Annals of the Labouring Poor

Chapters of The Agrarian History of England and Wales

Work and Workers in Rural England.
by Clifton Johnson

With Illustrations by the Author.

ENGLAND is a land of large towns and great manufactories. So dense is the population that it is said the crops raised on the farms each year would not feed the inhabitants over three months. From this one might fancy that the towns had overspread most of the island and that all the country there was left would be hardly more rural than village suburbs. But in reality the towns are only the plums in the pudding, not the substance. They are minor interruptions to an endless roll of cultivated fields and grazing lands sweeping from John o’ Groat’s to Land’s End.

Even London, vast as it is, does not reach out so very far, after all. You step on a train at any of the metropolitan stations and go in whatever direction you please, and it does not take many minutes to get beyond the paved ways and the crowded buildings to the quiet greenery of the country. Nor do the towns, in spite of their number and size, have any very marked influence on the country people and their ways. One would think they would exert a decided leavening power over the rustic life that would modernize it and cause its cruder elements to disappear. This is not the case. The country workers of England know far less of the cities and feel their influence far less than their fellows here in America. Their instincts are less nomadic. They live out their lives in the villages where they are born. A few miles close around home is often all they see of the world. They cling to old ways and are primitive and unchanging to a degree that an American mind finds astonishing. As a result, each district has its dialect and its peculiar local customs which survive generation after generation, but never are transferred to other regions, not even to those adjoining.

The soil of Britain is not tilled by the owners, nor is the tilling to any considerable extent done under their supervision. The land is practically all owned by the gentry, and they rent it to farmers, who take the entire responsibility of making it return both them and their landlords a living. The tenants decide what crops to raise, they buy and sell, and they keep what is often quite a little colony of laborers constantly at work.


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