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Book Title:

The Good Old Days: Then and Now


The Good Old Days: Then and Now by S. Box

Published by: S. Box, The Firs, Marden, Hereford

Printed by: Reliance Printing Works, Halesowen, Worcs.

Chapter 15.



To illustrate the influence of Labour in Parliament and eventually to power, undoubtedly was the awakening of the Liberal party to the needs of the workers, upon the appearance in the Commons of direct representatives of the workers. Constant pressure of the Labour Group, numbering 32 in 1909, compelled the Liberal party, who had won the election in 1906 with a majority of 130 over the other parties, to give more  attention  to   social  legislation.   The  Labour  group demanded pensions of 5/- a week on a non-contributary basis at age 60, but the Liberal Government held this up for two years; in 1908 the Old Age Pensions Act was passed, but attempts were made to reduce the pensions of couples to 3/9 each per week was defeated.  The Coal Mines Bill (8 Hours Act) was also passed through pressure by the Labour mem­bers, and then the miners went over in a body to Labour. The Trades Boards Act to prevent sweated labour was intro­duced by Mr. Arthur Henderson and passed in 1908, and a fair wage clause for all national contracts was agreed to. The Labour Party introduced Bills or moved resolutions on many subjects during this period—Nationalisation of the Mines and Minerals, Agricultural Wages and Hours, Conditions in Shops and Factories.  The Trades Disputes Act in 1906 was a political triumph for the Labour Party freeing, as it did, the Trades  Unions  so that they could take part in political activities.


One of the Acts introduced by the Labour Party was the provision of the " Meals for School Children Bill" in 1906, the party contending that the first duty of the State was to protect child life as the greatest asset of the nation. Unfortunately this had to be accepted as being permissive but not obligatory. This of course is now altered, it being obligatory upon all administrative authorities.   Later legislation introduced by the Labour Party in connection with the Housing Acts, Agriculture, etc., is well known, but the foregoing is recorded lest we forget the bitter struggles to bring these things about, and the hard times of the workers from 1900 onwards, and the struggles of the workers in the Colonies of the British Commonwealth who are our brothers, irrespective of creed, race or colour.

If an answer is required as why the land should be nationalised? It should be—First, the position of the industry, the conditions under which both farmer and workers lived and the way the land was allowed to become neglected on the large estates of the country. In Hereford­shire and the adjoining counties, it was the practice of landlords to allow the farm buildings to be neglected, the cottages to rot rather than allow the much-needed repairs to be done. Thousands of cottages could and would have been saved if the land had belonged to the people. People protest about the high rates and taxes without attempting to ascertain the cause; are they aware of the fact that when either the Government or the local authorities require land for small holdings, schools, hospitals, housing or road improvements they usually had to pay enormous, inflated prices. It is true that of late this has been slightly altered by the appointment of land valuers, but we must not forget that the local authori­ties are still largely composed of landlords, especially in County Authorities. I have often seen in my travels large numbers of cottages owned by private owners allowed to become derelict. This does not exist when the land is owned by the Government or local authorities; Acts of Parliament passed since Labour became a driving force in parliamentary action and local administration.


Should the reader wish to become more familiar with the above facts, particularly in relation to the Agricultural workers, a book written by F. E. Green and published in 1913, a year after we commenced our campaign for the workers in Herefordshire and adjoining counties, is well worth reading. Doubtless this book can be obtained from the County Library—it is illustrated and gives a real picture, not as clear as I would like, but it is written with the sole object of warning farmer and worker against returning to the haphazard method of individualism, to strengthen their organisations so that they may work by collective effort for the benefit of their industry and the good of all.


When making statements in reference to any land system, care should be taken to support it by concrete facts. Fortunately for Herefordshire there are not many very large estates; not that the owners of the estates were any worse than other people; it was and is the land system that is wrong, because ownership of large tracts of land place too much power in the hands of one man, who may, owing to his up­bringing, hold tyranny over a large number of people. In may cases, past and present, the lives of the dwellers on these large estates are under the control of Lords, Dukes, Barons, etc., who fondly imagine they are superior beings, and that their estates are the gift of the creator. What nonsense! The majority of these estates were handed down from generation to generation, and were obtained originally by questionable means—gifts by degenerate and immoral Kings, and stealing the land from the common people; enclosing thousands of acres of common land. All the land acquired by these means is still morally the property of the people.


