows that gather the taxes,
is greater in amount than the poor-rates; the base wretches
know well that the money given to the dead-weight (who ought
not to have a single farthing) amounts to more than the poor
receive out of the rates; the base wretches know well that the
common foot soldier now receives more pay per week (75. 7^.)
exclusive of clothing, firing, candle, and lodging; the base
wretches know that the common foot soldier receives more to
go down his own single throat than the overseers and magistrates
allow to a working man, his wife and three children; the base
wretches know all this well; and yet their railings are confined
to the poor and the poor-rates ; and it is expected that they will,
next session, urge the parliament to pass a law to enable over-
seers and vestries and magistrates to transport paupers beyond
the seas I They are base enough for this, or for anything; but
the whole system will go to the devil long before they will get
such an act passed ; long before they will see perfected this con-
summation of their infamous tyranny.

It is manifest enough that the population of this valley was,
at one time, many times over what it is now; for, in the first
place, what were the twenty-nine churches built for ? The
population of the twenty-nine parishes is now but little more than
one-half of that of the single parish of Kensington; and there are
several of the churches bigger than the church at Kensington.
What, then, should all these churches have been built/0r 1 And
besides, where did the hands come from? And where did the
money come from? These twenty-nine churches would now
not only hold all the inhabitants, men, women, and children, but
all the household goods, and tools, and implements, of the whole



Online LibraryWilliam CobbettRural rides (Volume 2) → online text (page 5 of 38)