1902 Encyclopedia > Agriculture > Farm Labourers

(Part 99)


Farm Labourers

The agriculture of a country must ever be largely affected by the condition and character of the peasantry buy whom its labors are performed, An acute observer has shown that in England a poor style of farming and low wages --- that good farming and high wages, usually go together; and that a low rate of wages is significantly associated with a high poor-rate. The worst paid and worst lodges labour are also the most ignorant, the most prejudiced, the most reckless and insubordinate. The eminence of the agriculture of Scotland is due in large measure to the moral worth and intelligence of her peasantry. For this she is indebted to the early establishment of her parochial schools, and to the sterling quality of the elementary education which the children of her tenantry and peasantry have for generations received in these schools together. These schools has unfortunately become inadequate to the increased population; but still in the rural districts of the Scottish lowlands it is a rare thing to meet with a farm laborer who cannot both read and write. Apart from higher benefits, the facilitates which the services of such a class of laborers have afforded for the introduction and development of improved agricultural practices. The use of intricate machinery, and the keeping of accurate accounts, cannot will be over-rated. It is an interesting testimony to the value of a sound system of national education in other parts of the kingdom as bailiffs, gardeners, and overseers. Recent legislation warrants the expectation that this inestimable blessing will speedily be enjoyed by our either population..

The pernicious influence of the present law of settlement and removal upon the English laborer is now attracting the attention which it so urgently demands. The proprietors and tenants or particularly parishes in various parts of England at present combine to lessen their won share of the burden of the poor-rate by pulling down cottages and compelling their laborers to reside out of their bounds. The folly and cruelty of such short-sighted policy cannot be too strongly reprobated, These poor people are thus driven into towns, where their families are crowded into wretched apartments, for which they must pay exorbitant rents, and where they are constantly exposed to moral and physical contamination of every sort. Form these comfortless abodes the wearied and dispirited men must trudge in all weathers to the distant scene of their daily labors. One cannot conceive of a prosperous agriculture co-existing with such a system, for feel any surprise that thieving, incendiarism, and burdensome rates should be its frequent accompaniments. It is pleasant to contrast with this close-parish policy the conduct of some of our English nobility, who are building comfortable cottages and providing good schools for the whole of the laborers upon their princely estates.

About the middle of the 18th century, when the old township system began to be broken up, and the land to be e3nclosed and arranged into compact farms of considerable size, it happily became the practice in the south-eastern countries of Scotland, and a portion of the north of England, to provide each farm with its own homestead, set down as near its centre as possible , and with as many cottages as would accommodate all the people statedly required for the work of that farm. These cottages, always placed in convenient proximity to the homestead, are let to the tenant along with the farm as a necessary part of its equipment. The farmer hires his servants by the year at stipulated wages, each family getting the se of a cottage and small garden rent free. The farmer has thus always at hand a staff of laborers on whose services he can depend; and they, again, being engaged for a year, are never thrown out of work at slack seasons, nor are they liable to loss of wages from bad weather or casual sickness. This arrangement has the further advantage of the men being removed from the temptations of the village alehouse. So successfully has this system worked that the countries in which it prevails have long had, and still have, an agricultural population unequalled in Great Britain for intelligence, good conduct, and general well-being.

Over a very large portion of Scotland, and more especially in the conturies lying betwixt the Forth and the Moray Frith, while the arrangement of farms and mode of management, are substantially the same as those of the border countries, there is this marked difference, that the ploughmen as a rule live by themselves in bothies. They are for the most part unmarried men, although not a few of them have wives and children living under the most unfavorable conditions in distant towns and villages; and so it comes to pass, under this bothy system, that about two-thirds of all the men statedly employed in farm labor are shut out from all the comforts and blessings of family life, and have become in consequence rude, reckless, and immoral, Until a quite recent date this system, because of its supposed economy, was stoutly defended both by landlords and farmers; but its evil effects have become so manifest as to convince them at last that the system is wrong, and there is now in consequence a general demand for more cottages on farms.

The condition of the agricultural laborers in the southern countries of England has long been existed among character. The discontent that had long existed among them has at last, in the summer of 1873, culminated in wide-spread combinations and strikes for higher wages and better terms, To a large extent the laborers have been able to make good their demands, although at the cost of much unhinging of old relations betwixt them and their employers, and a great deal of mutual grudging and jealousy. The through healing of chronic social maladies is always difficult, and usually demands the patient use of a variety of remedial measures, We venture to express the opinion that much benefit would ensue form the adoption in southern England of the essential parts of the border system, viz, cottages on each farm for all its regular laborers, yearly engagements, and a cow’s keep as part of the wages of each family. [Footnote 409-1]


409-1 For confirmation and full illustration of the statements and opinions in the above section on agricultural labourers, the reader is referred to the reports of, and the evidence collected by, the "Commission on the Employment of Children, Young Persons, and Women in Agriculture," in 1870.

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