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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 2

Results of the System in England

Results of the System in England.

Results of the System in England.

The same laws with respect to inheritance and entail have led to the same general result as in Ireland in the distribution of landed property, although the circumstances of its early history were more favourable in England to the creation of small proprietors, who have not wholly dis- page 103 appeared in some rural districts. It is admitted,

Results of the System in England.

however, that even these are destined to be merged in their larger neighbours under the present system.

A wholly different system, however, has prevailed in England as regards the management of landed property and the distribution of land among the tenants. It has been shown that Ireland is a country of peasant farmers, where the landlords do nothing as a general rule towards the improvement of the farms. In comparison, England is a country of large farms, and the custom is for all improvements to be effected by the landlord and not by the tenant.

It must not, however, be concluded that England is wholly a country of large farms. There are large numbers of small holdings. According to the Agricultural Returns, of 37,000,000 acres of land, 27,000,000 are cultivated and improved, the rest being mountain, heath, commons, woods, &c. The cultivated land may be thus divided into four classes of holdings :—
Numbers. Average in acres. Total acreage.
Small holdings below 50 acres 333,630 12 4,181,346
Small farms from 50 to 100 acres 54,498 72 3,957,989
Medium sized farms from 100 to 300 acres 65,766 170 11,183,618
Large farms above 300 acres 16,106 472 7,512,972
470,000 26,835,925
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The number of agricultural labourers and shepherds is stated to be 787,897. It will be seen from this table that England is by no means so fully the country of large farms as it is often represented to be. About one-third of its area is held in small holdings and small farms, numbering about 388,000, and two-thirds in large farms, numbering about 82,000. How many of the small farms and holdings are owned by their cultivators we have no means of knowing; it is believed the number is very small, and is being gradually reduced. In lieu we have an admitted tendency to substitute for ownership the relation of landlord and tenant. How far then does this relationship satisfy the economic conditions for the best cultivation of the soil, and what are its effects upon the various classes of the community?
The ideal of the English system of large proprietors and of tenants hiring the land they farm in lieu of owning it, is where the landlord, being a capitalist, is able to relieve the tenant of all expenditure of a permanent character, and to leave him the full employment of his capital in his trade of farming, in stocking and cultivating the land. This ideal involves a considerable expenditure on the part of the landlord, in building farm-houses and farm-buildings, in draining and other permanent improvements, and in building labourers' cottages. If these functions are performed by the landlord, if he has the capital to expend and does page 105 what is recognised as a duty, nothing can be better

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from the economic point of view than the condition of the property and the relation of landlord, tenant, and labourer.

The farms in such a case are parcelled out in the size which is most suitable to the full development of the soil; the necessary capital of a permanent character is expended by the landlord; the capital of the tenant is set free to stock and cultivate the farm to the best advantage; the tenant, in order to pay full rent upon the capital laid out, must exert himself to the best of his efforts; if he prove a slovenly farmer, the landlord gets rid of him.

The labourers' cottages are built with due regard to the requirements of the property. Some of them are attached to the farm for the convenience of the tenant, who wishes for full control of those labourers who are most necessary to him; others are retained in possession of the landlord, that too much power over the labourers may not be vested in the farmer. The labourers themselves are stimulated to work by the certainty that they will lose their homes if negligent and idle.

From an economic point of view, then, the agricultural machine in which the landlord, farmer, and labourer play their respective parts, and the land, capita], and wages have their share in the produce, works to the best advantage. That there are many such cases no one can deny. That many landlords most fully recognise their duties, and act fully up page 106

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to the highest ideal, cannot be doubted. Many, indeed, pinch themselves in other expenditure in order to perform their duty; and few there are who would not do it if they could.

If all estates were maintained up to this ideal, there would be little to say against the system from the economic point of view; though even then there might be something to allege in favour of more distributed ownership, and more independence of individuals, especially of the labourers, than is consistent with such an ideal system.