Lord Lansdowne and Mr. Walter Long owned vast estates in Wiltshire, yet the cottages were so bad in that area that Lord Lansdowne, in 1912, favoured the building of cottages by local authorities. Sir Edward Hambro, a banker, owned a large estate near Devizes; so bad were the cottages in the Devizes Rural District at that time, 25 of the cottages only had two bedrooms and were occupied by husband and wife and from 5 to 8 children of all ages and sex. A working man, fortunately living in his own cottage, reported the matter to the District Council, which consisted of landowners and farmers. They refused to move in the matter, so he wrote to Mr. John Burns to institute an enquiry into the case. When this came about the Devizes District Council were ordered to build 12 new cottages and 70 more made habitable under the John Burns Town Planning Act.


In Herefordshire, the owner of a large estate, noted for dilapidated houses and pulling them down, had a cottage where one of his workmen lived; I held a meeting near it and next day invited a photographer out from Hereford to take photos of this cottage and send it to the London daily papers as a specimen of workmen's houses. Going again, a month afterwards, I found the scaffold poles up, and the cottage being thoroughly repaired, to the delight of the tenant and his neighbours. There are many farmers who are owners in Herefordshire, but where the large estates exist, the same haughty spirit of " Do as you are told or else! " Fortunately this is gradually disappearing. Since the strike of 1914 the workers are more independent and rely on the trade unions to assist them to obtain common justice. On two of the largest estates, the cottages were kept in repair and not let with the farms; the rents were low and paid direct to the agent. This had a marvellous effect on the relations between employers and employed, the worker, whilst being a free agent, realised he could be dismissed if he failed to do his duty, and the employer thought twice before he dismissed his workmen; the result was complete trust and respect between the two and a deep attachment to the farm.

David Lloyd George

David Lloyd George, (1863–1945) was the only Welsh Prime Minister of the UK


It is sometimes put forward that agriculturalists, farmers and farm workers should not be politicians, but for some years past the different governments of the country have had a direct policy, for good or evil on agriculture. In my judg­ment, little was done for farmers until the passing of the Labour Party's Agricultural Act, except giving the tenant farmer a partial security of tenure; for the workers, with the exception of certain housing acts, not much benefit came to them. The Wage Board was the result of the work of Mr. Roberts, M.P. for Norwich; this was destroyed by the Baldwin administration, and afterwards reconstructed by the Labour Party. Viewing the past agricultural policies my advice would be to support those which have done the most for agriculture, for when men of goodwill and ability are placed in power, the wealthy are uneasy and vengeful, but the men who stood for goodwill and ability in the past were Gladstone and Lloyd George in Britain, Abraham Lincoln and Roosevelt in America.

George Trevelyan

George Trevelyan, (1876–1962), was an English historian.


It is of the utmost importance that all interested in the welfare of this country should make themselves acquainted with its social history. One of the best books on this can be obtained from the free library, and is English Social History by G. O. Trevelyan O.M., published in 1945. This book gives a fine record of social history from Chaucer to Queen Victoria. Some slight alterations came about during Victoria's reign, but the real progress and alteration has come about since the days of Victoria. These were due mainly to the efforts and sacrifices of the workers themselves, both leaders and rank and file, the machinery being the respective Trade Unions, supported since the beginning of 1900 by the Labour movement.

Truth is the normal currency of human intercourse; life would be impossible if we could not accept the word of others but the penalty of lying is—we cannot believe the liar even when he speaks the truth: the truth is often brutal and dangerous, and a lie kindly and safe in certain circumstances. But truth builds up character and the confidence of others in us. No one can prove that progress is made if it is dependent on falsehood. That is the reason why, when I commenced to write, I determined to stick to facts and truth. If this is published no doubt it will meet with strong criticism from those whom facts and truth will hurt; in that lay the danger and brutality, but one cannot be always playing for safety by twisting facts and writing half truths.

In winding up this section dealing with agriculture, its workers and their struggle in reaching the present position, I say frankly and earnestly that if they do nothing to assist progress, become obsessed with selfishness or apathy, too idle to think for themselves; History repeats itself in human affairs and if they are not careful they will go back to poverty, degradation, possibly the old Poor Law and loss of freedom.

Workers Beware! I lived in the Good Old Days (for the few) but bad for the many.



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