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sweep away many small freeholders, tenant-farmers, and commoners, who had lived by the cultivation or the use of land, combined with the practice of domestic handicrafts. Their places were taken by the large corn-growing farms which met the needs and fashion of the day. The organisation of the village, in which wealth and poverty, employer and employed were almost imperceptibly graded into one another, was broken up. With the destruction of the primitive framework went the traditions of the peasant, his inherited ideals, his ancestral customs, his habitual solutions of the problems of existence. The village was not idyllic. Auburn
•' never existed. But in each of these small self-supporting communities, the members lived tranquil, sequestered lives. They enjoyed some degree of independence. They knew few changes beyond those of the recurrent seasons. They rarely took any interest in the world outside their own parish. They were not forced to face the struggle of competition. They bought so little that fluctuations in prices did not disturb their minds; almost all the simple necessaries of food, drink, and clothing were produced at home. Such conditions of self-supporting isolation can never be exactly reproduced in this crowded country and bustling century.
In unenclosed districts there was little or no demand for hired labour on the land except at harvest. Small freeholders, small farmers, as well as the occupiers of the intermixed strips of the common fields, worked their holdings themselves with the aid of their families. The live stock was tended by the village shepherd, cowherd, and swineherd. Nor did the style of farming tend to create employment. There were no quickset hedges to trim, or plash or weed. Roots were not grown. There were no drilled crops to clean. Nor, finally, did the common-field farm afford any opening to new-comers to acquire land. It is to causes like these that the extremely slow increase of the rural population up to the end of the 18th century must be attributed. In one direction only was it possible to obtain an interest in the use of land. The common was the pasture of the village farm, and as such was an essential integral adjunct to each arable holding. But rights of grazing and of cutting fuel were also attached to certain cottages, or might be acquired by
encroachment if the trespasser was undisturbed for sixty years. Where an owner occupied one of these privileged cottages, he enjoyed common rights as an owner. Where he was only a tenant, he enjoyed them as a tenant, and in consideration of the higher rent which he paid. On enclosure, the claim of the owner, not of the tenant, would be recognised. The number of these privileged cottages was often considerable. At Stanwell, for instance, where 2126 acres were distributed under an award in 1789, near 100' occupiers of cottages claimed common rights. Of these claims, 66 were recognised, and 40 owners were compensated by allotments of land varying from a quarter of an acre to over an acre. Twentyfour of the 66 cottages belonged to two individuals. It would, therefore, appear that, out of the 100 claimants who had enjoyed the rights, 34 were altogether disallowed, probably because, as squatters, they had been in occupation too short a time to establish a legal claim, and at least 26 lost them because they had only the derivative title of tenants.
It was here that enclosures, however sound the legal principle on which they proceeded, often inflicted real hardships. A number of persons, no doubt, were attracted to commons by the facilities which they afforded to a life of comparative idleness, or, to use Defoe's phrase, of 'lazy diligence.' On the other hand, to many saving and industrious men commons were of inestimable value. They provided free fuel and a run for stock to those who practised domestic handicrafts, and, at certain seasons, hired themselves out as labourers on the land. To them the common was a ladder of thrift. Even if the use they had enjoyed was admitted as the exercise of a legal right and recognised by an allotment of land, the compensation was very frequently inadequate. On the other hand, generosity to men of this type was only possible at the expense of those whose claim to the land had been established at law. To take the case of Steeple Aston, Lucy Buswell, Eliza Davis, Robert George, John Clary, and the other 18 participants would have complained at least as loudly as Sir C. Cottrell-Dormer, if their shares had been reduced in order to create allotments for persons who could show no legal title.
During the greater part of the French War, the full consequences of the change were to some extent concealed. It was a period of distress; but employment was brisk. The poorest soils were brought into cultivation for food. All available labour was used and paid for at enhanced rates. Calculations of wages in the 18th and 19th centuries are, at best, approximations. Yet it is evident that between 1790 and 1813 a substantial rise took place. It may not be possible to accept the statements of Arthur Young and of Tooke as absolutely reliable for all parts of the country. But they are in agreement that, between those dates, agricultural wages had about doubled.' Meanwhile the prices of provisions approximately trebled. Bread was so scarce that, if universal famine was to be avoided, rigid economy was needed. High prices were effective weapons against waste, and the Government dared not lay them aside by subsidising the loaf. But they supplemented wages out of the rates by allowances both of money and of bread. By this assistance, by the rise in wages, and by the sustained demand for agricultural labour, the effects of enclosures were temporarily obscured. It was the ebb in the tide of activity that revealed the full results.