The whole system, however, depends upon the owner of the property being able to provide the capital for permanent improvements, such as buildings, drainage, and labourers' cottages. If this capital be not forthcoming the system breaks down at its central point, on which the economic success of the whole system hinges. If the landlord cannot provide the necessary capital for these permanent improvements, no one else will do so. The farming tenant cannot be expected to do so upon any length of lease which is ordinarily given to him, and still less can the labourer be expected to build or improve his cottage.

It has already been shown that it is of the essence of such family arrangements known as settlements and entails that they lead to encumbrances. The land goes to the eldest son, perhaps free from charge in the first instance; the page 107 personalty is divided among the other members

Results of the System in England.

of the family. In the next generation, however, the land must be charged for the benefit of other members of the family.

It is also-well recognised that the owner of a landed estate cannot do full justice to it, unless he is able to draw upon other property for its improvement. Sir Robert Peel used to say that every landowner ought to have at least as much property in consols or other securities, if he wished to do his best by the land. The meaning of this is, that there is a constant drain upon the landlord for fresh outlay for improvements or for the maintenance of previous improvements, if the machine is to be well worked.

What, however, is the condition in this respect of the average landowner? How many of them have other means in this proportion to their land? How many are unencumbered as regards their family estates? How many of them are able to do their duty by the land?

It is certain that the greater number of them are utterly unable to perform their duties. They are the ostensible and temporary owners of family estates, for the most part already heavily charged with debts, or with charges for other members of the family, and wholly unable to expend further sums in draining and improving, still less in building cottages, which at best give but a poor return on the outlay.

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Most of them are in this false position, that as tenants for life only of their property they cannot expend capital on their estates without subjecting the money thus spent to the same entail as the estates themselves. The limited owners thus have the alternative before them either of neglecting their properties, or of spending money upon them which they would otherwise intend for their younger children, to the ultimate benefit of their eldest sons, who are already entitled to the estates. If such persons were absolute owners of their property, and without other means of improvement, they would probably be induced to sell outlying parts of the property, and invest the proceeds in draining and improving the main portion of the estate. They would gain in income by doing so. The investment in land, we are told, produces an average of only two per cent.; the produce of a sale if spent on drainage would entitle the owner to raise his rents so as to pay five per cent, or more on the outlay. But he is tenant for life only, and he can only sell with the consent of trustees and reversioners, to reinvest in other land, or to pay off mortgages.
Is it possible to conceive a system better calculated to prevent capital finding its way to the land? That it has this result can scarcely be doubted. This is what Mr. Caird said a few years ago on the subject in his Agricultural Survey of England:—"Much of the land of England, a far page 109 greater proportion of it than is generally believed,

Results of the System in England.

is in the possession of tenants for life, so heavily burthened with settlement encumbrances that they have not the means of improving the land which they are obliged to hold. It would be a waste of time to dilate on the public and private disadvantages thus occasioned, for they are acknowledged by all who have studied the subject."

A Committee of the House of Lords in 1873 upon the improvement of land, reported, that what had already been accomplished in the way of drainage and other improvements was "only a fraction of what still remained to be done."

Mr. Bailey Denton stated before this Committee, as the result of his calculations, that out of 20,000,000 acres of land requiring drainage in England and Ireland, only 3,000,000 had as yet been drained. Mr. Caird, before the same Committee, speaking not only of drainage, but of all kinds of improvements, estimated that only one-fifth of what required to be done was accomplished.

The improvements thus spoken of are of a remunerative kind; improvements such as drainage and farm-buildings are generally paid for by an increase of rent fully compensating for the outlay. Unfortunately, however, the building of labourers' cottages by landlords is a most unremunerative expenditure. It seldom returns more than two per cent, on the outlay, very often less. If, therefore, we find the outlay of capital for page 110

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remunerative improvements very much in arrear, it is only too certain that it will be far worse in the case of cottages.

The Report of the Royal Commission of 1869, as to the condition of women and children employed in agriculture, contains the most full information on this subject. The evidence was collected by Assistant Commissioners who visited every part of the rural districts of England, and who are unanimous in their testimony.

