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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 4.



At a meeting of the County Council of that day, when Education was being discussed, a Ledbury farmer stated that he could get more work out of his ignorant workman than he could out of an educated one. Such was the outlook of the County Council then, and it must be remembered that we were in touch with the Farmers' Union over an increase in wages rates at the time. The reasons were obvious, as stated by Mr. Charles Bathurst, M.P., and National News­papers of repute; the better educated workers, who had been paid as low as 13/- a week, now asked for £1 per week in Summer and 18/- in Winter. When the Workers' Union commenced its work in the county the farmers tried to prove that the labourers were already receiving £1 a week because they were housed in cottages rent free. This was not strictly true. One case can be given as an example, where on a large estate near Hereford the owner was paying his men 14/- a week, but 2/- of this was deducted for rent, and there was no change in this rate until a workers' meeting was held near the estate and the facts exposed in the Press. Then the owner agreed to give the men an additional 2/- a week, but the rent would still be deducted. This was the case of many of the so-called rent free cottages.


The "Mark Lane Express," official organ of the National Farmers' Union, commented: One weak and ineffective way to kill this workers' movement was by the present coercive measures. All history had shown us that coercion had not only failed in its purpose but had actually helped the cause it wished to defeat, nor is it desirable that it should succeed. Farmers are just beginning to realise that their own salvation depended on unity and co-operation, and they should be the last people to frown on the workers, who had shown them how to do this in seeking salvation for themselves.


At this time I wrote a letter (one of many) to the Press:—

Kindly allow me, through the columns of your paper, to place before your readers the true position and cause of the labour unrest in the county, and express my own opinions on the same. The present unrest among the workers is the result of a system condemned by all the leading authorities on the subject—politicians of all parties and the general public—and not to be tolerated by a freedom-loving nation. Had the farm workers been organised earlier, the system would have been swept away. The Tied cottage is the curse of the agricultural workers' life, and it is degrading to both farmer and worker, however long and tenaciously the farmer may hold on to such an odious system. To what extent it is carried on may be appreciated by the census I have before me, taken by our branches of the Union. In 14 parishes there are 253 cottages tied to farms, and the servitude and injustice this creates is appalling. If the landowners were really as anxious as they pretend to be for the labourers' welfare, they would refuse to let the cottages with the farms; farmers and workers would then be on an equal footing. The man would sell his labour to the highest bidder, and the farmer could secure the best labour.


A local farmer is reported to have told a newspaper representative that a good workman was worth more, and that most workmen had received a rise in pay during the past twelve months. He should have added: " where the Union had aired the workers' grievances." This is significant.


Certain gentlemen tried to make the public believe that the farmers were paying the equivalent of £1 a week, two years ago, but although wages were supposed to have risen, the rate asked for in the Union's schedule of £1 a week in Summer and 18/- a week in Winter was refused by the employers.


As one who has worked on farms, I strongly object to the statement " that men are not so good as they used to be." A visit to any local ploughing match would prove this a fallacy.


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