The years 1814-36 were the blackest period in the history of the agricultural worker. The depth of misery into which he then fell is the measure of the advance that he has subsequently made. Distress was universal. The war was over; but Peace and Plenty' proved a ghastly mockery. Large tracts of arable land fell out of cultivation; considerable areas were even untenanted. Less and less labour was required. Wages fell to prewar levels; but even at the lowered rates, work was hard to find and harder still to keep. Unemployment was not confined to the land. The reduction to a peace footing of the Army and Navy and of the store commissariat and transport departments threw thousands of men out of employment. Industries which the war had stimulated to unnatural activity, languished. The introduction of machinery into manufacturing processes displaced crowds of manual workers. Over-production glutted the impoverished markets of the export trade, and checked the revival and expansion of industry. Everywhere there was a fierce struggle for work and wages.
Into this strange swirl of competition agricultural labourers were plunged, when once the shelter of the selfsufficing village was disturbed. The effect of the rural changes was now brought home with tremendous force. The sale of their labour on the land had become the labourers' only means of livelihood. The domestic handicrafts which supplemented their earnings had been swept into manufacturing centres, where they supplied wages to thousands of artisans. The land which provided their food and fuel, and fed their live-stock, was turned into a factory of bread and meat for the towns. All that they had formerly produced for themselves, they now had to buy. They felt the full pressure of prices, and the lower their wages, the keener the pinch. The evil consequences of the short-sighted humanity, which, during the war, had levelled the barriers of the poorlaw, completed their ruin. Wages had been supplemented by allowances, paid out of the rates, and proportioned to the size of a man's family and the price of the quartern loaf. If wages fell below the subsistence level, the deficiency was made good by the ratepayer. Bound, if necessary, to defray the whole cost of the able-bodied poor, the parish gladly accepted from an employer any weekly payment, however small, which partially relieved the charge on the rates. Thus a mass of temporary labour, subsidised, and therefore cheap, was created and made available for the cultivation of the land. To many of the men pauper-dependence was
a thing to be resented as a disgrace and a curse. But however anxious they might be to support themselves by permanent work, and so preserve their independence, they were powerless. They were undersold by the rate-subvented labour. To others, the security of subsistence, the light
. labour, the opportunities for idleness, made a pauper's life attractive. The demoralisation spread far and wide. It overran the South; it extended to the Midlands; it crept towards the North. Had the abuses of pauperism lasted a few years longer, a generation might have sprung up which knew no other existence, and were strangers to the fine traditions and sturdy independence of their forefathers. From that danger the country was saved, partly by the self-respecting pride of men of the older stamp, partly by the wiser administration of the
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law which prevailed in many districts, partly by legislative reform, and partly by the reviving prosperity of the industry. Before 1836 the progressive deterioration had been arrested. It had touched bottom. Out of the depths the upward climb began.
The advance was neither even nor rapid. Agriculture underwent many vicissitudes of fortune, and, as a consequence, the progress of agricultural workers suffered more than one set-back. But, as compared with 1814–36, their advance has been continuous; they have never looked back. For years the odds were against them. Isolated from one another in remote country districts, commanding no capital beyond their labour, living in chronic poverty, generally in debt to the village tradesmen, dependent on their employers for both home and wages, agricultural labourers were far less capable of protecting themselves than were the artisans in the towns. Immobile, uneducated, voteless, and therefore without political influence, they found it difficult to combine and, without combination,
combination, impossible to bargain. In the agricultural prosperity of the sixties and the early seventies, they had in some districts to some extent shared. If statistics lof wages can be at all relied upon, their average earnings in 1872 had nearly doubled as compared with 1820. But in the South and West the excess of the demand for employment over the supply told against them heavily.
The year 1872 stands out as a land-mark in the record of progress. One winter evening (Feb. 7) nearly a thousand men gathered at Wellesbourne in Warwickshire to listen to one, of themselves, known for miles round as a skilled hedge-cutter and a local preacher. The speaker was Joseph Arch. It was a dark night, and lanterns, swung from bean poles, shed a feeble light on the scene. Mounted on a pig-stool, set under a chestnut tree, Arch looked down on a sea of upturned faces, over which flickered the uncertain gleams of the swaying lanterns. In his mind, steeped in the imagery and phraseology of the Bible, he likened his audience to the children of Israel, with the darkness all about them. waiting for some one to lead them out of the land of Egypt.' The outcome of the meeting was the