Mr. Eraser, now Bishop of Manchester, who visited Norfolk, Essex, Gloucestershire, and Sussex, describes the cottages in one district as "miserable;" in a second as "deplorable;" in a third as "detestable;" in a fourth as "a disgrace to a Christian community." He says that "even where adequate in quality, they are inadequate in quantity; and some rich landowner, 'lord of all he surveys,' having exercised his lordship by evicting so much of his population as were an eyesore, or were likely to become a burthen to him—still employing their labour, but holding himself irresponsible for their domicile—has, by a most imperfect system of compensation, built a limited number of ornamental roomy cottages, which he fills with his own immediate dependents. Out of the 300 parishes which I visited I can only remember two where the cottage accommodation appeared to be both admirable in quality and sufficient in quantity. The majority of the cottages that exist in page 111 rural parishes are deficient in almost every requisite

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that should constitute a home for a Christian family in a civilised community. It is impossible," he adds, "to exaggerate the ill-effects of such a state of things in every respect—physical, social, economical, moral, intellectual. Physically a ruinous ill-drained cottage, 'cribbed, cabin'd, confined,' and overcrowded, generates any amount of disease—fevers of every type, catarrh, rheumatism—as well as intensifies to the utmost that tendency to scrofula and phthisis, which, from their frequent intermarriages and their low diet, abounds so largely among the poor. Economically, the imperfect distribution of cottages deprives the farmer of a large proportion of his effective labour power; when he gets his man, he gets him more or less enfeebled by the distance he has to travel to his work. The moral consequences are fearful to contemplate. Modesty must be an un-known virtue, decency an imaginable thing, where in one small chamber two, and sometimes three, generations are herded promiscuously, and where the whole atmosphere is sensual, and human nature is degraded into something below the level of the swine. It is a hideous picture, and the picture is drawn from the life."
As to the deficiency of cottages, he mentions the parish of Spixworth, where "there are only three cottages to 1,200 acres, there might well be twenty-five; at Waterdon only two cottages to page 112

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750 acres, fifteen would be no excessive supply; at Markshall only five to 830 acres, at the usual Essex rate there should be 25. At Buckenham Tofts there are only two resident labourers on 650 acres; at Didlington no more on 1,850 acres. At Sedgeford the Ecclesiastical Commissioners have an estate of 2,000 acres without a single cottage, and in this parish we hear of ten and eleven persons sleeping in a single room. At Titchwell, Magdalene College, Oxford, the chief owner and lord of the manor, has not a single cottage. At White Colne, in Essex, the chief landowner has not one either." "Instances," he adds, "of this kind could be accumulated ad infinitum."
The Bishop recognised that a great deal had been clone of late years, especially by the largest landowners. Unfortunately, however, the remedy did not rest with the wealthiest landowners. Many cottages belonged to proprietors too indigent to have any money to spare for their improvement; some to absentee and embarrassed landowners; some to mortgagees. Mr. Portman, another Assistant Commissioner, who reported upon Cambridgeshire and Yorkshire, says, "The opinion appeared to be universal that the bad state of the cottages and the overcrowding of the sleeping-rooms is the root of the demoralization of both sexes." He states that "one of the principal causes is 'absenteeism,' under which I include not merely non-residence of the owner in the county where his estate is situated, page 113 but that which is equally bad, viz., non-attention

Results of the System in England.

to the outlying portions of that estate. On many occasions when, being struck by the poor state of the dwellings, I have inquired who is the owner, I have been told he is some one living perhaps in the county, but rarely, if ever, visiting the village or taking any heed as to the condition of the people." Of one very large property he reports, "The tenements are wretched; although the rents paid are small, the whole repairs have to be done by the cottagers, and so the rents become in fact very high; and as one of them told me, 'The landlord does not care if they all tumble down.' On other portions of this estate there was a great want of cottages, many having been pulled down and scarcely a new one built." Of another parish in Wales he says, "No Irish property can present more wretched consequences of absenteeism than this. The only consideration the parish receives from the owners of property is the regular collection of rents." The statement of Mr. Portman as to absenteeism is important as confirming what has been already stated as to the number of parishes without resident landowners.
Mr. Edward Stanhope, now Under-Secretary of the India Office, reports also as to the general bad state of cottages, though making many exceptions, especially in Lincolnshire, the county where it may be observed small peasant owners most abound, Of Leicestershire he says, "The cottages must be page 114

