Friday, July 11, 2014

The parish of Kimbolton, of which the area is 5,140 acres, including 17 acres of inland water, comprises the town or village of Kimbolton and the hamlets of Stonely, to the east, and Wornditch, ½ mile to the west





Garton's Abundance. I observed that the field-gates were made very wide to admit of the passage of the steam cultivators which Mr. Cran field used. The general aspect of this part of the county struck me as flat and rather drear, its wide expanse being broken only by the hedgerow pollards, which here were called 'doddles.'
In driving in the neighbourhood of the village of Grafham, we saw a good deal of land that had been laid down to grass. It was very poor, and fetched, Mr. Cranfield said, 5s. to 10s. an acre rent. Also we passed a gravel farm belonging to the Duke of Manchester, which was much burnt up. I do not remember that Mr. Cranfield kept any cows, at least I saw none, but of sheep he had no fewer than 2,000 in summer. He was no believer in small-holdings, which he said, only succeed in the fen-lands. To ask people to take up such tenancies was, in his opinion, to ask them to go into slavery. Thus there was a smart man in that neighbourhood who had six acres. He just lived, but there was no one in creation who worked so hard. Lord Wantage had taken a farm from a tenant and cut it up into two-acre plots. Now the farmer was to have them back for two years for nothing. Cultivation of the land was the most depressed industry in England, and it was foolish to want to keep small people at so bad a business.
I can only say that these opinions, which are shared by many large farmers and others, do not seem to be borne out by the bulk of the evidence I have collected on the matter which may be read in these pages. If the lot of the smallholder is 'slavery,' at least it is a form of bondage into which he is very ready to enter, hard as he knows that the work will be. As Mr. Manning, of Toseland, had said to me a day or two before, even if from land that is not very kindly or suitable to his purpose, the little man does not on an average earn much more than an agricultural labourer 'he'd sooner be on his own.'
How rich in history is our English countryside I Next to the Priory where we were staying in the quaint little
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town of Huntingdon, stood the house in which Oliver Cromwell was born; and the brewery whereof our host, Mr. Herbert Jones, is one of the proprietors, was managed, and I think, owned, by Robert Cromwell, the father of the Protector. Not far off in Northamptonshire are the ruins of Fotheringgay Castle, where Mary Stuart met her fate, and in the Church of All Saints her body rested a while when James I. moved it from Peterborough to Westminster Abbey. Here, too, lay Catherine of Arragon on her road to burial at Peterborough Cathedral, while at Kimbolton Castle, eleven miles distant, she passed the last years of her life.
At Kimbolton we were kindly received by Mr. Bryan Davies Cooke, who manages the property of the Duke of Manchester, some 16,000 acres of land. He said that the position was better than it had been, and the rents, including those of the fen-lands, were well paid. The uplands fetched from 10s. to 14s. only, but in Huntingdon they were not burdened with much tithe. Since the good time the rentals on this property had fallen about 30 per cent. Mr. Cooke thought that the season of 1901 was about the worat on record owing to the drought; even the shocking year of 1893 was not so bad. Tenants were not plentiful, and unless it was in very good order, it was difficult to let a farm of 400 acres, which was the average size of those on the estate.
Small farms of 200 acres let more readily. Including the park-farm, and home land, they had 3,000 acres in hand, among which were three holdings they had taken over of late years. With labour Mr. Cooke said he had no trouble at all; in fact they had never been better off than in 1901. Very often the tenants did not keep the men employed all the year round ; those who did so had plenty of hands. In that neighbourhood the tendency was for the people to come back to the land, and the young men did not go away so fast as they used to do.
Their soil was clay with a blue clay and gault subsoil, but they had to depend upon surface water, which was difficult to come by. They reared and bought calves, selling out 4 the heifers as down calvers and the bullocks to fat at two or three years old. Their ewe flocks were Lincolns and Hampshires, and their usual shift was wheat, beans, wheat again, barley or oats, with seeds to follow, the white straw crops being dressed with superphosphates and crushed bones. Mr. Cooke thought that the landlords, whose pockets must bear the pinch of the times, had suffered more than the tenants, who were apt, however, to expect too much out of their farms.

At Kimbolton I visited the Board school, where we saw the scholars at their lessons. Mr. Samuel Denton, the schoolmaster, said that his average attendance was seventythree children and forty infants, the population of the place, which had fallen somewhat, being 918. Of those who had passed through his hands only about 20 per cent. of the boys remained upon the land, and the girls also went away. Still, his theory was that they would come back to the country, of which their common sense would show them the advantages, as it was more healthy and less expensive than the town. Taking the average he could not complain of the intelligence of the children. He said, however, that the lad who went out to do odd jobs on the land was not worth his salt when he returned to the school. He became machinelike and did not progress. His intelligence was blunted and he ceased to use his brain. He found that the lads about the land were stupid: they had to work hard and took no thought of the beauties of nature, whereas those who went to cycle factories were sharpened up and improved.
In this school a good deal of attention was given to agricultural teaching, through object lessons, experiments in elementary science, instruction on the germination of seeds, and in basket making &c. Mr. Denton said that the cottages in the neighbourhood were poor and scarce, as the old ones were not kept in repair and tumbled down. He told me also that there was a boot factory in the village which had been constructed to employ 120 hands, but I gathered that it had not been altogether successful.
After going over the church, a fine building which contains some interesting monuments to various members of the Montagu family, we drove on to visit Mr. Fairy, of the Priory Farm. Mr. Fairy held 440 acres, of which half were old grass, a good deal more than the usual proportion. His soil was woodland clay with a chalky marl subsoil, and he said that it required a sprinkle of manure every year. He told me that the difference between woodland and ordinary clay was that the former is lighter and contains more vegetable matter; also it does not set like the common clay. He farmed on a four-course shift—fallow, barley, clover or beans, wheat—and sometimes took two white crops in succession. Sainfoin he found went off on his land, and he intended to grow lucerne in its place. On this soil he said that bush drains were ineffectual and that pipes were always used. Of labourers he had enough, all of them young fellows, but said that he 'would back the old men to do their work better than the young ones.' Mr. Fairy believed that nine farmers out of ten lost money in 1900, and that 1901 would be almost as bad a season as 1893. He had twenty-five head of cattle, for which he really did not know how to find grass, and at the neighbouring markets half-fatted bullocks were being sold for what they would fetch, owing to the scarcity of feed.

Leaving Mr. Fairy, Mr. Cooke drove us to see the steamcultivator breaking up a great field that had been down to grass for fourteen years. This land was so hard that no horse-plough could touch it, and even now, going over it for the second time, the resistless steam-hauled cultivator laboured like a ship in a heavy sea, dragging up lumps of dry clay as large as a man's body. The pasturage which was being broken up was said to have been bad, and examining the clods I could see that the grass roots had not entered into them to any depth. The cost of this steam cultivation, the land being twice gone over, was said to be 10s. an acre and coal.
On this part of the estate the wheat, barley, and oats were well done and looked as promising as any crops I had seen in England that season, the fens alone excepted, but the roots were thin and the spring beans a lost crop. One of Mr. Cooke's bailiffs, I think his name was Mr. White, said also that there had been practically no hay.