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described as generally bad." He adds, "There is a strong feeling in Lincolnshire that Government should give assistance in providing cottages for the labouring class, and especially on entailed estates."

Mr. Culley, another of the Assistant Commissioners, says, "There constantly arises to me, and, I doubt, not, to my colleagues, the feeling that in speaking of that state of the cottages, I am exhibiting a dark picture, as if it was the fault of a class, many of whom are powerless to change it, and few of whom are answerable for it."

"What has led to the state of the labourers' dwellings being such as to justify me in speaking of it as a national disgrace? And why are so many landowners now powerless to deal with it? If I were to answer these questions, judging from the history of the estates I have visited, I would answer at once—the encouragement given by law to the creation of limited interests in land, and the power of entailing burthened estates. What can the poor life-tenant, especially if his estates be burthened, do towards providing good cottages for his labourers? Nine times out of ten he strives to do his duty, and suffers fully as much as the ill-housed labourers on his estates. The unhappy propensity to create limited interests, and entailed and burthened estates, tells hardest against the small properties, while if the owner lives as all the world expects him to live, there is no margin left for estate improvement, page 115 especially cottage improvement. Even the large

Results of the System in England.

estates, by the time all is done for which farm tenants most loudly call, unless burthens be light or the owner unusually self-denying, there is very little left to expend in the expensive luxury of cottage building. The case of small estates, however, is the worst, and in spite of the supposed protection of the law of entail, they are being swallowed up by their larger neighbours, or passing into the hands of men whose sole means are not invested in land."
Mr. Portman says upon the same subject, "I would venture to suggest, for your consideration, whether it is not expedient that legislation should take place in such a direction, as to bring into the market those tracts of encumbered land, enabling those who have capital to acquire such lands if they desire to do so, and conferring a boon on those who now possess them by giving them money to spend on such an amount of territory as they wish to concentrate round their homes, while at the time the curse of poverty and misery will be removed from these districts whence all the profit is drawn and to which none returns. Bad cottages would, I think, then become more rare; a portion at least of the profits would be spent on the spot, a more contented race of farmers and of labourers would be found, and the education of the people, now flagging for want of funds, would progress. Some may say that this question of the dwellings of the page 116

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poor in agricultural districts is a passing question of the hour, and that it is not really so great an evil as is represented. I would answer, Go into the country and see for yourself. Use your common sense, and call to mind the effect of .absenteeism on Ireland; and say whether or not in those portions of England where poverty and misery arising from the same cause meet you at every step, there is not urgent reason for dealing with the evils now existing by some legislative enactment, which shall put an end to a state of apathy and indifference in many holders of encumbered estates, and open the doors for the spending of capital on lands by those who are able, in the place of those who are now unable, to-do so."
It is only fair to add, that it is not only upon entailed properties that cottages are bad. Some of the worst cases are to be found on land which has been bought by speculators, and whole rows of cottages have been built of the most flimsy material with insufficient accommodation, without gardens, and which are let at exorbitant rents. Most of these cases have arisen in what are called open parishes, adjoining those close parishes where, before the alteration of the law which threw the burthen of the support of the poor upon the whole Union, it was the interest of landowners to neglect to provide cottages, or to pull down existing cottages, in order to avoid giving to the labourers a claim for settlement, which would throw the cost page 117 of maintaining them, when paupers, upon such

Results of the System in England.


The Census of 1861 showed that in the previous ten years, in 821 English parishes, a decrease of houses was accompanied by an increase of population. The last census shows that this action has been stayed by the Union Chargeability Act, but there was nothing in the Act to undo the mischief which had already been effected.

Other bad cases are not rare, where cottages have been built upon patches of land cribbed from the waste of a manor, or roadside waste, and which the labouring occupiers claim as their own; these, however, are hardly fair cases of individual ownership.

Let it not also be said that all landowners are to blame for this state of things. Nothing could be more unfair. If they were absolute owners of their property, with power to sell or to charge their properties as they might wish, there would indeed be ground for complaint if such a state of things were allowed to remain unredressed. But the system under which the great bulk of them hold their properties as mere nominal owners without real power over them, is devised with the certain result that it can never be their interest to expend money on cottages, and rarely in their power to do so.

Many efforts have been made by Parliament to find a remedy for these evils, short of interfering page 118

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with entails or simplifying the transfer of land. The tenant for life (the limited owner, as he is very significantly called) had originally no power to bind his successor, either by leases or by charges on the property for its improvement. Parliament, however, has interfered to give him these powers, subject to the approval of public bodies, who are to have regard to the interests of the reversioner.
Short lenses for agricultural purposes can now be given by tenants for life. Longer leases can be given with the consent of the Court of Chancery. Charges can be made on the entailed property for certain improvements with the consent of the Inclosure Commissioners. The charge, however, must be made in such a way as to repay the principal by instalments in varying terms of years according to the nature of the improvement. The result is that drainage generally involves an annual charge of per cent, on the outlay, as much or more than the tenant will pay in the shape of increased rent. The building of cottages involves an annual charge which averages three times the amount of the rent which can usually be obtained for them. Sales may also be effected upon applications to the courts of law, where there are no powers for this purpose contained in the settlement; but the consent of tenants for life and of reversioners must be obtained; the proceeds must be expended in paying off mortgages or in buying other land to be settled in the same manner, and can never be page 119 expended in agricultural improvements, however

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necessary. These, however, are mere palliatives, and not remedies. They have failed to effect any substantial result. They tend to substitute for the real owner of the property a Government department, a State inspector, or a judicial tribunal; they entail troublesome and expensive applications to courts of law and Government officials; they involve friction and delay. From their very nature they are destined to failure. The system, however, which needs such remedies stands condemned by their proposal, and, as the late Mr. Wren Hoskyns well said, "Wherever a series of supplementary devices is needed to meet a law at variance with the time, it indicates the undercurrent of another law struggling against worn-out barriers that will not long withstand it."
What is this other law, struggling against the worn-out system, which has thus signally failed to meet the demands of the country and the claims of the land for the outlay of capital? It is freedom of sale, the alienability of land, the free commerce of land; the principle that land shall be owned by those who can give full title for it, and who can either borrow for improvements or sell what they cannot improve; the principle that land shall belong to the present generation and not to an unborn generation; that landowners shall be full masters of their own property, and not be obliged to obtain the consent of the unborn for improve- page 120

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ments or sale, through the medium of courts of law and Government offices.
It must be here freely admitted, that some of the largest properties are exceptions to this general condemnation, both in respect of farm improvements, farm buildings, and labourers' cottages. Such properties as those of the Dukes of Bedford, Devonshire, and Northumberland, and others that could be named, are models of all that conscientious and intelligent landowners should aim at. It is obvious that as there is a limit to the possible personal expenditure of families with such great fortunes, the margin which is left for improvement of their properties must be greater in proportion than on smaller estates; it will generally be found also that these very great landed properties are supported by great incomes from other sources, such as house property or minerals. It is often argued from such examples, that the larger properties are, the better prospect there is of capital being expended on the land by their owners; and hence a conclusion that it is well to encourage the creation of large properties and to regard with in-difference the disappearance of smaller properties. The argument, however, is a dangerous one; the logical conclusion of it is, that it might be well to merge all large proprietors into one still greater proprietor, namely, the State itself. If the State were sole and supreme landlord, it might spend all the rent in local improvements, in farm buildings page 121 and cottages; and in such a case the whole of the

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rent would remain on the land from which it is due. This is obviously a reductio ad absurdum, but it suggests to us the necessity for bearing in mind the principle on which alone private property in land exists and can be defended.

If the English system fails in bringing to the land the capital which is so essential for its development, or for building cottages so necessary for the accommodation, comfort, and even decency of the labourer, what is its effect upon the labouring class? The failure to spend capital on the land to them means low wages; low wages and bad cottages combined means a poverty-stricken life, which tells upon the whole existence of the labourers.

It may be confidently said that the agricultural labourers are divorced from any permanent interest, however small, in the land, or even in the villages in which they live. With rare exceptions, it is impossible for them to become possessed of a plot of land or even of a cottage. The sense of property therefore never comes home to them.

Can we wonder, then, at the thriftless, hopeless, and aimless condition into which so large a proportion of them have drifted? The effect of the English system upon them may be best judged by the results in those counties in the south where it has been longest in existence, where it is carried out most fully, and where it is undisturbed by the growth of any adjoining industries; such counties

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as Sussex and Dorsetshire. Who can be satisfied with the condition of the agricultural labourers in these districts? or who can suggest any remedy consistent with the ideal of the present system? What hope for advancement is there in their own country? what prospect of rising from the lowest steps of the ladder to the higher? An impassable barrier separates the labourer from the farming class immediately above him, and a still wider gulf from the owner of land who crowns the social edifice. What wonder, then, that the labourers should be thriftless and without energy; that education only induces the best of them to leave the country districts for other employments, and that by a process of natural selection the average of those who remain is being gradually deteriorated?
This condition is not the result of a harsh Poor Law, nor of the want of charity. The Poor Law is in most agricultural districts administered with benevolence, and probably there is no other country where local endowments for the distribution of doles and charities, and where private charities, are so numerous and liberal. It is, however, confidently stated that in those parishes where charity is most frequent, where there are most endowments for the distribution of doles, where the clergy and squires, actuated by the best intentions, are most active in private charities, there the condition of the labourer is the most page 123 depressed, and the least satisfactory; and there

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also is least thrift, and least energy for self-help and independence; in too many of such parishes excessive charity has succeeded in undermining the self-help, thrift, and independence of the labourers, and has encouraged wastefulness and intemperance.

What then appears to be most needed in the agricultural districts of England is an element of independence, which can only be attained by the sense of property; and of all the means of giving this sense of property and this feeling of independence, the ownership of land, even though limited in extent, and the ownership of a house and home, with its garden, would be the most powerful and effective.

In what has been thus said, it is by no means intended to convey the expectation, promise, or even the hope, that England, under an altered system of law, will become a country of yeoman farmers or of peasant proprietors. In the main, and for such a period as any legislator can prospectively look forward to, it would be impossible to realize either of these subjects. England will certainly continue to be, as it has been in the past, a country in which there will be many large properties. Even if all landowners should have secured to them the full power to dispose of their property as they think fit among their children, it may be confidently expected that the great bulk of them will continue to leave the main portion to page 124

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their eldest sons; and it will be long before any custom of a different kind grows up in a country so essentially conservative. What we may look forward to is, a considerable increase in the number of landed proprietors of all classes, and especially of small owners. Without aiming at a system of ownership such as we see in France, and other countries organized on the same plan, it is not beyond reason to expect that some nearer approach may be made to the system which prevails in Germany, where, as already explained, although there are many large proprietors, there are also many small owners, where there is a large class of yeomen farmers, and where a very large proportion of the agricultural labourers are also owners of small holdings, varying from half an acre to five or six acres. Of the effect of this distributed ownership and this interest in the soil upon the labouring class generally, there cannot be doubt to any one who reads the reports from the countries where this prevails.

It is not too much to say that if landowners, who are unable to do justice to their properties, were empowered to sell, and should avail themselves of this power, in respect only of a small portion of their properties, a very great change might soon be effected in the state of landownership in England and Ireland, and the landowners themselves would be the first to benefit.